1st Jan

Onkraut’s best of Pop Culture 2016

(c) EA Entertainment, Sony Music and Jain, Austra, Parkwood Entertainment.
(c) Courtesy of: EA Entertainment, Sony Music and Jain, Austra, Parkwood Entertainment.

Pop Culture’s Best of 2016

We love pop culture. Duh! And here are some of our contributors favourite pop culture picks of 2016.  Guilty pleasure or hidden gems, here are our four “incontournables”. Enjoy. And why not leave us a comment with your picks. 

Beyoncé – Lemonade 
The new album most certainly hit a lot of us through the media attention the quite exquisite and expensively produced video to the song Formation got showing segregative scenery being reclaimed by overpowering women. References are made to musicians of the civil rights movements such as the exceptional Nina Simone who marked a lot of spirits with her incredible presence during performances and her strong messages.
The album Lemonade embraces the concept of an album that is a chef d’œuvre in itself and works as an entity countering the tendencies that we’re getting used to by streaming on different platforms and picking our cherries individually from the works of artists. Furthermore, Beyoncé chooses to include poetry and particularly personal narrative to lead one through moments of incredible personal strength along with the depiction of self-healing processes to work out past battles, both personal and societal.
Austra – Future Politics 
Future politics and Utopia are singles of an album to look forward to that clearly voice the fears that have been creeping up to us in 2016 with the rise and strengthening of authoritarian figures everywhere in the world. The characteristic, seemingly lighthearted, electronic tunes of Austra take the role of a soothing framework allowing hope to become firmly established. The analysis delivered is almost comparable to the bleakness artists such as Cate Le Bon usually transfer in their music. However, Austra suggests that the despair and loneliness some of us might feel  facing the flawed parts of our social structures should be overcome by focusing on “Future Politics”. The source of current difficulties can be traced back to a system that inherently malfunctions by merely accepting money as common value. 
Austra will surely line herself with “Future Politics” in the movement also detectable in art under the label of “Post Futurism” just as Goga Ashkenazi wrote in the Post Futurism Manifest “Love, Instinct and Emotion are the essential elements of the Action, the Struggle, the art of our War”.
Battlefield 1
Battlefield 1 is Electronic Arts& Dice’s most recent installment of the “Battlefield” series. The game plunges you i.e. into trench, aerial, tank and desert warfare of WW1. Playing it, is an eerie and unsettling experience. And you can’t help but wonder, that there is a strong anti-war message in the game. This is even observable in the multiplayer section of the game. You are able to launch terrifying bayonet charges against your enemies, unlike the typical games of the genre where melee attacks are a piece of cake, the charge is accompanied by a barbarian and primal war cry that gives you the chills every time you play and if you manage to pace your attack, it’s gory, with the opponents face filling the whole screen and you cannot escape the face of death. 

However it’s the single player campaign prologue that carries a very brutal and subtle message: in war, human life is indeed worthless. During the 20 minute prologue, you keep on assuming the roles of different actors on the battlefield. The objective: Hold the line, and as a British Expeditionary Army soldier, the German waves just don’t stop. Repeatedly, your character is killed, and the name of the soldier is shown on a dimmed screen along side with the birth and death date of the soldier. You switch to another character, and you get killed yet again. It’s pointless and it makes no sense and thus the game captures perfectly it’s own tagline before the prologue: In the trenches of WW1 you are not expected to survive.
Sure it’s far from perfect, and after the prologue you return too often to the genre’s typical one-man-army-super-soldier. About super soldiers and their desktop homologues: the game has been criticised for not including female characters in the multiplayer mode (N.B.: A female playable character is available in the campaign mode). The explanations from EA and Dice were lame and faltering and it was awkward how developers and producers took the ranting pubescent male audience of the game under their protective cloak, as if gaming demographics haven’t changed at all in the last decades. Battlefield 1 is a fresh and new start reminding that escalation and rising nationalistic tendencies will end in misery, and the developers should have exploited that road even further. Battlefield remains however one of the games of the year, it is exceptionally well done and a refreshing break from glorified on-screen tales of honor. The soundtrack is signed by the Swedish composer Johan Söderqvist (i.e. Kontiki(2012), After the Wedding(2010) ) and deserves a special mention too.
Jain – “Zanaka”
Yes, please, shoot me, “Zanaka” was already published  in 2015 but the album truly appeared on my scope in 2016 after it was certified Gold in France. Jain aka Jeanne Galice is 24 years old and has lived already the world over. Her cultural home is somewhere between France, Brazzaville and the Middle East. If you think that would be reason enough to put her into the very famous “world music” drawer then you are mistaken. “Zanaka” her second album captures beautifully French pop sounds of the 90s that clash with newer African jazz beats. “Come” her first single kicks it off even with perfectly timed flamenco beats. And the cover art of the album beautifully captures that: Jain as hydra with 6 arms juggling styles and influences. No this isn’t world music, but a very aware, conscious and sustainable approach towards pop music. 
I love it when albums are coherent and total artworks, and her super hit “Makeba” is maybe so far the pinnacle of her work. (N.B. watch the mesmerising clip now!)

Picks by GA, PS, Onkraut.lu 2016/2017.

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