Fine, Lets Do a Pokémon Retrospective

I wanna be the very best but my game keeps crashing, AITA?

Turns out that Miyamoto’s famous quote was actually “A delayed game is eventually good, but a rushed Pokémon game still sells 10 million copies upon release”. To the surprise of no one who is even remotely plugged into the world of games, Pokémon fans are keyboard rioting again with the release of the new Scarlet and Violet games. What’s exhausting is that we’ve seen it go down like clockwork at this point:

  • New game, designs, and gimmicks get announced
  • Hype goes to a high
  • Early reviews mention obvious problems
  • Players notice the aforementioned obvious problems upon release
  • Weeks pass and it becomes apparent that parts of the game that had less thought and effort put into it than others
  • Neutrals and a small section of the fanbase point out valid criticism
  • Most will shrug and say “it’s Pokémon” like its the ex you keep going back to despite the red flags
  • The fringe shitty fans (also known as…well, gamers) who know absolutely nothing about product management will defend a billion dollar company and the 2nd largest global media franchise, and instead blame the devs who were probably crunched and given unrealistic deadlines (Legends: Arceus came out in JANUARY you guys…the Scarlet/Violet release seemed way too soon from the start)
  • Nothing improves because Nintendo already cashed the checks

The Nintendorks have always been willing to defend their Nintendaddy for many of its scumbag business practices, but the way that Pokémon fans ride or die for their franchise has always just been something else entirely. It’s primarily so perplexing because you generally wouldn’t expect a fanbase to be so vehemently adamant about defending such noticeable decreases in quality, but here we are.

Look, I’m a millennial who grew up on classic Nintendo titles on the N64 and Gameboy Color, and I’m admittedly a Pokémon fan who has gone way too deep down the rabbit hole before. Those days are past me, but I understand why neutral gaming enthusiasts look at the Pokémon die-hards and wonder if Red/Blue/Yellow came with some sort of brain parasite. One that made its way into our heads as kids and has caused us to do the same thing over and over while expecting different results (which I’m told is the definition of…). At this rate, we’re going to be unable to tell the difference between adults (I’ll let kids be exempt from consumer criticism) who keep buying Pokémon games and people who buy the new FIFA or NBA 2K games every year.

All that being said, I’m still part of the damn problem because I bought this shit on day one! I didn’t buy Sword/Shield (Got to borrow a copy of Shield recently though) or the Diamond/Pearl remakes (I refuse to play these, more on that later), but I loved Legends: Arceus and was excited for more open-world Pokémon. A lot of my friends were also getting the game at the same time, so I figured I’d roll the dice. Where I once thought I’d be spending dedicated gaming time towards this, I realized that it was just going to be another portable Pokémon game where I can have some TV on in the background and just go through the game’s motions. I’m at the point where I might still play or nuzlocke janky Pokémon games, but the idea of them being an “experience” for me has mostly gone out the window.

So with all these thoughts in my head, I started wondering: After years of complaints and over two decades of games, which ones are actually…like…good? If fans of all levels and gaming enthusiasts without the PokéParasite wanted to have an immersive experience instead of something you play while listening to a podcast, which would be the ones to try? Which of these titles can a general audience actually just play and feel like it’s “a good game” instead of something meant for children & the adult crackheads of the gaming world?

Let’s start with the criteria I’ll be considering when thinking of the good ones:

  • Performance – I feel like I don’t have to explain this one due to recent events, but if I can just comment on one thing; I’m so goddamn sick of hearing “It’s a step in the right direction” or “Well I’M having fun so you’re toxic” as an excuse for this. First off, we’ve been hearing the former for years now, and you can’t just keep stepping in a good direction but never seeing it through or crossing a milestone of some sort. I like fun too, but I’d like to have fun without a myriad of technical issues and Pokémon fans seem to think it has to be a “one or the other” situation when it…doesn’t.

    By all accounts Legends: Arceus was “the step in the right direction” for open-world Pokémon, and before that they even tried the Wild Area in Sword/Shield!! Especially given the critical success of Legends: Arceus, what excuse is there that Scarlet/Violet didn’t have much more time and resources dedicated to it, with the goal being the true completion of an original vision? At what point is it simply insulting that you’re getting an unfinished and broken game that crashes on you while there is zero motivation to put more effort in, all because they’re confident you’ll spread your wallet open anyway??


  • Story, Characters, and Setting – Yeah I know, I’ve heard the “playing Pokémon for the story is like watching porn for the plot” joke many times, but a handful of these games actually do interesting things with the game’s narrative elements. There’s one way of doing it where you can actually have a focused and overarching plot or antagonist, and there’s another way where you can have the world be built through lore and interesting tidbits you pick up as you progress. Both are good, and good things are important to have a good time.
  • Progression & Difficulty – I will never be the guy saying that games need to “be harder” or have a brutal difficulty, but I’m also not a fan of hand-holding. Believe it or not, there are Pokémon games where you can experience a higher difficulty and where, despite the franchise’s linearity, you aren’t being guided through by the game itself.
  • What’s Different or Unique? – I’m going to avoid venturing into “it was crazy for the time” territory, and I’ll try to keep it more current in terms of what games do differently compared to others in general.
  • Gotta Catch ‘Em All? – I just feel like if you’re going to make this the series tagline and if it’s the thing every kid remembers from the anime, then you should somewhat be able to do this and be rewarded for it without any large barriers. The general variety of mons available in a game will also factor in here.

In regards to my qualifications…well, I’ve played pretty much all of the games. Many more than once, but also many very recently. The world shut down in March 2020, I went to stay with my parents back when we all thought it was going to be “better in two weeks”, and at my parents house was my Gamecube, my 3DS, and all my Pokémon games. Rest assured that there is a fair amount of recency to my super objective and totally undisputed picks.

Without further ado, here we are: 5 Pokémon games that are actually just good games you could, and should, play regardless of your experience level with the franchise.

#5- Pokémon Emerald

Take Ruby & Sapphire, polish and clean the parts that don’t work too well, add an iconic post-game destination that fans will remember for years to come, and you get all the fun that comes with Emerald. The Hoenn region has stuck with fans for a reason, and all the cool things the region has to offer really shine in Emerald specifically (arguably more so than Gen 6’s remakes).

Strengths:

  • Hoenn itself – There’s interesting lore with how the region came to be and where the legendary mons fit in to it all. With two antagonist teams and two ridiculously strong legendaries clashing and trying to shape/destroy Hoenn in their image, you really feel like you’re a part of a larger story while still not being overwhelmed with anything too tedious to understand. When it comes to exploration, don’t give me that “too much water” crap. Diving and navigating currents to solve underwater puzzles and unlock legendaries is such a uniquely Hoenn experience. Throw in the desert and Mirage Tower, the routes near the volcano, Meteor Falls, and Sky Pillar…it’s a very memorable region.
  • The Battle Frontier – Probably the biggest reason why Emerald is so popular with fans is a special post-game area with seven different battle facilities that each do something different to test a trainer outside of traditional battles. It shows a lot of creativity to do something like this for battles and make each facility/their boss have different vibes and rules. They’ve tried to replicate this since, but it always falls a little short of how impressive the original in Emerald was. It opens up a whole new world post-game that teaches you to consider different strategies other than the simple “18 option rock-paper-scissors”.

Weaknesses:

  • Difficulty – Battle Frontier aside, the main game isn’t *too* challenging as a big picture. However this is even more true if you start with Mudkip, who eventually evolves into a powerhouse with an advantageous typing against most of the big battles. In every gen the three starters generally do represent slightly different experiences, maybe some tougher battles here and there…but running through Hoenn with Swampert is very noticeably an “easy mode”, you can stomp through the region without much contention. Consider Treecko for a challenging run and also a cool starter.
  • Missing Pokemon – Not terrible but it can be an annoyance, see below for the list from Bulbapedia

#4- Pokémon Legends: Arceus

Honestly I wanted to put this one higher but tried to check my own recency bias. Again, THIS was the real “step in the right direction” for open-world Pokémon, which makes it even more annoying that the follow up was botched in a rush.

Strengths:

  • A True Departure from Formula – Don’t want to do the dance of getting 8 gym badges, taking down a group of costumed terrorists, becoming the Champion, and taking your chances with the post-game? Then this is the one for you, as it is one of the most unique takes on Pokémon out there and possibly the biggest change-up of the status quo since the franchise’s beginnings.
  • The “Research” element, exploration, and the Pokédex all actually matter – There’s so much good I can say about this game so I’ll try to stay focused; The general idea here is that you really take the role of “researcher” in this game. Walking around in the natural habitat of Pokémon as they roam the overworld and react to you in real time is already cool enough. Being able to do it in these cool settings that all have variety while also traveling on Guardian Pokémon’s backs whose trust you gain is even cooler. Filling out the Pokédex in this game by actually doing more to study a mon than just “catch it once and you get the wikipedia entry” is great, and you CAN catch ’em all in this game too!

Weakness:

  • Less of a “Feeling of Attachment” to your Mons – The games have often explored the bonds formed between trainers and mons in battling, even citing things like Mega-Evolution as occurrences that only take place when a Pokémon and trainer are super attached. Since you’re constantly interacting with mons in Legends Arceus, and catching them in multiples helps you fill out the Dex, I found myself switching my team members in and out quite often (which might be a pro for some). On top of this, however, they introduced the concept of Alpha Pokémon which are naturally powered up and can still be caught. I tried not to, but by the end of the game I had my starter…and 5 Alphas. At most, I was attached to my starter and to my Hisuian Goodra (because I liked the Goomy line already and appreciated a cool regional form…and she was my team’s main pubstomper).

#3 – Pokémon Platinum

I didn’t even touch on all the cool “Past Sinnoh” lore expansion in the Legends: Arceus section, which retroactively makes Sinnoh an even cooler region, but this was the game where I fell in love with the region in the first place. It makes sense to me that if you’re going to effectively introduce “Pokémon God” in Sinnoh, then having a focus on “Pokémon Satan” as an antagonist checks out. Platinum puts the highlight on the mythical Giratina and his Distortion World, which is wicked cool…but so is fixing the numerous issues that Diamond and Pearl had.

Strengths:

  • Sinnoh done properly – Most people are familiar with the Sinnoh region, and it seems fondly remembered today for all that it offers as a setting: Focus on the elements of space and time in the lore, new evolutions for classic Pokémon lines, vibrant cities and points of interest, etc. Yet in a lot of PokéConversations Platinum seems to be forgotten about or underrated to me, and I have a theory why: Because no one wants to admit that Diamond and Pearl were exhausting games.

    Take your childhood goggles off, those games are such a mess in story, pacing, progression, and the variety of mons is so ridiculously limited (Platinum expands the Pokédex significantly). I understand that time has passed and that nostalgia is a thing, but I was genuinely shocked that so many people wanted the remakes especially with how low-effort they looked, and that they followed the originals for the most part INSTEAD of Platinum! Platinum probably sold less at the time because some fans didn’t want to slog through Sinnoh again, only to remember it fondly enough to want stupid remakes years later, but its vastly superior to Diamond & Pearl and their remakes in virtually every way.
  • Difficulty Curve – Cynthia battle (but in a game that’s good enough where that boss fight feels earned). That’s all.

Weaknesses:

  • Characters aren’t as Interesting – Admittedly, Team Galactic is kind of a dud. I think they’re done a little better in Platinum because of some rewriting, and because Giratina’s presence becomes the real threat, but they can still feel underwhelming. The Rival character can also be a bit much, and some of these Gym Leaders are comically flamboyant compared to previous gens.
  • Being the best-but-least played Sinnoh game – I’m not over it, replaying Platinum this decade was genuinely some of the most fun I’ve had with this franchise. I had zero FOMO for the Diamond and Pearl remakes, I just played the better game, but as I understand it you’re not gonna hear that take from a lot of fans. This one needs to be revisited by people, and I will remain on this hill.

#2 – Pokémon Heart Gold & Soul Silver

Probably unsurprising that these are up here and up this high; Gold, Silver, and especially Crystal (they included the Suicune elements in these remakes!) tend to be the favorite games for a lot of fans. Then they updated them and made them better.

Strengths:

  • Muh World-Building – Johto’s “story” is famously presented through its culture and its legends, there’s a lot of emphasis on mythology which is a cool lens to view a game’s story through. Just to name a few things, you have the: Ruins of Alph, the Whirl Islands, and the Two Towers of Ecruteak. The game also doesn’t particularly instruct you to seek any lore out, so it incentivizes exploration in that regard.
  • Traveling with your Mons – I don’t understand why every game doesn’t do this, it was so fun to walk alongside the mon at the front of your party as you did things in the overworld. Simple yet elegant.

Weaknesses:

  • It relies a bit too much on Kanto – Traveling to another region, battling those Gym Leaders, and facing off against the protagonist from the original game is such a great time. You do have to admit though, it goes super hard into another region for the entire post-game. Its a really cool feature, but it ends up being such a highlight that the actual region you and your party grow together in starts to feel less important.
  • The Split – If you notice, Every other game I put up here is a solo release. I just prefer that to the dual releases because then you get version exclusives and other small changes that don’t “make or break” anything for me, but could be annoying if you’re playing Heart Gold and can’t rock with Skarmory (which is always a good time).

#1 – Pokémon Colosseum & Pokémon XD: Gale of Darkness

It might be a bit of a cop-out to put them both here but they certainly deserve to be, they’re directly related to each other, and I NEED to talk about both of them. I played both of these recently and they definitely still hold up, there’s no competition for me that these are the best Pokémon games to ever exist. A lot of content-creators “don’t count” these in rankings because they *technically* aren’t mainline games, and that is such a bad take to me because these are two very fleshed out games with primarily mainline game elements (ask yourself, are these more related in gameplay to mainlines or to the other spin-offs like Puzzle League or Mystery Dungeon?)

Strengths:

  • There’s an Actual Narrative? – Buckle up, I’m about to give you the full pitch:

    The games take place in the Orre region, which has its peace threatened by two crime syndicates that decide to work together. One stole Pokémon from trainers and provided it to the other one, which then did a bunch of unethical science to “close the door to the Pokémon’s heart”, effectively creating Shadow Pokémon.



    They use these mons for criminal activity because they’re vicious (even the cute ones), unhinged, and will attack people and Pokémon alike. Colosseum opens with the protagonist, who works for the former evil team I mentioned, deciding he can’t do it anymore and BOMBING THE BASE while stealing the snag machine used to kidnap Pokémon from trainers. Your mission then becomes to learn more about the latter crime syndicate, unravel their plan, and stop them…but there’s even more to it. You’re also tasked with re-capturing Shadow Pokémon, forming bonds with them via battle and other methods, and then seeking Celebi’s blessing to purify them. You’re opening up their hearts again to the trainer-mon-bond, and then Celebi helps you revert them back to their true selves

    THAT’S a fucking game you can get into. Your character is a young adult who has so much investment in that storyline, as opposed to being an expressionless 10 year-old that rolls out of bed one morning and becomes a PokéProdigy. He’s living with the consequences of something he took part in and is now taking an active role in fighting them. Not to mention being able to build on the relationship between battling and the bonds formed with Pokémon. You feel extra affection for your mons because you’re trying to do right by them as well.

    Plus, there’s the unique battle rules in this game that are really fun. The battles in this game from grunt to big bad are all double-battles, which opens the door to some fun teamwork and strategies. Additionally, since you’re catching stolen Pokémon BACK from Trainers, it becomes interesting when you’re battling a trainer, trying not to KO their shadow Pokémon so you can catch it, but also getting your ass kicked. It also should be noted that Colosseum is considered the hardest game in the franchise, but if you don’t believe me then watch this pro play the game for the first time and react accordingly. There’s nothing in the other Pokémon games quite like this.

    Gale of Darkness is a direct sequel, taking place in the not too distant future after the antagonists have had time to rebuild and come back even stronger (but so have the good guys!). Its story can be seen as less compelling since you’re playing a protagonist without as much direct involvement in the plot (He’s a regular trainer, but his mother is a researcher at a lab dedicated to healing shadow Pokémon should they ever be a threat again). Nevertheless, it adds gameplay improvements and slots into the big picture well.


  • The Music – Nintendo games rarely ever have bad music, and Pokémon indeed has some bops. I’m sure most of you can easily recall the tunes from the first few games if you heard them. So believe me when I tell you that the music in these games absolutely slaps. Case in point: You know how I referenced that a lot of Pokémon Youtubers that I’ve watched don’t count these games? Well they still use the music in the content they put out, and often too. Everything from trainer battles, to boss battles, to just cruising around Pyrite Town…bangers.

“Weaknesses”:

  • The Limited Dex – After hearing me commend games that have a robust Pokédex, here I am having high praise for the games with the least amount of Pokémon available to catch. HOWEVER, with the story being what it is, every Pokémon caught and helped feels a lot more personal, and you only get the true ending if you catch AND purify all shadow Pokémon. The variety of mons available is also pretty well spread out, and it’s one of the easiest games to actually catch ’em all in so that feels nice to complete. Did I mention in Colosseum you start with an Umbreon and Espeon (plus your choice of Johto starter early!), and in Gale of Darkness its an Eevee that you can evolve however you want? Fuck yeah.
  • Traveling the Orre Region – In these games, you pick a city on a map and then you fast-travel there and you’re in a different level. This takes out having multiple “routes” in the mainline games where you explore, fight other trainers, and catch wild mons. Here’s the thing though, that’s not always necessary. Especially when these locations are really fucking cool and the “dungeon crawling” is still present, albeit in non-traditional settings like an underground city or a volcanic island hideout instead of caves or fields. The different areas you travel to are detailed and unique, and for a game that’s almost 20 years old it looks and performs…well, see for yourself:


Phew. This, I think, is a pretty good Pokémon retrospective. Nothing will change in this era until and unless Nintendo actually decides to give Gamefreak the time and resources necessary to make a truly compelling game again, especially because we as fans blow money on these things so cavalierly. In the meanwhile this nerd has found that it is definitely worth it to re-visit the older games, because there definitely are some great ones for all players.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I caught a Frigibax with a beneficial nature before I started to get into writing this piece and haven’t picked up my Switch since then so…

In (somewhat but not fully) Defense of “AWnee-rOOd Pee-shuh-ROEdee”

Never Have I Ever: Said My Indian Name Correctly

Well…it has been quite an interesting and eventful 11-ish months since the last time I wrote something here. In the midst of all the fun and not-so-fun things I’ve had to do, those who know me well knew that I was still looking for something that I would have a unique enough take on to write about, as this page has become more of a “write when you feel it” situation. Despite my long break, personal life to attend to, and lack of inspiration…look at that, you still got a new soggz-blogs post before you got Winds of Winter.

To do the quick catch-up because I know you’re all curious (clearly the opinion of one brown nerd is the truth you were all waiting for):

  • No Way Home was everything I could’ve hoped for and more. As a “Tobey is MY Spider-Man” die-hard, everyone was phenomenal (yes, even Garfield who’s movies I’ve gone full “nerd rage” on before) and I think the moment that sealed it for me was when Tobey and Doc Ock were reunited. I could literally write an entire post on the line “trying to do better” just on its own, what it meant to me, and the beauty behind something seemingly so simple but I’ll move on.
  • I walked away from Multiverse of Madness thinking it was fine and had some fun moments, but the more I revisited it and more I thought about it…yeah I kinda hate it.
  • Love and Thunder was a rather unfortunate disappointment as someone who puts Thor: Ragnarok as his best MCU movie. Not enough room to breathe on any of the moments & way too many asinine goat jokes will do that to a guy I guess.
  • As a South Asian American, Ms. Marvel made me feel better than I deserve to feel. As a critic, I still think it was overall “good” but had way too few episodes which really screwed the pacing and development of characters. I’m not sure how the decisions are being made for how many episodes an MCU show gets, but I think eight or nine episodes instead of six would’ve really benefitted Ms. Marvel to give us more time with some of these characters, especially Kamran. Iman Vellani is a national treasure though and she’s the only queen I mean to bend my knee to.

That last one is the best segue I could find to move into what we’re talking about today, which is Never Have I Ever‘s third season. I don’t think its a shocker to anyone that’s been with me for a while that I thoroughly enjoy the show and adore the positive representation; In the sense that there exists a show about a Desi-American girl and other minorities having regular “high school problems” on top of the added layer of various cultural issues that every BIPOC deals with.

Obviously its a comedy-drama about a teenager and that’s not gonna be for everyone, but it stands where other pieces of media in that same lane have stood and says “Hey you uncultured morons, high schools in America aren’t just petri-dishes of white people, the rest of us exist”, and that in and of itself is a good thing. I think a lot of people forget that we don’t need every story from western media about diaspora Desis to be 100% solely about “the movement” or grand cultural explorations or generational trauma. Don’t get me wrong, all of that is extremely important (and for those of us that come from partition-families, Ms. Marvel was extra meaningful and I’m so thankful for that), but being able to just “have fun with a brown family” is a big part of positive representation too.

All that said, I’m not really here to unpack the show or its moments today (although for the record I will argue that season 3 was the best one yet). I’m a little more concerned with this video that has been circling desi-instagram for a minute now. If you’re too lazy to click we basically have the actor for one of the Indian-American characters, Anirudh Pisharody, introducing himself and presenting a pronunciation of his name that is laughably bad when heard by anyone from the diaspora (hence the title of this post). We as a community at large had a field day with this and have clowned the man in the comment sections everywhere that this video exists, and made our own video responses. Case(s) in point:

It’s understandably comical, especially when you account for the irony of him deciding to pronounce it like that in an interview about his name.

My first instinct, like many of my fellow browns, was to join in on the slander aka “he sounds like a damn fool”, “dude can’t even take pride in his culture”, etc. My second instinct was to go through a lot of these comments and see other people feeling the same way and making those feelings known. My third instinct was realizing the things that basically became the reasons for this piece.

A while ago, coincidentally on the advice of Hasan Minhaj himself, I basically had to take my mental health into consideration and I chose to limit my exposure to every single sociopolitical issue that we’re constantly slammed with all the time. The idea “having 50 tabs open in your mental browser” just became too real for me at some point, and I had to take a step back and just pick three “tabs to keep open” that I can be updated on and have a heated (or not, but who am I kidding) discussion on. I know where I stand on the other issues and can be supportive from the sidelines, but I’m not trying to be in-the-trenches on them anymore except for my personal three, and one of them is unsurprisingly “anything related to the South Asian community in America”, which (finally) brings me to the point.

Look…if you are a diaspora desi/South Asian American/whatever you want to call it (and I’m including everyone here: India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, etc.), I 100% believe that you should pronounce your name properly and demand that everyone outside of our culture(s) pronounce it properly too. That is your name and you owe it to yourself and your people to take pride in it and command the respect that it deserves. That is unequivocally my stance on how we as a people should operate. Even if you pronounce it the wrong way, I will still say your name correctly.

At the same time, I also understand the choice that “aNy-rUde” made, because I’ve been there and I’m willing to bet that all (if not most) of you browns reading this and the ones that left all those comments have been there too. We’re going to get into this, and if this was a Sesame Street episode the word(s) of the day, aka the concept I’m going to be referring to, is none other than: Internalized Racism.

Not having the time to go super deep into what that means, I’ll link this for you and provide a summary in my own words: The belief by a minority in the lies told to them about their ethnicity by an inherently racist society, which manifests itself in deprecating behavior.

Its essentially a form of indoctrination; Pop-culture tells you one thing, the kids you’re in school with regurgitate it, you don’t get the proper support to take a stand against it, your brain gets rewired and you start to believe it, and before you know it you’re a young adult who is adjusting things about yourself to fit into an oppressive point of view. You basically end up going out of your way to “not be a stereotype” to the point where you forget to be yourself & end up adopting a negative view of your own culture (“Yeah bro I’m Indian but I’m not like one of THOSE Indians yknow?”).

I wasn’t going by & requesting the proper pronunciation of my name until 7th grade, and I know for a fact that a lot of you kept anglicizing your names for a lot longer. At this point in the piece, I want to ask every American Desi reading this to think about all the times you’ve taken part in it. For me in high school it was: going out of my way to smell good because “Indians are smelly”, not practicing the faith I’m so dedicated to now because “people make fun of weird religions”, and not eating my lunch in public if I had Indian food. In college I took some weird pride in the fact that I didn’t have Indian friends anymore (almost as if some weight was lifted off of my shoulders), let white people make their stupid jokes at the expense of my ethnicity, shaved my beard whenever I went to the airport, and went out of my way to dress/speak super white (the frat boy era was something else in hindsight). In my early 20’s, I constantly shot myself in the foot when it came to dating because “Indian guys are largely viewed as undesirable so what’s the point”.

With all of that out there, I asked myself if “anglicizing your name” is really something that deserves this much heat? Are there any of you that have NOT done this at some point in your lives? Even Hasan Minhaj used to go by Huh-SAHN Min-AHj until he decided not to, and are we all really going to ignore the full on name changes of “Mindy Kaling”, “Kal Penn”, “Jay Chandrasekhar”, “M. Night Shyamalan”, “Tan France”, and (my favorite one) “Ben Kingsley”?

I want to be clear that what happened with “Aah-knee-REWDT” (I swear that’s my last one) is inherently hilarious and easy to make fun of. My intention here is not to virtue signal or shame any of you for reacting to it the same way I did at first, I think I’ve put forward enough of my experiences in self-hate to communicate that. Internalized racism is a reality for many of us and often times we’re not even aware of it…so how do we beat it? Supporting each other through it. Call it cliche or easier said than done, but that is absolutely the right thing to do.

I think any desi reading this knows that, notwithstanding the racism you receive from non-browns, all of us also have to deal with the insanely judgmental environments that we call our “community” for whatever individuality, quirks, or personal problems we might have that doesn’t “fit the mold” or just “isn’t talked about”. In my humble opinion, it’s the combination of both phenomenons that creates internalized racism: conditional acceptance by everyone else & conditional acceptance by your own people. I believe that its our job as the first American-born generation of South Asian Americans to do better and create a more supportive environment as opposed to doing the literal opposite, which is what I saw with the Anirudh incident .

Admittedly, I’ve been lucky. My brown friends from high school never gave up on me despite all of the complicated feelings I had towards my racial identity, not staying in touch through college, and dealing with things that the “average brown” doesn’t deal with. I was really bitter yet they kept reaching out, and those dingbats are some of my best friends today. Recognizing my own good situation in that regard, I ask you to put everything aside for a second and think about the times you felt least supported when it came to your identity.

Let’s first realize that this guy actually did the damn thing. A very brown dude with a very brown name chose a career path that in many ways is a cacophony of white voices…and despite this he got a supporting role on a top-rated and highly viewed Netflix series, one that goes into the brown experience at that. That experience sets him up nicely for bigger and better roles & sets us up for seeing another talented brown face on our screens in the future.

Then he says his name in an interview in a way that he’s probably had to say it most of his life, just so that the (most likely) white casting directors can remember it and he can get called back instead of being forgotten…and instead of millions of brown fans of Never Have I Ever showing him a semblance of acceptance of those circumstances while letting him know that its okay for him to pronounce the name properly now…we went with the “shaming” route, because THAT always famously works out super well for everyone, right?

Look, I know what you might be thinking: “Its just a few internet comments, why take it so seriously”, “He’s old enough to know better”, “How can anyone confirm the potential reasons you cite here to even be true for his situation”, etc. I understand all of that and I’m not trying to say that my word on this is gold, rarely do I ever when it comes to my writing.

All I’m trying to say is that maybe we should take a minute to ask “why” one of our fellow South Asian Americans did something the way they did on a very public stage (especially if its something we’ve all done) instead of immediately jumping down their throats and making demands from them. No movement is ever going to go anywhere positive without the presence of some empathy, we can ask someone to do a better job at representing us while also being understanding of what they did in the first place.

As Hari Kondabolu once alluded to, we’re not in the “Pre-Aziz-and-Mindy” era anymore where no one cared about what any brown person in the media said. However, a lot of us still grew up in that era and lived through the confusing transition into where we are now. Either way, it’s a better situation now and we have the ability to keep that progress going by being a supportive audience of better fans.

I’ll leave you with these closing thoughts: Sir Ben Kingsley’s real name is KRISHNA PANDIT BHANJI. Isn’t that insane?!? Did YOU guys know that one? I just straight up thought the dude playing Gandhi was a white guy with a tan until like 7 years ago. Still better than “Bobby Jindal” though…then again anything is.

Kanye v Drake: Who Wins This Round? – Pt 2 of 2; Certified Lover Boy

“I’m gonna go tweet a Drake lyric like everyone else”

This post is part two in a series of two where I live react to two albums for the first time. If you want to read the setup/context then feel free to do so in the first part here. I will be skipping introductions on this one and going straight into the track list.

Champagne Poetry – This is…okay, wow this is a great introductory track. The first half of this was erring on the side of “okay, we get it, you’re Drake” in terms of lyrical content, but the second half where the beat changes and the subject matter takes a much more serious tone actually makes for something interesting. Interest is very much piqued, wonder where he’s going to go from here

Papi’s Home – I was a little confused as to who Drake was claiming that he was being…ugh…”Daddy” towards, until I realized about half way through that he’s basically saying he’s “sonned” other rappers and he’s their “Daddy”. Verse was pretty good, but the metaphor…really? Take you all day to come up with that one? Also, barf.

Girls Want Girls – Wait, wait, wait, WHAT? Did I hear this right? “Said you were a lesbian, girl me too”??? I’ve usually waited until after a track to jot down what I feel on these two pieces but I stopped this one 24 seconds in, I can’t just move past this, I genuinely don’t know what the fuck he means by this? Can anyone tell me?

Okay I looked it up, yeah that’s what he said. I…I just…I dont know. I’ll try to move on, let’s try this again.

I genuinely don’t understand what’s going on here. I mean if I had to guess, he’s going for “girl on girl is hot” but then adding this whole layer of him allegedly speaking to a lesbian and…I guess “relating” to her because he likes girls too? Look as someone who lives in Los Angeles and has met one too many “Omg the gays love me” straight women…this kind of gives me the same vibe. Except worse because I guess the implication here is that he’s trying to sleep with the aforementioned lesbian…and their “common ground” is “we’re both sexually attracted to women”? Dude I don’t know, I’ve spent too much time on this ONE track, but honestly moments like this, where he spits out some ridiculous thing that you find yourself thinking “he can’t be serious”, have defined recent Drake projects for me. This might be worse than the “I wasn’t hiding my kid from the world, I was hiding the world from my kid” bullshit he managed to come up with.

In The Bible – Musically it’s not bad, in terms of the subject matter this thing takes a weird turn. The premise seemed to be about Drake feeling judged for having too many casual relationships…but then he turns it around on this hypothetical girl who is judging him with the oh so mature response of “well what about you”? Even if this wasn’t about two parties essentially slut shaming each other, not sure why he had to bring the Bible into this…did I miss when Drake suddenly got a say on what a Christian Woman should be like?

Love All – I feel “back on track” after this one, this seems like classic Drake to me. The vibe is really moody, he’s in his feelings, he’s questioning his relationships with friends/former romances/fans, he even manages to say one or two things of substance (He raps “People never care ’til it’s R.I.P.” and that definitely is understandable coming from someone of his level of fame, seeing talented people in hip-hop not be as appreciated until they pass away). So there’s something here, along with a nice JAY-Z verse to make this my favorite track on the album so far.

Fair Trade – Never mind what I just said about my favorite so far, this one is even better. Drake is here coming hard at his “fake friends”, not like that’s anything novel for him but he drops some decent bars with a solid flow, and I actually really like the melody on the hook. Travis also comes in with a solid verse where he’s actually rapping more than his usual auto-crooning, this is a good track.

Way 2 Sexy – Wow…this…happened. He really built a whole song around the hook from Right Said Fred’s “Im Too Sexy”. Yeah this one’s gonna be a “no” from me man. I feel like there may be a version of this concept that I can enjoy somewhere out there, but this just got strange. I tend to really like Future and Young Thug, but Future phoned it in hard here and Thug’s verse was pretty mid too.

TSU – Okay, I need to take a moment here and put into words/try to figure out why I can’t deal with Drake’s songs directed at seemingly random women anymore…because this is the 3rd time on this album that I’ve felt grossed out, and honestly that doesn’t happen to me often.

Drake has always had rather “intense” feelings towards the girls in his songs, but I’ve always just kind of taken those things with a grain of salt. I used to think “Drake talking about his failed relationships” would be one of those tropes I never really get tired of, but I don’t know why its just not working for me here. Maybe it’s just gotten stupider? Like think of the vibe on the songs “Take Care”, “Too Good”, “Passionfruit”…there’s something there, right? He actually takes time to unpack what went wrong in the relationship, takes his own blame, etc, so maybe it’s gotten more immature lately? Actually I don’t think thats necessarily correct, even on the Take Care album, songs like “Shot For Me” and “Marvin’s Room” are ugly if you take a real look at it, but I don’t seem to mind even if I heard them now. So what gives? Why have “Girls Want Girls”, “In the Bible”, and “TSU” just made me feel like I need a shower? I’m going to try to wrap up this train of thought at the end, this tangent has already gone on a while.

N 2 Deep – I like it. It’s definitely embodying some really toxic energy, but it’s being done in a way that actually has something to say, and it looks like remorse and covered-up-feelings are both really at play in the way he’s structured it. The beat switch up is nice, still not a great Future verse but much better than “Way 2 Sexy”.

Pipe Down – I think after the last track and this one, I may have come closer to finding the answer to the tangent I went off on in the “TSU” section. More to come, but just as far as the track goes, I like it.

Yebba’s Heartbreak – Solid interlude

No Friends In The Industry – Goes pretty hard, but at some point we’re going to have too many songs on this album about Drake having mistrust of people around him & doubting everyone’s loyalty. I’m not sure if that’s supposed to relate thematically to these failed relationships/casual sexual encounters he’s talked about so far. Maybe it is, but it’s not connecting too well.

Knife Talk – Okay this is hot, 21 Savage bodied this one. No surprise that Metro Boomin has production credits on this one.

7am On Bridle Path – Guess its safe to say that if its a Drake song with a time and place in it, its going to be a pretty hard, observational, personal declaration with some decent bars. In this one its pretty obvious he’s addressing the Kanye beef.

Race My Mind – I appreciate the Rick James interpolation, but that might be the only thing making this one not totally mid.

Fountains – It’s okay

Get Along Better – The vibe on this track is what I expected from Drake on an album called “Certified Lover Boy”, I liked this a lot until I remembered that I’ve definitely heard something like this from Drake before…and I think in that, we discover this album’s biggest weakness (aside from calling himself a lesbian). To be elaborated on at the wrap-up section.

You Only Live Twice – Rick Ross and Lil Wayne went off, but I got barely anything from Drake himself here. I know its funny that he popularized YOLO and now has a song called “You Only Live Twice”, and this one is fine, just didn’t feel anything that particularly stood out on his end.

IMY2 – Cool that he had Kid Cudi take the lead on this one, its fine overall.

Fucking Fans – Aaaaaand I’m back to feeling gross. God, Drake sounds like a giant egomaniac on this one…which I didn’t think was possible after I just finished a fucking KANYE album.

The Remorse – I think he was trying to end this album that’s about people who have been disloyal to him with a track giving some love to those who did stay around…but he manages to make it more so about him. Not the strongest note to end on, especially after the last one.

Well…it’s better than Scorpion at least, but that’s not a very high bar so lets actually get into this one. In the reaction section, I went on two tangents that I can wrap up now that tie into what I feel overall.

The first was why almost all the songs he’s directed towards women he’s interested in or are ex-lovers/partners in this album have felt wrong to me. Think about a song like “Take Care” or “Passionfruit” for a second, let it play back in your head. On these tracks, Drake put a lot of emotion behind his words, and through his delivery it just feels way more real and substantive. I mentioned even uglier songs from his earlier discography didn’t make me feel as bad as recent ones have, and that’s because of the delivery again. In my opinion, in tracks like “Marvin’s Room”, he was very well aware that the macho-act he was putting on was fake. The way he wrote and delivered those songs, there was some self-awareness there. He knew he was being kind of pathetic…and in that feeling is where he became oddly compelling. He was being honest about how he felt, masked it by talking about how great he is, but also gave off the impression that he knows he’s in the wrong, that his obsession with his grandeur is a crutch, and that he secretly wishes he could trade it all in for some honest experiences with girl he’s singing about.

At some point, though, the delivery started feeling like less of an act and more of Drake actually having these delusions where he’s in the right with these women he’s wronging. The douchebaggery started taking the place of any actual vulnerability or feeling, and then at that point it was just “guy passive-aggressively being a dick”. Think of “Child’s Play” from Views; I know we all joke about the “Cheesecake” line, but this whole song’s premise is really messed up. The whole “I’m rich and successful and you should feel lucky that I’m dating a girl like you who isn’t accustomed to this life, but if you don’t stop ‘acting up’ then I’m going to send you back to the hood” is so wildly absurd, and is so devoid of anything genuine because of how “reality TV” it sounds. After years of sounding like a young guy trying, failing, regretting, and learning from love…instead he managed to sound like a rich asshole who targets a certain kind of woman in hopes that she could be more subservient to him.

THAT’s the kind of disgusting feeling I got on certain tracks on this album. Others sounded a lot more genuine which you can see from my live reactions, and its not like this is happening EVERY single time Drake talks about a girl. Its just that the bad vibes have been coming up more often the more music he puts out, and Drake’s delivery is getting more stale, which brings me to a good segue into wrapping up the other tangent I went on.

There’s nothing particularly novel about this album compared to his work since Views. Even though I may have liked tracks on this album, the project overall seems uninspired. Does there need to be constant pressure on artists, especially ones as successful as Drake, to push the envelope with every project? No, I think that’s being a little too idealistic. Did he accomplish what he marketed, a “return to form” after Scorpion? Sure, in a way I feel like he did.

All of that is fine, but when you give a listener the same overall blend of atmospheric elements as your last two major releases (Views and Scorpion), more of the flaws in the formula tend to be revealed, and this is already the third time in a row that I’ve walked away with the same general feeling from a major Drake release.

For that reasoning alone…I feel like Kanye wins this round. I know I started this whole thing with the premise of pitting the two projects together, but in reality you should just listen to what you prefer, and they can both just be “good albums”.

I set out to make my decision as an objective music fan, but even me arguing that the themes and tracks on Donda leave me with more than Certified Lover Boy does can still be seen as subjective. I don’t think its a “crime against humanity” if you prefer Drake here, if that’s your thing, then go for it. However, when it comes to the official Soggz-Blogs decision, Donda was the better album and the one I’ll be revisiting a lot more.