Pop Culture 2023: Nine Months In Review

by Emma Peters

We’re already nine months into 2023, and with everything going on it can be difficult to remember what happened last week, let alone at the beginning of the year. 2023 has already had so many memorable moments - from movies, music, TV, and everything in between - and we’re here to jog your memory on everything from the past seven months. 

The return of cinema post-COVID.

2023 has seen a rise in movie-goers since the end of the COVID-19 pandemic, and I, for one, have already seen as many movies in the past seven months as the previous three years combined. The completion of films that were impacted by COVID has resulted in several highly-anticipated movies finally being released, with many more still to come. 

Of course, any discussion of cinema in 2023 must begin with the release of the two most highly-anticipated films, which coincidentally fell on the same day and are hilariously opposite in pretty much every aspect - Barbie and Oppenheimer. The movie pairing affectionately called Barbenheimer had the entire internet in a chokehold up until their release on July 20th. But whether or not the films lived up to their mammoth expectations is another matter entirely. 

Barbie has obliterated box office records, achieving the highest-grossing film opening for 2023, and the biggest opening for a female director, ever. These achievements, among many others, prove that the hype for Barbie was definitely there, and for good reason. The movie has already been celebrated as an important feminist piece of cinema, proving that women actually do want to see good representation (who would have thought?!). Even so, reviews have been extremely mixed, with an almost even number of 5-star and 1-star reviews on Google and conflicting opinions from critics. Notable, however, is that the majority of the film’s backlash has followed a strong anti-feminist narrative, with many bashing the movie for being “man-hating”. 

Oppenheimer similarly achieved a significant opening weekend, earning almost $175 million at the box office. While one large focus of the post-movie discussion has been its 3-hour length, and apparently confusing and at times boring content, it has received higher critic ratings than Barbie, earning a 93% on Rotten Tomatoes. 

Aside from Barbenheimer, cinema this year has been dominated by sequels and reboots, and we’re not mad about it. From The Little Mermaid live-action remake, Spiderman: Into The Spiderverse sequel, and the Mission Impossible and Indiana Jones reboots, there’s a source of nostalgia for every genre and generation. These films haven’t all been hits - Scream VI, Magic Mike’s Last Dance and Bird Box Barcelona have generally been considered misses, with low ratings and broadly disappointed fans. 

Marvel has also continued to expand its cinematic universe, but it’s heavily debated whether they’re beyond their peak. The newest instalment of Ant-Man, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, has seen poor ratings and reviews. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.3 was received much more positively, with greater box office earnings and higher ratings. However, despite some positive reception, Marvel has still lost much of the hype it received for films such as Avengers: Endgame, and while the franchise has long been at the top of the movie industry, its future has been heavily contested this year. 

What have we been binging this year?

In May, Netflix introduced new password-sharing prevention measures, only allowing those in the same household to share an account, and costing the streaming platform millions of subscribers. But streaming still seems to be going strong - subscribers have just spread across different platforms. Disney+ now has more streaming subscribers than Netflix, and other platforms such as Apple TV+, Binge, Stan and Amazon Prime are also on the rise.  

Netflix has continued to put out some iconic original series, however, like Beef, Queen Charlotte: A Brigerton Series, and XO Kitty. This year has also seen the continuations of numerous much-loved series, with new seasons of Heartstopper, You, Outer Banks, Drive To Survive, Never Have I Ever, The Witcher releasing in the past seven months. 

Disney+ has also released a considerable amount of exclusive content this year, dominated by popular fictional universes with Marvel’s Secret Invasion and What If…? season 2, as well as Star Wars’ The Mandalorian season 3 and The Bad Batch season 2 all being released in the past seven months. 

But the diversification of streaming has seen some of the year’s top shows released on several different platforms. HBO series’ The Idol and The Last Of Us, Apple TV+ originals Severance, Ted Lasso and Silo, and others are among 2023’s most streamed shows, proving that online streaming is no longer dominated by any singular platform. 

2023 in music.

2023 has seen an increase of 90 million subscribers to music streaming platforms such as Spotify and Apple Music compared to 2022.

According to the Official Charts Company, Miley Cyrus’ “Flowers” stands as the most streamed and most downloaded song of 2023, followed by RAYE and 070 Shake’s “Escapism”, SZA’s “Kill Bill”, PinkPanthresses’s “boy’s a liar”, and Taylor Swift’s “Anti-Hero”. Billboard’s charts offer a similar story, with Miley Cyrus, Taylor Swift and SZA all occupying the Hot 100’s number one spot during 2023. Country singer Morgan Wallen, The Weeknd and Ariana Grande, BTS’s Jimin and Olivia Rodrigo, and briefly in January, Mariah Carey, have all also taken Billboard’s top spot during 2023. 

However, it is impossible to discuss music without spotlighting Taylor Swift individually. With her Eras tour coming to Australia for 4 shows in Sydney alone, I doubt there is a single person who does not remember the day tickets went on sale, or the heartbreak of hundreds of thousands of fans who failed to get theirs taking to the internet for days after.

TikTok continues to have an immense influence on how listeners are consuming music, pushing trends such as sped-up remixes and the increased chart presence of independent artists. Songs such as FIFTY FIFTY’s “Cupid”, PinkPantress and Ice Spice’s collab “Boy’s A Liar pt.2” and the sped-up version of Lizzie Alpine’s “Ceilings” are just a few that have gained incredible virality from TikTok. With the rise of platforms such as TikTok, however, several more niche sub-genres have gained popularity, such as Lo-Fi Beats, Indie Pop, and ‘Phonk’, referred to as "an underground style of hip-hop/trap music directly inspired by 90s Memphis rap”. Other, more global genres have made their way into the mainstream media, with Reggaeton and K-pop making waves on international music charts. Latin artists such as Bad Bunny and G and K-pop acts including Stray Kids, New Jeans, among many others, have dominated music globally, ushering in a new era for international artists everywhere. 

So, what’s next?

Despite everything that has happened this year, we still have a while to go, and no doubt we will have just as much content to consume in the second half of 2023 as we did in the first. From movies and TV to music, we will certainly never run out of things to watch and listen to - so much so that often it can be overwhelming. The increasingly rapid pace of trend cycles in pop culture can make individuals feel as if they have to be constantly watching, listening and reading just to stay informed and to fully participate in society. With the sheer volume of content available to us now, and the increasing extremity of fans and ‘stan’ culture, it is important to remember that, ultimately, it is just not possible to stay on top of everything, and sometimes attempting to do so can be incredibly overwhelming, and even dangerous. 

Emma Peters is a second-year student at UNSW, currently completing a Bachelor of Media, majoring in Journalism. She is extremely passionate about all things related to pop culture and music, especially K-pop. You can most likely find her singing her heart out at a concert, or otherwise crying her eyes out while looking through concert videos.  

Blitz Editor

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