Artists of the Year

Hurricanes, war, avian flu, locust plagues, that annoying song you couldn't get out of your head. It wasn't the greatest of all possible years. Nor was it halfway decent. But to prove that it wasn't all bad, we asked 29 writers to rave about the ar

Lindsey Thomas is associate arts editor at City Pages.

 

Arianna Huffington
By Rex Sorgatz
The Huffington Post should completely suck.

On paper (or more likely, in Powerpoint, at www.huffingtonpost.com), it looks like a grab bag of banal ideas: bold-font limousine liberals meet Drudge's link-o-mania meets the can-you-hear-me-now? echo chamber of the blogosphere. Following a humdrum launch in May, the website should have disappeared faster than Sean Penn's paddleboat in a N'awlins suckhole.

And yet, mysteriously, like most inexplicable internet phenomena, Arianna Huffington--the site's Greek-goddesslike proprietress, who was once a Gingrich denizen but had since reinvented herself as a liberal Californian gubernatorial candidate--seems to have created a success story, almost against our collective will. Sometime in the middle of summer, right around the time your mom signed up for a MySpace account, one of the 300-plus celebs at the Huffington Post penned something akin to breaking news: Nora Ephron revealed that she knew who Deep Throat was all along. Sure, so did my high school civics teacher, but Ephron was at least once married to Bob Woodward. This was exactly the kind of icky-yet-juicy gossip we want to see out of a collision of Very Big Media and Very Smarmy Hollywood. By late summer, more substantial hits flowed from the site, among them the first report that Karl Rove was the source of the Valerie Plame leak.

From the start, and to this day, it's easy to make cracks about a website that stacks commentary from Cindy Sheehan next to Gwyneth Paltrow, Julia Louis-Dreyfus next to Walter Cronkite, Deepak Chopra next to Norman Mailer. And Huffington's record as "an intellectual lap dancer" (as Vanity Fair recently wrote) often causes a cynical brow to tilt skyward. But when it comes down to it, the Huffington Post is exactly the kind of celebrity clusterfuck we always wanted: a big wet dream where NYC media, L.A. entertainment, and D.C. politics all got together for a little nuzzling.

Can you hear it now?

 

Rex Sorgatz is the creator ofMNspeak.com and the interactive director at Internet Broadcasting Systems.

 

Gwen Stefani
By Matthew Wilder
"Style...detached from content...a fatal attraction to cuteness." Those last whispered words from Gwen Stefani's "Harajuku Girls" pretty much sum up the ingredients of my unhealthy preoccupation with the Queen of the Tragic Kingdom. That, and her gobsmacking cheerleader-meets-chola look in the "Hollaback Girl" video. And the fact that her hugely popular Love Angel Music Baby is at least two-thirds of an iconic pop masterpiece along the lines of Thriller or Like a Virgin (and yet she still gets shittier reviews than no-talent mall rats like Kelly Osborne and Ashlee Simpson). Recently Spin asked Stefani to name her favorite albums of the last two decades, but she slyly demurred, shrugging, "I like hits." Yes, she does, and like that knucklehead from the Dandy Warhols said in the movie DIG!, when she sneezes, hits come out.

Gwen doesn't live in our world; she lives in a place she calls "super-kawai"--a hybrid Japanese-English phrase that literally means "ultra-cute" and suggests a worldview derived from living close to Disneyland. I think it drives some people crazy that Gwen Stefani has a beautiful husband, a pile of money, and four Harajuku Girls capering around her like capuchins onstage and off, yet there is absolutely not one iota of guilt in her music. She is always damned as a symbol of "unexamined privilege," even though her persona is warm, funny, and generous (unlike many of those teen divas favored by rock critics). What rankles certain music snobs about Gwen is that there is nothing remotely "subversive" about her. Her persona, her songs, her L.A.M.B. clothes are designed to hit the pleasure center in the middle of the reptile brain, like a handjob, a butterscotch sundae, or the Peanuts theme. Don't ask Gwen to be "empowering." Take her example and just say, Yes, more, please.

Matthew Wilder is a Los Angeles-based writer and director and a frequent contributor to City Pages.

 

Grant Morrison
By Douglas Wolk
Explaining his brilliant but insanely difficult series The Invisibles a few years ago, the comics writer Grant Morrison called it his "attempt to explain what had happened to me after I'd been abducted by aliens in Katmandu in 1994," and noted further that he had gone to Katmandu specifically so that he could be abducted by aliens. Morrison is one weird guy: He's fascinated by what he calls "pop magick," the intersection of mysticism and popular culture, and he's explored the more arcane corners of his interest in unhinged comics like Doom Patrol and The Filth. Before this year, though, he was best known for much more straightforward superhero comics, notably a spell on New X-Men that was straight-up wide-screen action. In 2005, he figured out how to write great mainstream comics with the conceptual complexity, hermetic metaphysics, and metafictional pyrotechnics of his experimental work--stuff that you could read for a quick thrill or spend days sinking your brain into. First there was WE3, drawn by his frequent collaborator Frank Quitely, a rip-roaring adventure story about the difference between animal and human perceptions. In November, Morrison and Quitely launched All-Star Superman, their Platonic ideal of what Superman comics should be: crammed with science-fictional invention, much larger than life, and a total blast. Best of all, though, is Morrison's ongoing Seven Soldiers of Victory project, a set of seven concurrently running miniseries that collectively form a single huge story; it's already spawned a few websites on which fans are unpacking the allegorical resonance of nearly every character and object and incident. It also involves pirates riding the secret subway lines under New York City and Frankenstein fighting demons on Mars with a steam-powered flintlock. There are plenty of "dark," "mature" mainstream comics right now, but none deeper--or more fun--than Morrison's.

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