Pop culture moments that defined 2023

In weather terminology, they call it “rapid intensification” — the process by which a storm strengthens dramatically in a short period.

In pop culture terminology, they call it Taylor Swift.

It’s not like Swift didn’t have big – huge! – years before this. But 2023? This was ridiculous.

From the blockbuster “Eras” tour that conquered the United States before a planet-vanquishing international leg, to the re-release of more albums on the road to reclaiming her catalogue, to the record-smashing concert film, to becoming a billionaire — and yeah, that thing with “the guy on the Chiefs” — it all made for a year you could reasonably call “2023 (Taylor’s Version).”

There were, of course, non-Swiftian developments in pop culture. Beyoncé, ever the superstar, had a huge tour herself, and ruled the box office with “Renaissance: A Film by Beyoncé.” Speaking of renaissance, look no further than Barbie — technically age 64 but now living her most fantastic life in plastic, thanks to Greta Gerwig’s record-shattering “Barbie.” Through mere coincidence of timing, Gerwig’s candy-coloured creation paired with “Oppenheimer” to fuel “Barbenheimer,” a phenomenon that singlehandedly revitalized the multiplex.

There were comebacks, as always. The Rolling Stones never left, surely, but produced their best new music in decades. Even the Beatles released a new song. On TV, Samantha even made it back — for a minute — to the “Sex and the City” franchise. A pregnant Rihanna soared (literally) at the Super Bowl, and again showed us that nobody makes a more glamorous, more fashionably late Met Gala entrance.

Our very selective (and this year, very Swift-centric) stroll down pop culture memory lane:


If anyone needs a comeback, it’s the GOLDEN GLOBES.

The year begins with comic JERROD CARMICHAEL deftly navigating host duties, quipping, “I’m here because I’m Black” — a nod to the diversity scandal plaguing the awards.

Speaking of scandal, nobody does it better than the royals: PRINCE HARRY’S “Spare” sells more than 3.2 million copies in one week.

Copies of the new book by Prince Harry called “Spare” are displayed at Sherman’s book store in Freeport, Maine, Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2023. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

Also breaking records: SHAKIRA’S “BZRP Music Session #53,” in which she bitingly sings of her ex, former soccer star GERARD PIQUÉ.

January (Taylor’s version): U.S. senators grill Ticketmaster about its mega-breakdown selling SWIFT tickets.


At the Super Bowl, RIHANNA floats above the 50-yard line in a bright red jumpsuit … and reveals a baby bump! It’s her first solo performance in seven years and her first since becoming a mother nine months earlier.

Now’s the time to learn things we didn’t know about PAMELA ANDERSON, whose memoir “Love, Pamela” drops, joining a Netflix documentary.

At the GRAMMYS, it’s a decidedly mixed bag for BEYONCÉ, who breaks the record for career wins, but is shut out in the top categories.

HARRY STYLES bests her for album of the year, stoking controversy with his acceptance speech.

Rihanna performs during the halftime show at the NFL Super Bowl 57 football game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Philadelphia Eagles, Sunday, Feb. 12, 2023, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)


It’s OSCAR time! And nobody gets slapped! “Everything Everywhere All at Once” lives up to its title, sweeping nearly every major category. This feel-good night proves a huge moment for Asians and Asian Americans in Hollywood.

“My journey started on a boat. I spent a year in a refugee camp,” says an emotional KE HUY QUAN, winning best supporting actor.

Some may have skipped the Oscars entirely — namely PEDRO PASCAL fans, catching the finale of “The Last of Us.”

Longtime Bravolebrities Tom Sandoval and Ariana Madix break up when it’s revealed Sandoval has been having an affair with their “Vanderpump Rules” co-star, a development soon dubbed “Scandoval.”

In a Utah courtroom, GWYNETH PALTROW wins a battle over a ski collision, but also nabs the “quiet luxury” fashion award. And the “Eras” era begins: SWIFT opens her tour in Arizona.


Back to the courtroom for a sec: have you seen “JURY DUTY”? The TV sleeper hit sticks the landing. Somehow, regular guy RONALD GLADDEN never figured out that everyone else doing jury duty was an actor, including JAMES MARSDEN, playing a deliciously conceited … JAMES MARSDEN.

And back to SWIFT watch: Neither confirms it, but reports say she and longtime boyfriend JOE ALWYN have split.


If Samuel Beckett had attended the MET GALA, he’d surely have written ”Waiting for Rihanna.” Most guests come in time for cocktails; RIHANNA shows up closer to dessert, but makes it worth the wait.

This is the year JARED LETO dons a giant cat suit, but still the animal world is most memorably represented by … a COCKROACH! A real one, who walks the carpet and entertains media waiting for Rihanna, until, squish! Bye, cockroach — and bye also to the ROY kids, aka KENDALL, ROMAN and SHIV, who self-destruct gloriously in the final episodes of “Succession.”

This combination photo shows Jared Leto dressed as Choupette the cat upon arrival at The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute benefit gala celebrating the opening of the “Karl Lagerfeld: A Line of Beauty” exhibition on Monday, May 1, 2023, in New York. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

Leave it to Hollywood’s writers, now striking, to have the cleverest signs: “HBO Max Pays HBO Minimum,” reads one. They will remain on strike for nearly 150 days, joined by the actors in July.


We’ll keep this one brief: Heard of the GRIMACE SHAKE at McDonald’s? It’s all the rage on TikTok.

A new group of luminaries is invited to join the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, among them DAVID BYRNE, AUSTIN BUTLER, KEKE PALMER, KE HUY QUAN — and yes, SWIFT.


Take one famous doll with a complicated history. Add a talent like GERWIG, get MARGOT ROBBIE to star, bring in RYAN GOSLING to chew the scenery, and you have “BARBIE,” the biggest movie of 2023 and a milestone for female directors.

Now stir in CHRISTOPHER NOLAN’S superb “OPPENHEIMER,” and the rest is box office history.

Speaking of history, one famous bird is no more — ELON MUSK drops a longtime logo and decrees TWITTER will henceforth be called “X.”

Also history: SWIFT now has more No. 1 albums than any woman, eclipsing BARBRA STREISAND.

From eclipse to earthquake: Scientists report they’ve detected seismic signals roughly akin to a 2.3 magnitude earthquake under Swift’s Seattle show.


Guess who has 277 million Instagram followers? You know who. Guess who has almost double that? LIONEL MESSI, that’s who, with 493 million.

The Argentine soccer god, in his first month with Inter Miami, thrills fans and gives a jolt of adrenaline to soccer in the United States.

KIM CATTRALL makes a very quick return to the “Sex and the City” reboot.


Now that summer is over, let’s inspect the damage — by which we mean all the recent celebrity splits: JOE JONAS and SOPHIE TURNER, ARIANA GRANDE and DALTON GOMEZ, BRITNEY SPEARS and SAM ASGHARI, SOFIA VERGARA and JOE MANGANIELLO, among others.

But hey, someone’s looking for love: Retired widower GERRY TURNER, “The Golden Bachelor,” begins his search on ABC.

Also, jersey sales rapidly intensified this month for one TRAVIS KELCE, tight end for the Kansas City Chiefs, by some 400%. So weird, any idea why? In unrelated news, SWIFT attends a Chiefs game.

Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce comes off the field after a play against the Buffalo Bills during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 10, 2023 in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Reed Hoffmann)


It’s a good month to be 80!

MARTIN SCORSESE becomes a TikTok star via daughter Francesca’s silly videos and presents one of his most ambitious films yet, “Killers of the Flower Moon.”

Also 80, MICK JAGGER joins slightly younger ROLLING STONES bandmates KEITH RICHARDS (79) and RONNIE WOOD (76) in producing the crackling new album “Hackney Diamonds.”

In a much-awaited memoir, BRITNEY SPEARS details her heartbreaks and her struggles, her relationships and her nearly 14-year conservatorship.

SWIFT reaches billionaire status — and throws a Hollywood premiere for her “Eras” movie, which will become the most successful concert film of all time.


Hollywood’s writers and actors are thankfully back, back to where they once belonged.

Which brings us to the BEATLES: No, they aren’t getting back together. But six decades after Beatlemania ruled, a new and final tune, “Now And Then,” is released, thanks to artificial intelligence.

Cast members of “Friends” gather to mourn co-star MATTHEW PERRY at his funeral.

The “Eras” tour goes international, packing stadiums in Argentina,then Brazil, with more to go in 2024.


SPOTIFY announces 2023’s most-streamed artist — it’s SWIFT, dethroning BAD BUNNY.

BEYONCÉ conquers the box office on opening weekend with her “Renaissance” film.

Is it a foregone conclusion, finally, that SWIFT would close out her year staring at us from magazine covers as Time’s person of the year, in a year her fame achieved something akin to “nuclear fusion”?

Which brings us to our final question: How long can a storm rapidly intensify? Fact is, though, SWIFT seems to always be rewriting the rules.

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