2018’s top pop culture moments
And the top pop culture moments of 2018 are … Wait. WAS there any pop culture this year? Of course there was, but you could be forgiven for forgetting, because more than ever it was politics, politics, and more politics occupying the zeitgeist and sucking the proverbial air out of the room. Still, if you wanted a break from that, there was a royal wedding with something for everyone, some groundbreaking movies, the return of Mary Poppins (to the screen) and Harry Potter (to Broadway), a goodbye to some favorite celebrities, a tale of two coats that were more than just coats, and more. Join us on a highly selective chronological journey through a year in pop culture:
The first awards shows reflect a changed Hollywood, only a few months after the #MeToo movement engulfed the industry. At the Golden Globes, the red carpet becomes a sea of glittering black gowns in solidarity with victims of sexual misconduct, and Oprah Winfey gives a barn-burner of a speech, looking to a day “when nobody ever has to say ‘Me Too’ again!” At the Grammys, stars don white roses, and singer Kesha dedicates a tearful performance of “Praying” to the #MeToo movement.
Welcome to Wakanda: The latest Marvel hero to jump off the page into his own movie is the “Black Panther,” and Ryan Coogler’s film is universally acclaimed. “Show them who we are,” goes a line from the film, an appropriate pre-Oscar chant for Coogler and a starry cast including Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Luupita Nyong’o and a slew of others. Ten months later the film will be nominated for a Golden Globe, beginning its awards journey.
Speaking of Oscar, it’s that time, and we’re still talking about #MeToo, not to mention “Time’s Up!” Appearing onstage to mark the moment is a powerful trio of Harvey Weinstein’s accusers: Ashley Judd, Annabella Sciorra and Salma Hayek. And when Frances McDormand says she has “some things to say,” people listen: The best actress winner asks all the women nominees in the room to stand, and instructs Hollywood to tell their stories.
Times are changing at the Pulitzers, too, where rapper Kendrick Lamar wins the music prize for “Damn.” He’s the first rapper to win the prestigious laurel and the first winner who’s not a classical or jazz musician. In film, director John Krasinski energizes the horror genre with the creepy, silent “A Quiet Place,” also starring wife Emily Blunt. On Broadway, the enduring magic of Harry Potter is conjured with the hit London transplant, “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.”
Let’s say “Do Svidaniya” to our favorite Soviet spy couple as “The Americans” ends its six-season run on FX with an elegant, surprising and moving series finale. At the annual glittery Met Gala, the theme is “Fashion and the Catholic Imagination,” and imaginations are running rampant — we’re talking about you, Katy Perry and your giant angel wings! But perhaps the most memorable fashion statement comes when the very American Meghan Markle weds the very British Prince Harry in a refreshingly unadorned white gown. A gospel choir sings “Stand By Me,” and an American bishop, Michael Curry, almost steals the show with a spirited improvisational sermon before saying: “We gotta get y’all married!” Also this month, “This Is America” by Childish Gambino, aka multi-talented Donald Glover (also having a big year with “Atlanta”) opens at No. 1 on the Billboard chart, accompanied by a viral video of nonstop dancing punctuated by shocking scenes of shootings. And goodbye, Roseanne: The show’s reboot is canceled following her racist tweet.
What was she thinking? Melania Trump doesn’t say, but the writing on her Zara jacket has everyone talking. “I don’t really care. Do U ?” reads the garment worn by the first lady on parts of her trip to visit detained migrant children in Texas. Four months later she’ll explain it was “for the people and for the left-wing media who are criticizing me.” In music, Jay-Z and Beyonce continue to exert their unique influence with a surprise joint album, “Everything is Love.” On a sad note, two admired celebrities are mourned after taking their own lives: global culinary chronicler Anthony Bourdain and colorful it-bag designer Kate Spade.
Last year, it was Weinstein. This year, it’s Les Moonves, one of the most powerful men in television. Reporter Ronan Farrow breaks the explosive story of sexual misconduct on the part of the CBS chief executive; in September, with accusations escalating, Moonves will step down. And at year’s end he’ll lose his $120 million severance when CBS says it has grounds to fire him for cause, concluding he violated company policy and was uncooperative with an investigation — a claim Moonves’ attorney denies.
Farewell to the Queen of Soul: Aretha Franklin’s death sparks worldwide mourning, and the singer is hailed not only for her talent — the greatest of a generation — but her lifelong demand for “Respect,” as a woman and an African-American. She is eulogized in an epic eight-hour funeral. Another longtime great, Paul McCartney, does carpool karaoke with James Corden, and their visit to McCartney’s hometown of Liverpool that has many fans crying sweet tears of nostalgia.
“Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything,” says a new Nike ad that makes waves because of the man speaking the lines: Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco quarterback who began a wave of protests among NFL players against police brutality and racial inequality. At the Emmys, the awards themselves are upstaged by a surprise marriage proposal. And happy birthday, Harry Potter! Wow, you’re 20 years old.
Usually Donald Trump has the spotlight in the Oval Office, but apparently not when Kanye West visits. The rapper, ostensibly there to discuss prison reform, delivers a 10-minute speech about the president, politics, and of course himself. “You are tasting a fine wine,” he says, referring to, er, his truly. “It has multiple notes to it.” Onscreen, the ultimate chameleon, Lady Gaga, reinvents herself yet again with a stunning turn in Bradley Cooper’s acclaimed “A Star Is Born.” And some fine-art news: the elusive Banksy pulls a stunt for the ages with his self-shredding painting at a Sotheby’s auction. But was that him, in the audience? Maybe.
Three broken ribs might sideline a football player, but Ruth Bader Ginsburg ? Nah. Days after her injury from a fall, the 85-year-old Supreme Court justice was back on the job, but later went into the hospital to remove tumors from her left lung. She is recuperating at home, capping a year in which she’s emerged as a true pop culture heroine. Already in the spotlight for “RBG,” the documentary in which she’s shown doing push-ups among other things, she’s also the subject of a popular SNL rap video, and by year’s end a new feature film, “On the Basis of Sex.”
Wanna be the Oscar host? They’re hiring! (Unless you’d prefer to be Trump’s chief of staff.) Kevin Hart is forced to step down — two days after being named — when past homophobic tweets are aired. And remember all the talk over the first lady’s coat? Now it’s Nancy Pelosi’s Max Mara coat we’re discussing, a fiery orange-red number that she wears emerging from a tense showdown with the president. The fashion label immediately reissues the discontinued “Fire Coat.” And speaking of hot (or cool) overcoats: A stylish new Mary Poppins is on the block, thanks to Blunt, who proves a worthy successor to Julie Andrews in the Disney sequel. At the end of a tough year, it feels nice to indulge with just a spoonful of sugar.