Aisha Harris, co-host of NPR’s “Pop Culture Happy Hour” and a writer for Slate and The New York Times, is the pop culture maven millennials have been waiting for. That’s why her debut book, Wannabe: Reckonings With the Pop Culture That Shapes Me, will be flying off the shelves faster than Taylor Swift presale tickets. Part pop culture analysis, part social commentary, and completely and intrinsically personal, Wannabe tackles topics both internal and external. At the forefront are societal issues such as positive representation versus harmful stereotypes in media. Harris’ identity as a Black woman also shapes the narrative as she deftly explores the intersection of pop culture and politics, noting how our political climate changes the way we tell stories.
This book will appeal to readers wishing to go beyond the consumption of media for entertainment’s sake by helping them engage in a socially conscious dialogue. But despite its intellectual value, Wannabe isn’t written for academics. Harris’ audience is anyone who wishes to broaden their understanding of pop culture’s significance to society, and the accessibility of her writing helps to achieve that goal. The humor incorporated throughout the book is truly a delight, and each chapter is chock full of so many witty asides that Harris, were she a television writer, could be the new Amy Sherman-Palladino.
But the book truly shines when it offers us a peek inside Harris’ psyche, providing examples of specific artists, actors and authors who have impacted her life. From unlikely childhood heroines such as tomboy Kristy from The Baby-Sitters Club and loyal punk Ashley Spinelli from the cartoon “Recess,” to the incredible impact of the MTV and VH1 R&B era (looking at you, Toni Braxton), Harris explores how her younger self gravitated toward subversive female icons who redefined the meanings of femininity and strength. As the years passed, other content challenged Harris’ views of womanhood and sexuality, from the sensual Nola Darling in She’s Gotta Have It to the four iconic women who defined a sex-positive generation in “Sex and the City.” Harris also analyzes present-day pop culture, from flawed female leads in TV shows like “Fleabag,” “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” and “Insecure” to pop stars like Rihanna and Megan Thee Stallion who are unapologetically sensual, commanding and fun. When Harris applies her refined, journalistic scrutiny to subjective nostalgia, the behind-the-scenes magic of Wannabe becomes truly clear.
So in conclusion—taps mic—Imma let y’all finish, but this book is the best pop culture guide of all time!