A SundanceTV Original Series
Inspired by New York Magazine‘s back page pop culture roundup, hosted by comedian Neal Brennan

“THE APPROVAL MATRIX” Recapped and Revealed (Who Died and Made You Cool?)

Panel includes: Derek Blasberg, Naomi Ekperigen, Host Neal Brennan, Dawn O’Porter and Streeter Seidell.

“Who’s cooler—” Neal asks in an un-aired segment from THE APPROVAL MATRIX, ”Taylor Swift or Daft Punk?”
 
It’s a fair question: Taylor is sweet, accessible and beloved by millions. Instead of breaking the rules, she writes songs called “Mean” and sings about boyfriends and sleepovers. Daft Punk, on the other hand, is an avant-garde French DJ duo whose human qualities are purposefully obscured by robot masks and synthetic beats. Panelist and British TV personality Dawn O’Porter says it’s obvious: From an artistic stand-point, Daft Punk is obviously cooler. But could millions and millions of screaming fans be wrong about Taylor? Is she not, behind the giggles and charm bracelets, a new kind of cool? 
 
In 2014, when tech moguls are running Burning Man and smoking weed is becoming legal, what does cool even mean anymore? That’s what our panel of pop culture experts has come to debate on this week’s episode, “Who Died and Made You Cool?”. And what’s the fall-out? Times have changed, and we may all need to get over it and forget everything we know about being cool.
 
Caught in the battlefield of this culture war on traditional notions of “cool” is our host, Neal Brennan — and he’s had enough! Bring back The Original Cool Kid, he says. Bring back The Fonz. Bring back hairy-chested Tom Selleck. Or the drug-addled downtown rock star.
 
Neal launches with a sidelong admission that he once used to define cool based on whatever black people were doing, a sentiment echoed by Brit TV personality Dawn O’Porter who says, “When I think of cool, I think of a cool black dude who’s laid back and into good music…” But when Pharrell —  born as Neal points out, “good-looking, talented and black” — is now squandering all that potential as America’s trendiest nerd on foppish headwear and songs about being happy, that notion is under attack.
 
Pop culture, Neal thinks, is caught in the Justin Timberlake Paradox: when a modern-day Frank Sinatra who brought “Sexy Back” is now sporting tweed vests and thick-framed glasses without losing his trendsetter status.
 
To Neal, it doesn’t make sense. The New Cool is not better than the Old Cool. It’s just a classic revenge narrative: traditional nerd becomes cool and enacts revenge on bullies by shaming the formerly cool into feeling they are out of touch. The panel largely agrees.
 
“[But] I can’t live in a world in which Taylor Swift is more highbrow than cocaine!” an incensed Streeter Seidell protests.
 
And yet, that’s the brave new world we live in. Best to pull on the suspenders, break out the bifocals and learn to cope. In the words of Ms. Swift, the Old Cool will “never, ever, ever” be cool again.

Get a tune-in reminder for THE APPROVAL MATRIX Mondays at 11/10c on SundanceTV.

Want more from THE APPROVAL MATRIX? Check out our interviews with panelists Naomi Ekperigin, Streeter Seidell and Derek Blasberg.