Instead, we wrote what we’ve always written: deep dives into movies and shows that stick in our brains for months or years, screeds against the state of the entertainment industry and essays about the way we understand and misunderstand art. We also published great pieces from guest contributors and started our very own podcast, The Sundae Presents, where we take turns showing each other favourite films of ours the other hasn’t seen.
For long-time readers, this is our year in review. For newer readers, this is our sizzle reel. And if you’re here for the first time, this is a pretty good look at what we’re all about, as are the previousfourtimes we’ve done this, so check them out.
Here’s the best of The Sundae so far since last so far.
“To get a little academic for a second, the primary emergency of gay history in its first decades was to uncover and to restore histories of gay movements and of gay heroes. And while the culture of academic research has certainly moved on from that, the public conversation really hasn’t.”
Say Anything are a strange band in the history of pop punk, not least because, well, are they a band? Max Bemis, lead singer and sole constant member, wrote all their lyrics and most of their music, and his work is, if not autobiographical exactly, then certainly confessional, in a way that reminds me alternately of Sylvia Plath and Eminem. He mentions people in his life by name in his songs a lot, particularly his wife and children in his later career, and usually without bothering to explain who they are for the unfamiliar listener. But other members of Say Anything have co-written music on most of their records, and many of them just credit Say Anything, rather than breaking down who did what. On the sliding scale between a solo project with a band name and a regular band with a primary songwriter, I tend to file Max Bemis and Say Anything in the same folder as Robert Smith and The Cure, Trent Reznor and Nine Inch Nails or John Darnielle and The Mountain Goats: bands that consist of one person and whoever they’re making music with at the time, too collaborative to be solo projects, but too mercurial to feel like a regular band.
Their sophomore album …Is a Real Boy is widely acclaimed as one of the best pop punk albums of all time and particularly regarded as one of the crown jewels of Bush-era emo, but they’ve pretty much never had a major hit. Not even …Is a Real Boy, which didn’t chart in a year when Blink-182, Green Day, Good Charlotte, Simple Plan, New Found Glory, Taking Back Sunday and even The Offspring (on their seventh album!) made the Billboard Year-End 200. Good Charlotte had two albums on it, and Green Day moved from #86 in 2004 to #2 in 2005 as the worldwide success of American Idiot turned it into one of the best-selling albums ever. My Chemical Romance released their sophomore album, Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge, in 2004 too, and also missed the year-end chart, but in 2005, they joined Green Day in the top 200 with Fall Out Boy, Simple Plan, Good Charlotte, Bowling for Soup and Jimmy Eat World. Say Anything had no such luck.
…Is a Real Boy had by far the biggest single of Say Anything’s career, “Alive with the Glory of Love”, a staple of alternative rock radio then and of alternative rock playlists now, but not a song that caused much of a ripple in the zeitgeist: it peaked at #28 on the alternative chart. Every subsequent Say Anything album has charted, but every subsequent Say Anything album except In Defense of the Genre, their sprawling double album full of collaborations with other pop punk and emo artists, also sold fewer copies than …Is a Real Boy. Almost twenty years later, …Is a Real Boy is still the album they’re primarily or even exclusively known for. They’ve had two other singles chart – “Baby Girl, I’m a Blur” and “Hate Everyone” – but “Alive with the Glory of Love” is still the closest they’ve come to a hit song. It’s not an uncommon story, really, but it just feels kind of ridiculous that a band this influential and iconic within the genre, who’ve collaborated with Gerard Way, Hayley Williams, Tom DeLonge, Matt Skiba and dozens of other beloved pop punk, emo and indie artists, have never really been that popular. It’s not like they’re critical darlings either: the reception for most of their albums after …Is a Real Boy skews positive, but it’s usually mixed and frequently polarised. I guess they’re kind of a love-it-or-hate-it thing, but even Marmite sells, for God’s sake.
…Is a Real Boy is a masterpiece, possibly the best pop punk album ever, and certainly my favourite, but it’s also been a bit of an albatross around Bemis’s neck. A lot of the band’s later experimentation is a fairly transparent effort to escape the shadow of …Is a Real Boy by refusing to even have a core sound. The second verse of “Judas Decapitation”, from their 2014 album Hebrews, is a screed aimed directly at the archetypal bad Say Anything fan who venerates …Is a Real Boy and hates the work the band has done since Bemis became happier, healthier and met his wife, Sherri DuPree of Eisley: “I hate that dude! / now that he’s married / he’s got a baby on the way / Poor Sherri!” Bemis is open about suffering from bipolar disorder and famously experienced a severe manic episode from the stress of making …Is a Real Boy, so there’s always been a dark undercurrent to the idea he needs to “go back” to making albums like it, as if he can’t make good music unless he’s untreated. You can hear the venom in his voice as he spits out the last lines of that verse: “be nineteen with a joint in hand / never change the band / never ever be a dot dot dot real man”, with the “dot dot dot” in the wrong place, just to piss them off even more. It was a bit of a surprise, then, when Bemis announced a sequel.
Oliver Appropriate, released in 2019, is the band’s presumptive final album, released a few months after a lengthy statement in which Bemis came out as queer, revealed he was retiring from touring for health reasons and announced the end of Say Anything as a recording project (though the third paragraph promises they’ll “return one day to play festivals and scoff at our career”.) Like many concept albums, the concept “lore” is almost entirely secondary to the experience – I’ve never read the liner notes of any concept album ever – but unlike, say, The Black Parade or the concept albums of Cursive (one of Bemis’s more transparent non-pop punk influences), it has a fairly clear narrative, even clearer than pop punk’s definitive concept album, American Idiot. Oliver is a washed-up, single, middle-aged, ex-punk rocker punching the clock at a marketing job and spending all his free time and money on drink and drugs, drifting from bar to bar, club to club, party to party, falling into bed at the end of the night with whatever woman will have him.
Then he sees Karl at a bar, and it’s like a bolt of lightning right into the darkest part of his heart, the secret place he’s been hiding his attraction to men from himself and everyone else. It’s a beautiful album about the misery of alienation, the agony of the closet and the thrill of first love. It’s also a very dark horror story: the album ends with Oliver drowning himself in the San Francisco Bay with Karl’s body.
That couldn’t be further from the truth. We’re just getting started. And so we’re relaunching the series with a look at some of our favourite pop punk albums, running the gamut from the genre’s biggest stars to obscure indie kids, spanning from the genre’s Big Bang in 1994 through to just before The Sundae came into being. We’ve renamed the series In Defense of the Genre, in tribute to the greatest pop punk scholar of our time, Max Bemis. We only hope to contribute as much to the cause.
McFly – guitarist and singer Danny Jones, guitarist and singer Tom Fletcher, bassist and singer Dougie Poynter, and drummer Harry Judd – had seven number ones in the UK. With their 2004 debut Room on the 3rd Floor, they became the youngest band to ever have a number one album, a title previously held by the Beatles. And I hated them. I hated them in the shallowest way imaginable. I was a Kerrang! kid, dressed in black, listening to pop punk and emo and nu-metal. Genres were much more stratified then, and I thought pop music was more or less inherently suspect. I thought McFly were a boy band, so I turned my nose up at them on principle.
I was a dumb kid, but I wasn’t alone. “[A]ll the usual credibility-gap closers – numerous Beatlesque albums, gigging at the Barfly, releasing on an indie label – still haven’t quite shifted the perception of McFly as Busted Club Juniors,” Iain Moffatt wrote for the BBC in 2010. McFly were a punching bag, more often than not: dissing McFly was a shorthand to credibility. Kasabian went after them, calling them a “pop band for kids”. An extremely young Daniel Radcliffe went after them, lamenting that the kids at his school like McFly instead of The Libertines. Someone who came fifth on RTÉ’s talent show You’re A Star in 2005 went after them. They were nominated four times at the NME Awards… for Worst Band and Worst Album.
All these years later, pop music is taken seriously by default. Rock is basically dead, and everybody listens to everything now. Calling something “pop” as a way to dismiss it seems like a relic of a time long past. No-one would claim that Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, Rihanna or Ariane Grande aren’t serious artists, even when they’re criticising them. Rolling Stone declared One Direction one of the greatest rock bands of the century this year, tongues barely in their cheeks.
Yet McFly have not gotten the re-evaluation they deserve. I got into McFly as an adult, basically by accident, and discovered a yawning gap between the band McFly are and the band they were, and still are, perceived to be.
Part 1 – the boys in the band
McFly have spent pretty much their whole career being referred to as a boy band. But were they ever one?
This is the final part of God Sent Me To Piss The World Off, a four-part series about Eminem. Find the masterpost here.
Part 4 – I’m a piece of fucking white trash, I say it proudly.
‘Lose Yourself’ is one of the best songs of Eminem’s career. It’s an incredible showcase for his virtuosic rhyming and his mesmerising early-2000s flow, but there’s also the urgent intensity of his delivery, the tense, relentless guitar lick, the instantly recognisable piano intro and how the piano gets layered into the rest of the song. “Mom’s spaghetti” has been memed into oblivion, but the whole song is full of rich, striking imagery of poverty and desperation, from the evocative and metaphorical – “I cannot grow old in Salem’s Lot” – to the horrifically mundane: “These goddamn food stamps don’t buy diapers.” It’s one of the only “inspirational” songs that it’s possible to imagine actually inspiring someone. It’s full of an aggressive kind of hope: a hope born of hopelessness, a hope that you cling to because otherwise you’ll die. I knew every word many years before I would listen to any of Eminem’s albums.
‘Lose Yourself’ has largely eclipsed the film it was written for in the cultural consciousness: 8 Mile is remembered as the film that ‘Lose Yourself’ is from, not the other way around. Like Purple Rain, 8 Mile is still well-remembered and -regarded, but more like an appendage to its star’s music career than a film in its own right.
But 8 Mile is a great film: a working-class sports drama in the tradition of Rocky, with rap battles in place of boxing matches. Eminem plays Jimmy Smith, Jr., nicknamed Rabbit, an aspiring rapper in mid-1990s Detroit. It’s an extraordinary performance, underrated on the assumption that he’s just playing himself. Many people who come to acting from another kind of performance just sort of coast on charisma and presence – The Rock has made a career out of it – but Eminem never coasts. He’s electric. He has extraordinarily expressive eyes: as Ryan Gibney writes for Sight and Sound, he conveys “vulnerability with a simple well-timed blink or wince.”
Another year has gone more or less (it’s less, but it feels like more), so it felt like a good time to look back on the past several months and go “yeah, fair enough, good job to us” and encourage you to read some of the best stuff we wrote so you can go “yeah, fair enough, good job to ye”. We’ve written about good movies and bad movies, good bands that became bad solo acts, excellent television, extremely bad people and one of the most evil corporations in the entire entertainment industry.
For our long-time readers, take a walk down memory lane. For newer readers, catch up on some of our best work. And if this is your first time here, there’s hardly a better place to find out what we’re all about. Except the previousthreetimes we’ve done this, maybe.
Here’s the best of The Sundae so far (again again)2.
This is the third part of God Sent Me To Piss The World Off, a four-part series about Eminem. You can read Part 1 here and Part 2 here. Find the masterpost here.
Part 3 – Though I’m not the first king of controversy, I am the worst thing since Elvis Presley.
In my late teens, I was immersed in a certain kind of politics that I find very difficult to put words on. So many of the words I have belong to the right, are loaded with implications I wish I could wash away: social justice warrior, virtue-signalling, identity politics. I spent a lot of time on Tumblr – a site I joined to reblog Glee gifsets that became a source for my political worldview – which checks out, because it’s politics that can only really exist online. Centred myopically on privilege/oppression dynamics, even where none are obvious; wielding the word “intersectionality” like both a weapon and a shield; pushing down my doubts because I was told I needed to “unlearn” all the oppressive, toxic shit I’d absorbed from society at large. I was drained of all my self-esteem – wracked with guilt for my whiteness and my cisness, panicking over mistakes I might make, terrified of men who I felt sure would hurt me – and was provided only self-righteousness in its place. I thought of politics as a collection of rules, most of which demand my passivity.
I’m twenty-five now. I’m a democratic socialist, and I think of politics as a coalition of like-minded people fighting for a better world. I find it hard to talk about the politics I held in my late teens and how it affected me, still affects me, because it plays right into the right’s narrative: the leftist hivemind, the shame people from privileged groups are allegedly made to feel, the disinterest in dissenting voices. I don’t want to sound like someone who believes trans bullies beat up kids while shouting “Die, cis scum!” or whatever. But I did feel suffocating anxiety, and that was real, and I think it’s worth talking about. Not just for personal catharsis, but because it’s a story I’ve only ever heard with a different ending to mine, where that kind of politics is rejected to move to the centre, or even the right. (If you think of political alignments as a straight line, that makes sense. But political alignment isn’t a straight line, or a horseshoe, or even an x-y axis.)
This is the second part of God Sent Me To Piss The World Off, a four-part series about Eminem. You can read Part 1 here. Find the masterpost here.
Part 2 – How many records you expecting to sell after your second LP sends you directly to jail?
Discourse around freedom of speech is so terrible that it’s difficult to read the words “free speech” without rolling your eyes. Free speech is a joke: at best it’s an embarrassing forum post by a guy who is absolutely furious that the moderator keeps deleting his My Little Pony memes, at worst it’s a far-right dogwhistle. As outlined by William Davies, the right has diligently spent the last few years manufacturing a “crisis” in free speech that is supposedly infecting everywhere from college campuses to major media outlets. This tactic began in the United States, where freedom of speech is more of a hot button issue in general, and – if cable news is to be believed – college-aged liberal activists have a more developed apparatus for no-platforming speakers or demanding trigger warnings for assigned reading. (I am generally sceptical of the truth of this, because I was immersed in liberal-left university circles here in Ireland for several years at the height of this whole thing and never once encountered a “safe space”, even as middle-aged media personalities went on the radio to complain about safe spaces. I would not be in the least surprised if there are plenty of Americans for whom the same is true.)
Most of the stuff this debate is about is either not censorship or not even really happening, at least at any scale. It is not censorship that some college kids don’t find your gay jokes very funny or that someone put “trigger warning: rape” on their blog post or that The Guardian publishes an article disagreeing with your argument. The fakeness of this whole debate is something everyone left-of-centre is intensely aware of: there might be good-faith arguments to be had about the legitimacy of, say, no-platforming, but free speech warriors – from Fox News hosts down to the lowliest Twitter troll – are not approaching the issue in good faith. When they talk about threats to their free speech, they usually mean threats to the legitimacy of their authority. They say, “why am I not permitted to speak?” because “why are people disagreeing with me? I’m right!” would give too much of the game away.
But this has created a problem on the left. Not that the left “hates free speech”, as the right claims, but in liberals and leftists allowing the right to define the parameters of the debate. The right has made such a habit of calling the dumbest shit censorship – where most of the supposedly silenced end up regularly appearing on Question Time – that the left-of-centre has defensively embraced a minimalist approach to free speech.