Best Celebrity Editor
By Zack Etheart
2012 was a big year for the celebrity fashion editor. Carine Roitfeld, loath to skip a beat after her unsavory parting with French Vogue, capitalized on the controversy by launching her buzzed-about CR Fashion Book with a black-tie ball in Paris—one which, somehow, proved one of the biggest and yet most exclusive parties of fashion month. Grace Coddington took a different tack. The American Vogue creative director (whose praise has been sung from the rooftops ever since 2009’s The September Issue cast her as fashion’s unsung hero) parlayed her job security into a capsule collection of custom orange Balenciaga bags inspired by her cat, Pumpkin. The line retailed in coincidence with the publication of her memoir—which, in the grand tradition of icons on a first-name basis with their adoring public, is simply titled Grace.
But somewhere in between the two, with no clear job description and several job titles, Anna Dello Russo took the cake. Part-time editor-at-large and creative consultant to Vogue Japan, and part-time author of her own very popular blog, her life ostensibly consisted of pole-dancing for the paparazzi in the season’s loudest head-to-toe runway looks outside of Lincoln Center and issuing endearingly absurd sound bites through a thick Italian accent. That is, until this fall, when she put those talents to work to sell something tangible: a collection of accessories for H&M.
If you haven’t seen her promotional music video for the line, stop reading this and watch it now. It’s called “Fashion Shower,” and it’s the kind of cleansing you never knew you needed. You will never feel dirtier than watching Anna dance in an opulent mess of gold jewelry against immaculate skin-tight patent leather, repeatedly telling you that you need a fashion shower. She proceeds to dish out 10 commandments, from the curt “You must wear outfit once” to the more nuanced “Between style and fashion, absolutely fashion.” Auto-tune and echoes abound, but the lyrics speak for themselves (the ones you can understand—I’m still unclear on lesson number three). But the best part of the video comes at the end, when the music cuts out and Anna simply recaps, “I love accessories. More they are, more better is. You know how much I love.” I love.
Best Lady-Centric Artwork
By Ashton Cooper
2012 gave us plenty of ladies to love. Okay, let me rephrase—quite a few female artists garnered a lot of attention this year.
First, it was a big year for female-fueled museum blockbuster exhibitions (meaning there were like two of them). In February, I shuffled my way through Cindy Sherman’s brilliant, but very crowded MoMA retrospective. And then, over the summer, I stood in a long line of extremely well-dressed people over 40 to get into Yayoi Kusama’s over-hyped Whitney retrospective of polka dots and plush phallus-covered furniture.
This year certainly proved that what was once a niche part of the art market (fEmiNIsT aRt) is now marketable, if not completely mainstream. Kusama partnered with Louis Vuitton to put her signature dots on luxury leathers, and a print of Cindy Sherman’s “Untitled #96” sold for $2.88 million at Christie’s in May.
While some lady artists enjoyed institutional success, the hoopla surrounding the arrest and trial of Russian anti-Putin riot grrrls Pussy Riot reminded us that feminist protest art can still have very serious consequences (and also that journalists will take any opportunity to put the word pussy in headlines).
Speaking of pussy riots, Mickalene Thomas’ show “Origin of the Universe” (named after Gustave Courbet’s racy 1866 vagina painting) opened at the Brooklyn Museum a couple months ago. Thomas creates paintings that aren’t really paintings. Her canvases are collage-like, flamboyantly colorful, and, most importantly, covered in a thick layer of rhinestones. Included in the show are two reworked versions of Courbet’s original—one of Thomas herself, and the other of her partner.
Thomas’ version translates the male artist’s infamous spread-legged and headless woman, created for private titillation, into a giant, sparkling revel in female anatomy on the walls of the Brooklyn Museum. In doing so, her work reconfigures and reimagines the erotic for marginal identities left out of the canon.
If 2012 was a year of gynocentric art, then this exhibition of rhinestone-studded, larger-than-life paintings of African-American women is the smart, sparkling cherry on top.
Best Post-Internet Music
By Zoe Camp
I’m not fond of the term “post-Internet.” Although it may be true that we Gen Y-ers draw our experiences from Internet culture and technology (or more specifically, Apple’s technology) to a greater extent than our Baby Boomer parents do, I think we’re giving Al Gore a bit too much credit by considering his invention solely responsible for a massive generational gap. Times change, new technology comes along, and older generations get perplexed by the fads of the younger—I have no doubt my grandparents’ befuddlement with the psychedelic rock my dad listened to in his college years isn’t too far removed from his own reaction when I played him a Skrillex song for the first time.
But at the same time, we can’t deny that Internet culture has fused with music with degrees of speed and potency that nobody expected. Pandora and Reddit have supplanted music stores and FM radio stations as the primary avenues by which we hear the latest tunes, but more importantly, they’ve shifted the focus of our musical conversations. When I think of the big musical talking points of the past year—Lana Del Rey, dubstep, “Gangnam Style”—I notice a common denominator. People talked about them because they were viral sensations—bemusing, attention-grabbing, but most importantly, entertaining. It’s a trend that first became apparent with the runaway success of “Friday” (sorry to remind you all that that was a thing), and it’s unsettling. We have so much music at our fingertips, but we opt for the sensational, rather than the substantial.
Maybe that’s why my favorite album of the year is an alternative bluegrass record. To listen to the Punch Brothers’ sophomore LP, Who’s Feeling Young Now? is to experience a temporary reprieve from the bass drops and the hashtag rap. It is to travel to a simpler kind of musical destination, a place where the tension between acoustic instruments is enough to captivate from the very first listen. But this isn’t your grandparents’ bluegrass. With their penchant for progressive song-craft and an aesthetic tempered by the familiar sound of alternative rock, the Punch Brothers are more Radiohead than they are Rascal Flatts. Hell, there’s even a cover of “Kid A” on here, as haunting and lovely as the original. And the strangest part is that this modest little LP might be the most promising example of “post-Internet” music done right. It draws from an infinite array of genres, influences, and production styles to develop a hybridized sound that caters to our ever-widening musical tastes. It doesn’t matter if you listen to this record with your parents, your hipster cousin, or just your fine self—it’s a universal musical testament, and it’s got something for everyone.
As long as there are artists like the Punch Brothers around to bridge genres and generations, I can put up with a meme-ified music world. Things don’t seem so bleak.
Best Childhood Hero
By Megan Kallstrom
I’ll be the first to admit that I am a Potterhead. Name any crazy HP-fan-thing to do, and I’ve probably done it. Since the age of five, I have idolized J.K. Rowling, and often imagined what meeting her would be like. Naturally, when I found out that my heroine would be coming to Lincoln Center to promote The Casual Vacancy, there was no question in my mind where I’d be on Oct. 16, 2012, at 8 p.m. After class ended, I hopped on the 1 and went straight to 66th Street, homework in hand and heart in throat. I held it together through the Q&A session and reading she did, smiling at the more sentimental parts and laughing at her jokes (and damn, is she funny). Once I got in line for the book signing, though, it wasn’t long before my veneer began to crack. Finally, I got my copy of the book, and J.K. Rowling herself was signing it. In a voice that I can only pray was coherent, I thanked her for writing the series that I consider to be my own Patronus Charm.
She looked into my eyes, reached across the table, and warmly clasped my hand. After a moment, we moved on, she to her next fan, and me out to the main plaza, where I proceeded to do my best imitation of Kristen Bell’s sobs of joy after meeting a sloth in that video on The Ellen Degeneres Show.
J.K. Rowling didn’t need to be so kind to me. For all she knew, I was just another crazy fan who loves the books probably more than anyone should love inanimate objects. But she was kind anyway, and, to me, that made her a hero—the hero I always imagined her to be—more than even magic could.
Best Campus Game
By Rikki Novetsky
It is the second week of November, and this is what you see. Students scrambling up and down Low Steps; others bustling on College Walk; perhaps some swaddled in Columbia sweatshirts, heading to Butler. But this is what you don’t see: fear flickering through the eyes of a Barnard student as she scampers to the Diana Center; a Columbia student looking both ways before jumping into a maintenance closet; first-years not leaving their Sulzberger and Carman doubles for days.
The game is Assassins, the weapon is water, and the group is Yavneh—the Orthodox Jewish student group on campus. Some scout out classrooms for hours, waiting to find their prey. One junior even sat in on a general chemistry lecture in order to track down her victim—and took the quiz. People are followed to meals, and even to daily prayers, although rules dictate that worshippers are “safe” 10 minutes before prayers begin and 10 minutes after they end. For some inexplicable reason, I decided to participate in this year’s Yavneh Paranoia-Fest. Walking across campus, my eyes darted right and left, up and down. I searched for both my killers and future victims. I carried SmartWater around with me everywhere: for hydration, or for weaponry? (Victims are killed by a slash of water. Saliva doesn’t count; tears do.) I hoped to dupe everyone, slinking around campus, imagining myself as a modern Nancy Drew.
The game started on a Sunday night. By the time Tuesday begrudgingly came around, I had managed to stay alive. I left my room earlier than usual and planned not to return until late in the night. I knew my killers had discovered my schedule, and I had to exercise caution. But as a blanket of darkness fell over Morningside Heights, I reached a point of desperation to return to my room. Alas, as the sinfully slow elevator door opened to my floor, I was greeted with a heavy splash from a Poland Spring water bottle, being held by a girl who had been waiting on the stairs outside my door for hours. As I admitted defeat and slowly closed the door to my apartment, she inquired whether a small publication she works for could co-sponsor an event with The Eye. Wet and defeated, I continued to close the door. Maybe next time, sister.
Best Band Comeback
By Somala Diby
Many a sigh has been shed at a point when the pop cultural landscape is at once retreating into the comfy lap of the ’90s (i.e., Drake’s infantile Aaliyah obsession) and tragically receding from common (i.e. Alicia Keys-Nicki Minaj collaboration, i.e., wtf). But in July, No Doubt gave a Push and Shove, broke my sigh, and released the single “Settle Down.”
For the record, outside of forcing the genre upon myself to woo a middle school art teacher (once upon a time, Mr. Constantino), I’m probably the furthest thing from a ska fan. So, my diagnosis is not entirely centered on the band’s ska legacy, as you’d expect. But bear with me, because what makes No Doubt this year’s best comeback extends beyond the music.
First off, if this is a matter of competition, as the superlative suggests, we should examine just the following. The Backstreet Boys looked better when their clothes didn’t fit. Aerosmith retains its fame in being the perennial poster child of the “comeback band.” Even in acknowledging the number of recently resurfaced ’90s dream pop and grunge bands that have gone about their comebacks more prudently, No Doubt has a stronger relevance to listeners of today (though they owe much of that relevance to Gwen Stefani’s solo career).
No Doubt also doesn’t look like a comeback band. At this point, I think there’s case enough to prove Gwen Stefani bleeds the elixir of life. But besides her inviolable perfection, the band on the whole has staved off the weight, age, and the on-stage sunglasses that seem intuitively to accompany the comeback effort and usually wind up undermining it. No Doubt looks and feels great, saving listeners the disappointment that comes in realizing that sometimes Stella can’t get her groove back.
Music-wise, the album plucks the heartstrings of the past within the frame of the present. There’s no one out there occupying that niche quite as snugly as No Doubt is, which makes it a pop cultural standout relevant both to our day and to 20 years ago. More importantly, No Doubt reminds us what fun is at any age, a message arriving at an especially crucial time, as I turn 20 at the end of January.
As reinvigorating as the return of the ska quartet has been (for me, at least), album sales are at a disheartening low, with fewer than 7,000 copies sold since its release. And the recent music video mishap in which the band decided dressing up as cowboys and Indians was still child’s play is at best inauspicious for the band’s future. I suppose all one can do is hope for the best for the band’s comeback effort. (And if all is actually lost, at the end of the day, it’s No Doubt the best-looking comeback band probably ever.)
Best Bond Memory in Recent Memory
By P.J. Sauerteig
As I was getting my free popcorn refill (to go) the night before Thanksgiving, the men in my family zipped their coats, searched for their keys, and mumbled discontentedly. They were underwhelmed, I soon found out, with the latest Bond installment, Skyfall, which I had coerced them to see. I secretly wasn’t enamored with the film, either, but to save face, I argued in its defense. And the more I debated and considered, the more I actually began to believe that, if not the “Best Bond Ever!,” it may be the Best Bond in Recent Memoy.
First, the complexity of metaphor and symbolism in Skyfall makes other Craig- and Brosnan-era installments pale in their comparative adolescence. The film is driven by a tension between Bond’s old order (personal and institutional) and the rising questions of age and irrelevance, youth and innovation, maturity and loyalty. When Bond is left to defend his old, neglected home in Scotland, for example, we realize that he’s really struggling to protect his metaphorical house, his tradition, and its viability in the face of glossy, irreverent change.
Second, the cinematography is exceptional, highlighted by the contrast between locations as diverse as Istanbul, rural Scotland, Southeast Asia, London, etc. Especially the gorgeous scenes in Scotland imply an artistic awareness that is not always present in films like Casino Royale or The World is Not Enough.
Third, a common compliant from my family was, “There wasn’t a Bond girl.” Indeed, Bond has his normal share of womanizing in Skyfall, but this film doesn’t seem to develop a significant, overarching female lead à la Olga Kurylenko in Quantum of Solace. I would argue, however, that M (Judi Dench) is Skyfall’s Bond girl. And while M and Bond’s rapport is bereft of eroticism, the focus on M as a maternal figure to the orphaned Bond allows unprecedented insight into Bond’s complex psyche.
Skyfall is fresh in its art, stretching the genre’s richness beyond its standard boom-boom, bang-bang glee. It proclaims itself to be much more of a film than a movie—something not all its predecessors can confidently claim.
Best Homeland Moment
By Cathi Choi
I count myself one among the many who have been frustrated with Homeland. It’s the new “it” show—the post-Breaking Bad work of “middle class cinema.” But unlike the television series that have developed under the auspices of David Chase, David Lynch, or Matt Weiner, Homeland hurtles forward, often lurching over the opportunities for nuanced character development. Character traits quickly become archetypes: Carrie’s chin quivers violently, Saul says something paternalistic, Dana looks impossibly frightened, and Brody expresses his anger with limited opening of his mouth. (See the SNL parody for further reference.)
Howard Gordon, one of the creators of the show, was recently quoted in the New York Times talking about his other show 24, “It’s like driving at 65 miles per hour on the highway and you’re building the highway as you’re driving.” Nuance might be sacrificed in the world of high-pace drama, but Homeland has provided us with a few moments of pure gold.
At the end of the first season, Carrie leaves the CIA after claiming that U.S. Congressman Brody is a terrorist. But, despite the worry concerning Carrie’s mental stability, in the first episode of the second season, she’s suddenly thrown back into the world of intelligence after one of Carrie’s assets in Lebanon claims to possess information on a future American attack. Carrie dons a headscarf and is forced to navigate the streets of Beirut. Once she realizes someone is following her, she tries to flee, but ends up getting caught in a corner. After injuring him in a scuffle, she runs away, and a manic smile flickers across her face.
“We see her get into trouble, we see her get out of trouble, and then we see that, oh my God, she’s turned on by it,” Gordon says in an interview. It’s Carrie’s “wicked little smile.”
It’s her unleashed, manic energy and delight. We know it’s unhealthy. We know it’s undoing all the work she did to regain her mental health.
In moments like this flickering, wicked little smile, we leave the world of tropes and archetypes. And not to get too ambitious, but it’s moments like this that nudge television out of cinema’s shadow, even for just a second.
But film-TV-medium arguments aside, this moment is about Carrie—why we love her, why we hate her, why she’s crazy, and why she’s brilliant.
Best Album Cover
By Thuto Durkac Somo
Here’s a fun game: Stay up until four in the morning and start a dialogue about structural similarities between Kool Keith and Samuel Beckett. Depending on the company, you may get somewhere, or your efforts will result in frustration to the point of exhaustion. Nonsensical? Perhaps, but not unreasonable in a time when the Internet allows faceless bloggers, college students, and fans to critique pop music with intellectual rigor. That is why I can read a multitude of articles on the internet concerning the increase of pornographic imagery in music videos and album covers. That is why I decided to sort the best album covers released so far in 2012.
Realizing that I have a preference for music that probably won’t be featured at the Grammys, I tried for some variety. As I browsed through albums of big names this year, I was confronted with Christina Aguilera’s Lotus. The cover features Aguilera rising naked from a lotus flower, in prime Botticelli fashion. I have never set aside time to listen to Aguilera, but this blinding pink and white imagery is truly camp, which challenges even the most succulent Italo-disco covers (see Gil Ventura’s Sax Club series).
An album I can safely and highly recommend, Black Radio Recovered: The Remix EP, certainly displayed the strongest imagery of 2012. The collage is reminiscent of Romare Bearden, yet definitively hip-hop. The lettering is such that it looks like graffiti above a wheat-paste. There is an overwhelming sense of creativity when I see the Blue Note Records label in the corner of an album featuring Pete Rock. The release of Death Grips’ No Love Deep Web might be dismissed as a stunt, but their metaphorical middle finger to the industry seems fairly genuine when the album cover is an erect penis with the album name written in marker. The penis belongs to Death Grips drummer Zach Hill, and I can’t help but wonder how much time he spent on framing.
And then there was Breakthrough by The Gaslamp Killer. Never before have I searched for the artist behind an album cover. Kilian Eng delivers a retro, video-game, visual of two hands—one bionic, one flesh—reaching out from layers of lightning, or perhaps nerves. The electronic gesture seems hesitant, fragile, and yet energetic; a graceful invitation to GLK’s space-psych-jazz album. To the best of my knowledge, I will declare these the best album covers.
Honorable mention: Raime’s Quarter Turns Over a Living Line.