We Usually Keep Things #DallasAF Around Here, But We Wanted To Call Out Some Of This Wild Year’s Top Pop Culture Offerings From Beyond City Limits, Too.

Let’s get one thing clear: Much as Central Track keep its eyes and ears trained on all things hyper-local to Dallas, we’re still very much aware of all the buzz that happens in the “outside world” too.

And since we’ve spent so much time indoors this year, we’ve had a lot of time to absorb and digest all of the cultural happenings — from Dr. Anthony Fauci’s constant face-palming to losing hours upon hours within time-sucking apps and laughing to keep from falling asleep as Joe Pera takes us on a weird, existential guided mediation.

Yes, indeed: What little there was to enjoy in 2020, we enjoyed it all right along your side.

C’mon, we’re human just like you! And where on earth would we be without the general pop culture sphere?! We’d be spending even more time cyber-bullying local politicians who can’t leave the house without their asshats on, probably — but even that gets a little monotonous without switching things up from time to time.

That in mind, here are our staff’s takes on some of our favorite pop culture touchstones of the year. Ah, finally: A chance to foist upon the world our thoughts on the things we didn’t get to write too much about this year.

Hope you enjoy! — Jessi Pereira

Favorite Pivot: Side Hustles

This year, we all had nothing but time. If it wasn’t spent figuring out creative ways to rake in more dough, we hope that at the very least you got some necessary character development. Either way, good for you. If you had a hobby or interest and the added luxury of endless time, hopefully, you found some way to dial into your craft so hard that people had no choice but to pay you. Plus, if you were so fortunate, that added unemployment benefit was a really nice extra capital to fund some of these creative ventures that otherwise would’ve remained unchecked boxes on the “goals” page of your corkboard. Seriously, by now y’all should know that time is an incredibly valuable and nonrenewable resource that when made good use of can truly change the trajectory of your life, and in turn, create a world where you’re not waking up everyday and working for the man. You are “the man”, woman or the person — whatever worksLook, we’re not telling you what to do with your time but if you managed to flip a hobby or an idea into a full-on business, we have to salute you. There’s no better feeling than waking up in the morning to a new sale or commission inquiry and thinking to yourself, “maybe I can make this happen after all.” – JP

Favorite Sports Moment: The NBA Bubble

On March 11, Your Dallas Mavericks were in the middle of a midseason contest against the Denver Nuggets – a game they’d win handedly – when word came down that the NBA would be suspending its season in response to spread of the coronavirus within the country. It was a shocking moment – immortalized by Mavericks owner Mark Cuban’s caught-on-camera reaction – that sent shockwaves throughout the world as the thought-leading professional sports league stepped up to the plate and set a responsible lead for other organizations across the country to follow. Even so, basketball fans then had no way of knowing the game the Mavs and Nuggets continued to play out that night would be professional American basketball’s last for the next five-plus months. Fortunately, when regular season league play resumed on July 30, it did so responsibly within a contained environment at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando – and, more importantly for diehards of the sport, it did so endearingly, too. Beyond having sports to watch on TV again, fans were treated to some great inside looks at their favorite players’ personalities as these athletes made the best of the situation and excitedly shared their experiences within The Bubble on social media for all to see. Mavs fans got to watch Luka Doncic, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Boban Marjanovic try their hand at becoming master fishing anglers and were able to laugh along as Maxi Kleber and Dwight Powell convinced their teammates to join them in recreating TikTok trends. Perhaps the biggest breakout star of this moment, though, was Philadelphia 76ers rookie Matisse Thybulle (pictured above), who turned his Casey Neistat fandom into a series of inside-the-bubble vlogs that showcased not just the Bubble life but also the players’ reactions and eventual boycott of play in response to our nation’s ongoing struggles with racial and social injustice. The Bubble may have ended its unique run when LeBron James’ Los Angeles Lakers eventually won the league title over the Miami Heat on October 11, but the entire NBA can count its efforts in Orlando as a ‘W.’ Plus, y’know, Luka rocked shit down there, too. — Pete Freedman

Favorite Music Genre: Pop

I know what you’re thinking: “Huh? Pop music never actually dissipated.” True as that may be, the genre did take a turn toward over-saturation in recent years, especially considering how the beginning of the last decade was particularly a dynamic era for the genre: Kesha had us consumed by a different kind of “Tik Tok,” Rihanna was still making music and Katy Perry’s neon blue wigs were all tapped into a campy, self-aware moment in pop. For several years now, though, pop simply hasn’t had the range to dominate the mainstream music throne in the way hip-hop has comfortably presided over for quite some time. That all changed in 2020. This year saw a shift in pop music as Dua Lipa embraced disco influences, Lady Gaga delivered a concept album full of nods to ’90s dance culture, Chloe x Halle cemented themselves as R&B-pop forces and even Dallas’ own Selena Gomez ditched any lasting constraints of childhood stardom. Also, the folk-pop brilliance that was Folklore? Come on. Still, the reason pop was so enthralling this year can’t even be credited solely to its refreshing variation; the bubbly shuttle it launched toward escapism in a downright hellish year was what really made it pivotal. We lost handle on a lot beyond our control in 2020, but pop served as the perfect temporary antidote — even if just for the few minutes of solace found as we danced around the kitchen at 1 a.m. in lockdown to Doja Cat’s infectious “Say So.” As for me, I may or may not have gotten misty-eyed a couple times when imagining the first night we can finally return to truly uninhibited body grazing to “Rain On Me” on the dance floor at S4 or The Round-Up, vodka sodas in-hand. Better days are ahead, and for much of this year, pop music was the only friend we could visit to remind us of that. — Alec Spicer

Favorite New App: Clubhouse

If you invested in apps like Zoom before 2020, we hope you held onto that. If you missed the bus, that’s OK because trend-watching is all about analyzing the patterns you can see now so you can better predict the future. While we were all cooped up inside the house for the majority of the year — despite our social distancing — at the end of the day, we are humans who crave real-time interactions with people. It’s not enough to interact through text anymore. Apps like Facebook and Twitter, which rely on written communication and messages, can get lost in translation if writing isn’t your strong suit — that’s not a jab, it’s just a communication thing, as humans have better ways of communicating through different means than others. But apps like Clubhouse let you talk to others in real-time using your voice, which is something we all for the most part know how to do. There’s no faking the funk or hiding behind a wall of text to save you. Clubhouse is a lot like a verbal chat room where you can enter rooms based on topics, but rather than type to communicate, you use your voice like you’re in a seminar conducted via a three-way phone call. With Clubhouse, that three-way phone call can be a twelve-way phone call where one of the callers could be anyone from Oprah Winfrey to Wiz Khalifa or even Mahbod Moghadam, founder of Rap Genius. If you’re unfamiliar with Clubhouse, don’t worry: The app is still in beta while access can only be gained through invites from users on it, so there’s a lot of untouched road for the app to pave. Spend a whole 12 hours on that app and you’ll feel socially exhausted like you spent a whole day at a networking event, only you never left your couch or even saw another human being. If your walls are thin enough, your neighbors will probably think you’re insane but that’s where these apps are headed: they’re slowly being designed to help us feel less lonely and a lot crazier. – JP

Favorite TV Show: Joe Pera Talks With You

In its second season, Adult Swim’s surprising, charming and subtle Joe Pera Talks With You further established what its first season set up — that life lessons and kind humor can be found in our world’s most simplistic and overlooked corners, including this show’s idyllic (and, appropriately for the sake of this show, oft-overlooked) setting of Michigan’s Upper Penninsula. Consider some of season two’s episode titles: “Joe Pera Talks with You About Beans,” “Joe Pera Waits with You” and “Joe Pera Takes You to the Grocery Store.” Those might not sound like much on the surface, but they’re actually filled with subversive observations and charming appreciations of the intricacies of legacy, routine and pragmatism, respectively. Pera’s commitment to his bit as a soft-spoken and nice Midwestern everyman just drifting along through this thing called life is remarkable even outside of the show, as he forever remains in character in all public appearances from stand-up performances to guest spots on late-night talk shows. I personally have the late Power Trip frontman Riley Gale to thank for introducing me to Pera’s genius — just one of many gifts I’m grateful to have received over a decade-plus of friendship. It warms my heart, then, to see Pera respond to Gale’s friendship and vocal support of his show by sneaking Power Trip merch into a handful of scenes. Game always recognizes game. — PF

Favorite Pastime: TikTok

Listen, you don’t need me to sell you on TikTok. By now, we all know at least one person who has attempted the dances and tried the “challenges.” At some point, it’s likely that we ourselves have distressingly said “Is it a cake?! Please don’t be a cake.” Imagine trying to explain that to our 2019 selves. No, TikTok isn’t specific to this year, but just when we thought it couldn’t grow any more dominant, 2020 catapulted its omnipresence. While it has launched the careers of many young people (including plenty of locals) hoping to become creators — whatever that means to those who use the title — TikTok gained new real estate as it became the most downloaded app in the world. You probably also noticed your otherwise social media-absent boyfriend taking increasingly longer breaks from Call Of Duty to endlessly scroll through clips of things like people drinking cranberry juice while riding a skateboard to Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams.” Even the boomers have tapped into the global phenomenon at this point! So, as the world shut down for the first time in almost any living person’s lifetime, TikTok gave us a way to not only communicate but to find enjoyment in dark days. I mean, this year saw people so bored out of their fucking minds while ridden to the walls of their dwellings that they spent hours on shooting countless takes of them wiping their own mirrors. Show me another app with that kind of power. — AS

Favorite Meme: Bootleg Facebook Custom Background Posts

Facebook is boomerplanet.com. It’s boomermeet.com. It’s a land that is so normie that it’s almost hilarious. Seriously, go on to your Nonna or old ass uncle’s profile and just read some of their statuses — they’re so absolutely mundane and boring that they’re unintentionally hilarious. With the added flare of Facebook’s customizable background feature they rolled out in 2016, you get a series of visual statuses with text that absolutely does not correspond with the text. (Remember when we said not everyone is great at written communication? This is what I mean.) Gen Z quickly took notice of this trend and created their own bootleg Facebook custom statuses and repurposed the text to feature jokes and commentary on the social milieu of today. It’s important to note that this trend started largely on the Black sectors of the internet (which you can thank for a lot of digital pop culture). Popular meme Instagrams like patiasfantasyworld relied heavily on this meme trend this year and kept us all laughing in these uncertain times as we all sourced the digital sphere for joy. As with any trend, this also led to low-brow efforts that use a mix of poorly photoshopped words to the existing text of a meme with something unrelated like some sort of goofy Mad Lib game. – JS

Favorite Film: The Way Back

Ostensibly a high school basketball movie, The Way Back deals with some far heavier issues —loss, regret, guilt and redemption — than would appear at first blush. Ben Affleck’s Jack Cunningham, once a promising high school basketball player with lofty college ball dreams, has dealt with the darkness of death and abuse throughout his life, and has in turn become too dependent on alcohol as a numbing agent for his pain and a dissociative tool for his troubles. Life provides him a shot at redemption when he’s offered the head coaching job of his old high school team after the previous coach suffers a heart attack. Alas, the team’s not great, and Jack isn’t immediately a great fit for the role he’s been tasked with, but that’s OK: This isn’t necessarily the turnaround story to which sports film fans have become accustomed. The Way Back has its optimistic moments, but its brooding and true-to-life messy ones are constantly lurking around the corner. Far more about the journey than any redemptive arc or happy destination, The Way Back is closer to Affleck’s brother Casey’s Manchester By The Sea than it is Hoosiers — although the latter would make a fine comp indeed if it focused squarely on the struggles of Dennis Hopper’s alcoholic character in that classic. Featuring a top-tier Affleck performance and a truly breakthrough effort from former Daily Show correspondent Al Madrigal as the team’s assistant coach, The Way Back is a well-performed and well-crafted tearjerker about how things don’t always turn out the way you want. More than that, it’s a touching reminder that there’s real beauty to be found just in working toward worthy goals — and in trusting the intentions of those who want to help you achieve them one day. — PF

Favorite Government Figure: Dr. Anthony Fauci

Let’s be real: The crop of “leaders” this year, both locally and nationally, were in their flop eras when we needed them most. One of them, though, arose as a calming voice: Dr. Anthony Fauci. The director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases — a post he has held since 1984 — has carried his credentials for decades as an adviser to six presidents since Ronald Reagan, but it was the coronavirus that brought him to the status of “America’s Doctor.” He’s also had a reputation for being pragmatic, dating as far back as his complicated relationship with HIV/AIDS activists in the ’80s. And in a country that managed to put its clown shoes on to politicize a deadly global pandemic, Fauci’s mostly managed to stay out of the mud that Donald Trump has tried to pull him into — this, despite becoming a target for MAGA memes in the wake of Trump’s openly medically contradictory statements since the pandemic began. Also, c’mon, we all felt that nationally-televised facepalm deep in our cores with every passing day of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey behavior that was the Trump Administration’s bungling of U.S. pandemic response. Above all, Dr. Fauci has been a steady hand in a time that most of us never imagined could happen, and the fact that he wasn’t met with the same competence from the rest of the failed coronavirus task force cost many lives in the U.S. Also: The fact that the general public had no idea who this guy was at the beginning of the year — and now he’s making headlines for assuring children that Santa Claus is vaccinated? — is just fascinating to me. — AS

Cover image by Jessi Pereira.

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