Song of the Year: Never Going Back

“So there it is. The beauty and the bullshit. A slow crawl out of hell. Through mud, blood, and tears. I’ve earned every stripe. Every stitch and every bruise. Yeah, I’ve got regrets and plenty of things I’d change. Well, fuck it. C’est la vie. It’s all part of the mix. So eyes, heart, and soul forward. I’m never going back. I’m never going back to those days…”Birds of Tokyo, “Never Going Back”

2020. What can I say that hasn’t already been said? It was universally a bad year full of loss, isolation, and discord that most of us would probably rather forget but never will. So many crazy things were crammed into one year that we probably won’t remember everything 10 months, let alone 10 years, from now. (Who has already forgotten the murder hornets? The Australian fires? The Wayfair conspiracy? It’s been 84 years since those happened!)

For all the bad of 2020, there was some great music released. I have always loved to seek out new music, so I always listen to music friends share, frequently get into music heard on TV/movies, and basically have no fewer than 20 songs on my Recently Added smart playlist of songs added in the last 2 weeks on iTunes at a given time. (I’m old school and usually only use Spotify to check out music I think I might like and prefer to have songs for myself without streaming.) I even got into a band – Night Traveler – after hearing a tiny snippet of a song on YouTube on an indie channel after listening to another song. I couldn’t say how many songs I added this year, but considering I had over 300 songs on my Recently Added playlist at one point, it’s safe to say it’s a lot! (Current iTunes song count: 11,562. Let’s see how many it is in a year!) I have many more to add, but I just haven’t had the time in a while to sit down and go through my long list of songs on Shazam. I haven’t even had time to write on this blog in the last year and am posting this on the first day of 2021, so it’s actually pretty impressive I added as many as I did, and it was still a fairly slow year for me.

With so much good music, I somewhat struggled to decide on a Song of the Year for this impossible year. A lot of the music I’ve loved the most couldn’t be The One because they were either not from this year (James Bay) or the artists had already been featured in a previous year (Tommy Ashby). My own rules stipulate that artists can’t be repeated (mainly to stop myself from just repeating the same artists – I’m looking at you, Luke Sital-Singh – year after year), and the song has to be from the same year. Last year’s song “Apollo (New Love)” was the pretty obvious choice early on just by the number of listens it got. This year, I couldn’t really decide on a final song until about a week ago, and I’ve questioned myself for a few days after this song sneaked up on me as an option. Part of this was because there weren’t a lot of songs I really fell in love with (totally different feeling than just loving a song) that were actually from 2020 or were by an artist who I hadn’t already used before.

Another reason is that even though songs like Ben Folds’ “2020” may be great, my Song of the Year has never been about songs that detail the year they’re from or are even the “best” song but rather the ones that have some sort of personal meaning to me or that were in regular rotation, i.e. made it to my Every Day Songs playlist of songs I listen to every day. I didn’t want something that shouted, “What a terrible year this has been!” and have never cared what everyone else thinks is the best. There were also a lot that were single songs by an artist, and I haven’t listened to the rest of their music yet, but I think with a lot of the songs I’ve had as a Song of the Year, I was actually into the artist and not just one of their songs. There are definitely a lot of artists I want to hear more of when I have more time! Therefore, the song I chose fits all the boxes: A song released in 2020 that means something to me and by a band I love.

Before I get on with it, some honourable mentions: “Dive” by Birds of Tokyo, “Contact” by Jordan Fisher, “I Still Love You” and “Ocean Cabin” by Night Traveler (If a couple of their other songs had been from 2020, there’s a chance they would have had the Song of the Year), and  “On the Floor” by Perfume Genius. 

Trying to choose my Song of the Year (Via NBC)

Even though I listen to a wide range of music, both popular and not, I think I’m more often known for my love of music that doesn’t chart everywhere and that my friends probably wouldn’t have heard of it I hadn’t forced it on them. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that Birds of Tokyo, the artist of this year’s song, are probably not known to many non-Aussies in my circle, unless I’ve gotten them into the Australian band myself. I first heard Birds of Tokyo in late December 2014 when “Lanterns” was on the Jim Jefferies show Legit and fell in love with it and with them. The album it was on, March Fires, became one of my favourite albums I heard in 2015. I didn’t know at the time how monumental that song and album would be in 2015 or how much I would grow to absolutely love Birds of Tokyo. I remember when I moved to a country I’d never been in Asia in early 2015, and I listened to “Lanterns” on my way to the airport because of the verse “Lately I’ve found, when I start to think aloud, there’s a longing in the sound. There is more I could be. In darkness I leave for a place I’ve never seen. It’s been calling out to me. That is where I should be.” It was where I should be, and that was the anthem that kicked off the best year of my life. Their music has remained a staple since 2015, although my favourite song of theirs is actually “I’d Go With You Anywhere” because I’m a sucker for strings in alternative music, and the whole song just flows so beautifully.

Considering I have listened to Birds of Tokyo on a frequent basis for the last 5 years, I was pretty ecstatic to learn in April that they had released a new album called Human Design one day before I found out. Their previous album, 2016’s Brace, admittedly took some time to grow on me, but I loved Human Design almost instantly. The timing of its release was perfect with the pandemic, and although several songs sound like they could have been to inspire people during these crazy times, they would have been written before. I still prefer March Fires above their other albums, but Human Design is a great album in its own right. It seems to be a much more personal album than some of their previous work with themes of family, relationships, mental health, and regret. Essentially, it’s just about being human and experiencing all that life throws at us as humans. It comes off as vulnerable and relatable on a universal level, and it takes us on an emotional journey with them. Their music has always had some anthems, and Human Design is no exception, but some of the songs are moving and powerful in a different way than some of their previous work because of their vulnerability, and they are more about coming out of the dark.

As I listened to Human Design repeatedly for a bit, there were two songs that actually did end up on my Every Day Songs playlist, as a number of Birds of Tokyo songs have in the past. “Dive” had a sweet music video showing everyone connected by heart when they couldn’t be together because of the pandemic. With lines like, “I would dive for you into darkest blue,” it is just a beautiful song about being there for someone who is struggling without being too cheesy. Lead singer Ian Kenny (who some may know from Karnivool) often looks directly in the camera as he sings, as he tends to do in other songs, making it feel like he is singing to you and that we really are all connected. The song immediately following it on the album, “When Home Calls,” is an equally sweet song about missing someone, something we can all relate to. Both of these songs were given consideration for my Song of the Year because I listened to them so much, and they were the only ones added to the coveted Every Day Songs playlist (Very few actually make it to the playlist that has 441 songs after 13 years, many of which were added in the first year!) that were actually from 2020 and not by artists who had already been featured.

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Although I love the ones mentioned above, they didn’t really feel as appropriate for Song of the Year as the closing track on Human Design. “Never Going Back” felt more me for where I was in my life in 2020. In 2019, I made a dream come true by moving to London. For the most part, it has lived up to expectations, and I never want to move back to the country where I grew up. I am still in love with London, and in the almost 2 years that I’ve lived here, I’ve gotten to go so many places and do so many interesting things since I moved here. (A Buffy the Vampire Slayer “Once More, With Feeling” live musical performed by a bunch of famous British comedians springs to mind.) Not everything has been great, though. I am lucky/unlucky to be an essential worker on a visa, so I was never laid off or furloughed. My job is physically and emotionally draining and demanding with many sleepless nights at the best of times, but I had a particularly difficult, chaotic year at work. It actually got so bad that at one point not long ago, I cried for days and pretty much had a breakdown. I even considered leaving it all behind, effectively destroying my own dream and plans, and running away to another country to figure out something else to do entirely.

But I didn’t. I’ve stayed and fought it out and reminded myself that there are always other options and that even though I have had some of the worst times of my life in the UK, I have also had some of the best. I think this experience is why “Never Going Back” spoke to me the way it did when it did. It was always one of my favourites on this album, but I don’t think I fully appreciated it as much until I needed it.

In my time, I’ve seen all things. Some that made me. And some broke me, too. Through the bullshit and the beauty, sometimes changes leave marks on you. If I’m being honest, there’s no promise that all things turn the way you want them to. And the best part is the pain and heartache will teach you how to find a way through.

Like the other songs on the album, I think that “Never Going Back” is relatable. It is about being lost in life and knowing you’re not feeling right, needing something new but not knowing how to get there. At the same time, it tells that that’s okay. Toxic positivity is a real thing, and sometimes we need to just sit with the bad for a bit, instead of trying to ignore it or pretend everything’s fine as the world is (literally) burning around us. and It’s about understanding that things don’t always work out like we want or plan. At the same time, “Never Going Back” recognises that even if things aren’t okay now, it’s important to learn to accept things as they are sometimes and move forward, never backwards. I’ve always said that I don’t believe in regrets, and even though there is a line about having ‘regrets and plenty of things I’d change,’ this remains true. I can’t believe in regrets because that would prevent me from overcoming the bad and going forward. As cliché as it is, everything really does happen for a reason, and we have to learn from it. I could have gone back to my country that never really felt like home, but that would be going back in life, too. Who wants to do that? I’m all about growth and moving forward, and that’s what “Never Going Back” represents to me.

Musically, “Never Going Back” is the perfect song to end the album. It feels more like classic (to me) Birds of Tokyo than some of the other songs, as much as I like those, too. Like strings, rock songs with keys have a special place in my heart (hence my love of Andrew McMahon‘s music I’ve written about before), and the instruments are beautifully layered throughout. These instruments gradually build momentum with a rise and fall that truly makes the song. Once the drums really kick in, there’s an intensity that makes this song the one to be remembered because it perfectly encapsulates the rest of the album. The quick change in the bridge – the lyrics in the very first part of this post – with it being spoken before the climax lends to it not becoming a stale, ordinary song about overcoming challenges because it is constantly evolving, and you don’t really know what instrument will come into play next or what will happen next. I generally prefer slower songs to fast ones with more instruments because I’m a lyrics person above all else, and I like acoustics, but this is a song that I can’t see having the same impact if they did an acoustic version. It’s a song that needs to rock a bit harder, especially as the closing track. It just wouldn’t work anywhere else in the album.

When concerts finally start up again, I can just picture a crowd – hopefully in the UK someday! – singing this as the closer before the encore because it’s so easy to rock out to and so difficult to sit still when listening to it. There is a music video for the song that unfortunately cuts out about a minute of the song, but it shows footage of the band on tour and recording, and it is a great song for a montage because of the slow build in the music and the message. The more you listen to it – really listen to it – the more you can’t help liking it and relating to it, if not now then in the past or maybe in the future when you hear it at the very time you need it.

At the beginning of this, I admitted that I was still questioning my song choice because it wasn’t one I had really considered before. I’ve listened to “Never Going Back” a number of times as I’ve been writing, and I’m actually more confident in this choice and think it’s actually my favourite song on the album now. (It might even make it to the infamous Every Day Songs playlist!) It doesn’t feel too much like a “2020 sucked” song, and it’s really cathartic to listen to, especially being on the other side of things now and hoping everything will get easier. I refuse to remain stuck in the past and dwell on 2020, which wasn’t all bad. “So eyes, heart, and soul forward…” I don’t know what the future brings for the world or for myself, but I do know one thing for certain: I’m never going back.

What was your song of 2020? Share in the comments below!

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We made it through 2020!

Song of the Year: Apollo (New Love)

“‘Cause I don’t have any answers, but I know what I think about us. When I’m driving through the city with you, it’s like they’ve got all of the lights turned up. And we’re fifty in a thirty. And you’re talking dirty in the front. It hits me like new love. It hits me like new love.”Tommy Ashby, “Apollo (New Love)”

2019 was a great year for music. I’ve always thought that people who complain that there’s no good music anymore are probably stuck in a cycle of (sometimes, not always) overproduced top 40 hits without knowing how to find the gems. This year saw stellar new albums from some of my favourite artists, including Hozier and Luke Sital-Singh, both of whom I adore and have written about before. I reverted back to being 15 again twice with the long-awaited, highly anticipated reunions of my two all-time favourite boy bands, Westlife and BBMAK, who I finally got to see after 20 years of waiting. What a year to check off 3 of my bucket list concerts (also including Hozier, whose show was so sexy I’m still recovering from it), and they did not not disappoint. If 2020 is anything like it, it will be another smashing year.

I’ve written before about having a song for every year of my life. Some years have been more difficult for others to find one that really connects with me and is also from the same year in question without repeating artists. Last year’s song was pretty easy – “Nina Cried Power” by Hozier – because sometimes songs just move you and become instant classics. However, a lot of years I tend to discover older music or rediscover songs I’ve had and neglected for ages and become a bit obsessed with them, so it’s not always easy to find a song released in the same year that feels right to define an entire year.

I did not have that problem this year, to say the least. By the end of May, I had a feeling I had found THE song but questioned whether it was possible to be so sure not even halfway through the year. By June, I was 100% certain that I would be writing this very blog about it because I couldn’t imagine any other song having the same impact… or number of listens on my iTunes. (Yes, I am old school and actually still download music far more than stream it. What a concept!)

Normally, I would have some honourable mentions, and there were some other songs from other years that I became obsessed with this year (I still love you, Lena Hall’s divine cover of David Bowie’s “As The World Falls Down!”), but none of them came close to the number of listens or love as the winner. The only one that could possibly come close is “Steady Hand” by the same artist.

I’m sure by now you’re saying, “Stop rambling! Get to it already!” First of all, patience, Grasshopper. Some people write whole books about buying and listening to over 365 albums from/in one year after having a breakdown. This won’t take nearly that long.

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I’ve always been a firm believer in watching opening acts at concerts. I’ve discovered some of my favourite artists when they opened for others, sometimes even outshining whoever I went to see. More importantly, support acts are often not as well-known as the headliners – they are opening for a reason after all – and it’s nice to just show up for them. In early April, I went to see my beloved Luke Sital-Singh who had two openers. The first one was not bad but not really to my taste. The second one was Tommy Ashby, and let’s just say that I was texting everyone I talk to most with heart eyes emojis, already recommending him as I’m known to do because it was love at first sound.

That feeling hasn’t faded. I quickly got all of his work available but was somewhat disappointed to discover that a particular song I loved wasn’t released. Finally, on the 26th of April, after what felt like years of waiting but was really only a couple of weeks, Tommy Ashby released “Apollo (New Love).” I bought it instantly and loved it even more than when I’d heard it live with just him and his guitar.

I’m sure I’ve written before about being a bit selfish with some of my music, and the same is true of this song. I’ve shared it with some people who I thought would appreciate it to some extent, but I’m always hesitant to share certain songs I love so much because music is such a personal thing and hits people differently, and I know they won’t reach others the way they reached me. I even have a playlist (of course I do!) of songs I refuse to share with others for this reason, and normally I wouldn’t share this with a lot of people, but it’s my Song of the Year, and Tommy Ashby deserves the recognition, so here we are.

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The most accurate gif to depict me with my Unshareable Songs playlist. No, I will not tell you what’s on it.

Since that initial concert, I’ve seen Tommy Ashby 3 times and have become a big fan of his in general, not just with this song. I can’t really explain why this particular song hit me the way it did and continues to, but the songs we love most tend to be the ones we can’t really explain their impact, anyway. It may not stand out to most people these days, but that’s why it’s just mine. That said, I do have a few guesses about why I love it as much as I do, apart from it just being a great song.

My main guess for my apparently undying love of the song is that “Apollo (New Love)” is sort of a love song to London, the strange and beautiful and strangely beautiful city both Tommy Ashby and I moved to from other countries. There’s even a line about “the minicabs lined up by the tube.” I moved to London in January 2019, fulfulling a dream I’ve had as long as I can remember. It’s a truly magical place if you’re “wide awake” enough to see it as that, and the scene described in the song is so easy to picture, especially if you live in London and have seen all the lights at night. It can be a weird place sometimes, but it’s also so beautiful that I often find myself taking the long way home from some places to experience the magic. Seeing some of the sights, like Tower Bridge, from the front of the top deck of the 78 bus just doesn’t get old, and “Apollo (New Love)” provides the perfect soundtrack for those moments.

There’s a line “Slow minutes, we’re losing track of time” that I think describes the song itself. I have a penchant for songs that, for lack of a better word, flow. Songs that make you lose track of time, usually with one verse going straight to the chorus and vice versa without much pause. As many times as I’ve listened to “Apollo (New Love),” I couldn’t tell you if it’s 2 minutes, 3 minutes, or 4 minutes long because I lose track of time. I often find myself slowly bopping my head a bit to it, losing myself in it completely. And when it suddenly picks up and intensifies in the bridge before slowing right back down without it feeling at all unnatural or forced… Oh, my! Where is my heart eyes emoji when I need it?!

The slightly surprising thing about “Apollo (New Love)” is that it really doesn’t get old. I’ve talked about my Every Day Songs playlist before, and I’m pretty sure it was an instant add to the list from the day I bought it. Still, some of the songs on the list can grow a bit old after a while. However, I’ve listened to “Apollo (New Love)” several times even as I’ve written this, and I still keep repeating it. There’s something about it that keeps it feeling new, like the first time hearing it. When I saw Tommy Ashby headline in June, I told him how obsessed I was (okay, am) with the song, and I’m not sure he understood how serious I was. He was kind enough to introduce me to the co-writer of the song, Karl Zine or Christopher Hutchings. I told him that in just over a month, I had listened to it about 100 times and wondered aloud if that was maybe a bit too much. He reassured me that you don’t always really hear a song until you’ve listened to it 100 times. Beyond that, he said, you start to notice little things you didn’t necessarily hear before. I think that’s true of “Apollo (New Love),” which sounds simple enough at first, but when you’ve listened to it 422 times and counting, you hear all the layers.

2019 was a dark year in a lot of ways for a lot of people. Politics, deaths… “Apollo (New Love)” is a nice escape from all of that. It’s a genuine feel-good song without being too poppy or sickeningly romantic, so even the hopeless romantics-emphasis-on-hopeless and single people can enjoy it. There’s sort of a whimsical, ethereal vibe to it that makes me think it would be just as appreciated and beautiful to listen to under the stars on some country road (Or even better, under the Northern Lights!) as it is in the city. Isn’t that what we all need? A song that can be heard and felt in different settings that lifts your mood for 3 minutes or 5 minutes or however long it actually is? “Do you wanna know what that feels like?” Then listen to “Apollo (New Love)” and let it hit you like new love.

What was your song of the year? Share in the comments below!

We Used To Be Friends: Thoughts on Season 4 of ‘Veronica Mars’

“A long time ago, we used to be friends, but I haven’t thought of you lately at all. If ever again, a greeting I send to you, short and sweet to the soul I intend.”The Dandy Warhols, “We Used To Be Friends”

WARNING: This post contains EPIC spoilers about season 4 of Veronica Mars. Read at your own risk! Also, a disclosure that I started writing this in August after I watched the finale and processed it a bit. However, nothing has changed.

Veronica Mars and I go way back. I started watching in the summer of 2005 during the season 1 reruns. I remember packing to move when I saw it was on and decided to check it out after hearing good things about it. The first episode I saw was “Silence of the Lamb,” one with Aaron Paul, who I loved long before Breaking Bad, so I took that as a good sign, and I instantly fell in love with the show. I got the DVDs for my birthday few months later, and the rest is history.

It would be an understatement to say that Veronica Mars changed my life in a way no other show has. I don’t mean this in a “I love this show so much it changed me” way. I mean that through a series of events, it actually changed my life and and even led me to my current career. Not only that but back in the day when IMDb still had message boards, I communicated with some absolutely amazing fans on those boards. I’m still in contact with several of them to this day and have met a couple of them in person. For someone who rarely actively participates in fandoms, despite being a fangirl, that’s saying something. I even made a video about Cassidy Casablancas (Never ‘Beaver!’) around 12 years ago. I sent Mars bars to try to save the show. When the Kickstarter campaign for the Veronica Mars movie started, I donated without a second thought. I was never very into zombies, but I started watching iZombie from the first episode – and thankfully loved it – just because it was another show by Rob Thomas (not to be confused with Rob Thomas from Matchbox Twenty) and Diane Ruggiero-Wright.

All this is to say that I have been a diehard Veronica Mars fan almost since the beginning, and it’s always been a very special show to me. When I heard about season 4, I had mixed feelings. Part of me said, “Noooo, I’m sick of revivals and reboots! They never live up to the original series!” The other part of me had my over-the-moon face on and was ready to see what everyone (sans Mac) in our favourite Neptune gang had been up to since the movie in 2014. Still, I remained somewhat apprehensive, hoping this show I’ve been invested in for 14 years would not get royally *cursed* up.

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Going into season 4 of Veronica Mars

I’ve never really been a binger. As tempting as it was, Veronica Mars didn’t change that, so it took me a week to get through it because I wanted time to process the episodes. As I started watching, I noticed it focused more on plot than characters and understood better why Tina Majorino turned down returning as Mac, although none of the old side characters had much of a storyline. Still, I enjoyed the usual banter between Veronica and the other characters, even though the bomber was pretty obvious from the beginning. Anyone who’s watched Veronica Mars knows that when they get a big star like Patton Oswalt, that person usually has a significant role in either the motive or the actual killing. I felt it difficult to care about the new side characters in general, but I was eating up all the familiar faces. Who doesn’t love some Dick?!

All was well and good when I first started watching. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of reading what I thought was a safe article about Tina Majorino turning it down (which I thought was a bit silly at the time but now understand her reasoning, as well as her cold wording when she referred to Rob Thomas ‘Mr Thomas’) and an even bigger mistake of reading the comments where there were major spoilers. I knew someone would die, based on headlines I’d seen, and I had my suspicions. I thought anyone would be fine, as long as they didn’t kill off Keith or Logan, especially Logan because Keith dying could still allow Veronica to grow more (or at all – something she’s the only character on the show to never really grow) but be happy with Logan. The spoilers gave away who was killed, and I think this made me prolong my watching even more because I needed to prepare myself for what was to come.

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The final episode was called “Years, Continents, Bloodshed,” which should have been a giveaway, but I’m sure no one wanted to believe the worst could happen.

The truth is that there is no preparation for a character you’ve loved for 14 years suddenly dying. I waited to write this while I processed everything, but I don’t think I will ever get over this one. I’ve basically been stuck alternating between the denial and anger stages of grief.

Despite her being the main character, Veronica has never been my favourite character. I loved Cassidy Casablancas and felt for him, even after everything he did. Keith Mars is the best TV father. But Logan… I’ve always had a soft spot for Logan. Of every character on the show, he had evolved the most. He went from the obligatory psychotic jackass to the guy you rooted for who was a sweet orphan who loved Veronica so much, even though he really kind of deserved better. (As did Jason Dohring, whose tearful thankyou video made me teary, too.) Veronica never seemed to let herself love Logan enough for somewhat understandable reasons, but even though Logan also would have had entirely valid reasons for struggling to love fully (maybe even more than Veronica), he didn’t let anything get in his way. He loved her fiercely and waited for her to get to where he was. To say I was – and still am – a frustrated LoVe shipper is an understatement. They’re probably the first major ship I had and remain in my top 5 to this day. ‘Momentary Thing’ still makes me smile because I associate it their first kiss. ‘Sway’ and ‘I Hear The Bells’ make me sigh about their epic love and how all Logan wanted to do was protect Veronica.

As a Logan lover, like many other fans, the finale left me feeling completely betrayed. To say I blubbered at the ending would be an understatement. It’s not because LoVe is dead now that Logan is dead. Many of my favourite characters (and ships!) on favourite shows have died, and even if I didn’t get over them – I never really do – I still managed to enjoy the shows after their deaths. If I love a character, especially in a Rob Thomas show, there’s about an 83% chance he/she will die. No matter how much I’ve loved them, though, I’ve pretty much always been able to understand the reasoning and support it. I could even understand Logan’s death if there was a good reason for it. I was sad at first, but I didn’t hate it at first either. I was sort of on the fence about everything. I didn’t like what happened, but I initially thought it was well done enough to accept – for about 5 minutes while I cried my eyes out and tried to process it.

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This meme I made accurately depicts my experience with season 4.

Then I read the interviews. The interviews with Rob Thomas and Kristen Bell turned my pain into rage. Veronica finally got over her fear of commitment and married Logan, and they didn’t even make it a day before he was killed. And why? I’ll let Rob Thomas tell it:

I tried to imagine writing Veronica Mars mysteries the way we want to tell them going forward and her still having a boyfriend or husband waiting back home. The fan service is that they actually got married. I know that sounds funny, but I feel like the fans would forgive that more than if Logan became such an asshole that they broke up, or if Veronica had cheated on Logan with Leo. The latter would have been more likely than having Logan revert to bum fights. It’s just hard to imagine a detective show with a 35-year-old woman with a boyfriend. I just don’t want to write that… I feel like for this show to work as a detective show, it has to be with Veronica as a single woman.

Basically, Logan was killed because Rob Thomas can’t think of a way for a woman to be happy with a good job and a partner. Kristen Bell essentially echoed this, saying, “A story is only interesting because there is conflict… There’s nothing interesting about perfection. You want to see someone struggle… And you want Veronica in the underdog position.”

Do we, though? I’ll be the first to admit that I’m an absolute sucker for tortured souls (again, Cassidy Casablancas), but that doesn’t mean I don’t want happy endings. You can have conflict and struggle without killing off a central character, but Rob Thomas and Kristen Bell seem to think that Veronica can’t be happy in any area of her life. You can have a strong female character who is good at what she does and happy in her life without being boring. (Leslie Knope, anyone?) To think otherwise is lazy and misogynistic. Veronica can have pain (Hasn’t she already had enough?) without losing the person she was finally ready to be with. To imply that Logan, a changed man, would be the one to turn into ‘such an asshole that they broke up’ or would revert to bum fights shows that they don’t even understand the character they’ve written.

With Veronica Mars, they’ve always run the risk of it becoming tragedy porn, and that’s exactly what it is now. You can have growth or find other ways to get Logan out of the picture without killing him off 2 minutes after their wedding. Fans have waited so many years for Veronica to get over herself and commit to Logan – or to anyone – and find some happiness, only to have it happen and instantly get ripped away. I appreciate that co-executive producer Diane Ruggiero-Wright hasn’t watched the last episode because she’s a fangirl as much as the rest of us, and I understand that she has to support it to an extent publicly, but unlike Rob Thomas and Kristen Bell, she seemed to not be fully supportive of killing Logan. She’s also the one who pushed for them to get married, but there’s no solace in them getting married if they can’t even be happy for an hour.

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Apparently Rob Thomas thinks it should be that hard.

The other major problem is that Rob Thomas wants to take Veronica out of Neptune to be a real, big girl detective who travels around the country to solve mysteries on her own. How many detective shows are on TV? I have rarely, if ever, watched a show because of the mystery or because of the plot. Yes, it helps when those things are good, but personally, I have always been drawn to characters more than anything. Even if you ignore that Neptune was a character itself, who wants to watch a show without the regulars? Sure, some people who showed up in the movie or season 4 were a bit superfluous, but a show about Veronica Mars solving mysteries on her own without others in every episode and regular interactions with them is boring. There are so many mysteries on TV already, and this idea will do nothing to set Veronica apart from any other detective. The heart of the show is gone without all of the other characters.

My other issue is that it is so stupid and out of character for someone like Veronica to not even check her car for bombs after she had a serial bomber in it. The absurdity of it all – Veronica’s lack of common sense, the explanations for Logan’s death, the idea that women can’t be strong and successful in their field and happy without being boring – is just too much. It’s not even that I don’t want to watch the last episode again. I don’t want to watch the entire series again because it’s too difficult to watch knowing what happens and how this once-great series was ruined for some cheap tragedy porn. It could have had a great ending with Veronica and Logan getting married, and I for one would have been perfectly content with it ending there forever, but they went and How I Met Your Mother‘d it up. It only reaffirmed that, like Gilmore Girls and Arrested Development and probably others before it, revivals are generally unnecessary and carry a significant risk of ruining what was once a great show.

I should say that I don’t think writers should cater to the fans. However, there is still a responsibility to satisfy your viewers or have a legitimate reason to do things, especially for a show like Veronica Mars that only came back – more than once! – because of the fans. Rob Thomas has said that he might regret killing Logan if the show doesn’t come back for a fifth season, which appeared to be contingent on the reception of season four. The fact that he has stayed off Twitter since the episodes were released – save for a single tone deaf tweet in August about music from Josh Kramon, the show’s composer, which instantly caused backlash from fans – shows that he is aware of the fan reaction and is now cowering away from it. I know some people who didn’t like Logan or didn’t like Logan and Veronica together or whatever the case may be, and they didn’t mind the ending. However, they are the minority. A large percentage of fans have said that they will not watch Veronica Mars if it comes back, and I am in this camp. I don’t want to watch a show with Logan dead, without the other characters that made Veronica Mars what it was, with Veronica outside of Neptune, especially when the explanations for all of those things are so insulting, and I know there are many others who feel the same.

If Rob Thomas made a bet with himself about that ending, I think it’s fair to say he’s lost the bet. I think a lot of people could have gotten over it if Rob Thomas and Kristen Bell didn’t do such a terrible job of defending it or if there had been a legitimate reason. As it stands, if nothing else, he has forever tarnished the series and made me – and I imagine many other fans – lose faith in him and not want to watch any future projects he may have. For my part, I will have to live in denial and pretend like season 4 doesn’t exist, and the whole series ended when it should have with the movie while remembering when ‘we used to be friends.’

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I can’t decide if this was a message from Rob Thomas to fans or if it’s a message fans now want to send to him – short and sweet to the soul, we intend.

 

Little Victories: Songs For When Life Isn’t Going Your Way

“And I’ll be awful sometimes. Weakened to my knees. But I’ll learn to get by on the little victories.”Matt Nathanson, “Little Victories”

The past year or so has been difficult for many of us. The last 14 months or so have tested my own patience, determination, and resilience in many ways. I will always remember these challenging months and how they’ve shaped me, and the changes I’ve made and experiences I’ve had – both good and bad – will impact the rest of my life.

The same is true for many people closest to me. We’ve leaned on each other more than ever to get through the dark times. As many of them love music about as much as I do, we’ve traded songs to help each other through the heartbreaks, losses, and whatever else we were facing. Music has the power to unite, heal, and communicate like nothing else. Even when you can’t always put into words how you feel or know what to say to someone else, there is always a song that can.

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I’ve never understood how people can live without liking music. For my entire life, music has been the first thing I’ve turned to during the hardest times, and it’s the only thing that has never failed me. While everything else eventually fades away, it is the one constant. I remember the music I’ve listened to during the best and worst moments of my life. Certain songs can trigger good or bad memories. I’ve said many times that I have a playlist for everything, and that includes my Depression Collection – a playlist of 400+ sad songs. I’ve even shared some favourites for a good cry. I’ve never been one of those people who can listen to happy songs when I’m really down, though, because they only make me more sad.

Sometimes, though, you need something in between happy and sad or just some hope. Sort of an “Everybody Hurts,” if you will, which is often considered a sad song (as seen in This Will End in Tears: Miserabilist Guide to Music – a list with some great songs but also many that I would not consider the saddest songs ever), but I’ve never interpreted it that way. I see “Everybody Hurts” as telling someone that yes, things are hard right now, but they’re not alone because we’ve all been there. Bearing this in mind, during a particularly difficult time about a year ago, I created another playlist of slightly more uplifting songs to remind myself that everything will be fine, that I’m not alone, that I am strong, and that I will overcome whatever I’m facing. Life is about the little victories, which also happens to be the title of a song I’ve always listened to when I needed that reminder. Life is hard and complicated, but the little victories are what get us through the day sometimes.

I’ve shared several songs from this playlist with friends as they went through heartache in the last year. There are so many others that could go on it, but some of these are ones I’ve turned to most – in no particular order and without my usual rules – when I’ve needed a pick-me-up. Yes, some are cheesy (I refrained from including “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” partly because it’s an obvious choice), and most are pretty mellow, but sometimes that’s what you need in this situation. I am linking YouTube videos to each song, and I recommend not only listening to ones by artists you already know because there are some great ones here. I hope you will be able to find some peace and refuge in them, just as I have, and are able to sit with your feelings more easily, knowing you are never alone.

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“Hammers and Strings (A Lullaby),” a favourite by Jack’s Mannequin, which actually is not on this list.

  1. “Little Victories” by Matt Nathanson
  2. “Everything Will Change” by Gavin DeGraw
  3. “Keep Your Head Up” by Ben Howard
  4. “Just Keep Breathing” by We The Kings
  5. “This World Will Turn Your Way” by Tyler Hilton
  6. “On Your Feet Again” by Tonic
  7. “We All Need Saving” by Jon McLaughlin
  8. “3 Things” by Jason Mraz
  9. “Comeback Kid (That’s My Dog)” by Brett Dennen
  10. “Iridescent” by Linkin Park
  11. “Swim” by Jack’s Mannequin (I absolutely love the meaningful connections in this video!)
  12. “Forget and Not Slow Down” by Relient K
  13. “Better In Time” by Leona Lewis
  14. “I Will Get There” by Boyz II Men
  15. “I Still Believe” by BBMak
  16. “Just Give It Time” by Jon McLaughlin
  17. “Quasimodo” by Lifehouse (For some reason, I’ve listened to this song for years whenever I’ve made it through something that made me nervous or bothered me, and I can physically feel the weight come off my shoulders.)
  18. “For the Lonely” by Sweetbox
  19. “Crash & Burn” by Savage Garden (This is one of all-time my favourite videos, but that’s a whole different blog!)
  20. “Let It Be” by The Beatles
  21. “Alibi” by Thirty Seconds to Mars
  22. “The Remedy (I Won’t Worry)” by Jason Mraz (Random fact: This song also cures hiccups!)
  23. “You Gotta Be” by Des’ree
  24. “Keep Rising” by Jack’s Mannequin
  25. “Keep Holding On” by Glee Cast (Originally Avril Lavigne)
  26. “Wish ‘Em All Away” by Embrace
  27. “Something Wild” by Lindsey Stirling featuring Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness
  28. “Brand New Day” by Joshua Radin
  29. “Take On The World” by Sabrina Carpenter and Rowan Blanchard
  30. “Details in the Fabric” by Jason Mraz featuring James Morrison
  31. “Stay the Same” by Joey McIntyre
  32. “Autumn” by Maria Forgotten
  33. “Something to Believe In” by Parachute
  34. “I Ain’t Movin'” by Des’ree
  35. “Looking Forward to Looking Back” by Mandy Moore
  36. “Pressing On” by Relient K
  37. “Can’t Take That Away” by Mariah Carey
  38. “This Time Tomorrow” by Trent Dabbs
  39. “The Middle” by Jimmy Eat World
  40. “Titanium” by David Guetta featuring Sia
  41. “Life Is Beautiful” by Vega4
  42. “A Little Longer” by Armon Jay
  43. “Keeping Your Head Up” by Birdy
  44. “Try It On My Own” by Whitney Houston
  45. “Fix You” by Coldplay
  46. “Over and Over” by Puff Johnson
  47. “Hold On” by Wilson Phillips (If you haven’t had a sing-along in the car to this with a friend, like in the movies, are you really even friends?)
  48. “Airfield” by Enter Shikari
  49. “Wild Horses” by Birdy
  50. “Shake It Off” by Florence + The Machine
  51. “Not Alone” by Trenton
  52. “Exhale (Shoop Shoop)” by Whitney Houston
  53. “Alive” by Sia
  54. “Wait Til You See My Smile” by Alicia Keys
  55. “In Time” by Robbie Robb (This song was also in the best Mr. Robot scene ever, which was very powerful.)
  56. “Move Along” by The All-American Rejects
  57. “You Will Be Found” by Dear Evan Hansen Original Broadway Cast
  58. “Watch The Sky” by Something Corporate
  59. “Don’t Give In” by Snow Patrol
  60. “Let It Flow” by Toni Braxton

What songs pick you up when you’re down? Share in the comments below.

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I’ve Got a Theory: A Bullshirt Theory About “The Good Place”

“I’ve got a theory that it’s a demon. A dancing demon! No, something isn’t right there…” Buffy the Vampire Slayer Original Cast, “I’ve Got a Theory”

SPOILER WARNING!!!! Major spoilers ahead! Do NOT read if you haven’t seen the first two seasons of The Good Place. There is also one very minor spoiler at the end for season 3 with a spoiler warning before it, based on an interview with Michael Schur. Read at your own risk. This is a theory for entertainment purposes only. I take no responsibility if any of it is correct (highly unlikely) or spoils anything. Much like Jon Snow (and Jason), I know nothing…

For years I’ve been coming up with all kinds of crazy theories about various TV series. The theories range from the plausible, such as a certain character eventually killing him/herself on Veronica Mars, to ones that could have been true but were never proven because the show was cancelled {insert shameless plug for Damien here} to completely outrageous theories that are just for fun, like 80% of my Mr. Robot theories. (Is anything really too crazy for Mr. Robot, though?) I’ve actually been right a few times, even with some crazier ones. This theory about Michael Schur‘s forking brilliant show, The Good Place, probably falls somewhere between “I could see that” and “This crazy bench is going to the Bad Place just for this theory.” It’s not perfect, but it’s not completely without merit, especially on a show with many twists.

So what is it? It all boils down to one thing: Chidi (William Jackson Harper) is not who he says he is. There’s much more than that, though. I’ve come to believe that Chidi is/was a demon or even (far less likely) some sort of god…

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This is undoubtedly your reaction to this.

Now, I’m sure you’re thinking I’ve completely lost it, but stay with me. Let’s start with something basic that isn’t a point for or against this theory but would make it interesting. Chidi was a Moral Philosophy professor. How crazy would it be if the anxious one who was supposed to be the most ethical one was actually the one deceiving everyone? Moral philosophy professor is a pretty good front if you want people to follow and trust you.

That bit doesn’t hold much water beyond me thinking it’d be funny, so let’s move on to something slightly more sound. Characters are rarely given random names. Buffy, for example, got her name because Joss Whedon liked the juxtaposition of a silly, insignificant name with someone as fierce and strong as the vampire slayer. The Good Place has shown that at least one name also has some meaning behind it. Tahani (Jameela Jamil) mentioned in “Tahani Al-Jamil” that her full name means “Congratulations, Beautiful,” which checks out and isn’t just something the show made up because it fits Tahani.

Sexy skyscraper Tahani obviously lives up to her name, but what about the others? Eleanor (Kristen Bell) means “shining light” or “bright one.” Michael (Ted Danson), the architect who created the neighbourhood, means “who is like God?”. Janet (D’Arcy Carden) means something along the lines of “God’s gracious gift.” Jason (Manny Jacinto) means “to heal,” and while he might not be very bright, he has shown some unexpected emotional intelligence, helping Michael and Tahani feel better when they were upset. His silent monk name Jianyu can mean “prison,” which is kind of what not being able to talk was for him. Finally, Chidi means “God exists.” God exists… in the form of Chidi? Hmm…

Obviously several names (Michael, Janet, Chidi) have religious meanings, which makes the case stronger, but they all fit the characters well. Even some minor characters, like Tahani’s sister Kamilah, have names that represent them. In “Rhonda, Diana, Jake, and Trent,” the humans adopted aliases when they went to The Bad Place Headquarters. Their alias names also sort of fit them. (My favourite is Jake Jortles, which Jason picked to rhyme with Blake Bortles, but Jake as a word/name means “a sexually immature male wild turkey under two years old” or “supplanter.” If that doesn’t describe Jason, what does?!) The other humans picked their aliases, but Chidi said he couldn’t lie and got his in The Bad Place when a demon called Chet (Dax Shepard) mistook him for a demon called Trent, which means “trespasser.” Technically all of them were trespassers, but it’s interesting that Chidi was the one who got the alias name assigned to him that means “trespasser.” Perhaps being in the Bad Place Headquarters isn’t the only place/way he’s a trespasser. I may be ascribing too much meaning to everything, but the names were clearly chosen for a reason.

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The sexy giraffe herself: Congratulations, Beautiful!

“Rhonda, Diana, Jake, and Trent” had several bits that supported this theory. Chidi and the others all trespassed while trying to get to the real Good Place, but it’s interesting that Chidi was the one who was mistaken for a demon. Chet saw him and said, “Trent! Is that you?” Chidi nervously laughed, “Who else could it be?” Chet told Jason Jake that Trent was his “top dog,” and they’d worked together for 100 years in Partial Decapitations. 100 years! Maybe the Bad Place doesn’t calculate years the same way we do, but that is still a long time to work with someone, even if it was 800 years ago. You’re not likely to forget someone you worked with for 100 years who made enough of an impression on you to be your top dog.

Chet said another demon was having trouble torturing a guy and needed some ideas from Chidi Trent. Chidi was hesitant but – book lover that he is – said to torture the guy by giving him books because he once tortured a chick who hated reading (Eleanor) by giving her “mad books to read around the clock.” Such a Chidi way to torture people, right? At first the guy didn’t think it was a good idea, but Chidi convinced him. Torturing people by making them read? Who else would even think to do that? “Naughty bitch” Shawn (Marc Evan Jackson), Michael’s superior. In the very next episode, Shawn tried to do exactly that – torture Michael by locking him in a room with a stack of The New Yorker magazines that would keep coming. Clearly books are an approved method of torture in the Bad Place!

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Even Chidi doesn’t really want books to be his soulmate.

Trent was hardly the only time Chidi’s identity was questioned. In “Category 55 Doomsday Crisis,” a Bad Place torturer called Bart (John Hartmann) claimed to be an identity theft expert. He suspected that Chidi was hiding something. Chidi said it was just about his soulmate, but it’s very interesting that an identity theft expert suspected Chidi of all people of hiding something. Did I mention he was playing an identity theft expert?!

In “The Burrito,” Team Cockroach, as they called themselves, were given tests by the judge (who was not a burrito) to determine if they got to go to the Good Place. They decided to be judged together, so either everyone got into the Good Place or no one did if anyone failed. The judge told Eleanor and Chidi that they got in, and Eleanor and Chidi then had to decide if they really would go without the others or stay in the Bad Place since Tahani and Jason failed their tests. Eleanor paced through magic doors, and they debated what to do. Chidi tried to convince her to leave the others behind because they deserved their places in the Good Place and to be happy. Eleanor figured out the twist – this decision was her test and that wasn’t the real Chidi! The real(?) Chidi’s test was in another room, deciding between two hats because it was so difficult for him to make a choice. Demons can look like humans, but it’s telling that Chidi was the one who was essentially cloned.

Speaking of cloning, in “Rhonda, Diana, Jake, and Trent,” Team Cockroach attended a ceremony in the Bad Place that turned out to be an exhibit about them. It was complete with robot-like mock-ups that looked, sounded, and talked just like them, describing their characteristics. Chidi’s mock-up was obviously mocking Chidi’s indecisiveness, saying, “I’m Chidi Anagonye. Or maybe I’m not.” Maybe the real Chidi Anagonye isn’t even Chidi Anagonye! Maybe he’s Trent!

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Well…

Chidi was sent to the Bad Place because he caused pain to everyone around him by being so indecisive. That hardly puts him in the same category as a selfish ashhole who’s mean to everyone, an idiot who tries to rob places and sells fake drugs, or a vain woman who does good things only for praise, fame, and spite. Those are all things they somewhat knew were wrong, but Chidi genuinely thought he was a good person. Lacking self-awareness, it never even occurred to him he wouldn’t be in the Good Place. When he found out he was in the Bad Place, he always assumed it was because he drank almond milk, knowing it was bad for the environment. He never even thought it could be anything else, and if anything, his inability to make decisions tortured Chidi more than anyone.

They went through hundreds of attempts and were rebooted hundreds of times, and every time, one of them figured out that they were actually in the Bad Place. Chidi was the only one who never figured it out. Maybe he was too busy getting stomach aches from all the anxiety or was too focused on helping Eleanor to figure it out. He’s hardly stupid, after all. He figured out that all the bad things that happened early on – flying shrimp, giraffes everywhere, Eleanor having different PJs than everyone else – were because Eleanor didn’t belong there. How could the smartest one be the only one who never figured out they were in the Bad Place? Even Jason figured it out once! With the exception of maybe Eleanor, who knew she wasn’t a good person before, they all lacked self-awareness but all still figured it out, except Chidi. What if, for one reason or another, he was never meant to figure out they were in the Bad Place?

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There could be a good reason he never figured it out. This theory, as I said, is not without its weaknesses, just like any other theory. Sure, Chidi could have been there as a demon to help torture the humans or keep an eye on Michael or even torture Michael by making sure his neighbourhood failed (or by making Micheal read his manuscript). It could be an evil twin thing, but that’s so done. I don’t believe those, but there are a lot of ways the show could work around Chidi being a (former?) demon.

You may say, “But we’ve seen his time on Earth as a human, even as a kid! We saw his death!” Yes, we did. There’s also a chance he was a demon but was not in on it. How would that work? Perhaps Chidi really was Trent and was a demon. We’ve seen that even demons can be tortured. Perhaps Chidi did something wrong and was sent to Earth as a human as punishment and is continuing to be tortured. From Partial Decapitations to professor? We know that their minds can easily be wiped, so Chidi may not even remember his past as a demon. This would also make it easier for the audience and Team Cockroach to accept Chidi not being who they thought he was. It’s less of a betrayal but still an interesting twist, even though Michael was already forgiven after deceiving everyone. Michael wouldn’t necessarily even have to know about Chidi’s demonic past. I would love to see a different side of Chidi if there were flashbacks to his past as a demon. I would also love to see Chidi’s reaction to finding out about his true identity as Trent, especially if there’s a struggle between who he was and who he is now.

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What an epic freakout Chidi would have if he found out he was a demon!

It will certainly be interesting to see what happens in season 3 when the humans are back on Earth. Eleanor has already found Chidi (who still didn’t speak French or have a Nigerian or Senegalese accent when Eleanor found him in Australia, though – spoilers! – this will apparently be explained in season 3) on Earth, but this is a series of many twists and turns. Anything could happen. My theory is probably far off and if it’s at all correct, probably wouldn’t happen until closer to the end of the series, but it will be exciting to see what other “Holy motherforking shirtballs!” revelations the characters and viewers have in season 3.

Season 3 of The Good Place premieres on NBC on September 27th and Netflix UK and other international markets on September 28th. Watch the first two seasons on Netflix UK now and on Netflix US starting August 28th.