Artists Of The Year

From escapist entertainment to aesthetic ecstasy: Twenty-nine writers script valentines to twelve months of culture

But who ever said artistry was about independence? Too often, we approach art with a demanding juridical scrutiny, as if the work in question was a premeditated homicide and we had to pin the responsibility on someone. When it comes to girl-group pop, whether ancient or modern, our desperation to find an auteur leads us to anoint the producer. But all beats aside, "Say My Name" could have been an insecure whine if placed in the wrong larynx. Instead Knowles's prepossessed but pained wail echoes the claustrophobic paranoia that underlays every desperate Motown ballad. Like "I Heard it Through the Grapevine," "Say My Name" is a tale of identity being dissolved in a crucible of infidelity, the song's emotion seemingly too big for the cozy confines of the pop-radio format. And that takes some kind of singer. Say her name.

Keith Harris is music editor atCity Pages.

 

GINA PRINCE-BYTHEWOOD
by Christine Kunewa Walker

 

If she weren't such a hot filmmaker, Gina Prince-Bythewood could run for president. There'd be no need for manual recounts--Prince-Bythewood would dominate. Let's look at her qualifications. First, she has solid backing: Spike Lee executive-produced her first feature film, Love and Basketball. She has the proven ability to raise money: New Line Cinema gave her almost $15 million to make the movie. (That she obtained studio financing for a first feature is almost unheard-of.) She has staying power: Her second film--Disappearing Acts, with Wesley Snipes and Sanaa Lathan--premieres this month on HBO. She can handle the rigors of an exhausting schedule. (Prince-Bythewood is a former college athlete.) And she's a black woman: No doubt we could use a new voice in government.

But most of all, Prince-Bythewood is an inspiring role model. By her own example, she believes that women can have it all (a man, a baby, and a career, as in Love and Basketball), but she also knows that having it all doesn't come without trial and error (see Disappearing Acts). She might even be capable of single-handedly affecting race relations in America. In her movies, Prince-Bythewood brings a depth and understanding to the black experience that both informs and transcends. At the same time, she knows how to entertain. (How about those tastefully titillating strip-basketball scenes between Lathan and Omar Epps?) Finally, Prince-Bythewood would likely appoint an ambassadorship to Lathan, extending a collaboration that already seems headed for De Niro/Scorsese territory.

With Lathan on her team, Prince-Bythewood would undoubtedly win the presidency. On second thought, she'll reach more people as a filmmaker. More people watch the Oscars than the inauguration.

Christine Kunewa Walker is a Minneapolis-based independent film producer.

 

RADIOHEAD
by Laura Sinagra

 

Let Thom debate! This year, respect for the public's aspirations hit rock bottom in both the electoral and music industries. Political parties (both Dems and Dose) and Max Martin music monopolists delivered a diet of award-show pageantry. In response, more than just a few of us rubes proved we could muster enough ire to hang through a Nader speech (whew!) and/or accompany Yorke and his unmerry men down the proggiest and most pre-lingual synaptic detours.

Sure, Kid A can be indulgent: My first listen, on a plane gliding over an obscenely gleaming Manhattan, sparked a near rapture of dislocation. It's a solipsistic record, and for all the shiny Can comparisons, detractors who trace a lineage back through Reznor to Robert Smith aren't necessarily wrong. But somehow the mix of evocative MIDI macramé, clairvoyant rhythms, and Yorke's lost-kite falsetto suggested a rare empathy for a growing collective queasiness. Anticipation of the album's arrival catalyzed an explosion of fan sites and speculation. For months, the day traders of Napster passed live bootlegs around like ultrasound photos, mapping the possible features of precious Kid A.

Why? Because people believed this was music that actually came from somebody's gut. And it is. Yes, titles like "National Anthem" and "Motion Picture Soundtrack" flaunt iconoclast cred, but it was Yorke's horrified wail, "This is really happening," that proved worth a thousand bizkits. It meant something to agree with his assessment, to affiliate, to open up hearts and hard drives. The band and its community created a constituency to register the pain resulting from everyday injustice, the silent poisons of mutant food, the stealthy violence of Photoshop perfection. Call us naive; call us consumers of commodified dissent. But it's a Barnum & Bailey world historic, and the fact that lots of people chose to ponder the effects of enforced alienation instead of post-convention bounce, was a protest vote for righteous angst over insulting artifice.

Laura Sinagra is a New York-based writer and a contributor toCity Pages.

 

LARRY DAVID
by Sarah Vowell

 

You know those moments when you feel yourself turn on the charm? When you use your smile or your humor to josh and cajole someone else? When kindness becomes manipulation? The thing I love most about Larry David's HBO comedy Curb Your Enthusiasm is that Larry David is devoid of charm. Because David is incapable of cuteness, he is peculiarly honest. Even when he's lying. The man can make the words I love you, too into a laugh line.

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