Saying goodbye to a turbulent year

In many ways, 2015 was a mess. As the final hours of the year tick down, we are left with a very divided political landscape, severe racial unrest, and the lingering fear that ISIS is going to show up on our doorstep.

But amid the uneasiness throughout the last 12 months, we forget that a lot of good happened, too. Don’t forget that this was the year that the Supreme Court ruled that same sex couples deserve equal treatment for marriage under the law.

However, what I like to think about at year’s end is the cultural items that caught the fascination of most Americans. And in that regard, there were aplenty.

Tom Brady defaltegateOne of the biggest ones earlier this year was the controversy surrounding whether New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady used deflated footballs to gain a competitive edge during the NFL playoffs last year.

The pretty boy quarterback, adorned in a wintry snow cap, was forced to defend himself in a highly publicized press conference after the accusations were made. He won the Super Bowl about a week later.

After brief excitement following a Saved by the Bell reunion on the Tonight Show in February, the world was saved from the cumbersome task of having to think about net neutrality by the emergence of a dress.

Ten months later, I still think it’s white and gold. Dressgate

But that wasn’t before Brian Williams decided to lie his face off about his experience in the 2003 Iraq War, which landed him a suspension and then a demotion from NBC’s Nightly News to MSNBC.

He was just one iconic television personality to disappear from the air waves this year, joined by perennial funnymen Jon Stewart and David Letterman, who said goodbye, respectively, from the shows that they each built and groomed. And with their departures, America lost a major degree of honesty, humor and sincerity on television that is becoming harder to come by in today’s growing politically correct world.

Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams were discredited for their work on the 2013 hit “Blurred Lines,” the Secret Service continued to embarrass itself, a serial killer made the questionable decision of allowing himself to be the subject of an HBO documentary, and Starbucks tried to single-handedly solve race relations across the world.

And we’re not even up to April yet!

It was a tough year for One Direction fans, as Zayn Malik decided it was time to call it quits.

But it was a good year for Amanda Knox fans, as she was acquitted for murder by Italy’s highest court, ending an eight-year courtroom saga.

Johnny Depp was forced to extradite his dogs from Australia in May after government officials threatened to kill them if he didn’t. Yup, that was a real story.

Bruce Jenner became Caitlin Jenner. FIFA was finally exposed for its decades of corruption.

And then this summer brought us people to hate — Rachel Dolezal. Walter Palmer. Martin Shkreli. Jared Fogle. Bill Cosby.

An upstate New York prison escape enthralled us in June, which, predictably, did not end well for the escaped prisoners. The lesson, kids? womens world cupDo’t wind up in prison. But if you do, just stay there.

Besides the legalization of gay marriage, the next most uniting American event was probably the U.S. Women’s team capturing the World Cup in dominant fashion. And they were promptly and deservedly celebrated with the first ever ticker tape parade for a women’s team in New York City.

A pretend political candidate named Deez Nuts brought some levity in August into what has otherwise been a highly depressing and uninspiring 2016 presidential campaign. A bigoted Kentucky clerk was jailed for failing to issue marriage licenses to gay couples. And a Muslim boy was arrested for building a clock.

Playboy decided to stop showing nude photos, Belgians embraced cat memes, Mark Zuckerberg said he’s going to give away all his money to good causes, oh, and almost 200 nations came to a historic climate change accord that may potentially save our planet.

Steve HarveyAnd motherfucking Steve Harvey. God bless that man. We needed a high note to end the year on. And he delivered.

Yes, there was a lot of bad stuff too. An ongoing Syrian Civil War resulting in an unprecedented migration crisis. Perpetual mass shootings. A German pilot killing hundreds by flying a plane into a mountain. Two journalists killed live on television. Ebola ravaging western Africa. The Paris attacks. San Bernardino. And Donald Trump’s divisive rhetoric.

But with the year winding down, maybe it will help us all to focus on the good. The world united many times in the face of tragedy, and we showed that we are stronger people when we come together.

2015 wasn’t always bright, but it brought a lot of laughs and plenty of pop culture memes that will last us a lifetime.

And through thick and thin, it brought us hope that 2016 may not be so bad.

I’ll see y’all next year.

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The Weinblog’s top albums of 2015

As the year winds down, the Weinblog continues to reflect on all that the year had to offer.

One of those things was music. Plenty of new releases made their way from the studio to our ear drums this year, and some were better than others.

This is the second straight year I’ve ranked what I thought were the best albums of the year, and after doing some serious listening over the recent weeks, I’ve narrowed it to 12.

And despite receiving my praise yesterday, you will not find Justin Bieber on this list.

Enjoy.

12.
Gypsy Heart
Colbie Caillat

Gypsy Heart

I debated what to put in the last spot for quite a while, and then decided that If I didn’t go with Colbie Caillat’s Gypsy Heart, I’d regret it for the rest of my life. OK, that’s maybe an exaggeration. But the songs on this album (particularly in the top half) are just so pure, so empowering and so well-intentioned that I thought I’d be remiss not to acknowledge it in era where musicians tends to forget that they have the unique ability to inspire young people with their words. There’s no tricks here. No over-the-top hooks. Just Colbie singing from her heart.

11.
Kintsugi
Death Cab for Cutie

Kintsugi.jpg

Ben Gibbard has a unique ability to slow the tempo and invoke emotion with his voice without ever becoming too tedious. Kintsugi is further evidence of that. I can’t help but listen to Death Cab for Cutie and feel a sense of longing, or nostalgia … for what, I don’t know. But it’s there. Indeed, Kintusgi may even have an added flair of somberness tinged in since it’s the first release since Gibbard’s and Zooey Deschanel’s marriage fell apart. The album is bookended by its best tracks, “No Room in Frame” and “Binary Sea.”

10.
Payola
Desaparecidos

Payola

Right out of the gate, Payola smacks you in the face with its heavy riffs, smash-mouth lyrics and aggressive attitude, and it maintains that edge throughout. The punk rock band, headed by Conor Oberst, just seemed like they were on a mission with this album, as they touch on many socioeconomic issues in their songs. But the result is a powerfully raw, angry and restless album that makes for a very lively and enjoyable listen.

9.
Dark Bird is Home
The Tallest Man on Earth

Dark Bird is Home.jpg

Swedish singer-songwriter Kristian Matsson, known by his stage name The Tallest Man on Earth, is known for his raw and simple delivery. He’s just a man and his guitar, singing about life. But with Dark Bird is Home, Matsson adds a jingly, instrumental accompaniment that perfectly suits his voice and adds more depth to the tracks. The whole thing is just very pleasurable to listen to on many levels.

8.
What’s Inside: Songs from Waitress
Sara Bareilles

Sara_Bareilles,_What's_Inside_–_Songs_from_Waitress_(2015)

Underrated as one of the best singer-songwriters of our generation, Bareilles sticks to her roots, singing about romance and relationships, but this time does it in a more theatrical way. Which is fine, as it shows us another element of her amazing talent. The theatrical feel makes perfect sense, as the songs were written by Bareilles as a score to a musical, which she decided to translate into a full-length album. The whole album is really good, but hits its stride at the end with tracks nine through 11, namely “You Matter To me,” “She Used to Be Mine” and “Everything Changes.”

7.
Wilder Mind
Mumford & Sons

Wilder Mid

As a devoted Mumford & Sons fan ever since I first heard “Little Lion Man” on the radio in 2009, I was admittedly apprehensive when I learned the band was changing course, ditching the banjo for its forthcoming release and replacing it with the electric guitar. By doing so, they were essentially abandoning their folk roots, which is what made them who they are. Even after the first couple listens of Wilder Mind, I was still dubious — with the exception of “The Wolf,” which I liked from the get-go. But after stepping away for a couple of months and returning to the album with a fresh ear, there’s no doubt in my mind that this is awesome. It’s different, for sure, but at the heart of each track is still the same old Mumford & Sons. For the most part, the tracks are a little less explosive and more refined, but the band still displays their subtle brilliance to begin a track slowly and build to a dramatic climax, best exemplified in the track “Only Love.”

6.
What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World
The Decemberists

What a Terrible World, What a Wonderful World

I’ve always loved The Decemberists, but seeing them live in Newport, Rhode Island this summer made me a fan for life. They are just such a cheerful, energetic bunch on stage. And they’re also very good at making music. What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World is a continuation of the band’s great catalog, an indie-rock serenade that you can’t possibly listen to without feeling your mood brighten. It’s endlessly hopeful and charming, and ends with a bang, with “A Beginning Song,” which may be my favorite Decemberists track ever.

5.
Pageant Material
Kacey Musgraves

Pageant Material

There’s something so incredibly appealing in what Kacey Musgraves does. She possesses the furthest thing from powerhouse vocals, but has the unique ability to tell a story in every one of her songs. Her straightforward delivery really helps you pick up the lyrics, and you find that they are actually really funny and poignant, but at the same time, flow perfectly within the song without seeming too forced. I don’t know any other artist today that can match her ability to create songs that are so simple, yet so multi-layered. Just take a listen to the album’s title track “Pageant Material,” and really try to hear what she’s saying if you want to fully grasp Kacey’s brilliance. It’s a great follow-up to the Grammy-winning Same Trailer, Different Park, but with a little more sass and humor embedded within.

4.
I Love You, Honeybear
Father John Misty

I Love You, Honeybear.jpg

I Love You, Honeybear is really an achievement in indie rock singer-songwriting, which I’m not sure was really a genre until Joshua Tillman, a.k.a. Father John Misty, made it his own with this release. There’s really nothing else like this in music today, and it’s a perfect example of how experimenting with music and lyrics can be a win-win for all. It’s not at all conventional, and will at times challenge your musical palate, but that’s a good thing.

3.
The Firewatcher’s Daughter
Brandi Carlile

Brandi_Carlile,_The_Firewatcher's_Daughter

It’s about time this woman deserved her due. As far as vocal ability, Brandi Carlile is up there with almost anyone else in the music industry today. Her voice has so much depth and range that it almost works against her in the sense that it leaves her without a genre. She’s a hybrid of country, folk, rock and alternative. But whatever it is — it’s awesome. With The Firewatcher’s Daughter, Carlile really channeled all of her life inspiration into a beautiful anthology in an extremely mature fashion. There’s up-tempo rock mixed with slow ballads, all heavily imbued with emotion, and each of which showcase the extraordinary talents of Brandi Carlile.

2.
25
Adele

25

Quite simply, nobody else in the world can do what Adele does. Her voice is second to none, and thus, 25 could not be recorded by anybody else.  I went into this album weary of praising it just because it’s Adele, and because critics will tell me I should, but it didn’t take long for me to appreciate it. The second single, “When We Were Young,” is an extremely powerful and emotive song, rich with feelings of nostalgia, that could go down as her biggest hit yet. The whole album is a tour de force driven by Adele’s bluesy and soulful voice, which is very refreshing in today’s bubblegum pop-driven contemporary music industry

1.
Carrie & Lowell
Sufjan Stevens

Sufjan_Stevens_-_Carrie_&_Lowell.jpg

There’s just something so soulfully haunting when it comes to Sufjan Stevens that it’s almost hard to listen to his music over and over again. But with Carrie & Lowell, Stevens created a much more accessible album that could not be more blissful or soothing. His almost whisper-like quality of singing puts the listener into a surreal, dreamlike state of mind. It’s absolutely criminal that the album was ignored by the Grammys this year, but in the grand scheme of things, the most important thing about music is the impact that it has on people, and I think the acclaim that the album has received speaks for itself. It’s chilling in so many ways, but never becomes depressing, and may even leave you with a small feeling of hope. And that, my friends, is why it’s the best album of 2015.

2015: The renaissance of Justin Bieber

If 2014 was the year of Matthew McConaughey’s resurgence, then I officially declare 2015 as the year Justin Bieber turned his own image around.

It’s something most people have been thinking — but not voicing aloud — since the mid-November release of his new album, Purpose. His music has not only dominated radio waves since then, but at this current moment in time, three tracks from that record sit in the top five of the Billboard Hot 100.

But Bieber’s reputation and lackluster discography leading up to this new release created an awkward situation for music listeners. We’re trained to not like him. To dismiss his music. To disavow all things Bieber.

However, the simple truth is that these new tracks are good. They’re nothing inventive, nor is it anywhere near the best of 2015, but it blends perfectly well in today’s pop music scene.

Justin Bieber

And slowly but surely, Bieber fans are coming out of the woodwork. This idea is exemplified perfectly in this funny video that I stumbled across on Facebook, of a British man listening to Bieber’s early music with disgust, and declaring that he will “never ever, ever, ever like this guy.”

Seconds later, the song changes to “Sorry,” one of Bieber’s new tracks, and the British guy hilariously changes course, as much as he hates to admit it.

Chalk up the success of the new album to quality production, smart collaborations, or basically anything but the vocals, but the fact of the matter is that the end product is pleasurable to the ears.

And you have to give the kid some credit. For the last few years, he was Public Enemy #1. No one liked him. They wanted him banished from the music scene at best, deported to Canada at worst.

Also, don’t think this is easy for me to admit. Justin Bieber has been one of my more consistent punch lines since I started this blog six years ago. Charlie Sheen came and went, The Situation is ancient history, and Donald Trump wasn’t even worth insulting until about six months ago.

But Bieber has always been there. Searching his name on this blog reveals of tidal wave of hate. Six pages worth, in fact.

I never saw this coming. I thought Bieber was more likely to have an Amanda Bynes-like mental breakdown than become a fan favorite ever again. So I must give credit where credit is due.

Many people will still choose to remain in denial about Bieber. Many will maintain that they’ve yet to hear “Sorry,” “What Do You Mean?” or “Where Are U Now.”

But you’ve already made up your mind, you just don’t know it yet. And when we look back on 2015, for better or worse, we will remember this as the year that Justin Bieber somehow, someway, made us all ito semi-Beliebers.

I said it.

Guys, a rocket landed upright.

It’s been a fun week leading up to Christmas.

You had it start with the Miss Universe debacle, continue with a weird exchange between Democratic and Republican presidential candidates concerning Hillary Clinton’s bathroom break during last Saturday’s debate, and cap with the Food and Drug Administration lifting a decades-old ban that disallowed gay and bisexual men from donating blood.

Oh yeah, and a rocket was launched into space and then returned to Earth, landing upright near its launching pad.

Wait, what?

I don’t think people appreciate just how ridiculous this is. Try taking a toy rocket ship, drop it from three feet high in the air, and see if it lands upright.

Well, engineers just accomplished that with a real rocket ship.

SpaceXThe Falcon 9 rocket, developed by SpaceX, a company headed by Tesla founder Elon Musk — considered by some as the “real life Tony Stark” — delivered satellites into space before returning home safely.

It’s a potential breakthrough because it presents the idea of reusable rockets, saving tens of millions of dollars and broadening more resources for space travel. The company’s ultimate mission is to one day fly people to Mars.

But, like, why is this not being more internationally lauded? Why isn’t this dominating cubicle conversation inside of offices?

A ROCKET FLEW INTO SPACE AND THEN CAME BACK DOWN LIKE IT WAS NO BIG DEAL.

There’s even video evidence to boot, so people who like to reject established science such as climate change can’t even diminish this.

But shit, I shouldn’t even talk. This happened on Monday, and yet, instead of talking about it right away, I instead chose yesterday to discuss the decision to cast a black actress to play Hermione Granger in the upcoming Harry Potter play.

Sometimes can’t even land upright when I jump like a foot and a half into the air.

When I’m drunk.

But I think the lack of interest in this accomplishment underscores a bigger problem. NASA, and space manufacturers like SpaceX, need to do a better job getting the word out.

Do whatever it takes. Get Taylor Swift to tweet about it. Have a SpaceX hashtag appear on the bottom right hand corner of the screen during the next episode of Cake Boss.

I think all you need to do is get somebody to mentally comprehend the fact that a rocket, after launching into outer space, turned around and just came back home, like it was a lost cat who ran away from its owners.

Because it speaks for itself.

So tomorrow, tell your friends about this. Maybe use it as your opening line for your next match on Tinder.

I promise, she’ll be very interested to hear more about your SpaceX.

The Weinblog solemnly endorses black Hermione

America has made significant progress in the last several decades when it comes to the acceptance of racial diversity.

Although, let’s face it, that’s mostly a byproduct of the fact that there was nowhere to go but up.

But progress is progress. And no one is doubting that there is still ways to go.

A major checklist item was achieved seven years ago when Barack Obama was sworn in as our nation’s first black president. It was long overdue, and as he nears the end of his presidency, the man is more beloved by Americans than never before.

Don’t fact check that.

Black Hermione.pngBut that was not the final hurdle. And I know you’re asking — what greater accomplishment can there be besides a black man holding our country’s highest and most powerful office?

There’s only one answer: getting a black person into the Harry Potter universe!

And ladies and gentlemen, I am proud to announce that we did it! We did it! Drop the confetti!

…did the confetti not drop? Sorry, I forgot I don’t have the budget of most blogs to prepare universal confetti. Just do me a favor and throw the nearest item straight up in the air, and pray that it doesn’t come back down on your head. It’ll do.

Noma Dumezweni has been cast to play the adult Hermione in the upcoming “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” play, written by J.K. Rowling herself, the narrative of which will ensue where the book series finished.

While reaction to the play and the actors chosen to play the main characters has been mostly positive, there has been enough backlash to necessitate Rowling and other actors from the film adaptations to come forward and voice their support for Dumezweni.

Alright. Let’s get real for a second. As someone who basically lived his childhood vicariously through the Harry Potter universe, let me speak directly to the fellow Pottermaniacs like myself.

We are better than everyone. We’re not Star Wars fanboys. We’re not Trekkies or Lord of the Rings fanatics. And we sure as hell aren’t like the diehards of the Fast and the Furious franchise. Don’t even get me started on those degenerates.

We are civilized. We are free thinkers. And above all, we are tolerant.

And plus, if we accepted a universe that involves humans transforming into cats and transportation by way of tossing powder into a fireplace, then a black actress is the least far-fetched thing that we have to accept.

Heck, I say why stop there?

Harry Potter should be played by a Muslim. A transgender could act the part of Ron Weasley.

Rubeus Hagrid, the eight-and-a-half-foot tall half giant who lives on the Hogwarts grounds? Give the role to a midget Scientologist.

As for who should play Voldemort? This is a tough one.

If only there was a powerful person in real life with a large following who is promoting bigotry and dividing people of differing belief systems…

I can’t think of anyone.

 

Steve Harvey, you had one job. Just one.

For about two minutes on Sunday night, the people of Colombia had much to celebrate. For the second straight year, a woman from their nation had been crowned Miss Universe.

And then Steve Harvey happened.

The affable, if sometimes snarky comedian, who has breathed new life into Family Feud with his biting sense of humor, hosted the pageant.

And really, as host of Miss Universe, you only have one thing to do. It’s not the Emmys, where you’re expected to open the show with a funny monologue. Nor is it the Tonys, where a song and dance number is customary.

Miss UniverseYou announce the winner. That’s it. You read from a card. It’s your only task.

And yet, Steve Harvey butchered it in the most painfully awkward way possible when he accidentally declared the first runner up, Ariadna Gutierrez Arevalo, as the winner.

His embarrassing error was made on a grand stage for the entire world to see. But let’s not get too worked up — it’s the furthest thing from a scandal. It was simply an innocent mistake.

Did he deprive a young woman from a glorious honor she would have wore proudly for her entire life? Sure. Did he all but guarantee that the Colombian cartel will hunt him down if he steps anywhere near the country’s borders? Probably.

And did he ensure that he will be forever associated with this gaffe for the rest of his life? Most definitely.

But other than all that, it wasn’t too big of a deal.

The real winner, Pia Wurtzbach, of the Philippines, was the benefactor of Steve HarveyHarvey’s blunder. And let’s face it — she’s the hotter one, anyway. The result never should have been in doubt.

It’s reasons like this why social media exists. Human boneheadedness is the oxygen that Twitter and Facebook require for survival, and Steve Harvey just delivered a lifetime supply.

Any one who’s ever embarrassed themselves in grand fashion could empathize with Steve Harvey. And he was forced to admit and take responsibility for his mistake live on television, as he hopelessly waved the results card at the camera to show he wasn’t pulling some type of prank.

And to make matters worse, he issued an apology tweet after the show, misspelling both Colombia and the Philippines in the process. To be fair, 50 percent of people probably spell the Philippines wrong on their first try.

But at the end of the day, it provided the best water cooler conversation material of 2015. Don’t even deny that you spent the first 20 minutes of work Monday morning discussing this incident with your colleagues. You’re probably the one who put the YouTube video on your computer to show your co-workers who didn’t know about it.

Steve Harvey, meanwhile, never known for his intellect to begin with, just needs be his old, playful self moving forward. And he’ll be fine.

And he also accomplished something else.

He’s the first person to embarrass theirself on national television in the last five months who isn’t running for the Republican nomination for president!

Martin Shkreli arrested — it’s a Christmas miracle!

We are now at T-minus 8 days until Christmas.

You know, I really have no idea why the term “T-minus” is used for countdowns. Could this be easily solved by searching it on Wikipedia? Yes. Will I actually do that? No.

Choosing what you want to receive as a gift for the holidays gets more difficult with each passing year. As a kid, you wanted the latest new toys that recently hit the market.

As a teenager, you just want cash so you can buy more drugs and alcohol. Erm, I didn’t mean that. What I meant to say was…  uhh, alcohol and drugs. Smooth save there.

But when you’re a young adult, and you have a stable job, then you almost feel guilty asking for stuff when you can afford it yourself.

Martin ShkreliAt the same time, since its customary for your close friends and family to give you a gift, you have to come up with something.

For many people, Christmas came early on Thursday. Don’t get confused by that though. Christmas is still the 25th. It’s just a metaphor.

But I say that in light of the news that pharmaceuticals bad boy, Martin Shkreli, was arrested on securities fraud charges.

You all remember Shkreli. Besides Donald Trump, he’s probably the most hated man in America, if not more so. He’s the one who bought a drug that treats a rare parasitic condition sometimes found in babies or HIV patients, and then jacked its price from $13.50 per pill to $750.

The intense backlash he faced made him change his mind, but then he reversed course again. Just this month, when asked what he would have done differently, he said he would have “raised the price higher.”

Shkreli also is the guy who purchased the lone copy of the recently released Wu Tang Clan album for $2 million.

And he also happens to have the most punchable face in America.

Nonetheless, Shkreli was arrested for his alleged scheme in using a company’s assets that he was CEO of to pay back people he owed, which apparently is illegal. I’m not going to pretend I know all the details.

Even his “being hauled away by FBI agents while under arrest” look is annoying. He looks like an emo Eminem.

But seriously, I didn’t really feel like I’ve been overcome with Christmas spirit until today. It’s like the end of the holiday movie, where the greedy businessman and antagonist of the film goes down. I feel like we should be celebrating this arrest in Jimmy Stewart’s living room.

Also adding to the holiday atmosphere today was the release of a teaser Fuller Housetrailer for the upcoming Fuller House, the Netflix continuation of the classic original series that is set to premiere in late February.

It was a teaser in every sense of the word, as the only glimpses we get of the characters are their voices, from behind a closed door inside the house where the older series took place.

There are undoubtedly some things that should be left in the past. We love seeing our favorite shows come back, but sometimes it’s done simply for commercial reasons, and the sequel ends up lacking substance.

That being said, I think Fuller House will succeed. Many of the actors managed to stay relevant over the years, and with the right team of writers, I believe the show can accommodate to the current times. Plus it’s on NetFlix, and nothing in the world has ever failed on NetFlix.

Hey, you know what else just became a fuller house?

Jail.

Because Martin Shkreli is there.