2014 Staff Picks

Marketing: Under Armor, I Will What I Want Campaign

The odds to become a ballerina are slim. Then take in to account body type, age, experience and race. Misty Copeland beat the odds. She entered ballet at age 13 when most girls start at age 3. She developed into a more muscular body type. She is black. SHE is the third black soloist in the American Ballet Theater. She also made a jaw dropping statement with her Under Armour ad, part of the I WILL WHAT I WANT campaign.

Ballerinas are athletes.

I, too, had dreams of becoming a dancer, though admittedly with little dedication or practice. But like any other dancer, I cringed when someone told me dancing wasn’t a sport or I wasn’t an athlete. Anyone who views this ad best think twice and remember Misty’s strong calves and fierce gaze.

TV: The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon

In February 2014, a seismic shift occurred in late night programming as the talented, Jimmy Fallon, assumed the lead role of The Tonight Show on NBCSince his takeover, he’s done. Fallon and Co. are so in tune with the audience (check out the show’s in-show hashtag engagement) that he is creating viral pop culture moments on a nightly basis - something his predecessor (and others) haven’t quite been able to keep up with. Each night his shows are a combination of late night meets variety show. Gone are the promo-based formal interviews, and in exchange Fallon is generating comedic sketches (with 100% celebrity buy-in) that leave audiences engaged and anxious to share with their friends across social media.

Film: Birdman

The entire film is crafted to appear as a single shot. That alone makes it worth a trip to the theater. But paired with its tender performances by an undeniably badass cast (I mean, hello? Michael Fucking Keaton) laced with the struggle to stay relevant in a world driven by texts, tweets and Instagram, puts Birdman in my top of tops for 2014 and for always.

Music: Sam Smith, In The Lonely Hour

I first heard of Sam Smith early on in the game with his song “Money On My Mind” stealing my heart on the beach over college spring break. Months later I bought a signed copy of the record online for a steal, and to my delight, this allowed me to download the entire album.

I listened to each song throughout the summer, and I felt something deep down as I listened to his voice and his music. Over time I realized what I was feeling was a mix of sorrow and joy, as every song took me to a different problem or realization within relationships that are both very real and universal. While I can’t say that I have been through everything he sings about, I can feel how raw the emotion that he puts into his music is, allowing me to sympathize and feel connected even if I haven’t had the same experiences.

I would say that I feel hope listening to his lyrics. There is beauty in the imperfection of life, and it’s wonderful to feel connected to it, simply by listening to an album.

Podcast: Serial

Launched in October, Serial made binge-listening the new binge-watching. The 12-episode podcast dives into the 1999 trial of Adnan Masud Syed who was charged as guilty in the murder of Hae Min Lee. Serial listeners turned to social media to discuss the series and various theories, all while wondering if Adnan was truly guilty. 3% of listeners found a newfound love for podcasts and began advocating and searching for other crime-related podcasts after becoming current with Serial. The podcast went beyond Adnan’s trial and invoked larger social discussions about the country’s justice system. Many are rewriting their “ideal” version of the justice system on social, which creates a larger, Serial-originated discussion on public policy. Guilty or not, podcasts have become the new office watercooler discussion.

Music: FKA Twigs, LP1

2014 blessed us with FKA twigs and her debut album, LP1. She entranced us with her first single, “Two Weeks,” but her real gift to us mortals was the Kahlil Joseph-directed visual to “Video Girl.” It’s a stunningly shot black-and-white video in which the former dancer writhes around as her love interest is executed via lethal injection. It’s equal parts twisted, dark and unsettling, which is exactly the mood she brings to R&B.

TV: Transparent

From the opening sequence in which a piano plays through family home videos, Transparent makes you feel a part of the Pfefferman clan. Showrunner Jill Solloway brings intimacy to the guarded family. The show revolves around the patriarch of the family transitioning into the matriarch, Maura. Maura’s beautiful transition, in turn, sparks a journey of self-discovery with the other members of the Pfefferman family. The show is neither a drama nor a comedy; it defies genres. The writing is among the most gut wrenchingly honest, and it’s done in a way that causes the viewer to walk with the characters rather than judge their journey. The family is flawed and trying to rebuild their life to be more connected with each other and the world around them. The music is golden and at times, sweetly sentimental, but it’s a nice side dish to the bitter honesty in the writing. By the conclusion of the short but sweet first season, the guard is down on the family in such a way you feel a part of them. The dysfunction seems normal, and despite what you may want to think, you begin to realize you’re not that different from the Pfeffermans after all.

P.S. Just watch the trailer. It’s so heartwarming, and Vance Joy’s “Your Mess is Mine” is the perfect addition.

TV: True Detective, S1EP5

When the writing is good, I usually don’t notice. Poor scripts with flat dialogue, idiosyncrasies and continuity errors are easy to spot (and fault), but when a screenwriter does her job, I usually compliment the actors for a moving delivery or the director for eliciting so much from the talent. But when I watched the fifth episode of Nic Pizzolatto’s True Detective in February, I knew I was witnessing a master class in storytelling.

The narrative of True Detective unfolds through interviews with the main characters where they recount the events surrounding their investigation into occult murders in rural Louisiana. In “The Secret Fate of All Life” episode, Pizzolatto (a former college writing professor) teaches us the importance of storytelling by artfully unveiling the discrepancies between what characters tell federal investigators happened during a home raid and what actually transpired. We hear one thing and see another: throughout the flashback, Marty Hart (Woody Harrelson) and Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) can be heard recalling their doctored version of the events to agents Gilbough and Papania as the actual events play out on screen. The audience sees that the true version of events isn’t always the one that gets retold. This motif – the importance of storytelling – becomes vital throughout the rest of the series and is often considered a meta-theme to True Detective as a whole: often the telling and interpreting of events hold more weight than the truth. In this episode especially, Pizzolatto is reminding us that history is told by the victors, and sometimes the truth can’t ever be known.

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