Movie of the Year
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I have not seen nearly as many new films this year as I do most years--being the parent of a seven year-old kid, I think I've seen more animated features than not--but even if I had, I strongly suspect that Hou Hsiao-hsien's astonishing The Assassin would still, by a formidable margin, be my movie-of-the-year pick. Even by Hou's superlative standards, his latest work is exquisite and thoroughly entrancing, so strange and enigmatic, yet elegant, in its rhythms. It also provides more compelling evidence for why Hou is our greatest narrative filmmaker: that is, specifically, because he manages, at once, to work within the basic, essential constraints of narrative stoytelling and to subtly subvert every pro forma rule of plot and character. This is particularly pertinent given that Hou is operating within a genre, the wuxia drama, with such distinct rules and tropes. There is a story here, and a fascinating one, with a beginning, a middle, and an end. But the relationships between characters, and the connections betweens events, are as ethereal and shifting as the streaks of light and shadow that Hou, as ever, employs to masterful effect. The causes and meanings underlying the events of the narrative--the political and familial feuds, obscure details of history or legend--are purposefully dwarfed by the majestic enormity of the natural landscape, which Hou and DP Mark Li Ping-bin capture in stunning, painterly compositions that are formally classical but never remotely obvious. The fight sequences, occurring in fits and starts and often abruptly abbreviated or de-emphasized within the frame, further underscore the small-scale quality of human relations against the longue durée history of a natural environment that still, in the ninth century, wholly overwhelmed all human societies--even purportedly powerful empires. This fundamental aspect of the distant (premodern, pre-industrial) past has rarely been captured so purely or expressively on film.


I was honestly just going to post some observation about how Donald Trump has, rather shockingly, evolved from a mere idiot and asshole into nothing less than the American Marine Le Pen--if not, perhaps, Jean-Marie Le Pen--but the New Yorker beat me (and no doubt many others) very precisely to the punch. (They even sort of look alike, no?) As John Oliver reminded us, the European far right is quite a different animal from the North American far right. Now, the only thing distinguishing the hateful rhetoric here from there is the language in which it's delivered. What is more horrifying still, both Trump and Le Pen have at least a semi-realistic chance of getting themselves elected, thanks entirely to the lowest common denominator of humanity in their respective countries. Good on the politicians who've expressed disgust at Trump's insane proposals. Martin O'Malley put it best.


If pressed...
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At this precise moment, I would say this is a pretty fair accounting of the 25 films and albums that I like the most (with zero effort made to diversify w/r/t directors/artists):

01. Days of Heaven (Malick)
02. Au hasard Balthazar (Bresson)
03. The Passion of Joan of Arc (Dreyer)
04. Citizen Kane (Welles)
05. The Magnificent Ambersons (Welles)
06. Sunrise (Murnau)
07. Before Sunrise/Before Sunset/Before Midnight (Linklater)
08. The Night of the Hunter (Laughton)
09. Flowers of Shanghai (Hou)
10. Barry Lyndon (Kubrick)
11. Vertigo (Hitchcock)
12. The Tree of Life (Malick)
13. Taste of Cherry (Kiarostami)
14. Histoire(s) du Cinema (Godard)
15. Boyhood (Linklater)
16. Chimes at Midnight (Welles)
17. City Lights (Chaplin)
18. Tokyo Story (Ozu)
19. Sátántangó (Tarr)
20. The New World (Malick)
21. Diary of a Country Priest (Bresson)
22. Eyes Wide Shut (Kubrick)
23. The Searchers (Ford)
24. Notorious (Hitchcock)
25. Touch of Evil (Welles)

01. The Smiths, The Queen Is Dead
02. PJ Harvey, 4-Track Demos
03. PJ Harvey, To Bring You My Love
04. Van Morrison, Astral Weeks
05. Dusty Springfield, Dusty in Memphis
06. The Smiths, Hatful of Hollow
07. X, Wild Gift
08. Jay-Z, The Blueprint
09. Sleater-Kinney, Call the Doctor
10. Kathleen Edwards, Asking for Flowers
11. Love, Forever Changes
12. Prince, Sign 'o' the Times
13. John Lennon, Plastic Ono Band
14. Bruce Springsteen, Nebraska
15. The Beatles, Rubber Soul
16. Sleater-Kinney, Dig Me Out
17. James Brown, Live at the Apollo
18. Madonna, The Immaculate Collection
19. Talking Heads, Remain in Light
20. Kanye West, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
21. The Beach Boys, Pet Sounds
22. Lucinda Williams, Car Wheels on a Gravel Road
23. The Beatles, Revolver
24. PJ Harvey, Let England Shake
25. The Smiths, Strangeways, Here We Come


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Perhaps Thomas Jefferson didn't exactly write, "Every man has two countries - his own and France"--but he should have.

Nous sommes tous Français.

Nous sommes tous Parisiens.


Holy shit!

This track off the new Grimes record is amazing and addictive. I can't stop listening to it.


Reasons to be Thankful
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Situated between the Canadian and American Thanksgivings:

01. Family
02. Friends
03. The Dawn of the Justin Trudeau Era
04. The End of the Stephen Harper Era
05. Carly Rae Jepsen
06. John Oliver
07. Donald Trump's (finally) faltering poll numbers (though isn't Carson in some respects just the kinder, gentler, less-racist-only-by-default Trump?)
08. Despite Grantland's sad demise, FiveThirtyEight is still with us (for now anyway).
09. It is 18ºC/65ºF on Nov. 2nd in NYC.
10. See above re. family/friends. Also: Trudeau/Harper. (I miss Canada :()


Asking for Lattes
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I just found out (late, as usual) that one of my all-time favorite artists is currently taking an indefinite hiatus from music and is now the proud proprietor of a coffee shop in suburban Ottawa. This news is kind of lovely in its smallness (it fits with the intimate scale of her songs) but also strange. This is not, evidently, an "also/in addition to" project, like mega-artists lending their names to lines of clothing or accessories or perfume. Rather, it's like if, say, Morrissey said 'forget about making records and playing shows' and instead decided to open a bowling alley back in Salford.

I hope for Edwards' sake that her café is a continued success, but for my sake I really hope this hiatus doesn't persist for too long. She's one of the very best we've got, and, frankly, the qualitative difference between a mediocre cup of coffee and a fantastic cup of coffee, while not negligible by any means, is far smaller than the gap between a perfectly-crafted and sung Kathleen Edwards song and ninety-nine per cent of current music.


Gone from us too soon.

I checked in nearly every weekday, and was seldom, if ever, disappointed by what I found there. (Although, to be sure, there were times when I probably could've been more productive without Grantland's many welcome distractions...)

Because it was essentially sui generis it may sound like faint praise to say that it was the best site, or even publication, period, "of its kind" ever, but it's not. Above all, generic categorizations and qualifications aside, the writing was just really good. Sometimes really, really good--which, of course, should hardly be surprising given the diverse murderers' row of talent assembled.

Thank you, Grantland editors and staff. The Internet is a darker place without ye.


Two Albums
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Though I was initially a touch cool on Emotion, I've come, upon repeated listens, to love it almost as much as the near-perfect Kiss, if not, yet, quite as much, though I may very well get there still. "Run Away with Me" and "LA Hallucinations" are two of the best songs she's made to date, for sure, and there really isn't a less-than-terrific song on the album (even the expanded/deluxe version[s]). Between Kiss and Emotion, I feel like I *get* her more fully, in terms of where she falls as an artist. Even though the new record is somewhat more "adult"/"mature"/"sexy," it's still a very far cry from the dominant currents in fem-pop (Rihanna, Beyoncé, Nicki, Miley, LDR, even in some ways the Taylor Swift of Red/1989). CRJ is not angling for their turf, though, at all: she's our Kylie Minogue, i.e., pure, ebullient dance-pop bliss, "sexy" only incidentally, and edgy not at all ever.

Meanwhile, there's the pressing business of the new Miley album. I think wherever one falls, it's a pretty major statement from a major artist, and the people who condescendingly dismiss it are just assholes who would rather settle for less. As with Emotion, I like Dead Petz more and more the more I listen to it, though not by any means all of it (there's some pretty risible shit on there), but when it's good--"Karen Don't Be Sad," "Twinkle Song," "Space Boots," "Dooo It!," etc.--it's brilliant, and really sweet and moving. And as an album (such a deeply unfashionable thing in 2015!) it works so well, encouraging a charitable view of some of its missteps. It says a lot that in the album's opening moments Miley declares, via vocoder, that "I don't give a fuck," then on the closing track: "I had a dream / that I didn't give a fuck / but I give a fuck / I miss you so bad, I think I might die." The duration of the album itself, then, is Miley's incomprehensible "dream"?! Or her whole Bangerz-era "don't-give-a-fuck," Rihanna-esque persona/posturing (already belied by Bangerz's ultimate tenderness) is the dream?? Either way, I think the superficial transition from hip-hop/blaxploitation chick to "psychedelic" music-fest neo-hippie matters far less than the more profound transition from "I don't give a fuck" to "but I give a fuck," and what the great chasm between those two opposed statements represents.


Top 100 Films of the Half-Decade: 2010-14
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01. The Tree of Life (Malick)
02. Boyhood (Linklater)
03. Before Midnight (Linklater)
04. To the Wonder (Malick)
05. Goodbye to Language (Godard)
06. Karamay (Xu)
07. The Immigrant (Gray)
08. Lincoln (Spielberg)
09. Margaret (Lonergan)
10. Blue Is the Warmest Color (Kechiche)

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11. Beyond the Hills (Mungiu)
12. The Deep Blue Sea (Davies)
13. Greenberg (Baumbach)
14. Barbara (Petzold)
15. Of Gods and Men (Beauvois)
16. Meek’s Cutoff (Reichardt)
17. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Apichatpong)
18. The Act of Killing (Oppenheimer)
19. Only Lovers Left Alive (Jarmusch)
20. Clouds of Sils Maria (Assayas)

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21. The Turin Horse (Tarr)
22. This Is Not a Film (Panahi)
23. Zero Dark Thirty (Bigelow)
24. The Social Network (Fincher)
25. Phoenix (Petzold)
26. Kill List (Wheatley)
27. The Past (Farhadi)
28. Like Someone in Love (Kiarostami)
29. Inside Llewyn Davis (Coen/Coen)
30. Almayer’s Folly (Akerman)

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31. Spring Breakers (Korine)
32. The Lords of Salem (Zombie)
33. Two Days, One Night (Dardenne/Dardenne)
34. The Homesman (Jones)
35. Melancholia (von Trier)
36. The Cabin in the Woods (Goddard)
37. Moneyball (Miller)
38. The Golden Era (Hui)
39. Mr. Turner (Leigh)
40. Love Is Strange (Sachs)

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41. Film Socialisme (Godard)
42. Toy Story 3 (Unkrich)
43. Force Majeure (Östlund)
44. The Tale of Princess Kaguya (Takahata)
45. Bernie (Linklater)
46. The To Do List (Carey)
47. Stories We Tell (Polley)
48. Resident Evil: Retribution (Anderson)
49. Stray Dogs (Tsai)
50. Rhymes for Young Ghouls (Barnaby)

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51. Holy Motors (Carax)
52. The Loneliest Planet (Loktev)
53. 12 Years a Slave (McQueen)
54. A Dangerous Method (Cronenberg)
55. All Is Lost (Chandor)
56. The Secret of Kells (Moore/Twomey)
57. Young Adult (Reitman)
58. Winter’s Bone (Granik)
59. Somewhere (Coppola)
60. A Separation (Farhadi)

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61. Like Father, Like Son (Koreeda)
62. If It's Not Now, Then When? (Lee)
63. Black Death (Smith)
64. The Ghost Writer (Polanski)
65. Silver Linings Playbook (Russell)
66. Much Ado About Nothing (Whedon)
67. Winter Sleep (Ceylan)
68. The Tiger Factory (Woo)
69. I Wish I Knew (Jia)
70. Carlos (Assayas)

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71. Bluebeard (Breillat)
72. Air Doll (Koreeda)
73. Bridesmaids (Feig)
74. The Hunt (Vinterberg)
75. The Skin I Live In (Almodovar)
76. The Bling Ring (Coppola)
77. A Touch of Sin (Jia)
78. Starry Eyes (Kolsch/Widmeyer)
79. The Babadook (Kent)
80. Our Sunhi (Hong)

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81. The Wolf of Wall Street (Scorsese)
82. Dream Home (Pang)
83. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (Ceylan)
84. Gravity (Cuaron)
85. Postcards from the Zoo (Edwin)
86. Life without Principle (To)
87. Frances Ha (Baumbach)
88. Life of Riley (Resnais)
89. Winter Vacation (Li)
90. The Boxtrolls (Stacchi/Annable)

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91. Song of the Sea (Moore)
92. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Fincher)
93. Magic Mike (Soderbergh)
94. The Mill and the Cross (Majewski)
95. A Year without Summer (Tan)
96. The Adventures of Tintin (Spielberg)
97. Black Coal, Thin Ice (Diao)
98. The Grand Budapest Hotel (Anderson)
99. A Field in England (Wheatley)
100. East Meets West (Lau)


Song of the Summer?

Song of the Summer.


Get Up!
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It's Sleater-Kinney Day in Vancouver!!!

In honor of the reunion, Spin recently ranked all 109 S-K songs. My top 40, for the record, would look something like this:

01. "Good Things"
02. "Turn It On"
03. "Sympathy"
04. "The End of You"
05. "Not What You Want"
06. "I'm Not Waiting"
07. "Youth Decay"
08. "One More Hour"
09. "Start Together"
10. "Call the Doctor"
11. "Get Up!"
12. "I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone"
13. "The Remainder"
14. "Far Away"
15. "Dig Me Out"
16. "The Size of Our Love"
17. "Jumpers"
18. "Oh"
19. "Modern Girl"
20. "Stay Where You Are"
21. "It's Enough"
22. "Words and Guitar"
23. "No Cities to Love"
24. "#1 Must-Have"
25. "One Beat"
26. "Ballad of a Ladyman"
27. "The Drama You've Been Craving"
28. "My Stuff"
29. "Taste Test"
30. "Don't Think You Wanna"
31. "Night Light"
32. "Step Aside"
33. "You're No Rock n' Roll Fun"
34. "The Fox"
35. "No Anthems"
36. "Burn, Don't Freeze"
37. "White Rabbit"
38. "Angry Inch"
39. "Write Me Back, Fucker"
40. "A Real Man"

And the albums (all of which are great):

01. Call the Doctor
02. Dig Me Out
03. One Beat
04. The Hot Rock
05. All Hands on the Bad One
06. The Woods
07. No Cities to Love
08. s/t
On 'probable cause'
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Great interview with David Simon regarding the current situation in Baltimore.


"The king ordered it!"
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Well, he did.
Couples Therapy
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I went into Noah Baumbach's latest really hoping (and honestly, expecting) to like it a lot. Halfway through, I was convinced that I didn't (or wouldn't?) like it much at all. By the time Bowie's "Golden Years" played over the closing credits, I had come around somewhat, though I'm still not sure how much (or maybe more importantly, why) I like(d) it, if indeed I did. Because it's one of those movies that constantly made me think of other (in most instances, better) movies, perhaps the best way to work out my jumble of thoughts on While We're Young is through a series of short compare/contrasts.

While We're Young and The Mindy Project I like The Mindy Project. It's a good single-camera half-hour sitcom that thoroughly embraces its slightness--its sitcomness, in the best sense--in an age of 'cinematic' TV shows. It's also consistently funny and sweet. While We're Young is, surprisingly, not particularly funny, and its attempts at sweet mostly fall flat, but at least for the first half of Baumbach's film, it feels very much like a sitcom, in the most facile sense. The generation-gap gags--hip hop dance class, a street 'beach' party, a mescaline-fuelled spirit quest, etc.--were too obvious, and felt like a half-baked episode of Mindy, except that Danny's determined squareness would've made for a funnier contrast with the 'youthful,' bohemian rituals, and the ostensibly up-to-the-minute pop culture references would've been fresher on Mindy, too. Despite the presence of Adam Driver playing a very Adam-from-Girls-type character, this stretch of While We're Young traffics more in old-fashioned sitcom silliness than the Quality Television mode of Lena Dunham's show.

While We're Young and Greenberg This comparison is important less for how While We're Young fits within Baumbach's oeuvre than for the stark difference in cadence between these two films. Greenberg, an inexhaustibly terrific movie and the number-one reason why I expected to unequivocally like While We're Young, is so unhurried in its pacing, taking its cues from the sun-slowed rhythms of a lazy summer. I keep finding new ways into Greenberg each time I revisit it. I never found a way into While We're Young, a way to be genuinely engaged and care. Even when the new film becomes a leaner, meaner affair in its last act, it's still too plotty and airtight. I also much prefer Ben Stiller's full-on malcontent in Greenberg to the milder, more Woody Allen-ish malcontent he plays this time.

While We're Young and Reality Bites Winona Ryder was my first movie-star crush. When I saw Reality Bites as a kid, I really wanted her to choose Ethan Hawke's Troy. He was cool, and smart, and sensitive--read italics as scare quotes---and women like Winona should end up with cool, smart, sensitive people, no? Watching Reality Bites again a couple years ago, for the first time in a long while, I was rooting instead for Ben Stiller's Michael, partly because he now seemed the lesser of two evils and partly because, for christ's sake, he was at least a fucking grown-up. While We're Young, in a nutshell, is about re-watching Reality Bites twenty years later, pulling for Troy because your own life-circumstances are maybe a little too Michael, then abruptly pulling an about-face when you remember what should have already been obvious, which is that Troy is, at best, full of shit and, at worst, completely insufferable.

While We're Young and Before Midnight On the other hand, maybe Troy turned some decisive corner and grew up to be Jesse, who is far from perfect, but is at any rate a thoughtful, interesting adult in a way that Troy wasn't (yet?) and Stiller's Josh in While We're Young isn't quite. Having a partner like Celine certainly doesn't hurt in turning brooding, "sensitive" boys into fully-formed, if imperfect, men, though Naomi Watts's Cornelia (her best performance since Mulholland Drive) is no slouch, and even though (or very possibly because) her character is under-written, she's the MVP of Baumbach's film (Charles Grodin is a close runner-up). But as (like Before Midnight) an ultimately resilient portrait of domesticity, While We're Young lacks both the affection and the necessary seriousness of Jesse and Celine in Greece. Maybe Jesse and Celine live lives much like Josh and Cornelia when they're back in Paris going about the grind of their everyday obligations? Maybe between films they're taking MDMA with the Euro hipsters from the "Prayer in C" video? Maybe. But I really hope not.

While We're Young and Neighbors I thought occasionally of the Before... films, and even once or twice of Eyes Wide Shut, while watching While We're Young, but far more than either I thought of Neighbors. The couple played by Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne are much closer in spirit to Josh and Cornelia, with Zach Efron and Dave Franco serving a similar narrative function to Driver and Amanda Seyfried here. The difference, though, is that Neighbors is, purportedly, a broad/dumb, gag-to-gag comedy that only secretly has a big, generous heart and some smart things to say about marriage, parenthood, and the generation gap (if not, regrettably, the toxic, misogynistic culture of fraternities). While We're Young is, purportedly, an incisive critique of marriage, mid-life crises, and overconfident millennials, but it's too broad and silly and on-the-nose. Until it's not...

While We're Young and The Shape of Things...and it morphs into something like Neil LaBute's 2003 film. Remember that one? It's been over a decade since I last saw it, but I can still recall feeling awful for poor Paul Rudd following the third-act meta-twist. While We're Young employs a comparable, late 'gotcha', but I didn't feel...much, either for the duped party or the duper. Which is a fairly serious problem given that, unlike LaBute's chilly exercise, wherein the theatrical quartet are pawns arranged just so, While We're Young is a character piece--it's about people first and foremost. Unless it's not...

While We're Young and F for Fake (??!) ...and it's really about authenticity, and forgery, and the role of Truth in Art. If so, and this might well be the case, it would help to explain both the (seemingly) autopilot first half and the suddenly schematic later section -- but the Welles comparison is still sacrilege: Catfish is closer. Or Woody Allen doing Bergman.


(Re)Start Together

In less than a month, I get to see my all-time favorite band again - for the first time in a decade!
'Excited' is an understatement.


On Beauty
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I recently re-watched The Immigrant, which must be one of the most beautiful films ever made. I also recently revisited Barry Lyndon (on Blu-ray) and Flowers of Shanghai (on film as part of the Cinematheque's Hou Hsiao-hsien retrospective), my favorite films by Kubrick and Hou respectively, and I really think James Gray's movie is in that same superlative territory, at least in terms of exquisite, overwhelming beauty. Who else working today approaches such rapture? Malick, of course. Godard sometimes: In Praise of Love for sure, and parts of Goodbye to Language. And Terence Davies once or twice per decade. After that...


Mephitis mephitis!
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But, luckily, no stinkers below.

01. Boyhood (Linklater)
02. Goodbye to Language (Godard)
03. The Immigrant (Gray)
04. Only Lovers Left Alive (Jarmusch)
05. Clouds of Sils Maria (Assayas)
06. Phoenix (Petzold)
07. Two Days, One Night (Dardenne/Dardenne)
08. The Homesman (Jones)
09. The Golden Era (Hui)
10. Mr. Turner (Leigh)
11. Love Is Strange (Sachs)
12. Force Majeure (Östlund)
13. The Tale of Princess Kaguya (Takahata)
14. Winter Sleep (Ceylan)
15. Starry Eyes (Kolsch/Widmeyer)
16. The Babadook (Kent)
17. Life of Riley (Resnais)
18. The Boxtrolls (Stacchi/Annable)
19. Song of the Sea (Moore)
20. Black Coal, Thin Ice (Diao)

01. Marion Cotillard – Two Days, One Night; The Immigrant
02. Patricia Arquette – Boyhood
03. John Lithgow - Love Is Strange 04. Kristen Stewart – Clouds of Sils Maria
05. Ralph Fiennes – The Grand Budapest Hotel
06. Tilda Swinton – Snowpiercer; Only Lovers Left Alive
07. Nina Hoss – Phoenix
08. Timothy Spall – Mr. Turner
09. Ethan Hawke – Boyhood
10. Channing Tatum – Foxcatcher

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01. Lykke Li - I Never Learn
02. EMA - The Future's Void
03. Miranda Lambert - Platinum
04. Nicki Minaj - The Pinkprint
05. Tove Lo - Queen of the Clouds
06. Taylor Swift - 1989
07. Iggy Azalea - The New Classic
08. Lucinda Williams - Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone
09. Lana Del Rey - Ultraviolence
10. White Lung - Deep Fantasy

01. Ariana Grande feat. Iggy Azalea – "Problem"
02. Taylor Swift – "Blank Space"
03. Shakira feat. Rihanna – "Can’t Remember to Forget You"
04. Beyonce – "7/11"
05. Tove Lo - "Habits"
06. Charli XCX - "Boom Clap"
07. Iggy Azalea feat. Charli XCX – "Fancy"
08. Avril Lavigne – "Hello Kitty"
09. Ariana Grande feat. The Weekend - "Love Me Harder"
10. Azaealia Banks – "Chasing Time"