Monday, 19 January 2015

The NSV Awards 2014 Category 3: Television

Hi all,

In contrast to books, television is a behemoth in my life. With 48 individual series watched, I found it truly impossible to pick just five. Even picking ten was a monumentally difficult task which forced me to exclude some of my favourite series’ of the year. So sorry Archer, Teen Wolf (which would’ve made it had I had a chance to finish s3 before the end of the year), Waiting For God, Nowhere Boys, Queer As Folk UK, Vikings (a particularly hard choice), Vicious, The Returned, Wizards Vs Aliens (another almost impossible exclusion), True Detective, United States Of Tara and Nashville. While all of these were excellent, they just didn’t have the same impact on my life as these 10 series’ did. Also, coincidentally, no shows which made my list last year are featured on this year’s list. So while the second seasons of American Horror Story, House Of Cards and the third season of Game Of Thrones were good, they just didn’t have that extra kick to make it a second year in a row. Oddly though, if last year had been a top 10, one of the shows would’ve made it. Whether any of these series’ return next year is unknown yet, but what I do know is that some of the series’ that I will be watching in 2015 are also up for grabs. These shows include Enlightened, Breaking Bad, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Mad Men, Hannibal, Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Avatar: The Last Airbender, so it looks to be another excellent year in TV viewing ahead.
   It was also an excellent year in regards to anime, with the completion of some high-profile titles like Attack On Titan, but also the commencement of one of the longest running anime’s of all time in One Piece. I’ve also started to see a lot more web content, so this category ends with a few awards to them. All in all, this has been probably my greatest year of television viewing ever.

The Top 10 TV Series
1. Grey’s Anatomy
Status: Ongoing
No. Of Series: 11
Series’ Completed: 1-7
The most influential, most personal, most addictive show I’ve seen all year is also the one I’ve seen the most of by far. With seven seasons under my belt, I’ve had to force myself down to watching a season a month or I’d never get anything else done, but it didn’t start out that way. After watching the first season in January, I abandoned it until my boyfriend was hospitalised and then I haven’t looked back. Ostensibly about the lives of surgeons and their strange medical cases, it’s far more than that, it’s a series with such vast appeal that it’s impossible to ignore. It’s high-point is still the second season, where the personal lives of the doctors was reflected in the lives of the patients most accurately, but almost every season has been compulsively watchable. I say almost because the fourth season almost made me give up on the series completely before I received word that it got good again after that and it really did. I’m the first to admit that it’ not the best series ever made. It’s melodramatic and obvious and just a little bit trashy. It wrings every little moment of emotion until you’re crying just because they tell you to. But somehow it works and it works really, really well. It could be the use of songs, many of which I’d never heard of but some of which have become important at times I really needed a sad song and etched into my memory. It could be the cases, the stranger and more impossible the better, but most of all, I think it’s the characterisation. Meredith, the lead character, annoyed me until I realised she was just like me, all dark and twisty and broken. Her journey from pain to happiness has been inspirational and helped me fight my own depression. She saved the broken ones. Other characters like Bailey, Yang, Izzie, Karev and Callie have worked their way into my heart, simply because I’ve watched them change and grow over seven years, so much so that when the shooting happened at the end of season six, I felt their trauma and their terror. Grey’s Anatomy is a miracle which I’m so glad to have found.
   Contrasting this to Private Practice, Grey’s troubled spin-off, is problematic. Taking Addison, one of my favourite characters, and placing her in a new place proved to be frustrating, bringing out her worst characteristics. Add to that the fact that I don’t like many of the characters like Naomi who’s the worst of the lot. She will be all about making a moralistic stand against abortion, for example, until her daughter gets pregnant and she wants her to have an abortion. It makes her seem pious and hateful. And she’s put forward as though she’s the moral centre of the program. And the characters I did like, Violet and Charlotte, are treated horrifically. It’s a frustrating experience, but I will stick with it until the bitter end. Shonda Rhimes, why you so mean?

2. Parks And Recreation
Status: Ongoing
No. Of Series: 6
Series’ Completed: 1-5
The most uplifting, most gleefully happy and wonderful show I’ve ever seen, Parks And Recreation is like watching pure joy. Unlike most sitcoms, it’s kind-hearted with all of the characters seeming to genuinely like one another. They have fun together which proves to be infectious. However, many of the people I’ve spoken to have told me they’ve only seen the first season of this glorious program and gave up on it. Please don’t do that. The second season is better and it just keeps improving exponentially until it became the series I most looked forward to viewing. I own every season of this show now (extremely rare for me to do because libraries are free) and I still re-watch some of my favourite episodes, many of which were helpful at times which tested my patience. Most of the seasons I watched while dad was in hospital and they kept me sane. Parks And Rec even added to my boyfriend and I’s story when we viewed the gay penguins episode. For months afterwards, we called each other little gay penguins. It was sort of adorable. In fact, writing about this after Grey’s Anatomy is an interesting experience, because while the former show has dumb plot developments and characters which I despised, this show got all of that out of the way early. After the departure of Mark Brandonoquitz, every member of the cast became my favourite character and every minute I spent with them was brilliant. To pick a favourite episode is another near impossible task, but the wedding would most definitely have to be up there. It was a beautiful tear-jerking episode that I adored. Sadly, this series is ending next year after its seventh season. This is heartbreaking to me and it will be a show that I will miss deeply, but it’s also one that I won’t forget. It’ll be something I re-watch whenever I’m feeling a bit down. Because in a way, it has a much harder task. It’s very easy to make someone feel sad, but it’s almost impossible to make them smile from ear to ear after every single episode.

3. The Big C
Status: Finished
No. Of Series: 4
Series’ Completed: 1-4
The Big C is a show with a predetermined ending. Cathy, the main character, has terminal cancer. By the end of the series’ four seasons, she will be dead, but I really didn’t want her to be. Before Finn, there was The Big C. This show about the end of a life was the start of the beginning of mine. Cathy was my inspiration, my reason to keep living. I know this sounds silly, but it’s true. This show, in all it’s impossible sadness and beauty, gave me hope. That’s not to say it wasn’t extremely depressing. It was, frequently. It hurt like hell to watch this, with a main character dying every single season. I progressed through the seasons very, very quickly, until I got to the last four episodes. I didn’t want this series to end. I thought that I could somehow make it last forever. I heard the theme song in a store and had to get out because I thought I was going to cry and I knew I had to see it end. I took the unprecedented step of watching it with my family to provide emotional support, but by the last episode I knew I was going to need something more. So, I asked my boyfriend to watch it with me. In his bedroom, on his computer, I sat down and watched Cathy die, all while Finn held me. It was beautiful and heartbreaking and I loved it. I grieved and I forgot. I took the lessons I had learned and started to apply them to my life. Even now, I’m finding it hard to talk about. It’s like I knew her, because it changed my life. It made me better and The Big C will always be that show. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to re-watch it, I just know it means everything to me. So, in the words of Cathy; don’t delay the happy.

4. RuPaul's Drag Race
Status: Ongoing
No. Of Series: 6
Series’ Completed: 1, 3
RuPaul’s Drag Race is a phenomenon and quite possibly the most important show I’ve ever seen, because it helped Finn and I grow closer. He’s quite a fan of drag culture, so only a few weeks into dating, I told him that SBS2 was showing the show’s third season every Friday. Every week, he and I would go to one of our houses and watch bitchy drag queens battle it out. It became date night and it was the highlight of my week. It helps that RuPaul’s is the gayest show you will ever see. It’s not just a show, it’s a state of being, a glorious two-finger salute to all the haters. It’s not afraid to dive headlong into gay culture and be damn proud of it. It’s furious and fabulous and wonderful, helped in no small part by the charismatic host(ess) RuPaul and her gaggle of queens, some of which have gone on to become important parts of gay culture and my relationship with my boyfriend. I’ll never forget my boyfriend and I’s shared horror at Ongina being ousted in the first season or watching the Lip Synch For Your Life where one queen lifts her opposition over her head. The effect has even extended beyond the show with Finn and I going to see Detox & Bendelacreme live, and we’re going to Willam later in January. Drag Race is a giant f you, a fudging of gender roles and a gloriously fun celebration of gay culture. Basically, I LOVE this show.

5. Monkey
Status: Finished
No. Of Series: 2
Series’ Completed: 1-2
Monkey Magic is just plain weird. It’s also very, very lovable because it is so crazy. A Japanese adaptation of one of the most important novels in Chinese culture, it features Monkey, Pigsy, Sandy and Tripitaka (a priest) in search of holy Buddhist scrolls. Tripitaka is constantly referred to as male, yet is played and voiced by a woman. This could be because he’s constantly playing the ‘damsel in distress’ with Monkey always having to rescue him. Furthermore, it’s dubbed in a ridiculous accent which just makes the odd images of the series even more strange. Add to that the catchy opening and closing titles and you’ve got one weird show. But that’s not even the start of it. Buddha is played a giant woman, Monkey has a flying cloud, Pigsy is obsessed with women and the whole quest at the centre of the series is never completed. Most of the 52 episodes are fairly similar with the quartet entering a town which appears deserted until either Tripitaka is captured, Monkey is sent away for saying there’s something wrong with the town or Pigsy’s lust gets them all into trouble. There’s inevitably a demon behind it all which Monkey will defeat with his staff. It’s all ludicrous, completely and utterly bonkers, but that’s what makes it so damn good. After watching the first episode, I realised this was something the whole family could benefit from. Initially, mum found it too silly to take seriously, but after about halfway she started to love it just as much, even dreaming about the characters. She eventually even started calling Trippy ‘he’ and shipping him with Monkey. Literally, this series is one of the strangest things I’ve ever seen, a cult classic that’s simply too silly to pass up.

6. Please Like Me
Status: Ongoing
No. Of Series: 1-2
Series’ Completed: 1-2
While I technically watched the first season of this show last year, both seasons were still classifiable for the 2014 period because I watched it again. Knowing that the second season was coming out very soon, I decided to re-watch its first year. Coincidentally, my boyfriend was over for the day, so I decided to introduce it to him. Like most Australians, he hadn’t heard of it, despite it being lauded as one of TV’s best comedies by international reviewers. But after watching all six episodes, Finn fell in love with it. Josh Thomas’ comedy is simply one of the most awkward, painful and accurate representations of what it means to be queer in Australia today. More than that, though, it’s about family and mental illness and the moments that make life worth living. Before Finn, my overwhelming personal memories of this show was trying to show it to my mum and her getting furious because there was references to gay sex. She got so mad that she ended up walking out. It was her loss, because Please Like Me is the best Australian show in decades, combining traditional values (family, the working man, mateship) into today’s changing culture (the painful awkwardness of gen Y, queer issues, mental illness). In this way, it creates something which is both uniquely Australian and universally relatable. Its finest episode so far was a two-hander between Josh and his mum as they walked around some of our most beautiful landscapes, allowing both characters to become real people. Both hilarious and heartbreaking, Please Like Me is one of the most comforting and relatable shows I’ve ever seen.

7. Fargo
Status: Ongoing
No. Of Series: 1
Series’ Completed: 1
Undoubtedly one of my favourite movies, Fargo is a marvel, contrasting the true evil of the criminals with the niceness of the film’s stand-out character, Marge Gunderson. What the TV adaptation does so skilfully is to take this premise and widen it out. The criminals become one man who is both truly evil and incredibly charming who, through his ability to manipulate everyone around him, sets the entire plot in motion. However, it’s with the villagers that the series really succeeds. By adding nuance to the way the Minnesota characters are portrayed, it becomes an enthralling and addictive character piece. The character Martin Freeman plays has one of the most realistic and interesting character arcs in modern day television, while the female policewoman becomes both a heroic and tragic figure, trapped in a town that is so nice, it’s bordering on dumb. Beautifully filmed, filled with melancholy but also hope, this is one of the finest of the current trend of film to TV adaptations.

8. Orphan Black
Status: Ongoing
No. Of Series: 2
Series’ Completed: 1-2
The reason this series is so good can be summed up in two words: Tatiana Maslaney. In something centred around the concept of clones, you really need a person skilled enough to create multiple versions of themself and that is where Orphan Black succeeds. Maslaney’s portrayal of several clones is exceptional, making each clone both slightly different and slightly similar. Each of them has their own individual mannerisms so it’s often easy to forget they are played by the same person. However, it’s also a gripping story, filled with jaw-dropping twists and turns which take the series into new and unexpected territory. Thinking back on it, I realise how much of an impression these characters made and how much I miss watching their story. Ending on a truly epic cliffhanger, I wait both patiently and desperately for the new season later in the year.

9. Over The Garden Wall
Status: Finished
No. Of Series: 1
Series’ Completed: 1
Literary, mature and often depressing, Over The Garden Wall is a mini-series told over 5 15 minute parts, meaning it can be easily digested in a single sitting. What I loved most about this series was not the beautiful animation or the character development, it was the way it feels like nothing else I’d ever seen before, yet was familiar. Like a Ghibli movie, it makes a new, emotionally resonant story and makes it feel like a fairytale. In terms of sheer emotional content, this was one of the most mature and heartbreaking things I watched all year and as it ended, I shed more than a few tears. While some members of my family complained that it’s ending was unsatisfying, I was blown away by how much it said by saying so little. Part of me wants a sequel, but the better part of me knows that this small, beautiful show is perfect, simply because it goes for so little time. Undoubtedly the finest mini-series I watched all year (I’d debate Fargo, True Detective and American Horror Story as mini-series. To me, they’re more anthology narratives, working with the same sort of atmosphere as their earlier seasons).

10. The Walking Dead
Status: Ongoing
No. Of Series: 5
Series’ Completed: 1-4
Recommended to me by a friend who’s obsessed with it, The Walking Dead is one of the most brutal and unapologetically gory things I’ve ever seen. Let’s get the problems out of the way first. Some of the surviving characters are deeply annoying (Carl, I’m looking at you) while the characters that died were some of my favourites. It also suffers a similar problems to some of the most popular ongoing shows at the moment (like House Of Cards, Vikings, Breaking Bad) in that it doesn’t have a worthy adversary to the main character. It’s also bleak and depressing, with hope and happy moments short-lived. It’s also not as a kind to its female characters as it thinks it is, with Carol being the only one who is truly likable (although... season four). But, that’s not to say that this show isn’t amazing. The character development is often interesting and, like many of the other shows on this list, it’s beautifully shot. It’s also extremely exciting, hardly ever dull and is not afraid to kill major characters, meaning that you’re always on the edge of your seat, knowing that there is a risk. It’s this last factor that is perhaps key to the series’ success. Unlike something like Doctor Who, where you always know the Doctor and his companions are going to make it out alive (unless it’s the finale), The Walking Dead makes no such promises and benefits as a result.

Status: Completed
No. Of Series: 8
Series’ Completed: 1-8

Since the end of 2012, I’ve been marathoning Will & Grace with my family. It was the first series with a gay lead character that they enjoyed and wanted to keep watching. Over 8 seasons, we watched the characters’ difficult and hilarious love lives and I watched as my parents grew steadily more accepting of gay culture and I loved it. That’s not to say the show’s perfect, far, far from it. Will and Grace are the show’s most boring characters, it grew progressively less funny as the series went on (resulting in a pretty terrible finale, which still made me cry) and it’s worth as a piece of gay activism is arguable (there’s one memorable gay kiss, and that’s between Will and Jack). However, what it does get right, it gets really right. Karen is one of the funniest, most memorable and most likable sitcom characters ever created (and the actress did it again on Parks and Rec with Tammy) and its depiction of friendships was real, even when it was heartbreaking. The series’ finest episodes are still the bottle episode which featured only the four lead characters talking about their lives and the big Will and Grace fight on a jumping castle. They were both hilarious and downright depressing. As a piece of gay culture that grew in its significance as I watched every episode with my parents, Will & Grace’s importance cannot be overestimated. But as a piece of television, it became something more. It became truly unforgettable.

The Top 5 Anime
1. Attack On Titan
There is something so satisfying about watching an action intensive series like Attack On Titan, watching a group of people battle against a massive, impossible to defeat enemy. It resulted in some of the most memorable and terrifying anime images I’ve ever seen (the Titans themselves being a particular good example) and is simply wondrously, gorgeously epic. Filled with memorable (not annoying) characters who you come to root for and an amazing score (with the best anime op ever, bar none), it’s amazing to think that the series really only shows two battles (both of which take over 8 episodes) and is still ridiculously good. This one series you really should believe the hype about. The only real problem with this series is how long we have to wait till the sequel (2015, goddamit!).

2. One Piece
To be honest, I only started One Piece because during our first phone conversation, I learnt it was Finn’s favourite show. Since then, I’ve watched just under 200 episodes and still have over 450 to go. But what’s amazing about this series is that it doesn’t feel like a moment’s been wasted. Everything I’ve seen so far in this series feels like it’s building up to something bigger, with every arc actively advancing character and narrative development. While this doesn’t sound like a big achievement, this is extremely rare with long-running anime series’ (for example, I also started Dragon Ball this year. It’s a struggle). What makes One Piece so good is that it’s not only exciting; it also has some very likable characters with all 7 current members of the crew (Robin was the latest to join) coming across as well-rounded characters and not just caricatures. Add to that the skill with which the narrative is written, with several mysteries introduced, some of them resolved, some not, resulting in something deeply intriguing, and the sheer fun of the fight sequences, and you have one of the greatest anime series’ of all time. I’m still continuing this into 2015, so I’m sure that this will appear again on next year’s list, possibly even higher.

3. Nichijou
One of the most random, most amusing and downright surreal series’ I have ever seen, Nichijou succeeds simply by being completely hilarious. Part of this comes from the likable characters, but a greater part of the series’ appeal is the fact that throughout most of the time you’re watching the series you have absolutely no idea what’s going to happen next, you just know it’s going to be side-splittingly funny. It’s also memorable, with a talking cat and an explanation of the blue-haired girl’s beads being some of the series’ most exceptional work. This was a series I loved and finished quickly because it was just amazingly funny.

4. Chihayafuru
A game about a Japanese poetry card game doesn’t exactly sound like a recipe for success, but through a mixture of heart and genuine excitement, Chihayafuru proved to be one of the better series’ I watched this year. All of the characters are well-developed and, like Free! before it, it’s filled with potential shipping opportunities which changed as I watched the series’ 20 or so episodes. However, it’s the game play sequences that really make the show. Exciting, tense and brilliant, they also work as windows into the characters. It was while they were snapping cards that I got the clearest sense of who these characters were and how they related to one another. Lovable and gripping, I can’t wait for the series’ next season.

5. Love Stage!!
Love Stage was the only series I watched more or less on a week by week basis. This was largely because of my laziness (I started Free! Eternal Summer, DRAMAtical Murder and Parasyte – The Maxim, but never finished them. Expect at least one of those titles to appear on next year’s list) and because it only has 10 episodes. This, however, was both a blessing and a curse. As a gay anime, it had two likable stars which I shipped hard, but the series’ biggest problem was that it waited until episode 9 to actually get the two of them together. With no hint of a sequel, it seemed like the series was only half finished and I was left with a solution that was both wonderful and unsatisfying. That’s not to say this wasn’t a good anime. The chemistry between the two characters works well and it’s genuinely funny. However, if you’re looking for a great gay romance, I would suggest looking elsewhere.

Best Webseries
Carmilla was something I’d heard a lot about before I actually got down to watching it. Some people said it was the best new show of 2014 while others compared it to the excellent Welcome To Night Vale. When I started it, I realised much of this hype was justified. Filled with lovable characters and a genuinely intriguing mystery at its core, it also proves that something can be exciting even if it does take place in only one room. The series is exciting and action-packed despite the fact that we actually don’t see any of the mysterious goings on. It also features shippable characters and a range of sexualities which makes it feel both inclusive and addictive. Put simply, this series is amazing and the finest supernaturally themed series of the year.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

The NSV Awards 2014 Category 2: Books

Hello all,
Continuing with the second category of our awards-
Steve, are you just going to pretend it hasn't been a week since the last category?
Of course, Jim. We wouldn't want to disgrace our creator.
Oh. So, we're just going to keep going as though nothing happened in the hope our creator keeps liking and using us?
Yep, that's it in a nutshell, Jim.
Oh. Why?
Because our creator has the power to both create and destroy!
Oh. While Steve and I mull on our threatening creator, we are proud to present the second awards category: books!

In regards to reading, this year has been my laziest ever. I only read 9 books, 5 of which I studied. I don’t know why but this past year I found it almost impossible to get motivated to read. Even the handful of graphic novels I read is endemic of my epic laziness. To combat this, I’ve put a rule for myself in place. In 2015, I have to read at least one novel a month. I would prefer for this not to be a uni book, but I could take it or leave it. I just need to read more, especially if I want to be a novelist. In fact, you could argue that my serious writerly doubts this year could be linked to my lack of reading. If so, I really need to step up and put in the work...

The Top 3 Novels

1. Seven Little Australians (Ethel Turner)
The most beautiful, most wonderful book I read all year was one I studied and one I found myself forced to read in a single night. The essay on this book was due in a few days time and I struggled to get started, constantly taking notes about things to talk about and not enjoying the book by its own merits. However, as I kept reading, I found myself falling in love with these characters and their stories until, by the end of the novel, I was moved to tears at 12am in the morning. I don’t cry often when reading. It’s got to be really heart breaking for it to have that sort of effect on me, but this book from the 1800s did it for me. I sobbed. It was just a lovely book about family and the importance it has on our lives. Needless to say, the essay went really well for me when I wrote it only days later and I got one of my highest marks. It’s true; you really do work better when you love your subject matter.

2. The Bloody Chamber & Other Stories (Angela Carter)
I suppose, in a way, I was positioned to love this book. The film interpretation of it, The Company Of Wolves, is one of my favourite films of all time and the thing that got me into analytical writing. After viewing the film, I wrote a 2000+ words review analysing it’s deeper meanings about the coming of age of the female protagonist. So, I suppose, I was positioned to like it. Little did I know, however, that after reading it, I would change completely. After reading this book, I became a feminist. Angela Carter’s glorious prose exposes her true themes of female oppression and manipulation in old fairytales. The Bloody Chamber And Other Stories ended up being something truly revolutionary. I ended up writing an essay on this book as well, which I did really well on, looking at the influence of the Marquis de Sade on Angela Carter. These two works, both Bloody Chamber and Seven Little Australians, worked towards a greater understanding of a complex topic, through powerful works of fiction which changed my life.

3. Cut & Run (Madeleine Urban & Abigail Roux)

Ever since reading Shattered Glass last year, I’ve really opened up to the world of independent publishing, particularly when trying to find good gay books. Cut & Run had some really good reviews and when I heard the premise, an odd couple detective duo who work on a murder mystery while trying to suppress their burgeoning feelings for one another, I was desperate to read it. I don’t regret it in the slightest. This novel was gripping, intriguing, romantic and sexy. Very, very, very sexy. Super sexy. The premise is used well, as the case is both interesting and gruesome, allowing the differences between the protagonists to be illustrated very clearly. Thankfully, there are several more in the series, so in 2015, I’m sure you’ll see at least some sexy gay detectives on this list.

Best Graphic Novels Of 2014
Favourite Returning Series

Fables (Bill Willingham)
While I only read one volume of this series this year (volume 19; Snow White), it was a particularly excellent one, bringing to a head some of the main arc plots that have been working their way into the series so far. This continues to be the benchmark graphic novel series for me and I’m devastated that it’s ending in 2015. However, on the strength of what I’ve read so far, I’m satisfied that it will be a moving and eventful climax to the series that got me into graphic novels.

Favourite New Series
The Stuff Of Legend (Mike Raicht & Brian Smith)
With a heartbreaking story and beautiful art to match, The Stuff Of Legend is a series in not only the style of Fables but also the quality. Featuring a child’s toys who go into the Dark to find him after he is kidnapped, this is a melancholy series working in heady themes of loss, desperation and redemption. In a lot of ways, it’s like an extremely dark version of Toy Story and it’s not hard to see it as a metaphor for the War. While my local library only had the first three volumes, I can’t wait to read the next volume of this stunning series.

Did you come up with a solution yet, Jim?
Not yet, Steve, not yet. Oh, look, the reader has done.
Oh, that's good.
What did you think of the chosen books? I would tell you our opinion, but cruel creator, you know how it is.
Sure do. But to appease our creator, we have not one, but two awards categories today. Isn't that exciting?!
Definitely. So, in just a few moments we will present to you the television awards.
Meanwhile, Steve and I will plan our esc-
Mid-show entertainment! Hahahaha....

David Gumball-Watson

Sunday, 4 January 2015

The NSV Awards 2014: Category 1 - Music

Hello all,
Steve and I are proud as punch to be introducing the second annual NSV awards!
Weren't they the TMT Awards last year?
Quiet, Jim. It's still the second annual one.
But nothing. It just is.
Are you sure, Steve?
Yep. Look, a picture of Taylor Swift!
That'll keep Jim occupied for a while. He's so easy to please. Like a puppy... Anyway, while I consider my choice of partner, I present to you the NSV Awards Category 1 - Music!

More than ever before, music has been my lifeline this year. In times of great stress, I turned to songs to make me feel better or occasionally worse. For example, as I wrote the Asperger’s post earlier this year, I had Ingrid Michaelson’s ‘Keep Breathing’ on a loop. While it started out as a comfort, it soon became something that made it impossible for me to continue. My fingers started to type in time to the music as I allowed it to see inside my soul and pull out the deepest torments, knowing that the music was something there that would remain constant and safe. Music’s always been like that for me. But this year, when I took my self-analysis to unprecedented new levels, it was good to have comfort musically. Even my favourite TV shows use music as an important part of their appeal. Hell, my Sexy 60 this year could’ve been made up of songs that have been featured on Grey’s Anatomy and which I’ve loved.
   That’s not to say that the music released this year hasn’t been wonderful, because it has. Some of my favourite artists released new albums which I adored (Angus & Julia Stone, Christina Perri, Dolly Parton, Ingrid Michaelson, Kate Miller-Heidke, Kylie Minogue, Lady Antebellum, Lana Del Rey, Lily Allen, Maroon 5, Neon Trees, The Veronicas, Within Temptation) while I was also able to discover some new and exciting artists (5 Seconds Of Summer, A Great Big World, Iggy Azalea, Jenny Lewis, Karmin, Lea Michele, Mary Lambert, Megan Washington, Sam Smith, Sanna Nielsen). In fact, there was so much good music this year that I found it impossible to pick a single best album and have instead decided to talk about three, but we’ll come to that.
   First, I just wanted to mention that one of the unexpected perks of getting a boyfriend is the many new things he introduces you to (pop culture wise, you dirty minded readers). In regards to music, I was mildly shocked to discover that he’s a metal head. It’s a genre I’ve had a very ambiguous relationship to in the past (with the only bands I’ve liked being Nightwish and Within Temptation) but since dating Finn, I’ve discovered an appreciation of the heavier types of music. In fact, the song I most associate with my boyfriend is by Slipknot (and actually REALLY depressing if you listen to the lyrics) and you can’t get much more metal then them. Now, if I can only get him into Taylor Swift...
   In the new year, I’m looking forward to yet more Grey’s songs entering my musical love, more metal love and Adele finally releasing her next album (I’ve been waiting so long)

The Sexy 60

I decided to do something a little different with this year’s Sexy 60. Not only have I included my favourite songs from 2014, I’ve also worked in a couple of songs that were released a little while ago, but were still key to my year. Many of this year’s songs tend to be pop focussed, but there are also a couple of lesser known gems and some truly guilty pleasures (Anaconda, I’m looking at you...) And I look over this list, I remember all the wonderful associations I have, but also realise that just like last year, my music taste really hasn’t improved...

You can listen to the whole list on Youtube here: listen here

1.       Blue Smoke (Dolly Parton)
2.       Something In The Water (Carrie Underwood)
3.       Body Love (Mary Lambert)
4.       Let It Go (from Frozen) (Idina Menzel)
5.       O Vertigo! (Kate Miller-Heidke)
6.       Take A Ride (Put 'Em In The Air) (Eric Saade)
7.       #SELFIE (The Chainsmokers)
8.       Anaconda (Nicki Minaj)
9.       Shake It Off (Taylor Swift)
10.    Take Me To The Church (Sinead O'Connor)
11.    Chandelier (Sia)
12.    Undo (Sanna Nielsen)
13.    Dead Air (CHVRCHES)
14.    Fancy (Iggy Azalea, Charli XCX)
15.    Out Of The Woods (Taylor Swift)
16.    Girls Chase Boys (Ingrid Michaelson)
17.    Say Something (A Great Big World, Christina Aguilera)
18.    I Don't Wanna Break (Christina Perri)
19.    To Build A Home (The Cinematic Orchestra)
20.    Outside (Calvin Harris, Ellie Goulding)
21.    Les Sex (Kylie Minogue)
22.    Can't Remember To Forget You (Shakira, Rihanna)
23.    Habits (Stay High) (Tove Lo)
24.    Red Lights (Tiesto)
25.    Burning Gold (Christina Perri)
26.    Breakaway (Celine Dion)
27.    Ugly Heart (G.R.L.)
28.    Air Balloon (Lily Allen)
29.    Come On Back This Way (Jack Ladder & The Dreamlanders)
30.    She Looks So Perfect (5 Seconds Of Summer)
31.    Clean (Taylor Swift)
32.    Rainmaker (Emmelie De Forest)
33.    Heaven Knows (The Pretty Reckless)
34.    Let Her Down Easy (George Michael)
35.    Wherever You Are (Angus & Julia Stone)
36.    Keep Breathing (Ingrid Michaelson)
37.    Only Love Can Hurt Like This (Paloma Faith)
38.    Once Upon A Dream (from Maleficent) (Lana Del Rey)
39.    Young Blood (Sophie Ellis-Bextor)
40.    I Believe (Christina Perri)
41.    Bed Of Lies (Nicki Minaj, Skylar Grey)
42.    Sirens (Cher Lloyd)
43.    Whole World Is Watching (Within Temptation, Dave Pirner)
44.    Into The Blue (Kylie Minogue)
45.    Unavoidable (Neon Trees)
46.    Secrets (Mary Lambert)
47.    Rise Like A Phoenix (Conchita Wurst)
48.    Really Don't Care (Demi Lovato, Cher Lloyd)
49.    Human (Christina Perri)
50.    I Walk Alone (Cher)
51.    Just One Of The Guys (Jenny Lewis)
52.    Love Is A Bourgeois Construct (Pet Shop Boys)
53.    Cue The Rain (Lea Michele)
54.    All About You (Hillary Duff)
55.    Snuff (Slipknot)
56.    Animals (Maroon 5)
57.    Bang Bang (Jessie J, Ariana Grande, Nicki Minaj)
58.    Empty Handed (Lea Michele)
59.    Follow Your Arrow (Kacey Musgraves)
60.    Oceans (Where Feet May Fail) (Hillsong)

Best Albums
3. Sorry I'm Late (Cher Lloyd)

A somewhat lesser known album released this year, Cher Lloyd’s Sorry I’m Late is an impressive album showcasing the singer’s incredible transformation from manufactured pop to something more interesting and enjoyable. The album’s biggest song, ‘Sirens’, is a truly epic and awe-inspiring song in the spirit of Sia’s Chandelier, but with a more powerful meaning. It was a song that applied to so much of my life this year (dad’s illness, Finn trying to deal with my mental state) and one I loved doing epic lip synch performances to, which inevitably end up in tears. While the other songs in the album aren’t as impressive, they’re still fun, catchy and ridiculously awesome. Basically, this album transformed Cher Lloyd from a crappy singer with one good song (a cover of Carolina Liar’s ‘Beautiful People’) to a next album I eagerly anticipate.

2. Head Or Heart (Christina Perri)
In contrast to Cher Lloyd, Christina Perri is a singer I’ve been in love with since I first heard ‘Jar Of Hearts’. Her songs speak to me in a way few other singers do (another one appears later on, coincidentally) and I’ve spent many a lonely night seeking solace in her soulful words. However, it wasn’t until the start of 2014 that her status as one of my favourite singers was firmly established. Prior to release her album, Perri released several new songs from the album, each one better than the last. There was ‘Burning Gold’ (a power ballad that’s unbelievably catchy), ‘Human’ (about trying to please everyone by putting on a brave face, something I related to deeply at the time), ‘I Don’t Wanna Break’ and last, but far from least, ‘I Believe’. If I were to pick one song that defined my year more than any other, it would be this song. A beautiful, inspiring song about facing demons and fighting your way back from hell, it is a song I deeply, deeply relate to. It’s like listening to my soul sang back to me. It’s also something that changed as I moved throughout the year. I listened to it when I was depressed and broken, and used the final chant as a promise (‘This is not the end of me, this is the beginning’) which I would repeat to myself when I didn’t think it could get any better. Now, after Finn and seeking help for my depression, I see it as a promise to never go back to that way. It’s an acknowledgement of the person I used to be and an indication that, no matter what happens, I will never have to return to that broken place. Put simply, it was one of the most important things I listened to all year.

1. 1989 (Taylor Swift)
What else could it be? I am a Taylor Swift obsessive, loving her since I first heard ‘You Belong With Me’ and listening to the radio for hours on end until I finally heard it again. Her music has been my comfort when I was sad, my joy put into words, made me feel in love and made me feel accepted and whole. However, despite all this, ‘1989’ came very, very close to being an album I wasn’t obsessed with. After my first listen through, I found myself uniformly unimpressed. The sad songs which I’d known her for were absent and the country rawness was gone. The only saving grace was ‘Out Of The Woods’, one of the most epic pop songs I’d ever heard. I knew that there was still some joy to be found here. So, I shoved all of the songs onto my phone and listened to it wherever I went. And suddenly, I realised what I’d been missing; powerful lyrics, catchy tunes and the emotional honesty that has made Taylor Swift one of the biggest singers around. The Taylor I’d knew was not gone, she’d only transformed. The sad songs were replaced by songs of strength and determination. In my newfound confidence, I found that my favourite singer had also changed. And what an astounding accomplishment that is. Taylor Swift’s albums represent a journey from broken teenager to proud adult, still with all that emotional angst but not allowing it to control her. Like all of her albums, it’s somehow extremely personal and incredibly relatable. So, really, what else could it ever be?

Best Soundtrack Album
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1
Yet another stunning soundtrack from The Hunger Games franchise, filled with songs of despair and battle cries. This year’s compilation includes tracks from some of my favourite current artists like CHVRCHES (whose song ‘Dead Air’ is probably my favourite off the album), Tove Lo (sounding as raw and dancey as ever), Bat For Lashes (love their dreaminess as always) and Lorde (whose multiple contributions are all stunning), whose usual style is filtered through the gritty Hunger Games aesthetic, making for a brilliant and wonderful album to complement one of the best films of the year. I really can’t wait for next year’s album (although, I’m hoping for a Taylor Swift song on that one. C’mon, Lorde, ‘I Know Places’ was the most Hunger Games-esque song this year!)

Best Video
Blank Space (Taylor Swift
Don’t get me wrong, I loved ‘Shake It Off’ but nothing can compare to the sheer insane genius of ‘Blank Space’. Directly riffing off the way the media negatively portrays her, she takes their filth and throws it right back in their face. It’s the most wickedly self-referential thing you’ll ever see, as though Swift is winking at us all the way through it. It’s also beautifully shot (love that house!) and filled with more memorable imagery (the moment she puts the candy on her tongue, grabbing the apple and ripping it in two, trashing the car) than the average Hollywood film. It also makes for an interesting feminist analysis (about gender expectations of females as either whore or mother), further cementing it as the most wonderfully crazy music video of the year.

So, what did  y'all think? Do you agree with the choices?
Yep, Steve, I do. I really do.
For those of you who aren't Taylor Swift nerds, I mean. Leave a comment to let us know!
What's tomorrow's awards, Steve?
Why, Jim, the next category is Books!
Oh, geez, I didn't really read that many last year...
Oh don't worry, I don't think David did either. See you tomorrow.

David Gumball Watson