The year in pop culture | Front Burner


Hi I’m Damon Fairless when it comes to pop culture highlights 2023 did not disappoint I just have never felt this way about anything the way that I feel about this experience that we have had and continue to have I’m good for this company I’m I’m I’m

Good for us you know we all vote we keep control we don’t then everything’s over forever uhhuh cap no cap that movie is amazing that means no no no lying no yeah it’s like I’m telling the the truth yeah okay how many more are these there’s like

Four the lesson is to stop inviting you places but you can’t cuz people want the content are you guys ready we are ready for barbin Heimer because today is just a taste of our pop culture diet last year to dig into this Sumptuous Feast I’m joined by culture writer and

Podcaster NCO Stratus and elamine Abdul Mahmud host of cbc’s commotion hey nio hi Damon hey elamine hey Damon thanks for coming on appreciate it so happy to be here let’s uh let’s start with the weirdest pop culture bit in my brain at least George Santos so New York Republican that’s

Where you want to start little bit of a pension for lying booted from Congress earlier this month he’s facing a Federal indictment of 23 counts could lead to years in prison but at this exact moment he’s cashing in on his considerable Talent as a attention vampire on his notoriety tour doing

Quite well um and it’s it’s actually kind of Bon as this is Pop Culture right so elamine you’re up first what what gives why is George Santos his transformation to dless celeb uh so fun to all talk about he’s way higher than D I mean like I to

Me think at minimum Bist um George Sanchez is interesting to me because he’s kind of like an HBO show in one year right like he got elected in November 2022 he got sworn in in January 2023 this calendar year he gets kicked out of the house this calendar year he

Starts a burgeoning career as a cameo artist which is like like the thing where you pay 400 bucks and they record a little video for your family my favorite TS song is definitely going to be trouble H you were trouble when you walked in that’s me bye and then he

Closes out the year with that interview on zway who’s the comedian truth tell of our time um and zway tries to hold him to account and George Santos’s best answer to zway when when zway said how can we get you to go away and he was

Like stop inviting me to your gigs this man is fully aware of the kind of media monstrosity that he is there’s already a book about George Santos that book is being adapted into an actual HBO series it’s like HB on HBO Nico what what what

Do you think Nico what does it tell us what like the joy we’re getting the El means apparent almost giddiness talking about what what does this tell us about like what are we getting from this what what does it tell us about the cultural moment I mean there’s like a there’s a

Really easy dopamine hit with somebody like him right because it’s like you want this like caricature of a human life that we can all sort of point and laugh at and be like isn’t this ridiculous well simultaneously wonder how did we get here without ever looking

At what the like it’s one hand never watching what the other hand is doing this this thing of like stop inviting me to things stop paying the guy money on Cameo to say things that you wrote it’s like he’s reading an audiobook you’re writing $400 at a time like the whole

Thing just sort of feels ridiculous but it speaks to people’s desire to have something like a little courtchester they can point and laugh at who’s like actually like you know has done a lot of really terrible bad things but we can easily forego those things it’s the like

When Rudy Giuliani was on the mask singer it’s the same idea of like what if we take this bad person and make him dance for us for a little while so okay this is not America’s um you know first rodeo with a uh politician who some

People say may or may not have who you referring to who you talking about I I I I’ll leave that to you but but like have do you think we’ve not learned anything about how to engage with these F like are we are we so are we guilty in being

Complicit this are we like feeding the Bears so to speak the wild animals yeah I mean like it’s basically an ascendency of con artists right like there’s there’s like a real um interest that we have in turning politics into an entertainment show I like not to get

Marshall mclan about this but this is literally what he was I’m gonna do it I’m gonna do it but this is literally the kind of politician that you get right like the whole point about the medium is a message is that the medium end up ends up transforming the message

And the politician of the internet age is of course someone like George Santos someone who thrives in the environment of like I don’t know maybe that is true maybe it’s not but I can just say slay the boots house down and then everyone’s going to laugh about it you know why I

Love the Gen Z progressives please I’ll tell I I’ll tell you why because they’re the future and they need to slay the boots house down in the future so that this country can stay functional what does slay the boots house down mean everything and like sort of like

Telegraph awareness of memes and that be sufficient to keep you in the you know in the in the zeit guys and people keep coming up to you being like yeah we should do more interviews with this person we have encour not only have we encouraged this we have actively sought

It out I mean literally people are paying $400 per Cameo to be like George santz can you just say happy birthday to my friend but say it in a funny way happy birthday to you and we’re willing to do that that is the thing that people want

Some people want out of politicians is it wrong then that I got that for both of you that’s the last half of the show it’s just that would be the nicest Christmas present anyone has ever got me okay okay enough about George Santos he’s obviously taking up enough of our

Collective space as is let’s move on to movies so there’ve been I don’t know if you heard but movies weren’t great for a bit because of Co I heard oh you did okay so uh then this summer two big old movies came in and uh and changed that

They they breathed life into the box office can you hear the music Robert yes I can barbin Heimer is what I’m talking about of course the cultural phenomenon surrounding Barbie and Oppenheimer shared cinematic release date so in a in a recent interview Christopher Nolan the director of Oppenheimer said that that

Was his most successful film ever R-rated 3 hours long partly in black and white and about nuclear potential nuclear Armageddon and yet it did really well along with Barbie so I guess El mean I’ll throw this to you we recently did an episode on the show about how the

Marvel Cinematic Universe is showing signs of sputtering and these two movies are doing great what do you think that’s telling us about what movie goers want to see um alimer is um to my mind at this point the movie that has been sent from above for the Oscars for The

Academy to give best picture to because this is a movie that people actually saw because so much of the criticism of the academies is like you guys keep giving the Best Picture award to movies that nobody sees and they’ve been trying to change that to sort of become a bit more

Popular well this is a movie that is critically acclaimed but also at the exact same time um people saw it and like you don’t get that kind of you know Confluence very often but would we really be viewing Oppenheimer in the same breath as Barbie if they weren’t

Opening the same day and you had this like pastel colored pet right next to this like black Gothic there’s a bit of fire in the background palette I’m not sure that you would I listen Christopher Nolan is always gonna have his fans I am one of them if Christopher Nolan has 100

Fans I am still one of them um but having said that um I’m not I’m not convinced that a biopic of a scientist who’s responsible for the atomic bomb automatically lends itself to a cinematic event of the year it is the Barbie counter effect that made it seem

Like oh it’s a meme to go see both of those movies and then people did exactly that all right ni let’s talk about Barbie yeah sure we’ve had a bit of distance what what do you think the Barbie crazy is all about Barbie is an interesting phenomenon because I do

Think that you know El is talking about that this Oppenheimer effect and I think they’re both sort of like feeding into the energy of the other and I wonder what a world looks like where Barbie comes out independently of it playing opposite to Oppenheimer which is like

This like the black and pink of at all right this very you’re you’re playing it against something very Stark and you’re presenting this world that’s very like bright and pink and bubbly and it is like you know it is this subverted idea like how many people were like they made

A Barbie movie how could they possibly do that it’s like subverting this expectation of like what are we getting out of like and a big a very expensive movie and a and a flagship title and all these sorts of things and like you know I do sort of Wonder did people really

Watch Barbie or did people go to Barbie for the event of it right to to take photos in the lobby to make memes on Instagram do all these to do all the EPA around the Barbie movie but it’s less of a like real conversation as everything

Else about it and it’s like it is this interesting view of a film where it’s like no people don’t even talk about what happened in the movie anymore they just talk about every the Detroit is around it whereas like Oppenheimer is a movie about a thing and it’s about a

Terrible thing but it’s about a thing and it has a point and like it is very different they’re they’re working as opposites in every sense of the word were there other movies uh this year that you you paid attention to or you think we need to pay more attention to

Or that you just found really good um I really like that we got a lot of Godzilla properties this year and like I I say that and people will sort of laugh at me but I genuinely think it’s true like Godzilla minus one which like Godzilla another movie that’s ait’s

Expectations right you think it’s a big monster movie Godzilla is a movie about nuclear Devastation in Japan and it’s about a postnuclear Japan and it’s about all these things uh and you know this was sort of like the Japanese maker of this franchise really taking it back and

Doing something really big and with it and like we have the show on Apple TV and like it’s an interesting universe that’s getting its due uh for me I the movie that I delighted in the most uh was the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles oh

So that was made in in the summer yeah I love that so much because it sort of re understood what the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles you know actually as a franchise came those yeah it came up on the comic book well this is it is like the previous attempts to make the Ninja

Turtles into movies or into different properties they’ve kind of Tak the wrong thing which is to say like hey they’re Turtles but also they’re ninjas I’m like no no no these are a bunch of lonely teenagers who are just trying to connect with a bunch of people around them and

Maybe eat pizza you know on on the on the way there really sorry Splinter some of the guys wanted to get pizza and I tried to talk him out of it you red us out don’t use that word that way I mean it’s 202 sorry and this is this is the

Movie that captured that energy so much it was about that loneliness it was about the way that they are isolated and the and and that’s the thing that made you connect with them you know when when we were younger like sure I get it like they have cool weapons but also they’re

Really funny and they’re allowed to be really funny um and I got to say Ninja Turtles opened a right after barbin Heimer and then B in the middle of the strike in the middle of the writers and actor strike um and so as a result it didn’t get the same kind of promotional

Push that the other movies did and that is a shame so if you get an opportunity like you got to go back and watch the Ninja TRS from this year because he was so good great soundtrack too such a great soundtrack well especially for ’90s people yeah if you’re yeah if

You’re 40 years old great soundtrack to the teenag Ninja Turtles movie and it was stylish too right this idea you know we’re talking about the MCU earlier and like this and like across the spiderverse and all these things they’re not afraid to make a comic book thing

Look like a comic book and be stylish and have a visual identity that has something to say as opposed to like look at all their VFX artists we’re kind of G to talk about the box office for a second but we’re going to segue super smoothly if I have anything

To do with it into music let’s go okay so two big box office juggernauts beyon I’m out of breath tayor Swift Welcome to the a tour with their movie tour thingies um but also they’re doing pretty well as musicians doing okay they’re doing okay not bad they I mean

They boosted the economy with billions of dollars they had you know sold out International shows and then of course there’s the box office hits uh Eline do their parallel successes tell us anything about one another like I see them orbit these two stars orbiting each other there’s I think there’s a couple

Of factors first of all thank you so much for asking me about Taylor Swift and Beyonce that’s this is my favorite day on Earth um I think there’s a couple of reasons why we think of them together first is that like the Taylor Swift origin story is intimately tied with

Beyonce which is it’s intimately tied to that episode when Kanye West went on stage and he took the microphone out of Taylor s’s hand talk I think you I think you were there pal I think you remember it so it was right it was like that moment you know taking the microphone

Out of her hand and say like I’m really happy for you I’m let you finish but Beyonce had one of the best videos of all time um Taylor Swift kind of looking there and like well I don’t know what to do with this and the end of that episode

And the end of that award show Beyonce coming up receiving the big Award of the night bringing Taylor Swift up to finish her speech so I’d like for Taylor to come out and have her moment and like I think we kind of like have intimately connected the two of

Them from that moment on and then from there on I think they the two have kind of become the main accomplishers in two different artistic arenas for me Taylor Swift is a is a sales Juggernaut um no one can really sell like Taylor Swift

She is um one of the last sort of artist probably the last artist who can kind of sell put up numbers like like she puts up um and then Beyonce has sort of managed to achieve stuff that is entirely different category Beyonce sells a lot still but it’s her artistic

Achievement that we talk about the idea that like Beyonce’s kind of pushed her genre and pushed pop music to an entirely different level that pushed like the meticulousness to a different level and those two are always competing right like this idea of art versus Commerce do you have to compromise one

In order to have the other one which is why we think of them um as in commers ation with each other other than that I’m not actually sure that they’re particularly in conversation with each other what’s your read I mean not musically I wouldn’t say like you know

They’re both pop stars and I think we like to flatten the idea of what a of what pop music is to be like oh they’re both pop musicians so they’re both they both exist in the shared universe but I do think that they are making drastically different things in a pop

Space um this is like I know that there’s been a lot of push back about the idea of poptimism in the last couple of years especially but like you know this is why we sort of are supposed to have deeper critical conversations about pop music because we can actually

Differentiate between these things and like it’s undeniable that it’s been a big year for both of them MH I mean I mean Taylor Swift did get person of the year from time yeah and she was she was given that quote for spinning her story into Global Legends so Nico like what is

The story what is what is the story she’s spinning into Global Legend what she been successful at selling tell us I mean she’s really good at selling this sort of neutral landscape that you can draw yourself into like I was talking about this with somebody yesterday and I

Was saying it’s it’s like when you get a placem at Applebees and they give you a couple of crayons and they say draw yourself into this Nico Strat she is I’m not saying that this is a bad thing necessarily no but but but she’s the I mean that’s what that’s what like so

Much uh Mass like literature is is the protagonist is this blank yeah slate that you pop yourself into and then you’re living their life the way you guys are holding me back right now is the Swifty no you finish your point you finish your point I think it’s it’s this

Interesting thing like we saw this with everybody posting their Spotify raft this year where everybody’s like oh you could tell I was really going through it this year CU these are my favorite songs like Oh you mean the most listen to songs of the year yeah really interesting emotional state you have but

Also I will say this does sort of speak to this idea that a lot of this stuff is like it’s neutral enough emotional music that you can sort of take it and extrapolate it and say this is where my life fits into these pieces like I think

That Taylor Swift is really good at that right she’s really good at tapping into this sort of universal experience is a really hard thing a lot of people have said you can write a punk rock song you can write a you can write a rock song writing pop music that millions of

People will obsess about so like your music will be so big that they’ll shoot images of it on the statue of Jesus in Brazil that is really really really hard to do and I think that like me saying that she’s giving you this black canvas yeah that’s not a detract

Necessarily but you you I mean I know I know you I know I know enough about this opinion of yours at least yeah like you you you think she’s got a some Swifty that’s those Midian swifties are not in the room with us oh do you like Taylor

Swifty oh my God Nico okay but here’s the thing is like as a as someone who has been a fan of tayor Swift for like a long time and like a serious and unstudied fan let’s say yeah I would say like this last year has been different

It’s been different in a couple ways one is that it feels a bit like a Victory lap because she’s accomplished all these things but also she’s in the middle of re these re-releases right like the the the tailor versions of her albums in order to own her Masters and these

Projects are getting bigger and bigger and bigger I mean speak now which is my favorite Tales Swift album she released that to almost no promotion whatsoever and she broke records with the re-release of that one which was kind of nuts then the other thing I would say is

That like the reason that the tour was big was because she had four records four albums um that she had not yet toured partly because of the pandemic she had lover who she put in 2019 she was going to tour in 2020 and then the pandemic shut that down she had folklore

And Evermore both um come out in 2020 and then she had midnights which came out last year and like there is there’s just like this the the demand for Taylor was kind of bursting of the seams because she did continue to give you all of that music over that period of time

But hadn’t had a chance to tour it so when she does it’s like 70,000 person stadiums every night but three nights per City and and he was this massive Juggernaut that he was I’m gonna I’m gonna I’m I’m gonna cap the Swift how dare I I feel silenced but fine good I’m

Glad you’re getting the message no what I wanted to mention though is that you know we we got these two big juggernauts but but but there’s everyone else right so it’s not been a great year for other working musicians I’m just thinking band camp laid off have its

Staff um going forward into the year people who are streaming on services like Spotify are looking like they’re in more trouble so Nico next year is not going to be great it it looks like it’s going to get tougher for smaller artists right yeah I mean we are we are facing

This already we have been facing this for a while and it is like you said it’s only going to get worse you know Spotify they’re not if you’re streamed under a thousand times you won’t be getting paid out the minuscule amount you already get paid out and like there’s a lot of

Oxygen in the room for these top earners right like if you’re in a certain percentile of of artists on Spotify you’re doing okay but everybody else is sort of losing out and we’re slowly moving into this space where you know like you sort of need to exist in the

With these digital service providers in order to just reach an audience and you know like losing band camp or something like that you know like this was a good place for Niche artists for like especially people that do soundtrack Work video game soundtrack work especially like those things are big on

Band camp uh and they’re big on Spotify too but it’s a different landscape there and so now it’s making it harder for these other artists to sort of carve out their Niche places in the world and like yes there’s always workarounds and there’s always other places for people

To access this stuff but like you need to have like something that people can easily use so you can get this sort of mass user base and you know it’s going to be harder and harder and harder for artists that are on Spotify or whatever to like actually make money for their work

I’m going to move on to TV so 2023 was a big year for series finales award-winning critical Darlings and fan favorites like Ted lasso Barry reservation dogs The Marvelous Mrs masel and of course a show called succession it doesn’t even make any sense I’m the eldest boy they all

Entered their runs Eline do you think it’s has been a good year for television yeah I would say that um on balance some really significant shows ended in ways that felt fulfilling you know people talk a lot about how short the run for reservation dogs was but also people

Talk a lot about how they appreciated that a show can end you know with the creators in control of that uh we should say that succession is ending HBO did not want it to end but we know that the creators were like this is a story that

We’re trying to tell and to my mind and you know succession will be remembered in the 1920s 1920s the 2020s the same way they remember The Sopranos um in the early a so like I I think there’s there’s a real sort of hey this is this is prestige television at its highest

Quality and we kind of like all saw we witnessed something really special you know that last shot of Kendall Roy um and his face he’s never going to leave me um after everything he’s been through you know my number one boy uh so I I think a

Lot about the way that succession Ended as like I’m really grateful for the television that we got this year Nico it’s interesting because we talk a lot about succession and like and I do have this sort of I have this long theory about a monoculture and the way we’re

Getting worse and worse about it and like you know succession became this language that everybody spoke if they watched it and like for people like me who actually didn’t watch the show you know you sort of feel like you’re left out of the conversation because you

Don’t speak the memes or you don’t do all this stuff but we did you know all these shows did like this idea of like reservation dogs did get to end on its own terms and told a complete story that was really beautiful and like you know uh uh Justified came back and marvelous

Mrs masel ended its run which was like a show that a lot of people didn’t necessarily talk about but was really good had a lot of really solid actors and writers on it and told a really complete story that that ended without going on too long and like and I know

That this was a thing for succession and like this what it is a really good time for TV like TV we’ve seen this happen over the last couple years like TV has kind of taken away from movies in terms of like you know Prestige storytelling

Vehicles but also like I do hope we get back into more like stuff that has like 22 Episodes a season and it doesn’t you don’t get it all at once and like I also do want us to be able to get back to more like like a popcorn McDonald Z sort

Of like I want like a neutral thing that’s just like comforting and nice but doesn’t have to I don’t need everything to mean something all the time and I worry that sometimes there’s this like desire for everything to mean something important right and like and that’s all

Well and fine but like not everything needs to be important sometimes things can just be sometimes you want to just like I don’t want to think I don’t want homework for television just want to enjoy myself I just want two things l in order um the other big story in

Entertainment this year was of course the impact of the writers and actors strike you mentioned that earlier I mean uh it was one of the work longest work stoppages in Hollywood history do do you think we felt the effects of the strike on TV we haven’t felt them yet I don’t

Think so um some of the small effects that we’ve had has been that like you know um True Detective which is like this the the next season of True Detective uh called night country starring jod Foster he was supposed to come out like this December it’s now coming out in January everything gets

Pushed back a little bit as a result you end up seeing a show like the Gilded Age take up a prestigious 900 p.m HBO slot that it never otherwise would have gotten but also all the shows that are supposed to come out or certain schedule that schedule’s got to move maybe three

Months maybe four months maybe six months later and so you’ll start to see a little bit more reality TV that they commissioned during the strike start to hit your television the next little while all right Nico anything you wanted yeah I mean I think that like thinking

Of this like how are we feeling the effects of it I also think that like consumers of culture uh will probably will hopefully walk away from this having a better understanding of what the people that make these things are like working for what they’re doing what their conditions have been like what

Their conditions will hopefully be like in the future like getting a better understanding of the labor behind the things we consume is a net positive for people to like be really like to Bear witness to and I think that was a big part of it is the strikes were so

Publicized and we saw people out there and like and you know like you and I like we had like friends that were on these strikes right and like we can see all this stuff and it is like I do think it’s important for people to know that like people were really like weren’t

Being served properly behind the scenes and now we’ve given them a better opportunity to do so so when people complain that like oh we haven’t gotten season two a severance yet well that’s because the people that make Severance needed a fight to actually be fairly compensated for their time and effort

And I think that’s a good thing that that we walk away with from that okay so before I let you guys go one last question super light one it’s not a heavy one oh boy uh oh we’re in a post-pandemic world yeah the cost living is going up like crazy there’s a couple

Serious Wars going on um we’re paying a devastating price for climate change so when we look back on the pop art consumed this year what do you think we were collectively looking for I do think that there is this desire for something to make sense of all this or for

Something to mean something like I I this is a really hard question to answer because I think everybody’s going to take away something different from this era that we’re living in right now but I do think that there is this desire for one thing to mean everything right this

Is why I this is part of my concern about this monoculture funnel that we’re falling into of like you do you’re so people are so desperate for this one thing to mean everything that you can hold on to like a life raft when you look back you can be like that was the

Year we watched succession and everything was okay because like ultimately culture really defines eras we know this like from looking back we know that like we can place Time by what was going on in those eras so I think it’s just this desperate need for something to be important well one

Question I think about a lot and like that I like try to incorporate a lot into my work is like what do we need to know in common and also what do we need to know in common in order for us to be a we at all and with the way that

Culture is fragmenting that question gets harder and harder to answer you know if you’re living on like I don’t know pavement Spotify which I know you are Nico listening to Pavement all the time um and and I’m listening to Taylor Swift all the time and like there’s like

There’s a fragmentation that starts to happen and we go like are we do we still share the same world if we’re consuming such different cultures which is why we look so desperately for those moments that are like oh we have the same cultural reference points yeah um I do

Think actually in a weird way Oppenheimer will become that not Barbie I don’t and I don’t don’t mean to be rude to Barbie Barbie was a significant sort of cultural event but Oppenheimer is trying to deal with certain questions um that we are now beginning to ask particularly with AI for example which

Is like the idea of like there are scientists who are only the asking the question hey is it possible for it to be done can it be done let’s do it and then there’s a sort of a wider world to standing beside them being like but

Should you do it is that is that the right thing for maybe you can find out that you can do it by the time you find that out will it be maybe too late and that is a central question you know of Oppenheimer yeah that can I versus

Should I sort of argument is really like it’s only getting louder and bigger and more present as the year sort of comes to a close yeah niine it’s awesome to have you here thank you so much oh thank you for having us friend this has been a delight thank you a real

Pleasure all right that’s it for today I’m Damon Fairless thanks for listening to Front Burner I’ll talk to you tomorrow

From Godzilla to Taylor Swift, Barbie to George Santos — we wrap on the very best and worst of pop culture this year.

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