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Screw Resolutions: 14 Things To Do In 2014

These ain't no stinkin' resolutions. The following is simply a list of things I wish to do in the new year, little things to be mindful of while I navigate these sometimes treacherous waters we call social media...and that thing I call a life. Let's see what I'm capable of in 2014, shall we?

1. Stop using "Um" to start my status updates and tweets.

2. Resist the urge to call TVLand "the network where former sitcom stars go to die."

3. Say the word "love" more often. To people. To their faces.

4. Invest in a pair of Rockports. Something like these. With light blue laces.

5. Unsubscribe to e-newsletters that continuously flood my inbox.

6. Send publishers that book treatment I've been delaying.

7. Flirt more.

8. Get around to reading this.

9. Get my passport stamped again.

10. Continue to say "no," and be okay with it.

11. Finish The Fall on Netflix.

12. Practice more empathy.

13. Make more lists.

14. Continue to let go.

May 2…


Remembering Ned Vizzini (1981-2013)

Back in 2007 I had the privilege of meeting Ned Vizzini in an apartment in Hollywood while celebrating a mutual friend's birthday. Coincidentally, I had finished reading his novel, Be More Chill, several months prior and had fallen in love with his writing. The novel, an Entertainment Weekly Top 10 Book of 2004, is about a high school loser who takes a pill to make himself cool and popular. It was one of the best pieces of fiction I had read in a while, and I had been thrilled by the circumstances that allowed us to cross paths. Rarely does one get a chance to meet - and befriend - someone whose work you enjoy and admire.

From then on, Ned became a "writer friend," one of those acquaintances I'd meet up for coffee every once in a while. I was always inspired after our conversations, hearing about his latest projects and sharing what we were enjoying at the time (and sure, I had some writer envy). And then there were birthday and holiday gatherings throughout the yea…


Porn for Bibliophiles: "S" by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst

Christmas came a little early when I received a copy of S, an ambitious mystery novel from the mind of J.J. Abrams and novelist Doug Dorst.

The concept: It's a book within a book. The Ship of Theseus is the "book" written by a mysterious "author" named V.M. Straka, and inside its pages are the corresponding scrawlings of a college senior named Jennifer and a "disgraced grad student" named Eric who try solve a much bigger mystery made manifest in a collection of letters, postcards, and newspaper clippings stuffed inside the 400+page book.

It's basically porn for bibliophiles like myself.

The hardcover itself is ingeniously designed to look like a used, vintage copy from a library (checkout dates are stamped on the back cover, and the spine is categorically labeled). A lot of thought apparently went into this meta-story, and I wouldn't be surprised if a movie adaptation is being developed as I write this (of course, it'll have to reach some…


Dear Universe: A Message From Me to You

During this season of giving and reflection I just wanted to say thanks again for making my 2013 pretty uncrappy.

Keep it up.

Much love,
H.


Lady Gaga and Christina Aguilera: Pop Diva History in the Making?

Last night's magical moment during the anticipated Christina Aguilera-Lady Gaga duet on The Voice arrived at the 2:34 mark when Mother Monster and Xtina grabbed each other's hand in a gesture of solidarity, obliterating all of the rumors that stained the blogosphere, pitting both superstars against each other in she said/she said bitchery. Needless to say, I was experiencing severe Whitney-Mariah flashbacks to 1998 when both singers performed "When You Believe" at the Academy Awards.

Sure, the whole thing could've been an ingenious PR move from both sides, but you have to hand it to Aguilera for sending out the message -- after the awesome performance -- that female artists need to stand together, continue to support each other, and leave all the diva rivalry bullshit behind.

Behold:


@TheFirstEcho


BLOG OF THE YEAR: The 2013 Review

First of all, thank you for consciously clicking on the link that took you to this post. It means a lot. Really, it does. It gives me warm fuzzies of validation inside. You've taken the time from your busy Facebook/Twitter feeds to see what this 2013 Review is all about, and I appreciate it.

If you're new to these parts, welcome. And if you're a First Echo regular, then welcome back; you probably know what you're in for -- a whole lotta critique and commentary on the portions of popular culture that pinged on my packed radar this year. I've got a list of items as long as Miley Cyrus's tongue.

In a year full of royal babies, upsetting trials (George Zimmerman), WTF celebrity deaths (Cory, Paul, et al), and viral sensations (enough with the Harlem Shake), there was plenty to talk about. 2013 didn't fail to supply the goods. For every Buzzfeed list celebrating the nuanced facial gestures of pop artists, there was an inspiring, faith-restoring clip on Upworthy…


Cornucopia IV: The 2013 Fall Playlist, Vol. 4

It's the final playlist of the year, and before you go out and get sloshed at another family/office holiday gathering, open your ears and ride out 2013 with these tunes I've curated for your aural pleasure.

And yes, I will openly admit that Ricky Martin is included on this playlist as well as a dance jam that's been out for a while now (apologies for the delay). What else? I kick off with Gaga's best track from ARTPOP, followed by a One Direction single that actually doesn't suck. And when you get to Tegan and Sara, feel free to blare it at the gym while you burn off those Christmas cookies.

1. "Gyspy" by Lady Gaga
2. "Satellites" by Cash Cash
3. "Story of My Life" by One Direction
4. "International Smile" by Katy Perry:



5. "On The Radio" by The Saturdays
6. "Hard Out There" by Lily Allen
7. "Soldier" by Samantha Jade
8. "Shudder to Think" by Tegan and Sara
9. "Over Your Shoulder&…


Wow. The American Music Awards Had Some Pretty Offensive Categories in 1985

The title of this YouTube clip may be "Madonna Live from The American Music Awards, Los Angeles 1985" -- and sure, it's great to see the Material Girl in all of her pre-Gaga glory -- but the following might as well be called "Look How Racially Insensitive The AMAs Were 28 Years Ago."

Really? Was there no other way to describe a genre of music that was inherently pop?

The first category is mentioned at the :20 mark. Then again at :43. And then the nominees in another similarly named category get announced at 3:15. Just watch...and gape in disbelief:


And sure, you may also find Purple Rain beating out Thriller just as offensive.

@TheFirstEcho


13 Things You Probably Didn't Know About 'The Golden Girls'

When one nostalgically binges on all seven seasons of The Golden Girls like me (I swear I have a life), you pick up on a few things. Certain patterns appear as you continuously witness the consumption of countless cheesecakes inside a fictitious Miami kitchen and hear one St. Olaf story too many.

Here's what I noticed after playing my DVDs of this 80s classic over the past several months (and if you're already familiar with the following factoids, excuse me for underestimating your fanaticism)...

1. Actor Harold Gould, who played Rose's long-term boyfriend Miles Webber from Season 5 to Season 7 (and throughout most of the short-lived spinoff, The Golden Palace), also appears in the first season as Arnie Peterson, Rose's first serious beau after her husband's death.

2. The same can be said for Sid Melton, who played Sophia's deceased husband Sal (in flashbacks and dream sequences). He also appears in a Season 6 episode as a jester in a medieval-themed restauran…


Cornucopia III: The 2013 Fall Playlist, Vol. 3

Tis the season to binge on everything from turkey and stuffing...to those episodes of American Horror Story: Coven I've missed thus far.

Sure, binge eating and viewing is all the craze right now, but what about binge listening? There's a gourd-load of tunes out there right now racking up gigabytes on my hard drive, and my iPod is about to burst. Just how many? Enough to quickly follow this up with a Volume 4 (stay tuned).

1. "Do What U Want" by Lady Gaga feat. R. Kelly
2. "Somebody Loves You" by Betty Who
3. "We Remain" by Christina Aguilera
4. "Love Me Again" by John Newman
5. "Wild Child" by Adrian Lux & Marc Schossow feat. JJ
6. "Feel Good" by Robin Thicke
7. "Sleepwalker" by Bonnie McKee
8. "Walking On Air" by Katy Perry
9. "Don't Wanna Dance Alone" by Fifth Harmony
10. "Satellites" by Cash Cash:



11. "Meant To Be" by TLC
12. "Bones" by MS MR
13.…


'Jagged Little Pill' Becomes a Musical? Welcome Back, 1995.

Hearing about Alanis Morissette's seminal Jagged Little Pill being turned into a Broadway musical was like receiving news that my best friend had built a time machine for us to travel back to 1995 and relive all of our best moments.

How did I not know about this sooner? Why did I have to learn about it through NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast one week after the initial press release? And why do I have no shame in admitting that I subscribe to an NPR podcast?

The Nostalgia Machine revved up once again as I started to search the web for articles on this exciting development. I immediately started flashing back to that fateful day at Iona Preparatory when I borrowed this CD from a friend in Religion class in between "scripture lessons" (the class was more like a free period overseen by a priest who had no problem telling jocks to "quit the bullshit" if they acted up -- ah, Catholic school).

Up until then, my knowledge of this then-angry 21-year-old Canadi…


13 Things I'm Thankful For in 2013

As we brace ourselves for another smorgasbord of holiday calories, let’s look back at what I thoroughly appreciated this year (2013, where did you fly off to?). Here are the people, places, and things I couldn’t – and still can’t – get enough of. And I am utterly grateful for them.
1. Henry Cavill – We could thank Zack Snyder and Christopher Nolan for making this slice of British hotness slip into that Superman suit in Man of Steel, but we’re ultimately grateful for Cavill’s gravitas, smoldering performance…and the pause button on our Blu-ray players.
2. Jenji Kohan – The woman behind the brilliant ‘Weeds’ is also responsible for giving us one of the best TV shows of the year: Orange Is The New Black. It’s undeniably a game-changer, loaded with multiple storylines and a stellar ensemble overseen by one great showrunner (and I had no idea what the woman looked like until I Google imaged her -- she looks like fun).
3. Trader Joe’s Cookie Butter – There’s a new vice on the shelves at on…


Let Kelly Clarkson Help You Survive Black Friday

Come November 29, I shall join the millions of crazed Americans as they storm the stores at midnight after Thanksgiving, ready to cut any bitch who gets in between them and the last available purple twerking bear in the toy aisle at Target.

I've made it a tradition to go out to my neighborhood superstores to see what's being snatched off the shelves in the wee hours of the morning. I prefer to go alone so that I can zip through the lines of shopping carts (and strollers) and make my experience as painless as possible.

And helping me this year will be Kelly Clarkson. I'll be blaring her new single from Wrapped in Red in order to brighten my spirits and pump me up for some holiday cheer -- just as long as no one steals my parking space at the mall.

Enjoy the retro-sounding jingle that's sure to be a classic...and give Mariah Carey's 19-year-old "All I Want For Christmas Is You" a run for its money.


@TheFirstEcho


'Gypsy' Is Easily Lady Gaga's Best Track from 'ARTPOP'

This past weekend was certainly a "pop emergency" for Mother Monster as her fourth studio album, the highly anticipated ARTPOP, leaked all over the interwebs (like that can of green paint that spilled all over the hatchback of my Prius three years ago). The culprit? According to Gaga's angry tweets, it was those sneaky pirates in...Japan.

While the album is the supersonic pop experience we all expected, there's one track that shines bright and stands out: "Gypsy." Starting out as what sounds like a piano ballad with some beautifully evocative lyrics, the song soars into an anthemic chorus custom-made for dance floors around the globe: "I don't wanna be alone forever, but I can be tonight..."

The title refers to the lifestyle the pop icon has adopted, hopping from country to country, longing to have someone accompany her on her lonely journey. It even includes a background chant that lists all of the places she's visited (places like Malay…


What L.A. Gives Trick-or-Treaters on Halloween


That Time Guillermo Diaz from 'Scandal' Made Me Blush

I happened to dig up this video clip from last year's Comic Con, and to my surprise, it featured a brief interview with one of the stars of ABC's Scandal while I was working the red carpet at a Walking Dead party.

Back then, I knew nothing of the show. I had yet to nurture my obsession with Olivia Pope & Associates. Now, in hindsight, I'm enjoying this delayed nerdgasm.

*The blushing part comes at the :28 mark.


@TheFirstEcho


Pop Culture Rant of the Week: Witch is the New Vamp

Nothing is sacred.

Those three words couldn't be any truer the longer one lives and works in the pop-culture-regurgitating machine that is Hollywood. Why? Well...

After celebrating the 20th anniversary of Hocus Pocus two weeks ago with a bowl of popcorn in bed on a Friday night, I have now learned that Disney is toying with the idea of a sequel. Teenagers of the 90s, proceed to geek out.

Then there's the Charmed reboot over at CBS. Because no one remembers a long-running show that ended, oh, seven frickin' years ago. Alyssa Milano, you have every right to be pissed.

Meanwhile, Lifetime's Witches of East End seems to be enjoying its premiere season, and FX's American Horror Story: Coven is proving to be one hell of a ride (two words: Minotaur sex).

Poor ABC. They must be kicking themselves for prematurely canceling Eastwick a couple of seasons ago.

@TheFirstEcho


'The Midnight Hour': A Forgotten 80s Halloween Classic

The Midnight Hour debuted on ABC in 1985, but it wasn't until a few years later when I caught a rerun of it on cable (actually, on Lifetime, when the "television for women" network was known for repeating Reagan era TV movies). And since then, it became one of those vaguely remembered pieces of pop culture I was intrigued by.

The plot was simple: Teens unleash evil spirits on their small town on Halloween night, and the crap. Hits. The. Fan.

The campiness was so good that, if it were a pint of Haagen Dazs, it would be devoured it in one spoonful. Dick Van Patten as a dentist-turned-demon? Shari Belafonte as a vamp? Peter DeLuise as an undead jock? Pure 80s bliss. And let's not forget a pre-TNG LeVar Burton as Vinnie, one of the luckless pranksters who meets his demise in a foggy cemetery -- right before the unforgettably awesome choreographedzombie dance number.

Thank the YouTube gods for making this available to rewatch. I know what I'm doing before going to bed…


This is Why 'Entertainment Weekly' is My Bible

It's like we're on the same cycle or something, reading each other's minds, sharing the same pop cultural priorities.

Thank you, EW staff, for this glorious issue. Mulder and Scully never looked hotter.

@TheFirstEcho


VH1's TLC Biopic is EVERYTHING

I will obviously be clearing my schedule when CrazySexyCool: The TLC Story premieres on VH1 next Monday.

Why? Um...because it looks like a sensationalistic piece of comfort TV that I will consume with relish.

And thanks to the recently released "supertrailer," my excitement has tripled in intensity. Where in God's name did they find that Clive Davis doppelganger (at the 1:20 mark)? Brilliant.

Thank you, cable gods, for enabling my addiction to riding the 90s Nostalgia train for all its worth. Feel free to produce The Ace of Base Chronicles or The Real Real McCoy Story. I will gladly serve as a consultant if need be.

TLC's CrazySexyCool is one of the definitive albums of the 1990s and one of the first CDs I had purchased with my own money (shout out to Nobody Beats The Wiz on Central Avenue in Yonkers!). Everything about it brings me back to high school (the dances, the Discman sessions on the bus rides home), and I cannot wait to relive every flannel-shirt-and-baggy…


The Music Video for Bastille's 'Of The Night' is a Marvelously Morbid Piece of Musical Noir

Back in March, I was all about Bastille's "Of The Night," an eerily effective mash-up/cover of the 90s dance classics "Rhythm is a Dancer" and "Rhythm of the Night" (by Snap! and Corona, respectively).

And now, nearly half a year later, we have been blessed with one hell of a music video. It's dark, it's gritty, and it perfectly complements the slightly sinister sensibility and melancholy of the song.

The video, beautifully directed by Dave Ma, is like a more cinematic episode of Law & Order in which a veteran police detective drives from crime scene to crime scene, envisioning the bodies of victims singing to him in unison. It's musical noir!

Sure, it's creepy and sad, but it works...and spits in the faces of all the overly glossed pop vids currently clogging up the YouTube channels.



@TheFirstEcho


My Trip to Peru: A Case of Vacation Photo Revenge

For years now, I have endured dozens and dozens of Facebook posts from friends who are more than happy to share photos from their fabulous vacations, "business trips," or getaway weekends. You know the kind -- those snapshots of the picture taker's legs with a pool in the background...or that hot couple showing off their Speedos off the coast of Mykonos.

Well, it's about time I jump on that bandwagon and serve up some jealousy-inducing pics from my recent 10-day excursion in Peru...



Of course there's more where these came from. And I wouldn't know where to begin in describing one of the most amazing experiences of my life. (Alpaca for dinner! Hiking over salt flats! Being serenaded by a shaman!) It will all be chronicled in a future travel feature or two. 
Stay tuned.
@TheFirstEcho


Sean Lew: Future 'SYTYCD' Champion?

Hot damn.

The fact that this future SYTYCD contestant was born the year I graduated college doesn't bother me. Not in the least bit. Because he is awesome. And he is clearly at the top of his dance class.

Watch this kid serve. Hard.

*The moms of those other kids must be piiiiised.



I'm guessing Mother Monster herself will catch wind of this viral video and eventually invite him on stage during her next tour. What do you think?

@TheFirstEcho


Joseph Gordon-Levitt Is Awesome. Simple As That.

The more skits I see from Late Night with Jimmy Fallon the better I feel about the SNL veteran taking over The Tonight Show and kicking Jay Leno to the curb in 2014.

And this is one of those reasons why I feel like late-night is finally experiencing a much-needed rejuvenation: a lip sync-off with Joseph Gordon-Levitt (obviously promoting his directorial debut, Don Jon) and Stephen Merchant, the tall, gangly Brit who can pull off a mean Will Smith interpretation.

Just skip to 3:15 to witness some lip syncing realness and then 8:05 for some Nicki Minaj epicness.


@TheFirstEcho


Passport to Peru: The 2013 Fall Playlist, Vol. 2

This next batch of songs has the fortune of being a part of my South American soundtrack when I journey down to Peru tomorrow.

I couldn't ask for a better collection of delightful earworms that will provide some much-needed entertainment on 8-hour flights, excursions through Machu Picchu, and late nights in Lima. Ears up, kids...

1. "High Society" by Betty Who - I'm kicking off things with the Australian chick who provided the song in that Home Depot marriage proposal that went viral earlier this month. Sure, "Somebody Loves You" is a great roller disco anthem from the 80s, but it's this catchier, sparkling gem that has made me an obsessed fan of the indie pop tart. It's perfect for any run-away-and-forget-your-problems scenario. Play it. Then repeat. And repeat again:


2. "Heart Out" by The 1975 - The 80s continue to make a comeback in this British alt-rock-pop ditty from a group that deserves some of your recognition. Press play over HER…


Henry Cavill Visits 'Sesame Street' (and Stay-At-Home Moms Everywhere Swoon)

Sorry, I wasn't listening to a damn thing Elmo and those puppets were saying because...well...


@TheFirstEcho