The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

Pop culture moments that swept this academic year

The past year has been a whirlwind of unexpected events in the pop culture world. With the ever-rising accessibility of social media, viral trends and drama can spread quicker than ever before.

If you’ve forgotten any of the wild trends, moments or people of the past year, we’ve got you covered. Below is The Daily Illini’s list of the most insane pop culture moments since the summer of 2023. 



When the internet realized “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” were both set to release on July 21, plans to watch the two as a double feature couldn’t be made quickly enough. The viral “Barbenheimer” trend hugely boosted revenue for both films.

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Combining Christopher Nolan’s three-hour film about the creation of the atomic bomb with Greta Gerwig’s pink-tastic commentary on gender constructs in children’s toys created a viewing experience like no other. 

If you have yet to participate in a “Barbenheimer” viewing yourself, the experience is highly recommended — just make sure you start with “Oppenheimer” to avoid ending on a bit of a bummer.


Gypsy Rose Blanchard’s return to fame

Hulu’s 2019 mini-series “The Act” told the story of child abuse survivor Gypsy Rose Blanchard, who was convicted of second-degree murder for the death of her mother in 2015. 

When Blanchard was put on parole in December 2023, she immediately rose to fame online. She hit over nine million TikTok followers before eventually deleting her public social media accounts.

From her bizarre life history to her extremely public marriage and divorce, Blanchard’s popularity was far from unexpected. While the ethics of her fame may be questionable, there is no doubt her resurgence on the pop culture scene was a standout moment of the past year.


Lesbians are taking over the world

The year of lesbian icons taking over the pop culture scene was 2023-24, possibly more than ever before.

Top mentions include Reneé Rapp’s starring performance as Regina George in the movie-musical reboot of “Mean Girls,” pop star Chappell Roan’s newfound fame as an opener on Olivia Rodrigo’s “GUTS World Tour” and Jojo Siwa’s drastic change in public image.

While they may not be inventing gay pop as Siwa claims, the quick rise in popularity of queer female artists is certainly boosting the popularity of the genre in a way that hasn’t been seen before.


Celebrity losses

Of course, we can’t cover the year in full without also mentioning those we lost in recent months. 

Notable celebrity deaths include “Friends” star Matthew Perry in October, “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” actor Andre Braugher in December, celebrated British actor Michael Gambon in September, former football player O.J. Simpson in April and more.

Their legacies live on through the media and culture they brought. 


Taylor Swift, naturally

You know you’ve made it when the name of your fan base has been named a finalist for Oxford’s Word of the Year. Sorry, Swifties, you took the loss to “rizz.”

Swift’s impact in the past year has been incomparable, from her highly publicized relationship with football player Travis Kelce to her Eras Tour reshaping the world economy. Not to mention the double-feature album she just dropped with no less than 31 tracks.

Swift shows no sign of stopping, as she is currently scheduled to continue the “Eras Tour” through early December. Whether it’s videos of her in the crowd at Coachella or public debates about her carbon footprint, there’s no denying it — Swift is everywhere.


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About the Contributor
Maaike Niekerk
Maaike Niekerk, Arts & Entertainment Editor
My name is Maaike Niekerk, and I am a sophomore majoring in English with minors in music and journalism. I began working with The Daily Illini during the fall semester of my freshman year as a buzz staff writer, and joined the editorial team last summer. I love bringing live event coverage to you from Champaign-Urbana’s vibrant music scene and sharing stories of local artists and musicians. Outside of The Daily Illini, you’ll find me performing at every football game with the Marching Illini or cycling with the 2024 Illini 4000 bike America team.
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