You know what's inspiring? To see someone recover from the depths of entertainment-related shittiness and create something great. Like how the Beach Boys sang bullshit songs about surfing for years, and then just up and decided to make Pet Sounds one day. Or how "Creep" is a bullshit song that's only enjoyed by garbage people, but Radiohead ended up being a fantastic band anyway. We talk about a few more examples on this week's Unpopular Opinion podcast ...
#5. Justin Bieber
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The key to pulling off an article like this is to swing for the fences right away. So with that in mind, let's talk about Justin Bieber. Don't worry, I'm not here to tell you that you should like him as a person. I don't know the guy. He could very well be every bit the asshole the media makes him out to be. What I am here to tell you is that his music isn't as terrible as people claim -- which I accept is a message you probably find to be infinitely worse.
I don't give a fuck. That's a good song. What song? The one in the video I just posted, dummy. But if I'm being completely honest, his music in general has never really been the problem. It's just pop music which, for a variety of reasons, has proven to be more popular than a lot of relatively similar stuff over the years. What's always been problematic for me is that I can't think of a single instance where, as an adult, I've ever wanted to see or hear a kid do anything for entertainment reasons, and Justin Bieber has been exactly that for most of the years he's been making music.
He's always been plenty talented. He at least plays instruments and shit, sometimes really well. But when a kid becomes a huge pop star, their relationship with the adult world is going to be a tense one. That's probably why so many child stars self-destruct, which is something Bieber seemed well on his way to doing at one point. Maybe he still is -- how am I supposed to know? The media just tells us what they want to tell us, man. All I know is that I heard this song like 15 times and thought it was alright ...
All during the same four-hour car ride. Thanks, FM radio!
... before I ever realized it was a Justin Bieber song. That's a good sign; at least, for him, and mostly just as it relates to my instinctive distaste for the sound of kids trying to be talented. Still, with that out of the way, it's just pop music. There are only a few people making that these days, no matter who's singing. Be it The Weeknd or Justin Bieber, someone is eventually ...
... singing an Ed Sheeran song.
Or take that first video I embedded. Skrillex produced that song. You like Skrillex, don't you, you hipster piece of shit?
Look, my point isn't really to try to sell you on the idea of being a full-fledged Bieber fan. Again, don't give a fuck. I'm just saying that hearing the name "Justin Bieber" as it relates to music doesn't necessarily warrant the extra layer of disdain that it did in the past, by sheer virtue of his age. It's like how Justin Timberlake used to make terrible music with N'Sync and now he's the James Bond of Saturday Night Live and does cool things like this at the Country Music Awards:
There's something to be said for that. It's not a transition everyone who gets famous as a kid is able to make, and it speaks to the fact that, as far as music goes, Justin Bieber has never really been that bad.
I bet he's still kind of a douchebag to be around, though.
#4. Keri Russell
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Keri Russell has never been your demon. If anyone is still harboring resentment for her, it's because they haven't found anything better to do with their 30s than reminisce about TRL-era television. In that case, all of the bitterness centers around the fact that she ruined Felicity, the show that made her famous, by cutting her hair during the second season.
How dare you????
Stupid, I know. But if you think it's a thing that hasn't followed Keri Russell around ever since, I have a link to a Hello Giggles article from 2014 which begs to differ. It was a huge goddamn deal, and the worst part of it for her was that it was mostly a myth. Ratings for the second season were already on the decline by the time she cut her hair, and her decision to do it was one the producers supported, as adorably confirmed by a before-you-gave-a-fuck-era J.J. Abrams in this ancient Internet article. Also, the show survived two more seasons after that fiasco.
Nevertheless, the controversy still seemed to take a toll on Russell's career. She worked after that, but only sporadically, appearing in a few movies in the middle part of the 2000s, but staying away from regular television work until 2010, when she co-starred with Will Arnett in a show you didn't watch called Running Wilde, which was cancelled before completing one full season.
All along the way, that infamous haircut followed her career, becoming such a common pop culture reference that there are entire lists dedicated to which shows used it the best.
Yes, of course Family Guy is there.
It's a dumb thing to have linked to your name forever, and it's something I'm only bringing up in this column because it acts as a good excuse to remind (or inform) you that, since 2013, Russell has starred in one of the best and most criminally underappreciated shows on the air today. That would be the FX Cold War espionage drama The Americans ...
Just try to listen to this without hating Reagan.
... and if you aren't watching it, you're committing treason against quality television programming.
Where else on network TV will you see a kid get disciplined for respecting Jesus too much?
That show, and Keri Russell's performance in it, should be more than enough to compel people to stop talking about that stupid haircut forever, but it's also served as another reminder that some of us aren't ready to let go just yet. That Hello Giggles article I linked to earlier was all about how the writer finally found it in her heart to forgive "Felicity" for cutting her hair because The Americans is so damn great. New York Mag used the show as a reason to run two separate articles all about the trials and tribulations of Russell's locks over the years.
How crazy is that? More than 15 years later, even with Keri Russell proving herself to be one of the most consistently great actors on television today, all anyone wants to talk about is that time she cut her hair. And we wonder why other countries hate us so much.
#3. (Modern-Day) Prince
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Easy! Take it easy! I'm not saying that Prince isn't great. I'm just saying that, even if you're the biggest Prince fan on the planet, you have to admit that for a stretch there, he was contributing a whole lot of awful to the world on the musical side of things. Of course, I can't prove this in an Internet article any more than someone else could prove me wrong in the same medium. One of the most impressive aspects of Prince's career is that, aside from the illegal-est of file sharing websites, evidence of the true extent of his greatness -- or in this case, his brief dalliances with shittiness -- is hard to come by.
That's no accident. He was an early adopter when it came to sending anti-piracy police after those who post things online without permission, and he's been remarkably successful at keeping his work off the Internet.
We'll always have that guitar solo at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ceremony.
So when I say that way too much of his '90s output was absurd rap bullshit that made MC Hammer seem like the voice of his generation by comparison, all I have to give you in the way of proof is my promise that I would never, ever lie to you, baby.
And no, I'm sorry, you can't just go listen to it on Spotify. He stopped allowing his music on streaming services back in July. As of right now, he has precisely one song available on Spotify.
The fuck is this shit?
While it's true that the amount of control he's been able to maintain over how and when his content is shared online is impressive, I suspect that if you asked random groups of people to name five Prince songs released since the year 2000, most couldn't even come close.
That's a shame, because starting around the time of 2004's Musicology, Prince experienced kind of a return to form musically, and produced some really great songs. But all of it's been overshadowed by the sometimes-desperate measures he's taken to promote and profit from his work without relying on the Internet like the rest of the world.
With the aforementioned Musicology, it was to include a copy of the album with every ticket sold for the massive comeback tour that coincided with its release. But a search for the fairly great title track from that album just brings up stuff like this creepy "lyrics" video which features absolutely no sound at all.
Trust me, it's even better with music.
For 2007's Planet Earth, he gave the album away in copies of a UK newspaper.
He released two albums, Lotusflow3r and MPLSOUND, on the same day in 2009, but only at Target.
In almost every case, his alternative approach to releasing music earned him more money than if he'd gone through more traditional channels. But it's led to Prince becoming a sort of anti-legend who, instead of rightfully being celebrated for still making consistently solid music at this stage of his career, will mostly be remembered for making that music so difficult to listen to. For some people, it might as well not even exist at all. If you were curious enough that you wanted to check out Lotusflow3r, for example, you'd have to buy the CD online and wait for it to arrive at your door -- that is, if you even still have a CD player to listen to it with. That's way too much investment and effort for a lot of people these days. So when I tell you that Prince eventually overcame his awkward rap phase and released a string of albums which you should listen to sometime, you're just going to have to trust me, unless you're rolling in expendable cash or have no fear of the Web Sheriff.
Even more unfortunate is the stuff that does somehow manage to survive online, like this bizarre interview with Tavis Smiley ...
... in which Prince goes on at length about his belief that the government uses chemtrails as a form of mind control. Even better, he recommends that people find more information about it ... online.