With the 2010s finally ending, a wave of nostalgia is due to a lot of us. This was the decade where the internet went from a way to access Yahoo Messenger to an actual human right. A media explosion like no other, pop culture has arguably never been this diverse or influential. Let's revisit the, by no way exhaustible, list of people who had some of the biggest impacts this past decade. Love them or hate them, each of the following icons' influence is undeniable- much like the Beatles, Madonna, or Marlon Brando of previous eras.
Boy bands have a history of taking the world by storm; think Backstreet Boys, N'Sync, or even Big Time Rush. One Direction, though, was the first one to conquer the social media age of online fandoms and "Stan" Twitter. Formed by Simon Cowell on X-Factor UK, the group exploded onto the scene with their viral hit "What Makes You Beautiful." Pretty faces, angelic voices, constant releases paired with a great marketing team and an active approach to social change, 1D managed to stay relevant for years after their debut. Their dedicated "Directioners" are still very much an active community even after their hiatus since 2016, supporting the boys' solo careers and reminiscing the days they consistently topped charts.
Dear Ol' Pewds revolutionised not just YouTube, but pop culture itself irreversibly. Dominating YouTube subscriptions for 5 years, (goddamnit T-Series), Pewdiepie brought video game YouTube to the mainstream and remains a comedic icon. Several video games he covered went through an Oprah effect; their popularity shot up thanks to him. Despite misplaced controversies from Nazism to racism, Pewdiepie's popularity was enough to defeat cancel culture, one of the primary reasons for most celebrity downfalls in today's pop culture. He's Swedish, hilarious, and still plays Minecraft: what's not to love?
If the likes of Lil Kim, Salt-N-Pepa, MC Lyte (and more) set the foundation for female rap, Nicki Minaj built it into a sculptured skyscraper. Having charted the most Billboard Singles as a female artist, ever, her status as "Queen of Rap" remains (mostly) undisputed. She has influenced innumerable rappers to come after her, promoted sex-positivity before it was cool, and since become a symbol for strong femininity and PoC representation in pop culture. Her Monster verse is widely regarded as one of the best rap verses, ever. Even Eminem respects her- that's something.
Supermodel of the world, the most famous drag queen. RuPaul rose to celebrity status in the 90s itself, but his biggest achievement is undeniably RuPaul's Drag Race. With four consecutive Emmy wins as Best Reality Host, several multi-category wins, and making it onto VH1, the show has transformed mainstream acceptance of Drag and LGBTQ culture. Several Drag Race participants have gone onto have successful careers and world tours. With regular magazine cover-page features while nearing 60 and academic-level knowledge of pop culture, RuPaul is a worldwide phenomenon celebrated for representing the community across international pop culture.
BTS. Bangtan Boys. Bulletproof Boy Scouts. Beyond The Scenes. Many names, but this K-Pop group has taken over the recent mainstream culture, and are here to stay. Skilful vocalists, rappers, as well as dancers, the hard work put in by these boys is comparable to legends like Beyonce. The only boy band with better statistics than One Direction, the group's ARMY fanbase has unparalleled dedication, breaking language barriers as well as the white domination of charts and traditional boy bands. They are often credited for the explosion of K-pop as a genre amongst popular music. Could they be a symbol for a new era of international mainstream culture beyond the UK and USA?
It's easy to misunderstand Lady Gaga simply because of how different everything she's ever done is. However, this is exactly why her impact has sustained over the entire decade. Who is Lady Gaga? A performance art piece, living and breathing. From her visuals, artistic and Warholian take to music (Artpop, literally), unabashed support for the LGBTQ community when everyone was homophobic, and progressive fashion choices that delivered messages at each step of the journey, Lady Gaga is more than just a vocalist. She has become a cult phenomenon, and rightfully so. And of course, A Star Is Born.
This Indian-origin American comedian has been crossing boundaries left, right, never failing to make you laugh while doing so. His no-holds-barred political commentary in the form of humour and satire is progressive, socially-conscious, and as informative as entertaining. His 2017 White House Correspondents Dinner speech roasting Trump has to be one of the bravest acts in a while. Having landed his own Netflix show ever since Minhaj is one of the forefront icons in a new wave of politically aware comedy.
While "Rock is dead" has been a widely-proclaimed call in the 21st century, Linkin Park continued to dominate charts with every record they released. Not just an incredible vocalist with an amazing range and lung capacity, Chester was the voice of a generation. Linkin Park remained popular way past the fading of nu-metal by constantly evolving and putting their passion where their art is. His passing away is a reminder of the importance of mental health, a day when the world came together to grieve the loss of one of this generation's greatest icons.
In a rather constrictive and traditionalist culture, Ranveer Singh has not shied away from socially aware and progressive messages- from his androgynous fashion statements challenging gender-roles to being the first mainstream actor to endorse the biggest condom brand in India, Durex. It was more than time for India to have socially-conscious and responsible celebrities to look up to. Icons like Ranveer Singh tell men that it is okay to abandon toxic masculinity and what society teaches in favour of where we should progress.
We couldn't finish this list without mentioning Greta Thunberg. Although having risen to popularity only recently, her impact on the climate change movement has been undeniable. At a mere age of 16, her moving speeches at the UN and determination to make an impact has caught attention world-over. Greta's continual dedication despite the amount of negativity and trolling she receives is an inspiration we should all take a hint, or several, from. Plus, the death metal mix of her speech was cool enough to deserve a spot of its own, honestly.
(dis)Honourable Mention: Donald Trump And Pop Culture
Finally, we have someone this list couldn't be complete without, but for all the wrong reasons. Trump's career journey from professional wrestling appearances, a tax-evasive business to the President is a bizarre sign of the times. His tweets, statements, and blatantly regressive opinions have sparked a fire amongst social movements. The number of memes he has inspired definitely need an entire thesis paper of their own. More than anything, Trump has sparked a political rift amongst populations wider than ever before, and this has been reflected in the increasingly political nature of social media, movies, music, and practically every source of information we consume.