I Love Awards Shows Even When I Hate Them

It’s the same thing every time. The Oscars, the Emmys, and, like last night, the Golden Globes. I spend months keeping track of what’s out. I analyze critical reception vs. audience reception. I go to the movies every week, picking my personal favorites and feeling hope, but being careful to keep my expectations in check.

The day comes. I’m excited. I prepare my husband – I’ll need the TV for at least 3 hours, but we both know it’ll go much longer. I sacrifice watching any red carpets, but follow all the best lewks and thirsty commentary on my master post in my Facebook subgroup. Oh, and the food! Either a whole bag of chips (sometimes with dip), or perhaps an elaborately-themed meal. Last year’s Oscars ceremony was accompanied by the instantly iconic “hungry boy” breakfast spread from Phantom Thread – my favorite 2017 release.

All of this preparation, all of this excitement and all of this lead-up and discussion and discourse. And it all comes crashing down pretty quickly. It could be a charmless host or a tone-deaf joke; it could be a rambling speech or a tedious musical number. The yelling at the TV gets more frequent, the ALL CAPS PUNCHING ON MY PHONE distracts me from my snacks and the less-deserving winners collect more and more statues.

I know this is what happens. Every single time, I get my hopes up, get worked up, and end up questioning everything. My husband gets annoyed by the awards, the celebrities, and mostly me. I end up going to bed too late, not because of the time the ceremony ends, but because I stick around for further complaining online. Eventually, I go to bed, and I week up feeling refreshed, like it never happened. Then I go online… and I get steamed up all over again!

Still, I fucking love awards season.

It stresses me the fuck out and I take it too seriously and I like to fight people about it. The Oscars, in particular, are colloquially referred to as the “Gay Superbowl,” and it makes sense. I watch the Oscars like some would sports. I understand that the biggest difference between football and the Oscars is that the sports team wins the game with only their athletic skill, while, no matter how good an actor’s performance is, their victory is determined by a bunch of other people’s votes.

There’s a lot going on behind the scenes when it comes to awarding actors and films, though. Running an excellent campaign will put you at an advantage (see: Allison Janney charming every talk show host last year while Laurie Metcalf focused on rehearsals for Three Tall Women on Broadway). There’s “category fraud” – where a film’s people decides to pass a lead performance as a supporting one, or vice-versa (see: Viola Davis’ lead performance in Fences being relegated to supporting). Sometimes, even, it’s doing something a little out of the box (Melissa Leo’s self-funded campaign of glamor shots for The Fighter), or just being genuine about how much you really, really, really want to win (Anne Hathaway) will pay off!


And is there anything better than a huge surprise win? “There’s been a mistake. Moonlight, you won best picture.” Glenn Close taking it over odds-on favorite, Lady Gaga at last night’s Globes got everyone riled up, from Little Monsters to Glennemaniacs (is that what Glenn Close stans are called?).

I’m keen on following the critical receptions of all of the (potential) nominees of any awards show. One of my favorite podcasts, Vanity Fair’s Little Gold Men, is a year-round awards season podcast, where I learn about how movies were received at Sundance, South by Southwest, Telluride and beyond. And I trust their opinions, and mostly agree with them (even though Richard Lawson and I didn’t see eye to eye about I, Tonya, I probably trust him the most). I heard somewhere once (maybe on Little Gold Men), to not use Rotten Tomatoes as gospel. It’s a fine indicator of a general consensus. But use RT to actually read the critical reviews and find critics who seem to have tastes similar to yours. Letterboxd is also a great resource – my aforementioned Facebook group is full of thoughtful pop culture junkies such as myself. We’ve all connected on Letterboxd and when they say something’s good or that it sucks… they’re usually right!

My favorite movie of the year, Support the Girls, a low-key independent dramedy about sisterhood, was nominated for, and has even won various critics’ awards. We won’t know the Oscar nominees til January 19, but I’m not expecting much in terms of StG, or other smaller Oscar contenders that could’ve been, such as Eighth Grade, Hereditary and Tully. I’ve come to expect my faves to not get this kind of recognition, but I’ll admit, it feels nice when they’re included in the Oscars conversation, let alone the race.

I haven’t watched any of this year’s critically-reviled crowd-pleasers – Bohemian Rhapsody, Vice and Green Book. Honestly, I feel like I might have to since the screeners have probably leaked online by now. But here’s what I do know about these flicks; Bohemian Rhapsody – directed by an alleged rapist whose time is way, waaaaaayyyy past up – has homophobic overtones (the only thing everyone can agree on is that Rami Malek plays a great Freddie Mercury, but one great performance does not make a movie good). Vice is basically a yuk-fest about a war criminal that we don’t need in this current political climate. And the family of Dr. Don Shirley has renounced Green Book’s misrepresentation of the musician, which critics have noted as white washing and giving the film a problematic “white savior” narrative (not to mention star Viggo Mortensen’s use of the n-word while doing press for the flick).

Crowd-pleasers tend to be the ones recommended by a friend, relative, co-worker or acquaintance. And it’s fine for them to legitimately enjoy those movies! I’ve enjoyed a few crowd-pleasers, myself! I’m prone to emotional manipulation and fudged facts just as much as anyone else is. And in the grand scheme of things, even though the awards are technically “meaningless,” it bummed me out knowing that both Green Book and Bohemian Rhapsody have been “legitimized” for the casual viewer.

So, I know my faves won’t win. I get upset when my faves don’t win. I know to expect it, but I still end up wanting to be surprised. I rarely am. But I’m a pop culture junkie, and award shows are a big part of my fix. I love seeing what Tracee Ellis Ross and Janelle Monae wear! And seeing Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban being cute! I love yelling about who should host next year at my TV! I just really love yelling at my TV, okay?!

Finally, I know that the whole thing is ridiculous and subjective. And that I’m ridiculous for caring! But watching awards shows while yelling about them online and IRL is a tradition, a ritual. You have yours and I have mine. And with that, I’ll leave you with a tweet from Roxane Gay last night…

Forgive Me, Lana, for I Have Sinned

Last summer I needed new music. I got in the habit of putting on a couple of playlists on my streaming service at the time, Apple Music – mostly The A-List: Pop and The A-List: Alternative. I found a few bops here and there, and even ended up discovering a new favorite Scandinavian songstress, Anna of the North.

I’m not sure which playlist it was on, but one song captivated me. A woman breathily singing about climbing up the “H” of the Hollywood sign, then a falsetto voice joining her, proclaiming that saying the good die young just ain’t right.

I stopped chopping vegetables to see exactly who was singing this dreamy ballad. It was Lana del Rey and The Weeknd.

The Weeknd’s “I Can’t Feel My Face” was already an established bop. I hadn’t paid much mind to Lana del Rey, though. I mean, I remembered when “Video Games” came out and, sure. It was fine. And I remembered the disastrous Saturday Night Live performance. And there was that one night I was white wine white girl drunk with “Young and Beautiful” on repeat. I didn’t’ get my friends’ obsessions with her.  But “Lust for Life” was different. All of a sudden, I was yet another unsuspecting victim of Lana del Rey’s enchantment.


The thing was, when Lana came out, I was told not to like her. She had a fake name and a fake face and a rich dad. She’d done music under her birth name, Lizzy Grant, to little success. Lana was a fabrication. She called herself “The Gangster Nancy Sinatra.” Sure, it was all very eyeroll-y, but you know what? So was my deflection of my original instincts. Truth be told, even though “Video Games” was mediocre, I kinda liked “Blue Jeans.” Unfortunately, I bought into the Hipster Runoff-fueled backlash against a new, young woman who seemingly ascended to unprecedented popularity overnight.

The thing was… no one cared about all of this! And I shouldn’t have, either! I love me my manufactured pop stars, so why couldn’t I love this one?! By the time I came around to Lana del Rey, she was no longer the enigma who came out of nowhere—she was a bona fide pop star. She’d dated Axl Rose and G-Eazy! She was five albums deep, Grammy-nominated and had achieved gay icon status.

I didn’t realize at the time how sexist and silly all of the Lana backlash was. No one cares about Hollywood stars’ plastic surgeries! No one cares about men with stage names like Iggy Pop, Sting and Meat Loaf, let alone women with stage names like Lady Gaga and P!nk. What made Lana so different? Sure, her ~*~aesthetic~*~ was carefully curated, but really, what pop star’s isn’t? What made her old Hollywood noir glamor with hip hop flourishes less valid than Bjork’s avant-garde alien sexuality or the Pet Shop Boys’ geometric minimalism? And Lana wasn’t the first musical guest to bomb on SNL, and certainly was not the last.

I fell in love with the album, Lust for Life, when I’d forgotten my medication while in Niagara Falls for a weekend last year. I was hypomanic, which was better than being depressed, but I had a tough time calming down and an even tougher time trying to sleep. Hearing this beautiful person with beautiful problems helped soothe me, and eventually I drifted off. The next day, while the rest of my in-laws napped, I hummed one of my favorites, “God Bless America (And All the Beautiful Women in It)” while walking the Canada/US footbridge, just to take photos at the borderline and admire the Falls.

SQ between two worlds at the Niagara Falls US-Canada boundary line, July 22, 2017

SQ between two worlds at the Niagara Falls US-Canada boundary line, July 22, 2017

Since becoming enamored of Lust for Life, I’ve had the pleasure of digging through the back catalog. I’d say Ultraviolence is her best album, Paradise is great, Born to Die is inconsistent but promising and, other than a couple tracks, Honeymoon is kind of a slog.

My favorite song was “Brooklyn Baby,” because I loved the clever, self-aware, self-deprecating humor in the lyrics. “Well, my boyfriend's in the band/ He plays guitar while I sing Lou Reed/ I've got feathers in my hair/ I get down to Beat poetry/ And my jazz collection's rare/ I can play most anything/ I'm a Brooklyn baby.”

Well, it was my favorite Lana track until a few days ago when she released a 9+ minute epic called “Venice Bitch.”


“Venice Bitch” opens with a slow guitar riff that doesn’t get much faster, but the additional instruments come in gradually and flesh out the sound. It reminds me a bit of Sun Kil Moon’s “Duk Koo Kim,” a song I was obsessed with in 2003/4. Sun Kil Moon is singer-songwriter, Mark Kozelek’s on-and-off moniker over the past two decades. Kozelek’s 90s band, Red House Painters, were pioneers of the sadcore genre, along with other favored artists of my early 20s, such as Low, Ida and Cat Power.

Lana del Rey’s music has been described in the past as “Hollywood sadcore,” which I’d call apt. But with “Venice Bitch,” Lana has finally released a song that can stand alongside the actual sadcore greats!

“Venice Bitch” is the third song from Lana’s to-be-released album, Norman Fucking Rockwell (because, of course it’s called that!) to make it onto streaming services. The album is said to be a co-production between herself and pop production superstar, Jack Antonoff (Taylor Swift, Lorde). The first single, “Mariners Apartment Complex,” opens with piano not dissimilar to Britney Spears’ “Born to Make You Happy,” and continues in a contemplative, but uncomplex classic Lana ballad similar to previous album openers such as “Love” and “Ride.” Second single, “Serial Killer,” is pure Antonoff, with trademark Lana flourishes over a tempo not dissimilar to Taylor Swift’s “Getaway Car” or Lorde’s “Green Light.” If these three new songs are indicative of what’s to come from Norman Fucking Rockwell, my premature evaluation is that it’ll knock Ultraviolence out of my top Lana album slot!

So, forgive me, Lana, for my past sins. Like you, I’ve been misjudged. Like you, I’ve tried and failed. Like you, I hope to succeed doing what I love. Like you, I’ve been addicted to substances and struggle with my mental health. But most of all, Lana, you can bet your ass that this baby Lana Stana, Shaunna Fucking Quin will be seeing you on your next tour!

Northern Bubble: Growing Up with Canadian Pop Culture

Hockey isn’t my thing. I’ve never had a double-double or an iced cappuccino. Winter is the worst. I’ve never owned a Tragically Hip album. I don’t say “sorry” when I mean to say “excuse me” or “oops.” I roll my eyes anytime someone says they like a celebrity even more because they’re Canadian. You could say that I’m not that great at being “Canadian.”

The thing is, though, my Canadian-ness comes out in full-force when it comes to pop culture.

The other day, Shawn Desman was in the news. Who? That’s exactly what an American asked in a pop culture Facebook group I’m in. Somehow, his Canada Day concert in Wasaga Beach becoming a free event after only selling 17 tickets became national news and had trickled into Americans’ newsfeeds.

I gave a full run-down:

“Shawn Desman is a (barely famous) Canadian pop star. He had a few Canada-only hits in the early-mid 2000s including “Get Ready,” “Shook” and my personal fave, “Red Hair.” 
His name is actually Shawn Fernandes but claims that his friends called him “Des-man,” hence his stage name.
His brother, Danny Fernandes (not Desman) had a (Canada-only) hit in the mid-late 2000s called “Fantasy” which was actually a bop.
Wasaga Beach is basically the Jersey Shore of Canada (although it’s on a lake, not an ocean) and is allegedly a shitshow of party bros all summer long.
And yes, Wasaga Beach was where Sean Cameron from Degrassi deafened the kid in one ear.
And no, Shawn Desman isn’t Shawn Mendes.
His debut single, “Get Ready” refers to Toronto as “the T-Dot,” which was one of the city’s nicknames before Drake coined The 6ix. Which brings us to Degrassi: The Next Generation’s hangout, The Dot."

That, folks, is how my brain works.

Last year, I spent a good portion of the Canada 150 weekend creating a collage of pop culture luminaries who are household names in Canada and not so much elsewhere. Buffy Ste.-Marie, David Suzuki and Sarah Polley are deservedly big names here, but not as recognized for their talents elsewhere. I posted the collage in the aforementioned Facebook group, and we discussed other beloved Canada-only famous Canadians like Rick Mercer, Jonathan Torrens and Don Cherry. Buffalonians chimed in with their love of and exposure to The Tragically Hip and other Americans made references to Robin Sparkles’ “Let’s Go to the Mall.”

Canadian Content regulations had my generation convinced that a lot of middling rock and pop acts were superstars. I grew up loving Candi, Alanis (pre-Morissette, though I enjoy that incarnation as well), Kim Mitchell and Gowan. By the time I hit my teens, I saw through it. I knew MuchMusic played awful bands like The Tea Party, I Mother Earth and Great Big Sea incessantly because they had to. For the next generation, this would be Simple Plan, Hedley and Billy Talent. I mean, good for them for being able to tour mid-size venues in mid-size cities across Canada, but without these rules? It’d be doubtful.

As outdated and problematic as CanCon rules are, I had the good fortune of being exposed to some really cool music from this era like The Pursuit of Happiness, Pure, the Gandharvas’ “First Day of Spring,” “Funkmobile” by Bass is Base and Meryn Cadell’s anthemic spoken-word masterpiece, “The Sweater.”

Growing up in the generation between Degrassi’s first and Next in this Canada-centric bubble, I was entertained as a child by both Mr. Dressup and Mr. Rogers. When we got the news that Kurt Cobain died, it was from Monika Deol and not Kurt Loder. When Party of Five started airing, it took me and my sister a long time to stop referring to Neve Campbell as “Daisy from Catwalk.” Our crushes would vary from Christian Slater to Pat Mastroianni, from Rider Strong to Fabrizio Filippo, from Damon Albarn to David Usher.

Names like Pamela Anderson, Burton Cummings, Randy Bachman, Ivana Santilli, Nelly Furtado and Chris Murphy casually came up in conversation while spending time with family on Canada Day last year. Recently, I had a laugh with a group of people about how Ben Mulroney always pronounced Gabriel Aubry’s name “overly-French” when he was in the news for dating Halle Berry. I’ve Cansplained about how The Hills Aftershow came to be to many an American;  MTV Canada took over TalkTV’s license and they needed talk show content. And in what other country can you make Reitmans jokes about Duchess Meghan Markle? These are uniquely Canadian pop culture conversations that I truly do enjoy!

So, even though I can barely name a hockey player who isn’t Wayne Gretzky and I laugh when someone asks if I watched the Junos, I can still tell you that Paulina Gretzky loves to wear bikinis and the Juno award for Best New Artist used to be called Most Promising Male/Female Vocalist. I worship both Celine Dion’s music and her rebranding as a fashion icon, courtesy of stylist, Law Roach. Gino Vannelli, Grimes, Junior Boys and Queen Carly Rae Jepsen get a lot of play on my stereo. I cheered when Jully Black told Jeanne Beker to take her feelings to the altar. I’m in my 30s and not a parent and I still watch new episodes of Degrassi: Next Class (it’s still very groundbreaking). And Schitt’s Creek is one of the best comedies on TV, Canadian or otherwise!

I’m definitely a bit smug that I’ll never relate to a pandering Tim Horton’s commercial. But that’s not the only way to be Canadian. I’m Canadian in my own way. I’ve found my own identity as a curious consumer of pop culture. Canadian Content regulations may not have made me a huge fan of the art that was pushed, but this niche exposure is something that has helped craft the way I experience entertainment in a very critical way.

P.S. Busy Ramone was way cooler than Busy Philipps could ever dream to be!

Queer Frequency: R.E.M.'s Monster & Michael Stipe as a Queer Icon

If you’re a bit older than me, R.E.M. was the college rock band you loved, then your interest probably petered out once they became more mainstream. If you’re younger than me, R.E.M. is that band your parents liked with the skinny bald guy.

If you’re part of my generation, both you and your parents liked R.E.M. You both discovered them via “Losing My Religion”’s incessant MuchMusic/MTV play. My parents bought Out of Time on cassette. A few years later, I bought Monster on CD.

Monster’s been a punchline for almost two decades for being the biggest used-CD store staple. I’ve always had a soft spot for it, though. As a tween, I’d program my CD player to play “I Don’t Sleep I Dream,” “Strange Currencies,” “Tongue,” “Bang and Blame” and “You” as I fell asleep. These songs were the closest the album had to ballads. And at the same time, they’re some of the queerest songs on the album.

In “I Don’t Sleep I Dream,” singer, Michael Stipe is “looking for an interruption” and asks his lover, “do you give good head/ am I good in bed?” In “Strange Currencies,” Stipe plays an obsessive ex-lover, repeating over again, “these words/ you will be mine” and tells his “secret love” of his goal to “Take you in and make you mine.” “Tongue” has Stipe singing from the perspective of a girl with low self-esteem, someone’s “last ditch lay.” “You” is the most beautiful song-poem about being horny for someone.

“Bang and Blame” was a top 40 hit and probably the queerest song on the album. Stipe sings from the perspective of someone in a relationship where their lover who “used to be so in control” now has a “secret life of indiscreet discretions.” The lover knows this isn’t Stipe’s thing. The song ends with, “you kiss on me/ tug on me/ rub on me/ jump on me/ you bang on me/ beat on me/hit on me/let go on me” and eventually fades out without resolution. It’s haunting, it’s dangerous, it’s sexual. But only if you listen closely.

Monster is R.E.M.’s most overtly “rock” album, with guitarist Peter Buck using tremolo guitar effects. There are only slight traces of his “jangle”-style that helped define R.E.M.’s sound in the 80s. The same boys in my class that used the f-slur as an insult thought Monster rocked. Beavis and Butthead probably called them wusses at some point, but “Star 69” was definitely enough of a rocker for them to even approve of (“uhh, huh uh, 69, huh huh!”). And when Monster rocked, it was really quite glam. My favorite song on the album, “Crush with Eyeliner,” is a glam-inspired strut about a woman who’s “her own invention” and sometimes I am that woman and other times she’s who I’m smitten with.

“Crush with Eyeliner” struck me as a kid. I was coming to terms with my own queerness at the time, and Stipe admitted to have had lovers of both sexes. Another bicon for me at the time was Brett Anderson of Suede, who had declared at one point that he was “a bisexual man who’s never had a homosexual experience.” When Sophie B. Hawkins came out as “omnisexual,” my instincts about “Damn, I Wish I Was Your Lover” and the feelings it gave me weren’t so mixed-up after all.

The 90s had tons of successful, openly-queer (albeit mostly cis, white) celebrities. kd lang, Melissa Etheridge and George Michael all came out and continued to thrive. Elton John won an Oscar for a Disney movie. Later in the decade, John had the biggest single of all-time with “Candle in the Wind 1997” (tied with Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas”). RuPaul’s “Supermodel (You Better Work)” was a mainstream and club hit (and still an anthem today!), and Ru’s popularity garnered him a MAC campaign, a talk show and radio work before he eventually founded his Drag Race empire. Ellen DeGeneres’ 90s sitcom, Ellen, was cancelled shortly after she came out, but now she’s all our moms’ favorite talk show host.

For a time in the 90s, R.E.M. was the biggest band in the world, and their singer happened to be queer. You need look no further than another big hit in the 90s to find R.E.M.’s best comparison. “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen. Though Queen were European and Freddie Mercury had one of the best rock voices of all-time and R.E.M. were American and Michael Stipe was famous for his “mumbling”-style of singing, both bands had broad mainstream appeal due to timeless songs and enchantingly charismatic, openly queer frontmen.

Mercury is obviously an unquestionable queer icon. But Stipe seems to rarely be mentioned as an important queer trailblazer. R.E.M. are seen as the influential rock band that they were as a whole, but Stipe deserves more.

Stipe’s influence on queer culture is still relevant today. Last year, he co-produced Fischerspooner’s Sir, 2017’s gayest album and one of the steamiest, grimiest most sexual albums I’ve ever heard. Sure, the album had filler, but its lead single, “Have Fun Tonight” is a pumping celebration of gay polyamory, with a falsetto refrain of “we come together sweetly, man!” Last week, I went to see Ezra Miller’s “genre-queer” band, Sons of an Illustrious Father, and complimented a fellow concertgoer on their outfit. “It’s very Fischerspooner!” I told them. They didn’t know who Fischerspooner were. I wonder if they know who Michael Stipe is? But does it matter? Ezra Miller is a Hollywood actor – in superhero movies! – who’s  openly queer, and blazing his own incredible trail. And that’s who they were there for; a queer icon in the making.

Movies and books about “outsider” teenagers in small towns in the 80s and the 90s often have its protagonist obsessed with one band only – The Smiths. I liked The Smiths, but they weren’t my obsession of choice. One queer friend in high school was obsessed with Hole and Madonna. Another was partial to Toni Braxton. But R.E.M. was my coolest, artsiest, queer friend’s favorite band. R.E.M. made more sense to me than The Smiths as a queer guy’s favorite band. Especially one living in a small Canadian town of 7,000 in the 90s, before the internet. He can’t have been the only one.

Most of the conversation about R.E.M. comes from the majority  – cis straight white men. As much as I enjoy Scott Aukerman and Adam Scott’s R U Talkin’ R.E.M. RE: ME? Podcast (I only call Peter Buck “Peter Dollar Bill” now!), I’d love for there to be more queer perspectives about Michael Stipe’s and R.E.M.’s impact. In the process of writing this piece, I found Sex & Trash Aesthetics: R.E.M.’s Monster Revisited, a piece by Stewart Smith for the Quietus. I was both happy to find that an article about Monster’s unsung queerness was out there, but at the same time wary of writing about the same subject. But why not put out my perspective as a queer woman? Especially a queer woman who considers Michael Stipe to be one of her personal queer heroes.

As Pride Month wraps up, let’s hold Michael Stipe on a higher queer icon pedestal! After all, it is #20GAYTEEN! It’s what he deserves!

UnPhairly Maligned: Liz Phair's 2003 Self-Titled Record

Liz Phair’s been on the interview circuit round for today’s release of the 25th anniversary edition of her [insert your own adjective here about how groundbreaking it was] first album, Exile in Guyville.

I was late to Liz Phair. I’d seen few videos on MuchMusic’s The Wedge in my adolescence – “Stratford-On-Guy,” “Supernova,” “Polyester Bride.” I liked the songs but they never really grabbed me. I was more into Tori, PJ, Bjork, and most of all, Courtney.

I don’t know how or why – probably because I knew it was an important record, or maybe a friend played it for me – but I bought the CD at some point in my very early 20s. It was probably better that I’d waited; at this point, I’d experienced casual sex, dating with no sense of direction and actual heartbreak. It was the first record I related to as a twentysomething, no longer a teen, even though I wasn’t even a teenager when it was released.

I bought her next three albums, Whip-Smart, Whitechocolatespaceegg and liked, but didn’t love them. The first album Liz Phair released while I was an active fan was her 2003 self-titled one. It was a slickly-produced fun power-pop album with lyrics celebrating post-divorce relationships.

I liked the record! I was (am!) a fan of both indie and pop. I quietly enjoyed the Spice Girls and Madonna in high school along with more prestigious alt rock, and accepted Britney Spears as my lord and saviour shortly thereafter. To me, it was cool that one of my indie heroes was making new songs with big choruses. I could listen to Exile in Guyville if I was in one mood, and the self-titled for another! Sure, "HWC" was extremely corny, but it was harmless fun! The album wasn't perfect, but it was perfectly enjoyable.

A couple of months before Liz Phair came out, a guy sent me a mixed CD. Not a boyfriend, not a crush, but someone I felt I had a connection with. He was extremely pretentious, but I was just the right age for that. There were tens of long emails and  two days together in May 2002. The CD had stuff on it like Calexico and Jonathan Richman and of course, “If You Wanna Be Happy” by Jimmy Soul. In the middle of this painstakingly precious tracklist was Avril Lavigne’s “I’m With You.” I hadn’t really thought much of Avril, but somehow, it was different hearing the ballad in my headphones. Pretentious Guy seemed so deep to me (ha!) and he said that the song just “resonated” with him. It was my most listened-to song on the long-gone CD. He broke my heart when we reunited in May 2004. But it's still my favorite Avril song.

Avril’s songwriting team, The Matrix, helped co-write some of the songs on Liz Phair. Critics hated it.

Pitchfork gave the album an infamous 0.0 . Earlier this week, Slate’s Amos Barshad wrote a piece about trying to get in contact with Pitchfork’s bad reviewees. He didn’t have a lot of success with getting the artists to talk about how it felt, except for Thurston Moore. The Dismemberment Plan’s Travis Morrison eventually emailed his feelings about his album, Travistan’s 0.0 and included these words about Phair:

“I did not know Liz Phair got a 0.0. I see it was for her “pop” record… I think that record was not her most completely executed. But I do think it was her most visionary gesture. I always admired her for it. Now hipsters listen to Carly Rae Jepsen and no one thinks about it. But Liz Phair was pretty ahead of that curve. And she really got some nasty shit about it. Mostly, of course, from white male “critics.” What a bunch of fucking garbage.”

Morrison isn’t wrong. Besides that, Guyville was Phair's response to the male-dominated 90s Chicago music scene. Pop music is considered a “feminine” interest, therefore, not taken seriously. Lead singles, “Why Can’t I” and “Extraordinary,” are perfect romcom songs of the era, and the former was featured in 13 Going on 30, the latter in Raising Helen. Both flicks are perfectly charming, beloved romcoms of the time. You know what else male critics hate? Romcoms.

It wasn’t just male critics. Meghan O’Rourke’s New York Times review was infamously titled Exile in Avril-ville and reads as an immature indie-elitist takedown of the “pop monster,” erroneously putting Britney Spears in a schoolgirl outfit in the year 2003 (not to mention that Britney’s Matrix-penned song, “Shadow,” would not be released until five months after O’Rourke’s review).

Last month on Twitter, the author, Emily Gould tweeted this, regarding O’Rourke’s sexist and ageist perception of the record:












It stands out that O’Rourke moaned, “underneath this sunny soundscape lies the darkness of life's hard-won lessons. This is a superficial way of jolting us,” when this has been a fixture in every genre of music forever! I mean, The Smiths’ trademark was pairing Morrissey’s morose lyrics with Johnny Marr’s jangly guitar!

I can understand that some women felt a little hurt and betrayed by the self-titled album. But it seems pretty anti-feminist to begrudge a woman for wanting to take a different direction in her career, especially if you consider that woman to be one of your feminist heroes. I mean, you could just say something like, "It's not for me, but good for her!" and focus on music you do like more in vein with Guyville instead of telling a woman she should "act her age" (ugh).

As a woman near Phair’s age in 2003 and Beyoncé’s age in 2018, I’m experiencing my own new beginning, finding my voice as a writer. It feels extremely rewarding. Just as rewarding as Phair recording her self-titled album must have felt. Just as rewarding as Beyoncé headlining Coachella was. Okay, the Beyoncé thing is definitely hyperbole! But still... 38-year-old Tiffany Haddish and 36-year-old Amy Schumer had recent career breakouts in their mid-30s. And 36-year-old Britney Jean Spears? She’s got a world tour this summer and is living her best life, working out with her hot younger boyfriend! I have some great peers in my age group, let me tell ya!

Looking back at my early-20s self in 2003, I found value in both Exile in Guyville and Liz Phair, unlike many of my peers. I guess I was a “poptimist” before that was a thing. I don’t listen to a lot of Liz Phair these days, but I can hear her echoes in Angel Olsen and Lana del Rey, as well as in Demi Lovato and – especiallyHalsey. Whether or not they are directly influenced by Phair, the empowering sexual frankness that defined her first album trickled from indie to pop stars, and there’s more hooks in indie records these days. Liz Phair wasn’t just ahead of the curve; turns out she is the curve.

Straight Out of a Telenovela - How Jane the Virgin Impacted My Writing

Jane the Virgin came into my life when I didn’t know I needed it and left a bigger impact than I ever thought it could.

If you haven’t heard of the show and its premise, here it is – a 23-year-old virgin, saving herself for marriage, is accidentally artificially inseminated. Outlandish, right? Well, there’s a lot of outlandish things on the show – long-lost twins, a woman with a pirate’s patch and hook hand and a lesbian drug lord who wears full-skin masks to impersonate others in her crimes. As the show’s “Latin Lover Narrator” would say, “I know! Straight out of a telenovela, right?”

And that’s what it is – a (mostly) English-language telenovela based off the Venezuelan series, Juana la Virgen. Like most soap operas, it’s full of beautiful people like Gina Rodriguez, Justin Baldoni, Jaime Camil and my favorite, Yael Grobglas. But unlike most soaps, it is equal parts clever satire, subtle woke politics and heartwarming (and heartbreaking) as hell! You’ll be charmed, you’ll yell at the TV and sometimes you’ll cry. Your results may vary, I cry more during an episode of Jane the Virgin than This Is Us!

Nobody I knew was talking about the show, but it was on my radar because the pop culture sites I followed praised it. One day, I found season one on Netflix and I binged it all in time for season two to be added. I’ve been able to keep up weekly this season and last because, like Riverdale, Netflix automatically has next-day episodes available in Canada!

Our main players are presented as caricatures at first. Jane (Rodriguez) is a cheerful do-gooder with Type A tendencies, working as a waitress while dreaming of becoming a published writer. Rafael (Baldoni) is a pretty-boy hotel heir. Petra (Grobglas) is Rafael’s stone cold Czech ex-wife who has stake in the hotel. Jane lives with her sexy singer/dancer mother, Xiomara (Andrea Navedo), who had Jane at 16 (which is why Jane wants to remain a virgin until marriage), and her abuela, Alba (Ivonne Coll), a deeply religious old-world Venezuelan immigrant who responds to English in Spanish. Finally, the main characters are rounded out by Rogelio de la Vega (Camil, with an expert mix of camp and sincerity), Jane’s biological father who comes back into her life. Rogelio is a handsome, vain and temperamental telenovela star who is fond of name-dropping, Twitter and, of course, making the transition to American TV.

With every episode, we delve past the stereotypes and find new layers – we uncover Jane’s stubbornness, Rafael’s past illness, Petra’s vulnerability and the fact that abuela Alba still grieves for her long-deceased husband. These are just a few developments that I can tell you about without giving much away!

I was lured in by the beautiful cast and the dialogue that was funny, but not trying too hard. I didn’t really relate to any of the characters, but I loved them all from the get-go.

Jane, in particular, has had a bigger impact than I could imagine. I’m not exactly type-A, I don’t want to be a mother, and if one of my grandmothers had given me the “crumbled white flower” nonsense about my virginity, I’d have said “Okay” and gone back to making my Barbies scissor.

But in 2016, as I watched Jane Gloriana Villanueva balance her waitress job, a fiancé, a nosy family, grad school and impending motherhood – while still having time to write—I started to remember how writing used to make me feel. Whenever she felt emotional about writing a passage, I got emotional. Whenever she felt exhilarated, so did I. She wasn’t writing “literary” literature – I don’t really, either! There's writing advice peppered throughout the series. Soon enough, I found myself scrawling some new ideas. By the end of the year I’d signed up for my first writing class. So far, I’ve taken four. And because of my rekindled passion for writing, you're here reading this on my website today.

Jane has gone through some ups and downs with her writing throughout the seasons – I even got writer’s block when she did! And as much as I enjoy the sexy exploits of author Noah Solloway on The Affair and the fashion parade of the breezy book-publishing sitcom, Younger, Jane the Writer is a more relatable character. One who actually has struggles, along with wonderful bursts of creativity. As a writer, determined to make a name for myself, this is my reality. I'm happy to have Jane by my side as I do this.

Inspiration can come from anywhere. I found mine in a show on The CW that most people dismiss without giving a chance. I stopped believing in guilty pleasures long ago and, to me – and to The New Yorker's Emily Nussbaum! – Jane the Virgin should be considered Peak TV. Give it a chance, why don’t you? I’m glad I did.

Piece of Me

“You want a piece of me?”

In honor of Britney Spears’ fifth album, Blackout’s 10th anniversary, here’s a piece of me – part of my fascination, fandom and, ultimately, deep admiration and respect for The Legendary Ms. Britney Spears.

I was late to the Britney game, I’m ashamed to admit. When “… Baby One More Time” came out, it was the second coming of the apocalypse. Backstreet Boys had just broken through domestically after I’d been tortured by their omnipresence on MusiquePlus in my teen home not far from the Quebec border. I was “different.” I was “alt.” I liked bands like The Cure, Sonic Youth, and especially Smashing Pumpkins. I had an affection for Madonna and a kinda-secret fondness for the Spice Girls. I mean, at least Spice Girls promoted some brand of “female empowerment” and I was hopeful Sporty was queer.

Britney burst onto my television screen, baby-faced with pouty lips and honey skin. I was attracted to her, but I didn’t like it. I had a lousy joke; “She’s like Brittany from the Chipettes, but a person!” I had a tendency to make less-than-clever variances on the names of my musical nemeses, like “Collectively Soulless.” Hence, Britney Spears became “Bitchney Spreads.” I was the worst.

Thankfully, the “hate” didn’t last long. I liked her second single, “Sometimes.” When her second album, Oops!… I Did It Again came out, I found myself really into singles like the empowering “Stronger,” the Twain/Lange-penned “Don’t Let Me Be the Last to Know” and my all-time #1 karaoke jam, “Lucky” (sorry “Smooth” by Santana feat. Rob Thomas of Matchbox 20!).

Then, “I’m A Slave 4 U” happened. The debut performance at the 2001 MTV VMAs with the snake. Holy fucking shit. It was the sexiest thing I’d ever seen. The music video topped it. Britney sweaty and tan, in some kind of sauna orgy, wearing skimpy hot pink panties overtop of her ultra-low-rise jeans. It’s still one of her horniest songs, along with tracks from her fourth album, In The Zone, “Breathe On Me” and “Touch of My Hand.”

In The Zone seemed to legitimize Britney to former naysayers, mostly due to the strength of her Grammy-winning single, “Toxic.” It’s a great song. Far from my favorite. Want a guaranteed eyeroll from me? Tell me the only Britney song you like is “Toxic.”

In The Zone is where I turned from fan to fanatic. I made plans to attend her summer Onyx Hotel Tour stop in Toronto, which ended up being canceled. Deeper cuts like “Shadow,” “Showdown” and “Brave New Girl” are still in heavy rotation on my iPhone. To me, “Everytime” is its true pop masterpiece, not “Toxic.” As much as I love my sexy Britney, vulnerable Britney might be my favorite.

Between In The Zone and Blackout, Britney romanced, married and divorced Kevin Federline. They seemed fun in the beginning; Britney was a living heart-eyes emoji and he was actually pretty hot. They were fast food-scarfing, beach canoodling lovers in Von Dutch trucker caps. Others found them trashy, I found them adorable. Their weed-and-sex-based courtship right up until their adorably tacky wedding was documented in their Britney and Kevin: Chaotic series on UPN.  Two babies in a row followed – Irish twins, Sean Preston and Jayden James. In November 2006, K-Fed was in Toronto, promoting his rap album, Playing With Fire, when he got Britney’s text, asking for a divorce.

Part of what endeared me to Britney and Kevin’s romance was that I fell in love not long after they married. We didn’t get married within five months of meeting like they did, but it was my first time falling in love since I’d been a teenager and that whirlwind of hormones and dopamine was undeniable. I felt a kinship to them, in a kind of way. Though my marriage has lasted longer than theirs, something about them really epitomized what it’s like to really get wrapped into someone when you’re in your early 20s.

Blackout came out at the perfect time for me. I was hopping from bars to parties to after-hours and it was the perfect pre-game makeup soundtrack. Sometimes the pre-game became the whole night. I can’t remember a lot of those nights, but “Gimme More” is the perfect summation of how I felt. Gimme more fun! Gimme more ketchup chips! Gimme more drinks!

On the other side, “Piece Of Me” was exactly the kind of song I wanted from Britney. I’d commented in early 2007 that it would be cool and ultra-meta if Britney covered Michael Jackson’s “Leave Me Alone.” As my favorite Haim, Este, noted in the recent Fader celebration of Blackout, “Piece Of Me” is her “Leave Me Alone”! To boot, the song itself is future pop gold and still futuristic, yet current, ten years later.

There isn’t a single dud on Blackout. “Radar” is deliciously flirty and cocky. “Break The Ice,” “Get Naked (I Got A Plan)” and “Freakshow” are breathy successors to her “Slave 4 U” and “Breathe On Me” sexcapades. “Toy Soldier” and “Hot As Ice,” are zany AF singalongs. But my personal favorite is “Heaven On Earth,” a pulsating, buoyant high-tempo dance ballad with whispered confessions and declarations of love that was steeped in future-80s influences long before Taylor Swift and Carly Rae Jepsen. In fact, my favorite Carly Rae jam, “LA Hallucinations” owes quite a bit to “Heaven On Earth”!

I finally got to see her live during the tour Circus tour in 2009, which was a de-facto tour for both Blackout and her 2008 album, Circus. I was overwhelmed by the amount of love in the room. I saw her again during the Femme Fatale tour and in Vegas on my birthday in 2014. I’ve purchased Britney-related artwork and proudly carry my keys on a “It’s Britney, Bitch” keychain. I’ve even attended a Britney panel discussion! Anytime you need to cheer up, look no further than Britney’s Instagram. It’s art.

Right now, I’m working on my own Britney-related art – a writing project. I’m incredibly excited about its potential! I’m going through old tabloid articles, reading Lynne Spears’ Through The Storm and of course listening to the music non-stop as research. Blackout is still the album that stands out the most, even though it might have soundtracked a few blackouts of my own.

Britney’s been through hell and back. Whether she suffers from a mental illness, addiction or both is between her and her doctors. I would be extremely touched if she would come out with such information, but that’s up to her, not me. I will say, though, as a bipolar woman near her age who’s had issues with addiction, Britney is my icon, my higher power, my absolute inspiration.  Praise Godney!


Queer Eyes, Full Hearts: Friday Night Lights' Subversion of LGBTQ+ TV Tropes

Coach Eric Taylor, a high school football coach, and his wife, Tami, a guidance counselor at the same high school, are invited over to the Mayor of their small Texas town’s home for dinner. Another woman, named Barbara, is included in the intimate dinner party. After dinner, over coffee, Barbara gently rests her hand on the Mayor’s knee, letting the coach and his wife in on the fact that they are partners.

This happens in the 13th episode of the first season of the cult favorite high school football TV show, Friday Night Lights, which ran for five seasons from 2006-2011. And whose rabid fans, like me, will take any opportunity to tell you that “It’s not about football! It’s about life!” It’s one of the many small, subtle moments in Friday Night Lights where we see queer life in its fictional small town, Dillon, Texas.

The Mayor, Lucy Roddell, and her partner aren’t the only queer characters represented in Friday Night Lights. There’s also the gay male supervisor at fallen football hero Jason Street’s spinal cord rehabilitation centre. There’s Devin, the out and proud lesbian bassist for Crucifictorious, Landry Clarke’s “Christian speed-metal” band. And of course, there’s the endearingly over-enthusiastic assistant coach, Stan Traub. More on him later.

I complained to my husband once that I wished there had been a Big Gay Storyline on Friday Night Lights. As a queer woman, representation matters, right? My husband responded, thoughtfully, “I think it’s actually good that they didn’t have one.” I asked him what he meant, because there were at least five gay folks in Dillon and it would’ve been nice to see the show flesh them out a bit more. To clarify, he said that they had integrated LGBTQ+ characters organically within the show, just living their lives among the main characters. He pointed out that this was a different and necessary portrayal on TV.

The more I thought about this, the more I agreed.

Friday Night Lights was a show, to paraphrase its heartthrob, Tim Riggins, about living large in small town Texas. Its focus was on Coach and Tami and the Dillon Panthers’ cishet star football players and their families. Queer characters lived among them. They coached them, they were their classmates, they were their mayor. I was once a queer teenage girl in small-town Ontario, out only to my inner circle. To the people I wasn’t close to in high school – like, say, the football players – I was their classmate, nothing more. I don’t know if any of the players were gay, or if any of the family members of the star players were. Hell, I don’t even know if our team even had star players! I was just a girl that lived her life in that same small town, much like Friday Night Lights’ queer folx.

The closest we get to a Big Gay Storyline was in the fourth episode of season four. Devin asks Julie Taylor, Coach and Tami’s daughter, to accompany her to a gay bar near Dillon. After Julie gently ribs Devin about not being her type, she agrees to go. Tami isn’t thrilled with it and tells Julie not to tell her low-key homophobic father. At the bar, Devin and Julie are enjoying some sodas when Devin makes eyes with a cutie and leaves Julie at the bar. Julie does some people-watching from her barstool and notices a familiar face – Coach Stan Traub, one of her dad’s assistants. She gives him a friendly wave. He turns away, with a complex look of shame and fear in his eyes. It’s remarkably subtle acting from Coach Traub’s portrayer, Russell DeGrazier. When Julie runs into Coach Traub at the pep rally later that week, she takes him aside to let him know that his secret is safe with her. He tells her he doesn’t know what she’s talking about, and that’s that. It’s heartbreaking. Coach Traub shows how ingrained internalized homophobia can manifest itself, particularly in sports, in a small town and in the Bible Belt.

Mainstream television shows are getting better at queer representation, but it can still come off as tokenism. You don’t need to look any further than Parenthood – a series developed, like Friday Night Lights, by Jason Katims – for a prime example of tokenism. Parenthood was a show that ran on NBC for six seasons from 2010-2015 about three generations of a sprawling dysfunctional upper-middle-class white family living in the Bay Area, and was rightfully criticized for having zero LGBTQ+ characters. Not a member of the family, not a friend, not a co-worker or classmate, nothing. In its penultimate season, they bring back the eldest child of the third generation, Haddie Braverman, who brings home her girlfriend from college. Yay, right?! Unfortunately, the relationship is never spoken of again. It was like the showrunners went, “Well, we gave you something queer, let’s move along,” and dusted their hands of it. This is the other side of how the Big Gay Storyline can be a problematic trope, and it was brilliant that Friday Night Lights didn’t fall into it. If a Christian, conservative small town in Texas could have its share of queer townspeople, how could Katims have fumbled so horribly with its ultra-liberal protagonists and setting in Parenthood?

Friday Night Lights having not just one tertiary or periphery gay character is something that sets the show apart as still more real and groundbreaking than shows that have premiered six years after it ended. In its run and rule throughout the 90s, Roseanne led the way in modern network television shows organically integrating secondary gay characters. Roseanne is, in fact, rumored to be introducing a genderqueer character in its reboot. Will & Grace proved network shows could be successful with gay leads - and its current reboot is equally successful. I see Friday Night Lights as a trailblazer in its own right; of integration of LGBTQ+ minor characters without pandering.

Friday Night Lights’ legacy lives on in Etsy crafts, podcasts (Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Plus Booze), and think pieces like these. It’s regarded as one of the greatest network television shows of all-time and Coach and Tami’s relationship is often voted as the best TV marriage of all-time. It should also hold a legacy in queer culture. Sure, Mayor Rodell, Devin and Coach Stan Traub specifically were tertiary characters, and even though there was no larger exploration of their characters, there was nothing scandalous or sensationalized about them or their queerness. You didn’t see Buddy Garrity threaten to out the mayor or Coach Traub get in an awkward situation with a football player. These are the kinds of tropes lesser shows would fall into. Thankfully, since Friday Night Lights is basically heralded as The Wire of teen dramas (Michael B. Jordan is Vince from FNL, not Wallace from The Wire, don’t @ me), we got to see a small Texas football town with various queer characters as part of its fabric.