The Pop Culture Winners of 2017

2017 was pretty awful, and I’ve decided that there is no use in re-hashing all of the ways it was (forgettable music, terrible films, a crumbling political landscape, rampant sexual misconduct across all courses of life). Instead, I will do my best to highlight what was good. Even though the world seemed like a dumpster fire, there were some positive moments, led by some pretty great people. Whether they were making us laugh, cry, cheer or think, these are the people who made 2017 a little bit more bearable. There’s no particular order, although we can all agree that the last is certainly not the least; she’s in fact the most.

Jimmy Kimmel

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It is very odd to claim that someone is winning in the face of personal crisis, but Jimmy Kimmel found triumph in tragedy. The late night comedian was an unlikely but vital voice in this year’s fierce healthcare debate after his newborn son was diagnosed with a heart defect. Kimmel’s access to the best possible healthcare highlighted the inhumanity of those without his fortune struggling similarly. After a brief hiatus, Kimmel returned to his show and delivered a searing, emotional monologue about his son’s health crisis and decried the damage that the Republican repeal of Obamacare would have on poorer families. Kimmel laid out his case plainly, with the sadness and righteous anger of a father terrified for his son. Republicans, like Bill Cassidy, tried to respond, but Kimmel smacked them down each time in front of millions each night. It’s not hyperbole to say that the AHCA’s failure is partly because of Kimmel’s advocacy. Not only did Kimmel receive critical raves for his efforts, but his show saw a significant ratings bump. Late night is filled with voices chewing up the state of American politics, but this year, Kimmel spoke the loudest and changed the most.

Sterling K. Brown

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After this year, Sterling K. Brown is a verified national treasure (and my uncle in my head). After an excellent 2016 saw him claim an Emmy for playing Christopher Darden in American Crime Story: The People v. OJ Simpson, Brown exploded alongside his hit television show This Is Us. The hyper-emotional family drama was a behemoth, and Brown served as its beating heart, delivering knockout performance after knockout performance. NBC, landing its biggest hit in years, renewed the series for an astonishing two seasonsFor his role as Randall Pearson, Brown won a second Emmy for Best Actor in a Drama Series, and will likely be nominated (and win) again next year. When he wasn’t helping Kleenex stock rise, Brown co-starred in the biopic Marshall, and guest-starred on Insecure, where he was inexplicably curved by Molly. That bizarre moment aside, there is simply no stopping this force of nature.

Gal Gadot


In last year’s dismal Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Gal Gadot was the sole bright light, illuminating the way to the Wonder Woman origin story we deserved. This year, Wonder Woman arrived and changed Hollywood, becoming one of the year’s biggest commercial and critical successes. Just as much credit goes to Gadot as it does director Patty Jenkins; Gadot was the epitome of grace, innocence and strength in the face of male mediocrity, and her charismatic performance set the standard for the DC Universe. Sadly, things went straight back to hell for the DCEU when the boys were back in charge, with Zack Snyder and Joss Whedon’s Justice League limping into theaters with an embarrassing opening weekend gross and terrible reviews. Still, Gadot received notices for her Herculean efforts to hold up the collapsing franchise. Even with the DC Universe in tatters, Gadot proved that her crash-landing into the hearts of moviegoers last year was no fluke; she is a bonafide star.

Prince Harry

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Britain’s Prince Harry was once the wild child of the Royal Family, the source of an embarrassing headline every week it seemed. This year, Harry emerged as one of the monarchy’s greatest assets. He and Prince William marked the 20th anniversary of their mother Princess Diana’s death by opening up about the deep psychological scars it left on them. Harry was particularly candid, revealing that he struggled in his teens and twenties with his grief, and only just started receiving professional help. It was a startling, game-changing admission, especially in the context of Diana’s own issues coping with royal life. Through his charity Heads Together, Harry became a champion for mental health causes and enlisted the help of stars like Lady Gaga to help fight the stigma. Then, of course, there is his relationship with Suits actress Meghan Markle. This month, the couple announced their long-awaited plans to wed, breaking all kinds of royal convention and forever changing the monarchy. Harry and Meghan are already a media sensation, and their May wedding will be a global event. His brother may be the future King, but Prince Harry proved this year he may be the key to the Crown’s survival.

Armie Hammer

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Armie Hammer has always occupied a weird space in post-movie star Hollywood, a well-known name without an especially notable film to his credit. That changed this year with Call Me By Your Name. The indie film about two young men falling in love in the Italian countryside was met with rapturous acclaim at Sundance in January, and steadily built momentum through the festival and awards seasons. Hammer gives the performance of his career as the older graduate student caught between dizzying passion and adult responsibility, subverting his matinee looks to reveal the aching vulnerability beneath. The role landed him his first Golden Globe earlier this month, and it’s highly unlikely that he won’t receive an Oscar nod. Hammer not only won over critics this year; the Internet fell hard and fast. His Twitter became the stuff of legend this year when an eagle-eyed follower noticed that the actor was liking rope bondage tweets, not realizing it was on public view. The likes remained, proving how little he cared about our judgment. He also wasn’t here for hypocrisy: when James Woods accused Name of pedophilia, Hammer curtly reminded the actor that he once dated a 19-year old when he was 60. If that wasn’t enough to curry the favor of Twitter, then the viral sensation of him dancing joyfully in the film did. When Buzzfeed published an article that re-framed his decade-long career as white privilege wrong amok, the Internet took up arms blasting it as a cruel and misguided hit piece. After years of toiling about Tinseltown, Hammer is an actor to watch and root for, knots and all. Despite Buzzfeed’s attempt at a decree, it is better to be late than never.

Cardi B

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I’m pretty sure that if you told Cardi B she would end 2017 with one of the year’s biggest songs, multiple Grammy nominations and an engagement ring, she probably would’ve cackled in your face. Alas, here we are, and what a time it is to be alive. The Bronx-born rapper broke out big this year with “Bodak Yellow,” becoming the first female rapper in almost 20 years to top the Hot 100. Cardi’s supersized, shamelessly hood personality confounded talk show hosts but delighted fans, who rewarded her with success that seemed inconceivable in January. Now, she is a bonafide superstar, stunning in a powder-blue gown at Rihanna’s charity ball and co-signed by everyone from Beyoncé to Barbra Streisand. Professional triumph was accompanied by an engagement to Offset of rap supergroup Migos. With Love & Hip Hop a faded memory at this point, 2018 is poised to be the year of Queen Cardi, ready or not.

Celine Dion

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Flamboyant, bombastic, self-indulgent, schmaltzy: these are words that have been used in the decades-long campaign to discredit the relevance of legendary pop diva Céline Dion. Nevermind that she singlehandedly transformed Las Vegas from a hasbeen wasteland to a playground for the world’s biggest pop stars, or that she’s one of the best-selling artists of all time, or that she is still capable of delivering a stunning vocal performance (a rarity amongst her contemporaries), Dion has always been a source of mockery. That is until 2017, when everyone finally woke up and realized that she is a wellspring of wacky joy with the pipes to match. This was truly the Summer of Céline, with the singer re-emerging as a haute couture queen. Styled by Law Roach, Dion stunned and delighted the Internet with her high-fashion looks, turning heads at the Met Gala in May and transforming the streets of Europe in her own personal catwalk. Even Vogue bought in, tapping her for a gloriously bonkers video editorial that went viral. 2017 also marked the 20th anniversary of Titanic and Dion’s mega-hit “My Heart Will Go On,” and she marked the occasion with a performance at the Billboard Awards that put everyone else performing to shame. After a devastating 2016 that saw the loss of her husband Rene Angelil and her brother to cancer, Dion was the perfect picture of resilience, grace and life.

Tiffany Haddish

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No one will ever look at a grapefruit the same way again. With one large citrusy fruit in the year’s most uproariously funny film, comedian Tiffany Haddish became the breakout star of 2017. Girls Trip and its $100 million-plus gross proved again the validity and hilarity of the black experience in film, and Haddish was at the heart of its success. Her gut-busting, full throttle comedic performance was one for the ages, garnering critical praise and significant awards recognition. Just as good as Girls Trip was her press tour stops, including her iconic appearance on Jimmy Kimmel, sharing her experience with Will and Jada Pinkett Smith on a swamp tour and leaving viewers in stitches. To top it all off, Haddish became the first black female comedian ever to host Saturday Night Live and released her autobiography The Last Black Unicorn, which of course meant more incredible press tour stops. Whether or not she lands a much-deserved Oscar nomination, Tiffany Haddish had a mythical 2017, and had the most fun living it.

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