This year marks the end of the second decade of the 2000s. In honor of this, we thought we’d take a look back at our decade with an end-of-year series.
The internet loves lists, especially year-end ones, and we’ve been feeding that love a little bit this December. We have hosted six lists of expert Decade-Best picks, including movies, games, writing, TV, music, and art. Our previous experts have been philosophers and other academics whose work concerns these topics, and people working in/on the relevant media.
Today, we have a slightly different theme. Our experts are our own Aesthetics for Birds staff, and they’ll be giving their Top Ten lists across all media and genres, no restrictions (though with some extra effort to include stuff in categories not already covered). It’s art and aesthetics in the broadest possible sense. So without further delay, let’s see this decade’s top aesthetic offerings.
Our contributors are:
- Roy T Cook, AFB staff writer, professor in Philosophy at the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities
- Anthony Cross, AFB staff writer, lecturer in Philosophy at Texas State University
- Matt Strohl, AFB staff writer, professor in Philosophy at the University of Montana
- Mary Beth Willard, AFB staff writer, associate professor in Philosophy at Weber State University
- Thi Nguyen, AFB assistant editor, associate professor in Philosophy at Utah Valley University
- Alex King, AFB editor-in-chief, assistant professor in Philosophy at SUNY Buffalo
Roy T Cook
Roy T Cook is CLA Scholar of the College and Professor of Philosophy at
the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities. He works on logic,
philosophy of mathematics, and the aesthetics of popular culture.
Cool $#!% You Might Have Missed
Not necessarily the best in every category—but maybe the coolest. The order is merely chronological.
- Coolest Art Preservation Project:
The Complete Peanuts, Charles Schulz, edited by Seth (Fantagraphics, 2004–2016)
This twenty-seven volume series is the only place where one can access Schulz’s masterpiece in its entirety. Edited by Canadian cartoonist Seth, each volume includes an essay by a famous fan including Whoopi Goldberg, John Waters, Billie Jean King, and Barack Obama. A priceless record of perhaps the finest exemplar of a disappearing art form.
- Coolest Multimedia Collaboration:
In Pieces, Dean West and Nathan Sawaya (2012)
In Pieces is a series of photographs where one or more everyday objects is replaced by a LEGO simulacrum (including a tree, clouds, an umbrella, and an entire dress). The work raises obvious questions about illusion and reality, but, more importantly, it’s just a lot of fun. Best when viewed in a gallery, where the LEGO sculptures can be compared to the photos.
- Coolest Space Opera:
Ancillary Justice, Ann Leckie (Orbit, 2013)
Book one of the Imperial Radch trilogy, Ancillary Justice tells the story of a spaceship whose artificial consciousness was distributed over both its metal shell and the bodies (ancillaries) that once belonged to people it conquered. After an attack destroys all but a single ancillary, it seeks revenge. It’s the only novel to win the Hugo, Nebula, and Arthur C. Clarke awards.
- Coolest Superhero Comic Not About Superheroing:
Hawkeye, Matt Fraction, David Aja, et alia (Marvel, 2013–2015)
Hawkeye is filled with formal experimentation, including a chronologically scrambled Christmas issue, an issue told from the perspective of Hawkeye’s dog, and an issue whose dialogue is rendered in sign language. But it’s really the story – of an Avenger when he isn’t Avengering, of a superhero who isn’t (in any way) super – that really grabs the reader.
- Coolest Rock & Roll Autobiography:
Dancing With Myself, Billy Idol (Touchstone, 2015)
Billy Idol began his career as the frontman for pioneering 1970s pop-punk band Generation X, became MTV’s drug-addled poster-child in the 1980s, fell into obscurity despite an innovative 1990s digital album, and was reborn in the 2000s as an arena-filling rock veteran. The man Johnny Rotten called “the Perry Como of punk” tells his story with frankness and charm.
- Coolest Punk Reunion Album:
No Cities to Love, Sleater-Kinney (Sub Pop, 2015)
Greil Marcus called them “The Best Band in the World”. Riot Grrrl outfit Sleater-Kinney’s first album after a ten-year hiatus, No Cities to Love is a bone-crunching, self-aware feminist-punk masterpiece that is also, somehow, their most accessible album to date (with the possible exception of 2019’s Annie Clark produced The Center Won’t Hold, also awesome).
- Coolest Martial Arts Television:
Into the Badlands (AMC, 2015–2019)
Into the Badlands is a post-apocalyptic adventure where a chosen few can be granted the “Dark Gift”, making them near invincible in combat. With the best fight choreography on television, it also does a fine job on the diversity front, with multiple female action leads, queer and interracial relationships, and disabled characters, all treated as unremarkable.
- Coolest DIY Fashion Trend:
Frakta Fashion, Various (2016–2017)
In 2016 internet DIYers began deconstructing the iconic blue-and-yellow Frakta shopping bag, creating IKEA ball caps and bustiers, gas masks and g-strings, and even a Swedish folk costume. Fashion house Balenciaga responded with a $2150 homage/rip-off of the Frakta in 2017, which was promptly mocked by IKEA, who noted you could tell the real thing by its price (99¢).
- Coolest Chase Scene in Cinema:
Elastigirl’s Motorcyle Chase, The Incredibles 2, Brad Bird (Pixar, 2018)
Pixar is known for its amazing chase sequences. But the motorcyle chase in The Incredibles 2 outshines them all. Riding a custom two-part motorcyle that allows her to make the most of her pliable body, Elastigirl navigates both city and countryside in ways previously unimaginable, and somehow manages to take an important phone call from her son Dash at the same time.
- Coolest Spider-man Film:
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse, Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman (Sony, 2018)
Showcasing four distinct Spider-Men plus Spider-Gwen, Spider-Ham, and anime-inspired Peni Parker, Spider-verse uses cutting-edge computer effects to mimic the structure and look of classic comics (e.g. animated Ben Day dots, misregistration to mimic defocus). The result is both heart-warming and ground-breaking. With Lily Tomlin as Doc Ock, and Nic Cage in his best role in years.
Anthony Cross teaches in Philosophy at Texas State University.
His research focuses on the intersections of aesthetics and ethics.
One of the most striking developments of the past decade is the widespread embrace of the internet as the dominant engine of culture. It’s not just that the internet has become the main vehicle for traditional forms of culture. What’s more significant in my book is the rise of sui generis online culture and its increasingly broad aesthetic significance. So, I’m going to tailor my top ten to focus on what have been for me the most compelling internet-based aesthetic experiences of the last ten years. In no particular order:
- Pepe the Frog
Pepe the Frog is a strong contender for internet meme of the decade—with close competition from Distracted Boyfriend and Galaxy Brain. What sets Pepe apart is its ongoing relevance. I’ve already written about the significance of Pepe on this blog, but in the past year we’ve seen Pepe appropriated by the protest movement in Hong Kong. Endlessly iterable yet strangely resonant, Pepe proves the importance of the internet meme as a cultural force.
- Laurel v. Yanny (2018)
This audio clip divided us into those who hear “Laurel” vs. those who hear “Yanny.” Like 2015’s controversy over the color of a dress—which is clearly blue—the clip led to delightful bewilderment about the extent to which our perceptions of the world diverge with large percentages of the population.
- I’m Google, Dina Kelberman (2011)
Kelberman recreates the experience of using Google to search for visually similar images, although she collects and arranges her images manually, rather than by algorithm. “I’m Google” captures the fortuitous and surprising delights of open-ended internet search.
- Steamed Hams (2018)
It’s a clip from the Simpsons, but: it’s a spring-board for the bizarre, hilarious, and sometimes horrifying remix culture of the internet. My favorites include this version constructed entirely of Seinfeld clips and this anime fansub version.
- Google Deep Dream (2015)
One of the first widely-popular illustrations of the utter aesthetic weirdness of AI run amok: dog faces and floating eyeballs turned once-familiar images into acid-trip horrors. A close second place in this category is AI-generated Garfield.
- Craigslist Mirrors, Eric Oglander (2013–present)
Oglander collects and archives images of mirrors on sale on Craigslist. The artist Kenneth Goldsmith has argued that archiving is the new folk art, and Oglander’s work is among the most compelling archives of internet ephemera.
- Twitch Plays Pokemon (2014)
What happens when you crowdsource playing a video game? In this 2014 experiment on streaming platform Twitch, users could collectively control Pokemon Red, a gameboy game, by entering commands into chat: group agency as collective entertainment.
- Pizza Rat, Zardulu (2015)
Mysterious artist Zardulu claimed responsibility for this viral video of a rat carrying a slice of pizza in the NYC subway—one of several viral videos featuring their purportedly trained animals. Zardulu’s hoaxes raise questions about the artifice of viral content—all the more significant in the age of “fake news” and influence campaigns.
- Art Thoughtz, Jayson Musson (2010–2012)
In this YouTube-based performance work, Musson adopts the character of “Hennessy Youngman,” offering astute criticism and advice about the artworld in Black Vernacular English. Musson’s work illustrated the possibilities of YouTube as an artistic platform and prefigured a host of influential YouTube personalities packaging serious content into aesthetically appealing packages—Contrapoints being a chief example.
- Important Videos Playlist (2015)
Possibly the most compelling YouTube playlist I am aware of, this collection of 310 short YouTube clips is by turns surreal, shocking, sophomoric, and hilarious. It is the pure and simple joy of getting lost in the YouTube hinterlands. Yee!
Matt Strohl is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Montana in Missoula, MT.
His work is primarily in Ancient Philosophy and Aesthetics.
A decade’s worth of my movie opinions can be found here. The best of the rest:
- Twin Peaks: The Return (2017)
David Lynch releases have been huge events for me since the 90’s. Seeing an advance screening of Mulholland Drive with all my friends and a packed Cornell Cinema audience was a college highlight, and then I will certainly never forget seeing Inland Empire on Christmas Day sitting next to Wallace Shawn (seriously!). From May 21st to September 3rd 2017 there was a fresh hour or more of David Lynch at his most unfettered every single week and it was glorious. There was so much to look forward to all the time. It changed my life, in that it inspired me not to settle for whatever mediocre thing was nearest at hand and instead to be more dedicated about seeking out more fulfilling aesthetic experiences. For the record: Dougie Jones rules. Haters gonna hate.
- Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project on Criterion Channel
Scorsese wears many hats in the film industry, but some of his most important work is as an advocate for film preservation. His non-profit World Cinema Project preserves, restores, and distributes marginalized films from regions that are historically underrepresented in the received international canon. Thanks to a partnership with the Criterion Channel, you can now stream the World Cinema Project collection in your living room, including such films as Ousmane Sembène’s Black Girl and Lino Brocka’s Manila in the Claws of Light.
- Kanye West
You want to know how fast time goes by? Kanye’s epic Taylor Swift interruption wasn’t even this decade. That shit happened in 2009. The last ten years of Kanye’s life have been next level performance art. He dropped the most unexpected masterpiece of our time with MBDTF, spent the good will it earned him on the wildly aggressive Yeezus, got up at 3am to tweet “BILL COSBY INNOCENT,” donned a MAGA hat, gave an epic White House rant that included a boast about what a great rant it was (“You are tasting a fine wine that has multiple notes to it”), went gospel, became a Fox News favorite, and just generally made the world a more interesting place.
- Blueberry McGriddle (2019)
The original McGriddle was already the best widely available breakfast sandwich. It’s filled with the standard combo of meat, egg and cheese, but the bread is PANCAKES. No stale bagel, no dainty English muffin, no soggy croissant: pancakes, with CRYSTALS OF SYRUP baked into them. The only quasi-critical thought I’ve ever had while eating a McGriddle is “blueberries would really put this over the top.” The beauty of the classic American breakfast is the synergy between the salty fattiness of breakfast meat, the richness of eggs, the sweetness of maple syrup, and the fluffiness of pancakes. Nothing else really needs to be added, but blueberries are the extra high note that can make the harmony truly soar. Now, the Blueberry McGriddle exists! I haven’t even tried it yet, it’s still in testing at limited locations, but I am absolutely certain that it’s delicious. I can taste it in my mind. Take that, acquaintance principle.
- The Stormlight Archive, by Brandon Sanderson (2010–present)
The best post-Tolkien epic fantasy series, period. A major problem with many fantasy series is that the author knows where they want to start out and where they want to end up, but has no real plan for getting from point A to point B. As a result, the middle of such stories often feels plodding and aimless. I quit reading George R.R. Martin when I realized I couldn’t take another 700 pages of people being on the way to places. Brandon Sanderson is the opposite of this. He is the overbearing Mormon dad with made-up swear words and a minute-by-minute vacation itinerary. You can rest assured that he always has a plan. Revelations, twists, action climaxes, etc. are delivered at a satisfying pace. Small details end up connecting with major events in later books. The prose isn’t going to win any awards, but The Stormlight Archive is a peerless achievement of world-building and epic storytelling.
- 2016 Republican Presidential Primary
Yes, it was the tipping point in a global cataclysm. But as such tipping points go, it was some of the funniest and most nihilistic tragicomedy ever on TV. It ruined me for all other primaries. How can anyone sit there and listen to Elizabeth Warren and Mayor Pete bicker about healthcare or whatever? No one is even making up mean nicknames for each other or alluding to the size of their genitals.
- Naked and Afraid
The best reality TV show. It puts a naked man and a naked woman in a survival situation for 21 days with only a few basic tools. The environments are no joke: someone has to be medically evacuated like 25% of the time. It is essentially a giant social experiment in gender relations. Almost always, the male contestant seizes the leadership role and treats the female contestant with condescension, and almost always she broods silently about it for days before coming up with a strategy to address her concerns without creating a conflict. We hear both the man’s side (typically “I really hope she doesn’t slow me down. I’m calling the shots, that’s for sure”) and the woman’s (“He doesn’t seem to realize that I have survival expertise and that I’m not some novice girlfriend tagging along on his camping trip. What an asshole. I have to be careful to hide my feelings, though, or else I’ll have to deal with an ego tantrum”). There are so many different ways it ends up going. Sometimes the woman confronts the man and he feels terrible about the way he made her feel and changes his ways and learns a lesson. Sometimes she confronts him and he’s like “I’M A MAN. And where I come from, the man hunts and the woman gathers. So why don’t you go get some firewood together while I hunt wild boar.”
- Rihanna, “Bitch Better Have My Money” music video (2015)
Not safe for work! Rihanna’s seven-minute exploitation movie is delicious. We see a mysterious male figure from behind early in the video, but it’s not till nearly the end that we learn who the actor is. I couldn’t think of a more delightful punchline.
- Peaches, “Billionaire”
Also probably not the safest thing for work!
- Clausthaler Dry Hopped Non-Alcoholic Beer (released 2015)
The last time I had booze was January, 2008. For eight or nine years after that, beer smelled like despair and self-loathing. But eventually I got over my visceral aversion and started exploring non-alcoholic beers. Those of you who drink can’t imagine how demoralizing it is for a person who loves to eat to never have a decent beverage to pair with food. It’s all sparkling water, all the time. Maybe a fucking soda or a nine-dollar mocktail. I used to think of non-alcoholic beer as the beverage equivalent of dry humping, but it really has come a very long way. There is absolutely no question what the best brand is: Clausthaler. It’s very similar to real beer; the only important difference is that it doesn’t ruin your life. And now there’s a dry hopped version for discerning non-drinkers! On a hot summer afternoon, it’s just a joy.
Mary Beth Willard
Mary Beth Willard is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Weber State University.
She works in metaphysics and aesthetics, and has been especially interested in street art.
I am not the sort of person who writes top ten lists. I like to tell myself it’s because High Fidelity enshrined the top-list as nerdy masculine performance art, and obsessively ranking things belies the desire to be seen as an expert in consumption, even in something as small as best side-1-track-1s. All must be kingdoms of their little domains.
But I’m a total hypocrite, for I am the sort of person who has friends who write top ten lists. They get obsessive over indie rock, or coffee and tea, or science fiction, or rice cookers, and then they write their lists, and Iurk on their Facebook walls, reaping the benefits without having to obsess myself. I have outsourced the curation of tastes so thoroughly that I fear that any list I would write would be just their microwaved leftovers.
Fine. If John Cusack can do it, so can I. I’ll even don a ceremonial flannel shirt.
- Top Pastry:
Kouign-amann, featured in the Great British Baking Show, was actually named 2012 Pastry of the Year. An enriched, laminated, sugary pastry that is 39.7 butter by weight. Croissants pray to become kouign-amann in heaven. Get them here.
- Top Cookbook for Philosophers:
Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking (2010)
The conceptual analysis of baking. The baking philosopher in your life needs this.
- Top Game of Thrones Death (2011–2019):
Ned Stark, delightful mostly for the horrified reaction of the fans who hadn’t read the book. Runner-up: Daenerys Targaryen, delightful mostly for the incensed reaction of fans who hadn’t learned a blessed thing in eight years. Honorable mention: Cleganebowl.
- Top Series Finale:
The Americans (2013–2019)
The spies escape. The price: their children.
- Top Earworm:
Baby Shark (2017)
In twenty years some DJ is going to spin up “Baby Shark” and all the bridesmaids are going to shriek and run out onto the dance floor.
- Best Sci-Fi Novel:
The Fifth Season, N.K. Jemisin (2015)
Creative world-building featuring characters whose power is creating world-destroying seismic events, notable for its focus on motherhood and Jemisin’s occasional but extremely effective use of the second person.
- Best Board Game For Really Little Kids:
Rabbit Rally (2016)
A dexterity game where players compete as rabbits that must cross planks laid between rocks in a stream to reach their tasty carrots. The length of the next plank is determined by dice roll, but after the roll, the player must place the next rock, the base of the plank, without first measuring the distance. If you set the rock too far, the plank fails to bridge the gap, and you can’t move. Great fun for little kids and packs well for camping (no cards to lose in the wind!) , or for discovering that your kindergartner can freakishly eyeball distances to within a millimeter.
- Best Board Game Not Already Mentioned By AFB:
Mechs vs Minions (2016)
In this cooperative game, you are a Yordle. You pilot a mech, which you must program using up to six cards at the start of each round. You must defeat the baddies, who not only will damage you, but will mess up your mech’s programming. And because this game was made by the League of Legends people, who have more money than they know what to do with, every game piece is of very high quality and fits neatly into the case just so.
- Best Marvel Sequel:
Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
It’s funny, ridiculous, and it seems to know it, which plays much better than world-ending-I-love-you-3000-drama.
- Best Retro Fashion Trend:
The return of the scrunchie (2019)
… and the VSCOgirl, the update of the 2014 Tumblrgirl, the update of the 90s girl in flannel and a scrunchie. I bet she’ll have a killer top ten list.
C. Thi Nguyen writes about the philosophy of games, echo chambers, porn,
and trust. His first book, Games: Agency as Art, is coming out from
Oxford University Press in March, 2020.
- Kanye, The Life of Pablo (2016)
Pure sonic genius. Hate his personality all you want—where Kanye goes, the rest of hip hop and sonic production inevitably follows. His unending churn of creativity and sonic perfection reached a peak in this ultra-dense sonic concoction. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is more overtly and accessibly brainy, but The Life of Pablo was the one that kept on giving, well into the thousands of listens.
- Joanna Newsom, Have One on Me (2010)
A lullaby, a magic spell, a dash of Marianne Moore’s poetic thorniness laid over a weird blend of folk music and Thelonious Monk-like, odd-cornered intricate textures and rhythms. Peak white-people-style emotional rapture. This is basically: what if Emily Dickinson had a harp (and married Andy Samberg)?
- NYRB Classics reissues
NYRB Classics’ mission is to uncover hidden gems and re-issue neglected wonders. And if you have their taste—for the intense-but-precise, for exacting descriptions of human peculiarity, for delicate clear-sightedness—then their collection is a treasure trove. Highlights from the last decade: Dorothy Baker’s Cassandra at the Wedding, an utterly charming and vivid portrait of a slow-simmering breakdown. Jakob Wasserman’s My Marriage, a barely disguised autobiographical account of a brutal descent into marital hell, that begins in an ill-conceived relationship and ends in a lawyer’s volcano. And their series of translations of Tove Jansson’s extraordinary novels is a gift.
- Woke genre fiction
This is the decade that politically inventive, socially forward writers took over sci-fi and fantasy. And it isn’t only good if you happen to agree with the politics. It’s because sci-fi and fantasy turn out to be really good places to conduct interrogations into cultural history, to explore gender concepts, to think about how oppression hides itself in social norms and mythology. Sci-fi and fantasy are precisely where authors get to create alternate worlds, to think through historical forces, to explore alternate social arrangements. The woke tendency re-invigorated the whole field. Highlights include the extraordinary novels of N.K. Jemisen and Anne Leckie. And, a surprise entry into the new woke canon is Brandon Sanderson, whose new series starts slyly embedded in the reactionary politics of traditional fantasy, and then carefully and consciously turns around and epically rips it all to shit.
- Joshua Oppenheimer, The Act of Killing (2014)
Is there any documentary more important to see, for every human being? Have you ever looked into the eyes of mass killer proudly telling the tale of their war crimes and mass murders? Have you ever seen one then handed the camera and allowed to re-create their war crimes as a Western and then a magical realist musical? Absurd, unrelenting, brutal, unforgettable, nauseating, and all-important.
- Apocalypse World (2010)
The summation of the indie tabletop role-playing game movement. Its goals: to weld Dungeons & Dragons-style role-playing mechanics to improv theater’s techniques for freedom, improvisation, and collective narrative creation. Apocalypse World quietly changes the metaphysics of role-playing worlds, building into the core rule structure enormous amounts of player control over the world and the narrative. Once I stuck this stuff in my veins, I could never go back to D&D’s kill-and-shop mechanics.
- The food truck pathway
Sure, there are tons of silly fad trucks. But the trucks have also given us culinary riches. The combo of food trucks plus social media has created a new, more accessible pathway to breaking into the food scene. Start a truck, use social media to get a following, and then spin that out into a restaurant. I’ve seen so many cooks who would never have been able to open up a restaurant in the old days take this path, and find their audience.
- Trap and beyond
The trap sound is, in its purest form, new, harsh, and alien. These aren’t chill R&B beats; this is stilted, static, claustrophobic, and intense music. The outpouring of genius from the Atlanta trap scene—which spilled over into the rest of the world—is overwhelming. Rae Sremmurd, 21 Savage, Playboi Carti, Young Thug, Cardi B, City Girls, Future, Migos and so many more. This is the branch of music that most makes me glad to be alive and listening, right now.
- Root: A Game of Woodland Might and Right (Cole Wehrle, 2018)
The last decade in board gaming was all about the fusion of the American tendency—thematic mechanics and historical vigor, but with extraordinarily complex rule-sets—with the Eurogame tendency—clean, elegant, and accessible, but abstract. The ultimate fusion product might be Root, an extraordinarily deep, easy-to-learn, quick-playing adaptation of some megalithic wargames of counterinsurgency. Root involves totally different sides playing by totally different rules, seeking totally different goals. It’s a conflict between a bourgeois industrialist, underground insurgents, and old aristocratic warlords, but with an utterly adorable woodland theming.
- Adventure Time (Cartoon Network, 2010–2018)
From the explicitly adult cartoons (BoJack Horseman, Big Mouth) to the ones coded as for kids but full of profundity (Adventure Time, Steven Universe), this is the decade that cartoons truly did it for me. Adult Swim’s madness opened the door, and in walked a crew of insanely talented cartoonists—many of them born and bred in the mad lands of avant-garde comics. In a decade where everybody else seemed obsessed with prestige TV—Breaking Bad, Mad Men, and all that stuff polished to such a finely arty sheen—the cartoons were what really moved me. Maybe because they were utterly freed from having to prove themselves worth Your Serious Consideration by putting on all the earnest trappings of heavy art. They were freed to be as batshit wild, as sentimental, as absurd, as sweet, and as horrifying as they wanted to be. Adventure Time is maybe the height—absurd-mythic explorations of childhood consciousness, ten seasons of constant and relentless invention and wonder, in a bittersweet fairy tale of life after the apocalypse. Also: has there been any more heartfelt exploration of what it’s like to see your loved ones fade into dementia than the extraordinary arc of the Ice King? I don’t think so.
Alex King is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University at Buffalo, SUNY.
She works on a variety of topics in ethics and aesthetics.
- Savage X Fenty, Rihanna (2018–present)
In 2017, Fenty became the first major luxury fashion house to be founded and run by a Black woman. This alone is worth celebrating, but it gets better. Savage X Fenty, the label’s lingerie line, debuted in 2018. By late 2019, the epic and bedazzled male gaze clusterfuck that was the Victoria’s Secret fashion show had been cancelled. Savage X Fenty fashion shows themselves are a sight to behold against the backdrop of retrograde high fashion norms. Women of all skin colors and body types dance and strut in sneakers (SNEAKERS!). Openly trans and visibly disabled women are celebrated here. Sure, articles about how Rihanna killed VS are all over the place (see Forbes’ take here). But the label signifies so much more for women everywhere.
- Tesla Model S (2012–present)
The genius of the Tesla Model S is not that it is a fully electric car. The genius of the Tesla Model S is that it is a fully electric car that is fun to drive and not horrible to look at. It is an electric car that takes the aesthetic values of a car seriously, treating it not merely as a means to get from Point A to Point B. Its single-speed fixed gear engine (!) produces horsepower, torque, and 0-60 specs that rival traditional sports cars. This car is a true game changer, and I say that as the driver of a gas-guzzling, do-you-even-lift-bro, rally-esque car.
- Third wave tea
Third wave coffee has been a thing for a while, but this decade the tea drinkers among us finally have something to celebrate. Maybe (probably) owing to healthy lifestyle fetishists (um, thanks guys!), you can now find hundreds of carefully sourced, well produced, and even judiciously flavored teas outside of select specialty stores in Asia. Shoutout to the best third wave US purveyor: Boston-based Mem Tea Imports.
- South Park, Seasons 19-23 (2015–2019)
Controversial, I know. South Park is not for the faint of heart. I confess that I have loved this show for a long time, but it achieved new heights this decade by adding episode-to-episode continuity. Of course I don’t agree with everything the show seems to defend (how could anybody?), but there are some truly great moments beginning especially with the SoDoSoPa arc in Season 19. One recent scene set to “Sixteen Tons” is a moving, mournful elegy for our terrifying post-Amazon world.
- YouTube covers and mashups
The explosion of YouTube covers and mashups this decade is unprecedented. And it is spectacular. There are too many to list, but for mashups, see Wii Shop Bling (Drake meets the Wii Shop theme) and the soulful Miles Davis x LCD Soundsystem. For covers, see metal Celine Dion, John Denver with confused lyrics, Jimi Hendrix on the gayageum, Daft Punk in Tunisian style (with an oud!), Michael Jackson with beats removed. Don’t even get me started on the rabbit hole that is Smashmouth covers.
- Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (2011)
If you don’t think fashion is art, think again. This fashion exhibition at the Met was a stunning retrospective of the late Alexander McQueen’s silhouettes and textures. The show introduced the broader public to the organic, masculine-meets-feminine, otherworldly designs of a man whose untimely death by suicide sent shockwaves through the fashion and art world.
- Vaporwave (2010–2014ish)
Vaporwave was one of many micro-fad subgenres this decade, but the most a e s t h e t i c one. Inspired by 80s Japanese Citypop and early computer graphics, it combines nostalgia with sincerity and feeling rather than the too-common irony. And with the Simpsons.
- Yusuke Nakamura illustrations
The artist behind the gorgeous and frenetic anime Tatami Galaxy (2010), Nakamura is able to capture both the stillness and the richness of one’s experience and inner life. His illustrations are wild, and they often present women as beautiful and in control, as strong and resilient conquerers of modern life.
- Daft Punk, Random Access Memories (2013)
As a Daft Punk loyalist, I didn’t like this album at first. But when I re-listened to it a few years later, I somehow heard it differently and was hooked. (Maybe because my 2010s have been filled with a lot of 70s music.) It’s not a perfect album, but there are classic funky-dancey Daft Punk tracks (“Get Lucky”), history lessons (“Giorgio by Moroder”), and moments of stirring beauty (“Instant Crush”).
- Jelle’s Marble Runs (familiarly, the MarbleLympics) (2013–present)
I think I did not truly understand watching sports until I started watching teams of colored marbles compete to jump highest, run the fastest relay, knock each other out of an arena, or spin the longest through a series of funnels. The production value and attention to detail is incredible. There are different versions, but everyone who knows the scene knows that there’s no substitute for Jelle’s channel. Do yourself a favor and just watch the most recent opening ceremony.