We’re closing out the first week of our best of the 2010s coverage with a question from web producer Baraka Kaseko:
What is your favorite pop culture memory of the decade?
In the very early morning of December 13, 2013, I randomly recalled a song that I wanted to download for a road trip. Knowing that I would likely forget if I didn’t act quickly, I launched my iTunes app and sleepily searched for a tune that is now a distant memory. Suddenly, the app shuttered—a common glitch with my crappy phone—and when I relaunched it, the entire interface was freshly plastered with Beyonce’s face and pink lettering against a black backdrop. She had released a brand new, self-titled album with a music video for each track. No marketing, no prior validation, zero warning, just the confidence that the world would lose its collective mind. I’m still blown away by how distinctly powerful a move that was.
Maybe it’s recency bias, but I don’t remember anything that made me freak out like a big nerd more than Captain America summoning Thor’s hammer in Avengers: Endgame. It’s a payoff to a gag in Age Of Ultron, where the rules of who can lift Mjolnir are discussed at a party, but the fact that the significance of it wasn’t really explained in Endgame means that it was also a gift to the MCU fans who remember Chris Evans in that CG body talking about bullies and Thor losing his hammer back in 2011. Plus, it was just so rad.
I was wary of Mad Max: Fury Road when I first learned George Miller planned on revisiting his most important series of movies in twenty years. Road Warrior was such a perfect, foundational archetype of the post-apocalypse movie, and the 2000s had such a bad record with listless reboots, that even Miller’s total involvement in the project could shake my feeling it just wasn’t a great idea. Lord, was I ever wrong. When the first trailer dropped with the lurid, operatic notes of “Dies Irae” punctuating every bombastic explosion and grimace, my heart, Grinch-like grew three sizes. And somehow, the movie managed to surpass even my very new, very high expectations. There are so many ways the film could have gone sour—from a muddled vision or external meddling—that part of the joy of watching it is seeing how it steers, seemingly effortlessly, through the flaming wreckage of roadblocks that could have stopped the film short. Whether we want to or not, the years tend to calcify us and bury us under layers of distance from things that used to ignite immediate pleasure. Watching Fury Road in the theater managed to capture that intense, electric thrill of youth, while still showing me something wholly new.
I’ve probably written about as much about virtual reality as any single person should—including longish ruminations on whether I, myself, am a sap for loving these digital spaces and clunky, expensive headsets as much as I do. And yet, I still remember the giddy thrill the first time I slipped an HTC Vive headset over my eyes in a Portland-area VR arcade (now defunct), and felt the world suddenly disappear, and a new one blink in. Even with the massive improvements the hardware has seen over the last 10 years or so, VR is still glitchy, cumbersome, and incapable of backing up the illusion it’s selling you in full. And yet, the sense of slipping into another world, of being on the edge of something new, was, and remains, exhilarating. As I fired arrows from nonexistent bows, slashed at virtual bad guys, stacked up purely fictional blocks, I couldn’t keep the childish laughter in my chest from bubbling up out of me. I love novelty, the sense of doing something I’ve truly never done before. My first VR experience was transformative and transportational, and I can’t wait to see where the field goes in the next 10 years.
Thanks to screener privilege and the overwhelming amount of TV, I rarely watch anything live anymore. But from 2005 to 2014, I tried to be in front of my TV, four nights a week, the moment that The Colbert Report began. I’d followed Stephen Colbert’s career from Strangers With Candy to The Daily Show to his very own pundit parody show, so you can imagine how thrilled I was to attend a live taping of the Colbert Report in March 2013. I traveled with my sister to New York, stood in line for a few hours before we were ushered into an antechamber; I was slightly delirious from a fever all the while but hellbent on getting a good seat. A stand-up comedian warmed up the crowd and encourage us to be boisterous because “Stephen feeds off that energy” during the taping. He also said that Colbert would do a quick Q&A first, and that we should ask him something we were sure he’d never been asked before. I blame the fever, sort of, for what happened next. Colbert ran out on the stage and asked us to hit him with some questions. My hand shot up, and I found myself babbling about Jimmy Fallon doing the Polar Plunge at (former) mayor Rahm Emmanuel’s goading. I then asked Colbert if he’d do the Naked Bike Ride in Chicago if invited by the mayor. We joked back and forth about the… specifics of riding a bicycle while naked, then the taping began. And in the midst of a segment on “Women’s Herstory Monthstration,” Colbert ad-libbed a bit about the Naked Bike Ride, which elicited a huge cheer from the crowd—not because we’re perverts, but because it was a callback to all of 30 minutes ago, when we were all just a bunch of strangers in a studio.
My wife and I spent two lovely, profound weeks in Japan a few years ago, wandering the streets and shrines of Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, and Takayama while eating and drinking everything in sight. There were innumerable highlights—wrestling, cat cafes, and La Jetee, among them—but the most magical happened late one night in the Tokyo district of Kōenji, where we stumbled into a very, very tiny record store/bar where a young jazz trio (with their own projection artist!) was about to start playing. Considering we’d have had to walk through the band to leave, we decided to buckle in with the six other people in attendance, all of whom appeared to be diehard fans. We still don’t know the name of the group—their English was as limited as our Japanese—but the buoyant, joyous set was unforgettable. The best kind of surprise.
This is not as heartwarming a story as some of my colleagues’, but there’s one video I’ve watched more than any other clip this decade: Tom Holland performing Rihanna’s “Umbrella” on Lip Sync Battle in 2017. I’m a total musical lover, and here the current Spider-Man gets a chance to show off his Billy Elliot-honed dancing skills, kicking off with a version of Gene Kelly’s “Singing In The Rain” before transforming into some kind of performance turbo force in “Umbrella.” It’s just so unexpected: Under an indoor rain shower, he treats gravity like it’s not even there, balances his entire self on one arm, and ends by flipping his entire body into the air to land flat on his back. LL Cool J and Zendaya can’t believe it, and neither can I, no matter how many times I watch it.
I must have watched Kristen Wiig’s farewell from Saturday Night Live about 50 times when it aired in 2012. At the end of her final episode and seven years as a cast member, while Arcade Fire sings “She’s A Rainbow,” Wiig takes a turn dancing with her fellow performers, one after the next. Host Mick Jagger twirls her. The other female cast members surround her and give her a kiss. With each admiring peer, she gets a little more emotional. It’s Bill Hader who pushes me over the edge. No special move, no goofy dance—he just takes her in his arms, she buries her face in his shoulder, and he sad-smiles like he’s watching the woman he loves marry another man. She folds her lips together to keep from crying. Jason Sudeikis looks absolutely wrecked after his turn. I’m convinced every single one of them was in love with her. The whole thing is honestly beautiful, more so because such sendoffs on SNL are rare. But given how singular and memorable of a performer Wiig was, it was the perfect occasion for the show to break character.