With 2020 almost here, we look back on the best things that happened in pop culture in 2019. These are Pablo Lario’s top picks of the year.
There were some sensational films in 2019. Marvel’s Avengers: Endgame and the spectacular performance by Joaquin Phoenix in Joker are, by far, the standouts.
Despite these, I’d like to make honourable mentions to The Irishman and Once Upon a Time In Hollywood.
Although it’s safe to say that its biggest kicks come from its self-referential fan-service nods. Still, its ability to embellish every ominous moment with character-specific humour and the satisfyingly cohesive conclusion are both part of the success. It’s a superior piece of tentpole cinema, thanks in large part to A-game performances from the ‘OG6’ stars Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner and Mark Ruffalo.
It’s hard to dethrone the high-grossing record Marvel has achieved. However, with Joaquin Phoenix’s phenomenal acting, Joker is quite possibly the best film of 2019.
The movie is a punch in your stomach. A slap in your face. It’s disturbing, unpleasant and occasionally hard to watch. But it is undoubtedly one of the best movies I’ve ever seen.
From the beginning, Todd Phillips manipulates us as an audience. He executes every single topic and pulls every string to take you on a road where you justify the violence. You are aware of what he is doing. You know it’s wrong. And still, it’s portrayed in such an amazing way that you can’t resist it.
Everything in Joker is made to last: the photography, the music, the acting. Joaquin Phoenix has delivered the interpretation of the decade. He is Arthur Fleck. This is not about the Joker and Batman; it’s all about Arthur.
Amongst all the books I’ve read this year, G Willow Wilson’s The Bird King was my favourite. She has written Alif the Unseen (2012) and the Ms Marvel comics (2014-2019). Why should you give this one a read?
Wilson’s settings always have fantastical elements embedded in them or touching the surface; The Bird King does both. It crafts a mythic fairytale from the historical time period around the Christian re-conquest of Muslim Iberia. With the Inquisition invading Granada with a goal to convert them all to Catholics, palace concubine Fatima and her beloved friend Hassan must flee their comfortable, controlled home environment. Shapeshifter Jinn helps them along the way, as well as Hassan’s mysterious magical power, and somehow they happen to find a legendary land that may or may not even exist.
If you’re a fan of historical fiction with a touch of fantasy woven in, this book might be just right for you.
What were the best artists and tracks of 2019? Here are three of my best ones.
Jonas Brothers – Sucker
Time has passed since the Jonas Brothers rocked out in Disney Channel’s original movies, driving every pre-teen in sight crazy with their not-so-stylish style and their catchy teen pop anthems. 2019 brought the world a long-awaited reunion of the not-so-teen popstars who made a spectacular return with Sucker.
And even if you don’t love them from their teen years, you might just want to check the Jonas Brothers out now, because they’ve still got it. The music video for Sucker features their wives and girlfriends in an ode to being in love, showing much more maturity and, in a way, commitment. It’s partly putting their teenage crush personas aside to become adult men you’d want your parents to meet.
Lil Nas X and Billy Ray Cyrus – Old Town Road (Remix)
Was this song ever meant to be a serious song? It just seems like the most random song ever. Country legend Billy Ray Cyrus joined up forces with Lil Nas X to create this mix of rap and country in what is probably the weirdest song made in a long time. I still don’t quite know what to make of Old Town Road and I feel like I’m not the only one. For what it’s worth, the song crushed it in 2019, breaking records left, right and centre. Although it did end up being more recognisable as a meme than a piece of music itself.
Not a song, but an artist you should check out if you haven’t already. In an industry dominated by American and English artists, it is a tough ask to see a non-English speaking singer to even have one big hit. In 2019, Spanish singer Rosalia absolutely killed it. She has become one of the most recognisable faces in the music industry with a unique style that mixes flamenco with reggaeton, without abandoning the true Spanish sound in favour of a more marketable reggaeton.
Finally, the creme de la creme of pop culture: the memes! There have been plenty of memes this year, but I’d like to highlight the three that stood out for me.
Avenge The Fallen
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The hype for Marvel’s film Avengers: Endgame was unreal. Ever since Avengers: Infinity War came out last year, fans were desperate to find out what was going to happen to our favourite team of heroes. Thankfully, Marvel upped the anticipation with a set of very interesting posters. The posters read “Avenge The Fallen”, with the iconic heroes lost in battle being framed in black and white. This was surprisingly moving, but fans all over the globe found some dark humour in it and turned it into a hilarious meme.
Fans simply edited the Endgame posters to feature others we’ve lost. From heart-breaking on-screen deaths to beloved hit TV shows that were cancelled far too early, the meme was genuinely funny and lowkey touching.
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Matty Roberts may have suggested storming Nevada’s secretive Area 51 as a joke at first, but the Facebook event he created took on a very real life. Millions of people went to see – and save – the aliens in September. The festival took place around the date of the storming and drew crowds of thousands, transforming a random social media post into a very real gathering.
In the interim, aliens as a subject, and the idea of seeing what was within Area 51, underwent months of popularity online as people prepared for the extra-terrestrial invasion of sorts. They made good use of all kind of alien iconography and cartoons in their posts on social media – even some Naruto references. However, the real kicker was that it transcended its digital life to become a true event, proving that online culture doesn’t always have to be so far removed from reality.
“Ah shit, here we go again”
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In the end, no meme captures so fully the truism that history will repeat itself other than the “Ah shit, here we go again” GIF that circulated on social media this year. A product of 2004’s blockbuster game, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, it’s a clip that sees the main character Carl ‘CJ’ Johnson strutting through hostile territory and preparing for upcoming battle once more. If you’ve ever experienced the frustration of facing a challenge again and again, the meme is deeply relatable. That’s why it became easy for those trying to express resignation about climate change and our limited scope as mere mortals to sway fate.
And in 2019, that’s very understandable.