Music

Good Mood Music: Come Back to Me

I love Janet Jackson. Much like Venus Williams, she too became a legend in the same field where she has a sibling who not only also attained legend status, but legitimately is in the discussion of best ever. (For Janet, it was her brother Michael. For Venus, it’s her sister Serena.) She’s also endured (more than) her fair share of ups and downs during a life that has been on display for the world since her youth–and thrived regardless.

In honor of her birthday, and inspired by Stereo Williams’ tweet, here is my favorite ballad of hers.

Come Back to Me” is one of the record seven singles from one album to peak in the top five on the Billboard Hot 100 (Rhythm Nation 1814). The song peaked at #2, and is a beautiful, wistful telling of the feelings still held for a past love with. Janet has a well-noted gentle delivery of lyrics and it plays so well in contrast to the theatrics of the instrumentals used for this song, especially as it builds towards the end.

Bonus: These are two more ballads from Janet I adore.

From her album Janet., “Where Are You Now.”

Again” is technically from the album Janet. as well, but originally it was on the Poetic Justice soundtrack–a movie she also starred in.

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Gymnastics

The Top 12 Teams of the 2018 NCAA Women’s Gym Season

Before we get to the thoughts, perhaps my favorite line from a fluff piece ever (played as the opening before the semifinals): “It does not matter how great of an athlete you are, you cannot play gymnastics. And that’s where the brawn comes in.”

1. UCLA
The concern coming into Nationals was their vaulting. Obviously, you can give away a little elsewhere if you have bars and beam like that. I told my sister on Saturday just before the meet started I thought only two teams had a chance to win if Oklahoma had a hit meet: UCLA and LSU, but they’d have to be perfect. I didn’t expect to actually see it. UCLA got two perfect 10s from Peng in the only two events she competes–and they needed every bit of it.

Peng also had my favorite post-meet quote: “I’m so excited and I have no tears in my eyes because I think they’re partying on the inside.”

2. Oklahoma
Like I mentioned before, it was going to take perfection to beat them. OU was a little off at the beginning on beam–and I mean just slightly, but it didn’t seem like it was going to make the difference. Yet, it did by a mere 0.0375. I do wonder if the rotation order got them a bit by having to start on an apparatus that is a noted strength for them when scores tend to be tight early in a meet. However, it’s OU. The separation between their best and fourth best events isn’t as dramatic as it for other teams. This was just a great, and really closely contested meet.

3. Florida
The last rotation was so much fun (and a bit stressful) with the four main contenders competing at the same time. Florida put up a valiant effort on floor–the event that gave them the most difficulty this season–in that final rotation, but had lost a little too much on beam to make up the difference.

4. LSU
LSU had a very similar meet to Florida. Went lights out their last event, vault, like Florida did on floor, but had lost too much ground from their beam rotation. And when I say lost too much ground, I’m only referring to two tenths!

5. Utah
Not a bad effort in Super Six, but noticeably off the pace of the top four with a performance a little below their normal effort on floor and vault.

6. Nebraska
Happy to see them make the final after being so, so close last year. After the first two rotations during the first National semifinal, it was clear Nebraska held its own destiny in getting to the Super Six final. Every year it seems, they start a little slowly but by the end they’re right there. They were out of it from the start with a rough bars rotation in the final, but a great year.

Continue reading “The Top 12 Teams of the 2018 NCAA Women’s Gym Season”

Media, Sports

Entertaining NFL Schedule Releases

Apparently a memo to make the typical mundane schedule release for the upcoming season more interesting was sent around the NFL. The teams–for the most part–played their part really well by creating animations in a variety of styles. Below are the ones I personally found the most engaging.

Chicago Bears
Its Monsters of the Midway video game theme was my favorite of the bunch. Not too long, and the one-liners for each opponent were good. Good choice on the background music too.

Houston Texans
The cutest of the animations. I like the Peanuts-esque characters, and how their sayings or objects they were shown with pulled from memorable moments in their careers to this point. It was just a smidge too long for my taste.

New York Jets
You can’t really do wrong with some Mario Kart nostalgia.

Tennessee Titans
Winner of the Chamber of Commerce award. Features a quick hit of a tourist destination for every city on the schedule, including home games. Also, possibly has the best picture quality of all the videos.

Detroit Lions
I’m not a Lions fan, but I suspect this one played really well to its fans specifically because of all the behind the scenes focus on the players and team personnel.

Kansas City Chiefs
Best use of current media watching culture. Using a couple of their star players getting ready for a pseudo-Netflix binge was cute.

Los Angeles Chargers
I’m still not used to that “Los Angeles” in front of the Chargers’ name. Anyway, they decided to be shameless and employ puppies for their schedule reveal. I mean who’s not going to watch a video with cute puppies?

Music

Good Mood Music: Coming to My Senses

I love blending poetry and songwriting, but TCOY is more like a subconscious stream of thoughts.

This month’s selection is a very recent release. “Coming to My Senses” is a track off of Alina Baraz’s EP The Color of You.

As Alina noted in the quote above from a Complex interview, the whole project flows from start to finish, with each song melding into the next. Projects like that are really good chill out and unwind from what’s going on music for me. “Coming to My Senses” is one of the standout songs on TCOY to me because it has a bit more pace than most of the other songs—and the rhythm of the chorus is really catchy.

…All night, tried to paint a picture of you
In my mind, but you…
You’re a color that don’t exist
What are you?
I hear sounds you make with my lips
What are you?
I’m getting so close to
Coming to my senses…

Gymnastics

2018 Pre-Postseason NCAA Women’s Gym Super Six Prediction (and other thoughts)

Not much has changed in the way of favorites as the NCAA women’s gymnastics season enters the postseason. Here’s how the top teams are shaping up for the last postseason before the new format goes into effect. (To read my thoughts from before the season started, click here.)

1. Oklahoma (Preseason #1)
When you set the regular season scoring record and your “off” meets net a high 197, you are the undisputed title favorite.

2. LSU (Preseason #3)
LSU is certainly a strong possibility too, but they’ve had more moments this season of little breaks throughout the meet that add up than OU. However, with the way this sports year has gone this far—the Philadelphia Eagles winning the Super Bowl for the first time and a #16 seed knocking off a #1 seed in the NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament for the first time—I can’t shake the possibility of it finally being time for LSU to win a National Championship.

3. UCLA (Preseason #6)
Vault will be key. UCLA tends to give up some ground to the top two on vault. If UCLA can keep vault (and to a lesser extent, floor) close, their bars and beam can make up a little gap.

4. Utah (Preseason #5)
If you don’t consider LSU as a dark horse pick for the title, Utah is a good choice. In fact, I’ve had this gut feeling all season that if it all comes together at the right time, and they get a little leniency with the beam connections, they’ll be right in it as well.

5. Florida (Preseason #2)
Maybe a year away. I mentioned their big freshman class coming in and, while very talented, that inexperience has shown consistently throughout the season. Kennedy Baker suffering a torn Achilles didn’t help either.😪

6. ???
Usually Super Six is a given for Alabama (Preseason #4)—and it certainly can still happen. However, this team hasn’t shown the maximum score potential this year the top five have, and is very vulnerable to getting knocked out by a number of teams if those other teams have a solid day on the right day. I get the feeling this Super Six spot may come down to the draw and which teams are in which semifinal. Not to mention if there are any surprises from Regionals.

Further Down the Ranking:
Do you remember that Arizona State finished 41st last season? The turnaround of the last couple of seasons took a MAJOR leap forward this year, recording their most wins since 2006. As the season heads to conference championship weekend, Arizona State currently holds a position as a seeded team for Regionals in 17th.

The way Georgia‘s season started, it looked like it could be a disaster. Already with a thin roster, they could’ve let the first meet injury to Gigi Marino, which in addition to the preseason injury list left them hardly able to put up enough gymnasts on each event for a full score, tank their season. But adversity does one of two things to a team: it either tears them apart or it galvanizes them. It did the latter for UGA, which going into conference championship weekend is a respectable 18th.

Also, shout out to George Washington (#19), particularly their senior class of Brooke Bray, Camille Drouin-Allaire, Sara Mermelstein, Elizabeth Pfelier, Madeline Seibold, Jillian Winstanley, and Alexandra Zois.  They made this a team you had to keep an eye on for the last four years.

Music

Good Mood Music: Rhapsody in Blue and Moonlight Sonata

As a former violinist and very short time cellist, I have a long standing and still strong love of classical music. One of my favorite pieces is Rhapsody in Blue. The combination of instruments is uplifting and, at 16-and-a-half minutes, is long enough for you to lose yourself in it for a bit.

Most people know this Gershwin work without being able to identify it by name, most famously because of an United Airlines ad campaign that featured it in the 1990s. The part of the song the campaign pulls from primarily is around 11 minutes in, give or take.

The ending of this piece is magnificent. It’s all good, but the final minute is all but perfect.

Bonus: Moonlight Sonata
This is another piece I’m not sure can be played and I not lose myself in it, especially the first movement of the its three–the beginning 6 minutes approximately.

Random

Langston Hughes and the American Dream

In the 1920s, a revolution began that would change the face of American culture: the Harlem Renaissance.

The spark of the Harlem Renaissance can be traced to the writings of W.E.B. DuBois. DuBois questioned how Black people in the U.S. could create an identity for themselves that encompassed their African ancestry while under the blanket of societal practices that sought to strip them of such an identity.

The result was a mass exploration by Black Americans in several diverse fields across the country. The revolution earned the nickname “Harlem Renaissance” because the New York City borough seemed to be the epicenter.

One of the most famous writers associated with the Harlem Renaissance was poet and novelist Langston Hughes. Hughes’ ability to convey the feelings a lot of Black Americans felt made him one of the most influential writers of the 20th century. His work is still often quoted to this day.

The American Dream is a theme Hughes often visited in his work. Hughes expressed hope for its fruition, but more often expressed the reality of the time: that freedom, justice, equality and fairness didn’t exist for all of the types of people in the United States.

O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine—the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME—
Who made America, Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

— from Let America Be America Again (1938)

A Hughes work commonly quoted is Let America Be America Again. In the poem, he espouses on the principles America was founded upon–as stated in documents such as the Declaration of Independence–while pointing out the principles are more working theory than fact.

One thing I respect about Hughes’ work is that despite being in the midst of the struggle for civil rights, he doesn’t limit the inconsistencies of the American Dream in practice to just Black people. His writings include references to poor Whites, Indians, immigrants, and all the other who, as literary critic James Presley once stated, “share the dream that has not been.”

It’s amazing that themes so prevalent 80 years ago are still at the forefront today.