I thought I’d end this year by jumping on the bandwagon of benevolent culture shares, which seems to me to be an excuse to flaunt one’s own superior taste in things. But hey, if former US president Barack Obama can get away with it…
So here’s a selection of people / things / events I have greatly enjoyed during a second plague-ridden year:
I’m not here to tell you about Netflix or Amazon Prime shows – I own no TV streaming accounts of that kind, so I don’t have a dog in that fight – but of what little I’ve accessed in that realm, I’ll admit Succession really is worth the fuss. A consistently excellent hate watch, it’s great for your self-esteem and moral fortitude to witness a drama with no redeeming characters who demonstrate their awfulness in ways you’d genuinely find hard to emulate. It’s like Skins meets The Thick of It set in and around the boardrooms of corporate America.
Shifting to my comfort zone of British TV, I will never not promote EastEnders. It’s what I grew up on, and is one of the few things I’d genuinely miss if I had to live abroad. So, with that in mind, I must say I was thrilled for the return of one of the all-time great characters of any drama I have ever watched, superb*tch Janine Butcher (played by Charlie Brooks). Oh, the trouble she causes! Below is a clip of Janine beefing with another legend of the show, Kat Slater (played by Jessie Wallace), about some sensitive information she disclosed unauthorised(!) to one of Kat’s children.
Trigger warning: mild violence, references to incest (standard stuff if you know the show, but I thought I’d inform you, just in case)
As for real life drama, I was gripped by the documentary of the Premier League’s early years – perhaps one for sports fans in particular, but if you’d lived through it, you may be pleased with the BBC’s retelling of key moments that shaped elite level modern football.
I also liked the second series of Back to Life, a comedy drama that for me successfully balances itself between genres with exemplary performances from all actors involved (led by Daisy Haggard who plays the main character Miri Matteson) and a mystery plot enjoyable enough for an idiot like me to be invested in without getting lost. I love a good throwaway line, and if you do watch the show, may I recommend Daisy’s character’s father (played by Richard Durden), who has plenty of them – check out the ‘quiche’ line in episode 2 of the second series.
For outright comedy, I loved both series 2 of Ladhood (a nostalgic view of school life in a northern town in the 2000s) and series 3 of Pls Like (a satirical look at the lives of YouTube stars). The link to both shows is that they are the creations of Liam Williams, one of my favourite comedians of the last decade.
And with that, I seamlessly link to actual YouTubers / TikTokers who have made notable video essays / skits this year.
John Duncan: A PhD student whose expertise is in all things neoliberal. I studied social sciences almost exclusively at university and I honestly could not define neoliberalism with any confidence until I came across his work. What Duncan doesn’t know about neoliberalism ain’t worth knowing. See below, for instance, his lucid explanation for why the UK government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic does not prove that neoliberalism is dead
Saint Andrew: A ‘solarpunk anarchic’ artist – I don’t fully know what that means, but he is excellent at making the argument for resetting our knowledge of concepts we take for granted, like all of human history!
Kyla Scanlon: Someone who makes some mesmeringly batsh*t crazy hot takes (read: accurate) on what the stock market is up to at any given moment. It’s like hallucinating fragments of the Bloomberg channel… one of their anchors might call her ‘irreverent’ if they were in a bad mood
Kylie Brakeman: From her quickfire mind comes a universe of random characters, all ridiculous in their ways. Pretty much every skit is a winner
12tone: Deeply researched (IMO) analysis of various aspects of music discourse in a deadpan voice. Always fair-minded about the topics (and targets) chosen
I’m not the person you come to if you want to know who stands a chance of winning the next Man Booker prize. But that won’t stop me sharing some pieces I’ve enjoyed reading:
How SoundScan Changed Everything We Knew About Popular Music (The Ringer): the lede summarises it perfectly – ‘Thirty years ago, Billboard changed the way it tabulated its charts, turning the industry on its head and making room for genres once considered afterthoughts to explode in the national consciousness’ – I think this tale is a strong argument for the claim that mainstream music audiences’ tastes can be more varied than we are led to believe
Is Britain entering an age of aggravation? (The Face) I do love an article about an element of British subculture completely alien to me, and this is a particularly disturbing (yet unsurprising) one
Anything by Joel Golby. Honestly, any article you find with his name on it, like this one about Football Manager in which he describes the video game as ‘essentially two spreadsheets fighting’; a more precise description I have yet to see bettered. Sometimes a writer comes along and writes prose so fluently you just have to swoon. I can’t explain it. I just love his style
The poems of Niall O’Sullivan, who is a poet, in his words ‘mostly known as the host of Poetry Unplugged, London's longest running poetry open mic, at the Poetry Café in Covent Garden’, closed since the onset of the pandemic. In that time, he’s started a podcast, and earlier this year a Substack, where he delivers poems (among other things) on any contemporary subject that amuses, or rather bemuses him, in his typically wry style.
I tend to listen more to talk radio than music radio, which ruins my capacity to stay up to date with new music releases. Truth be told, in 2021 I was extremely lazy with new music. I feel like the only person under the age of 40 who still hasn’t heard Olivia Rodrigo’s hit album (to prove the point, I will link to it here and still not bother to listen).
Instead, I bought an album from a three-piece group named Palberta at the start of the year, then simply waited for Bandcamp and a couple of other places to publish their end of year lists and sifted through them for albums I liked (yes, I have a Bandcamp account. No, I do not have a Spotify account. Yes, I am that sort of person).
This is a shortlist of albums I liked most.
LINGUA IGNOTA, SINNER GET READY: You know the phrase ‘don’t judge a book by its cover?’ Well, this is what it looks like. Think Day of Judgment revelations and confessions set to music. Restrained compared with her previous albums though.
Jana Rush, Painful Enlightenment: Known as a footwork DJ, Jana Rush says this album is more a experimental dance record, which suits a wallflower like me perfectly. Quite disturbing in places, as the title suggests. Not a bangers sort of album.
JJJJJerome Ellis, The Clearing: At points this album sounds like a slam poet’s PhD thesis on the emancipatory aspects of having a speech impediment… but that is precisely why it’s such a profound piece of work. Do not listen to this for tunes though.
Dax Pierson, Nerve Bumps (A Queer Divine Dissatisfaction): I can strongly relate to music which plays out like the result of a very personal struggle to achieve a sound trapped in the composer’s mind, such as this album, ‘two long years in the making’.
Rosie Lowe & Duval Timothy, Son: This is the kind of album I dream of making. I am a sucker for choirs applying extended vocal techniques to create different atmospheres. Thankfully, at least one album like this seems to find its way to me every year. This is the most aesthetically pleasing work I’ve heard this year.
As for ‘talk’ radio, there are a few podcasts I’d tentatively recommend. Please don’t blame me if you don’t enjoy them.
Mandatory Redistribution Party podcast: I’m aware a lot of podcasts are simply Two Guys Chatting Sh*t In A Room, but if there was an award for the best podcast of that genre, I’d give it to Sean Morley and Jack Evans for being able to keep me engaged in whatever tangent they go off on. Plus, they are so knowledgeable about all sorts of subjects that I learn something new from most episodes.
While I’m feeling generous, if I could give another award to best all round podcaster, it would easily be Olga Koch. In the short time I have been aware of her work, she’s never failed me yet (like Jesus’s blood). She had two productions for the BBC, both glorious for different reasons: 1) her BBC Radio 4 series OK Computer, based on one of her stand up shows about being a computer science graduate; and 2) her other BBC radio show with journalist Hussein Kesvani, Human Error, in which they explore aspects of modern day tech while maintaining a level of flippancy that must have seriously tested the patience of the BBC’s censors.
Keeping on the subject of modern tech, my regular go-to podcast for affirmation of my steadfast neo-Luddite belief that Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg and Peter Thiel are the leading merchant devils of Silicon Valley and that Tesla, Alexa, Cortana, and Siri are the fully automated robot horsemen of the nearcoming botcalypse that will send us to our doom is aptly named Tech Won’t Save Us. Every week host Paris Marx (and interviewees) find new and novel ways to service my paranoia.
And finally, I was pleasantly surprised to see a new live music show Tonight with Target, presented by the veteran grime DJ, who appears to fashioning himself as the Jools Holland of the genre. If you are interested in that sort of music, it’s great to get to watch live performances of musical artists such as Potter Payper and Unknown T that won’t get shut down for spurious reasons by the police.
That’s it from me for 2021. I hope to make your (and Obama’s) end of year lists this time next year!