See ya, 2018. Wouldn’t want to be ya.
Who would? The year was so crazy that even Vincent Van Gogh would have suggested it get a hold of itself. Terrible fires in California. Terrible cold out east. A Tesla Roadster is driving around in space. Certain eels are compulsively swimming into the noses of certain seals. Chaos, I tell you. Utter chaos.
The worlds of entertainment and technology hopped aboard 2018’s crazy train as well, and it left us laughing, crying or simply scratching our heads. Five years ago, who would’ve thought that we’d be living in a world where Mister Rogers was a pop-culture rock star, Facebook felt old and tired, and Andy from Parks and Recreation would be one of the biggest action stars on the planet?
So with the new year just ’round the bend, let’s take a look at 10 of pop culture’s biggest influencers (for good, bad or just plain strange) and just what they’ve influenced.
Roseanne Barr: The television ride that Barr’s been on this year makes a roller coaster look like a Segway trip through Kansas. On March 27, ABC officially launched the 10th season of Roseanne, a show that was dead and gone more than 20 years before. More than 27 million people watched the premiere episode—making it the highest-rated sitcom in the last three-and-a-half years, and ABC celebrated its success with a swift renewal. Just two short months later, Barr fired off a really ill-advised tweet, which triggered a tsunami of crit, nuked her personal brand and forced ABC to cancel the show. ABC later launched a Roseanne-less Roseanne show (the network renamed it The Conners) to solid, if not spectacular, ratings. Meanwhile, Barr’s prepping to address the Israeli parliament in late January.
Chris: With so many folks named Chris in pop culture, it’s hard to whittle it down to just one. But if you forced my hand, I’d have to say that 2018 was the year Chris Pratt reigned supreme over all the other Chris’s in the land. Not only did he appear in two of the year’s top five movies (Avengers: Infinity War and Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom), but he stars in one of the greatest movie trailers 2018 had to offer—The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part—as both Emmet and a LEGO version of … himself? Sort of? And let’s not forget that he also straight-up preached at the MTV Movie Awards. (On the downside, TV Guide says that his hunting, farming, ranching lifestyle is “problematic,” which has plenty of social media users buzzing.)
But other movie stars named Chris have made a strong impression this year, too. Chris Evans, Captain America himself, anchored Infinity War and announced (in what may be kinda-sorta a spoiler) that he’s hanging up his shield after Avengers: Endgame comes out next year. Chris Hemsworth also starred in Infinity War and was officially named the “most loved Aussie” on Instagram. Chris Pine was, apparently, the only major Chris who didn’t appear in Infinity War, but he still caused a kerfuffle when he unveiled his manhood for Netflix’s Outlaw King.
Drake: Move over, Beatles. Aubrey Drake Graham—otherwise known as Drake—smashed your 50-year-old record for the most top 10 songs (on Billboard’s Hot 100) for a single calendar year. The Beatles set the record way back in 1964 with 11 top 10 songs: Drake had 12 such hits in 2018, including his massive hit “God’s Plan“, which spent 11 weeks at No. 1 and was the year’s top performing single. (The song that finally knocked “God’s Plan” off the top of Billboard’s Hot 100? That’ed be “Nice for What,” by … Drake, of course.) Not enough success for you? Well, how ’bout the fact that the Canadian musician sent a total of 35 entries into the Hot 100 this year. Not too shabby, eh?
Arianna Grande and Pete Davidson: Drake wasn’t the only one to find musical success this year. Arianna Grande had a pretty good run in 2018, too. She found No. 1 with her single “No Tears Left to Cry,” found controversy with “God Is a Woman” and found critical praise from Billboard, which named Sweetener the year’s best album. Saturday Night Live comedian Pete Davidson created his own share of headlines, most unfortunately for mocking congressman-elect and Afghanistan vet Dan Crenshaw’s eye patch. But it was Davidson’s turbulent May-to-October relationship with singer Grande (including an engagement in June) that cemented them as the year’s dysfunctional power couple. After breaking up, Davidson began joking about the failed engagement on SNL, which Grande took exception to on Twitter (and then released a song, “Thank U, Next,” that name-checked her Twitter burn). More recently, and more tragically, Davidson’s been in the news for issuing what seem like suicidal thoughts on social media. Grande rushed to see her ex-beau at SNL, but was apparently turned away.
Reed Hastings: As Plugged In’s official television guy, I know just how much Hastings’ business brain-child Netflix has altered television. The streaming network aired 151 “original” shows this year: That’s a 387% increase from its content just two years ago, and more shows than aired on all four broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox) in the same period. But Hastings et al aren’t content to just rule the television roost these days. Netflix has been trying to crack into the prestigious movie business for a couple of years, too, and this year they may have succeeded. Netflix’s black-and-white drama Roma has been collecting awards like crazy, and seems a lock for a Best Picture Oscar nomination, if not the outright win. In addition, the streaming service’s Coen Brother-directed film, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, holds a 92% freshness rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Still, not everything is rosy in Netflix nation: There’s been an official case of Netflix addiction reported in India, and perhaps the rest of the world isn’t far behind.
Stan Lee: Marvel impresario Stan Lee died this November at the ripe old age of 95. And while most of his recent creativity had been confined to (pretty delightful) cinematic cameos, there’s little question (as I pointed out earlier) that we’re living in a pop culture universe shaped by him. Three of the year’s top five movies, and five of the top 10, are Marvel superhero flicks, and he had a hand in creating many of the heroes who appear in them. Moreover, Lee’s creations helped make the entertainment world a welcoming place for superheroes: Everything from Aquaman to Incredibles 2 has benefitted from his vision. It’d be a cliché to say that Lee may be gone, but he won’t be forgotten. Truth is, Lee’s legacy is as inescapable as Thanos wearing an Infinity Gauntlet.
Arthur Morgan: This pixelated gunslinger ain’t much to look at. Frankly, you likely wouldn’t cotton to having him over for dinner, neither—not if what our reviewer Bob Hoose says is true. But despite—or because—of Morgan’s way with hot lead, Red Dead Redemption 2 became the year’s buzziest game. The action game was released Oct. 26: Three days later, the thing had already made $725 million in its first three days: For comparison’s sake, that’s three times as much as Avengers: Infinity War made in its opening weekend. Overall, Red Dead Redemption sold more than 17 million copies in its first two weeks, making it the year’s best-selling video game. And while Super Smash Bros. Ultimate may challenge Redemption’s sales supremacy before the books are closed, there’s no question that Arthur Morgan’s aim for its audience was true.
Michael Phelps: He didn’t swim a lap this year, as far as I know. But he has been talking openly about his struggles with depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts, which he had even at the height of his career. “I’ve gone through multiple stages of depression, and I deal with anxiety all the time,” he recently said. “There are lots of people struggling with the exact same things, so if I can get one message out there, it’s that ‘It’s OK not to be OK.’ ” And Phelps’ honesty, in a year when we’ve lost so many celebrities—and so many others—to suicide, is a welcome, perhaps life-saving thing.
Fred Rogers: He died in 2003, but Mister Rogers’ legacy is still going strong—and it may, in fact, be growing. It’s not just the Google Doodle that honored him this year, or the commemorative postage stamp. The ordained-minister-turned-children’s-television-icon was the subject of Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, a lovely documentary that has earned more than $22.6 million (a huge haul for a doc), holds a 99% “freshness” rating on Rotten Tomatoes and stands as a front-runner for an Oscar. He may (indirectly) find more awards-season glory next year, when Tom Hanks plays him in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. In our unsettled times, Mister Rogers feels more relevant than ever.
Mark Zuckerberg: Let’s face it: Facebook isn’t going anywhere. About 2 billion people worldwide use it, including around 68% of Americans. But man, Zuckerberg’s immensely successful creation sure suffered some hard times this year. Zuckerberg was called before Congress after it was revealed that Cambridge Analytical accessed the personal information of 87 million Facebook users. By July the company’s stock had lost a quarter of its value. More breeches were uncovered later in the year, and just yesterday we published a news item in Culture Clips stating that kids were staying away from the platform because only “old people” used it. That’s really just scratching the surface of Facebook’s woes—Adweek has a nice timeline of Facebook’s no-good very-bad year—but we can be pretty sure that Zuck hopes not to be on this list next year. At least not for the same reasons.