After spending 2021 at the whim of the Greek alphabet, scrolling down our Instagram feeds and TikTok FYPs has become a welcomed distraction for many.
As the constraints of the pandemic started to ease over the year, pop culture enthusiasts were treated to an onslaught of wildly iconic celeb moments. It was the year of holding celebrities accountable, Gen Z influence and a fair share of relationship drama.
If 2021 has proved one thing, it’s that not even a global pandemic can stop pop culture tragedies and triumphs. So before we kiss 2021 goodbye, let’s take a look back at fifteen of the biggest viral moments that happened this past year.
Kim Kardashian and Kanye ‘Ye’ West Split
Kim and Ye are no strangers to drama, and 2021 was no different. After nearly seven years of marriage, Kim officially filed for divorce in February. While the couple has made several appearances together since their separation (who could forget Ye’s Donda Release Party?), it seems Kim has already moved on with Pete Davidson.
The Royals’ Bombshell Interview with Oprah
Back in March, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle shocked the world with an explosive tell-all interview with Oprah. After stepping back from their Royal duties in 2020, the couple shared the shocking details behind their decision.
Most notably, the Duchess opened up about her mental health struggles, the Palace’s failure to protect her against the British tabloids and how a senior member of the Royal Family raised concerns about her son’s skin colour.
The Fall of the Vlog Squad
From James Charles to Sienna Mae Gomez, no social media influencer is safe from the wrath of cancel culture. This year, David Dobrik and the Vlog Squad found that they were no different. Met by a string of sexual assault allegations and claims of providing alcohol to minors, the YouTube collective was effectively cancelled.
Amid mounting pressure from mainstream media and the Frenemies podcast, we saw David dropped by sponsors, step down from ‘Dispo‘ and post two apology videos. With fans pushing for tangible action against the accused, the Vlog Squad’s fall from grace reinforced the shift from cancel culture to accountability culture.
The Rise in LGBTQIA+ Visibility (Thanks Jojo Siwa and Lil Nas X)
Spearheaded by Gen Z icons Jojo Siwa and Lil Nas X, 2021 saw celebrities and influencers living their truth! Coming out as a member of the LGBTQIA+ community in January, Jojo Siwa set a new precedent – no star of her age and celebrity had ever come out so publicly. Drawing fans on the younger side, Jojo’s pride in her sexuality has already gone a long way in fostering confidence among LGBTQIA+ youth.
After performing at the VMAs, dropping his debut album MONTERO, and being the centre of the infamous “Satan Shoes” scandal, Lil Nas X was undoubtedly 2021’s main character. Most impressively, Nas never compromised his identity as a queer black man – I mean, the music video to the album’s title track says it all.
The Return of Y2K Aesthetics
Personified by Gen Z celebrities like Olivia Rodrigo, 2021 was a year of major déjà vu with the resurgence of anything and everything Y2K. Olivia really is a sign of the times – not only was she born in the early 2000s, but her debut album SOUR broke streaming records. With her fashion and music reminiscent of early 2000s teenage angst, it seems like pop culture’s foray into Y2K aesthetics is here to stay.
A Year of Reboots
But the nostalgia did not stop there! 2021 saw the revival of some of the most iconic television shows and movies. Think Gossip Girl, Sex and the City and, even She’s All That. While it may have been better for some of these series to be left untouched, it is safe to say that there is a 2021 reboot for everyone.
Simone Biles pulling out of the Olympics
After being postponed in 2020, the Tokyo Olympics was a long-awaited event for athletes and audiences alike. From Olympic skateboarding to swimming, viewers tuned in from all over the world. But what sent the Internet into a tailspin was Simone Biles withdrawing from Gymnastics over concerns with her mental health.
The Release of the D’Amelio Show
Making the switch from short-form video to reality TV, The D’Amelio Show marks a significant shift in pop culture. The eight-part Hulu series follows Charli and Dixie as they attempt to navigate their newfound stardom. Hailed as the new Kardashian Clan, the D’Amelio’s show how TikTok stars have truly transcended the viral space.
Gen Z and Influencers take over the Met Gala
From Y2K’s revival to Lil Nas X’s influence, it is no secret that Gen Z is revolutionising pop culture. But we can’t talk about Gen Z’s impact without mentioning the 2021 Met Gala. Not only did the guest list include social media influencers Emma Chamberlain, Nikkie Tutorials and Addison Rae, but the Met’s co-chairs were all Gen Z icons. With Billie Eilish, Timothée Chalamet, Naomi Osaka, and Amanda Gorman as the event’s ambassadors, it seems the 2021 Met Gala has set the tone for years to come.
TikTok Hit 1 Billion Users
If you thought TikTok was big in 2020, well, it has only gotten bigger. In September this year, TikTok hit 1 billion active monthly users. Soaring to popularity at the beginning of the pandemic, Internet users have since questioned TikTok’s reign over the world of short-form video. Given that the platform launched in 2018 and reached the 1 billion user mark three years later, it is clearly only the beginning for TikTok.
The Rise of Internet Sleuthing Culture
While Internet sleuths aren’t necessarily new, TikTok’s algorithm and pandemic boredom created the perfect storm for an explosion of sleuthing culture online. With sleuths going viral for ‘solving’ the disappearance of Gabby Petito and the notorious #CouchGuy ‘case,’ we saw police investigations compromised and ordinary people scrutinised.
After 13 years under a conservatorship, in 2021 Britney Spears was finally granted freedom. In a June court hearing, Britney read from a pre-written statement detailing her experiences under the conservatorship. Sharing that she had been forced to perform, prescribed Lithium and forbidden to have children with her boyfriend, the fallout was explosive. Amid international pressure from the #FreeBritney movement, Britney’s conservatorship was officially terminated on November 12th.
The Release of Fearless and Red (Taylor’s Version)
This year we have seen Taylor Swift go from strength to strength. Since dropping Folklore and Evermore in 2020, she has spent 2021 releasing re-recorded versions of her older albums after losing the rights to her masters to Scooter Braun. With fans in every corner of the Internet expressing support for Taylor, she has changed the conversation around intellectual property, artist contracts and music ownership in the entertainment industry.
MrBeast’s Remake of Squid Game
Netflix’s Squid Game took 2021 by storm. Since its release in September, the Korean dystopic-thriller has become Netflix’s biggest series launch to date. As a fan favourite, it is no surprise that Squid Game‘s success seeped into the viral space. In fact, YouTuber MrBeast took it upon himself to recreate the “game” part of the series.
MrBeast’s take on Squid Game has amassed over 188 million views since November 25th, becoming the creator’s most popular video.
Travis Scott’s Deadly Astroworld Concert
What started as a concert for 50,000 fans quickly turned deadly at Travis Scott’s Astroworld Festival in Houston. On November 5th, a fatal crowd surge caused hysteria among concertgoers, tragically killing 10 people and injuring more than 300 others. Travis has since denied responsibility for the incident; however, Congressional and police investigations are ongoing.
While 2021 was not quite a return to ‘precedented’ times, there was no shortage of iconic pop culture moments. So, here’s to hoping for an even better and brighter 2022.