Looking Back at the 50 Biggest Pop Culture Moments of 2023

Gwyneth Paltrow

From celebrations to scandals, TikTok trends to trials, and historic Hollywood strikes to heated discourse about everything frtaom fashion to celebrity opinions on geopolitics, 2023 gave us more than we could handle sometimes. Now, as we begin a fresh new year, let's look back and see which moments make us smile with fondness and which ones we're all too happy to leave behind. 

We'll recap the events from January all the way through the end of the year. What does 2024 hold in store for us? Only time will tell.

1. January: Nepo Baby Discourse and Hailey Bieber's Shirt

Hailey Bieber
Image Credit: DFree / Shutterstock.com.

“Nepo Baby” discourse took over social media early in 2023. Several online conversations questioned the talent, or lack thereof, of the children of celebrities who've become singers, actors, models, etc. But no one made a statement as bold as Hailey Bieber, model and daughter of actor Stephen Baldwin, when she wore a simple white baby tee with “Nepo Baby” written on it. 

2. Prince Harry's “Todger” Talk in Spare

Prince Harry
Image Credit: Shaun Jeffers / Shutterstock.

Prince Harry's memoir Spare arrived in January and did not disappoint those looking for some very personal stories. But one story stood above the rest in the conversations surrounding the book: when Harry put his mother's favorite face cream on his frostbitten “todger.” 

3. M3GAN Dance

Jenna Davis, Allison Williams, and Amie Donald in M3gan (2022)
Image Credit: Universal Pictures.

The eponymous android of M3GAN became a pop culture phenomenon before the movie even hit theaters, thanks to a dance scene highlighted in the trailer. Choreographed by Kylie Norris and performed by Amie Donald, the dance helped the film achieve its somewhat surprising box office success

4. Kylie Jenner Wears a (Faux) Lion Head at Paris Fashion Week

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Image Credit: DFree / Shutterstock.com.

Heads turned to catch Kylie Jenner's roar of a fashion choice at Paris Fashion Week when she wore a full-sized lion head as a shoulder piece. The response was mixed, with some concerned that the head was real, but Jenner assured us that it was created from “manmade materials.” 

5. MODOK Memes

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Image Credit: Disney+.

Like M3GAN's dance, the new Marvel Cinematic Universe character MODOK (Corey Stoll) became a meme before his official debut film arrived in theaters. After the release of the film's trailer, the Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania villain's less-than-great design quickly inspired memes that overtook fandom spaces online

6. Ticketmaster Faces Congressional Hearing

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Image Credit: T. Schneider/Shutterstock.

Concert-goers have complained about Ticketmaster and their monopolistic business practices for years. But last January, after a debacle involving tickets for Taylor Swift's The Eras Tour, Congress held hearings investigating Ticketmaster and its parent company, Live Nation. 

7. February: Beyoncé Breaks Grammy Record, Still Loses Album of the Year

Beyonce
Image Credit: Everett Collection / Shutterstock.

The Grammys have often disappointed fans and led to serious conversations about race in awards, especially after Macklemore and Ryan Lewis took home the Best Rap Album over Kendrick Lamar in 2014. 2023 did little to assuage those disappointments or quiet the conversations as Beyoncé won her 32nd Grammy and broke the record for most awards for a single artist. But Harry Styles' Harry's House won Album of the Year. 

8. Rihanna's Pregnancy Reveal at Super Bowl Halftime Show

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Image Credit: Frederic Legrand – COMEO/Shutterstock.

Rihanna's Super Bowl Halftime Show was a stunner on every level. The floating platforms looked amazing, and Riri sounded fantastic. But her belly wowed people the most as she proudly revealed a baby bump at the show's start. 

9. Aliens?

Alien, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)
Image Credit: Paramount Pictures.

Questions and discussions about the existence of aliens and whether or not they have contacted Earth have abounded for decades. But it's not every day that the commander of the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) says, “I haven't ruled out anything” when asked about the potential alien origins of an unidentified flying object. 

10. Big Red Boots

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Image Credit: Shutterstock.

Few clothing items take the celebrity world by storm like the Big Red Boots from the aptly titled art collective MSCHF. While the shoes are undoubtedly divisive, there's no denying the quantity and caliber of the celebrities who wore them.  

11. “Angela Bassett Did the Thing”

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever Angela Bassett
Image Credit: Marvel Studios.

After making history last year as the first openly queer woman of color and first Afro Latina to win an Oscar, Ariana DeBose made meme history last awards season by fully committing to singing, “Angela Bassett did the thing!” at the opening of the BAFTAs. The moment and quote spread like wildfire on social media, and DeBose confessed to loving it.

12. March: “Scandoval”

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Image Credit: Shutterstock.

Cheating scandals, especially involving reality TV stars, might be a dime a dozen, but few have as catchy a name as “Scandoval.” The term refers to the scandal centering on Vanderpump Rules stars Tom Sandoval and Raquel Leviss's affair. The Scandoval caught fire because Sandoval's (now former) girlfriend and Leviss's (once) good friend, Ariana Madix, defended the two before their betrayal was revealed

13. Gwyneth Paltrow Ski Crash Trial

Gwyneth Paltrow
Image Credit: Shutterstock.

The wheels of justice may turn slowly, but musical theater wastes no time. In March, Gwyneth Paltrow was tried and found not at fault for a skiing accident that occurred in 2016, during which she and a 76-year-old optometrist collided, leaving him with several broken ribs. Just months after the trial, a musical based on the incident and subsequent trial is being performed in London. 

14. Everything Everywhere All at Once Sweeps Oscars

Everything Everywhere All at Once Michelle Yeoh
Image Credit: A24.

Everything Everywhere All at Once made a massive splash at the box office last year when it arrived in theaters. But it made an arguably bigger splash at the Oscars in 2023 when it swept up seven awards. The film won three acting awards, nabbed co-directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert Best Director statuettes, and won Best Picture in what many celebrated as a victory for Chinese Americans. 

15. The Eras Tour Begins in Arizona

Taylor Swift The Eras Tour
Image Credit: AMC Theaters.

No one was at the center of the pop culture conversation like Taylor Swift last year, and while the Ticketmaster fiasco played a part, the real dominance began with the start of The Eras Tour — the first date of the tour was March 17th in Glendale, Arizona. 

16. April: Glen Powell and Gigi Paris Split

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Image Credit: Shutterstock.

As Glen Powell and Sydney Sweeney wrapped filming on their upcoming romantic comedy Anyone But You, questions arose on social media about whether they shared great chemistry or something more. Powell's seemingly abrupt breakup with his girlfriend of three years, Gigi Paris, did nothing to calm the rumors. It turns out it was just great chemistry, and Powell and Paris split amicably

17. Tucker Carlson Leaves Fox News After More Than a Decade

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Image Credit: Wiki Commons.

After starting at the conservative news giant in 2009 as a general contributor and working his way up to host of the most-watched show on the network, Tucker Carlson left Fox in April. Or was he fired? Questions remain, but Carlson wasted no time moving on, creating a show for Twitter. Or should we say “X”?

18. May: Jared Leto Wears a Cat Costume at the Met Gala

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Image Credit: Shutterstock.

Many looks caused a stir at the Met Gala, especially those honoring Karl Lagerfeld's beloved cat Choupette, like Doja Cat's feline face. But none made as much of an impact as Jared Leto's full-body (and head) costume

19. Writers Strike Begins

Members of the The Writers Guild of America (WGA) picket outside the Netflix, Inc., building on Sunset Blvd, on Friday, May 5, 2023, in Los Angeles.
Image Credit: Ringo Chiu/Shutterstock.

Anyone who loves TV or movies has writers to thank. So it's a significant moment in pop culture when the people who write the entertainment we love go on strike, as the Writers Guild of America did last year. The strike, motivated partly by concerns about artificial intelligence, ended five months later with major victories for the writers and human beings

20. Grim Reaper Attends King Charles' Coronation?

Grim Reaper, Death, Skeleton
Image Credit: Shutterstock.

King Charles' coronation was a massive affair for royals fans, but one mysterious guest caught the attention of everyone. Some coronation viewers spotted a dark, seemingly hooded figure holding a scythe walking around the celebrations. Rumors swirled that the one and only Grim Reaper attended the festivities. It turns out it was just a Church employee

21. Succession Comes to an End

Succession
Image Credit: HBO Entertainment.

After five years as the internet's most talked about show, Succession ended in May. But just because the show is over doesn't mean people have stopped talking or arguing about it.  

22. June: Across the Spider-Verse Takes Over Letterboxd, Sparks Discussion and (Probably) Changes

Shameik Moore in Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse (2023)
Image Credit: Sony Pictures Animation/Sony Pictures Releasing.

Just three days after the release of Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, the film became the highest-rated (by average) movie of all time on film-fan social media site Letterboxd. That provoked quite a response among cinephiles, some of whom were upset that a brand new superhero movie was listed above classic films. A couple of weeks later, the site changed how they calculate average ratings. 

23. J Lo's “Daddy Appreciation Post”

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Image Credit: Shutterstock.

Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck's decades-long on, off, and back on romance has offered no shortage of discussion fodder for gossip fans. But J Lo's “Daddy Appreciation Post” on Instagram for 2023's Father's Day is undoubtedly the most, let's say, revealing their romance has ever been publicly. 

24. “Travis I'm Pregnant” Sign

Travis Barker and Kourtney Kardashian in The Kardashians (2022)
Image Credit: Kardashian Jenner Productions/Disney Streaming Services (The Walt Disney Company)/Hulu, Inc.

Kourtney Kardashian turned heads in real-time and online when she held a sign that said “Travis I'm Pregnant” at a Blink-182 concert in June. But some didn't realize that the sign wasn't just a hilarious pregnancy announcement — it was also a reference to a Blink music video

25. Grimace Shake TikTok Trend

Bethesda, Maryland - June 14 2023: McDonald's Grimace's Birthday Meal with Big Mac, Fries, Chicken Nuggets, Milkshake
Image Credit: TYangMD/Shutterstock.

When McDonald's launched the Grimace Shake in June to celebrate the character's 52nd birthday, they couldn't have hoped for a better marketing team than Gen-Zers on TikTok. Teens commemorated the event and the shake by creating dark and absurdly funny videos of the shake causing their untimely and often elaborate deaths

26. Messi to Miami

Lionel Messi
Image Credit: Ringo Chiu/Shutterstock.

It isn't easy to get most citizens of the United States to pay attention to soccer. But sometimes, the international soccer community pays attention to what's happening in the United States. That happened last year when world-famous Argentine player Lionel Messi decided to leave his longtime team in Barcelona and head to Miami

27. July: “You Stole My … Wedding Country”

Keeping Up with the Kardashians Kim Kardashian
Image Credit: Ryan Seacrest Productions / E!.

Drama in the Kardashian/Jenner media empire became not just news but also extremely quotable in July when a conflict between sisters Kourtney and Kim led Kim to exclaim on the family's Hulu show that Kourtney “stole [her] … wedding country.” The sisters have since made up, for now. 

28. Screen Actors Guild Strike Begins

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Image Credit: Shutterstock.

Following their writing colleagues' footsteps in the TV and movie-making business, the Screen Actors Guild of America began to strike in July. Led by the fearless and outspoken Fran Drescher, the strike ended in November in a victory for the actors

29. Ariana Grande Starts Dating SpongeBob (sort of)

Ariana Grande
Image Credit: Tinseltown/Shutterstock.

Ariana Grande appeared to waste no time between separating from her husband of two years, Dalton Gomez, and moving on with her romantic life by beginning to date SpongeBob SquarePants. Well, not really, but she started dating her upcoming Wicked movie co-star Ethan Slater, whose previous credits include playing the beloved sponge in the Broadway adaptation of the cartoon. 

30. Barbenheimer

Barbenheimer
Image Credit: Warner Bros.; Universal Pictures.

Arguably, the pop culture moment of 2023, the same-day release of Barbie and Oppenheimer in theaters on July 21st, 2023, will be remembered for years, if not decades, as one of the most serendipitously perfect occurrences in movie history. The memes will live on, as will stories of the people who went to see both films in a double feature, sometimes more than once. 

31. Twitter Becomes X

Twitter
Image Credit: Twitter.inc, Apache License 2.0-Wiki Commons/X and Twitter, Public Domain-Wiki Commons.

In what some see as a brilliant move and others see as self-sabotage, the social media giant once known as Twitter officially changed its name to “X” under the leadership of Elon Musk in late July. The change may not have impacted users' experience much, unlike many of Musk's other updates, but it's undoubtedly a bold rebrand. 

32. August: Selena Gomez's Cozy Blanket

Selena Gomez
Image Credit: DFree / Shutterstock.com

Has anyone ever looked as content as Selena Gomez in her blanket? Maybe, maybe not, but it's hard to think of another instance of a candid cozy photo going viral and inspiring several thousand memes. 

33. The Donald Trump Mugshot

Donald Trump mugshot
Image Credit: FULTON COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE.

Former President Donald Trump is not looking so cozy in the first-ever mugshot of a president. The former president had the picture snapped in an Atlanta jail where he surrendered to authorities after being charged with attempts to change election results. 

34. Kim Cattrall Cameo on ‘And Just Like That…' Shot Without Interacting With Other Cast Members

Samantha Jones at a lunch wtih her friends
Image Credit: Darren Star Productions.

A one-scene cameo from a former star who was not invited to be on a reboot of a beloved show is a nice bone to throw fans. A one-scene cameo where that star is fictionally in a different country and literally in another place doesn't feel quite as nice. 

35. Scooter Braun Client Exodus

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Image Credit: Wiki Commons.

August saw an apparent mass exodus of pop stars, including Ariana Grande and Demi Lovato, from famed manager Scooter Braun's roster of clients. But the reasons why, and reports of who was leaving and who was staying, are still not quite clear

36. Nick Jonas Falls Into a Hole on Stage

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Image Credit: Shutterstock.

Anyone who's ever performed will tell you that it's easy to get lost in the moment, and sometimes that means losing sense of exactly where things are in your surroundings. Presumably, that's what happened to Nick Jonas when he fell into a hole while performing at a show in Boston. But also, why was there a hole in the middle of the stage

37. September: Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis Apologize (Poorly) For Danny Masterson Character Letters

Ashton Kutcher, Mila Kunis
Image Credit: Kathy Hutchins/Shutterstock.

Over the summer, That '70s Show stars Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis wrote character letters seeking leniency for their friend and former co-star Danny Masterson. But it wasn't until September that these letters became public, and the couple did an abysmal job of apologizing for defending a man convicted of assault. Many felt the apology video was an apology for getting caught more than their actions. 

38. Joe Jonas Files for Divorce from Sophie Turner

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Image Credit: Shutterstock.

While August saw Nick Jonas fall in a hole on stage, September saw Joe Jonas file for divorce from Sophie Turner, his wife of four years. Celebrity breakups happen all the time, but the rumors about a mysterious something that Turner said or did that led to his decision made the split juicy. 

39. Taylor Swift Cheers on Travis Kelce at Chiefs Game

Travis Kelce
Image Credit: Featureflash Photo Agency / Shutterstock.com.

As one celebrity romance ends, another begins. In late September, Taylor Swift cheered on the Kansas City Chiefs while sitting right next to tight end Travis Kelce's mom, stirring up chatter about Swift and Kelce dating. That chatter also had a major impact on Chiefs merch sales, as Kelce's jersey sales skyrocketed by almost 400%. They're still going strong today.

40. Susi-Stitches on Tiktok

woman using Tim Tok
Image Credit: Melnikov Dmitriy/Shutterstock.

Social media is a strange place. Sometimes you share a video of a homemade pesto recipe and accidentally start a trend of people sharing the craziest stories. That's what happened to Susi Vidal, who began a TikTok pesto recipe, “Call me crazy if you want, I've never liked store-bought pesto,” and inspired thousands of stitchers to respond with their wildest stories. Because, well, not liking store-bought pesto isn't actually all that crazy. 

41. Kylie Jenner and Timothée Chalamet Display Affection at US Open

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Image Credit: Shutterstock.

Most people go to the US Open for tennis. But apparently, Kylie Jenner and Timothée Chalamet went for the romantic atmosphere. The two shared a very affectionate date at the tennis tournament that caught the attention of many.  

42. October: Martin Scorsese on TikTok and in Theaters

Martin Scorsese
Image Credit: Paramount Pictures.

Martin Scorsese has been one of America's most celebrated filmmakers for nearly half a century. But in October, just a few days before his most recent film, Killers of the Flower Moon, arrived in theaters, he also became a social media star when he appeared with his daughter Francesca in an equally hilarious and adorable TikTok where she quizzes him on slang.  

43. The Eras Tour Comes to Theaters

Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour concert film
Image Credit: Taylor Swift Productions.

While the tour is still in full swing, Taylor Swift's concert film The Eras Tour arrived in theaters on October 13th. The film, just like the live tour, set sales records

44. Britney Spears's Memoir Makes Waves

Britney Spears
Image Credit: Kathy Hutchins/Shutterstock.

After finally breaking free from her conservatorship in 2021, Britney Spears set about writing a memoir — and what a memoir it is. The book, titled The Woman in Me, is full of revelations about her conservatorship, her feelings about being sexualized as a teen, and her relationship with Justin Timberlake. 

45. Zoë Kravitz and Channing Tatum Confirm Engagement in Costume

Channing Tatum
Image Credit: Wiki Commons.

Few celebrity couples are as charming, together or apart, as Zoë Kravitz and Channing Tatum. A lot of that is because they don't take themselves too seriously and they definitely didn't take their engagement reveal seriously. The first pictures of Kravitz sporting an engagement ring were taken while the two wore silly Rosemary's Baby costumes. 

46. November: A New Beatles Song

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Image Credit: ingen uppgift – Scanpix, Public Domain/Wiki Commons.

More than half a century after they broke up, and decades after the deaths of two of the four members, the Beatles released a new song. Unsurprisingly, the song shot up the Billboard charts

47. A New Hollywood Blacklist?

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Image Credit: Shutterstock.

In the late 1940s and '50s, Hollywood went through one of its most shameful periods as many creatives accused of communism were blacklisted from employment by studios. In November, after Scream star Melissa Barrera was fired from the upcoming sequel in the series and Susan Sarandon was dropped from her agency for expressing support for Palestine, many commentators feared we were seeing the rise of a new blacklist.  

48. Dolly Parton as Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader

Dolly Parton
Image Credit: Bart Sherkow / Shutterstock.com.

Dolly Parton is 77 years old and still looks fantastic in anything, including a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader outfit. The multi-hyphenate icon stunned everyone, including her team, when she wore the iconic cheerleader outfit to perform at the Cowboys' Thanksgiving halftime show. 

49. December: Renaissance: A Film by Beyoncé Arrives in Theaters

Beyoncé at an event for Renaissance: A Film by Beyoncé (2023)
Image Credit: Crew Renaissance.

A little over a month and a half after The Eras Tour hit multiplexes, Renaissance: A Film by Beyoncé took the number one spot at the box office on its opening weekend, making 2023 the first year ever where two different concert films have topped the box office. While Renaissance hasn't hit the same numbers as The Eras Tour (yet), there's no way to overstate the importance of Beyoncé releasing a movie in theaters. 

50. Taylor Swift Named Time's Person of the Year

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Image Credit: Shutterstock.

After quite a year, it wasn't all that surprising, despite what some online might say, that Time magazine selected Taylor Swift as Person of the Year. No one commanded as much attention as Swift last year, and with her Time cover, she'll keep getting more. 

Author: Kyle Logan

Title: Contributing Writer

Expertise: Film, TV, Horror, Animation, Queer Cinema

Bio:

Film and TV Critic, Pop Culture Writer

  • Expertise: Horror, Animation, Queer Film
  • Education: Master's Degree in Philosophy from Boston College, Dual Bachelor's Degree in Philosophy and Political Science from Boston College
  • Organizer of Queer Film Challenge on Letterboxd
  • Over 200 reviews, essays, articles, and lists across various sites

Experience: Kyle Logan has been writing about film since studying film and philosophy as an undergraduate at Boston College. Kyle began writing about film professionally in 2020 and has written for many sites including Screen Anarchy, Film Stories, and Fangoria. Kyle has also organized the Queer Film Challenge on Letterboxd since 2020, highlighting the queer history of film and bringing attention to rising queer filmmakers. Kyle now works full time with Wealth of Geeks, contributing lists, reviews, and podcast appearances on topics as varied as film, travel, and Halloween candy.