Saying “what a strange year” is both such an understatement and so obvious that I’m sure it doesn’t need to be said, but I can’t help but say it anyway. What a strange, strange year. Mostly I turned to books to get me through it, but there were also plenty of standouts in other mediums that offered entertainment and escapism through the weirdness of 2020. Here are a few of my favourites from the year in music, tv, film*, and podcasts.Continue reading “My favourite music, tv, and podcasts of 2020”
- Boyhood, dir. Richard Linklater – Filming over 12 years could have turned out gimmicky, but Boyhood was a moving and beautiful story of family and growing up. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt so emotional while watching a film.
- Calvary, dir. John Michael McDonagh – The preview for this Irish film made it out to be a dark comedy, but despite actors such as Dylan Moran, Chris O’Dowd, and even star Brendan Gleeson (in maybe his best ever work), it’s a heartwrenchingly dark film with moments of humour.
- The Grand Budapest Hotel, dir. Wes Anderson – I’ve loved every film I’ve seen of Anderson’s, but for some reason hadn’t watched one since The Life Aquatic. This was a good place to start back, with his typical aesthetic and great performances.
- Gone Girl, dir. David Fincher – I read the book in one frantic weekend before seeing the film, and the twists and turns and madness of it all still shocked me. Though not as much as it shocked the person sitting behind us who couldn’t stop saying “What the fuck” at the end.
- Obvious Child, dir. Gillian Robespierre – A sweet, funny little film about a stand-up comedian who gets pregnant and has an abortion. The characters feel like your friends.
- The Antlers, Familiars – This album is one of those where the sound just fills the room when you listen to it. There are so many layers combining beautifully with strange, sad lyrics.
- Alt-J, This is All Yours – Speaking of strange, among other oddities Alt-J’s second album samples Miley Cyrus, and somehow it really works. They also put on one of the top 3 live shows I saw this year (and in fairness, the top 2 are my favourite bands, The National and Arctic Monkeys).
- St. Vincent, St. Vincent – I’m declaring this the year of the excellent self-titled album. And St. Vincent’s is the best of them, with an album that is both strange and wonderful.
- Hozier, Hozier – You’ve probably been hearing “Take Me to Church” all the time for the past 6 months, unless you’re in Ireland in which case you’ve been hearing it all year. And it hasn’t gotten old yet.
- Taylor Swift, 1989 – Part of me can’t believe that Taylor Swift of all people is bumping my forever girl Shakira off my Best Of list, but most of me thinks that “Blank Space” is such a jam I don’t even care.
If I say I love Shakira, there may be one or two people who know me that might be surprised, but probably they already know too. (Certainly anyone who has ever gotten drunk with me is aware, given that for some reason one of my favourite topics of drunk conversation is how, while Shakira and her footballer boyfriend Gerard Piqué are a cute couple, she is a goddess and could still do so much better). Anyway, my adoration of her makes me predisposed to love anything she does, including her new, eponymous album. Still, even stepping away from my massive bias, I can say with certainty that Shakira is weird and wonderful and great.
Although there are a few of her songs that I adore in any language, I’ve always preferred Shakira’s Spanish music to her English songs, whether it is because the lyrics make more sense when not translated to fit the melody or just because I think her voice is meant for the language. I wish there were more Spanish songs on this album, but “Loca por Ti” is a gorgeous track that reminds me of Sale el Sol. And I definitely prefer the Spanish version of her first single, “Nunca Me Acuerdo de Olvidarte,” to the English.
That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy Shakira’s English music nearly as much. I immediately loved her second single, “Empire,” and so far it remains my favourite track on the album. It reminds me in a way of a James Bond theme in the way it starts slow and relies on Shakira’s vocals to soar. Surprisingly, a song I really enjoyed upon first listen was “Medicine,” the country track featuring Shakira’s The Voice co-judge Blake Shelton. Although I’m generally not a fan of country music or Shelton’s work in particular, Shakira’s famous vibrato is perfect for the genre and she harmonises well with Shelton; it’s not a great song, but it’s so earnest I find myself liking it anyway. Another track I love is “Chasing Shadows,” written by Sia, with the blend of beauty and quirkiness that is pretty much the epitome of all things Shak.
A few of the songs are cringe-worthy on the level of Taylor Swift’s most preteen-obsessive: mainly “23,” the track most obviously written about Piqué, and the bland but probably radio-friendly “Spotlight.” While Shakira has had some notably weird lyrics in the past (“lucky that my breasts are small and humble so you don’t confuse them with mountains“), “Girl meets a boy / surrender to his charms / leaves her old boyfriend / and crumbles in his arms” aren’t interesting enough to be memorable, and the music sounds more like it could fit into Swift’s Red than Shakira’s oeuvre.
Others suffer from similarities to previous, superior works, like the duet with Rihanna, “Can’t Remember to Forget You,” which I can’t help but compare unfavourably to her “Beautiful Liar” duet with Beyonce. On the other hand, while “Dare (La La La)” is meant to be this World Cup’s “Waka Waka (Esto es Africa)” and it’s not as good as that (because let’s face it, there aren’t many songs better than “Waka Waka” and you’re lying to yourself if you don’t love it) I can still see myself listening to it on repeat while running, cleaning, doing homework… in pretty much all aspects of my life, as I do the earlier track.
Musically, the album has more interesting sounds than some of her recent work. As mentioned, there’s the country song, but on other tracks its a Caribbean vibe that reflects Shakira’s Barranquilla Colombian heritage, a power-rock sound on others, a few stripped-down ballads, and the usual bellydance-worthy pop music.