5 Artists Who Stopped Sucking Out of Nowhere

I love being surprised by new things. I don't mean like puppies or an invitation to Hustler's Barely Legal Pajama Party for Vaguely Known Bloggers. More like developments that change my mind after it's already made. It's good for the soul, and a defense against cynicism. That might be hard to believe considering how opinionated some of my columns and videos are, but some opinions are just invitations to be proven wrong.

And that's true not just for real world concerns, but also in the realm of pop culture. Doing a 180 degree turn in your opinions about an artist or work of art can be intensely satisfying. The first time I heard Faith No More's "Midlife Crisis" and Chris Isaak's "Wicked Game," I felt like I was dying. Both songs made me physically uncomfortable, and I distinctly remember shutting off the radio on FNM and actually leaving the record store for Isaak. (Oh -- for our younger readers -- a record store is a place where, as a teen, I failed repeatedly to find chicks willing to have sex with me.) But by the third or fourth listen, something clicked and both songs became all-time favorites of mine.

The video, however, I liked right away.

With artists, it's a little different. The change usually comes for me after a specific performance I call the 180 moment. It's a defining event big enough for me to do an about-face on all my previous opinions. Here are my five biggest 180s on artists I once thought had absolutely no value.

#5. Neil Patrick Harris

To me, Neil Patrick Harris was always Doogie Howser, M.D. -- a vaguely irritating boy actor on a show I rarely watched. It never occurred to me to think of him as anything other than a child star who would go away for 10 years before popping up briefly on TMZ in a tragic drug overdose story.

"I decided to follow up my 'Doogie Howser, M.D.' performance with a daring role as the inhabitant of a chalk outline."

The 180 Moment: Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle

In 2004, I went to Blockbuster and rented Harold & Kumar go to White Castle after hearing it was good despite all appearances to the contrary. (Oh -- for our younger readers -- Blockbuster was a store where, as a young man, I failed repeatedly to find chicks willing to have sex with me.) In any event, all the buzz was true, and Harold & Kumar ended up being one of my favorite comedies. But that's not the important part. The big story was Neil Patrick Harris's portrayal of Neil Patrick Harris as a drug addicted, womanizing thrill junkie.

Sometimes cool people disable embedding. The link's above. Sorry.

The performance was great on so many levels. Even as mere stunt-casting it would have worked; innocent boy actor is actually a bad ass. Harris could have said his lines, hit his marks and delivered laughs. Instead, he created a performance so memorable, it demanded to be repeated in two sequels. Instead of watching Harris and saying, "Oh, I get it, Doogie likes to fuck," you believed he was a bad ass womanizer, and it was completely inconsequential that Harris was openly gay. Not only a great comedic turn, but hopefully inspirational to any gay actor who thinks they can't come out because the audience won't accept them in straight roles.

#4. Justin Timberlake

For a long time, I had a fairly large amount of disdain for Justin Timberlake in the same way I would hate any soulless performing monkey that made millions. I saw no difference between, the N'Sync teen star and the little kid doing country on Star Search. Both were just wind-up toy singing whores.

The 180 Moment: Hosting Saturday Night Live

In 2003, Justin Timberlake hosted Saturday Night Live, and I had to throw out most of those opinions. True, N'Sync was still pop garbage he spewed for lots of cash, but he was not the talentless, blonde automaton I thought he was. Two skits made that clear. The now-classic "Omeletteville" skit and his performance of Robin Gibb on Jimmy Fallon's Barry Gibb talk show.

Sure Timberlake sang and danced with great aplomb in the "Omlletteville" skit, but more importantly, he looked like a giant douchebag. I had no idea this petite pretty boy would be on board with making fun of himself, and that helped change my opinion as much as his killer comedic performance.

One giant, douchey egg-suit. See how easy it is to win my love?

As a huge Bee Gees fan, The Barry Gibb Talk Show is one of my favorite SNL skits of all time. Mostly, I love it for Fallon's performance which shows the unfairly maligned Barry Gibb as a force to be reckoned with while simultaneously equating the Bee Gee falsetto with rage. But Timberlake's portrayal of Robin Gibb (get well) as a hapless simpleton also shattered my disdain and convinced me that not only could he act, but he'd spent many hours listening to the Bee Gees.

#3. Soundgarden

I'm a huge Soundgarden fan. I love Chris Cornell and the boys so much they've basically ruined loud music for me; it just seems pointless to listen to any other band. But it wasn't always that way. My first exposure to them was the mention of their name: Soundgarden. Mmmm. Sounded ethereal and prog rocky, appealing instantly to my lame suburban sensibilities. I was eager to check them out. What I got was this:

At that point, I relegated them to the dumb ass, punk rock junk pile as mindless cretins. That was my mistake. First off, I had no idea that song was called "Big Dumb Sex" and was mocking the "hey let's fuck" sensibility of some dance music. More importantly, the best was yet to come.

The 180 Moment: Temple of the Dog

In 1991, I first heard "Hunger Strike" from Temple of the Dog -- a tribute album to the late Andrew Wood of Mother Love Bone. The one-off project featured Soundgarden's Chris Cornell and Matt Cameron with Stone Gossard, Mike McCready and Jeff Ament of Pearl Jam. The song, quite literally, stopped me in my tracks and made me change direction until I found where the music was coming from. (Spoiler alert: God. It was coming from God.)

The album redefined how I thought about songwriting and rock vocals. Soundgarden's Badmotorfinger, featuring "Outshined" and "Rusty Cage," was already out at the time, but I had ignored it, writing it off as more "Big Dumb Sex" noise. But Cornell's songwriting and vocals on the more mellow and soulful Temple couldn't be denied. I played the CD over and over. (Oh -- for our younger readers -- CDs are things I listened to as a boy after failing repeatedly to find chicks willing to have sex with me.)

After hearing Temple, I went back to Badmotorfinger and realized all that same songwriter craft was still underneath the more aggressive arrangements. I'd sold Soundgarden short. Thankfully, I did my 180 before Superunknown came out so I was in full blown fan mode when the greatest album of the '90s arrived.*

*To Radiohead fans: maybe OK Computer is better. To Faith No More fans: maybe Angel Dust is better. To Nirvana fans: You're adorable!

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