Dance Lessons and the Cubs: The Week in Pop-Culture Writing

Highlights from seven days of reading about arts and entertainment

Michael Jackson performing in Romania in 1992 (AP)

Dance Lessons for Writers
Zadie Smith | The Guardian
“Every move [Michael Jackson] made was absolutely legible, public, endlessly copied and copyable, like a meme before the word existed. He thought in images, and across time. He deliberately outlined and then marked once more the edges around each move, like a cop drawing a chalk line round a body. Stuck his neck forward if he was moving backwards. Cut his trousers short so you could read his ankles. Grabbed his groin so you could better understand its gyrations. Gloved one hand so you might attend to its rhythmic genius, the way it punctuated everything, like an exclamation mark.”

Why Atlanta’s Police-Shooting Scene Was So Effective
Joshua Alston | Vulture
“Considering Atlanta’s tendency to insert deeply surreal elements—the invisible car, for instance—it says a lot about the scene that it feels so startling, realistic, and sad. Because so many of Atlanta’s story elements can’t be taken at face value, I wondered why I found it so affecting, or why I spent the moments prior fearing Alfred might end up face-down and bleeding.”

Vine Dries Up, Black Humor Loses a Home
Jazmine Hughes | The New York Times
“Vine incubated black ingenuity and creativity, allowing makers to play with structure, form, insertion, pacing and interpolation, and letting users employ the videos as punch lines, shorthand, and punctuation. The service became its own ecosystem of black culture, both by relying on familiar figures, experiences and jokes, and by creating the next batch of them.”

The Cubs Just Ended Baseball’s Analytics War
Rany Jazayerli | The Ringer
“To be perfectly clear, ‘analytics’ doesn’t mean ‘numbers.’ It means cutting through the bullshit. It means having a reason for every decision you make, and that reason being something other than ‘because that’s the way it’s always been done.’ It doesn’t mean eliminating Conventional Wisdom; it means questioning it. It means getting as much data as you can, but ‘data’ is just a fancy word for information. ”

Analyzing Zayn Malik’s Autobiography
Anna Leszkiewicz | New Statesman
“In short, the art of the celebrity memoir is to appear revelatory while revealing nothing—at least, nothing that could potentially paint the author in a bad light. That tension can make for a strange reading experience, one of sanitized intimacy. This is particularly precarious for an artist like Zayn, whose post-boy band narrative depends on his newfound ‘realness’.”

Phil Collins and the Pop Man’s Burden
Kathleen Massara | The New Republic
“Take apart any Phil Collins song and you have on your hands an unfettered mess of synthesizers and male pain. Whether he liked it or not, Collins embodied this type of ‘white man’s pop,’ even though his music wasn’t about money, or even success. Rather, it chronicled his failures in love, and the creeping feeling of not fitting in, despite the millions of records sold. It was music for a generation of men who wanted to climb the corporate ladder and not get led astray by a deceitful woman, but who also yearned to find a home in an available body.”

Art, History, and Why It’s Okay to Play With Manson Family Paper Dolls
John Reed | Guernica
“The stuff of art and intelligence is in the recognition of patterns, the simplification of the divine equation. Oversimplification, however, is banal. That’s the fine line traversed by all art: The simpler the art, the more marketable it is—simple is easy to categorize, explain to consumers, contour for hype; conversely, the more complex a work of art, the smaller its audience and the more recondite the conversation around it.”

The World’s Greatest Living Animator and the Masterpiece He Knows He May Never Finish
Brian Phillips | MTV News
“He can do things no one has thought of. One day, on a film being made with cutouts—essentially two-dimensional puppets, drawings with movable limbs—he startles his colleagues by gathering all the cutouts and tearing the hinges out of their joints. Why rely on hinges when he can make them move more naturally as loose collections of shapes? Sometimes he senses a possibility in this, a faint stirring of potential. But it remains distant.”