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Greatest Hits: My (2023) Prerogative

*Britney voice* But they can never take away your truth!
Greatest Hits: My (2023) Prerogative

2023! A year of being routed away from things I thought I was supposed to be doing—or liked the sound of me doing—and into things I apparently needed to be doing.

Very few of the plans I made for myself this time last year would ultimately come to pass, and in an almost comical way. Imagine: you take a calculated gamble and leave a steady editing gig because you can rely on your screenwriter clients for a bit, and then those screenwriter clients (rightfully) go on strike mere days later; you spend months working on a big project about someone whose work has always meant the world to you, just for them to be revealed as a sex pest halfway through it; an artist you specialize in teases not one but two different documentaries—finally your time to shine!—and then just straight up... doesn’t release them, sans explanation. A lot of 2023 went like that: inconvenient twists and turns, if not sudden dead ends.

And it was honestly amazing for me, someone historically not great at “going with the flow.” As a result, everything good that happened to me professionally last year—and it was a sleepier one for me on that front—didn’t appear anywhere in my overly rigid 2023 plans. Similarly, everything good that happened to me personally could only happen because, well, I was available. A lot of my year got to be spent reaching out, showing up, sleeping in those extra couple of hours, saying “This is nice” out loud when I thought something was nice, making obscene noises while biting into good food, cuddling a puppy—the kind of stuff I normally risk losing sight of because I’ve gotten too swept up in work.

The big challenge going into this year, then, is getting myself back on the work wagon without losing what I’ve gained in basically all other areas of my life. (A great indicator of the shift in my brain is that one of my resolutions is to “spend as much time as possible with everyone’s babies.”) For the first several months of 2024, I’ll be tying up and sending out (most of) the various projects I spent 2023 working on. And I’m quite excited about them, so hopefully the universe can go easy on the twists and turns for a minute.

Here’s what I got up to, minus those projects—and also the music videos, which will be arriving separately—over the past 12 months.


In January, I turned 27 and got my wish to “go see the sharks” (at the aquarium, on an edible—a spiritual experience!). I made my radio debut talking about Madonna ageism and her Celebration Tour with Rad Simonpillai on CBC’s Airplay. One of my favourite romance authors, Joanna Shupe, published one of my most-anticipated releases ever, The Duke Gets Even; it was the fourth book in a series, where she’d been masterfully weaving the central couple’s story all through the first three, and she absolutely stuck the landing. Over beers, an old friend came back into my life. I had a lightbulb moment that started me down a—who knows yet whether it’s a winning—book proposal path. The best thing I cooked was this Italian pastina soup. And none of my pitches that month led to anything, for varying and often stupid reasons.    

Who's gonna tell her these are not sharks?


Freelance writing not working out so well, February was quiet and mostly spent watching and reading things for research. But my camera roll tells me it’s when I discovered a life-changing breakfast recipe—semi-hard-boiled eggs on a garlicky yogurt spread, on toast—that I now make several times a month (almost always using store-bought tzatziki instead). My wedding bouquet was returned to me as a piece of dried-flower art. A number of my favourite 2023 albums were released: Raye’s My 21st Century Blues, Gorillaz’s Cracker Island, and Sabrina Claudio’s Archives & Lullabies. And the same goes for most-listened-to songs: “Moonlight,” “Pearls,” and “Cuff It (Wetter Remix),” the last of which I’d really warm up to once the Renaissance World Tour kicked off.  

My bouquet was in there


While I was pretty neutral on Miley Cyrus’s Endless Summer Vacation as an album, I’ve really loved everything visual attached the project, including March’s Endless Summer Vacation (Backyard Sessions) on Disney+. (“River” was another of my most-listened-to songs last year.) That month took me on a ski trip with my in-laws to the West Coast, where, tipsy at Walmart, I bought my two-year-old niece the smallest Tupac shirt I could find (it still went down to her feet). I wrote two very Canadian music video things, both for CBC Arts: an explainer on last year’s Juno-nominated videos and their directors, and a profile of filmmaker Sean Menard and his MuchMusic documentary, 299 Queen Street West. I also spent a lot of March wading through everything related to Madonna’s “American Life” (2003) video scandal, including having Jonas Åkerlund show me the infamous grenade lighter on Zoom.

My niece in her new shirt


Thousands of words and a number of mini-breakdowns later, Billboard published my big “American Life” retrospective, and I was very pleased with the response to it—that shit took a lot of work! My brain then forced me into a bit of a break, having also left my role at Bright Wall/Dark Room at the end of March. April in photos is all birds that visited our balcony and my niece wearing a pair of bunny ears for Easter and—as always, it seems—plates of food. Jessie Ware and Daniel Caesar both released albums I liked a lot, That! Feels Good and Never Enough. My friend Ethan Warren published his book on Paul Thomas Anderson, which I interviewed him about for the newsletter. I also made rösti—delicious! But my hand eczema hated me grating those potatoes enough that I probably won’t make them again for a long time. (I don’t have a recipe on hand, but I’m pretty sure I just grabbed a random one off of Google.)

They tasted better than they look


In May, everything went back to happening all at once. I filmed stuff for a TV program that I won’t get to see until sometime this year, I believe. Film Cred published a big Q&A with me about my writing and bookshelves and other things along those lines. I was interviewed for a CBC News piece on how social media is changing the experience of stadium tours. I spent a lot of the month thinking and writing about James Cameron’s Titanic (1997), for reasons that will be explained in the June section. Somewhere in there, I really loved My Soft Machine by Arlo Parks. Several more of my songs of the year were released: “Padam Padam” (my most-listened-to one, largely from the first 72 hours of it being out), “Never Ending Song,” and the “America Has a Problem” remix. In hindsight, May also seems to have been about high school nostalgia: I went to my ten-year reunion and didn’t die, and I published an interview with one of my favourite teachers, Mr. Spain. (Tina Turner, one of the artists he worked with as a dancer in the ‘80s, died shortly after the interview went up, which was upsetting for us both.)

I am "Sydney"


I spent the first couple weeks of the month (virtually) at CBC Arts, helping the team with all-around editorial stuff on their “50 Greatest Films Directed by Canadians” project, which is why I’d been writing about Titanic. (None of the submersible stuff had happened yet…) Janelle Monáe released The Age of Pleasure, which has ended up one of my favourite albums of the year, and Amaarae released Fountain Baby, which was more of a “This is my favourite album this year unless something else tops it” situation. To celebrate this newsletter’s third birthday, I had a bunch of LGBTQ+ friends help me put together a Pride Month special, where everyone wrote in with the music video/film moments that shifted something in their brains. And I made another instant-classic toast: roasted tomatoes on ricotta or cottage cheese (worth making for the smell that comes out of your oven alone).



My favourite piece of art released in July was probably Theater Camp. I got to see Beyoncé live and, a few weeks later, wrote about it in the newsletter. Tony Bennett died and half a dozen people texted me their condolences as if he’d been a grandparent—love to have a brand. (My piece on him from last year ended up hyperlinked, gratefully, in this interview with Bennett’s longtime drummer, Clayton Cameron.) I survived, but didn’t necessarily love, my first shrooms experience; we actually played Renaissance (2022) at one point just so I could be sure an hour was truly passing by, and know exactly how many minutes we were into said hour at all times. I spent the last week of the month Southern Ontario town-hopping—introducing a screening of Marie Antoinette (2006) in one town (my first intro! Someone please let me do another!), visiting my grandma in a second, and having one of the wildest schnitzels of my life in a third.    

From when I was hiding in the bathroom beforehand


In August, my brother- and sister-in-law pulled my niece out of a family gathering and then sent her back in wearing a shirt that said “Big Sis” (!). I loved Cautious Clay’s album Karpeh, and I also loved Meg 2: The Trench because they’ll never get me! I made one of those basically-hidden-broccoli pastas that was honestly excellent; you should make it even if you think you hate broccoli. We went to two very fun weddings that month, and I found myself unexpectedly weepy watching one of my close friends get married at one of them. That wedding had taken us to Nova Scotia, where I tried to get the rest of the RMS Titanic stuff out of my system and am pretty sure I had every kind of seafood.  

Me in my Canadian tux


September was a little more all over the place. I wrote an explainer for CBC Arts on Petra Collins and accidentally created international news—I did not enjoy this! I loved Andrew Chan’s book Why Mariah Carey Matters, which has had me listening to a lot of Mariah in the months since. My friend Lisa Whittington-Hill published her 33 1/3 book on the Go-Go’s, which I interviewed her about for the newsletter. My sister and I went to a talk with Julien Christian Lutz (pka Director X) at my alma mater, and I made myself ask him a question like a big girl. I went to Las Vegas to see Lady Gaga’s wonderful Jazz & Piano show, which I wrote about in the newsletter. And I hit a 1000-day Duolingo streak—that’s 2.75 years and counting of my loved ones having to hear the Duolingo dings. Mein Gott!

My best Vegas meal


I spent October toeing the burnout line as I wrapped up everything I’d agreed to do in the couple of months beforehand. I profiled Nan Devitt Tremblay, a key player in the rise of FashionTelevision, for CBC Arts. I wrote the programme notes for a screening of Amanda Kramer’s Give Me Pity! (2022) on the invitation of Beyond Interpretation’s Chris Cassingham. I was on CBC’s The National—making my official TV debut—to talk about Taylor Swift and Beyoncé both having concert films in theatres, which had an accompanying text piece you can read. Mid-way through the month, my husband did the most bonkers thing he’s ever done and brought home a surprise puppy—my beautiful and huge baby, Roy. He (Roy) snored in my lap while I read Britney Spears’s The Woman in Me. And I got to see Shania Twain live for the first time with my mom and sister, a moment that felt like 25 years in the making.

Roy at two months old


By default, November was mostly about getting the hang of having a Weimaraner puppy, which is really more like having a small horse. I was on Authorized to talk about David Bowie and Labyrinth (1986). We celebrated our first wedding anniversary (I posted a lil something for it) with a Michelin-star dinner, and then I promptly fell asleep in the dog bed because we’d opted for the sake tasting menu—no pictures being included of this, sorry. I don’t want to talk about the song titles themselves but I really enjoyed André 3000’s New Blue Sun, as did Roy. On the last day of the month, I got to see Renaissance: A Film by Beyoncé, an overwhelming moviegoing experience and probably my year’s big Rich Text.   



Izzy Custodio of Be Kind Rewind had me on The Izzy and Murtada Picture Show to talk about Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour film and Beyoncé’s Renaissance film, which we’ve (as a culture) been discussing in tandem all fall even though they’re not really analogous. I recorded that episode and immediately got aspiring Victorian ghost-level sick, sicker than I’ve maybe ever been, with some kind of respiratory virus that wasn’t That One. I emerged from it just in time for Christmas stuff proper—but by then, I’d already missed seeing Muppet Scrooge with a live orchestra, already missed karaoke with a bunch of beloved Toronto critic friends, and so on. Stacy Lee Kong of Friday Things invited me to write in with my favourite pop culture moment of 2023 (Beyoncé on the big screen—which I sadly did not get to see a second time because of my sickness) as well as my least favourite one (the meme-ification of Britney’s sometimes harrowing memoir). Still deciding what I thought of Maestro.

Roy at three months old

Wishing all of you an especially happy new year! ●

Mononym Mythology is a music video culture newsletter by me, Sydney Urbanek, where I write about mostly pop stars and their visual antics.

I do that for free—and actually pay to use this platform—so if you happened to get something out of this instalment, you’re more than welcome to buy me a coffee. The best way to support my work otherwise is by sharing it. 

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