This is Todd in the Shadows’ Top 10 Best Songs of 2015 list. I’ve followed Todd since I was fifteen in the fall of 2010. I’ve since bounced off of almost every other video critic from that era, it seems. They’ve all either risen into something unrecognizable, or I’ve outgrown them, or whatever. Production values rise, they run out of things to talk about, whatever. Todd – along with the guys from Laser Time and Lindsay Ellis– remains at the same level of quality and relevance to me eight years later. (I should disclose I support all of them on Patreon)
Youtube criticism rose out of men feigning anger at things, and a disappointing amount of the most popular men out there are still doing so. When I say I’ve outgrown someone as a critic, this tendency towards immediate anger is one of the two main reasons I do so (the other is a refusal to accept more nuanced forms of criticism). Todd was the first person I remember putting out year-end “best” lists, which sort of shocked a kid who found out about him on a site named for and run by a man whose recurring gag was screaming and firing a gun at movies he didn’t like. Todd was maybe the first YouTube critic who drew me to his positive criticism as much as his negative criticism.
Todd’s Best of 2015 list came out at the end of January, 2016. I disagree with almost this entire list save for the top two songs. I took more from one particular honorable mention – Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Run Away With Me” – to which Todd lent only one line of praise:
“I don’t usually put songs that wouldn’t qualify in the honorable mentions, but, uh, this is one of the best songs I’ve ever heard.”
By the end of that night, I’d listened to the album on Spotify and I’d given my opinion on Twitter. By the next night, I’d listened to it multiple times over. I’m disappointed that I had the same initial incredulous reaction to hearing that one might like a Carly Rae Jepsen album, but I came around nonetheless. I think it was the next day that I found the CD at the now-shuttered Hastings in Lawrence. It was over the next two months that I kept that CD in my old Buick and pleasure in screaming along without shame by myself, feeling something from music for what felt like the first time. That album changed a few things within me:
- I stopped immediately dismissing this sort of thing. As the aforementioned Lindsay Ellis stated in a recent video, the mostly-male media criticism community has a tendency to quickly and gleefully eviscerate anything that teenage girls like. Call Me Maybe, and by extension, Carly Rae herself, became one of these so outwardly feminine objects of disdain for men like myself up until I heard E•MO•TION. I make an effort not to immediately do this anymore, like I did with Demi Lovato or Lorde, because it’s come back to bite me via avoidance of music I liked something like ten times now.
- I stopped having guilty pleasures. Feeling guilt regarding something so personal as musical taste is only a step over from self-hatred, and I do that enough for regular shit as it is. This album, along with Brett Elston’s honest defense of himself enjoying Billie Meyers and Enigma in Laser Time’s “Shame Songs” episode got me to stop immediately hating myself for liking what I did. Music affects me so viscerally that self hatred for enjoying what I do is right next to just hating my emotions entirely.
- It put me down a path of understanding and accepting myself emotionally. Society teaches men like myself growing up an emotional intelligence that doesn’t expand past three or four very basic feelings (satisfaction, contentment, anger, annoyance, anything to stay slightly above the actual feeling), and we’re kind of supposed to funnel anything else into an understanding of those few. I’m not saying that this album completely reprogrammed me societally, but the honest emotion that Carly Rae conveys helped me recognize what my honest emotions were.
It was “Run Away With Me” on a computer screen just after midnight on January 30th, 2016. It was “Warm Blood” through a pair of iPod headphones on a bus between Lawrence and Oklahoma City that March as I contemplated the value of making myself vunerable enough to get out of a lonely funk that had persisted since that prior autumn. “All That” as I sat alone in a dorm room in Quebec, “Favourite Colour” as I looked out of an airplane window flying over a fireworks display on July 4th. After B-Sides came out in September 2016, it was “Body Language” as I drove to enter back into the marching band community for a fifth year, and “Roses” as I walked to a therapy appointment, accepting that I needed extra help for the first time.
2016 prompted my discovery of several artists who affected me the same way that Carly Rae did – I rediscovered Los Campesinos! in February, then found Pavement in March, Björk in April, Jay Som in July, Mitski in August, and that dog in November. 2016 was a weird breakthrough year of openly enjoying again, the year I played Undertale, Oxenfree, and Shardlight, watched Swimming to Cambodia and Inside Llewyn Davis, and screamed as Dom Dwyer scored twice against Vancouver, laughed when LeBron James blocked Andre Iguodala, and cried as Matt Wyman kicked a field goal to push Kansas over Texas. In 2016, I accepted emotions again.
I wouldn’t put “Changed Joe’s Life for the Better” on Jepsen’s shoulders. That was mostly me and the people who cared about me mixed with some luck and ingenuity over two years. But E•MO•TION was there with me the whole time.