As we close the books on 2017, it’s time to look back on everything that happened in the pop culture world this year — the good, the bad, the weird, the absolutely terrifying. Here are The Ringer’s 2017 Culture Awards.
Scariest Six Pack: Zac Efron in Baywatch
Andrew Gruttadaro: Baywatch was all about buff dudes, bodacious babes, and … a guy who got his erection stuck in a beach chair for a really long time. And that was fine, except for the fact that Zac Efron’s abdominal muscles gave me nightmares.
It’s like Efron’s body is reversed, and the muscles are on the outside. This is the Upside Down of six packs. You can’t be friends with that thing; you can’t go to lunch with it; you probably don’t even wanna be saved from drowning by it. Efron was underratedly good in Baywatch — maybe the only part of the movie I liked — but he should go eat a hundred cheeseburgers.
The Most: The Young Pope
Michael Baumann: What have we forgotten? The Young Pope has certainly forgotten the gritty, somber realism of television’s golden age, rebuking the seriousness of Breaking Bad, Mad Men, and Game of Thrones while matching their ambition and attention to detail. Which makes sense; if you’re going to take such a gigantic, mysterious, ancient, and grand institution as the Vatican and distill it down into a one-hour TV show, maybe the best thing to do is crank up the absurdity and toss the audience into the deep end, making a show so outrageous I thought it was a joke until the moment it premiered.
I loved The Young Pope’s commitment to whimsicality, to outrageous dream sequences, kangaroos, fake moles, and having impure thoughts about the Venus of Willendorf. It’s this impulse that allowed the show to surprise and shock the audience, which you just can’t do with sex and gore in this day and age. I loved its bitchin’ soundtrack, which almost became a character in and of itself. But most of all, I loved its near-total lack of exposition: Nothing in this inscrutable and mystical setting is overexplained. Creator Paolo Sorrentino simply trusted the audience to jump in and follow along rather than wasting time holding our hands or setting up backstory and mythology. The result — that you had to pay close attention to the story — only made the story more immersive, the shocking moments more jarring, the visuals more awe-inspiring, and the displays of tender humanity more affecting. The Young Pope was unlike anything else on television because of how entirely it embraced absurdity and excess, and every day that it’s gone I miss it more.
The Best Non–Black Thought Funkmaster Flex Freestyle Award: Mysonne
Donnie Kwak: Here are 10 revelations in the wake of Black Thought’s 10-minute, internet-breaking freestyle for Funkmaster Flex:
- The freestyle-rap YouTube wormhole is an invitingly deep (and therefore dangerous) YouTube wormhole to fall into.
- Funkmaster Flex may not have the same luster he did in his prime, but his guests always bring their A-game. He’s like the MSG of #bars.
- The Black Thought freestyle is listed as no. 87 of the Flex series. After scanning most of the rest of them, I kept coming back to no. 5, featuring A Boogie and Don Q.
- Don Q absolutely murks the “Oochie Wally” beat. “Everybody can get it / Everybody’s a critic / But when you start sayin’ names, everybody’s a cricket.”
- I was all set to nominate Don Q for this award, before I realized his Flex session occurred in 2016.
- Then I stumbled upon no. 86, from November, which features Tory Lanez spitting fire over that same “Oochie Wally” beat: “Everything is off top / That’s word to my bald spot.”
- “Oochie Wally” remains one of my favorite beats of the past 15 years.
- Black Thought’s Flex freestyle is substantive and thought-provoking; Don Q and Tory Lanez favor the typical “drugs, guns, girls, money” topics. And yet I appreciate them, because ignorance is the spice of rap.
- But I’m ruling out Tory Lanez, because I think his freestyle hews a little too closely to freestyles past.
- The winner, then, is NYC veteran Mysonne, who flamed the Flex booth back in February, over Cam’ron’s “Welcome to New York City” beat. The rhymes are emotional — packing in a life story and a scathing critique of the rap game — but the delivery is steely and severe. It all ends with a heartfelt apology, repeated twice: “To the kids that I misled / I just wanna say that I’m sorry.” You deserve this W, Mysonne.
Least Jewish Movie That Is Still, Technically, a Jewish Movie: Call Me by Your Name
Alison Herman: Luca Guadagnino’s gorgeous coming-of-age romance is not a comedy, but I haven’t laughed harder in a theater this year than when I saw Call Me by Your Name’s first close-up of a Star of David nestled in Aryan vision Armie Hammer’s chest hair. Yes, I’m aware that both Hammer and his costar, Timothée Chalamet, are of Jewish descent; no, that fact doesn’t make the words “my bubbe” sound any more natural coming out of Hammer’s mouth. (Though Chalamet’s “Jews of discretion” line is extremely solid.) Beyond its leads’ appearance, however, Call Me by Your Name is a deeply un-Jewish movie in general temperament: Its story is defined by the notable absence of guilt or shame surrounding its central relationship, a breath of fresh air when it comes to gay love stories but borderline disqualifying when it comes to Jewish ones. This film revels in long, lean bodies luxuriating in the sun, enjoying their leisure time while it lasts. As a culture lover, it made my heart sing; as a member of the tribe, it made me ask if Timothée had remembered to put on some sunscreen. Mazel tov, Luca!
Boldest Move to Decide That Instantaneous Traveling Is Suddenly a Thing: Game of Thrones
Miles Surrey: Game of Thrones revels in the details of the world George R.R. Martin built, and is better for it. Back in Season 1, it took Ned Stark almost half the season to make it to King’s Landing, and along the way shit went down (RIP, Lady). Yes, as the narrative dictates, things were going to speed up a bit, but the way Thrones characters traversed Westeros in Season 7 was downright comical and revealed a writer’s room that wasn’t too worried about it.
Even the director of “Beyond the Wall,” easily the biggest culprit of lazy and illogical teleporting, admitted that there was “some effort to fudge the timeline a little bit.” (We haven’t even touched on Jon surviving frozen water in armor and Benjen Ex Machina, because I can take only so much.) What’s wild isn’t just that the creative process is a letdown, it’s that this was done with the biggest show on the planet, one built on a reputation of being hyperlogical. Were showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss just too distracted?
Most Improbably Sexy TV Character: Jughead in Riverdale
Kate Knibbs: I came to Riverdale reluctantly, suspicious that it couldn’t possibly be as good as people told me it was, and dead certain that Jughead was not as hot as my friends had claimed. His name was Jughead, and he was a canonically asexual comic book second banana. His signature look is a crown-shaped beanie. Also, Cole Sprouse, who plays Jughead, is the former child star of Disney’s The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, so I’ve always associated him with being a child. Yet within the first four episodes, I realized that Riverdale was exactly as good as I’d been told, and also that I am sexually attracted to a high-school-aged character named Jughead. He’s tall and brooding and handsome like a French dauphin. To be plain, Jughead fucks, and that’s just the way it is.
The “Movie Most Likely to Cause Face Blindness” Award: Dunkirk
Kate Halliwell: Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk was one of my favorite movies of the year, despite the fact that I found it mildly confusing for a number of reasons: the intricately layered timeline, heavy accents mixed with minimal dialogue, and, most of all, a wide cast of white boys who all looked vaguely similar. Admit it: The movie was a blur of cheekbones, cowlicks, and exceptional knitwear. For most audience members, I imagine the characters boiled down to “Old Guy on Boat,” “Bane in an Airplane,” “I Think That’s Harry Styles?,” and … everyone else. Even professional publications weren’t immune to casting confusion. Scottish actor Jack Lowden (who is beautiful and talented and deserves our love), was repeatedly confused for just about every one of his castmates, in everything from magazine spreads to video interviews.
Did... did this Dunkirk magazine spread mix up Jack Lowden and Tom Glynn-Carney? pic.twitter.com/8H1VZhlpbh— Kate Halliwell (@Kate__Halliwell) July 4, 2017
Professional publications should know better, but the average moviegoing audience never stood a chance. At least we could all sit in the theater on the edge of our seats, united in our shared anxiety and fear for the brave Englishmen depicted on screen. Whoever the hell they were.
Most Cultured: Migos
Jordan Coley: Three years ago, if you were to tell me that Migos would have a platinum-selling single with Calvin Harris, I would tell you to kindly lay off the horse tranquilizers and get out more. But in 2017, we entered a brave, new world. The three trap kings of North Atlanta broke the Pyrex ceiling and ventured into creative arenas I would never have expected and, in some cases, could never have imagined.
The year got off to a sprint for the Migos in January, when Atlanta creator Donald Glover thanked the group during the speech he gave while accepting the Golden Globe for Best Television Series — Musical or Comedy. Later that month, their acclaimed second album, Culture, debuted at no. 1 on the Billboard 200. The 30-foot heat check came in April, when the group made a guest appearance on “Bon Appétit,” the second single off Katy Perry’s unfortunate new album, Witness. That turn apparently wasn’t a hard enough left because in May the trio showed up on the red carpet of the Met Gala in matching Versace suits and became the first rap group ever to perform at the Metropolitan Museum of Arts’ star-studded annual fundraising event. 2017 will be remembered as the year Migos made the leap. In 2018, they’ll play the royal wedding.
The Power Couple We Can Believe In: J-Rod
Amanda Dobbins: It is worth acknowledging the runners-up in this category: Jenny Slate and Chris Evans, who gave us the phrase “primary colors” (to describe a person) and also demonstrated that celebrity relationships are just as confusing as real-life ones. Congratulations to them. But the True Power Couple for 2017 — the couple that made us believe in love, comebacks, and corporate synergy — is the duo known as J-Rod. Look at these Instagrams. Look at these Vanity Fair photos. Don’t you feel swept away to a happier time, when preposterously beautiful and famous people understood it is in their best interests to pair off and brag about it? Thank you to Jennifer Lopez and Alex Rodriguez for sharing the romance with the rest of us. I hope you are engaged by the time this piece runs.
Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.