The Triton’s Favorite Pieces of Arts and Culture in 2019

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Covers for The Triton's end of year arts and culture recommendations
Kristina Stahl / The Triton

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Whether you are putting off your studying for finals or looking ahead for entertainment to help pass the time during winter break, The Triton has you covered! In lieu of the traditional list of our favorite albums, read on for our personal favorite albums, television shows, movies, plays, and books of 2019.


Albums:

Homecoming: The Live Album by Beyoncé
Released on April 17, 2019
For fans of: Rihanna, Kehlani, Ciara

Image courtesy of Beyoncé

Beyoncé’s historical Coachella 2018 performance was something to behold as she lit up the stage with a display of Black culture and pride to the famously white crowds that the festival traditionally attracts. A year later, Beyoncé released a documentary on Netflix that follows her path to creating this concert and an accompanying live album to the concert. Even after so much time, this album evokes the same sense of wonder of listening to the concert for the first time. Now with much better audio production, you can pick out small, intimate details, such as the stomps in her dance break during “Diva” or the careful harmonies in “Say My Name” during the much-welcomed surprise reunion of Destiny’s Child.

What stands out about this album is Beyoncé’s choice to remix and re-imagine her own songs, finding bold new ways to transition through them. Backed by a marching band and orchestra during the entire performance, the live instrumentation gives songs a new energy. “Drunk in Love” has never sounded better with the addition of horns, and the sampling of “Broccoli” by D.R.A.M. and Lil Yachty mixed with “Countdown” makes a classic stay fresh. With flawless vocals throughout the album and innovative arrangements, Beyoncé sets aside her Coachella performance as one for the ages.

— Arun Dhingra, Arts and Culture Editor

1000 Gecs by 100 Gecs
Released on May 31 2019
For Fans of: SOPHIE, Iglooghost, Kero Kero Bonito

Image courtesy of Dog Show Records

1000 Gecs is the musical conclusion of raising a generation on SpongeBob Squarepants. Laura Les and Dylan Bradey have created an album which takes 2019 music trends to the extreme: it’s short, absurdist, funny, defies genre, and, depending on who you ask, is characterized as either incredibly stupid or a fantastically unself-conscious.

This album is defined by it’s heterogeneity; it has moments of simple vocal melody, which would be vulnerable if not coated so heavily in vocal effects that it sounds like the genderless voice is mocking you. These are offset by sections of grading cacophony and “genrefuck”—out of place sections of heavy metal, 2000’s dubstep, and ska which are never revisited. It feels almost like a parody, but the sincerity of this project, which comes through in lyrics which feel impulsive and even childlike, places it closer to camp. 

Though I recommend listening to the full album (at only 20 minutes long, what do you have to lose?), the best standalone tracks from this project in my opinion are “money machine” and “ringtone.”

1000 Gecs listens like a shitpost. It, like most internet-y art, can be cringy and great at the same time, somehow both sarcastic and cloyingly sincere. Both loved and hated, this album feels relevant to the state of music and culture right now. Maybe that’s why I can’t say that I like it, but equally cannot stop myself from telling everyone I know to listen to it. 

— Kate Zegans, Assistant Arts and Culture Editor

Map of the Soul: Persona by BTS
Released on April 12, 2019
For fans of: Halsey, Ed Sheeran, NCT 127

Image courtesy of Big Hit Entertainment

Setting and breaking records on both Billboard and the Korean Gaon charts, it is easy to say that K-pop group BTS’ 2019 release Map of the Soul: Persona was a global success. BTS, made up of RM, Jin, J-Hope, Suga, Jungkook, Jimin and V, released their sixth EP this April, marking a transition in their discography after their Love Yourself album trilogy series back in 2018. Map of the Soul: Persona explores how we present ourselves to the world: drawing on Carl Jung, Greek Mythology, their relationship to their fans, and personal experiences.

As BTS continues to push into the Western music market, it is no surprise that the band collaborated with popular western artists, such as Halsey, who featured in their fun lead single “Boy With Luv” and Ed Sheeran, who composed the brassy R&B track “Make It Right.” The album also includes more sentimental and melodic tracks like Mikrokosmos and Jamais Vu. The band closes out their album with the heady, rock song Dionysus which celebrates letting loose from the pressures of their careers. The EP is genre-bending, showcasing BTS’s musical ambitions and proving that they are indeed a K-pop juggernaut.

— Lauren Kim, Staff Writer

I am Easy to Find by The National
Released May 17, 2019
For Fans of: Local Natives, Father John Misty, Sharon Van Etten

Photo courtesy of 4AD

The National have been making music since 2005. Unlike other alt rock acts native to the early 2000s, they have resisted hard shifts in genre. Despite this, I Am Easy to Find feels fresh. Compositionally, the album bursts with negative space—it embodies a softness which feels both youthful and wise. Thematically it explores connection, loss, and what it means to face adulthood. The album is wistful but refuses to be fatalistic; emotional, but mature.

The release of I Am Easy to Find was accompanied by a short film of the same name by filmmaker Mike Mills. The 20-minute visual album was inspired and accompanied by early demos written by The National. Working with Mills for his short film motivated the band to expand these demos into full length songs, which were eventually crystallized into a full-length album. The co-production of these two projects as well as the collaboration with an array of female vocalists throughout the album seems to have pushed The National out of their comfort zone while maintaining elements of their characteristic sound. Though they’ve been together for more than a decade, The National aren’t afraid to take risks.

This album is refreshing to listen to; I highly recommend popping it on for your long car and plane trips home for the holidays. Highlights of the album include “Rylan,” “Where Is Her Head,” and “I Am Easy to Find.” For me, the album captures the contradiction of belonging and loneliness. Based on the UC San Diego Subreddit, I think a lot of people here can relate to that feeling. 

— Kate Zegans, Assistant Arts and Culture Editor


Movies:

Parasite
Released on October 11, 2019
For fans of: Us, Old Boy, Prisoners

Image courtesy of Parasite Movie

This year, no other movie has left me speechless exiting the theater the way Parasite has. Directed by Bong Joon-ho, also known for directing Snowpiercer and Okja, this Korean film offers insightful and scathing commentary on the pervasive, worldwide themes of socioeconomic inequality and greed. Parasite features the destitute Kim family who grasp hold of their first chance to earn money by slowly infiltrating a rich, yet naive family as their household staff. The script is brilliant as it shifts from a hilarious dark comedy to an outright thriller after one of the best plot twists I can remember seeing is executed. Buoyed by excellent rapport among the cast and deliberate cinematography, Parasite is a must-see film. One of the most striking moments happens midway through the film where the father of the Kim family remarks that the people they are deceiving are “rich, but still nice.” The mother counters this with one short sentence: “They are nice because they’re rich.”

— Arun Dhingra, Arts and Culture Editor

Knives Out
Released on November 27, 2019
For fans of: Murder on the Orient Express, Logan Lucky, Parasite

Image courtesy of Lionsgate

On the surface, Knives Out looks like a fun whodunit movie with a star studded cast that includes the likes of Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Lakeith Stanfield and Daniel Craig, who plays a Southern gentleman and renowned private detective. Each character adds their own special bits of humor and shock to the movie, and the chemistry between Craig and Ana de Armas is an absolute delight. Knives Out not only has star power, but it also does a better job of interrogating our current culture than most films since 2016. It is a holiday season must-watch brimming with humor and suspense, but will also leave you loss in thought for the next few days.

— Mo Al Elew, Senior Staff

Midsommar
Released on July 3, 2019
For fans of: Hereditary, Children of the Corn, Babadook

Image courtesy of Midsommar Movie

For those who were impressed by last year’s breakout horror movie Hereditary, Director Ari Aster has followed up his debut feature film with another terrifying visual masterpiece. Although the film misleads viewers with its pastel color palette, Midsommar explores themes of trauma, relationships, and betrayal through jarring, violent moments. The graphic scenes were difficult to swallow, but I was also laughing, crying, and empathizing with the main character, Dani, played by Florence Pugh. Midsommar centers around Dani’s journey through grief as she follows her boyfriend and his friends to a Swedish midsummer festival. The breathtaking cinematography is full of nature, light, and the seemingly peaceful lives of the Swedish villagers, only to expose their inhuman cult-like practices later on.

This film is definitely not for everyone. The plot twists paired with each disturbing shot induced an anxiousness that I have only ever felt while watching Aster’s movies. After viewing Midsommar with my friends, we were all unable to shake the unsettling feeling in our stomachs, but I think that is what makes this film so special. 

— Danielle Hernandez, Staff Writer

Joker
Released on October 4, 2019
For fans of: Split, It: Chapter Two, Shutter Island, American Psycho, Black Swan

Image courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

Unlike your normal superhero action-driven film, Joker hones in an entirely divergent and eerie experience. The story brings you an inside look of who Arthur Fleck was and his path to the infamous villain that he came to be. The film emotes a spectrum of various moods, from bliss to grief, tenderness to heartache, and adoration to fear. Joaquin Phoenix is absolutely exceptional in the role: He truly embodies the character and delivers a phenomenal performance. The second he opens his mouth and grins that uncanny grin or begins to laugh that off-putting laugh, you can’t help but shift uncomfortably in your seat as shivers run down your spine. Phoenix will have you feeling sorry for and loving Arthur Fleck one second, and then hating him the next. This film will leave you questioning Arthur Fleck’s true intentions and second guessing how we should be treating one another as human beings.

 I will warn that this film could potentially be triggering for some, as it does touch on several heavy topics such as mental health and bullying. Personally, I am one of the few poor, unfortunate souls that had never seen a film from the Batman series before and I can assure you that superfan or not, this film will take you on an entranced roller coaster ride. If you haven’t yet, make sure to leave some room in your busy college schedule to take a break and welcome the somber yet beautiful journey that is Joker.

— Ivana Cuk, Staff Writer


Television:

When They See Us (Netflix)
Released on May 31, 2019
For fans of: 13th, The Central Park Five, The People v. O. J. Simpson: American Crime Story

Image courtesy of When They See Us

Only four episodes long, When They See Us follows the wrongful conviction of the “Central Park Five” in 1989. Directed by award-winning filmmaker Ava DuVernay, the limited series spans from the time of the boys’ conviction to their ultimate release from prison in 2002. When They See Us provides an insightful look into the imperfections of the criminal justice system and more specifically, the racism and corruption that lead to a false conviction.

While the plot itself is riveting, the most powerful part is the acting. When They See Us contains overwhelmingly emotional scenes as the main character, Korey Wise, is forced to cope with life in prison. When I first began watching, I immediately gained a sense of compassion for Wise, who was only 17 at the time of his sentence. One of the most heart-wrenching scenes comes in the fourth episode when he is told by his mother that he will finally be released from prison. If you’re fond of stories about social justice and looking for a good cry, stream When They See Us on Netflix. 

— Amanda Gonzalez, Staff Writer

Watchmen (HBO)
Released on October 20, 2019
For fans of: Lost, Jessica Jones, Westworld

Image courtesy of Watchmen

Watchmen deserves a place on this list simply for having the timely coincidental use, or foresight as I’d like to believe, of the phrase “squid pro quo.” The show is a continuation of the DC Comics series, but is not like any superhero show ever made before. Its premise lies on the previously plotted events during the Cold War where a giant squid that kills millions is summoned into the world to get every nation to band together and ultimately prevent World War III. Now in the present, a completely divergent reality exists—one where Vietnam is the 51st state of the United States and squid rain is a regular occurrence. Although this can be a lot to take in for people who have never read the comics before, such as myself, creator Damon Lindelof displays his mastery of craft yet again and makes it a great watch for all viewers. The mastermind behind Lost and The Leftovers demonstrates brilliant world-building skills and truly brings color to this alternate life, while also creating a mystery that slowly gets discovered throughout the season.

What is most interesting about this show though is the non-superhero part of it. Watchmen overtly makes statements about racism, generational trauma, white supremacy, and Black history erasure. This starts with the very first scene of the pilot episode where it depicts the Tulsa Massacre of 1921, a despicable moment in U.S. history that is sadly often forgotten. In the Watchmen universe, a new white supremacist group, branded the Seventh Kavalry, is on the rise and terrorizes the police force of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Mixing together real historical events, current issues in society, and superheroes is a difficult task to take on but Watchmen blends them together seamlessly. Watchmen is one of the smartest and well-written shows I have seen in a while and it always leaves me wanting more. 

— Arun Dhingra, Arts and Culture Editor

Big Mouth (Netflix)
Released on October 4, 2019 
For fans of: South Park, Bojack Horseman, Rick and Morty 

Image courtesy of Netflix

In 2019, Big Mouth proved it was more than just the stoner animated comedy of the hour. The third season finally digs into the difficult subject matter it’s been joking around for two seasons without sacrificing it’s goofiness. This season is an example of how to sardonically take on volatile issues without resorting to edginess as a supplement for humor (a tendency of predecessors like Family Guy and South Park).

In previous seasons, characters moved through classic TV storylines of American adolescence including first loves, drugs, and divorce, from a uniquely honest and horny perspective. What makes season three unique is its inclusion of storylines about adolescence that are not common tropes. Sexual confusion, navigating dress codes as a middle schooler, experiencing harassment from adults, the dizzying impact of social media, and a protagonist’s (brief) descent into the alt-right are some of the too real storylines that Big Mouth somehow manages to make hilarious. 

Unlike similar comedies, Big Mouth is not just a “haha sex” or “haha politics” show—it has depth, and this only makes it funnier. This show is not posturing to gain “woke-points,” rather, it’s making ridiculous jokes about the shared ridiculous experiences we’ve tried to forget as adults. I highly recommend watching Big Mouth, stoned or sober. 

— Kate Zegans, Assistant Arts and Culture Editor


Books:

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood
Published on September 10, 2019
For fans of: The Handmaid’s Tale, The Year of the Flood

Photo courtesy of Itinerant Literate Books Facebook page

Beginning 15 years after The Handmaid’s Tale, The Testaments follows three female narrators from the totalitarian regime of Gilead, where fertile women are forced to become Handmaids. The overall plot involves the formation of a rebellion in the state of Gilead and demanding the end of the subjugation and imprisonment of women. Showcasing motifs of feminism and moral responsibility, The Testaments combines a story of dystopian affairs with more present-day political commentary.

Throughout the novel, Atwood beautifully articulates the distinct personalities and voyages of each narrator while also highlighting how their stories intertwine. One of my personal favorite narrators is a young girl named Daisy, whose parents are involved in the rebellion operations striving to smuggle Handmaids out of Gilead. Once her parents are killed, Daisy is enlisted to destroy the Republic of Gilead from the inside. From beginning to end, The Testaments provided me the perfect combination of shock, sorrow, terror, and hope.

— Amanda Gonzalez, Staff Writer


Plays:

Cambodian Rock Band by Lauren Yee
Debuted on November 12, 2019
For fans of: Surf Curse, Jesus Christ Superstar

Image courtesy of Jim Carmody

This La Jolla Playhouse play, written by UCSD alumni Lauren Yee, tells the story of Neary, a woman navigating her heritage and relationship with her father.

The story is funny, vibrant, and heart-wrenching. It utilizes a kind of parallel, switching back and forth between present day Phnom Penh and the brutal reign of the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s, which can make it a bit hard to follow at times, especially if you aren’t particularly historically knowledgeable.

The show heavily features the psychedelic rock music of real life Cambodian rock band, Dengue Fever, which is performed by the play’s fictional characters, including Neary and her father. Loud and electric, Dengue Fever’s music absolutely makes the show.

Cambodian Rock Band runs through December 15 at the La Jolla Playhouse (near Revelle College). Tickets are $10 online with the code TRITON.

— Kristina Stahl, Staff Writer