2023 in Review2023-12-31
It’s the end of the year! We made it! Thank you to the Pop-Tarts bowl for a mascot not just for that game, but the year.
I’ve spent the last week in the backwoods of Wisconsin and it’s been great for resting and reflecting on a year that exceeded my expectations in several ways. Here’s a media diet/braggy Christmas letter, just in time for 2024 to kick off.
The Year in Podcasting
Mike and I have somehow been co-hosting the Eurowhat for five years? How? It’s wild.
This year felt like a real culmination of the work we’ve been doing with the show - we brought the show to this year’s Pop Conference and got to re-hash how the Contest stopped for the pandemic, then came back stronger than ever. Adapting our show to a visual format was fun, and thinking about how to add visuals that added to the in-person experience without adding too much we wouldn’t be able to do for the recorded version we released as episode 200 was a nice puzzle.
That would have been a major feather in our cap on its own, but getting to do that days before I flew over to Liverpool to cover the contest in person was another cherry on another sundae. Holding actual (fan) press credentials was fantastic, and gave some useful backstage access that I want to think more about for the next time I’m there in person. I’ll be back, just not in 2024. It’s nothing personal, Sweden, I just wanted to go to Tampere instead.
I think the most important part of that trip was getting to meet up and spend time with a bunch of the people we’ve met through the podcast - other shows (getting to say hi to the Aussievision guys in person after many years was great, as was spending time at the Tate and the press center with other bits of Eurovision Twitter I’ve otherwise only sent messages back and forth with).
We also made some episodes I really loved? Seeing every other fan media outlet’s setup in Liverpool helped me better understand what our show does within the greater constellation of Eurovision Fan Media. Every show is doing their own thing, so we don’t need to be like any other show. It’s slightly pretentious, but I’m approaching our show as the New Yorker of Eurovision podcasts; taking our time on stories we think need time instead of trying to grind out every single news update as it happens, and finding interesting interviews that give better context or outsider perspective to why something popped in a given year. Two examples:
- I loved Susan Rogers’ book This is What It Sounds Like when it came out in 2022, and having her agree to chat about 5 entries with us made my little music nerd heart sing - we were chatting with the producer of Purple Rain! Beyond all of that, her warmth and expertise helped me recontextualize my opinion of Poland’s entry of all things - hotel art is art! I think she’s given us new language for how we talk about songs, and I hope we can have her back on the show at some point.
- Our Sisu episode really put this into practice. The two interviews we did in May gave me a ton of context on Finnish culture and the behind-the-scenes with YLE’s team, and watching the way fandom internet latched onto Käärijä the way it did between May and July meant that by the time the episode was ready in July, there was additional connective tissue that helped all of those elements fit together in a way that was greater than the sum of its parts. 2024’s goal is to figure out how to keep doing that.
The Year in Other Podcasts You Should Listen To Besides Mine
- Hit Parade
- If Books Could Kill
- Maintenance Phase
- You Must Remember This’ Erotic 90s season
- Articles of Interest
The Year in Music
Despite my Spotify Wrapped suggesting otherwise, I did listen to songs/albums other than Käärijä’s “Cha Cha Cha”. The highlights, in no particular order:
- Sterogum’s Alternate Number Ones immediately introducing me to the brilliance of The Primitives’ “Crash”
- Ruta MUR’s “So Low”
- Rasmus Thrall’s “Tresko”
- listening to a panel of music writers do critical karaoke and do a bunch of track-by-track mini-essays over the entirety of Renaissance at Pop Con
- Go West’s “King of Wishful Thinking” as a post-breakup companion throughout the year
- Cake’s “Short Skirt/Long Jacket”
- Stromae’s “L’enfer”
- Annalisa’s “Bellissima”
- Tennis’ Pollen, an album that filled in some of the cracks of what their discography was missing in delightful ways
- Maggie Rogers’ “Shatter”
- all of Desire, I Want To Turn Into You, may Caroline Polacek and Danny Harle’s collaboration continue for several more albums
- KUUMAA, who were my UMK favorite for approximately 3 minutes until “Cha Cha Cha” impacted my orbit, their self-titled album is a gem
- Braxe + Falcon’s “Creative Source” for showing the power of the right sample
- Jessie Ware’s sumptuous That! Feels Good! for making me! feel good! and diving into rich orchestral disco-y spaces
- crying at the rehearsal of Sam Ryder’s “Mountain” because I was not expecting to hear “I am a mountain/and down in the valley below is all that I’ve overcome”
- Dadi Freyr’s I Made an Album and cover of “Whole Again”
- “Padam Padam” and “Tension”: I hear them and I know
- James Blake’s Playing Robots Into Heaven was sublime music to dissociate in the airport to, 13/10, great experience
- Olivia Rodrigo has not really been my thing and yet GUTS was so thoroughly a jam throughout the last half of the year, with new songs taking top position off the album for me
- O.’s “Slice” EP was such delicious noise and it’s amazing what that duo makes with just a bass sax, drums, and a dream.
- Chilling the night before my flight back to Boston post-holidays listening to ABBA Gold with my sister.
- and finally, thank you to the tiny green Finnish man who topped my Spotify listens all year, for tuning me into the beauty of Finnish rap and mashing 17 different genres together in one song. See you in Tampere in a few months.
The Year in Moviegoing
I set an intention to make the movies I saw in a theater smaller, weirder, and less Marvel-y. That meant a LOT of repertory screenings at my beloved Brattle, Somerville, and Coolidge Corner theaters, and it also meant that when I did go to something wider-release, it was really satisfying when it did what it set out to do. Assorted notes:
- M3GAN was delightful, but also reminded me that 70s/80s horror with practical effects is way more my jam and I am a weenie, even with a PG-13 movie about a killer doll
- DIVINITY was shown at the local underground film fest as a late-night showing and was straining too hard for the sort of dope-smoking “deep” sci-fi thing and its only saving graces were its short runtime and cool credits sequence.
- Asteroid City and the various Roald Dahl adaptations Wes Anderson released this year were all exquisite little dioramas it was a pleasure to look at several times
- Barbie is maybe trying to be too many things to too many people, but its meta-ness was appreciated deeply
- Killers of the Flower Moon was a delight to see on a massive screen and let wash over me
- Poor Things was a 13/10, would take a bus up to Dartmouth to see with a friend then immediately go back to Boston again
- had the delightful experience of recognizing places near the theater I was seeing them in while watching both The Holdovers (movie theater) and American Fiction (dive bar across from the restaurant scene)
The Year in Reading
By the end of this year, I’ll have finished reading somewhere in the neighborhood of 165 books, depending on how many I finish on my flight home from Madison to Boston. That’s not the most I’ve read in a year, but it’s about on par with recent years now that I’ve gotten better with sending something back to the library if it’s not resonating with me, whether for now or at all.
Things I liked:
- Nathan Hill’s first novel, The Nix, was one of the best things I read in 2017 and his follow-up to that, Wellness, was the best novel I read this year.
- reading Britney Spears’ and Barbra Streisand’s memoirs back-to-back was a surprisingly meaty pairing looking at women in entertainment dealing with control as performers.
- Richard Osman’s Thursday Murder Club books are great, and Janice Hallet’s The Appeal and The Twyford Code did some wonderful twists on the standard whodunnit formula
- I devoured everything Claire Keegan’s published this year and it quietly devastated me every time, excellent work Claire.
- shout out to Eliza Clark’s Penance and Rebecca Makkai’s “I Have Some Questions For You” for deconstructing the current true-crime moment with complicated narrators.
- Michael Schulman’s Oscar Wars and Mark Harris’ Pictures At A Revolution were great reads about Hollywood, as was the ongoing Cannon Film Guide being published by Bearmanor Media.
- I need a book as well-researched and deeply readable as the revised second edition of Rod Serling’s Night Gallery: An After-Hours Tour for every sci-fi/horror anthology series of the 70s/80s
Things I didn’t:
- Prince Harry’s memoir was too light on fun dishy royals stuff and too heavy on military service stuff
- Robert Thorogood saw Richard Osman’s success with Thursday Murder Club and said “I could do that”, and credit to him, he did write the Marlow Murder Club series, but it’s such an obvious level of writing-to-the-market pandering that I’m not surprised it’s getting a 4-part PBS/BBC adaptation.
- I got an ARC of William Lee Adams’ memoir around the time of Eurovision, and I have no clue who the audience for the book is - the cover and marketing’s attempting to appeal to the audience that knows him through Wiwiblogg’s ESC coverage, but the book’s waaaaay darker and doesn’t go into half as much behind-the-scenes dishy stuff as its audience is promised. Dude seems tired of the media persona he’s created, so maybe this is a goodbye to all that.
It Was As Bad As I Expected But I’ll Absolutely Get The Next One From The Library To Hate-Read It
- Danielle Trussoni’s The Puzzle Master gets so much wrong about a puzzle savant in a psychological thriller but went to so many bonkers places that I’ll absolutely be showing up for what feels like an inevitable second book. Maybe this time the main character, who went to MIT and studied puzzles there, will actually mention the Mystery Hunt!
and that’s that. Goodbye 2023!