BEST OF 2018

Our favorite albums, artists, books, films, and more of the year

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We started our “best of” practice in 2016, when it struck us that we were all pretty cool people who liked a lot of stuff. Most of our editorial meetings become exchanges of the movies, music, books, articles, podcasts, and tv shows we’re watching and loving. We have had informal office townhalls on Bob Dylan, Roxane Gay, and Beyoncé. We have created lists of the top female vocalists of the 20th century and debated the merits of authorship, discussed the role of fandoms, and every drama — no matter how great or how small — that have arisen in the past three years. The “Best of” post has become one of my most favorite rituals for The Smart Set. First, it allows us to reflect on all the material we’ve come across throughout the year and pluck those texts or people that really struck a chord. Second, it allows us to share that joy. We hope that you find below a few samesies from your personal lists and a couple of new things to binge.

 

Isabella’s Top Three

Big Mouth

Painfully relatable, audibly laughable, and conveniently binge-watchable, this cartoon for adults is significantly more enjoyable than any other. It focuses on the topic of puberty and covers a variety of details from a plethora of perspectives. The abundance of characters is voiced mostly by Nick Kroll, John Mulaney, Maya Rudolph, and Jordan Peele. Airing their first season in late 2017, Netflix-subscribers (and friends who have their passwords) spent the entirety of 2018 re-watching season one in preparation for season two’s release in October. The new season certainly didn’t disappoint. We were introduced to some new characters and were welcomed to delve further into the lives of existing secondary and tertiary characters. A notable new character is the Shame Wizard, who haunts everybody’s thoughts, with the exception of a shameless Coach Steve. Season two reaffirms that the transition from childhood to adulthood is awkward and difficult, but introduces some new elements we can recall of adolescence. It becomes easy to find a little bit of yourself in each of these characters, as they remind us of the years we wish we could forget.

Pilea Peperomia

The perfectly circular leaves on the end of each long stem are reminiscent of a Yayoi Kusama installation. Highly saturated green hues look charming in collaboration with the classic neutrality of terra cotta. The contrast of several delicate stems all attached to a single rugged stalk portray hardiness amidst elegance. The easily-maintained pilea peperomia is a houseplant now highly sought after by minimalists, probably due to its evenly spaced foliage and comfortable symmetry. This plant, in particular, serves as delicious eye-candy, and it’s easily propagated for both sharing and stashing. If houseplants were retail stores, the pilea peperomia is Urban Outfitters: trendy, overpriced, and adored by hipsters.

Cardi B

You may remember her as Vine’s comedic stripper, or maybe the outspoken reality star of Love and Hip Hop. Whatever your earliest memory of Cardi B, it’s hard to ignore her presence in 2018 year. In April, the mogul dropped her debut album, Invasion of Privacy, which streamed over 100,000,000 times on Apple Music. She set countless records with her rap career, dropped an affordable clothing line with Fashion Nova, and gained five BET awards including Hustler of the Year. However, these monetary accomplishments may seem minuscule when adjusting the scope to the big picture. Cardi B serves as an inspirational figure to women and proof your circumstances really do not define your outcome. She’s received an abundance of praise from a wide and diverse audience as a result of her charming personality and hilarious commentary. With her quick wit, unapologetic authenticity, and consistent work ethic, she has proved worthy of her prominence. OKURRRT!

Emily’s Top Three

Sorry to Bother You

A brightly bizarre and macabre dystopic comedy brought to us by Boots Riley this summer, starring Lakeith Stanfield and Tessa Thompson. I was blown away by the creativity and outrageous nature of this film.

Dirty Computer

Janelle Monae’s visual album brought us into twenty-gay-teen with an astounding lineup of bangers and beautifully choreographed and designed sets.

Sticker Club (@stickr.club)

Local artists @heart.fuzz and @cece.pokes opened a new studio space in West Philly recently, giving a home to a wide variety of roaming artists and serving as a safe space for queer, experimental, and independent artists and clients.

Kathy’s Top Three

Crazy Rich Asians

This was not just a movie. It was a movement. Rising to the top of the box office, Crazy Rich Asians was the summer craze that not only stole our hearts by Nick Young’s charms but also our attention with an all Asian cast. While I am not the biggest fan of rom-com movies, I couldn’t deny the overwhelming pride blooming in my chest watching it on the big screen while laughing along to relatable references like folding dumplings or family members’ criticisms. Watching this movie felt like my childhood dreams were somehow taken and placed on the screen. I no longer had to imagine myself into the movie, I already felt part of it.

Yappie

Yappie is a summer YouTube series consisted of 5 episodes by the channel, Wong Fu Productions. The series discusses several issues Asian Americans face like “yellow fever,” “interracial dating,” being “Asian enough,” and especially being a “Yappie”, a “Young Asian Professional.” As a fan since 2009 and having attended their Philadelphia tour over the summer, I was fortunate to take part in amazing discussions and witness a growing YouTube channel creating a safe space to talk about our personal experiences.

Yellow

Despite Pantone’s grand announcement that the color of 2018 was Ultra Violet, I believe the true color of the year was yellow. As yellow’s #1 fan, I was always on the search for yellow items. Yellow room, yellow pencil case, and 1 Abercrombie striped yellow and white shirt. These three were my yellow essentials until 2017-2018. Each trip to the mall led to discovering an increasing amount of yellow apparel, thus an increasing loss of money on my part. However, I cannot deny the happiness each time I have something yellow.

Camille’s Top Three

Queer Eye

The reboot of Queer Eye is exactly the kind of quality programming we needed in 2018. When there’s so much negativity and violence in the world, it’s reassuring to know kindness really does exist. Each member of the Fab Five helps the nominee discover their own agency, positivity, and self-confidence. It’s more about helping people discover themselves and their worth than a makeover.

The Teacher’s Pet

An investigative true crime podcast, The Teacher’s Pet was released in early 2018 to explore the disappearance and probable murder of Lynette Dawson by her husband Chris in 1982. The podcast exposed sexual abuse by many teachers in the high school where her husband, Chris, worked at the time of her murder. Hosted by The Australian’s Hedley Thomas, the podcast thoroughly and honorably investigates the circumstances surrounding Lyn’s disappearance. New witnesses and Chris’s recent arrest has shown how powerful good journalism is.

Timothée Chalamet

Firstly, have you seen him? Do I even need to explain why he’s on this list? He’s six foot one, has dark brown hair, and looks fantastic in a suit. He speaks English and French. In 2018, Chalamet was nominated for his role as Elio in Call Me By Your Name, making him, at 22, one of the youngest actors to be nominated for Best Actor in the Academy’s history. His performance in Beautiful Boy has already earned him a Golden Globe nomination and may likely see his second Academy Award nomination at 23.

Heather’s Top Three

Americanah

Though Chimamanda Adichie’s Americanah has been out since 2013, I read it for the first time in my Post-Colonial Lit class this year. Adichie’s characters were so incredibly real, and though their stories don’t parallel my own life very much, I found it so cool to read about a girl attending a Philadelphia university and living in Powelton Village just like I do.

Exit West

I read Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West as part of my peer reader training for the Writing Center and was amazed by how seamlessly Hamid weaved together several different narratives about immigration. Inside a story filled with hardship and loss, he manages to depict feelings that are familiar to many, such as those involved with falling in and out of love.

Arrested Development

While the negative press surrounding Jeffrey Tambor’s firing from Transparent was disappointing, as a longtime fan of Arrested Development, I couldn’t help but be excited for its return in May. Season five marked a return to the show’s original dynamic of telling the family’s story as a whole rather than that of each individual character — a dynamic that it had broken from in season four. Though I would have liked to see more Portia de Rossi, I found the new season matched the comedy and wit of the previous ones.

Melinda’s top three

The Favourite

I purposefully waited a few days to write my top three to accommodate the first opportunity I had to watch this film. Olivia Coleman and Rachel Weisz offer master classes in performances, the subtleties of their facial movements taking us on an emotional journey through trauma, friendship, and alienation. Its play with time and narrative expectations make it plenty strange, but it’s so worth being invited into this world of tricky women.

Golden Hour

I underwent an experiment about three months into the new year. I was going to work my way through the albums released in 2018 (there were a few arbitrary rules to keep myself from becoming overwhelmed). I had become bored with my standards and alienated from what was happening in music. I probably would have ignored Kacey Musgrave’s 2018 album, which would have been unfortunate. The album at one time sparks something new in country music, while at the same time transports me back to the singer/songwriters I loved in the mid to late ‘90s. It is everything I wish I could have added to my collection when I was 13. My faith in this album encouraged me to fall further into contemporary country and find some of my favorite albums of 2018 including Colter Wall, Caitlyn Smith, Amanda Shires, and Ashley McBryde.

Seduction

It is no secret that I am a major Karina Longworth fan. Via social media, I followed her writing this book, a look at Howard Hughes’s life through the lives of the women he dated and cultivated. I waited patiently for her to announce the topic, excitedly texted my friend and exchanged !!!!! for an afternoon with possibilities once she did reveal the subject, and grabbed the first copy I could (and wrote about it!). She is a talented storyteller, who manages to devote herself to exposing Hollywood’s less than stellar qualities while engaging cinephiles’ excitement over old Hollywood.

Sana’s top three

Isolation

The 23-year-old Colombian-American, Kali Uchis’s album Isolation absolutely captivated me upon first listen, and soon enough became the soundtrack to my 2018. A longtime fan of her 2015 EP Por Vida, I had extremely high expectations for the album drop. Sure enough, Uchis did not disappoint with her silky smooth Winehouse-esque voice overlaying a full-bodied dreamscape of sound. Highlights include the Tame Impala produced track “Just a Stranger (feat. Steve Lacy)” and the single of the album “After the Storm (feat. Tyler, The Creator and Bootsy Collins).” Through Isolation, Uchis illustrates her dominance as a powerful female R&B/Reggaeton artist.

“Thank U, Next” music video

The highly anticipated release of Ariana Grande’s “Thank U, Next” music video made waves across the nation. Perhaps the success of the video derives from its compilation of cinematic references (Mean Girls, Bring it On, 13 Going on 30, and Legally Blonde). Or, perhaps it’s the relatability of the lyricism that captured the hearts of even the most obstinate Grande haters. Saturated with allusions to her past relationships, Grande explains that she harbors no resentment, but rather thanks her exes for contributing to her growth as a badass, independent bitch. Thank YOU, Ariana.

A Quiet Place

John Krasinski, our beloved Jim from The Office, directed, co-wrote, and starred in the exceptionally unique, critically acclaimed movie. Krasinski’s success could be attributed to his creation of a post-apocalyptic world, where safety from the roaming alien life forms can only be secured in upholding pin-drop silence. The result is far from a silent movie, but rather an artful depiction of compensatory body and sign language. Like icing on a cake, Krasinski casts his own beautiful wife, Emily Blunt, to play as his character’s wife and partner in post-apocalyptic survival. Together, the pair dazzle on the screen, eliciting emotions across the spectrum and depicting nothing short of a synergistic performance.

Byshera’s top three

Blindspotting

Written by, and starring, Rafael Casal and Daveed Diggs, Blindspotting is my favorite movie so far this year. The film addresses the intersections of racism, gentrification, and police violence in Oakland with the incorporation of heightened language at varying complexities. Despite the film’s heavy subject, the writers find a way to infuse comedy throughout the film so that the viewer doesn’t feel completely defeated at the end, making it a pleasure to watch multiple times.

Room 25 

Noname’s sophomore album Room 25 was my introduction to her. It’s different than any other album I’ve heard, with Noname almost whispering in the background, and the music in the foreground. But this unique style really forces you to listen to the words and, you should because she is talking about everything from the fragility of human life to “reading Toni Morrison in a nigga canoe, ’cause a bitch really ’bout her freedom” as well as everything in between.

Thirst Aid Kit

Thirst Aid Kit is a podcast hosted by Nichole Perkins and Bim Adewunmi, two black women who take ownership over their own sexuality by openly discussing men of Hollywood (and beyond). While thirsting openly, they also critique pre-existing narratives of who is allowed to be lusted after. Even with all this, they still have enough time to make you blush with a drabble about the fineness of John Cho and Keanu Reeves. Adewunmi and Perkins have created a safe space to express and explore lust, and I for one, am thankful for that. •

Illustrations created by Emily Anderson.

Get in touch with The Smart Set at editor@thesmartset.com.

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