Alana George, Campus Carrier copy editor
When 2020 started, I had no idea that my world would be turned upside down by a global pandemic and that I would have to stay home for five months. No one could have predicted the different music and shows that would keep us entertained during these Groundhog Day-esque months, and I know I have found some new favorites that will forever remind me of this unprecedented time in history.
Starting off the lineup is a Netflix show that the world couldn’t get enough of when it premiered in March, “Tiger King.” This seven-part documentary centers on the flamboyant Joe Exotic (real name Joseph Allen Maldonado-Passage) and his wildlife park in rural Oklahoma, as well as his rivalry with Carole Baskin of Big Cat Rescue in Florida. This show had it all: eccentric personalities, cool and cute animals, conspiracy theories and more. I remember all my friends picking sides on how Carole Baskin had killed her husband, as there was no debate that she did do it (at least, there shouldn’t be). There were also many debates in my house about whether Exotic should have gone to jail in the first place. But as crazy as the show is, there was a deeper meaning to it that I definitely picked up on: the real debate should be around animal welfare in these kinds of parks all over the world, no matter how high the quality of care. It’s a similar debate that the documentary “Blackfish” started when it was released in 2013, except instead of orcas the main characters are lions, tigers and cheetahs. Should these beautiful big cats be kept in captivity in the first place, and how should we best care for those who do not know anything else? The jury is still out, and it will be interesting to see how the debate rages on in the coming months.
Up next is a production that I, and many others, have waited a long time to witness: Hamilton. I listened to the soundtrack for the first time during my junior year of high school, and I immediately fell in love with Lin Manuel Miranda’s lyrics and musical style. I eventually learned the entire cast purely based on their voices, as well as every single word in the entire show. I remember forcing my parents to listen to it and they were just as starstruck as I was, so much so that they got tickets for us to go see the show in Chicago for my 18th birthday in July of 2017. While that was an incredible night that I will never forget, I was a little sad that I never got to see the original cast perform in the Richard Rogers Theatre in New York City. But, when I saw the trailer on the Disney+ Instagram for the filmed production with most of the original cast, I was ecstatic. I immediately planned a watch party with one of my best friends for the night of the premiere, July 3, and tried my best to emotionally prepare myself for the spectacle I knew I was going to witness. That night, my expectations were blown out of the water. The production quality was absolutely flawless, and the various camera angles made viewers feel as if they were on stage with the cast. I laughed, I cried, I sang every word and got lost in the world that Miranda created on that stage. I have only watched it once, as one should set aside a substantial amount of energy to get invested in it again, but I plan on watching it many more times with many more friends and being just as blown away every single time.
Then, on July 24, the whole world was surprised with Taylor Swift’s eighth studio album, “Folklore.” She announced the album on Instagram on the morning of July 23, and the entire album along with the music video for “Cardigan” dropped at midnight. When my alarm went off that morning, I noticed some crazed direct messages on Instagram from my best friend, who was losing her mind over “Folklore,” and of course I did to as soon as I figured out what was going on. I have been a Taylor Swift fan ever since her first EP, and I will continue to support her journey as an artist as long as she makes music. That being said, Folklore is some of Swift’s best work, and I am not exaggerating in the slightest. The entire album has a beautiful, calming sonic cohesiveness about it, the likes of which I have never heard from her before. There are songs about her own life, but also some that tell others’ stories. “The Last Great American Dynasty,” for example, tells the story of Rebecca Harkness, widow of William Harkness, the last heir to the Standard Oil fortune. Swift also tweeted about a love triangle of songs on the album, each showcasing a perspective of a teenager involved in a love triangle. Listeners have since figured out that “Cardigan” shows the perspective of the girl, “Betty” shows the perspective of the boy and “August” shows the perspective of the girl he cheated with. This kind of storytelling from a modern artist is rare, which is why I have been a devoted Swiftie for a very long time, and why “Folklore” will be on repeat in my head for at least the next six months.
One week after Folklore’s release, another powerhouse female artist released new music. Beyoncé’s newest visual album, Black is King, premiered on Disney+ on July 31, and in an Instagram post on June 28 she described the film as a “passion project” of hers that was originally supposed to be released as a companion piece to the live-action “Lion King” soundtrack from last summer. However, I believe that due to the current racial debates being held across the country, this project has had and will continue to have a greater impact on a larger audience. In her post, Beyoncé touched on this fact and hoped the film would tell a new story.
“The events of 2020 have made the film’s vision and message even more relevant, as people across the world embark on a historic journey,” she said. “We are all in search of safety and light. Many of us want to change. I believe that when Black people tell our own stories, we can shift the axis of the world and tell our REAL history of generational wealth and richness of soul that are not told in our history books.”
The film is full of symbols and traditions from Black culture, as well as lessons and voice clips from the live-action “Lion King” film. It encourages cultural pride, self-expression and telling your own story to the world. As we all would expect from Beyoncé, the costumes, sets and production quality of the film are masterful. Viewers are swept up into the colorful symbolic world that she created and shown motifs of Black culture that they may not have ever seen before. There are also cameos throughout from members of Beyoncé’s immediate family, including her husband Jay-Z and her daughter Blue Ivy. As a young white woman watching the film, I knew there were symbols present that I did not understand, but I still appreciated the beauty and strength communicated through the lyrics and choreography throughout the film. I would love to read a future analysis of the entire film from someone who did pick up on all of the symbolism so that I could understand and expand my knowledge. All in all, watching this film was both an educational and almost spiritual experience for me, and I hope its messages of strength and embracing your culture and story are spread throughout this divided world.
These major players in the entertainment industry certainly made our quarantine periods more exciting, as did many other shows and movies that did not make the list. The fun part of finding new entertainment is just getting started as we all reunite at Berry: we now get to share all of it with our best friends. I hope we can all figure out how to do that safely and continue to bond with fellow students over music, movies and shows we love.