Five Years of PopMatters: Introduction

Patrick Schabe

PopMatters looks back over the last five years and reflects on where we started, where we've been, and how far we've come. We're also presenting a list of Editors' Picks from each section of the site -- pieces collected from five years of the sharp, incisive writing that has been the hallmark of the PopMatters standard.

Please introduce yourself
Let's shock the world with what we know
Squeeze the world
'til it's small enough to join us heel to toe
-- Jesus Jones, "International Bright Young Thing"

There's something about the number five . . .

It's been a significant numeral over the course of human history. The number five is the foundation of some of the earliest known mathematics, and it continues to exert an influence as a prime number, a circular number, and a cornerstone of geometry. Every religious and occult group from the early Hindus up through the Illuminati have given the number five a place of primacy in their mysticism � five is the number of Man (humankind), the number for Mars and Active Energy, the day that God is said to have created the animals, the Pentateuch of the Torah, and the number of Principles or Maxims or Laws in a wide range of belief systems (those wacky Discordians even promote the Law of Fives, which states that "All things happen in fives, or are divisible by or multiples of fives, or are somehow directly or indirectly appropriate to five"). The five-pointed star is an ancient symbol that has known a cornucopia of meanings in its time, and is the most common feature on the flags of the world today. Five is also a number that appears everywhere in organic life, and certainly in the human body � five fingers, five toes, five senses.

It seems that something like the fifth anniversary of PopMatters should be a momentous occasion, something to shout about and celebrate as weighty and meaningful, a milestone of, if not epic, then at least grand proportions. But how? According to marriage tradition, five years is the wood anniversary, while modern trendsetters have assigned silverware as the proper gift. Neither of these seem particularly appropriate to an online magazine of global culture.

So instead, PopMatters is taking this opportunity to look back over the last five years and reflect on where we started, where we've been, and how far we've come. In order to mark the moment, we're also presenting a short list of Editors' Picks from each section of the site; pieces collected from five years of the sharp, incisive writing that has been the hallmark of the PopMatters standard.

After five years, the magazine has seen the publication of over 12,000 articles, reviews, interviews, and columns, and has watched the readership grow from small numbers of Internet cognoscenti to upwards of 750,000 monthly visitors from around the globe. Not bad for a site that began as the singular vision of its founder, Sarah Zupko, and was built from the ground up by her dedication and drive, without corporate sponsorship or financial backing.

In the intervening years, the scope of PopMatters has expanded to match the vision of its initial goal. While music and movie reviews have been the backbone of the magazine since its formation, PopMatters has steadily grown to encompass more and more of the cultural sphere: adding book, concert, comics, game, DVD/video, and television reviews; expanding its columns into a diverse range of topics that span everything from music journalism to political commentary; developing regular sections like interviews and sports; and producing timely and insightful special features. While an English language publication, PopMatters covers cultural products and identities the world over, including regional topics from Latin American to Asia and a broad spectrum of ethnic issues.

All of this would be nice but unremarkable if we were merely speaking into a void. But the fact is, cultural producers are paying attention, the journalism industry is watching, and the readers (and consumers) are reading. Our writers are turned to for expert opinion by other media outlets, our reviews are regularly cited in press kits, and readers frequently respond to pieces directly, moved to personally reply to commentary they either praise or refute.

None of this would be possible without the dedication and hard work of an excellent staff of writers. PopMatters is truly a labor of love, and in the past five years the magazine has been fortunate enough to include pieces by an amazing array of talent. Each and every writer has invested their time and effort towards making PopMatters a source of quality commentary and critical opinion, and as increasingly influential as the magazine's name may be, it's truly built on the strength of its community of contributors.

In honor of our writers, and as a way of patting ourselves on the back for five years of hard work and great writing, we're offering the Editors' Picks linked below. The editorial staff of PopMatters has chosen these pieces as a sampling of what the magazine has to offer in its scope, diversity, and quality.

And PopMatters continues to grow. As we stretch out into another five years, the magazine is still looking to the horizon for new ways to expand and bring readers more quality writing on global cultures from more perspectives. Watch this space! There's always something new around the corner, and there are always the same quality reviews and analysis waiting for you here, with new content five days a week. Taking a moment to look back to the past can be both enlightening and rewarding, especially when it encourages us to look forward to the future.

Five Years of PopMatters Editors' Picks

If there is one thing that is more difficult, more taxing, and even more painful than the ubiquitous year-end Top 10 list, it's asking a dedicated editorial staff to pick out highlights from the archives of their sections. Every piece worked on becomes something invested in, something to be proud of when it's perfected and published. Each writer offers something different and integral to the teams we work hard to build, and selecting one or another leaves us with the dreaded feeling of being the wicked step-mother, leaving a perfectly wonderful Cinderella behind. For every example of great writing or insight in "Article X", there seems to be a dozen other possibilities that also beg for attention. It's subjectively impossible to compile a "Best of PopMatters".

So in order to bring you a list of featured pieces that display the wide range of talents, voices, and ideas to be found in the pages of PopMatters, we've asked the editors to pick pieces from every area of the site, not just their own, with the express condition that the selections be a representative sample of what PopMatters has to offer in its scope, diversity, and quality. For each of these there are hundreds of similarly worthy pieces cataloged in the archives and being published daily. While the articles listed here are presented to give an overview of what PopMatters has been during the last five years, you're highly encouraged to explore any and all of the works in our archives, where you're guaranteed to find the same level of high quality reviews, essays, and interviews.

Additionally, if you've been checking in to PopMatters primarily to read up on the one subject that really interests you � to get an opinion on that hot new CD, or find out what the critics are saying about that funky movie you keep hearing about � and you've overlooked some of the other sections in the past, then this is your chance to discover the whole range of topics that PopMatters covers.

In each of the sections to follow, you'll find the writers of PopMatters tackling the cultures of the world head-on, working to shine a light on how we, as people, engage and interact with the products of a global information society. Collectively, we subscribe to no one theory, no singular political or methodological ideology. We are simultaneously investigative and interpretive, personally expressive and communally inclusive, intelligent and entertaining. In short, the collected works of PopMatters reflect the cultures the magazine examines, proving them to be diverse, complex, challenging, and always worthy of a closer look.





Literary Scholar Andrew H. Miller On Solitude As a Common Bond

Andrew H. Miller's On Not Being Someone Else considers how contemplating other possibilities for one's life is a way of creating meaning in the life one leads.


Rodd Rathjen Discusses 'Buoyancy', His Film About Modern Slavery

Rodd Rathjen's directorial feature debut, Buoyancy, seeks to give a voice to the voiceless men and boys who are victims of slavery in Southeast Asia.


Hear the New, Classic Pop of the Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" (premiere)

The Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" is a pop tune, but pop as heard through ears more attuned to AM radio's glory days rather than streaming playlists and studio trickery.


Blitzen Trapper on the Afterlife, Schizophrenia, Civil Unrest and Our Place in the Cosmos

Influenced by the Tibetan Book of the Dead, Blitzen Trapper's new album Holy Smokes, Future Jokes plumbs the comedic horror of the human condition.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Fire in the Time of Coronavirus

If we venture out our front door we might inhale both a deadly virus and pinpoint flakes of ash. If we turn back in fear we may no longer have a door behind us.


Sufjan Stevens' 'The Ascension' Is Mostly Captivating

Even though Sufjan Stevens' The Ascension is sometimes too formulaic or trivial to linger, it's still a very good, enjoyable effort.

Jordan Blum

Chris Smither's "What I Do" Is an Honest Response to Old Questions (premiere + interview)

How does Chris Smither play guitar that way? What impact does New Orleans have on his music? He might not be able to answer those questions directly but he can sure write a song about it.


Sally Anne Morgan Invites Us Into a Metaphorical Safe Space on 'Thread'

With Thread, Sally Anne Morgan shows that traditional folk music is not to be smothered in revivalist praise. It's simply there as a seed with which to plant new gardens.


Godcaster Make the Psych/Funk/Hard Rock Debut of the Year

Godcaster's Long Haired Locusts is a swirling, sloppy mess of guitars, drums, flutes, synths, and apparently whatever else the band had on hand in their Philly basement. It's a highly entertaining and listenable album.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.


The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.


Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.


'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.


'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"


Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.


The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".

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