by Cory Martin
In the midst of another great summer, filled with blockbuster movies and even better music, it is easy to miss some of the really good stuff.  Below you will find some great cultural items for this summer. Some of these things your students love already or will love at some point, but I’ve also included things that will serve as influencers of youth culture as a whole. What do I mean by that? Well, simply that some of this your youth will never listen to or see, but it will serve as a cultural pivot point in that movies will be different or music will be different because of some of the songs or movies below.
This is not a how-to guide or even a recommendation to use these things in youth group, but is meant to be an aid to understanding youth culture. Not every movie is going to be like Man of Steel (a clear Christ narrative), because we all know youth don’t only watch good wholesome movies (even with our best attempts to encourage them in that direction). I include five important summer movies for you to see or to at least understand and I listg eight artists/albums as well. Why more music? Well, I am a music fiend and there is an over abundance of music.  There are only 50 movies that come out in a summer and there are thousands of albums released in that same time frame.

The Big Screen

First, the aforementioned Man of Steel. Yes, it is a Superman movie. This is the easiest movie on the list to recommend, because everyone seems to be talking about this movie and what it means to our culture. The film deals with the deeply personal and emotional side of Superman and in return makes the movie very profound and thought provoking. We get to see Clark Kent raised in Smallville and we see him come to terms with who he is.
World War Z: This movie should have been subtitled “not just another zombie movie.” The epic scope and scale of this Zombie movie will forever leave a mark on the popular horror genre. Low on blood and guts, but high on tension. You also get to stare into the deep blue eyes of Brad Pitt while he tries to save the world. The movie kind of reminds me of The Happening mixed with Skyfall and I Am Legend.
Fast and Furious 6: Ugh, another sequel in an unending, mind numbing series…well yes! and no! It is a no plot, high-octane thrill ride, with one action sequence after another, but for some reason every kid in my youth group wanted to see this movie and could not stop talking about it. It is a really fun movie and I even taught a lesson from the major themes and dialog from this movie. You can also expect to see number 7 next summer. (Seriously. They aren’t going to stop this franchise any time soon)
The animated movies–Turbo, Monsters University, and Despicable Me 2–are all must see youth culture movies. There is really no way of getting around it. I know some people really love these kind of movies, but these are the hardest for me to watch and get anything out of (except for Up and Toy Story 3).
Last is The Lone Ranger: Essentially, you are getting Pirates of the Caribbean in 1800s Texas. I have heard many girls clamor to see the shirtless Johnny Depp and the profoundly named Armie Hammer. I have also heard countless boys chant for the what will be a Jerry Bruckheimer “classic” action film. Even my reluctant wife said that we have to go see this movie.


Daft Punk: You may have heard the massive song “Get Lucky” everywhere and anywhere that has a speaker. Don’t be confused, it is not a Thriller B-side recently unearthed  since Michael Jackson’s passing. This group rarely puts out an album, but when they do, the world listens and music changes.
Vampire Weekend: This Ivy League meets Paul Simon indie fusion is taking the (music) world by storm. They have written some of the catchiest and most interesting music an American rock band has written in years. The new album Modern Vampires of the City has less arena rock aspirations and more gut wrenching thoughts on death . . . enjoy.
Kanye West: Yeezus Saves (rap music)! This deeply spiritual, self-hate fueled, hip hop banger is unreal. Songs like “Black Skinhead” where he samples Marilyn Manson and on “New Slave” rants about consumer culture and how he plays a part in it, that makes “Thrift Shop” sound like a high school essay compared to West’s doctoral dissertation. Kanye is the fulcrum which hip hop and lots of popular culture revolve around. He is the tastemaker and setter in fashion, music, and even cinema. If a new movie needs a dramatic trailer they use a Kanye song.
Icona Pop: Might have the song of the summer in “I Love It.” One of the most infectious pop songs to come out recently. Look for this group’s full length album to come out this fall.
Charli XCX: She is one of the reasons why this list has eight music suggestions. She is a British wild card. There is a very good chance she will be one of the biggest pop artists within a year. Raised on artists like the Spice Girls, she embodies the sugary girl power ethos into the modern age and is backed by some of the best beat makers on the planet.
MIA: The long awaited return of MIA is imminent and we all wait with bated breath on how she will change pop music again.
The indie kings and queens–The National, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and Phoenix–all released number one albums this summer and their music could be the next Mumford and Sons in your youth group. These bands are kind of like a folk-emo fusion that conveys emotional authenticity like a Dashboard Confessional, The Cure, or The Smiths.
It would be remiss for me not to mention the monster that is Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. Almost every song on their album the Heist is a single that seems to take over the previous song they released. These are the young guns and masters of self promotion. They have yet to even have a full tour. They seem to rap with a sense of purpose that is rarely seen in pop music and many would say that is because they are a self-made artists. They did not lean on the corporate mechanisms of the major labels or even that of an indie label. This allowed them to not be watered down and streamlined to what someone in a suit deemed a hit song. They only reason Kanye West gets away with it is because he is above the record labels. He is able to demand what is released and even how it is released. It is rare, if not unheard of, to see a new artist come out of the gate with such a clear vision.
So here’s what I think your kids are watching and listening to. Is this list accurate? Will you watch any of  these movies and listen to these albums? Remember, not everything in pop culture is terrible or to be avoided. Embrace some of it.

What did I miss?

Cory Martin is an alumnus of the Center for Youth Ministry Training and serves as the youth minister at Blakemore UMC in Nashville. He is a pop culture junkie.