Best Songs of 2016

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All songs on this list were released as singles in 2016, or 2015 but didn’t make an impact until 2016.

1. Kiiara – “Gold” – An ingenious production trick wins the top spot. The best music in the world rewires your brain.
2. Beyoncé ft. Kendrick Lamar – “Freedom” – Beyoncé BUSTS out every emotion of the year.
3. Phantogram – “You Don’t Get Me High Anymore” – I can feel myself dissolving in the despair.
4. Lady GaGa – “Perfect Illusion” – GaGa’s crying out in beautiful pain.
5. Kanye West – “Fade” – From another dimension.
6. Rag‘n’Bone Man – “Human” – The blues are alive and kicking.
7. Sia – “The Greatest” – Sia’s career is the soundtrack for perseverance.
8. Alessia Cara – “Scars to Your Beautiful” – What could have been an anodyne message piece instead infuses an influx of attitude.
9. Flume ft. Tove Lo – “Say It” – An airy, effervescent blast from 2016’s top DJ.
10. Childish Gambino – “Me and Your Mama” – Where did this burst of neo-P-Funk come from?!
11. Rae Sremmurd ft. Gucci Mane – “Black Beatles” – This sounds like nostalgia and the future.
12. Glass Animals – “Life Itself” – Alternative quirk’s top spot of the year.
13. Bishop Briggs – “River” – I need at least one lady rocker belting it out like this per annum.
14. Beyoncé – “Formation” – The production is so much more adventurous and more mature from Queen Bey than ever before.
15. BANKS – “Gemini Feed” – Icy and boopy, with attitude to spare.
16. Leonard Cohen – “You Want It Darker” – I’m vociferously nodding along to every declaration Mr. Cohen makes.
17. Kaleo – “Way Down We Go” – That title is sort of like musical onomatopoeia.
18. Highly Suspect – “My Name is Human” – These guys from Cape Cod ought to be rocking stadiums to their core.
19. Beck – “Wow” – Beck’s gonna keep uncovering these strange corners in the aural landscape.
20. Kongos – “Take It From Me” – These South African rockers are totally in control.
21. Tove Lo – “Cool Girl” – Tove keeps freaking up the airwaves.
22. A Tribe Called Quest – “We the People” – A necessary anthem.
23. Sia ft. Sean Paul – “Cheap Thrills” – Bounce along when you’re looking for fun.
24. Ariana Grande – “Into You” – Features the year’s most killer opening line
25. Rihanna ft. Drake – “Work” – One of those great songs that defy natural analysis.

SNL Recap May 14, 2016: Drake

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SNL: Drake, Leslie Jones (CREDIT: YouTube Screenshot)

This review was originally posted on Starpulse in May 2016.

Drake now finds himself in a select crowd of entertainers who have not just pulled “SNL” double duty as both host and musical guest, but done so multiple times. His first double threat gig was a highlight of Season 39, so in terms of potential hosting quality, he is a fine selection. But what about timeliness? He certainly remains big in the music world, but he is not quite as huge in the culture at large the way other repeat double dippers (Justin Timberlake, Miley Cyrus) have been. But he has the acting chops, so when it gets down to it, who cares? As for the material he is given, it represents a whole range of ideas, some of which work quite well, and others that only work sporadically. All in all, the expansive effort is appreciated.

Donald Trump Vice President Selection – There is not much to make fun of Donald Trump this week (at least, not much new), although the “Joey Pepperoni” quip points to a goofy path that could hold up for the future. So instead, the focus is on the mogul’s VP selection, which could offer new targets for humor, save for the fact that most of the candidates floated are casualties of this election cycle and thus have already been mocked. But sneaking George Zimmerman’s name in there is sharp and the right sort of dangerous. Otherwise, this is just putting down Chris Christie for being nakedly opportunistic, which is way too obvious and not pathetic enough to really make an impact. C+


SNL with Donald Trump Postscript

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There were several successful sketches on the latest episode of SNL (read my review here), but it is hard to embrace them, as they came at the expense of giving Donald Trump a platform. Considering that much of the episode played off of his personality and controversy, I am torn, as the good bits may have never even been pitched in the first place if he had not been there. Could the best moments have happened in any other episode? Here is a rundown of the top sketches, listed in order from most reliant to least reliant on Trump’s presence.

1. Weekend Update – Update was probably written independently of Trump’s direct influence, though he did figure in the material. That would have likely been the case anyway, as a matter of the political news cycle, but Trump actually being there probably did light a fire under Michael Che.
2. Toots – The fact that such a non-Top 40 band as Toots and the Maytals was the musical guest the last time Trump hosted was mostly a matter of bizarre randomness. Kenan appearing as Toots was not about Trump so much as it was about something that Trump happened to be present at. This bit could have been utilized in 2 weeks when Matthew McConaughey host if the Maytals had been on when he last hosted in 2003.
3. Drunk Uncle – Bobby Moynihan’s signature character still could have been introduced as “Trump’s #1 Fan” on any other episode.
4. Ex-Porn Stars – The low-rent co-opting of luxury in these sketches works insofar as the brand being advertised isn’t actually present, so Trump’s appearance actually didn’t really make sense.
5. Mr. Crocker – The head of Startraxxx Productions felt like a role designed for Kyle Mooney. It had a blowhard quality that fit Trump, but it needed someone weirder to really work.
6. Hotline Bling – The joke of awkward middle-aged men dancing alongside Drake worked without Trump showing up – he was just slotted in that so that he’d have something to do.

SNL Recap January 18, 2014: Drake

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Interesting fact: That’s So 2 Chainz still holds the record for the Disney show with the most bleeps.

Piers Morgan Live
Opening sketches like these tend to really not quite work out, because there’s no good reason that Chris Christie, A. Rod, and Justin Bieber should all be covered in the same sketch beyond “they would all be covered by a news program.”  There’s no flow to it, just a sense of checking items off a list.  There were some funny moments (“What I lack in journalistic integrity…,” suing Jackie Robinson), but no cohesive whole. C+


SNL Recap October 15, 2011: Anna Faris/Drake


Our asses will explode.

Cold Opening – A Message from the Mayor of New York City
As Nicholas Fehn would say, this is real smart stuff.  Bloomberg spinning the Occupy Wall Street protests as evidence of NYC as the greatest city in the world was delightfully twisted, and the references to the earthquake and last winter’s snow were welcome. B+

Anna Faris’s Monologue
This was the absolute epitome of half-assing a monologue … and still managing to wring several laughs out of it.  Anna’s throaty way of talking and big eyes allowed for perfect reactions to those pressing questions.  And although Abby does a great Anna Faris impression, the “Hannah Garis” bit was exceedingly pointless, but thanks to Anna playing along, it wasn’t all bad. B