Michelle Stark, Times Staff Writer

Michelle Stark

Michelle Stark is part of the Things to Do crew and co-host of Play Tampa Bay. She also designs the Times' daily entertainment page, and is an editor/writer in the Features department, where she writes weekly about television at The Feed blog. She also manages the Things to Do social media accounts. Stark joined the Times after graduating from the University of South Florida in 2010 with degrees in mass communications and international relations. After an intern stint on the copy editing desk, she moved to Features.

Phone: (727) 893-8829

Email: mstark@tampabay.com

Twitter: @MStark17

  1. Raging debate: Is Taylor Swift's '1989' her best album yet?


    Taylor Swift's fifth album, 1989, dropped on Monday, and immediately Tampa Bay Times archenemies/podmates Sean Daly and Michelle Stark launched into a debate: Is this her best LP yet? Commence bickering, you crazy kids...

    SEAN: In short: yes. Easy answer is that the four best songs of her career are on here: Out of the Woods, Blank Space, How You Get the Girl, I Wish You Would. In longer: As you no doubt read and enjoyed in my full review of her album, Michelle, I praised T-Swizz for shifting focus from her love life (and essentially giving power to men and the media) to her music and herself. Hey, she's always been dominant and profitable, but now there's something new about her and her songs: a believable confidence and honesty. This is her first "pop" album, but marketing and hype aside, it's actually a conceptual vision, inspired by the synthy, rambunctious '80s and her newfound freedom. Her previous albums have beautiful work on them, of course. But they suddenly seem a bit cloying and affected compared to 1989. The real Taylor Swift just stood up.

    MICHELLE: Sean, I have been preparing for just this occasion by blasting Swift's previous two albums on repeat in my car the past few weeks. First and foremost, that's how I judge whether I love her stuff: Can it withstand five listenings per day and me singing along at the top of my lungs? Speak Now and Red are stiff competition, and pop or not, I do think 1989 is on par with both of them. (One area it's immediately better: The beats on this thing are SICK.) Here's the thing. I don't care whether Swift wants to sing her lyrics over a synth beat or guitar strums. At this point, if it comes from Taylor Swift, I'm giving it a shot. She's her own genre. That's why 1989 doesn't read like Swift trying to copy her pop peers (though, yowza, Blank Space is the twin sister of Lorde's Team); 1989 is Swift wanting to do what everyone else is doing and, in making it her own, doing it a lot better than almost anyone else.

    Alas, I'm not sure I can quite call this album her best. Swift's great strength is her songwriting, at once intimately evocative and epically universal, and if 1989 falters anywhere it's here. It's all a tad shallow compared to heavyweights Speak Now and Red (and Swift's catapult to fame Fearless!). And I cannot agree with your bold statement that those four songs are her best ever. Nothing on this album emotionally wrecks me like Speak Now's Dear John or Last Kiss ("I still remember the look on your face, lit through the darkness at 1:58"). Or Red masterpiece All Too Well (not exaggerating: I tear up every time Swift hits that bridge, "And then you call me up again just to break me like a promise"). Out of the Woods comes the closest to making me feel deeply, which is why for me it's the album's strongest song. (Blank Space is a close second: "Oh my god, look at that face / you look like my next mistake".) I don't think this is entirely to 1989's detriment. I'm glad Swift didn't just make another Red. This is her most ambitious (and fun!) work, and a good indication of where she's at in life. Trust me, there's a giant ocean of difference between being a 19- or 20-year-old girl and being a 24-year-old girl, and we're seeing that evolution here. 

    SEAN: Aw crap, just listened to Last Kiss again. That thing's bleepin' brutal. Is anyone in modern pop better at capturing the moments right before a breakup, that cinematic twilight time? Taylor OWNS that time. Not saying she enjoys things going awry, but she sure turns lemons into bittersweet lemonade. And it makes a lot of sense that you're so protective of Speak Now and Red. You're the same age, growing up with her, going through a lot of the same life twisteroos. Very cool. I'm older, so maybe that's why I responded to 1989's vintage inflections and over-the-top production. (Kudos to Fun.'s Jack Antonoff for the frenzy that is Out of the Woods.) She lives in New York now, and how poetic is that: She's a blond, beautiful, chest-pounding King Kong owning the city, the radio, the whole damn world.

    MICHELLE: Indeed, Sean, I was born just one year before Taylor. And, if nothing else, 1989 is an eternal reminder of that. So, thanks for that, Swift! In all seriousness: The more I listen to the new record (onto my fourth listen of the day!), the more I dig it. I'm even going to defend the WHOA THIS SOUNDS LIKE THE '80S synth sounds of opener Welcome to New York (not sure I can defend those lyrics), and first single Shake It Off, which sounds shockingly out of place on this album after hearing the other 12 tracks, but is way too catchy to write off. I'm telling you, I get the most excited when it comes on during my Monday night Zumba class. And maybe that's the best use of 1989. Forget the deep lyrics: Let's all just throw our hands up and have a carefree dance party. You in, old man?

  2. Taylor Swift is going to be on 'The Voice' tonight, plus she makes New Year's plans


    Happy Taylor Swift day, y'all! Actually, forget the y'all, she's pure pop now, right? Whatever. Pop or not, she's still Swift, one of the biggest stars on the planet, so it's news that she's going to appear on The Voice this week, starting tonight. She's going to give advice to the contestants who have made it this far as they head into the Knockout Rounds. Oh, and she'll probably sing a little something too. (For more on our top TV picks this week, click here.)...

  3. Top TV week of Oct. 27: 'The McCarthys,' 'Great Pumpkin,' Taylor Swift on 'The Voice'

    The Feed


    Halloween, 7 p.m., AMC

    Start the week off in the right spooky spirit with John Carpenter's 1978 horror classic starring Jamie Lee Curtis, infamous villain Michael Myers, and Carpenter's chilling score.

    The Voice, 8 p.m., NBC

    The Knockout Rounds begin this week, but the big news is that Taylor Swift shows up to give pointers to the remaining contestants! Not coincidentally, this is also the same week her new album 1989 comes out. You didn't think the biggest music star on the planet would make a completely selfless appearance, did you? ...

    Blake Shelton and Taylor Swift
  4. Yes, it is worth it to cut the cable cord - here's why


    Every Monday I settle in for a night of hokey reality competitions: NBC’s The Voice or ABC’s Dancing with the Stars. On Tuesday, it’s New Girl and The Mindy Project on Fox; Thursday is Shonda Rhimes nights with Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder. Friday mornings, I catch up on what I missed Wednesday and Thursday. 

    I haven’t had cable in four years. And with the recent news that HBO has plans to offer a standalone online streaming service, and CBS is currently offering the same, we might be moving toward a world in which this sort of TV consumption, without a traditional cable subscription, is the norm....

    I'm also able to watch 'Scandal'!
  5. Top TV week of Oct. 20: 'Parenthood,' 'Gracepoint,' 'The Blacklist'

    The Feed


    SEASON PREMIERE The Millers, 8:30 p.m., CBS

    Season 2 opens with Carol's (Margo Martindale) wish for her own place. Our wish is to get Martindale off this show entirely so she can resume stealing scenes on The Americans. Oh, and Sean Hayes (Will and Grace) is now a season regular.

    The Blacklist, 10 p.m., NBC

    James Spader's Red uses his gifts of lies and manipulation to pursue someone close to him. Yawn, what else is new?...

    Casey Wilson, right, and Ken Marino in Marry Me.
  6. CBS also launches an online-only streaming service


    Remember yesterday, when HBO announced it would offer an online-only streaming service? Well, another, very different kind of channel has followed suit.

    Broadcast network CBS has launched a stand-alone online streaming service, CBS All Access, for $5.99 a month. Unlike the HBO news, though, CBS moved fast on this one: You can already sign up for CBS All Access here....

    The Big Bang Theory
  7. Neil Patrick Harris is hosting the Oscars - finally!


    We must log in the fact that entertainer extraordinaire Neil Patrick Harris is set to host the 2015 Oscars. Harris has also previously presided over the Tony Awards (four times) and the Emmy Awards (two times), and those Tony telecasts won Emmys each time he hosted. With the Oscars now on his resume, it's an awards show hat trick!

    Harris announced the new gig Wednesday, with this video on Twitter....

    Yeah, Neil was made for this hosting thing.
  8. Every episode of 'Friends' is coming to Netflix


    Continuing today's exciting streaming service news, Netflix just announced that it reached a deal with Warner Bros to make all 236 episodes of Friends available on the streaming service in the U.S. and Canada. Take that, HBO!...

    The Friends!
  9. It's about time: HBO will soon offer online-only streaming service


    Cable-cancelers everywhere, rejoice! HBO announced Wednesday it's going to implement an online streaming service sometime next year, a la Netflix. That means someone without a cable subscription (or HBO subscription) will be able to sign up for the service and access all HBO content in an online-only platform. If you're a cord-cutter like me, this is the most exciting TV news of the year. (I ditched cable about three years ago, opting for an HD antenna, Hulu Plus and Netflix.)...

    Now you can catch up on all that  Game of Thrones.
  10. Halloween TV specials: 'It's the Great Pumpkin,' 'The Simpsons,' 13 Nights of Halloween and more


    Let's face it: We can’t rely on seasonal shifts to mark the start of a festive fall season. October in Florida needs all the help it can get. That’s why we need spooky decorations, haunted theme park attractions and, of course, Halloween-themed television. To get you in the mood, here are some of our top TV picks airing over the next few weeks.


    31 Days of Halloween ...

    Peanuts' Halloween special
  11. Review: 'Marry Me' is one of the fall TV season's best new sitcoms


    I miss NBC's canceled sitcom Happy Endings on a daily basis. So it's a real delight to watch the network's new show Marry Me, from Happy Endings creator David Caspe, and feel some of that zany Endings energy come through the TV. The show comes off as sort of gimmicky in its pilot episode premiering Tuesday, but it's more than funny and charming enough to make up for it. Casey Wilson and Ken Marino as a couple on the verge of getting engaged are a dream....

    Wilson and Marino
  12. RECAP: 'The Walking Dead' opens Season 5 with bloody masterpiece … or not


    Did we just witness the tautest hour in the history of The Walking Dead, a cutthroat Season 5 premiere for the flesh-eating ages? Sean Daly thinks so. Or is the AMC phenomenon (the highest-rated series in basic-cable history) a beyond-tedious mess at this point? Um, super casual Dead fan Michelle Stark thinks so. Herewith, the Tampa Bay Times TV nerds debate Sunday's kickoff episode. Needless to say, they don't agree....

  13. What to watch this week: 'The Voice,' 'Marry Me,' 'Jane the Virgin,' 'The Flash'


    This week's top TV includes two new shows that are worth putting on your radar: the very funny new NBC sitcom Marry Me, and the CW's campy, fun Jane the Virgin. Plus, The Voice heads into one of the best parts of the show: Battle Rounds!

    Click here for our full list of top TV picks....

  14. Top TV week of Oct. 13: 'The Voice,' 'Marry Me,' 'Jane the Virgin'

    The Feed


    The Voice, 8 p.m., NBC

    The battle rounds start this week! At which point the niceties of the blind auditions end and things get real between the competitive coaches (looking at you, Levine!). Plus, they each bring on a music adviser to help with the contestants: Gwen Stefani chose her husband, Bush frontman Gavin Rossdale (snore); Adam Levine gets Stevie Nicks; Pharrell chose Alicia Keys; and Blake Shelton has fellow country stars Little Big Town. Even better: Only two more weeks till Taylor Swift shows up....

    Adam Levine, Gwen Stefani, Pharrell Williams and Blake Shelton head to the battle rounds this week.
  15. Review: NBC's 'Marry Me' is funny enough to overcome gimmick

    The Feed

    NBC's new sitcom Marry Me starts full-throttle funny and doesn't let up. Starring Casey Wilson (Happy Endings) and Ken Marino (Childrens Hospital) as a longtime couple on the verge of getting engaged, the show premiering Tuesday from Happy Endings creator David Caspe opens on Jake's (Marino) botched marriage proposal to Annie (Wilson).

    He's trying to surprise her after a vacation; she pre-empts the question with a rant about how he's waited too long to ask. "Your friends are garbage people!" she complains. About his mom: "She doesn't like me, does she? Guess what, don't like her!" ("She is an angel walking amongst us," Jake replies.) What Annie doesn't know is that all of those people and more are gathered secretly in their apartment, waiting to surprise the happy couple....

    Casey Wilson as Annie and Ken Marino as Jake in 'Marry Me.'