Public Media Arts Hub

Pop culture 'game-changers' from the past decade


Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

Judy Woodruff: Over the past decade, the age of content streaming has left an indelible mark on art and culture.

Jeffrey Brown has our report.

It's part of our ongoing coverage of arts and culture, Canvas.

Jeffrey Brown: New technology changed the way art is made and received in a world of streaming video, podcasts and selfies. New stars emerged with new stories. The social and political divisions of our times were reflected in music, books and other art forms.

We look at some of the decade's trends and trend-makers with two critics who watch for them, Wesley Morris of The New York Times and Lorraine Ali of The Los Angeles Times.

Welcome to you both.

Wesley, let me start with you.

When we think big about -- well, I just mentioned technology. In what ways has that been most impactful for you?

Wesley Morris: I live in New York City.

And the idea that I now, as a part of my daily life, have to swerve out of my way to avoid people watching TV, that wasn't happening 10 years ago.


Wesley Morris: That is a new development.

And there is a way in which this device has completely transformed not just our relationship to art and popular culture, but to our environmental space, each other. Our daily routines are now sort of ambiently oriented around constantly experiencing some podcast, television show, music, movie, often through something that we hold in our hands, and transport ourselves from one place to the next.

Jeffrey Brown: Lorraine, what do you want to add to that? And are there specific examples of artists or shows that hit that moment for us?

Lorraine Ali: It's the sheer amount of what we're seeing as well.

And, you know, whether we're talking about television streaming, and the idea of bingeing content, the idea of bingeing, a show, like, we didn't know what that meant last decade.

And now it's like, I have to see this. There's the must-see bingeing thing. This is why you need to stay indoors and never leave, or be on your phone and knock into people on the street, as Wesley said.

Jeffrey Brown: This is a good thing, huh?


Lorraine Ali: You can look at it either way.

And that is the double-edged sword of technology, right? We have seen these great advances in entertainment. But it's also kind of either -- it's connected us, but it's also kind of pulled us apart in different ways.

Jeffrey Brown: Wesley, give a couple of examples of what shows or stars, for that matter, what artists have shown most brightly amid that.

Wesley Morris: Biggest star of this era is probably not a person. It's -- the odds are that it's a company.

And one of the biggest stars from the last 10 years has been a company, Netflix...

Jeffrey Brown: Yes.

Wesley Morris: ... which used to just be a mail delivery video service and is now the biggest entertainment company in the world, if not by number, although I think that might be true, than definitely by ethos.

Sitting there and watching most of the first season of "Orange Is the New Black" and "House of Cards," too, I mean, those were the two shows that, to me, in very different ways defined this era, both formally, because you're given a bunch of episodes of a television show in one dose, but also just in terms of how dark one show is, and how sort of deceptively light and optimistic "Orange Is the New Black" is.

Actress: OK, you're not really understanding me right now, OK? I realize that that was once your friend, but now she's a convicted murderer.

Lorraine Ali: Bringing up "Orange Is the New Black," that show also changed what we were seeing. It was made by women. It starred women. It told the stories of these really complex narratives and many women of color, socioeconomics, that we hadn't seen before in a lot of shows.

So I think it sort of ushered in this era, not only of, like, a show dropping all at once, but also seeing these characters we hadn't really seen before being the central focus of a story.

Jeffrey Brown: And I think about the changing voices, the changing -- the words, the images, and not just television.

Go, Wesley -- I mean, think about "Hamilton." And what other game-changers have struck you when you look back at the last 10 years?

Wesley Morris: There's all kinds of television, music, movies that have, like, actually changed the way that people get to see other people, what this country is and who gets to call themselves an American.

"Hamilton" is a sort of obvious example of that. And it's proven that there's an audience out there for people who are interested in stories about non-white people, just for starters.

Jeffrey Brown: And then, Lorraine, I mean, we still have the major stars telling their story.

I mean, you can't talk about a decade like this without mentioning Beyonce, for example.

Lorraine Ali: Oh, no, this was Beyonce's' decade.

And you're talking about she came from essentially a girl group. And this decade, from the Super Bowl, to the inauguration, to Beychella, to "Lemonade," this was her decade.

And I think, in many ways, it kind of showed the breakthroughs and how different it was in this decade for the agency that women had.

But, also, when you're looking at the impact that music, R&B hip-hop made in this decade, I mean, Kendrick Lamar won a Pulitzer Prize. And that's the first hip-hop album that has ever done that.

I mean, that was astounding. And you knew it was -- it wasn't the idea of the old stories where, oh, look, rap is influencing mainstream culture. I mean, it was driving it. And that was, I think, a tipping point.

Jeffrey Brown: All right, how about, before we go, just give us a couple of things that have stayed with you for the whole decade, that this -- really sum it up for you.


Wesley Morris: A thing that I still am surprised by how good it is and didn't quite get the love it deserved, although people were excited when it dropped, was D'Angelo's "Black Messiah," which came out in the middle of the decade.

It is -- it is a beautiful album. It just sounds like a great oral stew. The question in the middle of that era of the Black Lives Matter movement was, what was art going to look like under these circumstances, and was it going to take things directly head on, or was it going to be oblique about its relationship to the moment?

And this album is just one of the great examples of the way that you can take a political moment, and also still make great R&B love songs, and find new ways of creating soul music that still do things to your body that you like music to do when it's good.

Jeffrey Brown: Lorraine?

Lorraine Ali: I would say "Girls" and "Insecure," because they were shows just about young women.

Remember how "Seinfeld" was just about a bunch of people doing nothing? I feel like these shows were the same, but for young women. And they were stories that I could really relate to that I hadn't seen before.

But I also think two other shows, "Ramy" and "Master of None."

Actor: You can't just walk up to a Muslim girl and like start spitting game or something like that. What am I supposed to say? Like, hey, can I get your father's number?

Actress: Yes. Why not?

Aziz Ansari: Easy, easy.

Eric Wareheim: You got room over there?

Aziz Ansari: Yes, yes, yes.

Lorraine Ali: These shows looked at the immigrant experience with the second generation, with the people -- with kids that were already -- that grew up here.

And I think they showed that side of immigration like nothing else I had seen.

Jeffrey Brown: I know I asked the impossible, to boil it all down. But thank you both very much.

Lorraine Ali of The Los Angeles Times, Wesley Morris of The New York Times, thanks so much.

Lorraine Ali: Thank you.

Wesley Morris: Thanks for having us.

Support Canvas

Sustain our coverage of culture, arts and literature.

Send Us Your Ideas
Let us know what you'd like to see on ArtsCanvas. Your thoughts and opinions matter.