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The weirdest pop culture of 2017

2017 was, to put it lightly, a weird year, so there are a lot of runners-up for the strangest cultural moments it produced. In no particular order: the short-lived fad for licking Nintendo Switch cartridges to see if they really do taste bad (and licking other technology for comparison). The day white supremacists and Insane Clown Posse fans both marched on Washington, prompting widespread calls on social media for a Juggalo vs. Nazi deathmatch. The trend toward ads cheerfully acknowledging that millennials should expect miserable working conditions and unsatisfying lives, and buy stuff to compensate. Yes, all of these were strange indeed, and in another year they might have made the list. But 2017 was pretty competitive in the bizarro department, thanks to all the entertainers — amateur, professional and unintentional — working overtime to surprise and baffle us with their work. From David Lynch somehow making Twin Peaks weirder to songs about the callipygian delights of the Babadook, here are the cultural moments that left our jaws hanging open in delight or confusion (or both).

Dougie Jones in Twin Peaks: The Return

For me, nothing this year was weirder than watching Kyle MacLachlan burble around Twin Peaks: The Return with a tie on his head. Most of David Lynch and Marc Frost’s return to Twin Peaks featured former series protagonist Dale Cooper as a supernaturally lobotomized shell of his previous self, cooing at slot machines, repeating random noises, and making gotta-potty pain-faces until someone literally shows him how to pee. For hours on end. On a heavily hyped prestige series fans waited 25 years to see. This is some epic-level trolling. Imagine if Rian Johnson had subjected Star Wars fans to 14 straight hours of green-milk-smeared creepy-grinning weird hermit Luke. That’s basically what happened here. —Tasha Robinson

Big Enough (feat. Alex Cameron, Molly Lewis, Jimmy Barnes) by Kirin J Callinan

I first came across “Big Enough” when my colleague Micah Singleton tweeted it out a few months ago. It’s a country-infused EDM song by artist Kirin J Callinan that (I think?) is meant to be making fun of the genre? The first half of the song plays out normally enough for a country song, with dramatic landscapes, a pair of dueling cowboys in costume, and some overly clichéd lyrics reminiscent of the Old West. Things build up to a musical crescendo and you get ready for the bass to drop. But it doesn’t. Instead, artist Jimmy Barnes starts screaming in time to the beat as a spectral cowboy in the sky. The moment it happens hits you like a sack of bricks. It’s bizarre. It’s fascinating. It is incredible. It will get stuck in your head like it was sealed there with the strongest epoxy. It’s been weeks, and I can’t stop watching it. The song then continues, seemingly unaware of what has just transpired. Barnes shows up once again to lead into the final verse — a nonsensical list of towns, countries, continents, and religions — but his presence is never explained. Is “Big Enough” good? Bad? Parody? Straight-faced? I still don’t know. But I do know that the sounds of it will follow me for the rest of my days. —Chaim Gartenberg

Doki Doki Literature Club!

Dating sims and visual novels usually follow a predictable pattern: you meet a series of attractive boys or girls, go on adorable dates, and try to win one of their hearts. At first, Doki Doki Literature Club! looks like it’s going to stick to the formula: you step into the shoes of a male protagonist who joins a book club at school in order to spend time with cute girls. But heed the opening warning that “this game is not for children or the easily disturbed,” and its insistence that you push a button acknowledging “consent to your exposure of highly disturbing content.” It’s there for a reason. About halfway through your whimsical romantic adventure, things take a sharp and deeply disturbing turn into horror that makes Hatoful Boyfriend — a visual novel about dating birds that also turns into horror — look normal by comparison. Those struggling with depression and self-harm should take particular care in approaching this game, but if these advisories only make you more excited to play, then jump right in. It’s free, too. But don’t say you weren’t warned. —Laura Hudson

The Racine & Me theme song

This spring, the rapper Juiceboxxx agreed to write a new theme song for the local Wisconsin news show Racine & Me. The host, Jacob Kittilstad, is apparently a Juiceboxxx fan, and had reached out to the musician on Twitter. The result is a goofy garage rock battle cry stuffed with guitar licks and references to Racine’s surrounding counties. The song alone might’ve earned a spot on this list, but it’s the performance video at the Racine & Me studio that really cements it. Standing in front of a green screen, Juiceboxxx dances and pumps his fists as random images of Racine slide by behind him: apartment complexes, street signs, and a Miller Lite-branded bar at a VFW. Watch till the end, because Kittilstad’s reaction is the best part. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched this video, and it still makes me happier than anything else I’ve seen this year. —Lizzie Plaugic

Neo Yokio

Trying to describe Neo Yokio is like regurgitating a Mad Lib. The Netflix-aired anime is the brainchild of Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig and stars Jaden Smith, Jude Law, and Susan Sarandon in its tale about a nouveau riche demon hunter who is fond of melodramatic monologues about sadness and fashion. To say it was divisive is to undercut just how bizarre its existence is. Viewers and critics alike pondered it as a millennial satire, an earnest spin on American anime, surreal humor, or some sort of rat king entanglement of all of the above. I can’t decide if its recurring jokes about giant Toblerones or lines like “I’m not sure alcohol really fits my personal brand anymore” are unabashedly stupid or brilliant, but I’ve come to terms with how little that matters. Neither option would make me love this show any less. —Megan Farokhmanesh

When a Lorde fan hung Lorde’s album art up in The Louvre

In November, French photographer Nina Richard tweeted at Lorde to inform her of a small act of mischief she had committed in her name. She’d taken a miniature recreation of Lorde’s Melodrama album cover, originally painted by New York artist Sam McKinniss, and hung it in the Louvre. “A masterpiece surrounded by others,” Richard wrote. She put the tiny piece of art in a dark corner, not only because she was being trailed by museum security, but because the whole gesture was a reference to Lorde’s woozy 2017 love song “The Louvre,” which ends with Lorde promising her fling, “We’re the greatest, they’ll hang us in the Louvre. Down the back, but who cares, still the Louvre.” On the best album of 2017, the 20-year-old genius makes all kinds of wild, ridiculous promises, with the cadence of a wrist flip. We’re the greatest, she swears. Magic is real. Summer will be back. They’ll hang us in the Louvre. The Lorde in the Louvre is my favorite weird gesture of 2017, a tiny victory for the confused, the charmed, the sloppy. Cheers, Nina, and thank you very much. — Kaitlyn Tiffany

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

The worst film I have ever seen, hands down, is Roland Emmerich’s 10,000 BC from 2008. Led by two actors who could function only as eye candy, its utterly nonsensical script gave them nothing to do but shout and kill things. Valerian, starring Cara Delevingne and Dane DeHaan, feels like 10,000 BC in outer space — but somehow, it was just weird enough to love despite itself. From its gorgeous CGI worlds to Rihanna’s role as a shape-shifting alien named “Bubble,” Valerian makes just as little sense as 10,000 B.C., though it’s far easier on the eyes. The key to enjoying it is just give up and accept the film as one long music video for Delevingne and DeHaan, the kind where the characters don’t say anything noteworthy and the primary focus is on the wicked special effects and pulsing beats. —Shannon Liao

One Thicc Bih

After the release of Taylor Swift’s Reputation, I noticed that my Instagram’s Explore feed was full of before-and-after photos of the artist talking about how she’d gotten a bit “thicker” since 1989. While trying to show a friend one of the photos, we found an odd video with a sunny, robotic voice singing about how Taylor Swift is “One Thicc Bih.” Okay. Sure, internet. Whatever.

Fifteen seconds later, a second YouTube video started. It was the same song we’d just heard, but now it was about James Comey. Then Pikachu. Then Karl Marx. I soon realized that they were all made by the app Ditty, which takes random words you put in and turn them into singable songs with pre-made funky tunes. I’m still not sure I quite understand what this meme is about other than that it started by objectifying Mr. Krabs and the Babadook, and introduced the world to countless new slang terms for vaginas. But it’s left me wondering yet again whether 2018 is the year I officially log off the internet, or admit that despite all the mentally manipulative crap, it can still be extremely good. —Natt Garun


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