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the upside down

‘Stranger Things’: 11 amazing fan art homages to the show’s kick-ass women

Big Mike Walton/FalsePositive

Sure, Netflix‘s new creepy, retro-inspired horror hit, Stranger Things, has great male characters, including a gang of bike-riding, mystery-solving boys, a grizzled, gruff police chief, and a mad scientist. But the women of the show—Eleven, Nancy Wheeler, and Will’s mom Joyce Byers—provide a lot of the strength, intelligence and perseverance required to defeat the monstrous thing that plagues the town of Hawkins. At first they each seem like typical damsels in distress, but they each turn out to be so much more. And among those of us who have fallen in love with the ladies of Stranger Things are artists. There’s so much Stranger Things fan art, and so much of it is glorious: Benny! Barb! Dustin! Lucas! Someone even created VHS packaging for the show!!!


But the illustrations and graphics we love best are the ones that celebrate the kick-ass women in the series. Below, some of the most amazing ones we’ve seen:

1. Artist Big Mike Walton calls this a “digital doodle,” but it captures Eleven’s intensity more than you’d think something called a “doodle” ever could.

2. Ohio illustrator Lisa Sterle put Nancy Wheeler in a T-shirt you can buy from Human.

3. Ryan Maniulit sketched Nancy armed and ready (with Jonathan and his nail-bat) as well as Eleven and some of her outfit changes.

4. Artist Glen Brogan imagined the show as a classic ’80s Dungeons and Dragons book.

5. English illustrator Emmeline Pidgen made this beautiful animated gif of Joyce Byers and her lights.

6. Simple, yet so cool: Matheus Bitencourt of Brazil has created some minimalist, retro Stranger Things pixel art… more here!

7. Cheyne Gallarde is an artist and illustrator who lives in Hawaii, and his drawing of Joyce cradling her lights is hauntingly beautiful.

8. Illustrator Brandan Ray Leathead sketched a much, much more frazzled Joyce. Hello from the Upside Down!

9. Adrien ADN Noterdaem made the Simpsons version of Eleven! More Simpsons’d Stranger Things characters here. (Dustin looks a lot like Nelson Muntz!)

10a, 10b. Marilia Feldhues’s drawings of Nancy and Joyce really capture the wary vigilance, anxiety and paranoia. It’s all in the eyes.

11. Lastly: How incredible is this Eleven diorama by Cuddles and Rage—complete with tiny Eggos?!?!?


Ugh. That was 11 but here are a few more, by Miranda Meeks, Crystal Graziano, and Edwardian Taylor, because I can’t resist. I just love Eleven so much.

Oh, and there’s this:

Bonus: What if Stranger Things were a video game?

Power Man

Netflix’s ‘Luke Cage’ asks if the world is really ready for a bulletproof black man


The new trailer for Netflix and Marvel’s upcoming Luke Cage series opens with the Harlem-based hero deciding that it’s time he took to the streets of New York City to protect the innocent.

Unlike Daredevil and Jessica Jones, which were critiqued for their depictions of New York that were devoid of people of color, Luke Cage makes it abundantly clear that this particular superhero story is a black one. The trailer cuts to a powerful shot of Cage, a black man with super strength and bulletproof skin, walking down a dark street and pulling a hoodie up over his head as Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s “Shimmy Shimmy Ya” swells in the background.

In Marvel’s comics, Luke Cage is a former convict who was sent to prison after being framed for heroin possession by his former best friend. While locked up, Cage becomes the subject of super-soldier experiments that gift him with superhuman abilities. He then escapes back to New York City where he restarts his life as a superhero for hire.

When we first met Cage, played by Mike Colter, in Netflix’s Jessica Jones, he was a quiet and mysterious man running a bar in Harlem. Luke Cage picks up just a few months after Jessica Jones‘s conclusion. While the series will focus on Cage dealing with neighborhood corruption and crime, much of the buzz is tied to the fact that it seems to be in direct conversation with a number of issues the black community is currently dealing with.

In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, showrunner Cheo Hodari Coker explained that now more than ever was the perfect time for a story about a bulletproof black man becoming a superhero. Cage’s powers, he said, wouldn’t just be symbolic—they would drive the show forward.

“In terms of just looking at how that affects a neighborhood, in terms of looking at, for example, how it not only changes law enforcement but also changes the criminal world,” Coker said. “It’s like Luke’s entrance into this world changes the ecology of the entire neighborhood.”

SAN DIEGO, CA - JULY 21:  (L-R) Writer/producer Cheo Hodari Coker,  moderator Jeph Loeb, and actors Mike Colter, Alfre Woodard, Mahershala Ali, Simone Missick, Theo Rossi, and Frank Whaley attend Netflix/Marvel's 'Luke Cage' panel at Comic-Con International 2016 at San Diego Convention Center.Getty Images for Netflix

The 'Luke Cage' cast at this year's San Diego Comic Con.

In the past few months, comic books (and to a lesser extent, their cinematic adaptations) have become increasingly reflective of the real world. Midnighter and Apollo are redefining what a stable, queer relationship looks like, Loki’s running a Trump-esque campaign for president, and Ms. Marvel has given its readers a thorough history lesson about the Partition of India.

Still, when it comes to stories about black people in the age of Black Lives Matter and police brutality, comics haven’t quite caught up. As one of Marvel’s oldest black characters born out of the blaxploitation era, Luke Cage has always been one of the publisher’s mouthpieces for social commentary relating to black issues. Now, more than ever, the Marvel Cinematic Universe and its fans need a hero like Luke Cage who can put his hands up and not worry if the person he’s standing in front will still shoot him.

World Stop

The best ‘Feelin Myself’ fan art is ‘pretty on fleek’


Nicki Minaj’s self-confidence, pretty girl anthem, “Feelin’ Myself” featuring Beyoncé finally got a full-length video this week that was released exclusively on Tidal. And while the incredible visuals of Beyoncé and Nicki living their best lives — complete with In-N-Out, expensive booze, pink furs, and kiddie pools — was the visual kickoff this summer needed, the fan art that followed is what really grabbed our attention.

These are our fave internet interpretations of the immediately-iconic video:

spoonychan2via spoonychan.tumblr.com
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via Bevsi.tumblr.com

via Bevsi.tumblr.com


via StephWerning.tumblr.com

via StephWerning.tumblr.com

via SabraDanielle.tumblr.com

via SabraeDanielle.tumblr.com

via chrissyrules.tumblr.com

via chissyrules.tumblr.com

via kuripuart.tumblr.com

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via Bevsi.tumblr.com

via tawanasimone.com

via tawanasimone.com

via Bevsi.tumblr.com

via Bevsi.tumblr.com

Feelin myself

A photo posted by Madeleine Flores (@heymadeleine) on

I'm feelin my feelin my 😎 #feelingmyself #hoodratken

A photo posted by Drealun Beasley (@hoodratken) on


Every single LGBT romance movie streaming on Netflix, ranked

Elena Scotti/FUSION

If you grew up gay in an era before Netflix, you probably remember watching your first low-budget, straight-to-DVD (or straight-to-VHS!) LGBT romance movie. These movies had none of the critical fanfare of your Brokebacks or even the cult following that propelled the likes of But I’m a Cheerleader and Bound to the forefront of our queer entertainment-starved collective consciousness. You only stumbled on them because they were the only single-copy rental resting on the new release wall at your local Blockbuster Video. And if you were anything like me, you would devour them discreetly while the rest of the family was asleep.

Many of these movies flew under the cineplex radar because of their subject matter, but more than anything else, their typically questionable quality never made them must-sees for anyone but young gay teens with no other options. Most of them aped the same tortured themes that mainstream movies were interested in exploring with gay characters. Namely: Coming out, the inner turmoil that comes from coming out, coming out and getting AIDS, or getting brutalized just after you’ve come out. But thankfully, a few more lighthearted films made it through without dwelling too seriously on any of these subjects. Movies like The Broken Hearts Club, Trick, and Mambo Italiano—while not good, exactly—stick out in my mind as romcoms that felt honest and gay and, most importantly, fun.

With the advent of crowdfunding and the increased accessibility of filmmaking technology, the barrier to entry to producing a movie has been lowered considerably. And thanks to streaming services like Netflix, seeing these movies outside of your local arthouse or LGBT film festival is finally a possibility. This is a doubled-edged sword for queer folk today. Accessibility is almost always a good thing, but without even the most basic obstacles to making a movie—like, a budget—what was once a pretty sparse playing field is now riddled with unwatchable softcore indie disasters.

Surveying the selection of 58 movies categorized as LGBT Romances currently available to stream on Netflix, the options can seem overwhelming. You’ve probably already been burnt by one (or more) of these movies before and don’t feel like sifting through the muck to find a gem. That’s where I come in. Masochist that I am, I decided to watch all 58 movies and rank them below. My method is hardly scientific—wildly, I picked the movies I liked best. I’m not a critic, but if there’s one thing I know, it’s a good romance.

While you’ll find many of these rankings to be maddeningly arbitrary, the one concrete criterion in my little grading rubric is that the movie must depict something resembling a romance. If it doesn’t, that’s a little like forgetting to put your name on your test and automatically failing—although it’s admittedly Netflix’s fault for falling asleep at the genre categorization wheel.

So let’s begin:

58. Ambrosia (2012)

Netflix Synopsis: A beautiful fashion designer’s excitement in landing a dream job is complicated when her lesbian boss takes more than a professional interest in her.

There are a handful of movies on this list that I’ve ranked low purely because they seem grossly miscategorized as romances. That’s true of Ambrosia, but it’s also just a truly bad movie. What begins as a prototypical “wife in bad marriage finds comfort in a local lesbian” story instead turns into a limp, poorly written, acted and shot “wife is continually harassed in a bathroom by a predatory lesbian” story. The whole thing reads more like a faith-based film rather than anything resembling a compelling lesbian romance.

57. All Yours (2014)

A tattooed Argentine cad. A pudgy baker. Their flirty cashier co-worker. As love triangles go, this one is a bit odd.

This description doesn’t come right out and say this is a romcom, but leading with genre keywords like “love triangle,” “flirty,” and “pudgy” definitely oversells both the rom and com aspects of this movie. It’s a finely crafted piece of filmmaking, but takes such a bleak view of what it means to be gay (any man-on-man affection in this movie made me feel so desperately sad about being gay in general that I had to remind myself my life isn’t a dour European indie) that it’s hard to recommend All Yours for anything beyond the hard Argentinian dick on full display in the cold open.


'The Country Teacher.'

56. The Country Teacher (2008)

After breaking off a relationship with another man, a teacher takes a job in a small Czech village, where he develops a close friendship with a widow.

Another curiously categorized “romance.” This movie does feature two graphic cow-birthing scenes and one instance of child rape, but there really isn’t much romance to be found. Listen, I know this is a highbrow movie I’m supposed to admire, and I fully admit I’m probably not enough of a cinephile to appreciate its technical prowess, but if you’re just looking to watch two dudes fall in love in the Czech countryside, this isn’t the film for you.

55. Wasp (2015)

OIiver and James take a romantic getaway to the south of France. But alluring Caroline upsets their tenuous bliss when she sets her sights on Oliver.

God bless gay men and our propensity for getaways, a framing device for our movies that will live on forever. This one, though, is a dull little chamber piece that seems to think it has more interesting things to say about the nature of sexuality than it actually does. The actors do a serviceable job and the location is pretty enough to look at, but I’m a bit bored with movies whose premises could be completely unraveled by the presence of one character who accepts and understands the existence of bisexuality.

54. Beginners (2011)

When his elderly, dying father tells him he’s gay, a shy artist grapples with the news… and his own love life.

A sort of joyless, capital-Q quirky film. Christopher Plummer does some fine work here as the titular beginner, but the movie never spends a whole lot of time exploring his inner life. That’s not to say this is a bad movie, but it sits where it does on this list because you came to this little corner of Netflix to see a gay romance—not to see Ewan McGregor fall in love with Melanie Laurent.

'Sand Dollars.'

'Sand Dollars.'

53. Sand Dollars (2014)

Against the backdrop of a beautiful seaside resort, their romance has flourished. But nothing lasts forever.

Of the handful of movies I had to kick to the bottom of this list because of my own arbitrary grading scale, this one was the most difficult. I really liked this movie—it’s beautifully written and acted. But it’s not a romance. It’s the story of a desperate, manipulative Dominican woman trying to maintain her years-long seduction of a much older French woman. And thinking about some innocent gay in a mood to see a romance and watching this sad little tale instead bummed me out too much. So as much as I liked you, Sand Dollars, here you are at #54. At least you didn’t have any child molestation.

52. Ragtag (2006)

When childhood friends reunite, their bond has become even stronger—although the paths they’ve taken with their lives present a challenge.

This isn’t completely without merit, but the Canadian public-access production values and some truly bonkers choices on the part of the director and writer make Ragtag tough to get through. There are definitely some glimmers of an interesting story here, but with all its handicaps, the success really rests in the hands of the two stars and their chemistry. They weren’t quite strong enough to carry this thing across the finish line.

51. Happy End (2014)

Two women embark on a wild adventure to deliver the ashes of their friend to her final resting place, against the wishes of the family.

I’m happy to report that, having completed this project, “lesbian road trip” is now one of my all-time favorite genres of films, but this isn’t a shining example. When I first started watching the many LGBT romance movies of international origin of Netflix, I wondered if I would be able to differentiate good and bad acting through a language barrier, which, in retrospect, was a devastatingly idiotic thing to think. As it turns out, acting is just acting, and the acting in this movie is bad! Acting aside, there is a scene that so grossly misunderstands how marijuana edibles are made that I almost turned Happy End off right then and there.

50. Is it Just Me? (2010)

Successful writer Blaine is intimidated by the overt sexuality of guys. But all that changes when he meets the man of his dreams online—or does it?

No, it really doesn’t. There isn’t really much of a change in any of these characters from start to finish, which is particularly upsetting for Blaine (Nicholas Downs), who inadvertently catfishes a hot guy he meets in a chatroom (in 2010, imagine!). Blaine is a deeply unlikable character. He’s so judgmental and sanctimonious about his standards of sexual purity that watching this movie is a bit like spending 90 minutes chatting with one of countless gay men who truly believe they are the only gay person who isn’t “really into the scene.” Even if you do not hook up, nothing about the stale acting or dull plotting of this movie will appeal to you.

49. Loving Annabelle (2006)

An esteemed young poetry teacher at a Catholic boarding school risks everything when she engages in a feverish affair with a female student.

At a brisk 75 minutes, this film has the distinction of making its relatively short running time feel like an interminable PBS miniseries. Trapped in the curious place between glossy lesbian softcore and Lifetime Movie of the Week, Loving Annabelle has a hard time figuring out exactly what it wants to be or what it wants to say. There are a few moments of fun Hogwarts vibes at the boarding school that will make you wish Annabelle would spend more time with her weird, wide-eyed, socially deficient, possum-keeping roommate and less time trying to awkwardly seduce her teacher.

48. The Seminarian (2006)

Closeted Ryan questions his faith as he struggles with his relationship with a male student and his theological thesis on “The Divine Gift of Love.”

I struggled with where to put this one on the list. On one hand, this movie suffers from the same acting, pacing, writing and visual issues that plague most of the worst entries on here. But on the other hand, the acting, pacing, writing and visuals are all so mesmerizingly bad that it’s almost fun to watch. Virtually none of the interactions in this movie play out like any human behavior I’ve ever seen (at one point the protagonist answers the door fully nude for no discernible reason), which gives the whole thing a The Room-like sheen to its badness.

47. Bloomington (2010)

Ex-child actor Jackie goes to college and falls for an engaging female professor who has a reputation for breaking the hearts of other women.

If you loved the mommy issues-tinged forbidden romance of Loving Annabelle but hated the statutory rape, Bloomington might be for you. This film is much more competently made, but still, the stars feel like they were ripped from The Face on the Milk Carton or some similar made-for-TV dreck. They can’t quite muster up the Sapphic chemistry necessary to make any of this believable.

'Stud Life.'

'Stud Life.'

46. Stud Life (2012)

Wedding photographers by day, black butch lesbian JJ and her white gay best friend Seb navigate London’s queer street life, looking for love.

The description seems to provide an interesting premise to start with, and JJ (much more so than her “white gay best friend” Seb) is charismatic as hell. But nothing else about this movie seems to click. Stud Life has a lot to say about a scattershot collection of topics (race, butch/femme binaries, and sex work among them), but it never really gets around to completing a thought. To make matters even worse, a minor subplot involves JJ emerging as a budding YouTube personality, which may either horrify or delight you.

45. Elena Undone (2010)

One is gay, the other straight. These women aren’t supposed to love each other, but fate keeps bringing them together.

Pat, inoffensive lesbian schlock. This movie, at least, has a somewhat serviceable romance at its center, and isn’t afraid to give us some nice, glossy lesbian sex scenes in the meantime. The whole thing has the comforting look and feel of a Shania Twain music video, but underserves the intrinsic conflict of its premise (Elena seems a little too eager to get “undone”). Watching a pastor’s wife fall for a lesbian agoraphobic is not without its charms, though. A “love guru” character used as a framing device is the most embarrassing thing about Elena Undone, but also brings about one of its most affecting, romantic scenes, between a former nun and the woman she fell in love with.

44. A Perfect Ending (2012)

After confessing an unusual secret, a repressed wife—prompted by her friends—decides to explore her sexuality with a high-priced call girl.

Spoiler alert, guys—the unusual secret is she can’t cum. There we have it. Thankfully, in the nearly 120 minutes of this film (making this almost unbelievably long, by the standards of the genre), she cums plenty. This movie has a skeevy Cinemax undertone that makes you feel like you’re watching it late at night at an eighth-grade sleepover, yet it also reaches for a bizarre overwrought quality that’s frequently hilarious. Case in point: A scene in which Morgan Fairchild plays a madame who weeps over a bunch of Barbie dolls she keeps as representations of her various prostitutes. It’s so bananas that you almost don’t believe it’s happening in the middle of a sexual awakening/cancer (oh, did I mention the repressed wife also has cancer?) movie.

43. Eating Out: All You Can Eat (2009)

A hopeful romantic is tired of life’s little appetizers. With a gal pal’s help, he’s going after a hunky dessert.

The Eating Out series has become emblematic of the kind of softcore, campy gay films that often end up on Netflix, and it’s no wonder why. These movies contain many of the same qualities that make the later entries on this list fun to watch, and a whole lot of the qualities that make the preceding movies so hard to watch. In this, the third installment (all but the second of the five Eating Out movies are currently available to stream), the protagonist from the first two films has just perished tragically in a car crash while giving road head, and is promptly replaced by his sex-negative cousin Casey. The choice to reboot the series with a new cast in the same universe is a bizarre one, as I’m not sure your average Eating Out fan is clamoring for more coherent continuity, but God bless them regardless. With an overly convoluted plot involving (another) instance of catfishing, various inexplicable Roman Holiday references, and the series’ trademark sexual orientation comedy of errors, this one is by far the least watchable of the five.

42. Eating Out (2005)

Caleb pretends to be gay to attract Gwen, who relates better to gay men than to straight ones. But the plan soon backfires in this comedy of errors.

The first feature-length film from writer/director Q. Allan Brocka (who wrote and/or directed five of the movies on this list) feels slightly more ambitious and much more spirited than its eventual sequels. That said, Brocka’s attempt to inject quirky banter (which today would probably conjure up comparisons to Diablo Cody) into the script—characters say “I gotta Jetta” and “Bye… Sexual!” as though normal humans are always looking for more and more complicated ways to say goodbye—ends up feeling clumsy and bizarre. But what Brocka does get is sex, and that shows in one of the best threeway phone sex scenes ever committed to film.

41. Eating Out: The Open Weekend (2011)

His boyfriend’s craving a trip to the love buffet. A little eye candy is just the thing to inspire jealousy.

The final entry in the five-film series limps to a conclusion in a mostly competent way. Apparently unable to find a new twist on the “someone is lying about their sexual orientation” throughline of the previous movies, the boys from the rebooted cast end up at a Palm Springs resort and grapple with the idea of monogamy (or, more accurately, non-monogamy). The movie gestures at saying some compelling things about the nature of gay relationships, but ultimately, at this stage in the series, you’re so uninvested in most of the carryovers from the previous movies, it’s hard to really care.

'Eating Out: Drama Camp.'

'Eating Out: Drama Camp.'

40. Eating Out: Drama Camp (2011)

Shirtless guys, secret love triangles and a steamy Shakespeare play. They’re in for one hot summer.

Of the four Eating Out movies, this one has the least to say about anything, and it’s all the better for it. Rather than attempting to explore the nature of sexuality, promiscuity, or monogamy, it embraces the intrinsic absurdity of its premise and sends a bunch of adult gay men to drama camp. Why a bunch of adults would want to go to a drama camp is a question that’s never answered, but the plot barrels full steam ahead without waiting for you to ask in the first place. It’s the most fun outing of the series, with Drew Droege elevating every scene he’s in. Drama Camp even has a trans storyline that is surprisingly well handled.

39. Room in Rome (2010)

Two women meet and experience sensual and emotional fulfillment during a steamy encounter in a hotel room where they share secrets as well as sex.

You know, it’s entirely possible that these two women are brilliant actors in their native tongues, but they were forced to speak English in this movie, and it’s a bit like watching a pornier version of Before Sunrise starring two Melania Trumps. If that sounds like your bag, then honestly God bless you and keep you.

38. Love and Other Catastrophes (1996)

Their love lives are falling to pieces. That doesn’t leave them much time to worry about graduating.

A queer, Australian spiritual cousin to Reality Bites, but with far less to say. The lesbian romance that supposedly makes it eligible for this section has a lot of promise, but is frequently pushed aside in favor of what feels like the A-plot for most of the movie—watching some lesbian try to gather the signatures required to switch her major, which is exactly as compelling to watch as it sounds.

37. Of Girls and Horses (2014)

Troubled teenager Alex is taken in by a gentle riding instructor and finds herself connecting with both the horses and an aristocratic new arrival.

If you ever wanted to watch a surly German teenager learn to take care of horses for 40 minutes, this movie is for you. While the movie is beautifully shot and well acted, the pacing is glacial and the coming-of-age romance between the two teens (thank God it’s between the teens) is a bit dull.

36. The Perfect Wedding (2012)

While spending Christmas with his parents, recovering alcoholic Paul falls for a handsome houseguest who’s pretending to be in love with Paul’s ex.

In premise alone, this is the first movie that really scratches that romcom itch. Unfortunately, The Perfect Wedding turns out to be a head-spinning mess. With so many elements—Christmas, a wedding, a dad with Alzheimer’s, a pretend relationship, and alcoholism—all mixed into one movie, you’d need the charisma of a dozen Kate Hudsons and one or two Matthew McConaugheys for any of it to seem cogent. (And, to be clear, there are exactly zero Kate Hudsons and zero Matthew McConaugheys in this movie.)

35. Heterosexual Jill (2013)

Jill will do anything to prove that she’s no longer a lesbian, including forcing her ex-girlfriend to go on a date with her to show her disinterest.

While the script is almost impenetrably confusing—to the point that you’re constantly left with the impression that you must have missed a large chunk of the movie—the cast is so winning that they almost make up for it. While most of these movies star shiny, forgettable femmes, this movie’s greatest asset is its star, Michelle Ehlen, an authentically butch lesbian. Ehlen’s comedic timing and presence make me wish she had popped up in many more of these films.

34. Longhorns (2011)

Curious about the gay fantasies he’s been having, a Texas frat boy sets his sights on hooking up with an openly gay man on campus.

A clichéd and inoffensive coming-out tale set on a Texas college campus in the early ’80s. A sort of porn-with-a-plot but without the porn. What it does have in spades is plenty of under-the-covers mutual masturbation scenes, several flaccid dick shots, and a sweet (if slightly flat) romance at its heart.

'Tru Love.'

'Tru Love.'

33. Tru Love (2013)

Unwilling to trust, Tru passes through a series of lesbian affairs. Yet her outlook shifts when she meets a friend’s mother, and sparks begin to fly.

Well, immediate points deducted for the title, that’s for sure. Not quite a love story, this movie nevertheless manages to take an interesting look at a woman who begins to come into her own late in life with the help of her daughter’s lesbian friend. The story itself has a few bizarre elements to keep you paying attention (you bet your ass Alice talks to the ghost of her dead husband), but the cast is either very bland or—in the case of Kate Trotter’s Alice—in another movie entirely.

32. Bear City (2010)

As he comes to grips with his attraction to big, hairy men, cute cub Tyler struggles to figure out his place within the tight-knit bear community.

It’s unfortunate that someone without a chiseled body couldn’t just casually appear in any movie aimed at gay men, but such is the world we’ve created for ourselves, I guess! Instead, they have to pop up in movies like this, which doesn’t just feature bears, but operates as a sort of primer for someone who’s never heard of such a thing. While I’m sure those (probably straight) people are out there, and maybe they’ll appreciate Bear City’s borderline educational tone, I would have preferred a movie that trusted its audience not be shocked at the sight of regular-looking dudes on their television screen. While the main romance here is a snoozefest, a promising side plot involving a long-term couple hitting a bumpy patch is probably what this movie should have been about in the first place.

31. The Summer of Sangaile (2015)

Two teenage girls, one with a dream of becoming an aerobatic pilot, become infatuated with each other and begin a love affair.

Another beautifully shot, dour entry from Europe, this one starring two American Apparel models: one sad (with vertigo), the other quirky (with bows). While an altogether watchable film, The Summer of Sangaile suffers from a lack of structure and a fairly cavalier attitude towards self-harm. Feel like cutting yourself? Let your girlfriend cure you through the power of fashion!

30. Bare (2015)

A free-spirited female drifter leads melancholy Sarah away from small-town boredom toward an enticing world of drugs and danger.

A drab, lesbian Garden State. The plot mechanics really hinge on the believability of the chemistry between Dianna Agron and Paz de la Huerta, and as you may have already guessed, they were on pretty different pages throughout. Everything is pretty: The setting is pretty, the script is pretty, Agron is pretty, but that’s about it.

'Boy Culture.'

'Boy Culture.'

29. Boy Culture (2006)

A male prostitute maintains a stoic approach to sex and love until a regular customer tempts him to reconsider by sharing a meaningful story.

This movie feels very 2006, if that means anything to you at all. Q. Allan Brocka of the Eating Out series co-wrote this adaptation of the eponymous novel by Matthew Rettenmund, and working with an existing story seems to have given Brocka a helpful narrative structure that his Eating Out movies so sorely lacked. Derek Magyar as our central sanctimonious sex worker does his best Ian Somerhalder circa Rules of Attraction here, but the shtick wears pretty thin early on, and its ending is fairly contrived.

28. All About E (2015)

A successful DJ hits the road with some ill-gotten cash and ends up taking refuge with the girlfriend she thought she’d lost forever.

A perfectly serviceable road trip movie, if a slightly boring one. The chemistry between the two female leads is mercifully believable and their love scenes seem authentic without feeling gratuitously pornographic, which comes as an honest-to-God blessing when you’ve already seen 17 lesbian romances clearly intended to be enjoyed by 13-year-old boys.

27. I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing (1987)

In an upstate art gallery, Polly hangs a piece of art she mistakenly credits to her boss, Gabrielle, but it was actually created by Gabrielle’s lover.

The conflict as presented in this description doesn’t seem exactly like something you could build a movie around—and, in fact, it’s not. While you could argue that it certainly drives the plot (such as it is) of this film, the real reason to watch is Sheila McCarthy’s Polly, who is so left-of-center and fun to watch that she makes the shapelessness of the rest of the movie tolerable. You must stay all the way through the closing credits and treat yourself to a truly bonkers ending.

26. Reform School Girl (1994)

When juvenile delinquent Vince gets in trouble with the cops, loyal gal-pal Donna takes the fall and ends up in a training center for troubled ladies.

What looks and sounds like a pretty lurid Cinemax softcore situation turns out to be a fun, quirky softcore situation. At the training center, Donna finds her place on the track and field team (?) coached by a former Olympian. That setup certainly could have made for a fine inspirational Disney sports film, were it not for the brief lesbian sex scene and shots of hairless vaginas interspersed throughout. Reform School Girl is mostly enjoyable and features a hilarious “where are they now” credit sequence (this movie is 100% fiction, so go figure) that posits happy endings for nearly everyone, including many of the movie’s villains.

25. Anatomy of a Love Seen (2014)

They had chemistry on screen. They had chemistry off screen. But once it’s gone, it’s gone, wherever they are.

For a movie pretty explicitly about sex—specifically, the filming of a softcore lesbian sex scene—there’s a surprising amount of life to Anatomy of a Love Seen. The two leads here seem almost too good for the genre, creating a tangible sense of history between these two women. Unfortunately, what begins as a quiet little slice-of-life movie goes off the rails a bit at the end, undoing the steady build of the first half.

'Another Gay Movie.'

'Another Gay Movie.'

24. Another Gay Movie (2006)

Four gay high schoolers all want to lose their virginity—and they’ll paint the town lavender to do so in this gay parody of the teen comedy genres.

At first glance, this movie may have a lot of cosmetic similarities to the Eating Out series, which was also vaguely referencing the “teen comedy genre.” But Another Gay Movie has a much better handle on satire, a more developed point of view, a stronger cast, and higher production values than its spiritual cousin. If you want to watch a campy gross-out gay comedy, this is the one I would suggest.

23. Rent (2005)

Based on Puccini’s opera “La Boheme,” this musical follows a group of scrappy bohemians who face true love, drug addiction and AIDS in New York City.

Honestly, if you’re interested in the “Lesbian and Gay” section of Netflix and have not yet watched this movie, that feels like a deliberate choice on your part and I’m not sure I can say anything here that would change your mind. Controversially, I like this movie for what it is—even though the musical itself doesn’t really have much to say to contemporary audiences, or at least not as much as I thought it would when I was still making “La Vie Bohème” lyrics my AIM away message.

22. Liz in September (2014)

One’s escaping a broken marriage. The other’s broken by illness. Theirs was an affair in paradise—and none too soon.

Please ignore the 100% nonsense last sentence of that Netflix synopsis and watch a well-made lesbian love story that gives off that twinkly, Nicholas Sparks, beach-read sort of vibe that many people look for in their romances.

21. The Skinny (2012)

A year after college graduation, a pact reunites four gay men and a lesbian friend in New York City for a fateful Gay Pride weekend.

By this point in our little countdown, you may have noticed just how oppressively white the casts of most of these movies seem. Trust me, it’s exhausting—which is why this movie is such a nice breath of fresh air. Unlike Bear City, this is not a movie explicitly about being black and gay. It’s just a movie that happens to feature an all-black cast, and lets these characters exist like real, human people of color are wont to do. But a pedestrian, at times preachy script bogs down an otherwise winning cast. While there are definitely weak links here, Jussie Smollett (Empire) and Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman (unREAL) are standouts.

20. Boy Meets Girl (2014)

Ricky, a transgender barista in rural Kentucky, finds unexpected love with sweet Francesca while Ricky’s best pal Robby may feel more than friendship.

Thankfully, unlike many stories told about trans people, this movie is not overly and exclusively concerned with Ricky’s turmoil over being trans. Although it depicts transphobia, the movie somehow manages to maintain a rather light, romantic energy. It sometimes comes off as clunkily pedantic—and the ending is rather saccharine—but as a whole, this movie is a sweet, likable romance.


'Eisenstein in Guanajuato.'

19. Eisenstein in Guanajuato (2015)

In 1931, famed soviet director Sergei Eisenstein’s trip to make a film about Mexico’s history becomes a journey of personal and creative awakening.

Part documentary, part arthouse acid trip, this is definitely a movie that seems very impressed with itself. That’s not to say it’s not good. In between a few fascinating historical tidbits, there are plenty of moments that are as amusing as they are ultimately exhausting, the more Elmer Bäck stays on screen. The dude is pushing it with the quirk. Though its whizbang, directionless momentum may not appeal to everyone, I recommend at least one viewing, if for nothing else than the sight of a fully erect penis and one of the most graphic sex scenes of any movie I’ve ever seen.

18. The Blue Hour (2015)

A homosexual boy who’s being bullied at school and harried at home finds some solace in an affair with another local boy, but things take a dark turn.

The only horror/psychological thriller/romance hybrid of the bunch, this is one weird little movie. As happens with most movies trying to spin a lot of stylistic plates, one of those plates ends up crashing to the ground: In this case, that’s the romance, which feels undeveloped. What starts out as a sentimental coming-of-age flick makes good on its promise of a dark turn. You may want to give it a second watch to make sure you’ve put together all the pieces of this peculiar fever dream.

17. Gerontophilia (2013)

After a teenage boy realizes that he’s attracted to much older men, he begins working at a nursing home and finds romance with an elderly actor.

A surprisingly subdued entry from visionary pervert Bruce LaBruce. He never treats this titillating subject matter as a comedic premise, but isn’t exactly able to make the movie into anything bigger than “Hey, this kid is into old people.” Gerontophilia ends up a fairly traditional romance, which isn’t wholly a bad thing.

16. Reaching for the Moon (2013)

When American poet Elizabeth Bishop makes an inspiring visit to Rio, she finds herself blossoming under the attention of an old friend’s lover.

An Oscar bait-y tale based on the life of Elizabeth Bishop, Reaching for the Moon is a perfectly serviceable movie that is more interested in rendering the drama of the latter years of Bishop’s tumultuous relationship with architect Lota de Macedo Soares without spending any time laying a solid foundation for the romance between them. If nothing else, this movie will send you into an internet k-hole researching both of these insanely impressive women.

15. In the Grayscale (2015)

As an architect, he knows what he wants. But in love and desire he’s a man of two different worlds.

A visual love letter to the city of Santiago, the capital of Chile, this is yet another “married gay not sure if he’s gay” story, which is a tired trope, and would constitute less of a conflict if bisexuality was acknowledged as a possibility in any of these movies. The gay relationship is sweet and convincing, but the beats here are familiar to anyone who’s ever seen a movie of this kind. All that aside, though, In the Grayscale does have the distinction of having one of the best, and to my eyes most realistic, gay sex scene of any movie on this list.

14. August (2011)

When Troy returns to Los Angeles after many years in Barcelona, he finds that his ex-boyfriend has begun dating a handsome South American immigrant.

A pleasant little vehicle for Murray Bartlett, who was one of the more interesting presences on HBO’s Looking. Bartlett, magnetic though he is, was given the least to do on that show (his main personality trait seemed to be “restaurant”), but is ably showcased here by writer/director Eldar Rapaport. While not exactly a thrill ride, this movie perfectly captures the very recognizable horrors of never getting over your ex, wanting someone who’s in a relationship, and your boyfriend’s ex coming to town all in one movie, along with tackling the very real and scary epidemic of gay men dating men who look just like them.

13. North Sea Texas (2011)

A teen boy living in a small town on the Belgian coast finds his ordinary life take an unexpected turn when a handsome traveler blows through town.

While I understand how difficult summing movies up in just a few sentences must be for whomever Netflix employs to write these synopses, that description makes very little sense, as there are few unexpected turns in this story. A gorgeous, shorter version of Boyhood (but gay), this movie’s romance, such as it is, is less of a two-sided affair and more a reflection of the desperate kind of love you feel for someone as you’re coming of age and first becoming aware of your feelings.

12. The Comedian (2012)

A struggling comedian has an affair with a handsome artist but soon realizes his new relationship threatens his friendship with his female flatmate.

Taking quite a few cues from Andrew Bujalski and Joe Swanberg, Israeli director Tom Shkolnik manages to create an engrossing little flick, which is (finally!) the only no-nonsense depiction of bisexuality on this list. If mumblecore is not your thing, this movie is not for you, but if you enjoy somewhat aimless kitchen sink realism as much as I do, you’ll find in The Comedian both the best meet cute on this list and a depiction of casual homophobia on a public bus that will stay with you for days.

11. Pit Stop (2013)

Two working-class gay men in a small Texas town experience love and loss as they search for meaning and romance in their sometimes isolated lives.

Pleasantly surprised to learn that “working class” in this case is not code for “closeted gay men tortured by their sexuality.” I mean, almost everyone in this movie is sad, to be sure, but they’re not sad because they’re gay, which is some real progress in this genre. The movie makes the curious choice of keeping its two protagonists separated for a lion’s share of the movie (until they meet via a recognizably awkward, yet electric scene that perfectly captures what an internet hookup actually looks like), but somehow this understated, economical approach to storytelling makes the abrupt ending feel rich in possibility.


'Mosquita y Mari.'

10. Mosquita y Mari (2012)

Neighbors but by no means friends, high schoolers Yolanda and Mari discover a bond and an attraction when they’re made study partners.

A very straightforward and beautiful coming-of-age tale. The isolation that both of these girls feel is as palpable as the sense of relief they feel when they’re together. This isn’t some lurid, Lolita-via-Thirteen bullshit, either. This is a textured, unromantic look at life as a a teenager today, with all the anxiety and excitement that comes with it. Though the attraction that these girls have for one another (both platonic and otherwise) is never fully explained, it’s as recognizable as their desperate race to opposite ends of the couch when Yolanda’s parents arrive home.

9. Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow (2013)

A married man has a gay reawakening, while his sexy sister— conflicted about her impending marriage—dumps her wimpy fiancé at a grocery store.

In an interesting flip from the traditional structure of these movies, the question here is not whether Weichung will come out, but will he come out again, as he’s already lived a pretty full gay life before he decided to settle down with a woman. Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow is scored like a lush Doris Day picture and the fantasies of the characters are delightfully rendered. It’s hard not to find this movie (and the endearing interactions between Wei Chung and his flight attendant suitor) anything but infectiously happy, even as it deftly handles the inherent drama in Weichung’s situation.

8. That’s Not Us (2015)

A late-summer weekend gathering at the beach turns into a relationship quasi-workshop for three couples whose unspoken tensions rise to the surface.

Another improvisational slice-of-life Swansbergian drama, this one exploring the tensions between three couples (one gay, one lesbian and the other straight, how quaint!). While the style is definitely not for everyone—it can feel entirely without stakes, especially when you’re forced to spend time with the insufferable hetero couple—That’s Not Us is grounded in a way that allows you to really engage with and relate to the emotional struggles faced by each of these couples.

7. Weekend (2011)

This frank drama centers on the relationship between two gay men who contemplate turning a passionate one-night stand into something more meaningful.

A true spiritual successor to Linklater’s Before Sunrise series (this time, with no Melania pornbots in sight). While the intimacy of the movie apparently reads as boring to many a Netflix user, it’s that same invasive closeness that makes watching these two flawed men connect so sharp and captivating. While many straight reviewers very quickly fell over themselves to write that this movie was “more than just a gay romance,” this movie is very much intrinsically—impossibly—gay in ways that may not be recognizable to someone who hasn’t spent a weekend falling hopelessly in love with a person who views their sexuality wildly differently from how you view your own.

6. Big Eden (2000)

Henry Hart returns to Big Eden and winds up confronting his unrequited passion for his high school best friend and his feelings about being gay.

This movie, more than any other on this list, nails the feel of an old-school, turn-of-the-millennium romcom. At first glance, you’d think this movie about a successful New York artist returning to his small town would see him battling homophobia, but Big Eden depicts a kind of post-everything utopia that could only exist in the ‘90s. Nearly everyone in this rural town is not only accepting of the gay triangle brewing in their midst, but actively invested in it. As in any classic romcom, the outcome of this love triangle is clear from the start, but each relationship is as exquisitely detailed as it would be in a Nora Ephron film.

The Duke of Burgundy

'The Duke of Burgundy.'

5. The Duke of Burgundy (2014)

A butterfly expert and her housekeeper are in an intimate master-and-slave relationship but their elaborate romance is about to take a turn.

Honestly, even if this movie were shit, it would hold a very special place in my heart for that description alone. Luckily, this movie was great—a fascinating look at the day-to-day life of a kinky couple with a finely tuned sense of humor (the phrase “human toilet” made me spit all over my computer), stunning visuals, and a romance with real depth. Writer/director Peter Strickland has such an amazing handle on repetition that several identical scenes feel fresh each time they return. Bonus: Not a single man appears in this movie, if you’re really looking for an escape from the patriarchy.

4. Angels of Sex (2012)

A surprising love triangle forms when Bruno sets his eyes on Rai—especially since Bruno thought he was already in love with his girlfriend, Carla.

A fairly traditional story of coming out and sexual awakening spins out into something decidedly less predictable. Every time I thought I knew which way this movie would go, it would sidestep the clichéd beats of the genre. Angels of Sex managed to say something interesting about sexuality and non-monogamy without feeling like a message movie. While the thinking and feeling among us may view some of the twists and turns in this film as wildly unbelievable, the three leads manage to create such a vivid sense of intimacy that you can’t help but think all three really are going to make it.

3. Boys (2014)

While training for an important sporting event, teen athletes Sieger and Marc strike up a friendship that soon develops into something more passionate.

Like its protagonist, Boys is sweet and quiet. And though it’s tackling familiar ground, it’s picturesque and poignant in its depiction of a first love. The movie evokes the intoxication you feel from those few hours you spend in isolation with another human, so perfectly in sync without ever having to say a word, and the look of contentment in your eyes after a perfect first kiss.

'The Way He Looks.'

'The Way He Looks.'

2. The Way He Looks (2014)

A new classmate transforms the daily life of a blind teenager who longs for independence and disrupts his relationship with his best friend.

With its clean YA plotting, keen observations, and measured pacing, this movie feels like a finely crafted John Green adaptation. Like much of Green’s best work, this movie perfectly captures what it’s like to be a high school student. I’m almost embarrassed to admit that I cried real, happy tears during this movie, and it’s one of the few on this list that I’m excited to watch again.

1. Cloudburst (2011)

A lesbian couple escapes from their nursing home and heads to Canada to get married. Along the way, they pick up a young male hitchhiker.

Is this a controversial choice for #1? I don’t think so. No other movie I watched in the many hours I spent watching gay romances was as finely crafted as this one—not to mention that it stars two amazing and criminally underused actresses (Brenda Fricker turns in a particularly brilliant performance) and features brilliant visuals. Not that I should have to sell you too hard on this movie—it’s fucking Olympia Dukakis and the pigeon lady from Home Alone 2 fleeing to Canada so they can marry and never be separated. If you’re looking for an honest-to-God romance in a sea of (mostly) shitty movies, this is the one you’ll want to land on first.


What the fans at KCON taught me about womanhood, diversity, and screaming

Elena Scotti/FUSION

A horde of screaming teenage girls swarmed the VIP East entrance to the Prudential Center. Unfortunately for me, that’s where the press room was. The girls stood in anticipation, cheering any time the door swung open or even budged. “Oh my god, it’s Seventeen!” “Eeee! Day 6!” Whispers travelled from clique to clique like a game of Telephone. The girls hopped up and down, cursing their short stature, in an attempt to catch a once-in-a-lifetime glimpse of their true love, their dreamboat baes.

One girl scrambled onto a sturdy three-foot planter adjacent to the entrance, standing on her toes. “Oh my god, oh my GOD!” I assumed her altitude had given her authority on the matter, so I asked her who they were waiting for. “I don’t know!” she said, equal parts exasperation and exhilaration, as if my query didn’t just offend her, but also reminded her of the sheer absurdity of the fact that she was standing on a giant shrub pot in the middle of New Jersey on a Friday afternoon.

Welcome to KCON.

KCON is an annual event that celebrates “All Things Hallyu,” or the increasingly popular “wave of Korean pop culture.” I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but Korean culture, including beauty, television, and most visibly, the ever-addictive K-pop, is having a moment. Sure, it’s a Korean government-backed, immaculately manufactured, uneasily capitalist moment—more on that later—but a moment nonetheless.

The number of K-pop concerts held in the U.S. has increased consistently over the last two years and North America has hosted the second-highest number of K-pop shows outside Korea (after Japan). Korean bands get tens of millions of views on YouTube in only weeks, with some videos comfortably chilling at over a hundred million over the last year. It’s an invasion.

This was only the second time KCON has been held on the East Coast, a spinoff of KCON LA, which has been bringing K-pop acts stateside since 2012. This year, KCON expanded to two days, June 25 and 26, which meant more panels, more companies to sell their wares, and of course more stars. It’s paid off: An estimated 42,000 fans came through—almost triple the attendance of last year.

The doors for KCON opened at 10 a.m., but at 8:45 a.m. on the first day there was a line snaking around the block. Everyone was trying to get their hands on tickets to the M Countdown concert, where faves like singer Ailee and boybands Seventeen and BTS were slated to perform.

The KCON experience is a trip. Picture an outdoor Comic Con, but instead of folks of all ages cosplaying as their favorite superheroes or anime characters, it’s thousands of teenage girls decked out in boyband merch and Coachella-chic fashion. There were health goth jerseys that read “Rap Monsta,” in homage to the rapper from boyband BTS. There were shirts that read, “Please notice me Oppa!” (Oppa is a Korean term that young women use to refer to older men or in K-pop’s case, their favorite idols—like “daddy” but less sexual.) Everyone seemed to have the same baseball cap with a “₩” (the symbol for the won, South Korea’s currency) emblazoned on it. The looks were on point.

Because KCON is free AND takes place outdoors, a handful of people had apparently stumbled upon it by accident, wide-eyed and a little overwhelmed. A man who walked past one of the beauty booths looked around in wonder. “I’mma have to look this shit up,” he said. “What the fuck is this?”

As I walked down the aisle of vendors, a mélange of K-pop hits reverberated from each booth, and where there is music, there will be dancing. You couldn’t go 200 feet without hitting some kind of dance circle: a troupe of amateurs performing the NSYNC-meets-b-boy choreography from their favorite videos in preparation for the K-pop Dance Battle event, or a booth-sponsored dance-off with concert tickets as a prize, or fans just trying to get their groove on.

There were plenty of young men excited to see their K-pop idols, but the vast majority of attendees were young women. I witnessed so many moments of pure girlhood throughout the convention—from chatting about which Seventeen member was theirs to clutching at their cheeks in bliss after caking their face with some snail-derived beauty serum. For the umpteenth time, I learned to never underestimate the purchasing power of teenage girls. And, of course, there was the screaming.

The girls at KCON scream for everything. The VIP entrance door opens, they scream. The first trap horn note of BTS’ “Fire” perforates the air, they scream. A 15-second snippet of headlining girl group MAMAMOO appears on the convention stage screen, they scream. Rapper HeeSun Lee drops a line in her song “I Break Stereotypes” about being a Christian while on stage, they scream. (On that note, a man bearing a sign that read “REPENT, JESUS SAVES” stood steadfastly by one of the tents, seemingly unaware that of all the conventions you could Christ-crash, this was probably the most obliging.)

Why are the girls screaming? Let a K-pop star explain. “These kids are like monsters,” Eric Nam, OMG ERIC NAM 😭, a heartthrob K-pop phenomenon himself, told me of his fellow stars. “They dance and they sing and they rap and do everything at once on stage, and it looks crazy. And nobody else in the world is doing it.”

And it’s true—you’d be hard-pressed to find a mainstream (non-Beyoncé) pop star who can sing, rap, and pull off the mesmerizingly intricate and tight choreography (how do their feet do the thing!?) the way these K-pop stars do.

“Like Justin Bieber,” Nam said. “Justin, you’re awesome, but like, dance battle BTS? I don’t know, I kind of want to put my dibs on BTS.”

Thousands of girls screaming, crying in each other’s arms, losing their minds, and voices over a cute boy—or 13 of them, in the case of the confusingly named boy band Seventeen—is pretty standard for a pop concert, as is drawing fans from all over the country (50% of KCON attendees came from out of state). What is incredible, though, is that this rabid American fandom exists despite the fact that the music isn’t easily accessible. K-pop has zero presence in most official pop culture channels in the U.S.—not on the radio, not on TV, not in the tabloids, nowhere. American enthusiasts have had to really seek out K-pop and learn about Korean media to fully understand the celebrity status of K-pop acts and how they interact with fans. It’s a special secret world, with its own rules and mannerisms, that they’ve had to get acquainted with.

On top of that, K-pop songs, while straightforward and catchy as all good pop songs are, are pretty much entirely in Korean. And the fans know all the lyrics. What makes the American cohort of BTS fans, known as A.R.M.Y. or Ailee’s Aileeans or Big Bang’s V.I.P.s or Teen Top’s Angels or VIXX’s Starlight (I could do this all day) so different from the girls going gaga over a band like One Direction, is that these young women are kind of nerdy—and proudly so. There were certainly Korean-American people at KCON, who may have grown up with exposure to K-pop, but the majority were a mixture of black, white, and Latino people. Whether they were yelling the lyrics at the top of their lungs or just mouthing along in perfect synchrony, they clearly knew all these songs: meaning they had to learn Korean. K-pop fans have to study, which doesn’t just demonstrate a huge appreciation for their idols, but also a twinkle of the same discipline that drives the stars.

Sure, true Beliebers know every single tattoo on that young man’s body as well as the date it was inked on him, but American K-pop fans literally learn another language.

“It seems like more effort is put into it [than American music],” Natalie Payne, 16, told me, explaining that she appreciated all the dancing involved in K-pop on top of the singing.

“They focus a lot on both performance as well as the actual song,” Dalnim Chan, 22, said. “They put effort into both things. It’s not just, ‘Oh I’m going to sing my heart out’ or, ‘Oh I’m going to dance like a maniac.’ It’s both.”

On Saturday, I sat down with BTS to talk about fandom. And by that I mean, OMG I TALKED FACE TO FACE WITH BTS AND PROBABLY MADE AN ASS OUT OF MYSELF 😭😭😭 OMG THEY’RE SO DREAMY. BTS was the headlining act and main attraction that most of the girls came out to see. They are the only K-pop act to have spent multiple weeks on top of the Billboard World Album chart and outsold Korean break-out act Psy. For the last three years they’ve been hacking away at the American market, and with two sold-out U.S. tours, it looks like they’re making some headway.

I met with them in a small room backstage—the only decoration aside from a few chairs was a massive banner that read “KCON NY 2016.” The seven members of BTS (also known as Bangtan Boys) glided in, all decked out in some form of black and white suits, like seven James Bonds surrounded by a storm of hair and makeup artists. Sitting across from seven pop stars, I felt like I was playing an IRL dating sim (working title: Trash Princess Finds Her K-pop Oppa). The boys had swagger, but they were also gracious and pumped to be there.

“First of all, [American] fans really know how to enjoy the show,” BTS Member Jungkook (who said he enjoys Tori Kelly and whose blood type, I discovered online, is A), told me through an interpreter. “They have a great vibe, and they really enjoy it. So I [hope] they’re looking forward to our show tonight.”

“We’ve been here a few times, but it always impresses me because America’s like the number one music market in the world, so it’s really amazing to be able to perform here in front of thousands of American fans,” BTS’ Rap Monster (blood type A; fave American music acts include Kanye, Drake, and PartyNextDoor) told me. And boy, did they perform. They worked every foot of the stage, which wound its way through the audience, casually playing off each other, then hitting every single beat of their choreography. It was stunning.

“They’re so humble in what they do and they’re so passionate about it, that they work their tails off to do everything that they do,” 25-year-old KCON attendee Daniella Peduzzi told me, expressing the honest-to-God respect that so many K-pop fans feel for their idols. “They love their fans and basically all their work is for their fans and I don’t think a lot of artists in America are like that. So I am really into that.”

“When the fans say how much they love the performance and they’re really cheering them on, they understand that it’s this giant effort that got them there,” Angela Killoren, COO of CJ E & M America and organizer of KCON, said.

“Being a fangirl is a hard job, I swear to God,” Monique Moore, 25, told me. She and Chan traveled by Greyhound from St. Louis to be at KCON—the trip took a day, one way. I happened upon these two young black women as they were chatting with Evelyn Diaz, 43, a half-black, half-Korean woman who was there with her two half Latino children. It was barely 11 a.m., but the convention was already teeming with people of all backgrounds. Despite their many superficial differences, they had one very important thing in common.

“It’s nice to come out here and be here with different people who actually know what K-pop is. We come from a place where nobody knows,” Moore said.

For these young women, there was something about the more modest aspect of K-pop that really resonated with them. “What drew me to Korean culture is the fact that they’re so conservative, so not raunchy,” Chan told me.

KCON is about allowing screaming teenagers to scream at whatever and whoever they want. It’s about giving some of the hardest-working musicians a rare chance to connect with some of the hardest-working fans. But it’s also about confronting cultural identities and finding your place in the world.

To a pop star like Eric Nam, this means staying true to your sound in an industry full of dance machines. To a swarm of teenage girls waiting outside the VIP East entrance, this means finding the best spot to maybe make eye contact with Yoon Jeonghan from Seventeen. To me, this means finally finding some pop music I don’t mind listening to, while trying to deconstruct the disconcertingly perfect capitalist machine that is K-pop.

Here’s the thing—not everything about K-pop is fun and fancy-free. I have a strange and strained relationship with K-pop. Like most fans, I truly admire the discipline these singing, dancing, rapping kids have, and I find (a fair amount of) K-pop preferable to most American pop. I’ve even spent a few of my own precious hours attempting to learn the choreography. K-pop videos gives me a sense of nostalgia, which I’d like to say is me recontexualizing my prepubescent obsession with NSYNC as an adult, but is probably just me enjoying cute boys.

But more than that, K-pop is like a puzzling case study from a critical media theory course: K-pop is actually a government initiative, launched by then-President Kim Dae-jung in 1997 when South Korea was in financial turmoil. Hallyu (which encompasses Korean entertainment, tourism, beauty, and even food) is a brilliant form of soft power, a non-militaristic global invasion carried out by cute boy bands with cotton candy hair. And while part of me welcomes our new overlords, the other part of me is terrified because K-pop is the spectacle of pop, perfected.

The shallow and frustratingly catchy songs, the effortlessly beautiful idols (many of whom have undergone plastic surgery to construct a face more appealing to the masses), the almost machine-like precision of their performances evokes real emotions, real inspiration. I saw this happen, and I felt it too. The easier they make everything look, the easier it is to embrace this meticulously crafted commodification of fun.

But you can’t ignore that the record labels are notorious for their restrictive “slave” contracts with performers, who often see very little of the money they’re generating. Or that the South Korean entertainment industry has faced several high-profile sexual abuse scandals—in 2012, the CEO of Korean agency Open World Entertainment was arrested for the sexual abuse of five trainee performers. In 2009, a survey of Korean actresses conducted by the Korean Women’s Development Institute found that 60% of actresses had “received a request for sexual bribery.” (Not that the American entertainment industry is that much better, seeing as our legal system won’t free Kesha from the contract that binds her to her alleged rapist.)

These transgressions occur in the same industry that brings so much sheer joy to millions of people. It’s not like the 42,000 people at KCON NY were there to support exploitation by record labels—they came for the performers, who have worked so hard to get this far. These fans are also there to connect with people who understand them and, of course, have fun.

As I made my way to the front of the pack of teenage girls, nervously clutching my press badge, I think every insecurity of my life flashed before my eyes. Oh my god, these teenage girls know what they’re living for, and there’s a chance I might be in the way. I, an adult woman, was more afraid of being judged by this swarm of mercurial teenagers than I was of being trampled by them.

“Um, I’m trying to get through,” I said.

“It’s blocked off!” a girl yelled back.

“Shit, that’s where I’m supposed to go. How do I do this?!” I asked aloud, mostly to myself.

“Why don’t you use your press badge,” the girl said, completely taking control of the situation on my behalf. “HEY EVERYONE! MOVE! SHE’S PRESS.”

Like a Red Sea that flowed with adrenaline and hormones instead of water, the girls made room for me and I squeezed through the barrier. I looked back to thank the girl, and made my way inside, a witness and survivor of the chaos, the compassion, and the sheer force of teenage girls.


Abbi and Ilana from ‘Broad City’ have some scary-crazy fans

via Comedy Central

New York magazine’s cover story profiles the patron saints of young, weird New York City: Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer, the real-life BFFs behind Comedy Central’s hilarious Broad City.

For Abbi and Ilana, their newfound fame is, in general, a good thing. They enjoy surprise (and welcome) praise from middle-aged strangers and complementary dishes at restaurants. But it can also get weird, as it does in the course of this very magazine article. Lauren, a self-proclaimed “blasian” doctor, approaches the women with what writer Jada Yuan describes as a “drunk-seeming disregard for personal space.”

The encounter is funny, but quickly grows unsettling. Lauren hugs Ilana as a means of introduction, repeatedly proclaims her love for the pair, excitedly offers to kiss their feet, pitches a series of increasingly offensive ideas for the show, invites them to have sex with her brother (“He loves Jewish girls”), and delineates her thoughts on various Asian stereotypes.

Afterwards, Glazer takes a cab rather than walking home as planned, because, she jokes — in a way that’s not entirely joke-y — “I’m scared for my safety.”

Abbi and Ilana take Manhattan, from behind.

Abbi and Ilana take Manhattan, from behind. Credit: New York

Yuan suggests that it’s deceptively easy for fans to conflate the fictionalized, made-for-TV versions of Abbi and Ilana with their off-screen selves — there’s a similar blurred line between Lena Dunham and her Girls character, Hannah Horvath.

One problem with playing fun females who are up for anything is that Jacobson and Glazer sometimes aren’t. “People think I want to blaze all the time with them,” says Glazer. “Which is like, I don’t. I’m obviously going to be so ­nervous about that right now.”

Please, everybody, leave Abbi and Ilana alone. They are one of the Big Apple’s most precious natural resources, coming in only shortly behind dirty water dogs, the undisputed champ. Yes, part of Broad City‘s massive appeal is the sense of intimacy we feel with its relatably eccentric stars, but that doesn’t give anyone the right to get up in their business. You don’t actually know them, and they certainly don’t owe you anything.

So, outside of being actively creepy, what’s a fan to do? Fortunately, New York‘s story also provides a textbook example of an appropriate, non-invasive means of expressing one’s admiration for Glazer and Jacobson (or, for that matter, for just about anyone):

As we walk near Gramercy Park on a chilly February night, a beautiful black woman serenades [Abbi and Ilana] from across the street with a tune of her own creation: “Broad City is the best in the wo-orld!


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