It was a year like no other for so many of us. Whilst we stayed safely indoors for the majority of 2021, we turned to the arts for warmth, connection and escape.
As this year comes to a close, we begin to ponder the ropes that tie us to others, things that moved us, informed us and kept us entertained.
Read on to find out more about our 2021 Culture Club favourites.
AD: 2021 was the year I finally launched into the reading practice and daily habit I’ve been trying to develop all my life. I proudly devoured a variety of tales from contemporary literature to freshly coined memoirs, from Brené Brown’s wise guidance to a list of Australian debut novels.
This year my absolute standout favourites were:
Heartbreaking, eloquent and romantic, this novel draws upon tenets of feminism in a historical context through the beauty of language. A gentle rhythm with a rich vocabulary, this is a page-turner to dive into to learn from and feel emotionally refreshed.
Anyone that knows me is fully aware of my extreme and typical Generation X credentials. Dave Grohl is practically family (at least in my head) and so when this book was announced I pre-ordered both the hardcover and the audio version.
One to enjoy the additional pictures, and the other to have Dave himself tell me the stories first hand. Hilarious, poignant, significant and formidable, Dave has led a life full of anecdotes that will make you laugh, cry and want to rock the f*ck out.
Honourable mentions to : The Yield by Tara June Winch, Honeybee by Craig Silvey, Where The Forest Meets the Stars by Glendy Vanderah and Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason.
RB: I read 11 books in 2021 (plus 2 I abandoned), which isn’t a brag moment, but I have to say, this is something I’m proud of. I’m dyslexic, and struggle with certain fonts, and the biggest reading lesson I learned this year was that it’s okay to put a book down if it isn’t sticking. No point wasting time when there are plenty of good books to be read!
I’ve been a Ben Folds fan since high school, which was permanently cemented after a front-row-gig where I was close enough to touch the piano if I wanted to. This book isn’t just for fans though, there are some great lessons about creativity, failure, and letting the “brown water” run before you get to the good ideas. NB: Published in 2019 but read in 2021 so I’m including it!
I love nostalgic, easy reads that are non-confrontational and remind me of places I’m familiar with. This book has it all. Set in Sydney and the Northern Beaches, and centered around a family home, this was one of those books that left me a little lost when it was finished, because what am I supposed to do now?!
AD: As someone who is inextricably linked to a variety of tunes on a daily basis for my entire life, listening to my go-to saviours Queens of the Stone Age brought me nostalgic familiarity during a year when my stability was sometimes in question. I always crave new sounds however, and this year my regular playlist included:
This album by UK duo Royal Blood (yes there’s really only two of them – a bass player and a drummer) is possibly their magnum opus. A long term fan of these guys, this album is the result of our main man’s (Mike Kerr) recent recovery from addiction and it shows. Transformative lyrics peppered with riffs, this is an all-album-classic full of disco bangers and serious rock and roll. Uplifting and renewing, put it on in the car, hit the highway and sing your lungs out as you return to life in 2022.
Knowing my propensity to dig me some neo soul, my gorgeous step-daughter sent me a preview of an Arlo Parks song from this album and I was instantly hooked. London 60’s chanteuse meets Portishead, jazz poetry meets sweet pop soul, it’s so fresh and summery you’ll be singing along. With memorable musical phrases like “You’re Not Alone”(Hope), “I Swear to God I Tried” (Caroline) and “Why don’t you just go?”(Just Go) and you’ll be wondering why you haven’t known these songs your whole life. It feels like these songs have always existed. Pop culture references sprinkled throughout only add to that deep heart-connection with layered harmonies and gentle beats.
RB: Well thanks to Spotify and the algorithm overlords, this section of the review writes itself! I’ve hit that phase in my life where listening to anything new is a bit of a struggle, in that I find myself sticking to a few classic albums on repeat. That said, there were a few newbies (or new for me) that made it into the six-stacker.
Are you the type of person who listens to an album on repeat until you almost wear it out? Yeah, that’s what I’ve been doing all year to Ngaiire’s latest album 3. If you’re looking for some fresh tunes, and you like a Neo-Soul / R&B vibe, then this is a must-listen.
I’m a bit of a sucker for dreamy vocals and synthy sound. I love an album that I can go running to, that isn’t too fast, but still gets me up hills. That said, you might find this a bit slow if you’re a HARDCORE runner, and running isn’t a prerequisite anyway. All of my commentaries aside, I think my favourite song on the album is the stripped-back one sung at the piano, Stone & Lavender. At this point, I think you should just forget everything I’ve said and go have a listen for yourself.
Honourable mentions to : Leave the Door Open by Silk Sonic
AD: I have limited data in my remote geographical location so I am pretty picky about what I choose to view on the largest of the screens. The landscape of television is so vastly different thanks to the streaming subscription services it’s often paralysing to make a choice. From my Saturday morning go-to; true crime documentaries on Netflix, to nostalgic comedy series for the touchstone of familiarity and ease of comprehension (M*A*S*H) and a whole lot of X-Files, I still found time for a couple of fresh takes.
From showrunnesr Jet Statsky, Lucia Aniello and Paul W Downs (who some will recognise as Troy from Broad City), this masterpiece comedy series features the inimitable Jean Smart as Deborah Vance, a washed up Vegas comedian and Ava (played by Hanna Einbeinder), an LA-based outcast comedic writer. The raw reality of their current situation mixed with the absolute alacrity of the writing makes for a show that deserves all the Emmy’s it received. “Everyone in LA has such good style! I can’t tell who’s HAIM and who’s just three people” will stick with me for a while.
Yes you all know I love Gruen but it always deserves a mention. This year whilst Russel was clearly still based in Melbourne we met some new panelists with refreshing perspectives on the current state of marketing, media, public relations and communications in business. Every. Single. Episode is an actual masterclass and I will never not love this show’s mix of intelligence and badinage.
Honourable mentions to The Shrink Next Door (excruciating but so well acted), Landscapers (equal parts eerie and hilarious and I can’t take my eyes off Olivia Colman and David Thewlis), The Mandalorian (a truly epic Star Wars tale with incredible actors) and WandaVision (unexpectedly accurate depiction of grief in a magical universe).
RB: I relied heavily on the MGTH community for TV series recommendations this year (shout-out Goodies!) and as a result, I feel it’s important to pay this forward. Here’s what I immersed myself in from the 2021 new releases.
I watched both seasons in about 3 days, and I loved it. The main character played (and created) by Aisling Bea, brings some Zooey Deschanel in New Girl vibes, however the show itself reminds me more of Fleabag.
I’m not going to lie, there are some sad moments, but overall I think the comedy and the characters bring enough light to the series to keep it enjoyable.
Kitty Flanagan has had my heart since her role as Rhonda, the pushy media manager in satirical comedy Utopia. Fisk sees Kitty as the new kid on the block at a Wills and Probate office, and the show follows her attempts to get through each day while dealing with her quirky colleagues.
While I love Kitty, it’s Julia Zemiro that steals the show in many ways. The way she portrays her character as uppity lead legal partner recently relegated to office manager (don’t worry, no spoilers) is so accurate it’s actually a little bit scary. Think dry Aussie humour, a little bit of improv, physical comedy while still tugging on a few heart strings.
AD: I really miss the cinema. It’s been a huge part of my life. Things being what they are though, we all relied on streaming services to bring us the silver screen experience.
Not quite kid-friendly, Cruella is one of the most hyper-styled films of all time. Disney has clearly given free reign to the creative team to create an eye-popping, over the top, immersive design concept while telling the origin story of Cruella De Vil. As a well-known villain from the 101 Dalmatians tale, we’re thrown into a sympathetic posture driven by Emma Stone’s appropriately camp rendition. Worth it for the visual spectacle alone, the clothing, the cars, the sets, dive into the vamp-meets-punk roller coaster ride.
Before you write me off as some kind of Disney Marvel die-hard, let me just tell you I already know. This movie, though, is actually amazing. The dedication to Chinese styling, the martial arts, the strong female characters ( who can resist the charms of Awkwafina) and the ability of this film to not take itself too seriously have made it one of my favourites of the year.
RB: To be honest, I don’t watch many movies, unless it’s Harry Potter. Put it this way, I haven’t seen a new release this year. Don’t shame me. I did watch Promising Young Woman (2020) while staying with Angela, which I enjoyed in parts, give it 7/10, and would say that it’s worth watching. Oh and I’ve totally been convinced to watch Cruella.
AD: I’ve started listening to more books than podcasts lately because I’m a little overwhelmed by the onslaught of choice the pandemic brought with it.
While I have lofty ideas of the intellectual calibre of podcasts I’ll listen to, I nearly always revert to Scientology: Fair Game hosted by Leah Remini and Mike Rinder. As ex-cult members themselves, they expose the unfair treatment of vulnerable people exacted by the church on members and the meting out of the “Fair Game Policy” established by the inventor of the cult, L. Ron Hubbard. While Scientology vehemently denies that Fair Game is still a practiced policy, as you’ll hear during this stark series of discussions with victims, it’s far from the reality.
RB: Much like Angela, I’m one of those people that wished they listened to more podcasts, but the reality is, it’s hard to go past music when I’m exercising. I also do a lot of writing and video editing, so it’s impossible to listen to them while I work. That said, I’ve found that doing the dishes or folding the washing is a good time to chuck one on.
Bang On brings together two of Australia’s most respected and most loved music journalists and presenters, Myf Warhurst and Zan Rowe, who are also great friends. It’s casual, conversational, current affairs and farrrrrshun. You’ll almost always get a new streaming recommendation too.
I somehow missed the story of Elizabeth Holmes, the founder of Theranos who was able to raise billions of dollars in capital by deceiving a whole bunch of really smart people, claiming she was about to revolutionise the medical industry. This podcast is a piece of investigative journalism that tells the story of how Elizabeth is now facing criminal charges and potential jail time… prepare to say WTAF on repeat.
What are your favourite Culture Club highlights from 2021?
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