Top 10 Cultural Moments of 2021

The Crimson Arts Board presents its favorite cultural moments of the year, from "Taylor's Version" to "#FreeBritney."
Britney Spears performing at her Piece of Me residency in Las Vegas in 2014.By Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
By The Crimson Arts Staff

10. Suez Canal Boat and Memes

The pandemic has brought no shortage of shortages. But a particularly memorable shortage back in early spring was caused by something slightly larger than a microscopic virus: a 220,000-ton container ship. On March 23, the vessel Ever Given became stuck and blocked the Suez Canal, paralyzing a route passed each day by roughly 12% of the global trade for almost a week. The bizarre news took the internet by storm, with millions observing the Egyptian authorities’ attempts to unblock the canal. Photos of the ship blocking the canal and pictures of a tiny excavator trying to dig it out turned into an immediate internet sensation and arguably became the meme of the year, dominating social media in the coming weeks. The whole World Wide Web came together thanks to a mildly amusing story of a boat that got stuck. —Zachary J. Lech

9. Bennifer 2.0

After more than a decade spent achingly apart, Cambridge’s own Ben Affleck and Jennifer “Jenny from the Block” Lopez finally — and largely unexpectedly — rekindled their inspiring romance earlier this year. The two initially met on the set of “Gigli” back in 2002, began dating, co-starred in an iconic music video, and got engaged later that same year — only to call off the wedding last minute and split up months later, citing excessive media attention as a huge impediment to their happiness as a couple. Now, in early 2021, the stars began to align for a long-anticipated reunion to take place. Affleck and Ana de Armas’ split became public in January, while Lopez and Alex Rodriguez broke up for good in April. Soon enough, Bennifer was off to Montana for a little getaway, quotes from sources around the happy couple flooded the tabloids, and things took off from there. Aside from marking yet another triumph of Red Sox over Yankees, this nostalgia-inducing relationship brought us all back to simpler times. In a generally bleak and isolating time for the world, Bennifer made us believe in true love once again — a stimulant more powerful than even the most potent Dunkin’ iced coffee. —Connor S. Dowd

By Courtesy of Christie's

8. NFTs/Christie’s Beeple Sale of $69 million

As 2021 began, it seemed like every celebrity and their mother began minting and selling NFTs (Non-Fungible Tokens) for an absurd amount of money. From Paris Hilton to Nyan Cat, popular culture fanatics collided with blockchain bros for the first time, catapulting the whispers of Web3 to the forefront of discussion. The art world hardly escaped the hype, and auction house Christie’s made global headlines when it sold Beeple’s “Everydays - The First 5000 Days” as a purely digital artwork and NFT for over $69 million. No shortage of art institutions and galleries lamented the sale as the inevitable death of true art, while more optimistic art entities hailed the move as the next innovative stage of commercial art practice. Regardless, Beeple’s groundbreaking sale proved NFTs and blockchain technology are bound to shake up the art world, whether you like it or not. –Hannah T. Chew

7. Carl Nassib, Jojo Siwa, and More Joining the LGBTQ+ Community

No active NFL player has ever identified as gay until Nassib, a defensive end for the Las Vegas Raiders, came out in a video posted to his Instagram in June of this year. Despite the league’s noted heteronormativity, Nassib’s announcement immediately made waves in the professional sports world and still strikes as important months later in the wake of his coach’s resignation over past use of homophobic language. Nassib’s video was joined by several other courageous messages during Pride Month, including those from actress and singer Alexandra Shipp, “American Idol” contestant David Archuleta, and actor Larry Saperstein. An icon to millions of younger fans, social media personality Jojo Siwa also came out — in true 2021 style — over TikTok in January. Like celebrities in a number of different domains, Siwa’s announcement has reached youth audiences in unprecedented fashion, helping pave the way for greater LGBTQ+ representation. —Charles W. McCormick

6. Red (Taylor’s Version)

Taylor Swift has been on quite a roll recently (although it could be argued she’s been on a roll since 2006), releasing, for all intents and purposes, two albums each year in both 2020 and 2021. This year she released the “Taylor’s Version” of her sophomore album “Fearless,” and followed it up a remake with her fourth album, “Red.” The pair of releases marked the beginning of her endeavor to reclaim ownership of her work after an embittered fight against former manager Scooter Braun, who sold the master recordings of her first six albums last year. The album features a multitude of songs that had been withheld from the original release. It also included a ten minute version (Ten! Minutes!) of the fan favorite song “All Too Well,” which replaced Don McLean’s “American Pie” as the longest song to hit No. 1 on the Billboard charts, and came with a short film starring Dylan O’Brien to match. Though the original songs are pretty much identical to the 2012 release, the revisit, along with the array of new material, is a testament to Swift’s growth as an artist — and to the loyalty of her fans. —Sara Komatsu

We wrote about what ‘Red’ (Taylor’s Version) revealed about her ex, Jake Gyllenhaal. Read more here.

5. Megan Markle and Prince Harry interview with Oprah

Back in March, when the world could not possibly endure another convention-defying event, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, sat down with icon Oprah for a bombshell interview. The couple spoke candidly about their mistreatment by members of the royal family as well as their own struggles with mental health. Allegations of racism, deliberate neglect of security, and ill will gave a rare behind-the-scenes look into the life of British royals and their exclusivity. Since their departure from the royal family, the couple and their children have moved to California and started Archewell, a non-profit organization, and Prince Harry joined BetterUp as Chief Impact Officer. Their honest and far-reaching interview with Oprah shocked the world and Britain alike and brought critical eyes toward the outdated practices and institutions of the royal family. —Hannah T. Chew

4. Chloe Zhao Wins Best Director at the Oscars

On April 25, at the 93rd Academy Awards ceremony, Chloe Zhao won the Oscar for Best Director for her film “Nomadland.” In doing so, she set a milestone in becoming the first woman of color to win the award; she is also only the second woman ever to win as well as the first to win in over ten years. “Nomadland,” a film that depicts the nomadic lives of older Americans that live in their vehicles, also proceeded to win the awards for Best Picture and Best Actress (Frances McDormand). In her acceptance speech, Zhao paid homage to her Chinese heritage and recited in Mandarin a line from a poem called the Three Character Classic, a move that she was later praised for on Twitter and in popular media. Zhao’s Oscar’s win also made news for the censorship it received in China, where it failed to receive attention in state media outlets, and for the efforts on the part of her fans in China to celebrate her regardless. As such, Zhao’s win proved to be a bit bigger than just herself. —Daniel S. de Castro

3. Simone Biles Withdraws from Olympic Team Finals

On Jul. 27, Simone Biles shocked the world when she withdrew from the women’s gymnastics team finals at the Tokyo Olympics. “The twisties” — a mental block in which a gymnast loses spatial awareness during a routine — became a household term as she shared her reasons for staying on the sidelines. What makes this moment truly incredible is the response it garnered from the public. With the exception of some inevitable criticism, Biles received an outpouring of support from figures across sports, entertainment, politics, and more, sparking necessary conversations about mental health. These messages of encouragement brought some much-needed positivity during the pandemic and exemplified progress toward a society that values rest and the prioritization of mental wellbeing. She did so much more than stand on the Olympic podium; she took a stand against an institution that places overwhelming pressure on its athletes. This moment humanized the idol, and more importantly, did not detract from her status as the GOAT. If anything, she can wear that title with more pride than she ever has before. —Nina M. Foster

2. Lil Nas X

If 2021 were a movie, Lil Nas X just might be its star. Who else can say they gave Satan a lap dance, performed at the VMAs, became a New York Times bestselling author, had a wardrobe malfunction on SNL, got sentenced to “prison,” had a “pregnancy announcement” in People magazine, made an appearance on “Maury,” and dropped a Grammy nominated album, all in one year? Ever since the TikTok virality that first skyrocketed him to fame, Nas has proven again and again that he is just as talented a marketer as he is a musician. Throughout the year, the singer has told a story that threads between reality and fiction, each stunt slyly foreshadowing his next venture — just look at the way he used the legal controversy surrounding his unofficial Nike “Satan Shoes” to market the prison-themed music video for “INDUSTRY BABY.” Most importantly, amidst it all, Nas has always refused to compromise who he is. From his songs that speak to his experiences as a queer Black man to his passion for Twitter memes, Nas has proven that there’s not just one path to making it big in the music industry. And, if this year was any indication, it’s probably best to get a head start on your “What will Lil Nas X do in 2022?” bingo cards now. —Hunter T. Baldwin

1. Free(d) Britney

In 2008, pop legend Britney Spears was placed under a conservatorship — also known as legal guardianship — as the result of her infamous 2007/2008 public breakdowns. For thirteen years, Spears was under the control of her father Jamie Spears who oversaw her finances as well as her professional and personal lives. Although Spears’ conservatorship made news in the late 2000s, there was not much talk about it until 2019 when an episode of “Britney’s Gram,” a podcast dedicated to analyzing the singer’s Instagram posts hosted by comedians Tess Barker and Barbara Gray, went viral, sparking the #FreeBritney movement. The movement took over social media, and by July 2020, #FreeBritney saw news coverage worldwide. On Feb. 5, The New York Times premiered their documentary “Framing Britney Spears,” a one-hour fifteen-minute exposition on the popstar’s rise, fall, the conservatorship, and the “#FreeBritney” movement. In the aftermath of the documentary, the media, other celebrities, and the general public reckoned with just how poorly Britney Spears was treated in the 2000s. Celebrity journalism outlets recalled how they treated Spears twenty years prior. Male celebrities, most notably Justin Timberlake (Spears’ ex), apologized for their participation in systems of misogyny. As a result of the documentary, the #FreeBritney movement grew tenfold, sparking outrage over the conservatorship that Spears’ had been under for 13 years and in June 2021, Spears made her first public statement asking for the termination of her conservatorship, citing abuse from her father, family, and management. After a months-long legal battle, on Nov. 12, Britney Spears’ conservatorship was terminated and #FreeBritney became #FreedBritney. —Annie Harrigan

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