There are contrarians, there are iconoclasts, and then there is SportsAlcohol.com co-founder Marisa. A contraiclast? Her favorite Springsteen album came out this century, so she is basically a controversy machine.
Word has come down from on high that Elementary will be ending after is upcoming seventh season, which premiered this week. I am gutted. Elementary never came close to ever being my favorite show in any year, but it’s a show I’d always watch in any given year, and I don’t know how to replace it.
When I first saw it — for review, no less — I was dismissive. “Bah,” I said. “This is just like any other crime procedural, but with Sherlock Holmes as the main character.” This was when Sherlock was still a going concern, mind you, so adding Holmes to Elementary just felt like an odd graft into a pretty established formula. But as time went on, I started to think, “Cool, it’s just like any other crime procedural, but with Sherlock Holmes as the main character!” Now, Elementary has outlasted Sherlock, and it scratched my Holmes itch for far more episodes.
I feel like I have to correct the record on something. Ever since A Star Is Born came out, there’s been a lot of analysis about the soundtrack, especially one song on it in particular: “Why Did You Do That?”
“Why Did You Do That?” is the song that a post-fame, pop-repackaged Ally performs on Saturday Night Live. A sampling of its lyrics: “Why do you look so good in those jeans? Why’d you come around me with an ass like that? You’re makin’ all my thoughts obscene.” Later, Jack derides her for these words.
But the second question has a concrete answer, and yet the conclusion I arrived at isn’t really the one drawn unanimously, much to my confusion. But A Star Is Born really, truly thinks that “Why Did You Do That?” is bad. My proof:
It’s So Different From Ally’s Other Songs
Ally is so talented that Jackson can’t help but be taken in by her. He falls in love with her through her songwriting. But “Why Did You Do That?” sounds nothing like the tunes that kick-started their romance. Before her big pop-career launch, even the catchier songs she wrote, like “Look What I Found” (which I personally like a lot better than “Why Did You Do That?”), come rooted in a much more singer/songwritery place. If we’re supposed to believe in the transformative power of Ally and Jack’s love, and they express that feeling through music, how are we supposed to see the change in her sound as anything but a betrayal of that love?
She Refuses the Dancers
Okay, artists evolve. Things change. If you believe A Star Is Born is about Jackson’s desire to manage Ally’s artistic work and stifle her creativity, I think that’s a truly cynical reading of the movie, but you can read his dismissal of “Why Did You Do That?” through that lens. But my big question to you: Why did she refuse to have backup dancers at her first performance?
The answer is she turned the dancers away because that’s not how she sees herself as an artist. This, to me, is the biggest clue into what Ally thinks of her pop image. If those songs truly came from her developing sense of self, she would’ve embraced the dancers at her debut and in her SNL performance. Instead, she said she didn’t think she needed them.
And Jack had nothing to do with that. She doesn’t get rid of them because she’s afraid Jack won’t like it. It’s because, in her heart, she knows she’s a songwriter and not a pop product.
Diane Warren Co-Wrote It
Actually, this probably runs counter to my point. Warren has written some of the most successful songs ever.
Jackson Hates It
This is where we veer into a bit of subjectivity: If the hero of our romantic story says mean things about the song, does that look bad for him, or for the song? This time, I think it’s both. His criticisms come at a point in the movie where it’s clear he’s on a downslide, and could potentially take Ally down with him. But he’s also heralded by the movie as a musical genius, and he knows what he’s talking about.
For what it’s worth, I think this is a departure from the other versions of A Star Is Born. (The biggest departure after changing her name from Esther Blodgett, which I’m gutted they did. Esther 4-Eva!) You’re supposed to think Judy Garland is an acting tour de force. You’re supposed to think Barbra Streisand is a consummate performer. I don’t think you’re supposed to think Janet Gaynor is untalented. James Mason, Kris Kristofferson, and Fredric March never impugn Esther’s talent. I kind of like that Bradley Cooper does.
You Only Get a Sideways Glance at It
When Ally does perform “Why Did You Do That?” on Saturday Night Live — with dancers — the performance isn’t really the focus of the scene. It’s something happening in the background. If A Star Is Born was really behind this evolution in Ally’s career, and really thought the audience should consider it an unambiguously good song, it would’ve had a moment as powerful as “The Shallow.”
There is no moment for “Why Did You Do That?” The movie doesn’t want you to consider it a triumph. Whether you do or not is up to you, but the movie’s thoughts on it are pretty clear to me.
But did you know she’s also a brilliant writer? She is, and you should definitely buy her book of short stories, Better Times. And, if you want to do it in person, and perhaps say a friendly hello, you can do so at Books Are Magic in Brooklyn on Friday, August 31. There, she’ll be in conversation with Marie-Helene Bertino (of 2 A.M. at the Cat’s Pajamas fame), another amazing author we somehow haven’t coerced into appearing on our podcast yet. These are two forces to be reckoned with, so it’s going to be a good one! The event is free, but you should RSVP on the store’s Facebook page.
And while I’m plugging the books of our current, recent, and maybe-one-day-will-be contributors, our vampire-expert Maggie has a book out, too! (Sorry, Maggie, I should’ve done a post for your reading, too—I totally dropped the ball.) Her novel, The Last Best Story is influenced by whip-smart screwball comedies like His Girl Friday and The Libeled Lady. You know that’s your jam, so pick up the book!
In Annihilation, a group sits around a table discussing the people who will be heading on a dangerous mission into a logic-defying mystery box they call The Shimmer. There’s Anya, a paramedic; Josie, a physicist; and Dr. Ventress, a psychologist. “All women?” someone asks. “Scientists,” one corrects. Yes! And they’re unlike any other female scientists in films I’ve seen—not just because they carry guns, but because they work as a team of all women.
This post started, as most things do, with a complaint. The object of my ire was another recent sci-fi outing with a female lead: The Cloverfield Paradox. There was much discussion about the movie after it made its sudden Netflix debut following the Super Bowl. Most of it centered on the marketing: Was it a shrewd move of Netflix to generate buzz with an unexpected release? Or was it another case of the streaming platform burying an acquisition that should’ve been given a theatrical run?
Instead of weighing into that fray, my post-Paradox reaction was this: Oh, great, another female astronaut with dead kids.
There were dead kids in The Cloverfield Paradox. There was a dead kid in Gravity. There were dead kids in Arrival. And, if female scientists weren’t motivated by children (either the desire to have them or the grief over losing them), it was absent fathers (think Contact, Twister). Meanwhile, when Capa sends his last message back to Earth in Sunshine, he sends it to his sister, and talks about saving the world.
Of course, when I brought this up on Twitter, people started chiming in right away with more examples and counter-examples. So I tried to be semi-scientific about it, and collect data points that either prove or disprove my hypotheses about the portrayals of female scientists in film. Who is allowed to save the world for altruistic reasons, and who has to be motivated by a dead kid or dad or spouse? Who are the engineers and physicists, and who are the biologists and language experts?
Halt and Catch Fire is an interesting way to take the temperature of our current television climate. It is a very, very good show, with all of the hallmarks of a prestige cable drama, and yet it’s nobody’s favorite. Still, we’ve been covering Halt and Catch Fire since the first season, and Marisa has always found something about it that spoke to her personally, so she decided to write about the individual episodes as it heads into its final stretch. Read her reaction to the previous episode, “Goodwill?” here.
Endings are hard. I know it seems like everyone is leaving.
Joe left, with nothing but his own “Dear Haley” letter to say goodbye. But then again, was Joe ever really, fully anywhere? Does he even have an essential self, or is he like a liquid that changes his shape to fit into his surroundings?
Joanie left. And sure, it feels like it was really easy for her to go. She was so confident, arguing with your mom every step of the way about how this is certainly, definitely the right decision for her. But maybe you should take a moment and think about how hard she works at making it look effortless. Maybe, if you stare hard enough, it’ll look like you’re the one who’s more sure of herself.
For the impending end of 2017, some of our writers are going back and talking about beloved songs from this year, especially from artists not covered on our podcast.
Sportsalcohol.com has had a complicated relationship to Lorde, to put it nicely. (“Why would a reviewer make the point of saying someone’s not a genius?”/”Well, I just don’t use that word lightly.”) But every pop singer out there, it seems, has a way of breaking through one of our steely exteriors. This year, while Miley managed to charm Jesse, Lorde’s “Green Light” earwormed its way into my cold, rockist heart.
Which is not to say the song is perfect. Far from it. “Green Light” gets the 2017 Whiplash Award for going from one of the year’s worst lyrics to one of the best. “She thinks you love the beach, you’re such a damn liar,” stops me cold every time, and in a bad way. There’s no nice way of putting it: It’s just dumb. It’s petty. It’s something a sixth-grader would say. And the line sticks out abrasively; the beginning of the verse rhymes, and it seems like “liar” should rhyme with something for consistency, and it…just doesn’t. I don’t want to be the AABB-poetry-police, but I would’ve cut Lorde some slack if she forced that line in there to rhyme with something, but actually there’s no stylistic reason for it to exist. The next time she does a verse, it’s just two lines, not four, and they (mostly) rhyme.
But if you can get past the beach grievances, you are rewarded. “Those great whites they have big teeth, and they’ll bite you,” is actually a very clever way of talking about the dangers of little white lies. It’s the best shark lyric since “When they say great white sharks, they mean the kind with big, black cars,” in the Hold Steady’s “Banging Camp.”
I know a song is not just the sum of its lyrics, but, in the beginning, you don’t have much else besides a quiet piano buffering those words. But after the sharks are released, the song builds to a can’t-help-but-dance moment where I finally see Lorde living up to her reputation. It can’t slow down for a chorus, just a refrain: “I’m waiting for it. That green light. I want it.” (Genius.com says specifically that’s not a Gatsby reference, but, whether Lorde knows it or not, it is.) It’s meant to be shouted. You can jump up and point your finger at the singer when you hear it. Or you can just groove to it in your own little world, like the (tragically too beautiful for this world) Twitter feed @armiedancingto once illustrated.
I listen to “Green Light” with my 2-year-old. The call-and-response chorus is repetitive enough that she can sing it, too. We both jump up and down like Armie Hammer. Then she falls onto a pillow we keep on the floor and sticks her legs up in the air, and I grab them and spin her around like a break dancer. There are very few songs that bring us both the same kind of joy. I guess creating something like that does take a certain kind of genius.
For the impending end of 2017, some of our writers are going back and talking about beloved songs from this year, especially from artists not covered on our upcoming podcast.
We covered The National in our music podcast, but I didn’t get a chance to say this: I haven’t listened to Sleep Well Beast all that much. It’s not that I haven’t loaded it up and hit the play button. But, four songs in, I get to “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness,” and I can’t get past it. I need at least three listens before I’m able to move on. It is, without a doubt, the best song by The National.
Perhaps that’s because it’s also the most song by The National. It’s all there from the beginning, but the song slowly, confidently lets them build: The beat, the piano, that angular guitar riff. There are horns. I’m a sucker for rock songs with horns (though oddly enough I never had a ska phase). But the horns aren’t blaring, they’re just lifting up the melody. There are voices, too, and not just Matt Berninger’s. They help the song move from the low rumblings of lonely secrets to the higher, soaring talks with God.
I used to have a theory that the best album titles were really just phrases you hear all the time, but taken out of everyday context. I still mostly believe that there will never be an album title better than Northern State’s Can I Keep This Pen? (When I heard that Limp Bizkit had an album called Results May Vary, I was like, goddamn them, that’s good.) I never really thought that applied to lyrics until I heard Berninger’s exasperated, “I can’t explain it any other way.” How many times have I said that, and how come it never sounded so beautiful?