Back in the ’90s, when I was a 13-year-old a teenager living in a small town in near Sacramento, California, a friend made a promise to me: “next Monday, after you get out of school, I’ll pick you up from your grandmother’s house and drive you to San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury neighborhood.” In the infamous district, she said, I’d be able to buy the kinds of records, clothing, and books that were impossible find elsewhere — “all that counterculture shit.” It was a Saturday night and that same friend, a Sac State student in her early 20s, made the pledge in her apartment and among other friends.
At her place, everyone but myself was chewing ecstasy “hits” and watching a brand-new show called South Park. An eavesdropper chimed in on our conversation: “you guy’s going to the Haight? That’s where all the goths, punks, hippies, and ravers hang out.” At that point I couldn’t tell the difference between a goth or punk, but I was fascinated by the mere existence of the terms. It’s a bit sad, really, because the closest thing we had to a subculture in the cow town where I lived was the Future Farmers of America, and I passed on the membership because I could never pull off the American cowboy look (Wrangler jeans make my pancake ass look like even worse).
Still, I tried not to get too exited about the trip since, in addition to being forgetful, my friend was literally tripping when she promised to introduce me to the mythical intersection. That night we attended a clandestine rave in the outskirts of Sacramento, which was broken up by the cops immediately after we got there. Before calling it a night, we stopped by 24-hour Del Taco to enjoy some soggy tex-mex food.
I loved crashing at my grandmother’s place because it was near my high school, but also because she had cable. That perk came with a price: since Mamá Luisa was a strict Catholic, I wasn’t allowed to go to bed until I prayed away my sins with a rosary on one hand, and a book of hymns on the other. But once grandma hit the hay (usually around 9pm), I would stay up to watch Mexican telenovelas, Daria, and Amp:
As planned, on Monday afternoon I walked over to my grandmother’s house after school. I hung out in the living room while grandma watered her plants in the front yard. Eventually she hollered at me: “Hey, mijo, your weird friend is here!” Surprisingly, Pills McTrippy, my ecstasy-loving buddy, made good on her promise, and after I convinced Mamá Luisa she was not just my “weird friend” but “a college-enrolled tutor who’s taking me to a library,” I jumped inside the Bay Area-bound Honda Civic.
Once on Haight, walking around the grimy neighborhood filled my mind with wonder. In addition to all the stylish youngsters, bums and junkies were scattered all around the street, and tech bros were nonexistent. One store, which specialized in bondage and S&M trinkets, offered an impressive selection of creepers and winklepickers — both shoes were impossible to find elsewhere. One bookstore sold imported magazines of people with bizarre fetishes, and also copies of The Family Jams, an album by the Manson family. Certain vintage clothing shops arranged their merchandise according to an era or specific style: rockabilly, pinup, mod. As far as I could tell, the Haight was holding up its legend.
This was 1997, the same year Amoeba Music, the “world’s largest independent store,” opened its doors across from the Golden Gate Park. I walked around the mammoth record store in complete awe of its enormous selection and, of course, wished I had money to buy almost everything. But I could only afford one record, so I picked up a copy of Reproduction, the Human League’s first LP.
More so than the eccentric people roaming the neighborhood, I became interested in the various flyers found in all the shops. Some, like the ones promoting electronic music events, were incredibly intricate and colorful. Others, like the ones peddling punk and metal shows, were comically vulgar or fantastically grotesque. It’s not that I planned to go to any of them, but I still stashed copies of the intriguing propaganda in my messenger bag as souvenirs.
At Amoeba my friend bought a copy of Homework, some French band’s debut LP, and we listened to it on our way home. While going over the Bay Bridge, I thought about all the progressive music, art, and fashion I had just been in contact with. Knowing such things were less two hours away my parents’ home made me feel anxious — especially because I still had 3 years to go before I could legally drive in California. So not only did the trip alter my perception of American subculture, but it also left me thinking: tomorrow, when I go back to school, seeing if a racist cowboy fights with a cholo over a parking space will be the most stimulating form of entertainment my boring town will be able to offer. How tragic.
And then, I felt it; an internal switch had been flicked, and powerful, bitter teen angst began festering inside me. The worse was yet to come.
Why 6 of YouTube’s top 10 music videos of 2017 are in Spanish, explained
YouTube released its annual list of the most popular music videos of 2017. 6 out of 10 of those videos are in Spanish, but more specifically, they’re from reggaetoneros. How did this happen? I’ll tell you.
First, let’s look at the list:
- Luis Fonsi – Despacito ft. Daddy Yankee
- Ed Sheeran – Shape of You
- J Balvin, Willy William – Mi Gente
- Maluma – Felices los 4
- Bruno Mars – That’s What I Like
- Chris Jeday – Ahora Dice ft. J. Balvin, Ozuna, Arcángel
- Nicky Jam – El Amante
- Jason Derulo – Swalla (feat. Nicki Minaj & Ty Dolla $ign)
- DJ Khaled – I’m the One ft. Justin Bieber, Quavo, Chance the Rapper, Lil Wayne
- Enrique Iglesias – Súbeme a la radio ft. Descemer Bueno, Zion & Lennox
1) So reggaeton is super popular now, huh?
Duh. It’s been mildly popular in Latin America since the late ’80s, but in the mid ’00s Daddy Yankee’s Barrio Fino LP essentially propelled the scandalous genre into the big leagues. I recently covered reggaeton’s mainstream success in this long-ass rant.
2) You knew “Despacito” was gonna be on the list, but how come it’s not the Justin Bieber remix?
“Despacito” was already popular in the Spanish-speaking world way before the Canadian got to it – in fact, I think the song had been out for almost 6 months when Justino Bieberto released his own “remix” (basically the same song sprinkled with some new phrases on top).
If 5 other Spanish-sung tracks made it to YouTube’s top 10 without Bieber’s help, it’s a curious indication that Justin probably helped himself out more than he helped Fonsi-Yankee.
3) How come Lady Gaga, Beyoncé, Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, Rihanna, Britney, or any of America’s most popular singers are not in the top 10, since they usually dominate it?
Well, not all of them have released new music. Taylor Swift did, and the fact that she didn’t crack this top 10 is quite interesting.
But also not interesting at all, because maybe, just maybe, audiences might finally be tired of listening to the same 4 Swedish producers over, and over, and over.
Reggaeton is old hat to most Latinos, but to an international audience, that shit is fresh.
4) But, but, but AMUUURICAAA, nationalism, the English language, Trump, white power!
Listen, ever since MTV became a thing, most white teenagers in America want to be anything but white, even if the Trump era appears to say otherwise. Those same teenagers may turn conservative country music lovers later in life – it happened to my skater friends from high school — but, as young bucks, that “urban” lifestyle really titillates white people. That’s why Eminem is, much to the horror of this writer, still a thing.
Point is, reggaeton plays into all of the “urban” aesthetics, plus white America always has a Latin-curious thing going on (see “La bamba,” “Rico suave,” “Macarena,” “Suavemente,” or any other crossover hit).
5) Is reggaeton even reggaeton anymore? Or “urban”? Or whatever the fuck?
Nope. Besides a few exceptions, current reggaeton is basically just regular pop music with a different backup track (drum machine pattern, mostly). The original reggaeton, which was offensive, misogynist, political, highly sexualized and demonized, has been sanitized for mass consumption.
Again, I covered all of that here.
6) Are that many people in the US really, really listening to watered-down reggaeton? Let’s talk numbers.
Yes and no. This YouTube list is a global list, not just an American list. That indicates that a lot of people in the rest of the world also caught the reggaeton fever. But, speaking of numbers, there’s another possible reason as to why this genre suddenly blew the fuck up on YouTube.
There’s over 600 million people in Latin America. That’s double the amount of US Americans, but people Latin America may not be consuming their music the way many Americans do. I speak of iTunes, Spotify, Tidal, etc. Some of those are paid services, and I’m inclined to believe most people in Latin America are not paying for them. Americans probably are.
I hypothesize that people’s personal radio stations in Latin America consist entirely YouTube videos, and not Deezer/Pandora/Spotitidaltunes playlists. All of this means that Americans may be amassing more numbers on paid services instead of just YouTube.
7) How come there’s no women on this list?
Well, check out #3 again, but also know that there’s not that many reggaetoneras, which is a shame.
At some point, Ivy Queen managed to develop an audience, but, sadly, she’s a bit past her prime now, and I really can’t see her making a significant comeback. There’s a few new prospects, such as Tomasa del Real and Ms Nina, but I can’t see them being allowed into the Balvin/Maluma/Yankee/Jam club anytime soon.
There’s also Cardi B., and she sings reggaeton songs in her car, nail salons, and other places, apparently. But she’s not really a part of the reggaeton boom — not yet, anyway. (Give it time, though.)
8) Um, is Enrique Iglesias technically a reggaetonero? Wasn’t he, like, some dorky rich kid in loose sweaters?
Enrique was a dorky rich kid in loose sweaters, but that was back in the ’90s. Later he moved to Miami, started hanging out with Pitbull, Wisin & Yandel, Romeo Santos, and “reinvented” himself as a dorky rich kid with reggaetonero friends. Now he piggybacks off whatever trend is popular in the mainstream, just like most global stars, really.
It’s good for Quique’s career, I guess. But probably not for his lineage, since his dad appears to be ashamed of him. Isabel Preysler, his mom, is dating Mario Vargas Llosa, a Nobel laurete, so I can’t imagine her being super proud of her use-an-ass-as-a-pillow son:
So now you know.
Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water is that freaky fish sex movie you’ve been waiting for
The Shape of Water, Guillermo del Toro’s latest flick starring British actress Sally Hawkins, is the freaky fish sex movie you’ve been waiting for – if that’s the sort of thing you’ve been waiting for, I mean. It’s also an unconventional love story about very conventional love, and Michael Shannon, the antagonist, plays a great asshole.
Warning: Spoilers ahead, so don’t read the rest of my nonsense if that’s a problem for you.
I love Guillermo del Toro because he’s not Alejandro González Iñárritu, meaning that, unlike the other Mexican powerhouse director, Guillermo’s stories don’t consistently bank on putting characters in miserable situations – see Amores Perros, Babel, Biutiful, The Revenant – in order to cheaply exploit the audience for super sad feels.
At times, Guillermo’s use of monsters and the fantastical may seem like a gimmick, but he’s an excellent storyteller, and that’s his real forte. Not always, sure – Pacific Rim was horrible, let’s be real – but Memo is usually consistent, and The Shape of Water is very much the Guillermo everyone loves.
A very quick synopsis: The Shape of Water is the story of Elisa Esposito, a timid mute played by Sally Hawkins, who cleans a government lab. It’s set in the early ‘60s, and the mousy woman has a funny gay neighbor, who’s also her closest confidant, and a cool coworker, played by Octavia Spencer. One day Elisa builds a strong bond with a freaky sea creature that was secretly brought in to her even more secretive workplace. Elisa tries to rescue the fugly thing before it’s killed and dissected for science stuff.
Michael Shannon, the antagonist, is an awesome, off-putting, oddball asshole. Listen, fuck sentimental Jon Hamm in Mad Men because, as evidenced by his role in The Shape of Water, Shannon is the kind of vintage American dick that would have kept me from sleeping through that boring-ass, slow-paced show. Dude is super sexist, racist, petty, violent – you know, a typical ‘60s man, or any man in any era, really. Michael keeps this movie together, and he really delivers, especially in a hilarious sex scene.
There’s lots of Guillermisms in place: nostalgia for old technology, relatable otherworldly creatures, beautiful cinematography – though, oddly, there’s no gears anywhere. From Cronos to Hellboy, clock-like gears are always a thing in Memo’s movies, but not here. However, the most notable rehash of all his ideas is a big one: the kafkaesque fishman in The Shape of Water is basically a mute Abraham Sapien, from the Hellboy universe.
Again, although this is an unconventional love story, replace the monster with a socially-awkward incarcerated man, and the movie becomes a very conventional love tale. The Shape of Water is engaging and it never feels slow, but the storytelling is not exactly perfect, at least structurally.
For example, the bond between Elisa and Frogface – I don’t know the monster’s real name – is rushed, and it almost fucks up the whole movie. Her case as to why she would befriend a crazy-ass, violent creature is brought up too late in the story, and by then too much shit has already happened.
Plus making The Shape of Water into romantic flick also feels like a wasted opportunity, or a lazy crowd-pleaser. I don’t want that from Memo. If the movie’s focus would’ve been limited to developing a strong, unusual kinship with an anthropomorphic monster, deeper emotional angles could’ve been explored. Instead, a silly love story was wedged in because people can’t see movies without them? Hollywood? I don’t fucking know.
And, listen, I’m no prude, it’s fun to imagine banging some horrendous fish – props to Guillermo there – but Frogface’s character isn’t sufficiently developed in order for the audience to truly believe there’s an involved, emotional relationship. The protagonist would also need to be more eccentric, and not so well put together. As a result, some of the scenes have the same seriousness as vintage creature porn (very NSFW, don’t click on the link).
The film is still fun to watch, but it’s mostly because of Guillermo’s solid visuals, and the cops and robbers angle. Michael Shannon really carries the movie with the occasional quip by Octavia Spencer, who’s still working at that lab from Hidden Figures, apparently. Sally Hawkins’ acting is solid, too, and FISH SEX.
Go see it, why not. See the trailer below.
Dramatic messages from my aunts hinder my process of trying to become a normal person
Sometimes I peek outside my bedroom window, look at people’s ugly hairdos from afar – I live on the 4th floor of a dilapidated building in the Lower East Side – and wonder, “why can’t I be like them? Why can’t I go on with my life without being obsessed with petty shit? I, too, wanna enjoy Froyo. I wanna mingle with strangers, talk about the weather, and play frisbee in a park while listening to Maroon 5.”
But I can’t.
I can’t because of my family – specifically, my dramatic Mexican aunts – and the way they work up my neurosis. My mom is fine; she’s a stern, quiet, austere militant woman. But my aunts, whom I love and have a close relationship with, somehow passed a telenovela-esque gene my way.
Need proof? Here’s a redacted message from one of my tías. She sent it to me today at 3 in the fucking morning:
Which loosely translates to:
“She’s like a sister to me and I’ll be really sad [if she leaves]. I’m going to miss her. Another bitter Christmas for me. God, what a cruel life. Alright, mijo, take care of yourself!”
My aunt is upset because my mom – her sister-in-law – is considering moving from California to Oklahoma, where my sister lives. Now my aunt is close to committing suicide, or something.
But the best – and most dramatically endearing – part of her message is her cute, modest sign off: “alright, mijo, take care!” Like she just didn’t tell me her Christmas is about to be ruined by my mother.
Then again, it’s also genuinely endearing that she has such a strong connection to my mom, a woman she’s not genetically related to. The Latinos-are-super-family-oriented stereotype doesn’t usually sit well with me. Half of my immediate family does hate each other and, although movies like Coco show otherwise, Latino families can be just as fractured as any.
But my aunts are cool. I still love them, even if they hinder my process of trying to become a normal, Maroon 5-loving person.
Just kidding. Maroon 5 sux. I wouldn’t piss on them if they were on fire.
Oh and the woman pictured in this post is not my aunt, but Talina Fernández, an aunt-like woman whose dramatic statements have been seared into the collective memory of many Mexicans:
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