Alyssa’s Top 16 of 2016: The Music, Film, Theatre and Pop Culture That Made The Year (Somewhat) Bearable

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If you were to ask someone on the street what 2016 means to them, I could almost guarantee you that the majority of them would either weep, growl or throw some obscenities at you. Worldly happenings aside, there were a number of things in the realms of art and pop culture that made this often somber year more jubilant and exultant. These picks are my own opinions, based on what made me feel a wide range of emotions this year, but there is so much more that made 2016, after all, an okay year. Let’s count it down!

16. Carpool Karaoke

There are too many appearances to name that made this skit one of the most beloved series of late night shenanigans, courtesy of James Corden. My personal favorites from this year include Adele, Lady Gaga, Bruno Mars and the incredible Broadway foursome of Lin-Manuel Miranda, Audra McDonald, Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Jane Krakowski. If there was ever something that made us smile all year long, it was this gem of a late night laugh.

15. Stranger Things

Coming from a lady who doesn’t profess to *love* sci-fi – this show is incredible. It’s well-written, well-acted (HELLO Millie Bobby Brown!), well-directed, well-spookified, well everything. The 80’s nostalgia culture atmosphere that it created is more than welcome, too. It’s one of those shows that you start watching in order to keep up with the cultural repartee by the water cooler, but later realize that wow – this actually IS a show that everyone should be watching.

14. Laurie Hernandez, Dancing with the Stars, and the Final Five in the Rio Olympics

The Summer Olympics is one of the most unifying events in our nation, let alone in our world. It is always a warm feeling rooting on our country’s athletes together as one – and the “Final Five” U.S.A. girls gymnastics team was arguably one of the most beloved this year. Standout sixteen-year-old Laurie Hernandez went from earning her first gold medal to taking home the Mirrorball Trophy on Dancing with the Stars in a mere matter of months. I loved watching her compete both in Rio and in the ballroom – her infectious enthusiasm and charm shone bright on all of us during some of the down parts of the year.

13. Bad Moms

A surprise gem in a so-so year of films, this raunchy comedy made me cackle enough to see it twice – a true feat. I particularly enjoyed watching it with my mother – I knew she got all of the mom jokes, even the ones that probably flew over my child-less head, and I knew she loved it. Shout-out to Kathryn Hahn for literally making my mother and I wheeze in the theatre.

12. Star Wars and all of its various comforts

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We are all still grieving from the loss of our beloved Princess Leia, Carrie Fisher. The Force is so strong with this franchise, as it has always been. But the recent resurgence of the films, the characters, the storytelling, the personalities, the everything – it has never felt more welcome to go to the galaxy far, far away.

11. The resurgence of David Bowie/Prince/George Michael’s music

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Speaking of resurgence…we lost too great a number of pop culture icons in 2016. Taking that grief and channeling it into art is a common and encouraged practice, but the art that these figures have already shared with us is an eternal spark that fuels creative fires within so many of us. It’s so important that people like David Bowie, Prince, George Michael and so many more live on through their art – there are generations to come that will have a curiosity piqued and lessons learned through Hunky Dory, Purple Rain, and Faith.

10. Moana

In a year where Disney reigned the most supreme, this film (and song) was one of my personal highlights. The soundtrack, simple and swift as the coursing river came down upon my go-to work playlist like a great typhoon. Other Disney references aside, the beautiful storytelling and musicality of characters both big and small (lookin’ at you, Hei-Hei the neurotic chicken sidekick) made it a lovely antidote to the entire month of November.

9. Waitress the Musical on Broadway

When I go to NYC, I generally require two things: a good slice or three of New York style pizza, and as many Broadway shows as I can fit into a weekend. Seeing this sweet and sassy musical was the proverbial sugar on top of a delectable pie that was a long weekend in the city this past summer. It’s the perfect show to see with girlfriends (which is what I did) that will spark a thousand sing-alongs (thanks, Sara Bareilles!). I couldn’t get enough of this show or its soundtrack – and you won’t either.

8. The trio from the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show (Lady Gaga, Bruno Mars, The Weeknd)

I couldn’t just pick one, so I picked them all. This trio of musicians formed a trifecta of musical awesome during the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show in Paris this year, and all released new albums. While each of the albums may not be my personal favorites, there were some absolute bangers on each of them. Lady Gaga’s “John Wayne,” Bruno Mars’ “Versace on the Floor,” and The Weeknd’s “A Lonely Night” have been in constant rotation on my stereo. I’m looking forward to seeing what each of these artists surprise us with on tour next year!

P.S. I know that there’s been a major push for Gaga’s single “Million Reasons” – but can you blame them after this ICONIC performance (see above)? As the kids say, “Yaaaaaas Gaga, slaaaaaay.”

7. Hamilton – the gift that keeps on giving…and has become ingrained in our culture 

In August 2016, after months of wait for it wait for wait for it WAIT…I, Alyssa Holcomb, entered The Room Where It Happens to see the Show Everyone Is Talking About. Hamilton is what you’d expect, if you expected it to be a fast-paced musical juggernaut with as much rap strewn through its incredible lyrics as classic musical references. We all know that Lin-Manuel Miranda pretty much owned the year, and this 6-years-in-the-making show has become one of pop culture’s most recognizable and beloved entities. I bought the soundtrack. I bought the program. I bought the 500+ page Hamiltome filled with scripts and behind-the-scenes stories and photographs and everything. It’s along the lines of Wicked as one of those shows that becomes so engrained into the fabric of theatre and pop culture itself – and it is a thrilling notion to know that I, along with so many others, have been a part of it.

6. Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life

In a move my 13-year-old self could barely fathom, the time had finally come for all of us to return to Stars Hollow. God how I missed Lorelai, Rory, Luke, Sookie, Kirk, Taylor, Paul Anka the dog, and all of the characters that made the original Gilmore Girls series one of my all-time favorites. The original seven series run had become a major part of my routine – you’d be pressed to find me watching something other than the show almost every day after work for the past year and a half. To be able to see how much had changed, how much hadn’t  – and to watch it side-by-side with my own personal Lorelai, my momma – was so much better than a thousand yellow daisies, or even A Film by Kirk.

5. Adele – 25 tour

Finally, FINALLY – this was the year that we all said “Hello” to Adele LIVE! My excitement knew no bounds – and the final result did not disappoint. Her massive worldwide tour for her album “25” was just that – a giant, globe-stretching jaunt that saw her in hundreds of cities (some for the first time). I attended one of her Miami tour stops and spent almost two hours reveling in her incredible voice, her sassy and sweet personality, and her insistence on asking everyone around her how they were and where they were from. As if we couldn’t love you more, Adele…

4. Game of Thrones (season 6)

One word: HODOR.

The past season of Game of Thrones was incredible. I’m still slack-jawed over the final two episodes. As a fan who indulged in some binge-watching to catch up, this season was one that I was reluctant to even miss a moment of.

I’m not sure I can say anything more other than emit weird sounds that somehow combine silent weeping and brazen cheering.

3. Deadpool

One of the best films of the year, by far. Everything was tailor made in sarcastic and slightly obscene superhero heaven. Ryan Reynolds has never been more on top of his game – and this is coming from a girl who has grown up watching just about every single one of his films. This R-rated crossover flick was the perfect Valentine’s Day treat for all of us looking for a bit of laughter with our superhero action. Fingers, toes and baby hands crossed that Reynolds and the film win their respective categories at this year’s Golden Globes.

2. This Is Us

This is by far the best show on television. A heartfelt, well-written dramedy full of characters you can actually feel – it’s a rarity on TV (at least in the shows I have watched) to have such a well-rounded group of characters tell a story that is both cathartic and leaves you reeling. I anticipate episodes every week just as much as I anticipate reaching for the Kleenex to wipe my silent tears at the end of each installment. Bravo to the cast, crew and creatives behind what I am certain is this year’s best new show.

1. La La Land – film & original soundtrack

Let me put it this way: it has been several days since I have seen this film and I have listened to very little other than the soundtrack. Everything about it is beautiful and enchanting, heart-tugging and heart-breaking, soaring and superb. Believe the hype on this one – you have to see, hear, feel, and experience it to believe it.

What were some of your favorite things of 2016? Comment below!

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