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Poem: Simon Armitage The best pop culture moments of 2016


NewsHubOctober on Earth
and distinctly autumnal,
the goldfish bowl
of the sixth-form common room,
an hour’s lull
in the space-time continuum
between double physics
and English literature,
a radio oozing
with American soft-rock
and easy listening,
a blurred ruckus
of alpha males
working line-out drills
and rolling mauls
with a Hallowe’en pumpkin,
meeker souls
in tight constellations,
some brown-nosing
through Isaac Newton
or Robert Browning,
some Rubik’s-cubing
or grooming and braiding,
some lost in the coma
of late revision.
As Fleetwood Mac’s “Sara”
looped the horizon
(the six-minute-plus
album version)
the school trickster
and first-choice scrum-half
plunged the volume slider
from seven to nought
on the cusp of the line:
“You’re the poet in my heart”.
And the airspace that followed
was instantly baubled
with orbs and globes
from the mouths of angels
and an outed choirboy’s
helium bubbles,
till the heavens ballooned
with unworldly apples.
Simon Armitage is Professor of Poetry at Oxford. His latest book, a translation of Pearl, is published by Faber & Faber.
The best entrance
Beyonc é , Lemonade
Just ten months after its release, it’s hard to imagine a cultural landscape without Lemonade. Beyoncé’s second visual album, which dropped in February, set the bar high early in the year. By turns blistering, bitter, and blissful, listening to Lemonade for the first time can feel like a kind of baptism, cleansing through its catharsis. So it’s only appropriate that one of the film’s most lasting visuals plays with similar ideas, as Beyoncé begins “Hold Up” with waves breaking through heavy doors. That’s one way to make an entrance.
The best use of social media
Kim Kardashian West, Snapchat
It would take a much higher wordcount to explain the tension that had been building between Taylor Swift and Kanye West for years , but their relationship was more tense than ever when West released a rap mentioning her: “I think me and Taylor might still have sex / Why? / I made that bitch famous. ” West claimed he had her approval for the lines, but Swift hinted at her horror at the Grammy’s. Contentious comments in interviews followed, until Kim Kardashian West came to her husband’s support with a delicious serving of revenge: posting video footage of Taylor’s approval on her Snapchat. A truly electrifying use of personal social media channels that showed Kardashian West’s dominance of the form. It’s bittersweet to remember her triumph after a traumatic assault has seen her move away from her former social media persona.
The best British export
Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Fleabag
Hilarious, depressing, filthy and always surprising – Fleabag was undoubtedly the best of British comedy in 2016. Constantly leaving its audience on a knife-edge between laughter and tears, Phoebe Waller-Bridge – who wrote and starred in the sitcom – offered an irresistible exploration of a woman struggling to entertain those around her while dealing with grief, shame, and insecurities financial and personal. It was extra sweet to see her success translate Stateside when Amazon Prime Video distributed the series. Extra points, too, must go to a show that manages to make a scene starring Hugh Dennis talking about orgasms and his dishwasher moving.
The best revenge
Every woman on Game of Thrones
Game of Thrones has been rightly criticised for its voyeuristic and degrading treatment of women across its six seasons. We’ve seen Arya, Sansa, Cersei, Daenerys, Ellaria and Yara beaten, raped, humiliated and tortured at length. So when this season saw several disparate plotlines culminate with the triumph of the women at their centres, it was hard not to celebrate for them. Particularly sweet was Sansa’s revenge, as she finally sat at the head of her house and murdered her husband using his own preferred method of torture: death by dogs. Let’s hope they don’t fuck up her character (there have been hints of a “the power goes to her head” storyline) in season seven!
The best non-stop monologue
Aoife Duffin, A Girl is a Half-formed Thing
I loved two female-driven monologue performances in 2016: Fleabag at the Soho Theatre was one, and the other was A Girl is a Half-formed Thing at the Young Vic. Following on from runs in Dublin, Edinburgh and Manchester in 2014 and 2015, this production finally came to London this year, and it was transcendent. This uninterrupted 90-minute show is relentlessly traumatic and terribly bleak, but the sheer force of it reminds us of the depths simmering beneath the faces of every passing person you meet.
The best nostalgic romance
Barry Jenkins, Moonlight
2016 has been a year thick with nostalgia: from Stranger Things to La Land and beyond. Moonlight , a coming-of-age film set in Eighties Miami by director Barry Jenkins – described by one critic as ” Carol meets Frank Ocean” – is the most nuanced and stylish of the lot. Following the troubled youngster Chiron as he grows up, discovers his sexuality, and even falls in love, Moonlight seduces you from its very first frame. An honourable mention, too, must go to the Black Mirror episode “San Junipero”, which managed to transcend all the melodramtic, po-faced elements of your typical Black Mirror episode by choosing to look at the potential positive aspects of future technology.
The best exit
Damien Chazelle, La Land
It’s not out in the UK until 12 January, but La Land has dominated the cinematic conversation in 2016. A lush, sweeping musical centring on two LA romantics (Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone), it spends its two-hour run time hovering between fantasy and reality.

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