The thing about inventing an imaginary honor society that doles out imaginary annual awards is that you can’t just in media res things and hope that the imaginary audience is following along. There’s got to be a preamble. A clarification of the rules. An explication of the acronyms. An attempt to impose some sense upon all of the nonsense.
So in case you haven’t read The GOAT Farm’s Inaugural Post/Ceremony— and also in case you did read it, two years ago, and somehow didn’t memorize its vagaries— The GOAT Farm is a pop culture hall of fame with a pastoral aesthetic. Inductees must patiently endure a five year waiting period between when they were first experienced and when they are GOAT-eligible, which is why all of today’s honorees are from 2018. The only judge is me.
The word “Great” signifies a lot, but it specifies very little, as I learned when trying to edit my long list of nominees into a slightly less long list. I read and watched and listened to plenty of things in 2018 that I enjoyed wildly and fully at the time and still remember fondly, but those qualities aren’t always enough to earn a patch of grass on The GOAT Farm. “Greatness”, to me, is more elusive than that, as apparent as it is intangible. This might not seem like the most transparent criteria from the voting body (which again, is just me) but then a lack of transparency is the traditional feature of plenty of awards shows and halls of fame. Even the ones that are making it all up as they go.
Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine (Gail Honeyman)
Right from the top we have some obvious evidence of outside influence— Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine is my sister’s favorite book. If she were to construct her own GOAT farm, this book would likely be its central attraction, with a plaque and a statue and everything. But it deserves every type of honor it is eligible for; Eleanor is a magic trick of a book, full of wry sentences that make you laugh so much you don’t realize you’ve become attached to the prickly protagonist until you’re wiping at the tears you’ve somehow shed over her growth. The kind of read that reminds you to be kinder to everyone, even yourself.
Handwritten (the Gaslight Anthem)
I discovered Brian Fallon’s solo work in 2016, and didn’t learn about his longstanding band The Gaslight Anthem until later, which is undoubtedly a backwards way to experience his music, but that has not lessened my love for it. Especially this song, my favorite from the band’s entire catalogue. Brian’s songwriting has an abstract, poetic quality to it, where sometimes you can’t precisely describe what it’s about, but there can be no doubts about what you feel. If I ever wanted to pay homage to Prison Break’s Michael Scofield, I might cover my torso and limbs with lines from this song.
The first time I went to a Frenship concert, on an April 2018 night that felt so cold it might as well have been January 2018, I had never actually listened to the alt-pop duo from California. I bought my ticket purely on my faith in my best friend’s taste. This fateful decision has redounded to my benefit, as Frenship has since become one of my all-time favorite bands, two people who I believe are incapable of releasing a bad song. I’ve seen them live twice more since then, and each setlist is a collection of secret anthems; effortless, otherworldly harmonies; and driving, propulsive percussion that even the uninitiated can’t help but move their feet to.
I originally became an Apple Music girl because, back in the troglodyte days of 2015, I still deeply cared about my iTunes library. But I will stay an Apple Music girl, because their recommendation algorithm brought me Dermot Kennedy.
What if you could capture all of the pain and unrealized longing of a Sally Rooney novel and press it into one voice? What if conversational whispers could merge into howls of catharsis with the shift of a key? I know I was baking something when “Boston” first played in my headphones in the late spring of 2018, because I know I had flour on my hands when I pressed Repeat One on my phone, but I couldn’t begin to guess at what recipe it was. Dermot’s music has soundtracked many of my life’s most mundane and magical moments since then, from his early EP’s to his most recent full length album last year. And I have the world’s first trillion dollar corporation to thank.
A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships (The 1975)
I think of The 1975 as a band that I’ve grown up with, even though they’ve released most of their best music during my twenties. Their debut album was effervescently boppy, a collection of tracks I will always associate with my purest youth. And the music they’re making now is a more earnest attempt to examine themselves— something that happens to us all when we trade going out for staying in.
But in between these benchmarks was A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships, released in the messy aftermath of Brexit and right in the convulsing heart of the Trump administration; back when enough had happened to create a general sense of frenzied panic in everyone, but not so much yet that we’d all gone numb. It was impossible to make sense of the moment, but the 1975 at least tried. Whether they were writing songs that were meant to capture the cacophony of scrolling twitter or stuffing their lyrics with too-winking phrases like “I found a grey hair in one of my zoots/ Like context in a modern debate, I just took it out” they set out to reflect the world as it was, and no celebration of 2018 would be complete without including their effort.
I wavered repeatedly over whether or not to induct Sharp Objects. Rewatch-ability has traditionally been a heavily weighted factor for GOATs, and I don’t expect to ever choose to watch this mini series in its entirety again. Too creepy. Too disturbing. But when something haunts you the way this show did me, that’s a form of longevity— which is another point on the rubric. Also I went to a Halloween party dressed as Amma that year, so to deny its impact would feel downright disingenuous.
I have found that the enormity of my love for anything is revealed when my vocabulary fails, when the warm feelings can’t be organized neatly into bullet points or summarized in snappy sentences. This is the situation with Lady Bird, a movie that is such a GOAT to me that it might be the one GOAT I’d scoop up and save if the whole farm were on fire. It is the only film that has ever accurately reflected back to me my experience of being a teenage girl, how atrociously exciting it all was. It made me a lifetime investor in the career of Greta Gerwig, a decision that quickly paid off with her 2019 interpretation of Little Women and shows strong future potential earnings. And that might be all I can literally say on the subject.
As a general rule, I hate to be scared, and try to avoid all situations and scenarios in which that reaction might be expected from me. So, horror movies are a hard no. But even more than being scared, I hate to not be fluent in major cultural conversations, so when Get Out was permeating the parlance so deeply that references to “the sunken place” were becoming commonplace, I made an exception. I did wait a full year, of course, and watched it in the comfort of my home where I had both a blanket and a pause button to cower behind, but I quickly learned that there’s only a jump scare’s difference between being horrified and being enthralled.
“They say you die twice. Once when you stop breathing and the second, a bit later on, when somebody mentions your name for the last time.” This isn’t a quote from Coco, just something that I’ve seen on the internet a bunch of times, often attributed to Banksy, though that seems too cute to be true. It leaves me shaken each time, which is why I am still surprised to this day that it was also basically the thesis of an animated movie marketed to children.
Coco was the second film in what I consider to be Pixar’s Existential Trilogy (sandwiched between Inside Out and Soul) and indeed it did build its plot around questions about the afterlife and legacy, what we take with us and what we leave behind. It’s also beautiful on an aesthetic level, with a color palette that is its own tribute to being alive. It is a movie that succeeds in overwhelming its audience on both a visual and intellectual level—and perhaps that is all anyone or anything can do to make sure they’re not forgotten.
Tessa & Scott’s Final Free Skate
So, the truth is that the moment that entertained me most in 2018 wasn’t a book or a band or a movie or a song, but rather six minutes and 27 seconds of ice dancing at the Pyeongchang Olympics from the best pair to ever do it. Tessa and Scott’s partnership already had all of the beats of a Hollywood movie— the gold-dusted debut as ingenues, the bitter betrayal in the second act, the heroic return. But they needed one last podium topper to finish the story; they needed to skate together one last time. They needed 121.7 points.
What they delivered was perfection. An emotive, technical interpretation of a Moulin Rouge medley that could not be overlooked or denied. I get arena-type chills just thinking about that first sequence of twizzles. I have been known to start playing the youtube clip of their performance a propos of nothing after a party, when people are too wine-laden and sleepy to stop me. I will probably smile and go into a fugue state whenever I hear “Come What May” for the rest of my life.
And that, more than anything is the true meaning of Greatness; the testament and the trick of it: it lasts.