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S2: I’m Stephen Metcalf and this is the Slate Culture Gabfest Pellington Prisoner Edition. It’s Wednesday, December 18th, 2019. On today’s show, it’s that time of year again. Yes, Slate has its various end of year clubs posting. We discussed this year’s provocative TV club with Willa Paskin. Slate’s, of course, wonderful TV critic. And then 25 years after its initial release, Mariah Carey is incorrigible. Holiday earworm.
S1: All I want for Christmas is finally the number one hit on the Billboard charts. We will be joined by Christmas lamptey to explain why and maybe something about its wicked charms. And finally, W.T. F is up with that Pellington ad that has gone viral. Joining me today is Julia Turner, who is the deputy managing editor of The L.A. Times. Hey, Julia. Hello. Hello. And Dana Stephens, who’s Slate’s film critic, Kadina Hastie. Okay. It’s that time of year again where Slate posts up its various clubs, its TV club, its movie club. These are both the top ten list kind of deals, but really they’re more state of the medium essays by the top critics in the field. We’re joined now by Willa Paskin to talk about the TV club.. Willow, welcome back to the show. Hi, Will. What I love about your about your initial entry is is how, frankly, you talk about the state of the medium as something that you now find, at the very least, something to be ambivalent about. I mean, I’ll quote what amounts to almost your very first line. 2019 was the first year I started to look askance at something I’ve said thousands of times. I love television. Are we coming to the end of a golden age or are we just starting to look at it somewhat differently?
S3: Well, I have no idea. We’re doing either of those things. I would like us to be looking at television a little differently. Scheid give my whole spiel that has a strong opening post movie club. Well, it’s so polemical and I really want to frame it right now for the Gators. SHAW So basically I in the last 20 years, like TV critics, not just TV critics, muzzie TV critics have been engaged in this like project to sort of like get TV taken seriously, to get it respect to like jump eyebrow to make it serious. And we’ve been like Insaf successful, obviously, like it’s started sort of in the late in 1999 when Sopranos were married.
S4: You can sort of argue about like the actual first show. But our starting on that time, everyone’s like, hey, look, look, TV is better. It’s different. We like this golden age of television is upon us. And obviously TV had sort of historically been taking incredibly unna seriously. It was the idiot box that was the boob tube. It was really easy to be snobby about it. It was very popular, but it was, you know, low brow, just like trashy and actually genuinely much of it was not very good. And. So like there was a sort of groundswell of attention and like, you know, on all the art or the entertainment that was being made. And now I think like 20 years later, like we have been just like we are we’ve been so successful in this mission to get TV taken seriously. Like they’re obviously people who do not like television still, but they are in the minority. TV is beloved and respected everywhere. It’s written about everywhere. It is like the medium of our time. You have these huge corporations that are making television both because it’s financially there’s lot financial incentives for them to do so, but also like it’s cool and hip and chic enough that that makes them seem cool and hip and chic, too. And and obviously to make that happen. We fans, viewers, makers, but critics also have had to have sort of like an activist position about television, we were like trying to accomplish something. So we were kind of like fans of television. We are like Homer’s for television. We were trying to make something happen.
S3: We were cheerleading for it. And and I just think that now at this moment where like we have become sort of like the over dogs, like, you know, TV was sort of historically always very powerful, always very popular, always very lucrative, but it was artistically disrespected. So in that one way, it was kind of an underdog. And now it’s not even that. So it’s really just an overdog many times over. I think it’s incumbent upon us to like think about our relationship to television maybe a little bit differently and to think about this sort of fan ish relationship. Like, I love television attitude to sort of just think about in a lot more complicatedly and like what? I I really mean when I say that is like The Sopranos starts in 1999, in 2001 to two years later, you have with 9/11 basically the rise of Fox News as a total. All right project. And so basically you have around the same time period that we’re like all talking about how great television and fixating on it. You have the weaponisation of cable news and then you also have the premiere of Survivor, which leads directly to The Apprentice and Donald Trump. So basically it’s like, wow, we’ve been talking about how great TV is artistically. You have almost like the best example we’ve ever had of how TV can be so powerful and insidious. And I think that, you know, you could say to me, well, that’s actually like, let’s divide those things, right.
S4: There’s TV. That’s art. There’s the fictional TV. They’re scripted drama. And comedy is in documentaries. And there’s all this other stuff and now other stuff as its home or kettle fish. But I actually think when you do that, you sort of fall into this funny, ironic trap, which is that part of the other argument that’s happening on television is like we don’t want to treat it like cinema or literature. It’s its own art form, right. We don’t need to compare the wire to Dickens indefinitely like it can be its own thing. But this to me is almost like the most cinema and literature rising of all of television, because the thing that’s really unique about television, I think is how immensely powerful it is and how immensely powerful it is, even when it’s horrible, like how much it’s so sticky and it’s so meaningful to us when it’s good, but also when it’s bad. And like we need to really, like, get there with that.
S1: I mean, I love your entry and I love this argument. But let me drill down on it just for one second. Yeah. Is it just that the word television no longer is semantically precise enough to describe all of the things that that it purports to encompass? Right. That that, you know, if I have a laptop and I’m streaming and Netflix is the provider and the studio is some, you know, is in a Perner or or the BBC. In what sense is that even connected to what’s happening on Fox News? It’s no longer the same device. It’s no longer the same delivery system. It’s no longer the same production system. It may not be one of the big six entertainment conglomerates that produced it. Or they may have some finger in it, but but not directly. I guess what I’m really asking is, is it that. This cheerleading for the artistic viability of the medium has so overwhelmed this older doomsaying sociology about the effects of TV that we need a corrective for that. Or is it that the streaming bubble is, you know, has kind of reached the peak of its bubble phase and actually the quality of the best shows don’t live up anymore to the golden age? You know, rhetoric?
S4: Well, I think there’s a couple things. I think basically both of those things are sort of true. But I think that in not in sort of not thinking about TV a little more holistically, we’re leaving a lot of questions on the table. Right. So like, what does it mean that television now has as like on most many platforms is completely disconnected from news that we have taken news out of the where tons of people watch television. Maybe that’s totally meaningless, but maybe it also means people want more entertainment from their news. Or maybe it means, you know, they’re getting news not from television. There’s like there’s sort of there’s ramifications for like the changing way that TV if if TV suddenly is just this thing that is also indistinguishable from films in lots of ways are indistinguishable from all these other format. It’s just like you turn on Netflix and you get your stuff on screen, like that’s a huge change. And it may mean that TV, as I’m talking about it, is sort of this vestigial old timey thing and not very long. But like that change is happening now. And I think in not thinking a little bit more about the ways those things used to be connected, because it’s sort of convenient to just thinking about what’s good. We’re actually like missing a lot of what is transforming like right in front of our eyes. If that makes sense.
S3: And I do also think that sort of part of the golden age rhetoric has been just strictly with the artistic stuff, kind of.
S4: I do think a little bit overpraised like just this is this is not particular to television, but we obviously living in a extremely pop to mystic moment. I think it’s not so crazy to imagine that basically in the last two decades, as genuinely popular mass culture has sort of disappeared, we have become much more enamored in the moments that have the things that really are hugely popular and that, you know, in the 70s you defined yourself against it was popular because you saw it and you saw it was bad and how many lame people liked really bad things. And that doesn’t happen anymore. There there’s so much less of it. Those things all seem extremely good. Like so like we’re just it’s so rare. It’s sort of exciting. It has this freeze on that like a really popular thing couldn’t have had before. And TV fit just like to me, that’s Germaine’s like what’s happening with television in general so that you get to this place. It’s also sort of like it’s very aligned with her fan culture where instead of just saying, like, I love this show and I think it’s like, fine, maybe like having the thing where and you’re like, I love this thing. It’s not even a guilty pleasure, but it’s not perfect. This is I wrote a piece about the morning show that’s like all about this. Not everything that you like has to change the world, that everything that you like has to be like the best or hyperbolic. I mean, this also might have to do with like headlines in the Internet age. I mean, there’s lots of things that are going on. I do. So, yes, I think this is about both of those things. I think it’s about TV sort of changing in some. To being some sort of other third’s thing that it’s not yet. And so separating from sort of TV as we knew it. And I do think it’s also about TV maybe not being quite like the scripted stuff or the artsy stuff not being quite as good as we’re saying it is. Well, right.
S5: And then there’s also the difference between popularity and the cultural conversation. Like there was a moment where the sort of people who like to lament the popular culture sucked, didn’t have any options besides whatever bad thing millions of people were watching. Millions of people are still watching a lot of mediocre television. Broadcast television remains a very strong, very good business. And like, there’s just not a lot of think pieces about the oppression of NCIS or whatever, but like it exists and people watch it. It’s just that all of the prestige TV has distracted the TV, Arati. And so we don’t even worry about it anymore.
S3: Yes. Like, I think one of the things that’s happening here a little bit, this is very narcissistic. But I came into TV criticism because I was like I was editor at Major in Anthropology in Hot. And I was really interesting. I like and also because I loved Nano now. So I always came into it from this place that was like, I love this bad stuff. Like what? It’s so interesting. Like what’s popular, like what it says about us, even when it’s bad. And I think as TV has basically become a proper arts criticism in sort of like the very near past, it’s very easy to be like, oh, no, we’re just talking about what’s good. And I’m like, I think we’d just be talking about what’s interesting. And obviously, sometimes you run into a wall because you can’t talk about NCIS because no one wants to read it. But like there’s a way that NCIS is ongoing. Popularity is like way more interesting than like whatever, like perfectly well-made, like emo comedy that, you know, five thousand people are very forgettable.
S6: And we saw about sex in Britain that was like delightful sex education happen.
S7: If that one is. That was my that was my peak like surfeit of good. TV show this year where I was just like at 0. No, it’s good. I just can’t care about this.
S8: My God, there were a whole bunch, you know, even that we talked about that were all about teenagers having sex in Britain.
S3: Sort of like that became a whole genre loop itself. Those are all very enjoyable. But it’s like. It’s just like I just something’s like off, something’s just off. We just should. It’s like it’s also like it’s so overheated. Like there’s this a way that some of these sort of older schools of criticism, it’s like not everything is like. You’re not like battling for movies. You know, so you’re going to be like, let’s talk about this movie. You know, like that. Does I sort of wish for TV to have that? Well, right.
S5: But also, I mean, the kind of homerism and boosterism that you lament in TV criticism, I do think that there’s a pivot moment where, you know, the question in newsrooms are like who’s responsible for covering them? And Laurean, is that the TV team or the film team? Who’s responsible for covering all these things that are on the bubble like this?
S6: The big companies, the powerful companies are coming after us with TV. And so the kind of skepticism of the vigilant critic needs to get activated around TV. Meanwhile, you know, film buffs are just so happy when a good movie gets made.
S7: They’re like, oh, my God, thank God. It’s not dead yet. So I do wonder if we’ll see sort of a shift in the ethos of the two branches of crime scenes in there.
S3: I do also just like find the ongoing sort of like tiff, occasional tiff, not always between sort of film critics and TV critics to be like.
S9: So like like missing the forest for like the giant asteroid that’s coming to like smash cars to smithereens, which just like both of these things are obviously becoming something that you watch whenever you want on your laptop. Obviously, that’s more or, you know, who knows what. And obviously, that’s sort of more actually at odds with what we’ve understood as movies as this experience that we have in a room together somewhere that’s not in your house. And in that way, TV might end up being the thing that it’s all called. But like, they obviously are smashing into each other and they’re sort of it seems to me they’re mostly becoming like more Internet than sort of either of them.
S8: You know, we’re actually starting writing the movie club this week to run next week. And my first post, I opened on exactly that question, which to me was a huge question this year that that emerged in a new way. Right. That the emerging of Netflix and Amazon is these two giants just out of the blue in movie distribution. I mean, you know, the giants of of movie producers and releases. So really, our jobs are kind of merging.
S3: Yeah, totally. It’s I’m also like this is sort of the most boring way to say this, but actually, like, probably we’ll have like real ramifications. How do you decide about things? But, you know, the moving from finding out how movies make money like this obsession with box office to actually being Netflix movies where literally you’re never gonna even know many like you can’t do it by money that you can’t even do a buy audience. And I am curious to see like how that is. That changes like the market in a way that is helpful because it will make, you know, movies that aren’t just about superheroes have. I mean, that’s what seems to be happening on Netflix already, right?
S1: I mean, it’s going to come down to which of these behemoths in the streaming wars has the IP that keeps people subscribing. I mean, it’s just sort of this odd thing where that’s the business model, that’s the basis for a competition between these commercial entities. You’re simply trying to retain and expand a subscriber base thanks to a very large portfolio of original and an archival content anyway. Will it? Let’s pivot banal. It’s an aspect of this. Was this a good year for TV?
S3: And what if so what made it that I thought was actually like an OK year for TV? And I actually think there was probably like four truly excellent shows, which I think kind of like is a weird sign of health. Like I think my top four this year, which were fleabag Russian doll watchmen and succession are like as good as far as I’ve had on a top ten list ever. And those were in all of the top ten. Yeah, that’s right. Right. You saw a lot of similarity, which, you know, could be a sign that everything was bad, but Alice was bad. I think actually is because those shows are like extremely good. And then and then it was like, fine. It was good. I thought last year was maybe worse. I felt more like deadened by it. But like, it’s just so ridiculous. Or 615 TV shows this year, like I’m some of them were good. Some of them were more than okay in relation to that.
S8: I wanted to ask you about the post that you wrote about. Unbelievable and fast forwarding through the tough parts and and just talk about not just that show, but about different modalities of TV watching and what possibilities it opens up for the viewer and what those mean to you. Right.
S9: So unbelievable as a show on Netflix based on true story that also was turned into a Pulitzer Prize winning piece by ProPublica in which basically a young woman is raped by a home intruder and not believed by the police. And like her life completely spirals out in horrible ways. And then meanwhile, a rapist is sort of raping people across many states. And these two police officers solve the case and sort of connect the dots that it’s the same rapist as rape that someone who drew out the show. You’re watching her life sort of be destroyed because no one believes her. And I knew this story and I started to watch the show. And the first episode is all about the young woman played by this actress, Caitlin Deever. And I was like, no, I do not want to watch this at all. This is like really grim and depressing and really like just excruciating. So I skipped it and I kept skipping all her parts. And the part of the show that’s left, which is a sort of a cop procedural starring Merritt Wever and Toni Collette is like. You know, has some tough things about rape investigations, but it’s like a grilli good gripping and fun procedural and I enjoyed it a lot. And so I wrote about that sort of skipping stuff for TV club. I’ve always been relentless fastforward. I get bored with lots of storylines and things. I try not to do it when I’m writing about the show. I think it also helps that I like basically know what’s happening because I have watched enough stuff that have good reading comprehension about television. But with this, I also did it was sort of another secret way to be like nasty about TV. You know, there’s been a lot more in coming years like shows about really hard things, sort of TV kind of moving into some of the territory that some awards bait movies often cover words like some excruciating but noble subject. And you should watch it because it’s good for you. And it is actually good for those stories to be out there in the world to know about them. And I just wanted to kind of while saying that those things are true, I think that those things are true. I think we should be making shows and movies about difficult things.
S3: I’m thinking now of like them when they see us, they have a DuVernay show about the Central Park Five or Grenoble or even our boys, this Israeli show. Like why I really think those shows should be being made. I also think that those shows are in a conversation with an egotistical part of ourselves that is kin sort of self, you know, be satisfied and congratulated that we are willing to excrutiating ourselves and put ourselves through the wringer of doing this really hard thing of watching a TV show. And I, you know, obviously watching TV shows, not really that hard. So I did it with unbelievable. I decided to skip the hard stuff, which feels sort of like a cop out. But I also decided in skipping the hard stuff, I couldn’t congratulate myself on being the kind of person who sits through the hard stuff.
S8: I mean, I read that in this state of kind of shock and admiration as a movie critic who really can’t skip through, it would really look bad. For one thing is I’m only dealing with two hours in the first place. But also you’re locked into a seat, you know, and at the same time, that’s always what I’ve so in a way loved about the astral projection of movies is that you are trapped here, the passivity of the viewer where you just whatever on scrolls in front of your eyes, you sort of have to take it in and make sense of it. But that post, just as a operational manual for TV watching was was useful to me because it made me realize that there are lots of shows, for example, maybe even not because of the excruciating this, but just because the a plot is so much better than the B plot or vice versa. There are plenty of shows that I might watch in that half their way.
S3: Also, I mean, I like I’m very in touch with my bad viewer, I think. So like when I’m not reviewing something, there’s like lots of shows I’ll watch and I’ll just blink like, oh, I only want to know how this love story turns out. And I’ll like, watch too. And then I’ll just like shamelessly like fast-forward to the last like four or five just to see like the like who who’s walking like three minutes of every episode. And then I’ll be like I’ll go back and watch. And I never do because like that’s truly all I wanted to know that happened. This is not with things that I’m reviewing, but I just like think that there is a like that’s a nice thing about TV. That’s also obviously a horrible thing about TV that you can just chop it up and do whatever you want to it. I mean, this is why I like Martin Scorsese. He would probably like have things to say about his movies being watched. And there’s one particular way of turning the Irishman into a mini series, which is what so many people are doing. What the people want you to get from what they’re making is not always what you get. And TV just makes that can make that extremely clear. And I will say, like, you know, The Notebook, a movie that I’ve seen many times. I always fast the old people I’ve made my own movie has its own cut and it has no old Virgin Islands. I’m not going to watch the Alzheimer’s. Thought of that movie. It was very bad.
S8: There’s somebody in the club. I can’t rember which critic it isn’t. You can remind me who talks about how she’s always written about how TV is is the medium for she says, I think the sick, the exhausted, the half asleep. Right. I mean, it’s the medium that you consume in the privacy of your home. And you can be who you are. You can have all of your flaws in relation to the medium in front of it. If we’re going to regard those as flaws from Scorsese in my perspective. And that came very strongly across in your post, but also in general, I think in this year’s club that there was a lot of talk about, you know, the watching body and its relation to screen.
S3: Right. It’s like TV can be really good. It can be art. And like also, I mean, in this way, it’s like not that dissimilar from like porn or something. Right? It’s like between you and yourself. What you do alone on your computer with the Internet, you know? Oh, my lord.
S1: Like, you know, like podcasting. Yeah, exactly. All right. So the TV club is up. Willa has the initial entry. And then there are others that follow. It’s wonderful. Will it pass? And of course, the leads TV critic and the host of Decoder Ring podcast. Willa, thanks for coming back on our show.
S3: Truly, thank you so much for having me. I just really want to, like, talk and fight with people about this and no one’s doing on the Internet. So maybe now I will get some listeners right. It’s so fun. Thank you, guys.
S1: All right. Before we go any further, Dana, I’m going to guess that we have some business and you’re ready to deliver it. What’s so? What’s up?
S10: Just one piece of business. But it’s an important one hour call in show, which is our annual celebration of our listeners. And their weird questions is happening next week. And so you have just a few more days to call into question if you have one for us. Let’s make Friday the last day so that we can spend the weekend looking at questions and deciding which ones we have time to answer on the show. The number to call to leave a voicemail with your question is 9 7 3 8 2 6 0 3 1 8. That’s 9 7 3 8 2 6 0 3 1 8. Let’s say until midnight on Friday. You can leave your message and we will give it a listen and hopefully answer your question on next week’s program in Slate. Plus, today we will be talking to XML N.V., Slate’s great pop music writer and chart analyst. He will be coming on in the main part of our show to talk about Mariah Carey’s Christmas hit. All I want for Christmas is you, which bizarrely has just hit number one on the pop charts 25 years after it was recorded. So we at him stick around for the Slate Plus segment to talk about his latest episode of Hit Parade, which is his great pop music podcast for Slate, which is all about songs of the 2010’s. We will go through some of those with Chris and talk about why they’ve stuck around for a decade.
S1: Soaring vocals, Motown backbeat, chimes, dripping in baths and exuberance. It was 25 years ago that Mariah Carey’s All I Want for Christmas is you joined almost instantly the pantheon of pop rock holiday songs destined to be played. The death between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, but it never hit number one on the charts, at least until now. We are joined by resident Chartoff allergist XML MP to discuss why. Chris, welcome back to the show. Hey, Steve Vario. Great. I’m in the holiday spirit in that I never want to hear any of these songs ever, ever again. But this is kind of crazy. This is surely the longest a song has ever gone from its appearance to being at the top of the charts. Does that have something to do with the Internet, by the way?
S11: It absolutely has something to do with the Internet. It has to do with everything that has changed on the charts and in the music economy, the technological economy that makes all of our music consumption possible. In the last quarter century since this song landed in the late fall of 1994, basically to chart the history of all I want for Christmas is you. Depending on how deep of a billboard nerd you are and God knows I’m about as deep as they come is kind of to track how consumption has changed, how technologies have changed. When this song appeared on the 1994 album, simply titled Merry Christmas by Mariah Carey, Mariah was at the absolute zenith of her imperial phase. And here’s the interesting part. They didn’t release it as a single. They figured, well, it’s a Christmas album. Christmas albums are perennials. They sell well. People will buy the whole thing, which they did. By the way, it went triple platinum in its first year and has sold another roughly 3 million copies since then. And Mariah did not need any further hits. So they put it out as an album cut. They put it out as a music video and they figured that would be that. But then everything that’s happened in the subsequent 25 years, whether it was Billboard changing its rules to allow album cuts to appear on the Hot 100, that didn’t happen until the late 90s. The invention of the illegal download when i-Tunes came online in 2003, by the way, within the first year that the legal 99 cent download existed. All I want for Christmas is you was a top 10 digital download. So the minute people could buy this song, they did buy this song. When Billboard decided late in the decade to not only add digital music to its hot 100, but eventually by the turn of the 10s, they made it possible for old songs to appear on the Hot 100 again. Basically, once Billboard and Nielsen music realized that old songs and new songs kind of streamed in quantity side by side with each other, and there was no point segregating old music from the chart anymore. They change their policy and they started to allow old songs onto the chart. All of these changes and then throw into the mix in 2011 2012, the addition of Spotify to the charts. Spotify comes to America and now we know really with a fine tooth comb which songs people are consuming in quantity every year. By the way, it turns out that songs like Burl Ives is a Holly Jolly Christmas and Andy Williams It’s the most wonderful time of the year and wham’s Last Christmas. These old songs turn out to be perennially popular. Brenda Lee’s Rockin Around the Christmas Tree. You add all of these changes in technology, changes in methodology, and bit by bit it’s a feedback loop. I’ve said this a million times. Charts are feedback loops once the industry learns what’s popular. They make it more popular and the public develops a realization that a song is popular. And so there’s been this. Pardon the pun with the winter. There’s been this snowball effect for the last 25 years where little by little, as more data has been available to us. It’s been easier to track. Oh, yeah. This is an incredibly popular song. It’s enduring. People love it. If they have the opportunity to consume it every November and December, they will. And here we are in 2019 and in its 25th year, it sets a record as the longest gestating number one hit in hot 100 history. So, yeah. Long answer to your question, but it is definitely a phenomenon.
S8: Chris, I heard that you were called in to write an emergency. Why is this song number one about all I want for Christmas is ending to the top of the charts and that’s not out yet, but I can’t wait to read it. I did read on Billboard that this is the first time this has happened since the Chipmunk song in 1958 59, which first of all, topping the Chipmunks record of 60 years ago is a pretty incredible feat for Mariah Carey in itself. But if it really is true that all of these metrics of measuring what makes a song popular and who’s listening to it where have changed so quickly, why hasn’t this happened before? Is this going to start to be a problem? Are there going to be I mean, our old song is going to take over the charts. Not that that would necessarily be a problem, but is it going to become almost impossible to look at the charts as having anything to do with novelty anymore?
S11: Well, depending on how you view it, whether you view it as a problem or not, it’s it’s already happening. For example, this same week that Mariah Carey goes to number one with this 25 year old record, a roughly 60 year old record by Brenda LEIGH, Rockin Around the Christmas Tree makes its first appearance in the top five. So right now, the hot one. Android is already awash in, you know, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60 year old records. So that’s already happening. And again, the combination of streaming and Billboard deciding about 70 years ago that they were going to allow old records on the chart again because it just didn’t make sense to segregate them anymore. Those two things have already brought about this change. I have all year long been expecting that my December episode of Hit Parade was going to be about all I want for Christmas is you because it’s such an interesting chart phenomenon. And even if it had not gone to number one, just the story of how the chart rules change to make it possible for the song to climb the charts is a fascinating story. As for the Chipmunks, yes. Here’s the statistic. This is the first Christmas record in America of any kind to go to number one since the Chipmunk Song by David Seville. Technically, the credit read The Chipmunks, featuring David Seville in 1958, the very first year the Hot 100 existed. And two things. First of all, in 1958, what was really happening with the Chipmunk song? This is the one that goes, you know, Christmas, don’t be late. I still want to Hula-Hoop. It was basically jumping on a novelty record trend that was hot in 1958. Frankly, the Chipmunks could have been singing about anything. It was following up records by David Seville like the Witchdoctor or the Purple People Eater by Shab Wooly 1958. Just happened to be a really good year for novelty records. In effect, it’s almost as if there’s never been a pure Christmas record that has gone to number one. The Chipmunks record half doesn’t count. And the reasons for this basically Christmas music is an odd fit for the charts. Everybody wants to hear it for roughly a four to six week period every year from about Thanksgiving to Christmas, and then they never want to hear it the rest of the year. And this is an awkward fit for a chart that tracks the accretion of hit status over the course of weeks and months. A typical number one hit will take at least a couple of weeks unless it debuts at number one. And then if it debuts at number one, it’s probably going to stick around for months. But a typical hit record sticks around on the charts, not for three weeks or four weeks. It sticks around for months. So by the time a record is aggregating enough data to climb the chart, Christmas is already over. So you have this phenomenon where in the 60s, the 70s, either these records weren’t released, a singles, so they weren’t eligible for the chart. Many of them were album cuts or they were released to singles. But then a song like, you know, Bobby Holmes’s jingle Bell Rock could barely get into the top 10. And Brenda Lee’s Rockin Around the Christmas Tree peaks at number 14 because it’s just starting to climb the chart before the Christmas season is over and then it plummets off the hot 100 streaming and the technology available to us now basically give us a finer measure of just how popular these songs are. It’s possible for a record like Mariah Carey’s to aggregate enough data in a very short amount of time to get all the way to number one.
S12: Can I just say I don’t care that much about the song.
S13: It’s a fine song, Amara. Like I see why it is a charming Christmas song.
S6: And I see by the idea of a song that old pitting number one for the first time is exciting. But to me, what is so exciting is charts that actually don’t price novelty.
S13: And the measure what people are really listening to like. People do not experience culture the way culture journalists think they do, which is like only wanting to know about the new stuff and caring about it. And you know, there’s such a temptation to price that. And it’s just so fun that like, yeah, people don’t really want your new album Drop. They just want to put on Christmas music. And here’s the one that’s just an All-Time. Great. I love that. I love the changes that they’ve made in measurement and what they can teach us about what humans are actually doing with their ears at any given time. I think it’s like radical and exciting and fantastic.
S11: I agree. Mostly I enjoy this phenomenon. I find it fascinating that it’s the same collection of decades old chestnuts. It’s it’s not as if it’s the Justin Bieber Christmas record. By the way, he’s put out Christmas records or the Ariana Grande Day Christmas record. She has two that are topping the hit parade every year. In fact, it’s records like Burl Ives and Andy Williams and Bobby Helms and Eartha KITT. And, you know, these are the records that people reach for year after year. But now we know just how much they’re consumed year after year. That’s one thought. The other thought is that what’s interesting about the hot 101 reason I’ve always found it fascinating is it’s what I call an average of two types of fandom. To your point, Julia, it measures both the extremely passionate fan, the sort of fan who will show up when a new Taylor Swift song or a new Drake song drops in its first week. And so sometimes you do get songs that debut at number one. Those are the people who are buying and streaming songs. Right. But then it also still averages in good old fashioned terrestrial radio, which is a very passive medium. And that’s a useful metric because you’re you’re measuring both the songs people are consuming passively and the songs they’re consuming actively. And when you average those two things. Whether you get a pretty accurate barometer of how popular songs are, I still follow the Hot 100 because I find this fascinating, because I think that there are songs that take a while to worm their way into people’s consciousness and there are songs that sort of have a big impact early and then fade out quickly. And I think that they both need to share space on any reasonable measure of popularity.
S1: I feel like, Chris, before you go, there’s just one other act of reverse engineering we have to do here, which is why this particular song insinuates itself so deeply into ones, I don’t know, consciousness or bloodstream or unconsciousness or, you know, who knows. Sternum or we get just kind of gets into you in some way. And actually, Slate ran a piece a few years ago that was very good about the musical architecture of it, that it’s not built around the classic three to five chord structure of a rock and roll song, but built around interesting harmonics and chromatics. Like particularly, I loved this. I think the song also includes the most Christmasy chord of all a minor subdominant or four chord with an added sixth under the words underneath the Christmas tree, just as a composition itself. It is a series of Pavlovian Yuletide triggers.
S11: Absolutely. And you know, it’s interesting. In your intro you pointed to the Motown oddness of all I want for Christmas is you. I’d say some of that’s in there, but what I’d say is even stronger. All I want for Christmas is you. Is the Phil Spector ness. To me, the song is a very clear amolsch to a Christmas gift for you, that classic 1963 album which features the Ronettes, Darlene Love. In fact, on the Merry Christmas album in 1994, Mariah Carey, as if making this connection playing also covers Christmas Baby, Please Come Home by Darlene Love. It’s clear that she had that mode on the brain and you know, to give Mariah Carey her propers, she co-wrote this song with her then producer, collaborator Walter Alphen, RCF. She’s a songwriter. She’s not just a singer. And she has an innate gift for Melody. She had a hand in writing, I think all but one of her now 19 number one hits. She’s one away from the Beatles, by the way. The only one she didn’t write or co-write is I’ll Be There, which was a cover of a Jackson 5 song, the other 18. She had a hand in at least arranging, if not writing the melody. And yeah, it’s just kind of this sturdy classic melody that evokes Christmas and I think manages to sound instantly nostalgic on impact both the way it’s arranged and again, to your point, the chromatic chords it uses. It just sounded like, you know, an instantly familiar song from the very first time people heard it. And I don’t know, those are the kinds of songs that endure. So when you think about these like sixty year old records, the Brenda Lee’s and Burl Ives, is that comeback every year. And you think about this 25 year old record there, kind of of a piece with each other. So for me as a chart nerd, it just reminds me, never count out Mariah Carey, because we’re two weeks from the end of the year. We’re two weeks from the end of the 2010s. She hasn’t had a number one hit in eleven years. And here she is with her 19th number one hit. So go figure.
S1: All right. Well, Chris, it’s just always such a pleasure to have your chart nerd self back on our show. Thanks so much for coming in. My pleasure, Steve. OK, for those of our listeners who don’t know a Palatine, as I understand it, is a stationary bike, it’s got a screen mounted on the bars and V is some kind of a subscription, you link up to a spin instruction class, things pretty expensive. I think it’s about twenty five hundred dollars plus whatever you’re paying to stay connected to it. The gift that gives back is an ad for, said Peladon. It features a yuppie husband giving his already stick thin wife, say Peladon for Christmas and the next 30 seconds has been described as an absolute horror show. This woman works are anxious Assaraf trying to get even thinner for her husband. And it turns out at the end of the ad, the twist is she’s been making a kind of video diary of her progress on this device, which she then gives to her husband for Christmas one year later.
S14: Okay. Now, my first ride was excited. Let’s do this. Five days in a row. Friday 6am rising. I was totally a year ago and realized how much this Bertucci. Thank you. This holiday gives the gift of Palatine Julia.
S1: I do not think you have to be Andreo to work to find this thing. An absolute horror show. It’s on Twitter, on fire and Pelton’s stock tanking. Would it? What did you make of it?
S7: Well, I was affected by just how much Twitter vitriol I had read about it. I had a busy day and it was Peladon as Peladon woman, that poor woman, free Palatine lady. But, you know, like all the little murmur of Internet happening was murmuring in my ear. And so before I went to bed, I was about to shut down the old laptop. And I was like, wait a minute, let me see what this Peladon hullabaloo is all about. And I watched it and it was a bad ad. But I’ve I wish I’d heard nothing about it before I watched it because it was not quite as horrifying as I thought, in part because it’s just confusing, like it’s bad. And she does seem like a hostage in her own home and her, like, rigid, chipper thinness that only gets more rigid and more chipper as she desperately peddles morning after morning, like is just so miscalculated that all of the Internet response is hilarious and apt. But my primary response was just of confusion. Like you, I think your summary of the ad is correct. She is making him a video diary to give him, but it sort of seems like she’s a vlogger like your key. You don’t understand what all these video clips are and like who she’s making the video for. It’s like she’s ah, she’s a YouTube influencer and she’s telling us all like just what why videoing myself while working out is not something I would ever intend to do. The whole thing is just it’s truly bad. And it’s slightly rare to see marketing that’s just badly executed, badly conceived marketing. We see that all the time, but just marketing that’s not in control of its pitches at all. I mean, the last one I can think of is that amazing Pepsi ad where one of the Jenners like leads a street revolution in the spirit of Pepsi or something. Remember that one? Yeah, of course. The last time we all had so much fun really hating an ad together. It’s a great American tradition.
S8: Julia. I tend to agree. I don’t think this ad is anywhere near as obviously blatantly offensive and bizarre as that Kendall or Kylie or whichever gender it was at Scarry. I don’t know. Mike audition’s part very well. This Internet brouhaha totally blew by me. And so then when we were talking about this ad and I went to watch it. OK, we’re talking about an ad on the gabfest. I will go watch it. That was my history of the Peladon ad and I honestly didn’t see why it was so offensive. The first time, it wasn’t until I started to read people’s responses to it and watch it with the eye of it. AD critical person that I saw, Horthy, the hostage video elements that so many people have have spotted in it. And I honestly think that a lot of it is centered in how can confusing the perspective of the ad is like who? Who are we looking at and who is it for? Right. Because the husband figure who looms over this ad as this powerful yet almost invisible presence is you see him only from the back at the beginning. Right. So you’re sort of seeing her through his point of view. And then, of course, at the end, you discovered that the whole time you’ve been watching a bunch of videos that she was making to present to him the following Christmas. So his Christmas present is a thank you video for the expensive Christmas present he got for her the year before. And as you say, because she seems so housebound and you only see her at home in workout clothes, you have this idea that she’s a non-working wife, right? I mean, that’s all stuff that you have to read into it. But the scenario I think that people projected on this ad and that it’s somewhat asks to have projected upon it, although to me it didn’t jump out on first viewing, is that she’s kind of a trophy wife of a very well-off man who buys her this workout bike, which we’re maybe assuming implies that she needs to get in shape, but she’s already incredibly in shape. I would also hazard that if she were not in shape at the beginning and more so at the end, that would also be read his sexist. So the ad is sort of stuck on that point, right? I mean, showing a woman working out for her husband has has that kind of angle, no matter what she looks like in the first place. And then there’s the actress herself. I saw this actress whose name is Monica Ruiz, who plays the peloton biker interviewed on the Today show. And and it was quite interesting that she kind of took it on herself as to why this ad had had gone viral in such a negative way and was kind of laughing about it. It was also saying, you know what, I think it’s my face and that my my worried eyebrows and anxious expression were telegraphing something that I shouldn’t have been telegraphing. So interestingly, first of all, here’s the woman in the ad about body policing, policing her own expressions while recording the ad. But in a way, she’s sort of right. And then I watched it again. With that in mind, we’re thinking about, you know, just what this commercial actress is bringing to the performance. And it’s true in a way, she’s almost overqualified for the job because she’s bringing all these emotional tonalities that shouldn’t be there. I think she should probably just have a robotic, happy Stepford smile at all times. And maybe this wouldn’t wash off our back as as your basic sort of standard level sexist ad. But because she has this vibe of sort of wanting to please and desperately looking at her husband as he’s watching the video. See if he’s happy about the workouts she’s been doing for a year on the bike he gave her. You do kind of come out of it, feeling it that she’s really been through something. I don’t know. I mean, I know the most entertaining thing to me about the whole scandal is essentially that it’s kind of an adventure in reading and the way people read and overread and read into things, which is, of course, my job to overread into things. But since I don’t usually do it with, you know, stationary bike ads, it was it was great to see the the firepower that the Internet brought to analyzing this little piece of ephemera.
S1: All right. So stipulated there is no way to make an ad featuring a husband giving his wife an object or service to make her more in shape. That is not grotesquely sexist. I mean, what I think is great about both your response is there’s just no way to play it. If she starts out sort of out of shape at the beginning of the ad and it’s up, you know, in better shape at the end of it, that’s grotesque. I mean, there’s just no there’s no way to thread that that needle, basically.
S15: And the pull quote to me in the ad is I didn’t realize how much this would change me. And because she’s a pretty good actress, she gives some depth of that. And you’re like sometimes really a miss in a marriage. I mean, right. I mean, because that’s the other needle that can’t be thread. I mean, if she’s a human being with actual feelings and tonalities, her reaction to this machine is gonna seem disproportionate. And she’s a Stepford wife. It’s gonna seem uncanny and horrifying. So. Julia, there was just no way for Pellington, there’s no romance.
S7: You guys are issuing the challenge and it’s making the editor and me want to figure out how this ad could have basically had this premise but not sucked.
S6: And I have a proposal. But I think in by way of getting to the proposal, I would I hadn’t thought about the point you made, Dana, about perspective and like, who is this ad to? And that’s part of what makes it land so sourly. The ostensible viewer as a husband who is like, what am I gonna get the wife this year?
S7: Man, oh, man. Christmas shopping sure is tough. And then you’re in this kind of like imagined fantasy of a guy like, well, I know what would be great if this happened. And you’re like, what? What guy thinking about what to give his female partner wishes for this, like frenetic, frenetic, crazed, anxious sadness. So I feel like the Virgin, the ad you do is you have the woman get like a succession of gifts from other people that she like gives the fake smile to which I think this one that would be good at performing like, oh, thank you.
S6: Because she seems so fake. Anyway, in. I think you guys are right in her deeply realized performance. And then you see what she’s actually doing is like saving up her own pennies because what she really wants for herself, you know, because whatever exercise is good, like wanting to exercise isn’t always about your body being different.
S7: Sometimes it’s just about health and ageing better and whatever. Like we aren’t to shame people for wanting to exercise. Exercise is great. Maybe she secretly is yearning for and saving up for envious of her friends who have the palatine and then the guy cottons on that which she really wants for the Palatine and any of their money. And she’s happy. That’s the end of the year next year.
S8: The only problem with that is that it signifies that the peloton is overpriced because you saving up for pennies for it. I agree if there’s some sense that she herself has had a dream realized by getting this unexpected gift. And so you would completely cut. Obviously, the idea of her making a movie of herself working out for her husband. I mean, that’s the high concept part of the ad. Right. And so you think that that perspective needs to be lifted out entirely for it to.
S5: Well, I guess I’ve also just proposed like a cage jewelry ad, which is not the most innovative form, and we wouldn’t all be talking about it. So never mind. I also wonder how many like the truly cynical person and Ms.
S6: Price. Steve hadn’t said this yet, would say this was on purpose.
S5: Now we’re all talking about the ad. Peladon, Palatine, Palatine. What should I get my fitness crazed wife? You know, I know their stock dropped, so probably it was non-intentional. But does any part of you think this was Alah a scam in a scheme?
S8: I don’t know. That’s a that’s a very good question. I mean, Peladon did respond with some sort of very bland statement about we’re sorry that people have misinterpreted our ad. So it seems that they they’re probably embarrassed about the controversy and obviously not happy about the stock dropping as a result, it seems. Mid-to scheming for them to have created something so insidious on purpose. I feel like it only could have happened on accident. I don’t know what he would do. Thanks to you.
S1: In the 70s, paranoid thriller playing endlessly on a loop in my brain. If you’re that cynical and conniving, you’re good at it.
S15: You can’t both be more Machiavellian overlord and fuck it up totally and take your stock price. I mean, I think the takeaway here is there’s just simply no way to craft an ad like that.
S1: Who’s intended target or husbands wondering what to get their wives for Christmas, for the underlying truth that no person ought to get their partner. A physical fitness related gift, it’s likely to get thrown back into your gender non-specific phase.
S8: I kind of disagree with that. I think it’s very situation specific. I mean, I wouldn’t want one of this bikes to take up one quarter of her apartment, but I can completely see how within the context of a relationship, you know, say your partner is depressed and can’t get out of the house.
S10: I mean, there’s lots of situations where an inside exercise machine of some kind might be an appropriate gift. But I think you can’t just generically frame it in that way. I think you’re right. You can’t just say commercial pretty lady gets bike from commercial pretty guy. And at big it starts off her her spiritual journey. It just brings Falsone in a little bit creepy.
S6: Yeah. Monica Rew is the actress at the center of all this. Just seems incredibly savvy. Like I feel like this will launch a proper career. I mean, I don’t know whose idea was that. Ryan Reynolds is Jan. I think it’s called aviation or Aviator. Jin should do like an ad basically just mocking somebody else’s marketing fail, which they managed to spin up and put online within, I think, 48 hours of the whole thing going viral in which Bonica ruíz, you know, sits with two gal pals at a bar. And they one of them says it’s okay, we’re here. And the other one says, we’re here all night. And then they’re served martinis and she downs one and then she downs her friends. I’m not putting it verbatim, but anyway that the like the notion that she’s finally been freed by Internet opprobrium from the prison of her glassy, loveless, desperate to please marriage and now it’s just relaxing with Ryan Reynolds is June just seemed extremely twenty.
S1: Okay. Well, I mean, this is one that we really would love listener reaction to. Did the hive mind go into overdrive and overread this thing or did corporate America not get away with a whopping act of sober Orwellian bullshit? We would love to hear from from you guys on this one. All right. Moving on. All right. Now is the moment in our podcast when we endorse Terry. What do you have?
S10: Stephen, I’m going to endorse an album that I listen to every year around the holidays, even though it’s not a holiday album. Since we talked about Mariah Carey and and Christmas songs. I thought this is appropriate, even though it’s the week before our official Christmas show and it’s possible that I’ve endorsed this or something by this artist before and the gabfests. But if so, it was many, many years ago. So I feel perfectly safe in returning to it again. And I’m gonna make you guess, Steve, because you’re the jazz sort of nowhere on the podcast. Who do you think that my favorite trumpeter might be? My favorite jazz trumpeter? Somebody who’s a little bit under the radar. Not the most obvious name to come to mind.
S1: Well, okay. So the obvious one would be Miles. So it’s obviously not that, you know, pretty obvious one would be Clifford Brown and a less obvious one would be Lee Morgan.
S12: It’s the pretty obvious one. I thought it was more obscure. It’s Clifford Brown. You know, there’s so many great jazz trumpeters and.
S10: And I think people know, of course, Miles and Chet Baker and Dizzy Gillespie. But I don’t hear people talking as much about Clifford Brown. He’s just one of those great, great American artists. And his trumpet has a particular warm, just a cozy sound that ISIS associate with the holiday season somehow. And also maybe because he died at the age of 25 in a car accident. There’s something about his work that has just this incredible poignancy and melancholy to it because he was just getting started. So the album I was going to endorse as my sort of quasi Christmas album is called Steady and Brown, and it’s an album of mostly originals that he did with Max Roach, the great jazz drummer. And it’s just one of those perfect I mean, to me, it’s as perfect as Miles Davis is kind of blue. Maybe it’s less groundbreaking or whatever. I’m sure if I was a jazz historian, I would know why kind of blue holds a higher place in the jazz pantheon. But I love said.He and brown every bit as much and just every song on it flows perfectly into the next to me. It’s one of those albums that you have to listen to beginning to end because it’s a complete emotional experience and I don’t have anything else to say about it, but that just Clifford Brown steady and brown. You know, I probably only put on a jazz record and listen to it beginning to end on purpose as opposed to just putting on some jazz on Spotify or something a few times a year. And this album is almost always in the rotation.
S1: He is bright. He’s my favorite jazz trumpet player, too. Dana, I really agree. And I think he’s just one of the truly greats. I mean him. Clifford Brown with strings he made were right with Billie Holiday. That’s for just forever. These are eternal contributions to the old canon. Julia, would you go?
S6: All right, guys. Sorry, Dana. Sorry, Koti, but thanks to this thing I’m about to tell you about that happened in last two weeks. I am the best mom alive and I will accept no challengers. We did a Christmas tree. We are raising our kids Jewish. But why not have a Christmas tree? That kind of Jewish? We didn’t bring all the ornaments out here. Mom found I went to CBS to get new ornaments. Kind of a mom feel they’re ugly. I forgot. Or somehow failed to realize that the hooks don’t come with the ornaments.
S7: They’re in a different box by hooks separately. What the fuck is Apple shit?
S16: Had to go back to CBS to get the hooks, which I had forgotten and upon the return visit, what to my wondering, I should appear in the Christmas seasonal aisle of CBS.
S17: But the clapper.
S3: Did you guys watch ads for the clapper when you were a little? Oh, is the light that you clap on and off? Yeah.
S17: You you go, you know. And then the lights go on and then you do it again and the lights go off.
S1: Those appeared on TV when I was 30. But yeah. Go on.
S7: Yeah. Okay. So we were all kids. And I remember watching those ads as a child and just being like, whoa, like the height of technology, the height of indolence and luxury.
S12: Like it is highly kinesis, really. You know, it felt like magic, like bending spoons with urine.
S5: And of course, I didn’t I was not raised in a home where you were gonna get the clapper. I had no idea how much it cost. I thought it was like a hundreds of dollar piece of equipment because you couldn’t just frickin talk to your phone and tell it to Google something for you. You know, in 1990, whatever the hell, I was seeing an ad.
S16: So anyway, the clapper. Guess how much the clapper costs? Four bucks. Nineteen ninety nine. Very affordable additions to the old Christmas retinue. Now they were setting up an West Coast kid plugged my Christmas tree into the clapper. Guess how we turned on the Christmas tree lights.
S15: I gotta say I mean that is really that is genius.
S12: Wait. So the clapper is not a light in itself. It’s a thing that you can channel any light through. You couldn’t put anything electronic 3. You could put your fucking blender on the clapper. Oh my god. The clapper is a concept.
S15: I need 15 billion dollars. You left a billion dollars on the table when you didn’t go to Silicon Valley, that’s all.
S8: I thought it was an individual light that you cut it off. Wow. The peloton guy should hear about this. He could get his wife a clapper instead.
S16: You could probably put the peloton on the clapper and then he could clap her routines in time. Anyway, I suggest you put the Hellertown wife on the clapper. That was part of what it seemed like you might be able to do anyway. So deep hardy extreme recommendation for the clapper.
S5: Like just it will instill delight in your home. People come over. The kids rush to demonstrate it. People try to see if they can turn it on and off with stomping. It works pretty well. You need to clap kind of in the right register. Like if you do a feeble, sad clap. No guy has to have like a little bit of that like cop to it.
S17: But if it’s the greatest, I’m the best.
S5: I win.
S1: Whatever we’re charging for this podcast, it’s not enough. That’s all I have.
S18: All right. Well, I every now and then, I think maybe about once every six months, twice a year, I pound the table and pounding the table on this one. I just saw a movie that I should disclose. A friend of mine produced and co-wrote. I think that’s one of the reasons I sort of delayed watching it. It just was it was like in one pile of obligations and not another. You know, it’s like the things I have to watch and consume for the show. The books I need to read for my book and the research I need to do for my whatevers. And then there’s the stuff that my friends make. And I now regret having waited so long to see the best. Worst thing that ever could have happened. The documentary from 2016 about the Sondheim musical Bomb, The Incredible Bomb, the biggest bomb of Sondheim’s career. Merrily we were all along, Dana. Have you seen that movie?
S8: No. That sounds fantastic. It’s a documentary about it. Yes. Oh, God. I’m watching now with my Sondheim head daughter. I can’t wait. My God.
S1: So the basic premise is in nineteen. So Sondheim and how Prince, their partnership, you know, they go through company follies, a little night music, whatever. They are the sort of slightly esoteric darlings reviving musical theater in the 1970s. And then in 1979, it hits this orgiastic Silma with Sweeney Todd, which is regarded at the time as an absolute Hamilton, an absolute breakthrough in the form super dark subject matter, really complex music mostly sung through and and superintend staging by how Prince and its just regarded as a total masterpiece. Right? His follow up to that is a musical called Merrily We Roll Long that lasts for 16 performances, closes in total shame and how Prince and Stephen Sondheim never work together again. Right. Among the problems with the musical, arguably, was that it was a it was a cast of children playing adults. So the cast was was made up entirely of kids playing Grown-Ups who were then moving through their life backwards.
S8: Whoa. Bugsy Malone in musical form.
S1: Right. So they start as middle aged people looking back on their on their semi failed Blythe’s regretfully, and then they become younger as the musical goes along. So it had a very high cost. Except there were two, I think roughly 20 of them in the cast of them, about five or six had fairly considerable career, went on to considerable careers in show business. So one of whom was Jason Alexander. And then there are five who have huge regrets about the experience, feel like it derailed their life and then everyone else’s in between. So the movie essentially began as an attempt simply to interview people about the including Sondheim and how Prince extensively about the experience and what it meant to each one of them and why they knew that someone had been shooting a documentary contemporaneously and that there were thousands of hours of candid footage of the making of it, but they couldn’t track it down until they’d shot their documentary, and then they suddenly found it and had access to it. So a as a historic document, it’s astonishing because you see how print and Sondheim making a musical together. And from the beginning, like just the camera is in the fucking room for the auditions, for the whole process. It’s that in and of itself is riveting. But then the fact that that film is itself about aging, time, regret and where things go wrong, which is in fact what the musical itself was about, so that the theme of the musical and the film feed back onto one another in this remarkable way. It’s an incredible document. It’s an incredibly moving thing to see. It’s just so fascinating to talk to these people now in mid to later life about what this experience meant to them. How foundational it was. And it’s just historic. It’s like it’s these two arguably the greatest director, composer partnership. And in the history of the form, you know, reflecting on what what the fuck happened to them and their lives, vis-a-vis one another. It’s on Netflix and then it’s just moving. I mean, it’s an incredibly moving film. And me by the end of it. You are completely taken up by. And then the afterlife of the musical, which has become a kind of classic I cannot recommended highly enough. It’s a really accomplished documentary.
S8: Can you say the title one more time? Because it’s kind of long.
S18: Yes, it is the best, worst thing that ever could have happened. And it’s on Netflix. Check it out. It’s it’s really cool.
S10: That sounds amazing. I’m completely watching that probably before we talk again.
S19: Excellent. Thanks, Dana. Thanks, Stephen. Thanks, Julia. Thank you.
S20: 0 1 0. Chris. I don’t.
S21: You’ll find links to some of the things we talked about today at our show page that slate, the culture post. We love it. I say it every week. I really need it. We love it when you e-mail us. You can interact with some of us on Twitter. That’s actually called fast. Our producers catch it over our production assistant as Rachel Allen for Dana Stevens and Julia Turner.
S22: I’m Stephen Majka. Thank you so much for joining us. And we will see you soon.
S13: Hello and welcome to this Bluth segment of the Slate Culture Gabfest. Today we are joined by the wonderful Chris M.A. basically so I can fangirl about how great his Songs of the Decade podcast was XML Effie’s hit parade podcast, in which he does great deep ties to number one songs and songs that have topped the charts over the decades and took a tour of the twenty teens in a recent episode and tried to diagnose the sound of the decade by looking at all of its number one hits, and it was just an amazing panoply of earworms remembered and forgotten.
S6: And you came away with some really interesting theses and takeaways about the decade, and I would encourage our listeners to listen to the show. But Chris, I would just love for you to explain the two or three most sort of surprising things you discovered when you went back and really toward the twenty teens in their sonic imprint.
S11: Thanks, Julia. I mean, I appreciate the high praise. And it’s the longest episode of Hit Hit ever because we were covering an entire decade. But hopefully it’s nostalgic for people who remember recent history. Frankly, I also felt it was sort of like the history of summer stretched on the culture fagot fest because it basically covers the years of all the songs we were covering and Summer Strut. One of the things that surprised listeners and they let me know it loud and clear on Twitter was I never in that episode utter the word beyond say I was gonna say, yeah, I knew that was the word you were gonna say.
S23: I got that so many times. And in fact, I even kind of teased people because the way I structured the episode I talked about each year from 2010 through 2019. And then I say, by the way, there’s one artist I haven’t talked about yet. And she navigated the 2010s, I think, better than any artist. And I think a lot of people expected at that moment I was going to say Beyonce. The answer was Rihanna. And I stand by that. I do think that Rihanna, she seemed to navigate the changes in the sound of center of the bull’s eye pop better than any artist during the 2010s. The reason I didn’t mention Beyonce saying the reason I answered so many queries on Twitter, you have no idea was that Beyonce say this decade she was as big a cultural figure than ever, arguably bigger than ever. But she wasn’t really a hit single generator. The shocking statistic is that she only had one number one hit during the entire decade on the Hot 100. And it wasn’t even her record. She was a support act on Ed Sheeran’s number one hit, the ballad Perfect. That is her only number one hit. The entire decade since Single Ladies, she has not had a lead artist number one song.
S11: And thinking about how an artist like Beyonce could be both deeply influential and critically acclaimed and yet not be a chart topper was interesting to me in retrospect, because so much of the decade was people who were flashes in the pan, people who, you know, kind of took a long time to catch on. People who came in and out. But Beyonce, it was just kind of always there. She was just an omnipresence on the charts throughout the decade. And the other I guess I don’t know if it’s surprising conclusion, but the other conclusion I wanted to draw in the episode was this idea I have long harbored that all decades can be divided in half. You know, people have been calling the 70s the disco decade virtually as long as I’ve been alive. But really, the 70s was at least a couple of things, right? It was Singer-Songwriter Soft Rock in the first half and it was disco in the second half. And you can kind of use this very rough have’s methodology to describe pretty much any decade. 80S is half new wave half what I call big hair music like hair, metal and divas. 90S is half grunge and gangsta, half teen pop and bling. And the 10s was a decade very much like this. You can basically divided in half. There was a first half that was sort of what I would call soaring, mostly female led IDM pop, centrist pop and then a second half that was mostly bummer trap in hip hop music. So if the first half the signature artist was I don’t know somebody like Katy Perry or Taylor Swift in the second half, the signature artist was very clearly Drake and to some extent Justin Bieber, who guested on so many records. But when you look at the patterns over the course of a decade, you really see how there’s an arc to the decade. And basically the reason I named Rihanna as sort of my artist of the decade was that she somehow managed both in the centrist pop half with the IDM. Think about a record like We Found Love, which is a total soaring IDM pop record to the late 10s when she has hits like Work, which is kind of downbeat and dower. Rihanna just kind of navigated every shift in the culture and she had number one hits in both halves. So anyway, that was sort of how I framed it. And once I had that framework, it it gave a lot of space for me to. Take it year by year and talk about the trends.
S6: What was the song? Do you have such an encyclopedic memory of number ones that it is impossible for you to be surprised when going back to look over what songs we’re number one? Or was there any song that when you went back or doing your research, you’re like, oh, right.
S16: That song existed and briefly popular. What was that song?
S11: I threw some shade in the intro to the song Rude by Magic, which still seems to follow no trend as far as the decade goes. It was like a reggae number one hit in the summer of 2014 when there weren’t really any other reggae songs topping the charts. And it was one of the songs. One of the early songs I had to write for four was the song number one. I hated it. The article turned out pretty well because I got to do a treatise about, you know, reggae on the charts in America and what a weird relationship we Americans have to reggae. But yeah, remembering the number one hits, I had to go back to Relisten to Root by magic and remember that I hate that song and b that it doesn’t fit into the timeline because not every song fits into the timeline. I don’t know if that’s the sort of answer you’re looking for, but that’s certainly the first song that leaps to mind.
S8: All right. You took my question, which was gonna be what was your least favorite song that you put on this playlist? Solve a slightly, rephrase it and say what was the most flameout one hit wonder novelty hit that you put on there? I mean, we’ve talked in the Mariah Carey segment about songs that have staying power. What’s the song that was very important and big when it’s in its impact. Yet the artist or song had no staying power at all.
S11: I think that’s a pretty easy answer. That’s got to be Harlem Shake by Bower. Bower is quite literally by, I think, any definition a one hit wonder. Bower is this, I believe Pennsylvania born Brooklyn based deejay who had a number one hit with Harlem Shake, basically the week that Billboard decided to add YouTube data to the Hot 100 in the winter of 2013. And he goes from never having a hit ever in his life to debuting at number one the week they made the change, all because of that viral meme, if you remember it from early 2013 where people were, you know, gathering groups of their friends and shooting homemade videos of them with a dance craze. It was OK before its time.
S23: It was Tick-Tock for to for a pre Tick-Tock era. Exactly the week that Harlem Shake debuted at number one on the hot 100, something like 100 million views were a mast of people watching these user generated Harlem Shake videos. And by the way, you asked about chart phenomenon. That’s another important detail, is that when Billboard added YouTube data to the chart that interest artificial official music videos, they added any homemade video that uses an original recording, at least 30 seconds of that recording that counts for the chart. And so this was tailor made for Bauer, who just kind of stumbled into this dumb luck of having this viral sensation in the winter of 2013. And it was it’s both a very important record in the history of the charts and in data methodology. And it was utterly unrepeatable. And he has never been back to the charts since.
S8: Chris, I have not listened yet to this hit parade, but I’m scrolling through the songs right now. And what is striking me in relation to you coming on the show today is just how many of these songs we’ve talked about usually with you on this show. It also makes me feel a little bit less out of touch with pop music than I thought I was. I was because there’s so many of these, especially the ones that were sort of big cultural sensations that we had entire segments on the show dedicated to just that song. Gangnam Style is fun. Call me maybe. I think we talked about Hotline Bling by Drake. We definitely talked about a lot of these Taylor songs. You know, the album or the song got its own segment on this show and you came in to talk about it. So to me, listening to this, I can tell it’s gonna be a trip down gabfest memory lane.
S11: Well, in what’s been interesting about doing hit parade in terms of the audience response is that music is very tribal. And, you know, the month just before I did this episode, I did an episode about almost the opposite of this. I did an episode about 80s Goth rock and post-punk. So The Cure, Depeche Mode, The Smiths and you know, I am a middle aged white man, Gen-Xer. And my fellow, you know, Gen Xers piled into my social feeds to tell me how much they loved that episode. And I think that an episode like this, a lot of people are going to go 2010’s music. That’s not for me. But I have to say, it’s been gratifying when people have listened. I think to your point, Dana, a lot of them remember these songs better than they think they do. And the feedback has been great because I I was trying to give a framework for people like, look, I don’t know how much you relate to this music, but even if you’re my age, you know more of these records than you think you do. They were in the ether. And one last point I’ll make is that I actually referred several times this decade in was the song number one, as well as some earlier writing I did as the return of the monoculture. What was interesting to me about the 2010s was that because of social sharing, whether it was Twitter and Facebook or Instagram or Tick-Tock by the end of the decade in the case of Old Town Road. A little Nasdaq’s we were sharing the same songs in a way that felt to me kind of nostalgic like the 80s all over again. Well, it wasn’t the era of, you know, three TV channels and a handful of radio stations like when I was a kid. But I felt like when we were all into. Call me, maybe everybody was into call me. Maybe when we were all into Gangnam Style, everybody was into Gangnam Style. So it was an interesting decade to be a pop chart fan and to be a centrist pop fan, because actually, young and old, a lot of people shared these songs and knew about these songs.
S6: All right. Well, I would heartily, heartily send our listeners to Chris Miller and his podcast Hit Parade in particular to its retrospective on the Twenty Teens. It was a long episode, but I relished every minute of it. And Chris, we hope you’ll come back soon. Thank you so much, Julia.