The 15 biggest pop culture moments of 2023.

Another year of celebrity dramas, feuds, break-ups and memes is done and dusted, and we have much to reflect on.

From the strikes, to the stadium tours, to the many, many splits, here are the pop culture moments that made the biggest splash in 2023: 


This paragraph from TIME magazine's Person of the Year profile on Taylor Swift sums up her year perfectly: "How many conversations did you have about Taylor Swift this year? How many times did you see a photo of her while scrolling on your phone? Were you one of the people who made a pilgrimage to a city where she played? Did you buy a ticket to her concert film? Did you double-tap an Instagram post, or laugh at a tweet, or click on a headline about her? Did you find yourself humming 'Cruel Summer' while waiting in line at the grocery store? Did a friend confess that they watched clips of the Eras Tour night after night on TikTok? Or did you?"

My answers: hundreds, thousands, I have survived three Ticketek 'queues' for this tour, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes and obviously, yes.

Image: Getty.


Taylor Swift has been Very Famous since she was a teenager. She's been Very Very Famous since at least 2014. But in the past 12 months, she seems to have created a tier of celebrity that feels completely unprecedented at this moment in time.

Beyond all the record breaking, economic influence and photographed dinners in New York, I think Swift's most remarkable achievement in 2023 has been reviving a relic: monoculture.

She has been, to quote this year's biggest Oscar winner, Everything, Everywhere, All At Once. On the radio, on your social feeds, at the movie theatre, as a water cooler topic of conversation, even at the damn football.

It's astounding.

A genuinely incredible Oscars

KeHuy Quan, Michelle Yeoh, Brendan Fraser and Jamie Lee Curtis with their 2023 acting Oscars. Image: Getty.


The Oscars needed this.

This year's Oscars had an air of intrigue about them because of last year's slap. How would they acknowledge it? There were plenty of jokes, led by host Jimmy Kimmel to big laughs.

But the best part was that the biggest moments were just some really great, well deserved and incredibly wholesome wins:

Ke Huy Quan for Best Actor in a Supporting Role, Michelle Yeoh for Best Actress in a Leading Role and Brendan Fraser for Best Actor in a Leading Role all felt so incredibly nice, reflecting perseverance and comebacks everyone was so excited to see happen. 


Then Everything, Everywhere, All At Once took out Best Picture, celebrating boldness and fresh ideas in the best way.

Rarely do the Academy get it so right.

Rihanna at the Super Bowl

Image: Getty.

Weird to schedule a football game on either side of the first Rihanna concert in years, but okay.


Rihanna's performance during the halftime show at the NFL Super Bowl 57 was as good as you'd expect, and became a major talking point not just for how many bangers she has. She also announced her second pregnancy right there during one of the most watched moments in the world, simply by cradling her bump.

Oh, and she trolled everyone with a Fenty Beauty inclusion when she checked her makeup in a compact mirror mid-performance. 

The sheer number of celebrity break-ups

Let's see. There was Hugh Jackman and Deborra-Lee Furness, Jodie Turner Smith and Joshua Jackson, Joe Jonas and Sophie Turner, Britney Spears and Sam Asghari, Sofía Vergara and Joe Manganiello, Ariana Grande and Dalton Gomez, Taylor Swift and Joe Alwyn, Jim Toth and Reese Witherspoon, Christine Baumgartner and Kevin Costner... you get the point.

Heck, we even had confirmation of breakups that took place years ago, like Jada Pinkett Smith and Will Smith and Meryl Streep and Don Gummer.

Something dangerous was in the celebrity waters this year.

Hollywood strikes

This year, Hollywood creatives took matters into their own hands to secure better pay, safeguards against AI, and better working conditions. 

The Writers Guild of America struck first in May, bringing an abrupt end to series in production and series like Saturday Night Live and talk shows. 

The actors' union SAG-AFTRA joined them on picket lines in July, grinding things to an even further halt.


The WGA reached a deal after 148 days (the second longest WGA labour shortage), and SAG after 118 (its longest ever). And while both are now over, the impact of each will reverberate for a while. You may have to wait a little while longer for the next season of your favourite show. 

Two seriously overwhelming celebrity memoir press tours

Learning that Prince Harry's memoir, Spare, was indeed released this year was some of the most discombobulating information I've ever had to digest. It feels like we've lived 600 lives since then. 

But alas, the legacy of him talking about a frozen "todger" remains. Or haunts.

The book came only weeks after the release of his and Meghan Markle's Netflix documentary at the end of last year, and was accompanied by what felt like 55 different interviews. 

That somehow always resulted in more penis chat.

There were some genuine bombshells about how the royal institution operated and how he was treated both before and after his dramatic departure from royal life, but... well, it got overshadowed didn't it? By. The. Penis.

The other memoir publicity trail that veered too far was Jada Pinkett Smith's for her memoir, Worthy.

At first, it was interesting. She surprised everyone by stating that she and Will Smith have actually been separated for years, but then it quickly unravelled. She did so many interviews, divulging so much information, and the culture was... mostly just pretty annoyed by it. 


There's a fine line, and Jada went so far over it that she became a punchline this year.

Britney Spears' The Woman in Me

On the complete opposite side of the memoir promotion spectrum was Britney Spears' The Woman in Me, which was released in late October. Spears did not do any publicity, and to be fair, she really didn't need to.

It was billed as 'her truth', allowing her a chance to explain her upbringing, career and 13-year conservatorship after having her voice silenced for more than a decade.

Of course, we also must give thanks to Michelle Williams, who voiced the audiobook and provided us with one of the year's great quotes: 


The Tillies take over Australia

Image: Getty.

Yeah. The. Girls.

This became Australia's catchphrase with the kick-off of the FIFA Women's World Cup here on home soil, sweeping up the entire nation as we cheered on the Matildas, and basically spoke of nothing other than Sam, Mary, Katrina, Mackenzie et al. for the entire tournament.


Australia was its own green and gold monoculture, and it was magic.

The deaths of Jock Zonfrillo and Matthew Perry

Every now and again, a celebrity death feels like a gut punch. This year, we had two of those.

In late April, beloved MasterChef judge Jock Zonfrillo died just a day before the 15th season of MasterChef Australia was due to start. It was postponed a week and ultimately became a bittersweet tribute to a man who many Australians found comfort in watching on their screens during a few tough years.

Then in late October, Matthew Perry died at age 54. The actor was, of course, best known for playing Chandler Bing on Friends — which is probably as close anyone has ever come to playing a universally beloved character on a universally beloved show.  

These hit us all hard in 2023.

Gwyneth Paltrow's ski trial

Image: Getty.


In March, Gwyneth Paltrow was awarded $1 in damages for losing half a day of skiing. Thank goodness.

ICYMI, Paltrow's legal battle came after retired optometrist Terry Sanderson sued her for $300,000 in damages after a 2016 collision at a Utah ski resort which left him with broken ribs and a concussion. Paltrow counter-sued for $1.

Immediately, the trial became a social media sensation — down to many viral Paltrow quotes, her fashion on the stand, and the strange, fangirl behaviour of Sanderson's lawyer.


Ok, a super quick recap because we all know what Barbenheimer is, right? On July 21, 2023, Greta Gerwig's Barbie and Christopher Nolan's Oppenheimer were released in theatres.

The two films could not be more different, and yet, rather than a 'box office war' rivalry, Barbenheimer became a double-billing event. The joint hype, spurred by internet users but also by members of both casts encouraging participation, helped both films to huge success.


Movie theatres have been struggling, especially post-pandemic, but Barbenheimer made going to the cinema a full-day event. 

And the memes, oh the memes.

The Last of Us and Pedro Pascal becoming the internet's 'daddy'

The Last of Us was probably the TV event of the year: the survival story, based on one of the world's most popular video games, became appointment television from the moment it premiered in mid-January.

We all watched on – or at least understood that everyone else was watching on – as Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Ellie (Bella Ramsey) traversed the US and depended on each other for survival. And Murray Bartlett and Nick Offerman – as Frank and Bill in episode three – provided us with one of the best episodes of television I've ever seen.


Another consequence of this series was the full arrival of Pedro Pascal, Daddy. 

Anyone who'd watched Narcos or The Mandalorian already *got it*, but the world took notice of the 48-year-old on an entirely new level.



In March, TMZ broke the news that Tom Sandoval had been cheating on Ariana Madix with their Vanderpump Rules cast mate Rachel 'Raquel' Leviss.

And I did not know any of those words at the time.

But 'Scandavol', as this particular reality TV scandal was quickly dubbed, became one of the big, salacious stories of the year. There was so much drama, heightened even more because Bravo network cameras, which were not currently filming the TV show all three people involved starred in, raced to capture the fallout — including from the same night the news dropped, featuring Sandoval trying to dig himself out of a very deep grave.

It did not work, and Bravo fans  – and those who became Bravo fans after being roped in by this chaos – have been feasting ever since.

Himbo season

The latter half of 2023 can probably be summed up by the word 'himbo'.

Himbos are wholesome goofs. They are loveable, well-intentioned and crucially, non-threatening. Think of our current heartthrobs, and himboism is front and centre: There's Jacob Elordi and his cardigans, Travis Kelce and his golden retriever energy and every single Just Ken.

In a year where Beyonce, Taylor and Barbie reigned supreme, it makes sense that our crushes felt very 'written by women' too. 

The memes

These silly/weird/absurd moments shaped the internet this year (and if you aren't across these, count yourself lucky — I deeply aspire to be less chronically online).


Angela Bassett did the thing

My personal favourite. Just incredible.

Selena Gomez in the blanket


Kevin James' smirk


Cam from Modern Family

What pop culture moments would you add to this list? Let us know in a comment.

Feature image: Getty/Mamamia.

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