Pop A-Z: 2016 had no shortage of gorgeous distractions from its torrents of depression

By : Kirk Hartlage
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We know: 2016 kinda sucked. There were far too many passings of entertainment icons, including Prince, David Bowie, Harper Lee and Florence Henderson. Dreams of electing the first female president slowly faded on election night in November as one state after another turned red. And in just one night in June, Orlando – its notoriety as a world-class vacation destination long solidified – also became known as home to the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.

This year, entertainment was more important than ever. A catchy tune, a thrilling novel, a TV program with twisty plot turns: anything that created some amount of joy in our lives was a welcome diversion from the real-world crap that each of the last 365 days seemed to bring. These were some of our favorites.

Attractions: Marquee thrill rides opened throughout Central Florida’s theme parks. SeaWorld’s shark-inspired Mako opened with the most superlatives, as Orlando’s tallest, longest and fastest roller coaster. Busch Gardens opened Cobra’s Curse, putting a new spin on family-friendly fun.

Broadway: The Great White Way was inescapable this year. Hamilton not only dominated the Tonys, but also topped album sales charts thanks to an original cast recording and subsequent mixtape. NBC’s annual contribution to live Broadway productions continued with Hairspray Live!

Channing Tatum: In the year’s gayest silver screen moment, Magic Mike summoned his inner Anchors Aweigh-era Gene Kelly in Hail, Caesar! Lamenting there’ll be “No Dames” at sea, Tatum and his all-male crew’s sadness quickly turns joyous in a classic Hollywood musical number laden with double entendres and three-way sailor choreography.

Divas on Tour: If you’re a gay man who loves seeing iconic single-monikered female singers in concert (which is redundancy at its finest), then 2016 was a banner year. Making their way through Florida this year were Madonna (delayed from August 2015), Rihanna, Beyoncé, Cyndi, Adele, Sia, Dolly and Barbra.

Ellen DeGeneres: As if continued success for her talk show and the long-awaited release of Finding Dory weren’t enough, America’s lead lesbian just kept swimming this year, capping it off by being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Fabulous, Absolutely: If the Orlando media preview I attended was any indication – then who was left to buy tickets come opening weekend?

Go, Pokemon: Seriously. Go! Away!

How To Get Away With Murder: By exploring Conner and Oliver’s serodiscordant relationship, graphically depicting Conner’s man whoring, teasing Annalise’s bisexuality, and recurring references to the fictional (for now) gay/bi hook-up app called “Humpr,” HTGAWM remains TV’s gayest program.

iTunes: “Thanks for the tragedy. I needed it for my art.” Originally said by Kurt Cobain, the sentiment is likely shared by the many painters, writers, singers and other creative types inspired by this summer’s tragedy at Pulse. One of the quickest turn-arounds from creative spark to finished work was from the Broadway for Orlando collective: Their recording of “What the World Needs Now” allowed people around the world to connect not only with the 65 Broadway all-stars who performed on the track, but more importantly with those affected by the Pulse shooting.

James Corden: The new King of Late Night won the title with some very gay-friendly recurring sketches, including “Crosswalk the Musical” and “Carpool Karaoke.” The vehicular vocal showcases featured the likes of Adele, Lady Gaga, Michelle Obama, Madonna and Broadway stars Lin-Manuel Miranda, Audra McDonald, Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Jane Krakowski.

Kate McKinnon: A graduate of Logo’s The Big Gay Sketch Show, the out actress became the first current season cast member of Saturday Night Live to win a Primetime Emmy Award for Acting.

Lemonade: While Beyonce’s visual album was interpreted by some as a response to husband Jay Z’s alleged infidelity, we think it’s a simple case of product placement, specifically of Queen B’s Master Cleanse recipe of lemon juice, water, cayenne pepper and maple syrup. Drink enough of that and you’ll be swinging baseball bats around, too.

Moonlight: This critically acclaimed drama stars Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders and Trevante Rhodes, each of whom plays the same boy at different stages of growing up black, gay and alienated in the Miami projects.

North Carolina: Dear Mr. Springsteen: Since you cancelled your April concert in North Carolina, thanks to the state’s discriminatory “bathroom bill,” we Central Floridians invite you to reschedule your stop here.

O’Neals, The Real: ABC played, and renewed, The Real O’Neals – a comedy about a close-knit, Irish-American Catholic Chicago family whose lives take an unexpected turn when middle child Kenny comes out – as their gay card, winning the 2016 Network Sitcom Diversity Poker Tournament.

Paulson, Sarah: Awards show acceptance speeches have a tradition of the occasional male winner thanking his same-sex partner from the stage. This year’s Emmys saw that tradition take a lesbian spin when Paulson – winning outstanding lead actress in a limited series or movie for her portrayal of Marcia Clark in American Crime Story: The People v O.J. Simpson – thanked her partner, Holland Taylor.

Queens: With 40 percent of its contestants hailing from the City Beautiful, Logo should should have called it RuPaul’s Orlando All Stars Drag Race. The drag careers of Detox, Roxxxy Andrews, Coco Montrese and Ginger Minj all began in Central Florida.

Rainbows: As the dark cloud that was the Pulse tragedy passed, rainbows did indeed appear, both literally and figuratively. Monuments across the globe – the Eiffel Tower, City Hall and Grand Place of Brussels, the Sydney Harbor Bridge in Australia and more – were illuminated in rainbow colors. Meanwhile “Orlando Strong” and “Orlando United” became rallying mantras.

Sulu: In one of the year’s most forehead-smacking moments, when it was announced that Sulu would be revealed as gay in Star Trek Beyond, making him the first openly gay character in the franchise’s 60-year history.

Things, Stranger: Netflix and chill… down your spine!

Us, This Is: And this is us, crying our eyes out, every episode, every time.

Vegas: When they can’t be bothered to tour and perform around the globe, many celebs set up shop in the Nevada desert. This year’s crop included Jennifer Lopez, Britney Spears, Celine Dion, Elton John, Lionel Richie, Mariah Carey and Reba.

Will & Grace: Television’s favorite straight/gay alliance, along with cohorts Jack and Karen, reunited for a pro-Hillary election-themed mini-webisode.

XXXI Olympiad: Ensuring that South America’s first time hosting the Olympic Games would also be the event’s most colorful ever, organizers even changed one pool’s color from blue to green.

Yesterday: Perhaps as a distraction from current day events, some of 2016’s best music found success in days gone by. Among our retro-active faves: Christina Aguilera and Nile Rodgers’ disco-tinged “Telepathy”; ‘80s synth-pop throwback vibes from Bright Light Bright Light; sassy sing-along jams from girl groups like Little Mix and Fifth Harmony; Little Big Town’s classic harmonies produced by Pharrell Williams on Wanderlust; the return of ABC for The Lexicon of Love II and the Pet Shop Boys for Super.

Zzzzz: Frankly, the best diversion we occasionally found this year was a damn good nap


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