The nature of celebrity has changed immensely in the internet age. Never has being famous been so easy (Exhibit A: Bhad Bhabie), but even so, a handful of stars shine brighter than the rest.
It helps that most of the stars gained their stardom pre-YouTube. Even so, making this list requires a level of sustained success known only by Celebrity Royalty. While you can debate who the most important celebrities of this era are, these names should undoubtedly be in the conversation.
When hip-hop peaked, Eminem was riding the top of the wave. You could easily spot his bottle-blonde ‘do. If you were visually impaired, you could hear Eminem cursing out his mom, ex-girlfriend, Moby, Britney Spears, and anyone else who got on his nerves (intentionally or not).
Eminem ruled the charts, dominated the culture, and was an international superstar at the height of the MTV era.
2. Leonardo DiCaprio
Leo is the rare actor who combines irresistible appeal with undeniable acting chops. A masterfully curated career and just-mysterious-enough personal life have made Leonardo DiCaprio the movie star of his generation. For Jordan Belfort's sake, he's Leo!
The one-named wunderkind is a living legend.
Even though older readers may not have a clue what a BTS is, the immense international popularity of the Korean musical group warrants a spot on this list. When you refresh this list in 20 years, BTS will almost certainly still be on it.
4. Justin Bieber
You don't have to be a Belieber, but you do have to admit this: Justin Bieber is the modern-day equivalent of Michael Jackson, the Elvis of the YouTube age. If you set out to find one person on the planet who doesn't know who Justin Bieber is, you may as well kiss everyone you know goodbye.
5. Kanye West
Kanye was once an international superstar because of his singular imprint on hip-hop music and fashion. A heavy dose of controversy has maintained Ye's relevance, though not for the reasons fans of his music and shoes would like.
6. Britney Spears
While younger generations may know Britney as that crazy lady who dances frenetically in apparent social media captivity, Millennials know Britney Spears as an icon.
Male millennials know Britney as their first internet girlfriend. Female Millennials know Britney as the trailblazer who made the school-girl uniform an on-limits Halloween costume. And parents of Millennials know Britney as bad news.
7. Kim Kardashian
Critique the avenue she took to fame (handheld camcorder, for those who aren't aware). Question her natural talent. But don't argue that Kim Kardashian isn't one of the most recognized, iconic celebrities of her era. That's a losing stance.
8. Taylor Swift
Anyone with a daughter knows Taylor Swift. Anybody under the age of 50 knows Taylor Swift. Anyone who watches the news regularly knows Taylor Swift. That covers a lot of bases. Because T-Swift has remained unfathomably popular for darn near two decades, her Q Score is off the charts.
If you have a problem with that, just Shake It Off. Pun intended.
9. Cristiano Ronaldo
Let's not forget that the world does not end at the United States border. International football is the most popular sport on the planet, and Cristiano Ronaldo is the most polarizing baller of his generation. Lio Messi might be better, but Cristiano Ronaldo's movie star looks catapult his name recognition beyond the sporting realm.
10. Miley Cyrus
How soon we forget that Miley Cyrus was an unwitting cult leader to a generation of young girls who would step in front of a speeding bus for a fictional character named Hannah Montana? The Disney effect made Miley a bona fide supernova, and despite her hard break from the good-girl image, Miley remains as recognizable today as ever before.
One of the premier artists and symbols of her time, Beyonce has garnered a rare degree of loyalty among her fans. While her music may not top the charts as it used to, she's as recognizable as celebrities get.
And just a friendly reminder, don't poke the Bey Hive. Your reputation won't live to speak about the swarm.
12. Lady Gaga
Why are so many musicians on this list? Easy. Music has the ability to transcend language barriers, cultural norms, and other differences that movies and other forms of entertainment cannot so easily overcome. Lady Gaga is one of the most popular artists of her time, and her eccentric personality has only enhanced her name and face recognition.
Shakira is a worldwide pop star and is loved across the world. Her music has echoed throughout the decades and she has created music for some of the most important events in recent years. There's no doubt that she's one of the most important stars in recent decades.
From her pregnancy announcements to her Super Bowl performance this past year, Rihanna is known for breaking records and achieving the highest level of popstar status. Since she came onto the scene as a teenager, she has been creating great music and growing her fanbase. We're still just waiting for that next album.
15. Harry Styles
Since his OneDirection days, Harry Styles has been a beloved star by people across the globe. While his boyband brought him to this fame, he continues performing and releasing music that tops the charts and sells out arenas across the entire world.
Pop Culture Writer, Life Hack Aficionado
- Focus: Film and Television, Life Advice, Comedic Writing
- Education: Bachelor's of Journalism from the University of South Florida - Tampa
- Published in several international publications, including stories completed as a Wealth of Geeks geek
- Nearly seven years' experience writing professionally
Experience: Sam Mire is a freelance writer with over seven years' experience writing about entertainment, global events, American law, and sports. He got his start as a journalism major at the University of South Florida, and has since spent weeks in the Alaskan wildlands, immersed himself in the world of Florida's homeless population, covered live sporting events, and served as a linchpin for media outlets in the legal, tech, and entertainment spaces. Sam has written news stories and Op-Eds featured in Fast Company, Forbes, Entrepreneur, AP News, Fox News, and, most notably, Wealth of Geeks.
Sam focuses on popular culture, film and television, and general life advice in his role for Wealth of Geeks. He strives to turn readers onto the directors, actors, and other creatives who deliver compelling content outside of the box-office top-ten. In his free time, he enjoys boxing, woodwork, engaging in battles of strength and wit with his dog, and spending time with good company.