Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Clockwise from left: Cats trailer (Screenshot: YouTube), "Full House Of Mustaches" (Screenshot: YouTube), Sonic and his horrible teeth (Screenshot: YouTube), that Discourse-stirring Joker (Photo: Warner Bros.)
Graphic: Karl Gustafson

It’s starting to feel like every year is the worst year. “Fuck you, 2016,” we said in the wake of Trump’s ascent to power. Online pivoted to video in 2017, and we saw much of the content in which we took comfort stripped for parts by venture capitalists and corporate demigods. They reigned supreme last year, with brands adopting the language of shit-posters and stans doing the dirty work for the A-listers our capitalist overlords demand we worship. All of this is still making our lives hell, of course, just in new, horrifying ways that we’re happy to unpack for you below. What of Trump and #MAGA and Kanye, you ask? Their spirit, as we all know by this point, is ever-present.

Thankfully, tomorrow we’ll be sharing a list of the best things on the internet in 2019, a taxonomy that should hopefully scrub away some of this bile. For now, though, join us as we cringe at bad CGI, puzzle over some very famous eggs, confront the specter of Ted Bundy’s hotness, and shudder at Amazon’s latest efforts to usher in the dystopia. This is what we get for never logging off.


10. Cats trailer madness

The first trailer for Tom Hooper’s Cats was easily one of the most anticipated movie moments of the year—not even the movie itself, but the trailer. After months of hype about the star-studded cast—which includes Taylor Swift, the cat lady version of horse girl—and the “revolutionary” CGI used to transform them into singing felines, we were anxious to see the results. They did not disappoint. Hooper’s furry-courting computer-generated cat nightmares do somersaults over the uncanny valley, transcending whatever wacky ideas you had of what this shit could possibly look like. It’s a glittery cabaret of cringey, Cronenbergian grotesquery—like, why do these cat-things have human breast-shaped lumps on their chests but no dongs? You feel embarrassed for everyone involved and yet it’s impossible to tear your eyes away from the sheer madness. It’s actually kind of perfect. [Britt Hayes]


9. Deepfakes are getting better and better

Deepfakes existed before 2019, but this year the techno-dystopian face-swapping practice seemed to advance by leaps and bounds. Suddenly, every new week was giving us stuff like an unholy Rami Malek/Freddie Mercury hybrid, Jennifer Lawrence speaking through Steve Buscemi’s mug, even more Nic Cage swaps, and feverish alternate realities in which Arnold Schwarzenegger was in No Country For Old Men and Adam Sandler played the Bear Jew.

These videos—especially the one where Bill Hader turns into Tom Cruise and Seth Rogen while doing impersonations on Letterman—are as impressive as they are unsettling. As harmless as many deepfakes are, it’s easy to see their potential for misuse; more broadly, they’re a clear example of how our species pursues every form of technological advancement for novelty’s sake, never really stopping to take stock of the cultural price we’ll have to pay down the line when it’s too late to put the genie back in the bottle. But hey, maybe the complete erosion of our sense of reality is just the Faustian bargain we have to make in order to enjoy stuff like the Full House kids brushing each other’s hair with Nick Offerman’s middle-aged man’s face staring out from the center of their youthful blond heads. [Reid McCarter]


8. Prosperity gospel infiltrates pop culture

By some miracle, Christianity has become one of the hippest things in the nation, but not in a church-with-a-community-coffee-house kind of way. It’s more in how Justin Bieber’s very famous pastor—and all of his prosperity gospel pals—operate as hypebeasts first, preachers second. Somehow, Christianity’s managed to cross over with high-luxury streetwear in 2019, and there’s no shame to be had by anyone about it. Look no further than this $1,500 pair of holy water-filled Nike Air Max 97 “Jesus Shoes,” which sold out in mere minutes, to fully grasp the level of cool Christ has become. Sure, God-fearing men wearing high-luxury goods by Gucci aren’t limited to Christians, but since this year’s Coachella saw Kanye West hit us on Easter Sunday with $225 sweatshirts that say “holy spirit,” one has to wonder when modern-day church clothes started overlapping with listings on Grailed. Maybe it was ’Ye who helped reconstruct the idea of Christian aesthetics with his Sunday Service concerts in the lead-up to Jesus Is King, or maybe it was Trump, who proved that people will love you even more if you claim that the Bible is your favorite book, despite clearly not knowing a single thing about it. However the trend got here, it doesn’t look like Jesuswave is leaving anytime soon. [Kevin Cortez]


7. Eggcitement

“Egg is just an egg” So said the photographer behind the stock photo of an egg that, back in January, became the most-liked photo on Instagram, defeating (but not destroying, sadly) the manicured Kraken that is Kylie Jenner. It was all a deeply stupid stunt concocted by some kid in London, one that pointed out the innate meaninglessness of social media affirmation while also reveling in it. So, no, egg is not just an egg, and the eggcitement rolled into the summer when a cursed crafting video, the kind of mind-bending content that feels built solely by algorithm, began making the rounds. In it, you’re tasked with leaving an egg in vinegar for a day so it becomes “bigger than before.” Later, after coating the egg in maple syrup, water, and blue dye, the egg is again described as “bigger than before.” Why this is useful or exciting is left unsaid, making it clear that the computers who made this thing perused the data and decided we are all so stupid that we will absolutely spend days covering an egg in various liquids for the sole purpose of making it “bigger than before.” And the computers are correct. [Randall Colburn]


6. Serial killer stans

The internet has bred some dark moments, but few were as undoubtedly dismal as the suddenly trendy thirst for Ted Bundy and Charles Manson. It can be traced back to multiple biopics dedicated to famous serial killers, some of which starred perennial heartthrobs like Zac Efron and Ross Lynch, as well as the collective interest spawned by this year’s hits Once Upon A Time...In Hollywood and Netflix’s Mindhunter, which exceeded the everyday popularity of the true crime genre. This was not about the curiosity of one’s psyche that would precede such atrocities, but rather the alleged fuckability of actual murderers. It was a disturbing concept that quickly evolved from an off-color parody to a genuine, horned-up celebration of these uncontested monsters. There were actual debates between Bundy and Manson stans (as well as one instance involving Venom, but we’d rather not think about it). It was stunningly emblematic of the worst parts of Stan Twitter, from aggressive defensiveness to nearly absolving Bundy, Manson, and the like of their crimes. And, in 2019, it’s a glaring reminder of how easy it is for us to become desensitized to the point of total detachment. Even Netflix had to take a moment to remind followers that there are plenty of men deserving of our interest who, shockingly, have managed to avoid killing anyone. How embarrassing… and kind of terrifying.[Shannon Miller]


5. The Discourse

Discourse can be enlightening and productive, but social media—a place that Marc Maron has aptly described as a “neverending cry for help”—has turned the concept of reasonable discussion into a nostalgic figment of our imaginations, a privilege we’ve long since squandered. The ability to instantaneously and impulsively share opinions online has turned too many people into anxious goblins locked in a furious competition to see who can shout the most and the loudest. When that discourse turns to cinema, the results are equally exhausting. Such was the case for Joker, the Diet Scorsese origin story of Batman’s arch-nemesis. Well before the film even hit theaters, the discourse surrounding its quality (or lack thereof), its awards season potential (or lack thereof), the controversial opinions of its director (and whether he’s right), and the question of if it was “dangerous” (or if the discourse itself was making it dangerous) had so saturated the pop culture media landscape that the mere idea of seeing the movie felt tiresome—let alone being expected to have an opinion about it. David Lynch famously said “the film is the thing.” Unfortunately, in 2019, the discourse appeared to be taking its place. [Britt Hayes]


4. Gender reveal accidents

You know that old B-movie motif involving various species of animals suddenly turning on humans after generations of repression, genocide, and abuse? 2019 was kind of like that, but for gender reveal parties. Perhaps the spirit of these supposedly celebratory events finally became sentient, and decided to lash out at those responsible for something so inane, obnoxious, and culturally outdated. Or maybe some people just really shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near children, much less raise them, if they don’t know the basics of fire safety. While many of these garish attempts at going viral on the internet often backfired in hilarious ways, others resulted in strange, genuinely tragic meditations on human hubris. Either way, they pretty much consistently showcase the worst of our often ass-backwards culture, and really should be phased out in favor of, oh, we don’t know, perhaps simple, pure, and sincere joy regarding the birth of any child and the path their lives may take them?

Look, we understand couples’ excitement about having a baby, and wanting to share that wondrous anticipation with friends and family. But do that in the privacy of your own homes, without societally imposed constructs, and away from any flammable materials. [Andrew Paul]


3. Amazon Twitter drones

Amazon’s fleet of Twitter drones robotically extolling the warehouse’s amazing workplace culture—it’s bad, actually—crept onto our radars last year, when TechCrunch pondered their existence and even interviewed an IRL employee who used to operate as one. In August of this year, however, Diana Wilde drew the ire of these “ambassadors,” and, in the process, revealed that the people operating the majority of these accounts are, well, not people at all but more likely predictive text bots.

It wasn’t long before sleuths began noticing wild inconsistencies in this army of accounts, with the text of their tweets often clashing with the details in their bios and photos. Names, ages, and attitudes varied from tweet to tweet, which is terrifying when you consider that, despite the chumminess of the responses, each tweet exists solely to churn out pro-Amazon propaganda. (Many of the accounts called out both in these threads and in our article have since been deleted.) We call a lot of things “dystopian” these days, but there is no other word for this shit. [Randall Colburn]


2. They hurt Sonic

A live-action/CGI Sonic The Hedgehog movie was always going to be a dicey prospect, but even so: The movie’s initial marketing efforts did the film less than no favors. Certainly, the promotional poster—apparently shot from the perspective of Sonic’s hedged hog—didn’t help. But really, it was those damn teeth that spelled doom for all involved. Internet artists have done some truly terrible things to everyone’s favorite blue chili dog enthusiast over the years, but even they were shocked at the idea of jamming a full mouth of real-ass human teeth into his gums, then forcing Ben Schwartz’s voice to emerge from this digitally crafted cave of horrors. The response to Sonic’s Fucked-Up-Teeth Gate was an outpouring of unprecedented derision that was then met, in turn, with complete (and expensive) contrition from director Jeff Fowler—who, like a sheepish Dr. Frankenstein, accepted the angry mob’s notes and dragged his creation back to the lab for several more months of work. The Sonic redesign will likely go down in history as one of the first times the internet managed to shame a studio into significantly altering a movie merely because they really hated its trailer; that strange shift in the balance of fan-to-creator power remains tenuously propped up on a mountain of far-too-human teeth. [William Hughes]


1. Celebs weaponizing their followers

In November, Pitchfork reported that a former Postmates driver was suing the pop star Lizzo for libel, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and false light invasion of privacy. Why? Because in September Lizzo publicly tweeted out a photo of the delivery person to her 1.2 million followers in a post accusing the woman of stealing her food. (She didn’t steal Lizzo’s food, by the way; she followed Postmates procedure.) As a result of the tweet, the driver felt “afraid to leave her home and even go to work, for fear someone might harm her or even worse.” Maybe that sounds dramatic, but consider the torrent of hate that NPR’s Ann Powers received when pop singer Lana Del Rey tagged the critic on Twitter in front of her 9.5 million followers to take umbrage with Powers’ (mostly positive) take on Norman Fucking Rockwell. Public figures are obviously allowed to express grievances, but when you operate at a level of celebrity in which millions hang on your every word, tweets (a.k.a. public statements) can be a loaded gun. We wrote about stans and the weaponization of fandom in last year’s round-up, but the real issue this year has been celebrities either not considering or, perhaps, not understanding what they’re unleashing when they specifically target a person or business. Their fans are ready and willing to get their hands dirty, so to call out someone publicly with that knowledge is reckless and Trumpian. Tweets matter.

Ariana Grande, for example, was clueless as to the distinction between a non-celebrity criticizing her and a million fans doxing that person and telling them to kill themselves. “[T]hey’re just reacting with similar energy to what they’ve read honestly,” Grande told writer Roslyn Talusan, who drew the ire of Grande’s followers after she criticized the singer’s comments about critics being “lost” and “purposeless.” “Your tweets were hostile. they’re upset and they’re passionate,” Grande continued. Talusan told Buzzfeed she felt Grande “victim-blamed and gaslit me.” She added, “I’m aware that Ariana Grande can’t control all of her fans and followers. However, pretending like she has 0 influence over her stans is disingenuous and irresponsible.”

This trend isn’t new—a writer who criticized Nicki Minaj last year was swarmed with death threats, with Minaj fueling the hate—but more and more A-listers are beginning to partake in this behavior. There’s some self-awareness: Lizzo apologized in September for “putting that girl on blast.” She continued, “Imma really be more responsible with my use of social media and check my petty and my pride at the door.” Good, but the damage has already been done. [Randall Colburn]

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