Lenika Cruz’s Culture Picks: BTS, The X-Files, and More

The Atlantic editor also enjoys discovering that things she previously thought were Bad are actually Good.

Jimin, J-Hope, Jin, Jungkook, RM, Suga, and V of BTS perform onstage during the 2021 American Music Awards at Microsoft Theater on November 21, 2021 in Los Angeles, California.
"BTS are once-in-a-generation artists." (Kevin Winter / Getty)

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Good morning, and welcome back to The Daily’s Sunday culture edition, in which one Atlantic writer reveals what’s keeping them entertained.

Today, our special guest is Lenika Cruz, a senior editor who will publish an Atlantic Editions book on the South Korean pop group BTS in January (preorder it here). Lenika has recently written about the pleasure of watching movies on planes and Mariquita: A Tragedy of Guam, a book she called a “story of all Pacific Islanders whose lives have been shattered by the wars of empire.” She’s currently rewatching The X-Files, playing Stardew Valley, and watching YouTube video essays about horror and art-house films.

But first, here are three Sunday reads from The Atlantic:

The Culture Survey: Lenika Cruz

The upcoming event I’m most looking forward to: I desperately missed live music during the first years of the pandemic, so I’ve been on a real concert kick lately. I recently saw Muna when they performed in D.C.; it was my first time back at the 9:30 Club in ages, and the entire show was joyful and glorious and wonderfully queer. In the next couple of months, I’ll be seeing the British-Japanese pop artist Rina Sawayama, the electronic-pop duo Magdalena Bay, and the indie-rock legends Modest Mouse, who are doing a 25th-anniversary tour for their album The Lonesome Crowded West. My husband and I are going to that last show together; LCW was one of the records we bonded over when we first met in high school 15 years ago, so it’ll be very meaningful and cute. [Related: A new generation of pop stars are dancing with the devil.]

The television show I’m most enjoying right now: My partner and I have been rewatching The X-Files this year, and we’re now on Season 4. This show is no doubt a masterpiece, and several episodes easily belong among the greatest hours of television ever (“Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose,” “Home”). But there are definitely some clunkers scattered throughout, episodes so bewilderingly bad they’re entertaining (“Teso Dos Bichos,” “Teliko”). It’s fun to watch Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny do their best with horrible material. [Related: What The X-Files understood about the search for truth]

My favorite blockbuster and favorite art movie: I am a big Titanic stan. It absolutely holds up and earns every minute of its run time. Picking my favorite art movie is hard, but one film I’ll never forget is Kanał, by the Polish auteur Andrzej Wajda. It’s the second film in Wajda’s trilogy that features the better-known and acclaimed Ashes and Diamonds. Kanał is one of the most harrowing and stunning movies I’ve ever seen. [Related: I just saw Titanic for the first time, and it is awesome.]

Best novel I’ve recently read, and the best work of nonfiction: I adored the novel Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, by Gabrielle Zevin, which my friend and Atlantic colleague Morgan Ome recommended to me (she also wrote about it for a recent books roundup). I read it in a day and a half, and felt bereft afterward. How could I possibly move on to any other book? In short, it’s about friendship, love, trauma, and video games. As soon as I finished it, all I wanted to do was either immediately reread it or ... play some really great video games.

For nonfiction, I read The Yellow House, by Sarah M. Broom, earlier this year. It’s one of my all-time favorite memoirs, brimming with voice and humanity and a hefty amount of research and reportage. It’s a tender and complicated love letter to a city (New Orleans), a painstaking reconstruction of a forgotten history, and a brave familial reckoning.

A quiet song I love, and a loud song I love: Quiet: “Nowhere Near,” by Yo La Tengo. Loud: “Not Moving,” by DNA.

A musical artist who means a lot to me: Well, I have an Atlantic Editions book coming out next January about the one and only BTS! My love for that group is no secret among those who know me or who happen to follow me on social media. (Hopefully you don’t?) BTS are once-in-a-generation artists. Even though they’ve slowed down on their group activities as the members prepare to enlist for their mandatory South Korean military service, they’re all planning to come out with individual projects.

The eldest member, Jin, will be the first to enlist, so he released a beautiful single last week called “The Astronaut,” which I’ve been listening to nonstop. The music video is layered with meaning—it follows an alien who landed on Earth, found a family, and chooses to stay even when he gets the chance to return to his planet. The song itself, which Jin co-wrote with Coldplay, features English and Korean lyrics and conjures both bittersweet nostalgia and warm optimism. When the shimmering guitars and Jin’s one-of-a-kind, powerhouse vocals wash over me, I feel a strange sense of cosmic reassurance; I’ve only just gotten to the point where I can hear it without crying. [Related: The spectacular vindication of BTS]

still of Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio from The Titanic
"I am a big Titanic stan. It absolutely holds up and earns every minute of its run time." (Merie W. Wallace / 20th Century Fox Film Corp / Everett)

The last museum or gallery show I loved: I was at a book event at the Brooklyn Museum last month, and the paintings of a diasporic CHamoru artist named Gisela McDaniel were projected on a screen for the duration of the conversation. Her work is gorgeous and raw, and I highly recommend checking it out.

Something I recently revisited: I tried to get into the video game Stardew Valley last year but had a hard time adjusting to it right after playing a lot of Animal Crossing (a superficially similar but very different, and easier, game). I abandoned it after just a couple of play sessions. After reading Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, I picked up my Nintendo Switch Lite to try again. This time I became obsessed. I understand now why people love this game so much, and why it must’ve been such a comfort to play in the earlier months of the pandemic. (FWIW, I live on a beach farm with my wife, Penny, and my cat, Miso.) [Related: The quiet revolution of Animal Crossing]

My favorite way to waste time on my phone: I don’t waste time on my phone :)

An online creator that I’m a fan of: I don’t spend as much time on YouTube as I used to, but I recently watched some smart video essays from a creator called Spikima Movies. The person behind it mostly focuses on horror and art-house films, analyzing them formally, aesthetically, and thematically. I particularly enjoyed the videos about Hereditary, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and Kairo; I found them to be intelligent, revelatory, and overflowing with a palpable affection for cinema. [Related: Hereditary and the monstrousness of creative moms]

A good recommendation I recently received: Um. A friend convinced me to buy a pair of Crocs, even though I’ve spent ages making fun of them and swearing I’d never wear them. What can I say? They’re comfortable, colorful, and versatile. The youths have deemed them cool now. One of my favorite things is discovering that something I previously thought was Bad is actually Good, and then trying to get other people to overcome their hang-ups and experience happiness with me.

Read past editions of the Culture Survey by Sophie Gilbert, Hannah Giorgis, and Jordan Calhoun.

The Week Ahead
  1. Haruki Murakami’s book Novelist as a Vocation (Tuesday)
  2. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (Friday)
  3. Bruce Springsteen’s 21st album, Only the Strong Survive, a collection of R&B and soul covers (Friday)

A still frame from the Andor series
(Lucasfilm Ltd / Disney+)

Star Wars Gets Political

By Adam Serwer

In the eighth episode of the Star Wars prequel series Andor, the mysterious art dealer turned Rebel leader Luthen implores the extremist fighter Saw Gerrera to unite with other factions against the evil Galactic Empire.

“Aren’t you tired of fighting with people who agree with you?” Luthen pleads with Gerrera. “There’s no chance any of us can make it real on our own.”

“Kreegyr’s a Separatist. Maya Pei’s a neo-republican!” Gerrera replies in disgust. “The Ghorman Front? The Partisan Alliance? Sectorists. Human Cultists. Galaxy Partitionists. They’re lost! All of them, lost! Lost!”

I want to be clear that, as a Star Wars fan since childhood, I have no idea who any of these people are … But none of that matters.

Read the full article.

More in Culture

Plus: Can’t decide what to stream this weekend? Here are 25 feel-good films to watch and rewatch.

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