Cats and Dogs… Podcasting Together?? (Mass Hysteria)

Long time fans of the blog (or of podcasts) might be familiar with My Favorite Murder. It’s a podcast I’ve written about before and a podcast I still sincerely love, but it’s also notable recently for introducing me to a new podcast I’ve been really enjoying lately.

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Crying and Watching Dogs 101: A Primer on Finals Week

Finals week is upon us, you guys! And I’m already suffering, even though it’s supposed to be dead week. But let’s be honest, dead week is becoming more and more like an extension of finals week every year. (What happened to giving us this week off to study, professors? Huh? I had two essays due.) 

Anyway. This time of year means I’m… not at my most productive when it comes to anything other than the numerous assignments that are being simultaneously dumped on my head. But I felt like it might be a good time to share some finals week knowledge from me to you. I’ve done this twice before, so I may not be the expert yet, but if you’re new to college life or you just feel like you need some tips to keep you hanging on during this the most wild of weeks, I’ve got you covered. I’ve got 3, in fact (it was all I had time for, preparing for my own finals and doing a bunch of holiday prep and… you know how busy it gets this time of year).

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Surprisingly, Pokemon Go is Still a Thing

It was the summer of 2016, and Niantic’s “Pokemon Go” had just released. Though it initially had shaky reception due to a bunch of technical issues, the app was eventually able to clean up the overloaded servers enough that kids, teens, and adults around the world were tromping around, phones in hand, searching for Pokemon, congregating around Pokestops, and in general enjoying themselves in a way that incited mass interest and truckloads of thinkpieces from concerned millennial-haters declaring this the end of civilized society as a whole.

At that point, having just finished my junior year of high school and with a decade of loving Pokemon under my belt, I was swept up in the current of excitement. I took several trips to downtown Indianapolis with a group of friends and walked up and down the canal, catching hordes of Goldeen and Psyduck and excitedly absorbing the mutual enthusiasm shared among the other Pokemon Go players.

At a journalism camp I attended that summer, everyone was playing Pokemon Go. We would walk from class to class, exploring Ball State’s landmarks, shouting to each other when we found some new Pokemon… it was a magical time.

With a friend, we trekked through the woods, phones out. We circled the park near my friend’s house, and found a Wartortle we both named “Reuben.”

And then, as all things do eventually, it ended. Pokemon Go faded away into a distant memory. Whether the reason was the start of the new school year, the fad dying down, or fatigue with the somewhat repetitive gameplay, it seemed like those beautiful summer days lasted only so long before they were gone.

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It’s… Good??? – The Sims 4 Get Famous Review

Previously in the saga of my opinion about the Sims 4, I waxed poetic on how the series has developed me as a storyteller, then complained about how EA was ruining it, then marveled at the sudden turn in public confidence in the franchise’s quality thanks to one very special expansion pack.

And now here we are in the present. What has happened since Seasons? Was my optimistic assessment at the end of the last post correct? Or should I have been more skeptical with EA? It all came down to their follow-up. Seasons was great, sure. But could they continue putting out good content? Could they continue to avoid the curse of niche, overpriced, reskinned money grabs?

I’ll be honest… I wasn’t the most optimistic when EA announced their next new content for the game, another expansion called Get Famous. Sure, the idea of a pack focused on fame and celebrities wasn’t necessarily a bad idea, but it’s also not something particularly new and exciting. Fame and celebrities have already been a part of this franchise’s past, most recently in the Sims 3’s “Late Night” and “Showtime.” So we were not treading new ground here. And even more unfortunately, “Showtime” was really not great, making the premise for this pack shaky, at least for me.

Add onto the fact that, inherently, celebrities and fame were not necessarily going to be as all-reaching and game-changing as having weather and seasons… and I wasn’t sure about it.

But I will say that the promotional content for this pack was good. I enjoyed what I was seeing from the trailers enough that I figured I’d give this one a whirl. How did it compare? Well… you read the title.

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Musical Purgatory – “Mamma Mia!”

I want to begin this post with a disclaimer. In all my many hours of YouTube binging, I often find myself returning to the same channels over and over again. One of those channels has been “Musical Hell,” a truly charming YouTube channel that, among other things, places subpar musicals in the titular “Musical Hell,” presided over by Diva, the demon judge, jury, and executioner.

This series is not only incredibly funny, it’s also informative and full of interesting tidbits and factoids about how musical theater works. Plus, let’s be honest, it’s fun to laugh at duds every once and a while. However, there was one episode of this series that just… rubbed me the wrong way.

By writing this post, I don’t intend to imply that I dislike what Diva does on this channel. This episode is only the third in what is now an over 70-episode series full to the brim with entertaining analysis and humorous takes on musicals. I also think Diva has learned a lot about delivery, video editing, audio editing, script writing… etc since then. Don’t judge her based on this video.

What I do want to do, though, is defend a musical I think is unfairly misunderstood in this video. You don’t have to like “Mamma Mia!”, but this review comes too close to Cinema Sins stupidity as far as being weirdly nitpicky about a movie just because it happens to be a movie that follows some movie genres and conventions. This is partly because I just rewatched the sequel and it’s incredible, and partly because my boyfriend watched this video and was convinced it was right and so I must state my long-winded and over-complicated point here and prove him wrong, obviously. 

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I Am Destroyed – “Am I a Girl?” Review

My feelings toward internet pop sensation Poppy have always felt a little confused. On one hand, I think her music is endlessly catchy, her image is really fun and cheeky and humorous, and her whole shtick is really well done, but on the other hand… well… it’s pretty clear that Poppy is meant to be a parody of the modern pop star.

So when I’m enjoying her catchy pop songs… am I the target of Poppy’s derision? Am I even supposed to be enjoying Poppy’s music?

…I’m thinking too hard about this, maybe.

But either way, I think many people, myself included, were surprised at Poppy’s newest album, “Am I a Girl?” It dropped on Halloween this year, and featured musical and genre influences that I’ve never heard from Poppy before. The perfectly polished android pop star we were all used to was suddenly putting on a new image.

How well did it work out? Let’s find out.

In a Minute

What I think surprised me the most about this album, putting aside some of the genre influences, is the lyrics.

Before, in songs like “Money” and “Moshi Moshi,” Poppy’s lyrics are mostly concerned with talking about vague concepts that many people would relate to, as the genre she’s parodying tends to do, without any interest in making a statement on those concepts that is personal to the singer. “In a Minute” immediately destroys this usual habit of Poppy’s.

This track is a repetitive, electro-military track that seems to strongly imply Poppy’s dissatisfaction with how her popularity as a singer has made her decisions less her own and more at the whims of the entertainment industry. She repeats the things she has to do in order to appease her fans, because she’s “busy and important” and that is simply what she must do.

Yes, instead of lampshading just pop music, “Am I a Girl?” throws punches at the entertainment industry as a whole, and in my opinion, reflects more of Poppy’s character than ever before. I don’t think this song is the best one to illustrate the latter development, so I’ll expand on that later.

As for quality though, “In a Minute” is catchy, clean, and tight and sticks with you forever afterward. It also has a simplistic but trippy music video that goes along with it, one that pays homage to Poppy’s fondness for Illuminati symbols, to boot.

Fashion After All

Befitting a song with a title about fashion, this track sounds exactly like something that would blare as supermodels in weird haute couture strut down a runway. That pounding electronic beat, and the distant echo of Poppy’s vocals makes a catchy little track, but I appreciate this song for its lyrics as well.

Perhaps a little sarcastically, Poppy decries the nature of fame, of having people watch her every move, declaring her either a perfect paradigm of morality or a devil, viewing every fashion choice she makes as gospel. It’s an interesting blur of character. Normally, it seems like Poppy is adamant about sticking to her shtick of distant, perfect android pop star. But here it seems like the musician behind the image has stepped out from behind the curtain to discuss how all the sudden attention has made her feel.

And yet, that same clean Poppy sound persists. It’s what makes this album so odd, and so intriguing, at least to me.

Iconic

Though I’m fascinated by the way this track is constructed – similarly to the track before it with a very high-fashion runway kind of beat, but with less of a commitment to sticking to that sound throughout – it doesn’t quite work for me. I think it sticks to a message repeated throughout the album, poking fun at the popular terminology used to describe our pop icons. Poppy seems to wax philosophical on what exactly makes someone “iconic.”

The lyrics are fine enough, the song itself just doesn’t work for me. I think the way the vocals switch pitch and emotion throughout is interesting, but doesn’t do enough to differentiate this track from the rest.

Chic Chick

Here’s the weird thing about this album. If Poppy had released a song like “Chic Chick” on any other album except this particular one, I would have assumed that this song is meant to make fun of your stock “rah rah girl power” pop fare. But with all the surrounding content of “Am I a Girl?”, I can’t help but feel like this song is 100% honest. Poppy really means this song, and that’s actually kind of charming.

If you’ll allow me to speculate on the lore of this album for a moment, I wonder if this album is Poppy’s android character exploring the concept of humanity, finally starting to understand some of the subjects of all the pop songs she’s obviously studied and copied. And this album is that character attempting to find how she feels about many of these subjects, hence the question in the title – “Am I a Girl?”

Time is Up ft. Diplo

If we take that meaning of the album, that provides an even deeper look into this track.

Story-wise, I think this song is pretty clear. The lyrics, from Poppy’s robot perspective, discuss the destruction of the Earth by humanity, ruminating on her immortality, and how she will outlive humanity’s self-destruction. Taken in the context of how Poppy is also perhaps trying to align herself with humans in this album, the song takes on a double, sad meaning. It’s as if Poppy is attempting to warn humanity about its demise so that she can continue living among them.

I think the music video adds credence to this theory too, especially during the ending, when humans dance in a carefree way around Poppy, standing grimly in the center, a spotlight shining on her. She’s a part of the celebration, sure, but also she’s apart from it as well, gleaming, celebrated, but not really dancing with the rest of them. Maybe she wants to join in, but she knows getting close would be silly?

The song itself is nice too, though I wouldn’t call it a favorite. I like Diplo’s beats well enough, and I think with his contribution this track has an unmistakable Daft Punk quality to it, though I can’t say it lives up to that particular standard. I like the spacey, distant sound of it as a whole, though, really fits the message, even if my added interpretation wasn’t the real intention of the song, and it was truly meant to be a song about a robot killing off humanity because she’ll outlive it.

Aristocrat ft. Garibay

Though this was not the point of this post, it’s unfortunately difficult to talk about Poppy without also mentioning the abuse allegations leveled at her producer, Titanic Sinclair. I’m inclined to believe these accusations, and though it definitely does change the way I look at Poppy’s music, I still believe it’s possible to appreciate Poppy while also acknowledging the role this cruel man plays in her music.

That all being said… it does make it easier when the album brings a new producer on board for this track. And it may be the “hatred of abusers” talking, but I think Garibay does a much better job with Poppy’s voice than Titanic Sinclair usually does. It kinda makes me long for a possible future where Poppy still gets to make her cool music without her disgusting producer but… alas, I’m not sure that’ll happen.

It’s interesting how human Poppy sounds in this. And the less-artificial sounding vocals alongside the catchy Latin beat makes this song infectious. But the differences aren’t so much that it doesn’t feel like a Poppy song, either. The parts of the song where Poppy puts on an exaggerated aristocratic tone of voice sounds like the Poppy we’ve come to know.

Plus, the lyrics are really clever and full of excellent rhyme schemes and puns. I love the idea of a formerly impoverished girl bragging about how she’s clawed her way to the top. And considering what we’ve seen what this album so far, I can’t help but see it as a bit of an allegory for a little-known YouTube musician clawing her way into the public consciousness.

Though I don’t think I would say I want Poppy to drop her pop android persona, it’s refreshing to hear something a little different.

Hard Feelings

So I told you about the Titanic Sinclair lawsuit in the last song because…. oh boy, this song.

You know, even as Poppy herself defended Titanic Sinclair, and denied the accusations, this song makes me wonder if that was truly how she felt about the situation. A song where she wonders if she was created only to replace someone her creator loved before… how can you not make the connection to how Mars Argo accused the Poppy persona of being a direct copy of her act?

Plus, this song is also produced by Fernando Garibay, like the last one. I really do think the note of humanity his production adds to Poppy’s sound is an incredibly effective part of this album. Putting aside all the real life implications of this song, it also connects to the mental crisis Poppy’s character is going through. She wonders – if she is truly meant to always be an android, how can she feel resentful toward her creator?

I also enjoy the call-outs to Poppy’s previous character quirks, specifically the “porcelain skin” line. It feels a lot like the unearthly perfection Poppy’s character has always possessed in previous songs, especially “Bleach Blonde Baby.” This Poppy is questioning everything about her character before, and it really explains what makes this album so much different than what we’ve heard from her before.

Girls in Bikinis

We’ve gone through quite a bit of existential crisis up to this point, but we’ve finally settled back into what Poppy started out this album doing – criticizing entertainment. Whew.

I have a real soft spot for this song. The emotionless way Poppy lists off images of sexual appeal all too familiar to most of us really calls to mind some sort of mindless entertainment executive listing off all the images they think will attract the most buyers.

But Poppy seems to question this, throwing in a “Dear lord, what’s next?” and even saying she wants to see “Boys in bikinis too.”

It’s a silly, fun little song, and actually one of my favorites. If not for it’s depth, for the infectiousness of it, that bouncy electronic sound and Poppy’s interesting sounding vocals. It’s a solid entry on an album I’m already heavily sold on at this point, so no complaints here.

The Rapture Ball

There’s a great intensity to this track that I really enjoy. It’s a staple of this album at this point to contrast Poppy’s high, light vocals with heavy electronic beats, but this song is particularly fun in just how hard it goes with that concept.

This track actually reminds me quite a bit of a few tracks off of Gorillaz’ “Humanz” (which I reviewed here), which has several tracks that, like this one, puts scenes of luxury and partying against images of the end of the world. Unlike the earlier Daft Punk comparison, though, I think Poppy lives up to the allure of that album, from the seductive sound of her vocals to the sudden build of the chorus.

This sounds like a song that would be incredible to dance to, and of course that must be the point.

Am I a Girl?

Here’s another thing that surprised me about this album. I was not expecting to see Poppy question her gender identity in song form.

Yes, you heard me right. While this song does obviously ask this question as an android wondering if she is human, it also takes it from the direction of an android wondering what the definitions of “girl” and “boy” even are, and whether possessing traits from both ends of the binary make her something in between.

What I think is kind of cool about this song, though, is the solution it comes to. Instead of characterizing her confusion over gender as a problem, she feels that trying to call herself one or the other is the thing that’s over-complicating the situation. She seems to argue that if she were just left to identify somewhere in between, she wouldn’t have this confusion.

It’s refreshing to see, and not a message I was expecting. Plus, I love that big guitar riff toward the end. Get ready, that’s not the last of the loud guitar we’ll see in this album.

Play Destroy ft. Grimes

I’ll be honest, when I first heard about this album coming out, and I went to its Spotify to give it a listen, I had every intention to start at the beginning and listen all the way through. That’s how I try to first listen to any album, as it’s how the artist intended it to be listened to, and all.

But then I peeked down the song list and saw that GRIMES was on this track. GRIMES!!!!!

Hello, Grimes. Are you finally coming back to music after having your fun dating horrible capitalist monsters? Please tell me you are. Please? I miss you. I love you.

But oh my god. This song is my favorite off the album. It destroyed my life. The combination of Poppy and Grimes was something I’ve never thought of, but now that I’ve heard it I’m convinced it’s all I’ve ever wanted in this life.

What’s so incredible about this song is that it toes a very fine line between being a Poppy song and being a Grimes song. I mean, it totally sounds like it could have come straight off of “Artangels,” but it’s got a bunch of Poppy touches that we’ve seen throughout this album. It’s almost like this entire album was built just to get Poppy’s sound to a state where she could take a cut song from “Artangels,” perform it, and we’d all be convinced it’s a Poppy song.

I’m mostly joking, but even if that were true I wouldn’t mind. This song is good enough that it justifies that.

It’s just… ugh, it’s so good. It’s obviously meant to critique how entertainment makes violence seem fun, but it also works played completely straight as these two cutesy characters taking a sadistic glee in destroying everything around them. I think that’s the beauty of this album as a whole. Even though the commentary on the entertainment industry is clear, it still feels legitimate. Like Poppy, for all her knowledge of and disdain for all the little ways entertainment fools and takes advantage of us, she still wants to play along.

She still wants to be human, despite what we humans do.

God, that’s brilliant.

X

“Ooh! Heavy!”

But if you thought Poppy threw down the gauntlet in the last song, you ain’t heard nothing yet.

You know, Poppy’s doing metal now, and after everything I’ve just heard, I’m really not even surprised. You’ve done it, Poppy. You’ve made me accept you even when you’re doing metal. If that doesn’t make this album a success, I don’t know what does.

It’s this song that really convinces me that this album as a whole is Poppy’s character questioning everything about herself. The very structure of this song is at war with itself, the soft, 70s pop verses conflicting with the violent lyrics, heavy guitar, and screaming of the chorus. It’s Poppy attempting to reconcile the squeaky clean, beautiful nature of her pop android character with her desires to be flawed and angry and emotional and human.

Ugh, it’s such a fantastic way to end this album. Poppy longs to go back to where she began, but after all we’ve heard, we know she can’t go back. Perhaps that’s the most human thing she expresses throughout this whole album – regret.

“Am I a Girl?” is just a fantastic and surprising entry onto Poppy’s discography, and it fills me with excitement for where she’ll be going next. I’m definitely going to be coming back to many of the tracks here for months and months to come.

In Defense of Christmas in November

(Note: I celebrate Christmas and so my discussion will be mostly centered on that since I’m also kinda talking about the commercialism surrounding Christmas in particular, but if you celebrate some other winter holiday that’s awesome too!)

If you had asked me about two or so years ago when Christmastime started, I probably would have told you that it starts the day after Thanksgiving. Actually, for me personally it starts the day after the day after Thanksgiving because of our family Thanksgiving happening the day after the actual holiday.

And you know, that made sense to me. October gets Halloween, November gets Thanksgiving, December gets Christmas. It’s only fair.

And then I started living in a college dorm. And let me tell you. A lot of the people here got hyped for Halloween, prepared their costumes, celebrated Halloween and went all out, and then the next day BOOM Christmas.

A group of people got together and decorated our lounge for the holidays, people were putting up decorations for Christmas, and Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You” was blaring through the hallway. And though at first I tried to stay skeptical, it’s hard not to get excited when everyone around you already is.

And then I thought… hey, what’s the big problem with getting ready for these exciting holidays a little early, anyway?

Of course I know that the huge buildup to Christmas is due in part to commercialism and how businesses feel the need to use the holiday season as much as they can to milk money out of us consumers, but also… I think there are a lot of reasons that it’s a good thing to start celebrating the holidays a little early.

Yes, as someone who used to make jokes about the constant creepage of Christmas earlier and earlier every year… I now start my celebrations on November 1st.

The first reason is a phenomenon I think many people experience the older they get. When you’re young, Christmas is the biggest deal. Of course, there are kids out there who preferred Halloween, but at least for me, Christmas was the highlight of the year. The anticipation was like nothing else. The decorating the Christmas tree, the baking the cookies, the decorating, the Christmas shopping (limited, since I was just a kid, but I still got to conspire with my parents to get gifts for my sister or the other parent).

But then as you get older… Christmas just sort of loses its magic a little. I started to notice it more and more as I went through high school. I’ve seen people suggest this is because the responsibility of preparing for the holiday starts to fall more on your shoulders as you get older, but I’m not sure if that’s all the reason. I also think there’s some element of the illusion wearing off a little.

I don’t just mean the whole “Santa Claus isn’t actually real” thing, I mean the whole allure of Christmas. Of world peace and love and happiness for everyone. The older you get, the less that seems real. As a kid, I imagined the whole world warm and happy with me on Christmas morning. But as I get older, it becomes more clear as a facade. Add that onto the increasing responsibility of school and jobs and the like… Christmas just loses its magic.

This was a continuing trend until last year. Last year was different, and I can’t help but attribute that at least a little to how much earlier I started getting ready for the holiday.

When you start the celebration early, it kind of takes the pressure off of the actual day to be the best thing ever. If you’re having fun, singing Christmas carols and decorating your dorm and eating Christmas cookies from November 1st until December 25th, it’s okay if that last day isn’t as magical as it has been in the past.

And that’s why I’m already listening to Christmas playlists on Spotify, and buying myself a nutcracker, and making lists of gifts to get for people… why not enjoy this time as an excuse to do something that makes me happy? Why not connect to that little kid sitting at the top of the steps on Christmas day a little early? Why not roll down the top on my convertible and blast “All I Want for Christmas is You” on November 3rd (earning a few dirty glances on the way, true story)?

No shade to Thanksgiving.