6 min read

Something(s) to Remember

My 2021 year-in-review
Something(s) to Remember

2021 was a big, interesting, weird, hard year… a lot like last year, I guess. If you’ve done nothing but survive both, I still think you’re pretty cool. And if you happen to be reading this as a subscriber of this newsletter, I think you’re even cooler—thank you for sticking with me through these last 12 months in particular, which have seen quite a few highs and lows, both newsletter-related and not. I don’t believe that you can reply directly to these emails the way you could when I was on Substack, but you’re always welcome to email me (sydneyurbanek@gmail.com) and say hello in response to anything I send out. Do you live somewhere cool (by which I mean… warm)? Have a book recommendation? A music video question that you’d like me to answer as a piece of writing in the new year? I’m interested!

Just as I did at the end of 2020, I've compiled some of what my year looked like in terms of work. I do this mostly for myself, since I like seeing things in front of me (big list-maker), but it also gives people a chance to catch up on anything they initially missed. (I'm terrible about rounding up recent work in these newsletters.) I will say that it’s very much a highlight reel—again, this year was less than breezy—and also a work-specific one. There were things I did like become an aunt, read something like 50 romance novels, eat three million oysters, and subject my loved ones to a Kaiju phase (and a Victorian Gothic phase, and an erotic thriller phase, and several other phases). So, I've tried to break up the below with a little, well, life.

The year in Mononym Mythology

  • This odds-and-ends instalment on Lana Del Rey’s “Chemtrails Over the Country Club” video, Beyoncé’s 2020 wrap-up video, Gwen Stefani’s “Let Me Reintroduce Myself” video, the Madonna diary entry that I think is about David Fincher, and the David Bowie promotional short Love You Till Tuesday (1969). (At the very least, you should check out the latter; only 29 minutes, edible optional)
  • This quick dispatch after Larry King died about his tendency to ask his guests—with Beyoncé, Madonna, Lady Gaga, Prince, and Barbra Streisand as my examples—about the origins of their stage names (and why that may have been the case)
  • This essay on the unlikely but compelling similarities between Taylor Swift’s Miss Americana (2020) and Beyoncé’s Life Is But a Dream (2013), two slate-clearing, seed-planting documentaries
  • This interview with Jonas Åkerlund to commemorate his video for Britney Spears’s “Hold It Against Me” (2011) turning 10, which I conducted something like a day before Framing Britney Spears was announced. (I would ask a very different set of questions now!)
  • Another odds-and-ends instalment about Solange’s When I Get Home (2019) hitting Criterion Channel, the uselessness of the Grammys’ visual categories (a complaint that I think I’d like to turn into an essay in the new year), Lil Nas X’s “MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)” video, Jay-Z’s “Smile” (2017) video, and Phoenix’s “Chloroform” (2013) video
  • This oral history of the Blond Ambition Tour show in 1990—in honour of Truth or Dare (1991) turning 30—where Madonna was threatened with arrest in Toronto, featuring a handful of people who were in the room that night or otherwise connected to the event
  • This ask-me-anything session to celebrate the newsletter’s first birthday
  • This interview with writer and fashion historian Casci Ritchie about her book, On His Royal Badness: The Life and Legacy of Prince’s Fashion
  • This three-part series to commemorate MTV’s 40th birthday: the first on the channel’s bumpy early years, the second on the heyday of TRL, and the last on the 2011 VMAs
  • This interview with David Fincher: Mind Games author Adam Nayman about Fincher’s music video and commercial work (including the Madonna stuff, naturally)
Newborn niece hand

The year in reviews

Maybe 2022 will be about learning how to shuck them myself, like Grace Jones

The year in other writing

  • For Little White Lies, this 10-year retrospective on Justin Bieber’s Never Say Never (2011), the pop star doc that changed pop star docs as we know them
  • For Bright Wall/Dark Room (whose team I'm very fortunate to have joined in October!), a research-heavy look at Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette (2006) as the arguable centrepiece of the director’s MTV-inflected career. This piece was ostensibly about Coppola being obsessed with Adam Ant as a 10-year-old, but in many ways about Sofia Coppola turning me into an Adam Ant-obsessed 10-year-old
  • For Sight & Sound, this crash course on Tanu Muino, the Ukrainian director behind—among other things—“MONTERO” and Cardi B’s “Up”
  • Co-written with the lovely Izzy of Be Kind Rewind, this video essay unpacking Madonna’s Classic Hollywood references during her cultural peak, with an emphasis on Marilyn and Marlene
  • For the Guardian, this 10-year retrospective of Beyoncé’s 4 (2011) and the surrounding album era, which I argue set the stage for Beyoncé 2.0
  • A big part of my year was spent wrapping up an essay about Weeds's Nancy Botwin and chronic illness (just trust me), which I’m very excited to say will be part of the forthcoming The Women of Jenji Kohan, edited by Scarlett Harris and out in March
  • For This, a formal request that people stop ignoring Britney's work (and her long history of fighting back at various parties through that work) in their conversations about her
Honestly, I worked hard for this one

The year in podcasts and other live chats

My projected husband grew this from a tiny seed (it's drugs)
  • Being shouted out in the Guardian
  • Being cited in this Vulture piece on Demi Lovato’s Dancing with the Devil
  • Being interviewed for this Film School Rejects piece about Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (2016) and Miss Americana
  • Being cited in this Vulture oral history of Truth or Dare
  • Being cited in David Fincher: Mind Games (a massively cool milestone for me)
  • Being shouted out in MUBI’s Notebook
  • For Matt Jacobs at Thrillist, helping to fact-check a Madonna-related moment in Netflix’s Single All the Way
  • Being shouted out in Criterion’s Current
  • Being interviewed by Stacy Lee Kong for Friday Things about the biggest pop culture stories of the year and how culture criticism is bumping up against stan culture
  • Being interviewed by Claire Davidson for the last of her three-parter on pop music’s recent horror boom

And that's it! I hope that all of you are taking care of yourselves right now, or will get at least some time to do so over this next week. I’m endlessly grateful for your support and actually pretty excited for 2022, or at least the writing I plan on doing for you.

See you soon,
Sydney 👩🏻‍🦰

Mononym Mythology is a music video culture newsletter by me, Sydney Urbanek. It’s totally free, but if you got something out of this instalment, consider buying me a coffee. The best way to support my work otherwise is by sharing it. You can subscribe here, and you can find me on Twitter and Instagram. (Thank you to Kevin Carr O’Leary for coming up with a Madonna-inspired title for the second year-in-review in a row.)