So, 2009 is over, and 2010 beckons: The Year We Make Contact, as the movie states. It’s always interesting, reaching years that have been movies and books. I’m sure 1984 was a surreal year, with the 1984 novel-inspired imagery of Ridley Scott’s Apple ad, and the subsequent breakthrough of Apple macs. Now we wonder, what will we make contact with? Truth, beauty, enlightenment, the Apple Tablet, also known informally as the “everything-killer”? It feels as though – culturally at least – the last 10 years have been a climb to the summit; the horizon of a new world is sweeping into view. 2009 is just a glimpse in the rearview mirror now. It’s vanishing so fast that there’s no time for a full recap; instead, I propose a little game: name the cultural event of 2009. The lists are always segregated: personality of the year, books, movies, albums, songs. The prize should be greater, all pitted against all: the 2009 Ultimate Culture award. Kind of like ultimate fighting, but more cozy, and with cups of tea. What one thing/person/event really captured the essence of 2009, defined it, represented it, distilled it? Something new, innovative, groundbreaking: it has to be an evolution, taking our awareness of what culture can be to a new level. Something we’ve never seen before. First contact. There are several, possibly many contenders. New Moon, Where The Wild Things Are, Michael Jackson, Tiger Woods, Taylor Swift and Kanye West, Taylor Swift and Taylor Lautner, Glee… These swirled in the cultural eddies of 2009, but we need to be more ambitious in our search, looking for the lunar forces that drove the cultural tides upon which these other things were carried. Using criteria of boldness, execution, brilliance, and impact, I nominate the following:
1) Jay-Z, Blueprint 3
2) U2 360 Tour
3) James Ellroy’s novel, Blood’s A Rover
4) Lady GaGa. Nothing specific, just Lady GaGa.
Jay-Z stepped up with a groundbreaking, brutal assault on the future, delivering his eleventh number one album in an unforgiving display of redefinition; U2 expanded the concept of the stadium show exponentially, taking it into space; James Ellroy’s prose crackled and punched with violent arcs of raw electricity, each word a sharp spark, each page a cascade of live wires flipping with the power of the current flowing through them.
But. Lady Gaga. Hard to compare to any one of the previous three, let alone all at once. But Lady GaGa was, simply, everywhere, and not just famous for being famous; propelled into the cultural stratosphere by actual talent and creativity. Innovative costumes (Kermits! Spinning geometric hoops! Bubbles!), intricately brilliant, baroque-ly constructed operatic pop-dance mini-epics… It was as though 2009 considered what it needed, really sat down and thought to itself, what would best sum me up, and lo, it created Lady Gaga, a pop star and musician totally of 2009, totally of the moment, created by the moment, built from the moment. 2009 was a year for brilliance, boldness, confidence: we had recovered from our Y2K anxieties, the horrors of the start of the decade, the paranoia about what to call the damn decade (the aughts, the zeros, the noughties…), there was even a start to economic recovery – we surged forward with our bold Star Trek remakes, our uncompromising adaptions of Sendak picture books, really launched ourselves into an ever more densely packed cultural landscape (vampires, werewolves, Yankees), happily embracing more than ever world-changes wrought by visionaries (IMAX 3D, Harry Potter, iPhones, Pixar – seriously, Steve Jobs = man of the decade), and we found our stride this year, and in a moment of Taoist brilliance, the universe rewarded us with the perfect reflection of all of this: Lady GaGa. What a year. To use two of James Ellroy’s many thousands of brilliant sentences to describe 2009: “It was all dizzying. It was re-situating, re-wire-all-your-circuits shit.”