Good-Girl Jams and Grand Theft Auto: The Week's Best Pop-Culture Writing

The most intriguing articles about entertainment we've come across in the past seven days

Click the links in the article titles to read the full pieces, and let us know what we've missed:

Rockstar Games

I Finished "Grand Theft Auto V" on One 38-Hour Sitting (Almost)
Joseph Bernstein

But is there even a “right” way to treat GTA V, the fresh behemoth that Rockstar Games has today delivered into the world after a half-decade, quarter-billion-dollar gestation? Should we treat it formally, purely as a game, in terms of graphics and gameplay and multiplayer features? That’s a good place to start, but it ignores the fact that this series has, over the past 15 years, become a genuine cultural touchstone, a shorthand in American life for both the best and the worst that games have to offer. OK, so should we treat it as a cultural phenomenon with a uniquely loaded past? Well, it’s that too, but as any old gamer can tell you, the foremost thing about these games is that when you strip away the outrage and outrageousness, they are really, stupidly, surpassingly fun and totally in love with the possibilities of gaming. Should we treat it as an entertainment product? Sure, and it will probably make more than a billion dollars, but it’s far too weird, too risky, too funny, and too beautiful to be considered a Call of Duty-style cash cow. So how about talking about it as a work of popular art, done by a game studio of unparalleled ambition? That’s closer, but, I mean, this is still a thing in which you can switch between boobular camera angles during a virtual lap dance.

Cash Money

Drake and Pop Music's Good-Girl Problem
Ann Powers

A good girl ushered in the summer; a good girl is leading us out. And on some symbolic level, it's the very same one. "Hold On, We're Going Home," the emotional centerpiece of Drake's recently leaked new album, Nothing Was the Same, sounds like an answer song to Robin Thicke's still inescapable "Blurred Lines" — except it's not Thicke's female conquest who gets to speak, it's the other man, the scorned domesticator from whom the slick seducer offers escape.

While "Blurred Lines" presents a confident man leading a hesitant woman toward pleasurable discoveries (or, some have thought, harassing her), "Hold On" offers rescue grounded in confinement. In a croon so gentle it buffs the blade of Thicke's delivery, Drake reminds his lady that he's there for her — in the romantic sense, but also as, essentially, her keeper. "I got my eyes on you," he begins, signaling surveillance; he wants her "hot love and emotion," but he also wants to keep it in check. "You're a good girl and you know it, you act so different around me," he continues before giving her the ten-minute warning: Hold on, we're going home. I'll get your coat and call the valet, baby. You tell that snake to go his way.


Locked in a Nostalgia Funhouse With Kevin Arnold
Willa Paskin

Watching The Wonder Years today is to be locked into a nostalgia funhouse. Fantasies about and pangs for the ’50s and ’60s collide with quaintnesses from the ’80s and carom into the present, where Winnie Cooper recently kissed Avril Lavigne in a music video. With so much multigenerational wistfulness flying around, it’s nearly impossible to watch The Wonder Years and not feel nostalgic about something. But rewatching the series recently didn’t make me long for the late ’60s. It also didn’t make me miss ’80s sitcoms, which shamelessly impart corny lessons (“What we felt in those years, the joy, the possibilities, will always be a part of us … ”) and are so broad that, five seasons in, The Wonder Years was still reintroducing Winnie every time she showed up on screen. What The Wonder Years made me nostalgic for is how much better we used to be at being nostalgic—ouch, sorry, that was me slamming into a nostalgia mirror.


The New Republic
What Jonathan Franzen Misunderstands About Me
Jennifer Weiner

In 2010, I coined the hashtag Franzenfreude. It was very bad German for a very real problem: When Franzen’s most recent novel, Freedom, was published, newspapers and magazines devoted thousands of words to the book and its author, while giving other literary books far less attention, and, in some cases, ignoring commercial works completely. Perhaps Franzen’s recent name-check was payback for when I implied that he was the face of white male literary privilege, or for pointing out that he’s the kind of writer who goes on Facebook only to announce that he won’t be doing Facebook, with the implication that he doesn't have to do Facebook, because the media does his status updates for him. Or maybe he just really, really hates “The Bachelor.”

In his essay, Franzen reserves his respect for “the people who became writers because yakking and tweeting and bragging felt to them like intolerably shallow forms of social engagement,” the ones who “want to communicate in depth, individual to individual, in the quiet and permanence of the printed word.” But as long as there have been books, there have been writers who’ve preferred yakking and bragging to quiet and permanence. In the 1880s, there was Oscar Wilde on lecture tours. In the 1960s, there was ​Truman Capote on “What’s My Line?” 

AP / Darron Cummings

ESPN Magazine
The NFL's International Casting Call
Ryan McGee

Longtime scout Jon Shaw had lobbied the Colts' front office to invite Adongo to camp because of his raw athletic ability. Skeptics were silenced when the 23-year-old showed up, fresh off a plane from Johannesburg, and broad-jumped 11 feet, which would have been sixth-best at this year's combine. Not bad for someone who'd never broad-jumped before. Adongo ended up snagging one of Indianapolis' eight practice-squad spots despite not recording any preseason stats. "He's a clean canvas," Colts linebackers coach Jeff FitzGerald said.

The league seems to be stocking up on such canvases. A record 12 foreign-born players were selected in April's NFL draft. From 1990 to 2011, only seven players who didn't attend high school in North America were drafted. In the last two drafts, there have been five. Those foreign-born players bring varying levels of football experience. Certainly none has the typical U.S. background of pee-wee leagues, Friday night high school games, year-round television exposure, and endless coverage of major college football and the NFL.


Lessons of “The X-Files”: The One Show Every TV Exec Should Be Watching
Alec Nevala-Lee

When “The X-Files” premiered 20 years ago, on September 10, 1993, it was thrown into a television landscape that seems increasingly hard to recognize. There were no box sets or streaming options; Netflix and BitTorrent didn’t exist; the Internet, which would play such a large role in the show’s popularity, was just starting to appear in most homes. When I first encountered it, part of me was irked by its narrative amnesia, in which each case’s incredible events were forgotten by the following week, but it didn’t have much of a choice. Each episode had to stand on its own; the show, always seemingly on the verge of cancellation, had to keep moving or die.

Of course, it was far from alone. When a series first appears, it’s impossible to know what it might become, which is why it can be so painful to revisit a pilot — or, in the case of “Parks and Recreation,” an entire early season — of a show you’ve come to love. A series needs time to learn its own strengths, and it doesn’t always get a chance: television history is littered with casualties, like the lamented “Bunheads,” that died far too soon. Telling shapely stories when the endgame is so uncertain requires an inhuman degree of skill, and only a handful of geniuses, like Matthew Weiner of “Mad Men,” have pulled it off over an extended run. But the medium’s unforgiving nature can also result in astonishing discoveries for the shows that manage to survive.

The Loneliness of the Alt-Rock Anniversary
Steven Hyden

And yet I suspect that August and Everything After won't get the same coverage as In Utero. They certainly haven't been put on the same plane before now, and the reason why is obvious: Counting Crows has a bad-to-nonexistent standing with most critics. Music writers either don't like them or don't consider them worthy of thinking about one way or the other. Among "normal" people, Counting Crows is a group you can casually mock without having to justify it. I don't think it's necessarily the consensus opinion that Counting Crows sucks, because I know plenty of people who couldn't care less about the band's albums but will concede that "Round Here" is a great song. It's just accepted that Counting Crows signifies a lot of what's retroactively considered embarrassing about '90s rock — the earnestness, the over-the-top emotionalism that veers into whininess, and the weird combination of sullenness about fame and the intense interest in crafting singles that are still played endlessly on the radio.

What's funny (or maybe just confusing) about all of this is that what makes Counting Crows seem dated in the minds of serious music fans is what also makes Nirvana seem immortal. The canonization of Kurt Cobain is based on the premise that he was an "authentic" person — he critiqued the star system while also embodying what a rock star is supposed to be, and he did so better than any musician of his time (or since). Adam Duritz, meanwhile, isn't perceived like that, even though he's authentic in a similar way.

New World Pictures

How 1985’s Girls Just Want to Have Fun Set the Template for All Future Dance Movies
Jessica Roake

3. The rich snob/romantic rival
It’s not enough that dancing heroes must contend with the challenge of learning/nailing the art of dance: She has to deal with some petty competition as well. The villain is either wealthier/more respected than our heroine or a jealous romantic rival, and she hates our heroine with a vicious single-mindedness that seems a scooch extreme. She seeks to undercut, sabotage, and generally humiliate our heroine at every turn. In Girls Just Want to Have Fun, Natalie (Holly Gagnier) is a rich snob, a romantic rival, and Janey’s biggest competition, which makes her extra formidable. And her dad tries to fix the Dance TV contest!

See also: Strictly Ballroom’s Liz (Gia Carides), Save the Last Dance’s Nikki (Bianca Lawson), Stomp the Yard’s Grant (Darrin Dewitt Henson)