Hi! Welcome! My name is Hoff Matthews, and this is a blog on which I’ll be reviewing popular culture’s most popular culture – the albums, movies, TV shows and books at the top of the charts each week. I’ve put a more detailed introduction on the About page, but the basic idea is that I want to get a sense of what’s genuinely popular in America (as opposed to what everyone in my social bubble is talking about on Twitter or whatever), and what that might say about us as a society.
Let’s get started with the chunks of media that were most popular a week ago, on Sunday, July 24, 2016.
So let’s begin with an unpopular opinion right off the bat: I’ve never been very interested in Toronto-repping actor-turned-rapper Drake, and listening to this album didn’t do anything to change that.
I was actually glad that Views came up here because I thought it might give me an occasion to figure out what I’ve been missing about Drake this whole time. While nothing I’d heard from him ever intrigued me to the point of wanting to pick up an LP, the credibility he seems to have with hip-hop heads and alt-hipster types had kept me from ever totally dismissing him as disposable pop. And my default assumption with this project is that most immensely popular things probably have some sort of substantive significance that makes them resonate with people, no matter how shallow or vapid they may look from a distance. So I was looking forward to lifting Drake’s hood and seeing what makes him tick.
Unfortunately, Views is pretty much what I expected from the guy: Mostly unsympathetic whining about women/relationships (“Keep the Family Close,” etc.) alternated with boasts about his skill/success (“Weston Road Flows,” etc.). And yeah, that’s every rapper, but most of them have some sort of more specific identity beyond that – NWA with rebellious fury against ghetto oppression, Jay-Z with the ambition to rise limitlessly through society’s class structure, etc. If Drake’s got such a defining persona, it’s that of a fedora-wearing misogynist “nice guy,” a brand which is both unappealing and not something he seems to be particularly self-aware about. (The fact that he opens the album by crooning the line “All of my ‘let’s just be friends’ are friends I don’t have anymore” made me think he might be attempting intentional self-parody, but I’m pretty sure he’s actually being sincere.)
It all generally works on a technical level. Drake’s got a smooth voice and knows when to vary up his delivery, and the production is impressively atmospheric. But pop stars sell a personality more than a sound, and, again, I still don’t see what makes Drake conceptually distinctive in a likable way. I’m left to conclude that his appeal stems from one or both of two factors: A) He reaches multiple demographics by appealing to all of them on a superficial level, attracting youngsters and clubgoers with the standard invoking of sex and love and partying and such, while also dog-whistling the chattering class with clever manipulation of social media memes; and/or B) there’s just a lot of people out there who are douchebags and therefore find Drake relatable.
A friend of mine who likes Drake told me I’m missing that Drake is an “emotional gangsta,” which I guess makes me the emotional C. Delores Tucker. But he also said that Views isn’t really Drake’s best work, so I don’t know, maybe I’d feel differently if I had listened to Nothing Was the Same or If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late or whatever. If you think Drake is great, please leave a comment explaining why. I’m genuinely interested in what you’d have to say, and I’d also have the satisfaction of knowing someone bothered to actually read this. Don’t all rush to your keyboards at once.
#1 Movie: Star Trek Beyond
Like the other current cinematic revival franchises (Star Wars, Ghostbusters, etc.), the modern Star Trek films make you wonder what they would’ve been like if their creators hadn’t been concerned with servicing a fan base familiar with the source material. Would the Kirk/Spock dynamic have been preserved? Would Spock’s hair still look like that? I certainly imagine they wouldn’t have set up such a large ensemble cast; it makes sense for a continuing TV series but here they clearly struggle to find a distinctive and interesting function for every character involved in this story of an attack on the starship Enterprise and the hostage/rescue/world-saving situation that ensues.
That being said, this was a pretty good time overall. Like The Force Awakens, the new Star Treks have an earnestly derivative attitude towards their source, an approach that has its limitations but is still preferable to the semi-ironic jokiness of Jurassic World or Independence Day: Resurgence. Beyond‘s story plays out on a relatively small scale, making this feel like a minor effort as far as summer blockbusters go, but in a refreshing way.
A friend I went to see this with said he thought the villain’s ideology sounded a lot like Donald Trump’s. You could probably make that comparison with pretty much any movie, and there’s no way it was the writers’ intention given how long this movie must have been in the works, but it admittedly does work pretty well.
This Week’s TV Day: Sunday (As explained on the About page, I’m going to rotate days for my TV reviews. So next week I’ll review the show that got the most viewers on Monday, the week after that will be Tuesday, etc.)
#1 TV Show, Sunday, 7/24/16: 60 Minutes: S48E45,”The Democratic Ticket, Make-A-Wish”
We generally think of pop culture as being geared towards the young, but you never want to discount the importance of older people (whom I’m assuming are 60 Minutes‘ main viewers judging purely from stereotypes and the amount of prescription drugs advertised in its commercials). The elderly vote, and they watch network TV. If I were reviewing the show that got the highest share of the coveted 18-49 demographic we’d probably be talking about something else, but I’m interested in the stuff with the biggest audience, period, regardless of who that audience consists of. (To be fair, the Clinton/Kaine interview in this episode probably attracted a larger and more diverse crowd than this show usually gets.)
And there’s something charming about 60 Minutes‘ old-fashioned lack of flashiness. Check out the opening sequence:
No moving background or colorful flying shards of computer-generated glass or whatever; just a gray gradient, a box and a logo. What more do you really need?
The segments are just as meat-and-potatoes: Scott Pelley fiddles with his glasses while probing Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine with questions like “What do you think of that notion?” and then Bill Whitaker hosts a Make-A-Wish Foundation feature which reveals nothing you wouldn’t expect, except for a surprisingly ballsy kid with muscular dystrophy. (“When you’ve got a disability, people give you free stuff! I’m not saying I take advantage, but yeah, I take advantage!”) No shocking exposes here, but hey, they ain’t trying to be Vice.
#1 Book, Fiction: The Black Widow by Daniel Silva
#1 Book, Nonfiction: Crisis of Character: A White House Secret Service Officer Discloses His First-Hand Experience with Hillary, Bill, and How They Operate by Gary J. Byrne
My plan is to switch off between fiction and nonfiction every week, which would make The Black Widow this week’s book. I don’t promise that I’ll actually get through a full book every week, though, and indeed I’m only part of the way through the Black Widow audiobook as of now, so I’ll review it in a future post once I’ve finished. If you’re wondering, it’s a spy novel in which the villain is ISIS. Fun!
See you next week!