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Any song review should end in gibberish and some exotic dance, that’s the truth. All music is a form of commune with the rhythm of a better world, a world we can often only access on our own, away from the intrusions of The Other, even if The Other is someone we love.

Churches hand out choir books because they know that singing off-key and dancing off-beat is the way to praise what’s Holy in the world. If you want to understand a song you play it while you’re alone in a room you always use, and transform the mundane into something behind mere words.

It’s the role of art to be good, or to be popular. That’s what people say.

Listen, the Most Important Song of 2018 is not what you think it is.

It’s that time of year, the time when it all ends and we look back on the art, music, cinema, and stories that are curated to be the “Most Important” or “The Best of 2018.” That time of year when we ignore the relationship of art to ourselves and organize into linear form everything we consumed during the year. Chance now to catch up on all those things people said you should consume, what trends you missed out on. It’s telling, that while there are literally dozens of these lists (in fact likely dozens of your acquaintances are posting on social media their own versions right now), not many lists are news-related.

We’ve grown tired, haven’t we?

What’s another horrific look at the traumatic focal points of national news in 2018 when we have Timehop to remind us we lost personal friends and Snapchat stories to remind us of the sleepy late-morning selfies we took when we were still with our exes? How can you bear to look at national tragedies when that act of looking takes time from dealing with your own trauma?

That’s one of the questions art in 2018 has to address: How do you deal with the gamification of our personal moments? How do we be human these days? When our day-to-day is increasingly turned into a performance, often for an audience of one, of what use is originality, spontaneity, when new challenges to old forms break down the algorithms, break down the systems that we live our lives by? When even performers are begging us to just step away from easy consumption, what places do we look to, to be reminded we’re human?

We’re still wondering what matters, aren’t we?

This isn’t the first time you’ve heard something similar. That there’s a feeling that it’s all so exhausting, that it’s all so pointless. I can link the questions of love, survival, morality, and hope that are all implicit in so much work that was produced in 2018… but you’ve already read these, right? It’s incredibly telling that this Washington Post opinion piece calls on “an actor, an activist, an astrophysicist, [and] a correspondent for ‘The Daily Show’” in the attached video to tell you the world is not all falling to ruin. That’s two and a half performers between the four people. Additionally, the “18 good things that happened in 2018” framing is an explicit commodification of the need for hope.

Oh, you feel beat down and depressed by the news? You love lists? Well here! 18 things! Can you even name 18 things you liked about your own life? Can you name 18 things we haven’t already told you?

It’s the dark underside of our data-driven emotional consumption; it’s what gives us a need, in America, to fight our anti-art authorities not with the great protest art we were promised on election night but with children’s books, instantly available copies of reordered drivel, and the re-dressing of a geriatric judge into a “Street” cultural icon.

It’s a form of cynicism, this inability to create art authentically. The New York Times review (by Jennifer Senior) of the previously linked book reads: “Notorious RBG may be a playful project, but it asks to be read seriously.” And frankly, same! That’s one of the worst things about me, about all of us.

It’s a form of cynicism to be incapable of communication save through jokes. There’s a cynicism to the “dunking” on Twitter, a cynicism to the #trending page on Instagram, to the self-made event filters on Snapchat, to the YouTube algorithms, and to the spaces between “Mainstream” and “Counter-Culture” art. It’s all jaded now, isn’t it? How can we have a counter-culture, when all culture is of the self, when all culture is us? What can surprise us when we’ve been charting the data all along?

The end-of-year lists that are curated are often considered more preferable to the data-driven “Most-Streamed” playlists, but does either say anything about 2018? Can we chart what we were searching for in a critic’s recommendations, or the result of a corporate app being left open all night?

What we look for is what we’ve always been looking for: genuine emotion.

In a world that increasingly makes money off of stimulation and manipulation of our baser instincts, we turn to art to give us brief respite from the shock value of clickbait, from the shallowness of our own social media feeds. Art gives us an emotional reaction deeper than a single word. Film gives us a glimpse into a time we never really lived in. Theater puts our emotions into a funhouse mirror, someone else’s face on stage growing and changing in front of us.

There are real connections happening, despite our best efforts to have everything effortlessly and painlessly quick. America, and how we view her, might be growing increasingly jaded, but it needn’t be that way. There’s something resembling hope, at the very least. Something real. Something that gets your blood pumping when you hear it, that makes your hands and feet move to join in with some holy dance you vaguely remember being told about.

Will the Real Winner Please Stand Up?

So here’s the deal: most of the Best Of lists for 2018 have missed the most important song to come out this year.

That song is “Venom”, by Eminem (from the movie Venom).

Now just hold on, I hear you shout. You are not serious.

Oh, but I am. I wish I wasn’t!

Eminem is an artist I’ve never liked. I enjoyed a few of his earlier tracks, and while I went through the Nu-Metal phase so many young boys seem to, I never latched on to the angry latch-key kid from Detroit. I wasn’t much of a teenage rebel, but yes, I thought some rhymes of his were “sick” and I laughed at that song about his pee-pee, but I didn’t self-identify with the angry rapper who Dr. Dre was so fond of.

Eminem got older, and so did I. Strangely enough, I think what I’ve presented to the world has changed and evolved more than Eminem’s output since 1999. I’ve presented to my friends, family, and anyone listening, multiple personalities, schools, jobs, and friends: Eminem, musically, has gotten… slightly angrier. In 2018 he’s still rapping about how controversial he is (and then rapping again to address his previous rap), he’s still rhyming words in a way that invites parody, he’s still saying things like “My […] wiener’s in a combative mood” like he isn’t forty-six years old.

Even in “Venom” (which, again, I really must stress… is for a Sony film of the same name) Eminem is still rapping about Dr. Dre giving him a “Hell yeah!” as if he’s still a young kid trying to convince you he’s important.

That’s what’s so fascinating about Eminem; he’s the one insisting people aren’t recognizing his greatness. It’s the difference between a curated list and the most streamed. Counting 2018’s Kamikaze, Eminem’s albums have shot to the top spot on the Billboard charts NINE times in a row. Eminem has sold millions of copies of songs that most people don’t remember a few years later. There are a few songs that everyone knows, that we all collectively agreed are good, but there are countless more most of us haven’t even heard.

It’s like that with us too, right?

There are a few things everyone knows us for. Maybe it’s a specific party in college, maybe it’s a joke or a story people still tell. But there’s something. It’s what keeps us together. My stories are not your stories, so we spend our time telling these stories to each other, over and over again, remembering moments we weren’t ever around for.

Does Eminem know he’s famous? Sure, he raps about how he’s the greatest rapper alive, but so does every Soundcloud rapper on your block… put another way: does Eminem know how many people agree with him?

It’s the question we all dealt with in 2018: if our authentic self isn’t popular, what do we do?

For most of us, we still try to be true to ourselves, with varying degrees of success.

Eminem continues to make the same music. There’s something Shelley-esque in his self-charted path to validation. And make no mistake, to be rapping four decades into your life about how you’re the best, (and don’t you forget it!) takes a certain kind of commitment. For all his ups-and-downs, despite the relative certainty of economic success, Eminem’s albums have always been authentic. What can I say, what can I mean to criticize someone who is so clearly working on what he’s passionate about?

Eminem’s passion for telling you he’s the best is nearly incomparable. He drops Dr. Dre’s name more than Dre’s own headphone line does. When Eminem raps in “Venom” “And I know they’re gonna hate / But I don’t care, I barely can wait / To hit ‘em with the snare and the bass” it’s the battle cry of an artist who stopped being controversial thirty years ago. Controversial artists don’t hit the top of the charts every single time an album drops. Eminem dropped Kamikaze with no warning and still topped the charts. Eminem is the most inauthentic authentic rapper in the game, the most un-self-conscious self-conscious artist of our time.

The reason that “Venom” is the most important song of 2018 is that it’s dumb as hell. The verses are the same tired tropes we’ve all heard from Eminem. There’s stupid shoehorning of the Marvel franchise (and associated characters) right at the end that’s such a bizarre moment of product placement it’s truly abysmal. The verses aren’t good, is what I’m saying. They’re technically proficient but soulless, just like the last Eminem song you remember hearing on the radio. There’s a controversial part wherein Eminem claims responsibility for “you rd fools” which brings into question more than just the casual use of a fairly ill-thought-of word in an otherwise inoffensive song. Picture the tragedy of an edgy artist grown old: how else can one offend but through forced language, serving nothing, with no skin in the game save shock?

The whole song should be a soulless entry among several in a pretty soulless year. But, it’s not. There’s something that hits you the first time you hear. Something you don’t expect. Some element of humanity in a place it shouldn’t be – some sound you want to sing along to, to join in with, in a place that should be a corporatized, monetized wasteland.

Don’t bother reading along when you play this song. It won’t actually make sense. It’s Eminem rapping about how he’s about to (finally, one presumes) snap and show everyone how tough he really is. It’s corny. It shouldn’t work.

It’s the role of art to be good, or to be popular. That’s what people say.

But it’s something simpler; it’s the feeling of being alive put into a painting or a movie scene or a chorus. Art makes us remember we’re all different, yet all want the same things.

The chorus of “Venom” doesn’t stand on its words. It doesn’t even stand within the context of Kamikaze, or the fifth highest-grossing film of 2018. It stands on the catchiness of a simple snare and bass, on a middle-aged man humming about how much of a menace he is.

Go listen to the chorus.

Tell me what part isn’t perfect. Tell me it isn’t the sounds of another human being trying to be themselves. Tell me you don’t hum it too. Tell me the Most Important Song of 2018 isn’t the one that makes you feel alive when you least expect it.

Once you do that, tell me how to transcribe the stupid thing; this is the best I’ve got, and I’m shadow-boxing alone in my kitchen while I write this:

“ VENOMMMM – I got that – duh dinerm denum venommm – duh dinerm denum – don’t know what hit emmm – duh venommm – when they get hit with the – duh dinerm denum venommm – ENOMMMM”