The Writer’s Room: What is Pop in 2020?

It’s fall again so I am wearing yellow corduroy. Going on walks. Riding the full subway. I’m not going out for Halloween but I might not have anyway, even if we weren’t in a pandemic, a hypothetical that feels so far away I can hardly muster the suspension of disbelief. Entertaining what costume I might have worn is as boring as playing Would You Rather? Who even cares? There are many ways it all might have unfolded. 

History wrecks my body. I am an addict, a vacuum, switch my drug of choice every six weeks when I am too strung out to sleep. It helps to have a project in quarantine. Something to mark the passage of time, get me out of my head. I spend all day in bed on my laptop watching the news load and bury itself. Online I am assured we are all experiencing it like this. I have an idea and I watch it appear on my Twitter feed, remember the tweet instead, it goes–I can’t believe we’re watching history being written. I do not believe it either but I feel it. 

A memory: my mother recalling the news after a hurricane or tornado somewhere nearby. “Everyone they interviewed kept saying the same thing, ‘It was just like a movie!’” Her point was something along the lines of–isn’t it bizarre that these peoples’ touchpoint for reality is a facsimile of reality? But now I am living through a disaster part natural, part genocide and it is just like a movie, too. Like I am watching something inevitable from the dark.

I listen to Ariana Grande’s new album on the subway because I enjoy that kind of thing. I’m interested in how Ariana Grande weaves public trauma into her musical narrative. How she’s a theater kid who plays at pop-trap, how she appropriates Blackness in just the right measure to remain popular. In any case, I am the kind of person who thinks about Ariana Grande. Was the kind, in the before times, lol, not really, but. I listen to Ariana Grande’s new album on the subway and it could be anything blaring tinnily through my earbuds, is anything–that’s sort of the beauty of pop music, right?–but it doesn’t work. I don’t feel it. I am too full. 

I remember the Oscars after someone tweets–how weird will the Oscars be next year? Since all the big budget films are holding off until we get back to normal. I remember the tweet because it wasn’t my thought, which was, the Oscars are still happening? I remember the Emmys when it is trending online. Apparently if you’re nominated for an Emmy someone in a hazmat suit comes outside your glass Hollywood house and dangles an Emmy in front of you, then runs away if you don’t get the award. I’m not surprised by anything anymore. Zendaya is the youngest nominee to win for lead actress and the people I follow online are excited. I think that maybe the Emmys is a nice distraction from all of this history. Maybe this was the purpose of the celebrity parade all along, and maybe that was good. 

This year, people have been asking if celebrity is ending. Everyone is cancelled, why bother to revere? To have a reputation is to sacrifice it. Don’t trust politicians, or musicians. They will disappoint you one by one. That is the nature of fame, to estrange. It is also the nature of a pandemic. Everyone is just a movie playing in front of me. I can’t see my mom on Thanksgiving but I will probably watch a dumb romcom. 

I listen to Ariana Grande and remember having room to care about Ariana Grande. It’s weird to watch the machinery of Hollywood totter forward like a wind-up doll while we are all still in the thick of it. Distracting myself from the pandemic feels like a moral failure but also my purpose: to get up each morning and watch my little movies from my laptop and treat them like they matter, or perish. Yes, they matter because they sustain my livelihood but also I will my livelihood to depend on these commitments, and I must will my livelihood to depend on them differently or I will perish. History wrecks everything I know except this–There has to be another way to live. 

There’s a recurring joke on Twitter that the writer’s room for 2020 really went off the rails. It’s easier to imagine the writers failing than the room. 

Sophie Dillon

Sophie Dillon


is still figuring it out.

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