I returned to the Emmy’s Monday night to revisit Jon Hamm’s long–awaited victory, Viola Davis’ righteous fury, and the (no longer surprising in retrospect) grand victory for Game of Thrones. But I write (and talk and think) enough about Game of Thrones.
If the Emmy’s are about anything besides fancy clothes and the entertainment industry publicly patting themselves on the back (they’re surprisingly flexible when they want to be), it’s about labeling what shows really matter right now. In today’s pop culture scene, that’s an increasingly hard feat. Most of us watch and listen to things on our own time. Few of us listen to the radio or sit down at 8 p.m. on Tuesday nights to watch Friends. I’ve been trying to talk to people about Brandon Flowers’ The Desired Effect and Carly Rae Jepsen’s Emotion for weeks and months now. I’ve had moderate success getting people to watch You’re the Worst, and, in the dark times, keeping folks to press play on Game of Thrones. For a bunch of reasons—streaming services, sheer number of television shows, Tidal/Spotify/iTunes—there is no real center to pop culture anymore. The portion of the cultural venn diagram where we all overlap is ever-shrinking.
That’s what, I think, the Emmy’s tried to do Sunday night. The show tried to reestablish a center of (televised or streamed) pop culture. A lot of people watch and talk about Game of Thrones, so let’s crown it. Hamm’s Don Draper was a monumental television character, so let’s give him another chance to tie a bow on it. Music has had an even tougher time finding a center (besides T-Swift) than any other legion of pop culture.
I am—somewhat ironically—not a very adventurous music fan. If you see me out there on the streets, I’m probably listening to A) The National B) Bon Iver C) Eric Church D) Jason Isbell E) Carly Rae Jepsen. But I’m trying to be better, and the song that keeps getting thrown at me by various and now suspicious Spotify playlists is Hasley’s “New Americana.” In the song, the New Jersey native with the mysterious moniker and blue hair, belts, “We are the new Americana / High on legal marijuana / Raised on Biggie and Nirvana / We are the new Americana.” It’s an anthem the artist imagines its listeners shout in some rave somewhere on those legal drugs.
It’s like Swift’s “Style” without, you know, the style. It feels like it was manufactured by scientists trying to mix the essences of Swift, Lorde, and Lana. To be fair to Hasley, most of her new album is actually pleasantly weird. I’m just a bit miffed because “Americana” is a genre of music that, in my adventure, I’m growing fond of (see Jason Isbell)—it’s not a category for teens who have posters of Biggie and Nirvana but don’t know the words to “Ten Crack Commandments” and haven’t seen Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged. Nor is it for those who love James Dean but haven’t seen Rebel Without a Cause.
If “New Americana” blows up like I imagine it will, I’ll be sad (and then I’ll have to listen to more of The National), because it’s a really inauthentic song.
That’s what a few moments at the Emmy’s got right. It was authentic. When Hamm won Best Actor, you could see the weight of 16 fruitless nominations roll off his shoulder. He climbed up the stage and shuffled to the mic. Don Draper always knew what to say. He was always in control. And Hamm sort of stumbled through the first half of his speech before staring and smiling off into the void, thanking all the families who’ve taken him in over the years.
It happened again when Armando Iannucci (outgoing showrunner of Emmy-winning, Washington satire Veep) came to the mic—the Brit said, “If Veep is about one thing … it’s about hope.” Hmm. “The hope that anyone in America, no matter what their background, their race, or creed—anyone, if they work hard, can just miss out on getting the top job …. or get it if their boss is mentally incapacitated or killed ….”
It’s thoroughly human humor—thoroughly Veep. We’re all the same and we’re all probably going to fail at whatever we do. And that’s funny, as it always is on Veep. And that’s all you can hope for at the center of pop culture, that the art reflects what it’s like to be human, to be humble like Hamm, not false like whoever’s peddling “New Americana.”
Featured Image by Francisco Ruela / Heights Illustration