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The 2017 Review: A Totally Critical Look Back

Superficially speaking, we saw the resurrection of Kesha, the retribution of Taylor Swift, and the highly divisive results of People's Sexiest Man Alive. But if you want to get real about this past year, we saw a lot of frustrating, devastating, and jaw-dropping headlines that made us all question the future of our country, our livelihoods, and the rest of the world.

However, despite the relentless shitshow that played out across all of our news feeds, the female population of the human race experienced a watershed year, providing some welcome developments and inspiration. They united en masse, marching in Washington and in countless other cities around the world. They spoke up. They refused to be silent. They made history. They regained power over their abusers. They stood up for what they believed in. They won awards. They banded together on HBO (Big Little Lies) and on ABC (hello, TGIT lineup) and for the sake of Sandra Bullock in that Ocean's 8 trailer. They also came tog…

Dealing with Double Negatives in a Negative World

"He knows it is a graceless and condescending thing to do, correcting someone’s spoken grammar. Like being at a party and criticizing someone for not being well-read enough…” 
– Nathan Hill’s The Nix 
I have a superpower.

I have only been aware of this ability until recently. However, what I perceive to be a superpower may be seen by others as an insufferable nitpick. So, it is both a blessing and a curse.

Whenever I hear a double negative, whether it’s in a song or in conversation, an alarm goes off that only I can hear. It is a blaring noise alerting me that grammar is being abused, so naturally, I find myself compelled to come to the rescue and right these wrongs.

Back in 1999, TLC’s “No Scrub” was a definitive summer jam. Back then, I bounced along to the She'kspere-produced beats, marveled at the Hype Williams-directed video, and attempted to learn Left Eye’s rap bridge. But now, if I hear it come through my car radio or through the speakers at my local supermarket (becau…

The Santa Sessions: The Ultimate Christmas Playlist

Sure, Johnny Mathis and Nat King Cole are great and all, but there are only so many times you can hear them on your easy-listening station around this time of year. That's why I present to you this big bag of yuletide goodness, 50+ songs that'll have you prancing and dancing around the house in your slippers in between sips of peppermint hot cocoa.

Merry Non-Denominational Holiday to you and your loved ones.


@TheFirstEcho

My Pop Culture Saviors of 2017

2017 was...not the best year.

Amidst all the heartbreaking headlines that bombarded our news feeds, there were moments reminding us that the world isn't a flaming, poo-covered garbage heap. And these moments were brought to us by individuals who had amazing things to offer. These are the men and women who entertained and enlightened when we so desperately needed it. They made a rough year tolerable, comforting us and demonstrating, through their artistry, how we're all going to be okay. They are more than just your standard breakouts of the year. These are my pop culture saviors.


1. Lena Waithe - She became the first African-American woman to win an Emmy for comedy writing, and she's not stopping there (her Showtime drama, The Chi, premieres in January). She first made a splash in the inaugural season of Aziz Ansari's Master of None, playing Dev's gal pal Denise, but TV historians will probably tell you that Lena Waithe officially arrived with the beautifully told …

Dream Casting the New "Death on the Nile"

Earlier this year, when the trailer for the most recent Murder on the Orient Express remake was dropped, I was hoping that someone at 20th Century Fox would have the foresight to concoct an Agatha Christie Cinematic Universe. After all, this is the world we now live in -- where every property coveted by a major studio must have the potential to be milked for all it's worth. Plus, as a former child raised by an Agatha Christie fan, I am somewhat familiar with this world, and experiencing new renditions of these titles as an adult is exciting.

And now that Kenneth Branagh's version of the Hercule Poirot mystery has been released (and raking in $150 million-and-counting worldwide), it seems like my prayers are being answered. The studio is going ahead with a "sequel" in the form of a remake of Death on the Nile, another death-filled destination about the Belgian detective taking a river cruise in Egypt and coming across another corpse and another group of suspects.

The…

Christina Aguilera's "Stripped" 15 Years Later

It was the highly anticipated album known for transforming a sugary-sweet pop princess into a feisty, cornrowed, assless chaps-wearing wild child.

Stripped, Christina Aguilera's sophomoric follow-up to her self-titled debut, was released this week in 2002. From the lead single and its grimy music video ("Dirrty" -- cue the STD jokes!) to the provocative black-and-white cover, it flaunted its ambition from the get-go. It was the then-21-year-old singer's attempt to break out from the teen pop mold that had its grip on her at the turn of the 21st century. The introductory track made the message abundantly clear: "Sorry you can't define me/ Sorry I break the mold/ Sorry that I speak my mind/ Sorry don't do what I'm told." Behold "Xtina" and her bold, new sounds!

Some critics were quick to dismiss the disc, calling it a kind of schizophrenic mess as it jumped from hip-hop-flavored dance anthems (the aforementioned single, which still gets …

Obsession of the Week: Scandroid

If you've ever fantasized about being in your own personal Blade Runner or Tron adventure, then I highly recommend listening to the supersonic sounds of Scandroid, "the modern Synthwave project from Detroit-based artist/producer Klayton Celldweller."

His first self-titled album (below) is clearly a musical love letter to 80s New Wave and includes a cover of Tears for Fears's "Shout" (at 16:04) that will tide you over until his second album, Monochrome, drops on October 27.


Also worth trying out is Scandroid's rendition of Michael Jackson's "Thriller," which would normally seem blasphemous, but this cover surprisingly works and is screaming for some rotations at Halloween parties everywhere:


Oh, and did I mention his remake of the Star Wars theme?


@TheFirstEcho

Passport Alert: I'm Going to Los Cabos

Forgive me in advance for the obnoxious travel photos and stories I will inevitably post on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter next month.

I am fortunate enough to have been invited to cover and write about the 2017 Los Cabos International Film Festival down in Mexico while staying at Secrets Puerto Los Cabos Golf and Spa Resort. I am anticipating four days of food, films, festivities, and overall decadence that will undoubtedly add a few pounds -- just in time for the holidays. Great.

Although...it would be nice to have a suntan in time for Thanksgiving...


@TheFirstEcho

ICYMI: I Was Invited to Talk About 'Roseanne' on a Podcast

Since I'm a TV junkie who's a sucker for nostalgia, I was invited to be a guest on Very Special Television, a podcast that discusses "a very special episode" of a sitcom from the 80s or 90s.

However, due to the recent trend of #MeToo on social media, I realize the sensitive topic discussed within this episode (which was recorded over a week ago) eerily aligns with recent Weinstein-stained headlines. The timing of this episode's release is odd, to say the least.

Since I was the guest, I got to choose the episode. It comes from one of my all-time favorite sitcoms, Roseanne, which dealt with abuse in a way I had never seen on television at the time. It stuck with me as a kid, and 24 years later, it still resonates and holds up as a brilliant piece of television.

Give it a listen, and if you like (despite the bad jokes at the top), subscribe to these guys on iTunes or Soundcloud:


@TheFirstEcho

Nerdgasms of the Week: Gillian Anderson in 'Crooked House' and 'The X-Files'

As I settle into old age ("old" by Los Angeles standards) there are few things that'll make me squeal like a girl being serenaded by Shawn Mendes during her sweet sixteen.

First, there's the trailer for Crooked House. It stars a bunch of veteran actors (Glenn Close, is there no scene you haven't chewed up?), but most notably, it features Gillian Anderson in a dramatic Cleopatra wig trying not to look suspicious while a hottie detective investigates a creepy family in the British countryside. Throw in the words "based on Agatha Christie's most twisted tale" and a title card that basically says, "adapted by the bloke who gave us Downton Abbey," and you have Anglophile catnip. In other words, I. AM. IN.


And then there's the return of The X-Files in which Anderson's Scully, after 25 long years, finally gets up close and personal with some extraterrestrial baddies, kicks ass, takes names, and proceeds to kick more ass -- all accompanie…

On the Mass Shooting in Las Vegas

When someone says "prayers aren't enough" during a horrific tragedy like this, please don't construe this as an attack on religion.

Of course, thinking about the victims and their families -- having that moment of sympathy -- is natural. It's human. You can certainly keep them in your thoughts, and if you refer to those thoughts as "prayers," then so be it. But then take a moment to realize that won't be enough. Because a "prayer" is a conditioned, Puritanical response that was created hundreds of years ago to deal with horror in this country.

At this point, in this nightmarish day and age, we should be smarter, more sophisticated, to know that a prayer does not hold the same weight as taking action. A prayer does not get a bill signed or a law passed. A prayer does not stop more bullets from being fired. A prayer does not create physical, tangible change for the better. (And, I realize, neither do self-indulgent online rants like this on…

#TBT: Paying Respects to Christina Aguilera's "Your Body" 5 Years Later

On September 28, 2012, Christina Aguilera dropped the video for "Your Body," the lead single from her seventh studio album, Lotus. The song would (sadly) go on to peak at number 24 on Billboard's Hot 100 chart. However, it would peak at the top spot on my iPod for several weeks during the fall of 2012, receiving heavy rotation at one particular Halloween party I DJed in Santa Monica (naturally).

The music video, however, should have given it a boost in sales. Why? May I present to you...Serial Killer Xtina!

Beautifully directed by Melina Matsoukas ("We Found Love," Insecure, "Pretty Hurts") the singer seduces three chiseled victims (one of them played by General Hospital beefcake Ryan Paevey), leading the final one to a pink motel in the desert, which looks a lot like the place where those lady wrestlers resided in Netflix's Glow. (Someone hired the same location manager!)


"Your Body" had the makings of a hit. Uberproducer Max Martin wa…

Surviving Hurricane Irma: Six Days of Fear, Family, and Farting

Sunday, September 9, 1:05 am:I'm sequestered in an elementary school classroom, trying to fall asleep on a twin-sized air mattress, but the middle-aged man who is sprawled out on an inflatable pool raft across from me keeps passing an unusual amount of gas, and his thunderous snoring suggests that he suffers from sleep apnea. If this Human Fart Machine isn't keeping me awake, there's the gaunt 97-year-old Ukrainian man in the corner who occasionally (and loudly) mumbles in a foreign tongue to his equally ancient wife who keeps shushing him. He hasn't moved from his sleeping pad all day, and I wonder if he needs to use the restroom, or perhaps he had already used his sleeping pad as a restroom. (Luckily, I don't smell anything.) I also wonder if we will wake up in the morning to find his corpse wrapped up in sheets underneath a rainbow-colored display of the alphabet and first grader fingerpaintings...

My travel luck at the beginning of September may have helped me …

HARVESTED: The 2017 Fall Playlist

With temps cooling and swimsuits drying, it's time to ease up on the summer jams (sorry, "Despacito") and settle in with some tracks that should complement the upcoming season...along with those darn Pumpkin Spice Lattes you'll be chugging in no time.

Listen up:

@TheFirstEcho

"Look What You Made Me Do," Taylor: Comment On Your New Single

When a new Taylor Swift single drops, the world pretty much stops (whether you love it or hate it). And it's a rare for a pop star nowadays to possess such power. I'll give Tay-Tay that.

So, upon giving her new single, "Look What You Made Me Do," several listens (you know, to be fair), I had several knee-jerk reactions.

But first, I feel I like need to provide some context with my assessment: I am not a diehard. With 1989, her epically successful previous album, I was actually a fan of tracks like "Style," "Out of the Woods," and "New Romantics," singles that, unfortunately, weren't as ubiquitous (read: overplayed) like the unrelenting "Shake It Off" and "Bad Blood." I appreciate some of her songwriting. She could deliver a good chorus. I could understand the passionate fandom.

However, we're entering a new era: the snake-filled social media teasers and black-and-white key art covered in newspaper headlines i…

#TBT: The Nun Who Ruined My Spelling Bee Career

Back in the sixth grade, I was an enormous bookworm.

This is not news for the few of you who witnessed my reading habits firsthand during my junior high years at Blessed Sacrament Elementary (and still do to this day). My voracious appetite for horror novels, as well as an occasional bag of Cool Ranch Doritos, was obvious.

Being a rabid reader arguably correlated with my sterling spelling skills in school. There was no spelling test on which I scored below 100%, and if you need proof, I'm sure I have some old papers buried in boxes labeled "Hiko's Old Spelling Tests On Which He Never Scored Below 100%."

Before I turned 12, Blessed Sacrament Elementary held a spelling bee for Grades 6 through 8. Each class conducted its own preliminary round, and from there, entered its top ten spellers into a schoolwide competition, which took place on the stage of our auditorium.

Up until this moment, this was the most nervous I had ever been in my Catholic school education. I sat …

VICE News in Charlottesville: The Horrifying Coverage

This is the scariest piece of television I've seen in a while -- absolutely horrifying, disgusting, infuriating, and soul-crushing.

That said, I usually try to use the right words during sensitive situations like these, but if it wasn't clear before, here it is: I hate our president.

I hate that I have to even use that word because it breeds nothing good, but it is what I'm feeling right now.

I hate that this cruelty has been exercised in his name.

I hate that his reaction to this evil is a mediocre, cowardly, and selfish attempt at being neutral.

I hate that, in less than a year, the escalation of evil in this country -- and in some parts of the world -- is undoubtedly a direct correlation to his rise in power. (It all trickles down from The Top.)

I hate that my friends in other cities will have to brace themselves for similar acts of evil planned for this weekend.

But I don't want this hate I'm feeling to inform what I do next. And at least I can take comfort in…

Sorry, "Despacito," THIS is My Summer Jam

The music video for Jax Jones's "Instruction" (featuring Demi Lovato and Stefflon Don) dropped a week ago, and finally, I have some visual evidence to support my argument for the Summer Song of 2017.

The 30-year-old English DJ enlisted the "Sorry Not Sorry" singer for this reggaeton-infused, cardio-friendly single, which is sadly only burning up the UK and being delayed to officially make a splash on our American summer charts. Get with it, people.

@TheFirstEcho

This is Charlottesville, VA in 2017 -- Not 1957

Today in WTF is Going on in America?: This story right here. And here.

And in response, @JuliusGoat had some words to say on Twitter this morning:

“Imagine if these people ever faced actual oppression. Nobody is trying to legislate away their right to marry. Nobody is trying to make them buy insurance to pay for 'male health care.' Nobody enslaved their great-grandparents. Robbed their grandparents. Imprisoned their parents. Shot them when unarmed. There is no massive effort at the state and local level to disenfranchise them of the vote. There is no history of centuries of bad science devoted to 'proving' their intellectual inferiority. There is no travel ban on them because of their religion. There is no danger for them when they carry dangerous weaponry publicly. Their churches were never burned. Their lawns never decorated with burning crosses. Their ancestors never hung from trees. Their mothers aren't being torn away by ICE troopers and sent away forever. They wo…