The biggest celebrities of 2021
For centuries the stars have been used as a guide, their shimmering spots in the sky leading the way through the darkness. They have been imbued with subjective meaning and set up as a mirror of the human condition.
Celebrities, the stars of the earthly realm, have played a not-so-different role: we see them as role models, or uplifting narratives, and treat their growing and waning relevance as a barometer of public opinion.
In 2021, the upward trajectories of several celebrities could not be ignored. Their names made the headlines, their outfits were endlessly imitated. Some, you might say, have ruffled the very fabric of our space-time continuum. (Who could have seen a love affair between Pete Davidson and Kim Kardashian exist in this dimension?)
During a year when a return to normalcy was the most exciting thing most people could imagine, it was a balm to see celebrities return to their normally abnormal lives. Some just shone brighter than others.
Here we represent the stars that rose – or died out – in another dark year.
Celebrities who are good at being celebrities
The barrier to becoming a celebrity has arguably never been lower. But become a celebrity whose glow lasts longer than a news cycle? The field narrows considerably.
Lil Nas X led the charge of the stars who “got the mission,” to use a phrase that is likely to be retired in 2022. In terms of creating cultural moments, impeccably reading the room on Twitter and actually appearing to really like it. having fun with his new mega-star, no one else has come close.
Megan Thee Stallion and JoJo Siwa have also maintained their momentum this year. Megan graduated from college, a goal she has been reiterating for over a year. JoJo Siwa, who turned pansexual in 2021, became the first “Dancing With the Stars” contestant to dance with a same-sex partner. She and Jenna Johnson were a great pair.
It wasn’t surprising that JoJo Siwa was a delight in a reality TV dance competition. She had, after all, made her showbiz debut as a child on the reality show “Dance Moms”.
Perhaps it is the double whammy of something good that is actually going on for someone, as well as the rarity of that person who appears to be a decent person. We have certainly been hungry for many beautiful things for years, and these people have encouraged us to support them.
Magnets of literary discourse
What’s that old saying? Is the pen more powerful than the sword? It looks like 2021 has proven this to be undeniably true thanks to a handful of writers who seem to exist at the center of a Venn diagram between idol and foe depending on who you ask.
There was, of course, “Bad Art Friend,” a New York Times Magazine article about two conflicting writers that crippled Twitter.
And of course, Sally Rooney, the author of “Conversations with Friends” and “Normal People.” Her latest novel, “Beautiful World, Where Are You?” Sparked conversation when she refused to sell the rights to her book to an Israeli publisher, citing her support for the Palestinian people. Who writes about the writers we write about?
The bad boys of pop culture
You know who has two inches, a slender figure, a plethora of tattoos and a famous brunette girlfriend? These guys.
The supposed bad boys of the day – Machine Gun Kelly, Travis Barker, and Pete Davidson – had an above average year. Machine Gun Kelly and his girlfriend, Megan Fox, are the hottest item on any red carpet. Mr Barker defeated his almost 13-year-old fear of flying and is now engaged to Kourtney Kardashian. Mr. Davidson, for his part, is dating kim kardashian and continues to reign supreme not only as King of Staten Island, but also of our hearts.
Pop princesses who hurt you with their music
What made us so sad this year (apart from the pandemic we continue to experience)? Perhaps it was the large number of albums imbued with the sweet scent of sorrow of pop queens and princesses.
We started the year with Olivia Rodrigo, taking us back to our agonizing teenage years of love and loss. Then, in November, came Taylor Swift’s reissue of “Red,” featuring her 10-minute version of “All Too Well” and a painful short to watch. (Let’s just say it was a bad week to be Jake Gyllenhaal.)
Finally, Adele drove us home, serenaded us, and explained what it’s like to be alone, but maybe not quite alone. Thank you to the women who have hurt us with their music this year – now please let us rest.
The athletes who defined triumph
Three of the world’s greatest athletes have made headlines this year by not competing.
Naomi Osaka has withdrawn from Roland Garros, citing concerns for her mental health.
Sha’Carri Richardson, who was widely favorite to win Olympic gold for the United States team as a sprinter, was suspended from the 100-meter race after testing positive for marijuana.
Simone Biles withdrew from the Olympic multiple gymnastics competition while on the floor of the Tokyo stadium. In the process, she introduced the concept of ‘the twisties’ – a kind of disorienting vertigo that gymnasts face – to the masses.
All three women were criticized for their decisions, but each was also presented as a new kind of role model. All three attended this year’s Met Gala.
Stopping is generally considered worse than losing in the world of competitive sports. But for some, the conversations sparked by the absence of these women had a bigger impact than any victory.
Of course there is always glory in not leaving. Stephen Curry on Tuesday broke the record for most 3-point goals in the regular season and won numerous accolades, including a crowd chanting “MVP” and Spike Lee, wearing head-to-toe orange, twist on the floor to capture the moment on his phone.
Revisionist rescue missions
It’s easy to forget how different we thought from Britney Spears a year ago. There were rumors online of a plot to control her and a movement to “free” her, but few of us understood the realities of what her life in guardianship meant.
The conversation changed dramatically after The Times’ “Framing Britney Spears” and “Controlling Britney Spears”, as well as Erin Lee Carr’s Netflix documentary “Britney vs Spears.”
Within months, people who were unaware or indifferent to Ms Spears’ personal life were enlisted. In the end, the pop star’s personal trajectory and her perception of the audience reversed.
She was not alone. It was a year to revisit, reconsider – and in some cases, try to save – women who were famous or infamous in the past.
Princess Diana, the object of aggressive international media fascination during her lifetime, experienced a posthumous cultural moment with both a Hollywood film and a Broadway show – for better or for worse – that reconsidered her legacy as as princess, icon and human being.
Monica Lewinsky was played with sympathy by Beanie Feldstein in “American Crime Story”. Ms. Lewinsky herself was the producer of the project.
Anita Hill’s press tour for her book on gender violence became an opportunity to reconsider the way it was written following his testimony in 1992 against Clarence Thomas.
And Sinead O’Connor, another ’90s punchline for years, wrote a memoir that prompted a new look.
Of course, many of the wrongs inflicted on our female celebrities have not been explained. But this year was an indication that there might be an appetite for trying to get it right.