And so it ends. I’ve never been happier to say goodbye to a year in the 26 that I’ve already endured. 2016 was the hardest 12 months of my personal life and, for that, I won’t miss it. Professionally, though, I thrived. I don’t think I’ve ever written so much, pushed myself so hard, or challenged myself as constantly as I did in 2016. You’re supposed to grow with time. I’m only just now beginning to consider whether or not my growth has been in the right direction. As I do every year on the final day, I like to pause to reflect on the year past to gauge how far I’ve come and where I’m going. So as is my annual tradition, here are my five favorite things I’ve written this year.
“Ellen, Analog, and Amazing Race: YouTube Star Tyler Oakley Wants to Do Everything But Fail” | Vulture, September 22
One of the pieces I’m most proud of from 2016 started taking shape around a year ago, when I first met with the queen of YouTube, Tyler Oakley. It shouldn’t have taken as long as it did for this story to go live but so goes the media grind. I fight for the stories I want to tell, #TeamInternet being of the utmost importance. Not because I spend most of my day immersed in it, but because I am it. I’m an employee of the internet, so to speak – a content creator, influencer, or what have you, just like these YouTube stars (minus the millions). Offering Tyler a national platform online beyond the ones he already owns to reflect on his (ongoing) hustle, fandom, and prolific future was one of my great triumphs of the year that literally took all year.
“Beyoncé’s ‘Formation’: Young, Gifted, and Black” | Vulture, February 7
I don’t work with too many people of color. Working with a surplus of white people tends to be an occupational hazard of this industry. But on occasion, the hive forms. I was walking back from Home Depot one unsuspecting afternoon when the seismic shift of Beyoncé’s “Formation” video struck the cultural surface. The walk turned into a run. Immediately, I assembled my fellow black New York writers Rembert Browne, Ashley Weatherford, and (formerly) Allison P. Davis for a sprawling published conversation about blackness. There was talk at first among the powers that be of adding a white writer or two into the mix. I countered that that would be a mistake, that this video was for us. This shit is for us, Solange sang later in the year. We slayed.
“Defining Britney Spears’s Eras by the VMAs” | Vulture, August 26
Some assignments come in at the eleventh hour when you have no choice but to get it done. This can be laborious, grueling work. Writing about Britney Spears’ identity as defined by her career’s crowning glory, the VMAs, wasn’t that. I wrote this piece on a day’s notice in three hours and the words just poured out of me. Brit has been a constant in my life – one of the most inspiring women I’ve never met – and a touchstone of modern pop for most of it, so asking me to write at length about her growth wasn’t work. It’s all I could do to repay her as a fan and the most fun I had writing all year.
“With Dangerous Woman, Ariana Grande Shows That Being a Work in Progress Is Serving Her Well” | Vulture, May 27
In contrast, the least fun I had writing this year was reviewing Ariana Grande’s latest album. That’s not a reflection of her work – the album is an underappreciated gem – but rather telling of how long it’d been since I last did a proper review of a body of music. I review live music often, which almost always ultimately becomes more about experiencing the music than the performance itself. I have a funny relationship with music criticism, as in writing that dissects the music and nothing more, because a) it’s hard and b) it’s deliberately exclusive. Critiquing art shouldn’t be patronizing, and yet that’s generally all music criticism ever ends up being. It took me a week to flesh out this review because I wanted to treat Ari with the respect of giving her work time, patience, and thought. Of course, I made it about more than the music in the end. I’m no critic. But I prefer it that way.
“The Traumatic Reality of Getting Sent to Solitary Confinement for Being Trans That Orange Is the New Black Can’t Show” | Vulture, June 28
When non-media people ask me what I do, I give the blanket descriptor of “writer.” Storyteller is what I should say. A lot of the time I don’t do much writing, but the stories get told. They’re often not my own. The more I can keep my own voice out of it, the better. This year I got to tell the story of CeCe McDonald, a fiercely strong woman who was imprisoned for defending herself amid a hate crime and later placed in solitary confinement at a men’s prison because she’s transgender. Her story inspired the story of Sophia on Orange Is the New Black, but the latter doesn’t compare because there’s no reimagining that kind of trauma. It’s the most disturbing, crushing story I was privileged to learn and share this year.