In the cursed year of 2018, big names made their own rules. From film to politics, to music and fashion, the people at the center of the biggest cultural phenomenons were setting a new standard with their unapologetic approaches, calling out the government's bullshit, changing the the pop game with a single "Thank U, Next," or igniting our confused sensual desires with a google eyed dance.
These people were inescapable, for better or for worse, defining our 2018 and shaping the cultural zeitgeist in a way that will likely ring through 2019. They're not in order of importance or anything so don't @ us. Chill.
Drake has been taking over our listening devices of choice now for nearly 10 years. Every year since "Best I Ever Had" dropped way back in February of 09 it seems like Drizzy aka Champagne Papi aka Adonis's Dad has made it his mission to give us the song of the summer, winter, spring, and fall. 2018 was no different, with the swole rap God gifting dance floors and lit ass car rides to the 7-11 with "God's Plan," "In My Feelings," "I'm Upset," "Nice for What," and whatever other cut from Scorpion got your haunches rockin'. He could've continued on his day, blessing the timeline with shirtless selfies but instead he, with a heavy assist from Pulitzer Prize-deserving investigative reporter Pusha T, gave us one of the best, most dirtiest rap beefs of all time. A rap beef so messy we found out government name Aubrey Drake Graham has a secret son! The tea, my God! Oh and he also beefed with Kanye (twice), and maybe possibly dated a teenager. I feel like there was another thing. What was it? Oh yeah! A tour that included a Ferrari floating over the audience. Dude stayed busy. -Alex Zaragoza
Ariana Grande has gotten exponentially more famous in 2018, for some really cool reasons and some really sad ones. Let’s start with the crappy things: in May 2017, a terrorist targeted the Manchester, England, stop on her Dangerous Woman tour and turned the happiest day of many young fans’ lives into something horrific. Grande retreated for a while to cope with the trauma. But in 2018 she was back in the limelight, going through a breakup with Mac Miller in the spring, getting engaged to Pete Davidson and releasing Sweetener, one of the best albums of the year, in the summer. When Miller died of an overdose in September, Grande was forced to publicly mourn all over again and endure trolls who blamed her for her ex’s substance abuse. Her relationship with Davidson also dissolved as quickly as it had materialized. But out of the ashes of the pain and heartbreak, Grande gave the world “Thank U, Next,” an anthem of emotional maturity and empowerment that has wormed its way into our collective psyche and is certainly a contender for song of the year. Grande has weathered a few storms, but she’s been a figure of resilience and maturity. Plus, she happens to be talented as hell. 2018 has certainly been the year of Ariana Grande, for reasons good and bad, but I’d say that looking back at everything and taking it all into consideration, she’s coming out on top. -Kara Weisenstein
In the terrible movie The Circle, there’s a bit where a politician promises to broadcast her every moment to the film’s equivalent of Facebook, and subsequently becomes famous and powerful or something. Life is apparently imitating forgettable art, because Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the leftist who has become the country’s most buzzed-about incoming congressperson after unseating a Democratic incumbent, is aiming for a nearly equivalent level of transparency. She’s constantly tweeting and instagramming not just to promote her policies, but to provide her followers with an insider’s view of Congress. For instance when she reported that an orientation featured corporate lobbyists but no labor leaders. Unsurprisingly, she’s provoked a lot of conservative anger, which has only prompted more leftist praise, which has provoked more conservative anger—a self-perpetuating cycle that has helped her acquire more followers than the other 60 incoming Democratic members of Congress combined. It remains to be seen whether she can leverage this social media presence to push her party to support her progressive agenda, but in today’s world that kind of fame is more powerful than merely being the representative from New York’s 15th congressional district. Just imagine how mad she’ll wind up making Donald Trump. -Harry Cheadle
We have a lot to thank Ryan Coogler for. Not only did the Oakland-bred director give us the biggest hit of the year with Black Panther, he gave the black community Wakanda, a magical place where African culture and ancestry is celebrated, where the beauty and power of blackness is protected and empowered, far from the reach of the colonizers. Wakanda forever! became 2018's Black Power!, each's meaning deeply weaved together. That in itself could have been enough, but as it goes with creators of color, it's up to us to open doors for each other and make the space so more of us can find the opportunities to make work that's thought-provoking, exciting, and simply fun. Because of the work Coogler made, work that provided exceptional storytelling and the opportunity for powerhouse performances, 2018 also became the year we couldn't escape Michael B. Jordan (thank God cuz :squirt emoji:), Lupita Nyong'o, Chadwick Boseman, Danai Gurira, Laetitia Wright, and others. If 2018 is a glimpse of what Coogler can give us when Hollywood gets their shit together and backs his genius, then here's hoping 2019 is another year of giving from him. -Alex Zaragoza
She's often referred to as the Forever First Lady, and when she stepped onto the stage of the Barclay's Center in Brooklyn wearing thigh-high sparkly gold Balenciaga boots while on tour for her memoir Becoming, she cemented it. Always graceful, elegant, and the epitome of going high, Obama spent 2018 showing us a side of herself we seldom see in First Ladies, former or current. She's subtly thrown shade at the Trump administration, worn a slew of killer fits, and opened up about her marriage, years of hard work, and heart breaks, and it brought us closer to her as a human being. Melania and her blood red Christmas trees of terror could never. The tour has been wildly success and Becoming sold more copies in 15 days than any other book has all year. They say the best revenge is living well, and Obama did just that. -Alex Zaragoza
Given that “Bodak Yellow” came out in the summer of 2017, it’s wild to think that things escalated further than the ubiquity of that song of the summer for Cardi this year. Professionally, 2018 brought her full album Invasion of Privacy, which has made it onto just about every year-end list you can find, and garnered endless nominations, including five Grammy nods. Personally, it was revealed she’d secretly been married to her partner Offset for months; she gave birth to daughter Kulture; fought with Nicki Minaj (both physically and digitally); dealt with some still-pending legal issues after another fight; and broke up with Offset. But dividing things into professional and personal has always been challenging when it comes to the former reality star, who hasn’t stopped sharing all the intimate details of her thoughts on life via her preferred medium, Instagram. Cardi might have finished out the year with an apparently brief reconciliation with Offset and the video for her latest music video, but as she says in “Money,” she was born to flex, and it seems unlikely she’ll stop doing it anytime soon. -Kate Dries
It’s easy to forget how famous Donald Glover is in America at large watching his mellow, thought-provoking portrayal of black life in Atlanta, especially since it lost all of its big Emmy nominations this year. But then he dropped “This Is America” in May, and reminded everyone what it looks like to truly make the internet go berserk. His coded video about the hypocrisies of a violent America sent audiences on a wild goose chase to analyze the hidden meanings of various actions and symbols. And he caused a similar effect with an animated video for his song “Feels Like Summer,” throwing in a whole block party full of celebrities to fill up his hazy summer neighborhood. If there’s one thing Glover loves to do with his time outside of Atlanta, it’s come up with the next ambitious project that he can drop out of nowhere to make a splash. His latest surprise was showing attendees at his Pharos film festival an exciting new trailer for his upcoming flick Guava Island, which was shot in Cuba and features Rihanna. With most details still under wraps, and still no official trailer online, we have to assume from this premise that it’s going to be epic. And if not, he still landed the most coveted role of all time to sing alongside Beyoncé as Simba in The Lion King live action remake, so his 2019 is set. -Taylor Hosking
Kanye is always inescapable, for better or for worse. From throwing a celebrity and journo-filled listening party for his album Ye literally in the middle of rural af Wyoming, to his MAGA-fueled escapades, to his slew of apologies, to his words on mental health, to claiming slavery was a choice, to beefing with Drake, Kanye did a lot. That's not even all of it, but still, it's a lot. He's a lot, and he's here no matter how much the internet tries to cancel him. And 2019 should be a continuation because he is who he is, and what else do we have going on? Of course we're going to pay attention. -Alex Zaragoza
The South African born Australian star is a triple threat in the most 2018 way: a musician, an actor, and a viral Youtube personality. It seems like his influence was inescapable this year, as he released Bloom, a stunning follow up album to the synth infused melancholy pop of Blue Neighborhood. He’s reminiscent of a younger Olly Alexander, the frontman to Years & Years—also who could forget the time a record store decided “gay” was a genre of music, and cordoned both men’s albums there. Just about everyone song on Bloom is a hit, and the lead single “My My My!” is one of the first ear worm dance songs—the kind that gets played on the radio constantly—and I don't mind it at all. Sivan’s pop royalty was further solidified by a friendship and collaboration with Ariana Grande, first in “Dance to This,” and later in her internet breaking music video “thank u, next.” And let us not forget his acting career, as Sivan had a major supporting role in the Golden Globe nominated Boy Erased, a film about the traumas of gay conversion “therapy.” He's out here and we're ready for more. -Nicole Clark
After watching five seasons of Fresh Off the Boat, we already knew that Constance Wu was a phenomenal actress. For three years, she and co-lead Randall Park starred in the first American sitcom to star an Asian-American family to air on primetime since Margaret Cho’s All American Girl, which got just one season in 1994. Its success speaks to her talent, her approachable but stern performance of Taiwanese motherhood in a state with basically no Asian community. She was a natural choice to helm Crazy Rich Asians, a film that broke so many records, and made thousands of people cry. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say the entire cast of Crazy Rich Asians was inescapable this year. Awkwafina was in a million different things, Michelle Yeoh’s graceful visage was around every corner, Henry Golding modeled so many watches, and Gemma Chan became a symbol of female breadwinning. Have you seen the CRA red dress cover of Entertainment Weekly? You’re welcome. -Nicole Clark
If there’s one moment that summarizes Janelle Monáe’s 2018 it’s the photo of her wearing pants shaped like a vagina in her “Pink” music video as her rumored girlfriend at the time, actress Tessa Thompson, peaks her head through them, visually acting as her pants’ clitoris. She pretends to rub Thompson’s head and spread open the “lips” of her vagina pants just because, well, they’ve already gone this far with it. Monáe was literally doing anything she wanted this year. After coming out as queer in April’s Rolling Stone, saying she’s “a free ass motherfucker,” her visual album Dirty Computer focused on her sexual identity and took shots at the Trump administration’s attacks on the LGBTQ community. Despite not having advertised her sexuality much in her work beforehand, leaning into the conversation in 2018 gave her project a personal urgency and a political timeliness that was truly one for the books. She also continued to be a voice for feminism, giving the only #MeToo-related speech at the 2018 Grammys. And her iconic fashion somehow continued to evolve to new heights at the Black Panther premier and The Met Gala with more afro futuristic elegance. If she can bring more of that boss energy from her “Django Jane” music video into 2019, next year promises to be just as exciting. -Taylor Hosking
We get it, Lady Gaga. You're talented. Very, very talented. We already knew that, but then you decided to cement it with a howling HAAAAAAAA AH AH AH AHHHHH AHHHHHH HAAA AHH HAAA in A Star is Born. No wonder Bradley Cooper is obsessed. Just take your Golden Globe and Oscar already. -Alex Zaragoza
Watching Amandla Stenberg’s ascendency into a young A-lister has been absolutely exhilarating. From seeing her years ago in Hunger Games, as the quiet but brilliant girl from District 11 who dies in Katniss’s arms, immediately it was clear she was someone to watch, a kind of actress who could perform emotional complexity without ever making you feel alienated. Stenberg brought these strengths with her as the lead of Everything, Everything, the movie adaptation of Nicola Yoon’s best-selling YA romance—a hallmark kind of role in a world that only now seems to understand that interracial relationships are the mainstream, and that teens want films that reflect the world around them. It’s about time another young black woman was afforded the kind of fame that a more traditional (a.k.a. white) heroine is afforded. She also demonstrates a deep understanding of the power of the media and the optics of racial inequality and solidarity—with a cameo in Beyoncé’s “Lemonade” and her performance as the leading actress in The Hate U Give, a film adaptation of Angie Thomas’s YA novel about police shootings and the way our police state demonizes black bodies. Her rendition of Starr Carter stays with you long after the movie is over. I can’t wait to see where her career takes her. -Nicole Clark
She told us she was a savage! Rihanna has somehow gotten away with ignoring our collective temper tantrum about when her next album is coming and distracted us with epic new projects. Riri seamlessly followed up taking over the beauty industry in 2017 with Fenty Beauty line by launching her lingerie line Savage X Fenty in 2018. The line has been celebrated not just for its sensual and fun designs, but its inclusive sizing and models. That's something Victoria’s Secret CMO Ed Rezek, who made a statement against using plus size or transgender models in the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show, could learn from. Her NYFW Savage show featured curvy women, much like the models on her site, and even a pregnant Slick Woods who went into labor backstage. She’s sent her clothing to transgender icons like Pose breakout star MJ Rodriguez and decided against hosting a trans-specific casting call to respect models’ privacy. After hitting the big screen in Oceans 8, she’s kept the party rolling, shooting an upcoming movie with Childish Gambino. And to top it all off, even without the music we still got to soak in some of her no bullshit attitude. A viral photo of her fully doing the angry-girlfriend-finger-point rant reminded us to keep that same energy. And she literally sent President Trump a cease and desist letter for playing her music at one of his rallies. It can’t get much better than that. -Taylor Hosking
Sandra Oh owned this year for so many reasons: A historic Emmy nomination as a lead actress in a drama series (for BBC America’s Killing Eve) and a historic casting as co-host of the Golden Globes. These accolades are embarrassingly overdo for a woman who practically ruled primetime for 10 years as Dr. Cristina Yang on Grey's Anatomy. She was one of the few Asian women to have had such a prominent role on television, and her accolades in 2018 remind us how terribly behind Hollywood is in matters of representation and parity. It’s ridiculous that it took so long for Oh to have her day, but even more ridiculous that it took so long for these respective prestigious awards shows to nominate an Asian woman or choose an Asian American person as a host. For these reasons, and for the blinding obviousness of her talent, Oh has been in the news all year. Killing Eve season 2 will arrive in the spring, so there's definitely more Oh on the way. -Nicole Clark
Alongside Janelle Monáe and Kehlani, Hayley Kiyoko was a de facto pop queen of 20gayteen. Her album Expectations is a perfect etching of the modern relationship—the chase, the flirtation, the confusion, the heartbreak—except this time it’s unabashedly about being a woman in love with women. Kiyoko is no stranger to the music scene. Do any of you remember the Disney Channel Original Movie Lemonade Mouth? Let me jog your memory: The half-Asian punk girl with an asymetrical bob who made you realize you were queer. Like any Disney Channel star worth her salt, she attempted a music career with wobbly success. Her breakout wasn’t until 2015, when she fully embraced her sexuality and released the music video “Girls Like Girls,” which follows a best friendship that blossoms into love. Her music videos are all narratively driven, and portray the intensities of young love in ways I’ve never seen before in this medium. She understands how to bottle that feeling of uncertainness and longing for reciprocation, and the ways the intimacies of female friendship make it hard to determine whether attraction is mutual. Kiyoko’s acting and dancing background serve her as the front woman to all of these videos—she can light up a dance floor and wear the hell out of a Hawaiian shirt. When she finally kisses Kehlani in “What I Need,” I felt my body jump out of itself. Bless 2018 for Hayley Kiyoko, our Lesbian Jesus. -Nicole Clark
2018 called for an unlikely hero, and we got one in the form of a chaotically beautiful mascot—Gritty. For whatever reason, the Philadelphia Flyers mascot transcended beyond the hockey world and found a place in the hearts of internet users everywhere, with his oft-changing belly button and half-secret Marxism. Gritty wasn't the hero we needed in 2018, but he was the one we deserved. -Eve Peyser
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