Last year, inspired by the overpowering stench of several pop culture debacles as well as an unforgettable line from a drunk Nancy on Stranger Things, Stephanie and I unleashed our fury in a list of the dumbest things that happened in pop culture in our post, “2017 Was Bullshit.” Always looking on the negative side of things, we have a whole lotta other shit to rant about from this year. Let’s get started:
Kanye’s Twitter Storm
The theme for the year in bullshit is definitely Twitter, and no celebrity (at least outside of a political office) has tweeted as abominably as Kanye West. Honestly, I haven’t followed his Twitter activity closely, and it feels impossible to start now. I mean, when I just now Googled “kanye west twitter,” the first results were reports of new Twitter beefs happening, like, today.
Even when Kanye tweeted that slavery was a choice, I just kinda rolled my eyes and moved on with my life. To me, it was just provocation for the sake of provocation, an almost laughable attempt to make it into the news cycle. But when I gave my reasoning to one of my friends over dinner a few months ago, he had a more somber take, considering his outrageous tweets as a sign of declining mental health and a major disappointment from someone who used to have so much to say that was of value—that was provocation for the sake of justice.
I flushed a little in embarrassment, realizing how foolish I was to brush these tweets aside. That was also when I figured out just how much my regard for one of my favorite all-time artists had diminished. I still threw around the word “genius” to describe his work, but the word no longer had meaning.
For a while now, he’s been a caricature of himself, but there was still something exciting and insightful in his music. In his most recent albums, however, that hasn’t really been the case. Though still receiving some critical praise and taking interesting artistic risks, he seems lost and confused in both The Life of Pablo and Ye. He just doesn’t have the same electricity that he did when he released his most famous work.
Kanye West is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma, donned with high fashion and sometimes wearing creepy blue contact lenses. For years, he possessed the gift (or curse?) of espousing the truth and nonsense in a single breath. Sadly, that truth has completely given way to nonsense—let’s hope not forever.
Here’s an idea: Give a washed-up celebrity who constantly tweets blasphemous conspiracy theories her old show back. What could go wrong? Pretty much everything. The return of Roseanne was an immediate triumph, garnering high ratings. But nobody could stop star Roseanne Barr from continuing her Twitter rampage, resulting in a racist tweet about Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett that nobody could stand behind, including her co-stars and ABC. After the tweet, Roseanne got the boot, while the sitcom continued on as The Conners without its former lead.
In this debacle, pretty much everyone is at fault. Sure, at this point, Roseanne is a vocal opponent of all things decent—equality, common sense, etc. But didn’t we all know that the tweets wouldn’t stop? I guess ABC and the cast of Roseanne didn’t, or perhaps they just thought that any potential incident would blow over.
The Roseanne incident is clearly a low point for show revivals, which points to another culprit in this disaster: nostalgia. As someone who binges Stranger Things and cranks up the throwback sounds of Bruno Mars’s last album (more on that in a bit), I can’t say I’m immune to the charms of making the old new again. But instead of revamping shows that are well past their expiration date, let’s follow the examples of Mars and the Duffer brothers and make original material inspired by the classics.
Disney Fires James Gunn
Oh, this shit show. Hot off of Roseanne’s cancellation, the alt-right was looking for retributive justice. SJWs and whiny liberals took Barr down for a tweet she posted, so they decided to strike at one of the left’s beloved creators in the same way. Their victim ended up being James Gunn, the man behind the mega-successful Guardians of the Galaxy franchise and a vocal opponent of the Trump administration. Mike Cernovich (the human cesspool … I mean, conspiracy theorist behind Pizzagate and a regular on InfoWars and The Alex Jones Show) dredged up tweets Gunn had posted between 2008 and 2012, which contained jokes about rape, child abuse and pedophilia. Amid a growing commotion about the tweets, Disney decided to sever ties with the director, firing him from the third Guardians film and silencing one of the MCU’s defining voices.
Now, on the surface, the Gunn debacle may seem just like the Barr situation, but there are a couple key differences. The big one is that Gunn’s tweets were old, and he’d previously addressed the issue and apologized. Roseanne was cancelled literally the same day Barr’s tweet went out. There’s a big difference between less than 24 hours and 6 years. The tweets also serve as a reflection of the provocative (i.e. icky) nature of much of Gunn’s early work. Hell, not that long before the first Guardians, he directed a segment in the infamous Movie 43 where an animated cat sodomizes himself with a hairbrush while lusting after Josh Duhamel. (I know you think you read that wrong, but trust me, you didn’t.) When Disney hired him, they presumably had some idea of his past work and knew he had done some less than family-friendly stuff. There’s a chance they’d even checked out his Twitter and chose him anyway.
The other big difference is the outrage started because people were actively trying to get Gunn fired. You can argue that some people actively wanted to get Barr fired too, and I can’t dispute that because I don’t have some godlike insight into everyone’s intent when it comes to reading celebrity tweets. And honestly, I wouldn’t want to be saddled with that particular super power. But, it seems safe to say that most people didn’t check Twitter on May 29 thinking they were about to find the perfect ammunition to get Roseanne cancelled. Cernovich and others, however, scoured Gunn’s Twitter for anything they could use against him. (And, because I feel it needs repeating, they had to go back SIX YEARS to find something.)
Needless to say, the fact that a malicious, calculated campaign to get a man fired worked was upsetting to a lot of people, including the company that fired him … well, kind of. Apparently, Disney made the decision without consulting Marvel Studios, who were against ousting Gunn. There were whispers that Marvel was trying to get Disney to reverse its original ruling, but the House of Mouse bends for no one (except internet trolls apparently), and it was for naught. Gunn remained fired despite the support of the Guardians cast and other creators (including an extra angry Dave Bautista).
Now, I can see where Disney was coming from. If I was the largest family entertainment corporation in the world and someone even breathed in a way that kinda sounded like the word “pedophile,” my first instinct would be to burn everything to the ground.
But if they’d just taken a little longer to respond and move past that knee-jerk reaction, they likely would have realized they were playing right into the hands of a bunch of hateful assholes.
Of course, Disney didn’t wait, and we’re all suffering for it. The hateful assholes learned that being hateful assholes gets results, meaning they’re just going to keep being (you guessed it) hateful assholes. Marvel lost one of its most popular creative minds, and audiences don’t get to see what else Gunn might have done in the MCU. Dave Bautista is heartbroken, and worst of all, Gunn might write and direct Suicide Squad 2 now.
Cube Lashes Out Against HyunA and E’Dawn
Oh K-Pop, you’re the gift that keeps on giving … us moral crises because we love you but also constantly worry we’re supporting an industry that exploits artists, many of whom are literal babies. There’s a lot of bullshit involved with the cultural machine that is the Korean music industry, and you don’t even have to dive very deep to get to it.
Last year, while BTS was working towards its inevitable world domination one Billboard Music Award at a time, T.O.P. was embroiled in a marijuana scandal and overdosed on anti-anxiety medication, and of course, Kim Jong Hyun’s suicide was a devastating loss that raised questions of how companies address artists’ mental health. So yeah, 2017 wasn’t K-Pop’s finest year, and 2018 may have been worse.
In March, Seo Min Woo of 100% was found dead of a suspected drug overdose. Then in October, two members of The East Light came forward with allegations that the band suffered physical and verbal abuse at the hands of a producer, and their company, Media Line Entertainment, knew all about it. These are terrible things, and they may make the event we’re focusing on seem trivial. But truly, one scandal outshone all others in terms of just how bullshitty it was: Cube’s handling of HyunA and E’Dawn’s relationship.
First off, I think we can all agree that “no dating” clauses in contracts are bullshit on their own. Companies shouldn’t have the right to dictate their artists’ personal lives in that way. Also, fans shouldn’t threaten to burn everything to the ground if their favorite idols are in a relationship. They aren’t elaborate constructs that exist solely for your pleasure; they’re actual people. Maybe we should, I don’t know, allow them to be happy and live their own lives?
With HyunA and E’Dawn, the situation seemed to implode immediately. Following a denial of rumors that the pair were dating from Cube, HyunA revealed that they’d been together for two years on her Instagram, saying she was tired of having to lie to her fans. Cube then hustled the two out of the public’s sight. Triple H’s appearances were cancelled mid-comeback, and E’Dawn was pulled from Pentagon’s upcoming mini-album and put on permanent hiatus.
That was August. In September, Cube announced via a press release that HyunA and E’Dawn were out because they had irreparably damaged the trust between the company and artists. Oh, and that press release was how they learned they’d been fired. No meetings or reaching out to them before the media was contacted. Almost immediately, Cube’s stock prices took a nosedive, and they attempted to backtrack. The same day, they released a second statement saying that no official decisions had been made regarding the couple’s fate at the company.
That is some next-level shittiness. Kick them out without offering the basic courtesy of telling them before going public, and then, when your own awfulness bites you in the ass, try to act like it never happened. The damage, however, was done. HyunA quickly entered negotiations to terminate her contract, rightfully pointing out the breach of trust she’d experienced when the company completely bungled the situation. Things with E’Dawn moved more slowly, but after two months of radio silence, he too left Cube, and therefore Pentagon, in November.
Everyone is a loser in this situation. Cube rightfully comes out looking terrible, and HyunA and E’Dawn may have a difficult time moving forward following the controversy. Companies will likely be hesitant to work with two artists who not only breached their former contracts but also went public about it. HyunA at least has a decade’s worth of clout and name recognition. E’Dawn isn’t so lucky, and he’s the one we here at Academic Exiles feel the most for. He clearly has the least agency in the situation and the most to lose. Hopefully, he comes up with a banging solo release or collab with his lady in 2019.
Plus, without E’Dawn’s unique energy and standout nasally vocals, Pentagon is a loser here, too. They are a group of nine with only two rappers—both of whom have similar, deep voices. That’s not a great balance. The group has never really managed to establish that much of a foothold in Korea, and it seems it will only be more difficult moving forward, especially since international fans were very supportive of E’Dawn. Hui is very talented, and his vocals and songwriting may save the group. But we can’t help but wish he’d somehow followed his writing partner out of Pentagon—and out of Cube.
The past several weeks, my inbox has been flooded with desperate attempts from MoviePass to regain my business. They’re promising up to three movies a month for a low monthly fee, but the damage has already been done; with stocks in the toilet, MoviePass might as well close the curtains.
MoviePass is a subscription service that allowed customers to obtain movie tickets every day for under $10 a month through a mobile app. For those who watch a lot of movies but don’t have a lot of money (ie., Stephanie and I), MoviePass was a pretty sweet deal, but we all wondered if it was a bit too sweet. Was MoviePass too good to be true?
Turns out, the answer was both yes and no. For about a year, Stephanie and I watched at least two movies a month for the price of one. Though it didn’t cover everything, like special events and IMAX screenings, it covered more than we expected, certainly enough to help our wallets. Whenever the question of seeing a movie came up, the answer was almost always yes—we could see almost whatever we wanted for a low monthly price, so why not? Sure, the app had annoying glitches and a poor interface, but the savings were worth the frustration.
However, in June, the service reached the point of no return. Rapidly running out of money, they announced changes in their subscriptions, drastically limiting the number of movies people could see and covering fewer theaters and screenings. Once news of their impending downfall broke, we tried making the most of our final days with MoviePass, only to experience the app crashing when we went to see Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (which wasn’t really a movie that I wanted to pay admission for). We weren’t left with another option; MoviePass now worthless, Stephanie and I cancelled our subscription and deleted the app.
Though AMC and other theater chains are starting to offer similar service, I have a special fondness for MoviePass for starting it all. The app was bullshit, the business model was asinine, but it made the movie theater more affordable for cinephiles on a budget.
The Grammys Are Still Out of Touch
Since I’ve characterized two straight years as bullshit, it probably comes as no surprise that I expected the worst from the Grammys. And by worst, I mean denying the top prize of the night to the most deserving (and black) nominee. In this case, it was Kendrick Lamar (again), who captivated the world with DAMN, yet another album from the Compton rapper that explored American racial dynamics and experimented with genres.
But he still hasn’t captivated the Grammy voters, who decided to award Best Album to Bruno Mars for 24K Magic. Sure, I’m a human with a pulse and a sense of fun, so I love Bruno Mars. However, this album, as fun as it was, was only fun—a late-80s/early-90s throwback perfect for the radio and dance floors. But this isn’t the award for Most Fun Album of the Year, making his win a loss for the Grammys’ reputation and for the recognition of African American excellence.
Fortunately, Lamar came out ahead this year with the first Pulitzer Prize awarded, not just to a rapper, but to a non-jazz or -classical artist. He was also involved in the Black Panther soundtrack. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the only debacle of the night.
As usual, I ignored the speech from the president of the Recording Academy, but other people did not. The next day, everybody was talking about both Lamar’s snub and comments from Neil Portnow. Portnow notoriously called on women to “step up” to receive greater representation at the Grammys and in the music business in general.
His words couldn’t have come at a worse time. The Grammys were already receiving backlash for its disproportionately low number of nominations for women, and Kesha performed “Praying” the night of the awards with a stage full of women to call attention to the “Me Too” movement. As female musicians increasingly share experiences of their abuse and stand in solidarity, their music is falling on the deaf ears of Grammy voters.
The 2019 Grammys isn’t looking too promising, with major snubs for Ariana Grande and BTS. Grande’s sweetener was a critical and commercial darling that showed a new side of the artist, but her best album won’t be in the Album of the Year category. BTS was nominated for best recording package—a well-deserved honor, but a little lackluster considering their landmark year and further proof of how difficult it is for international musicians to receive major accolades. Who wants to place their bets now that Post Malone will beat Janelle Monae for Album of the Year?
Featured image: Sure, Love Actually is from 2003, but Bill Nighy’s disdain is timeless.