Pop culture 2014: Selfies, songs, ice buckets
Just for fun, let's try to picture the year in pop culture, all in one image.
We might begin with a singer oddly named Adele Dazeem, belting "Let It Go" from Disney's "Frozen." Suddenly a friend would pour a bucket of ice water over her head. Adele would immediately tweet the moment on her new iPhone 6, hashtag #icebucketchallenge, while Ellen would pop out and take a group selfie that would #BreaktheInternet.
Now let's get more serious. It's always a challenge to capture a year in pop culture, but we try nonetheless. Herewith, our annual, highly selective trip down memory lane:
Pharrell Williams has lots of reason to be happy this month. After a huge 2013, the producer-rapper-singer gets an Oscar nomination for "Happy" on the "Despicable Me 2" soundtrack. A week later, he wins four Grammys, including album and record of the year for producing the funk-electronic anthem "Get Lucky." Happy, Lucky ... the guy certainly picks apt song titles.
The ground shifts in the late-night TV landscape: Jimmy Fallon takes over for Jay Leno and immediately establishes himself as the new king, with a younger, fresher vibe perfect for next-day YouTube viewing of bits like celebrity lip-syncing duels. Kicking off an eventful year in the tech world, Facebook pays a massive $19 billion for WhatsApp, the popular mobile messaging service favored by teenagers and young adults - who see Facebook as something better suited to their parents. At New York Fashion Week, emerging star Lupita N'yongo makes a front-row splash at Calvin Klein.
It's OSCAR time, and this year's show - the most-watched in a decade - gives us a slew of pop culture moments. Introducing Idina Menzel, John Travolta mangles her name in epic fashion, creating a new star: "the one and only Adele Dazeem." Ever the Broadway trouper, Menzel doesn't miss a beat as she sings the girl-power anthem "Let It Go." N'YONGO completes her rapid ascent to superstardom with a supporting-actress trophy for "12 Years a Slave," also the year's best picture. And speaking of superstars, Ellen Degeneres takes that famous selfie with a gaggle of "em, causing Twitter to crash for 20 minutes and beating the previous champion for retweets, a photo of Barack and Michelle Obama. Time for a new phrase in Hollywood-speak: "conscious uncoupling," the term used by Gwyneth Paltrow to describe her enlightened split from Chris Martin. Oh, and OBAMA pitches his health plan to young people via an unusual platform: Zach Galifianakis' comic Web series "Between Two Ferns." Some conservative commentators call it undignified.
Yet more epic shifts in late-night: David Letterman announces he'll retire in 2015. His replacement is Comedy Central star Stephen Colbert, adored by the younger demographic. Letterman quips: "I happen to know they wanted another guy with glasses." And now, we know you were getting antsy for Kimye news, so here it is: Kim Kardashian and soon-to-be hubby Kanye West make the prestigious cover of Vogue, sparking existential angst among some fashionistas. Kardashian tweets that it's "a dream come true!!!"
The real dream comes when Kimye ties the knot at a Renaissance fortress in Florence, Italy, following lavish pre-wedding festivities in France. Angelina Jolie makes a splash as "Maleficent," giving us a new take on the character that's more superheroine than villainess.
Let's turn to sports: It's World Cup time, and who says America doesn't love soccer? People are glued to their TVs, iPads, phones and other devices for the U.S. games, and a hero is born: Tim Howard, the U.S. goalie, who even in a 2-1 defeat to Belgium makes a record-setting 16 saves. He becomes a social media darling - on Wikipedia, he briefly becomes the Secretary of Defense, edging out Chuck Hagel. And he inspires an Internet meme naming all the "Things Tim Howard Could Save."
A collective "Awwwwww" ricochets "round the world as Britain's mediagenic royal couple, William and Kate, release photos of the equally mediagenic Prince George, upon his first birthday. Turns out his fashion choices - lots of blues, and bib overalls - prove as influential as his mom's. Laverne Cox, meanwhile, is nominated for an Emmy - the first nomination for an openly transgender person.
Whoever would have thought a lowly bucket of ice would become a pop culture phenom? Celebs and regular folks alike take on the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, generating many millions of dollars to fight the disease. Epic screams are heard, but the most entertainingly blood-curdling comes from Pprah Winfrey. And what would August be without a wedding? Brangelina finally ties the knot, at a small ceremony on their French estate. A very sad note to the month: The death of Robin Williams, whose manic energy graced screens big and small, leaves a gaping hole in the cultural landscape.
Back to weddings - and in this year of celebrity knot-tying, nothing is bigger than the lavish Venice festivities surrounding the nuptials of the bachelor who said he'd never marry again, George Clooney, and British human rights lawyer Amal Alamuddin. Think traffic jams of paparazzi on gondolas. This isn't even the only Hollywood celebrity wedding in Italy this month - Neil Patrick Harris, next year's Oscar host, marries partner David Burtka. Big tech news: The new iPhone 6 arrives, with its larger screen and inevitable prestige factor. Apple also unveils its smartwatch, bringing the features of an iPhone to one's arm, and Microsoft spends $2.5 billion for the company that created the hit game "Minecraft," popular on mobile phones. Sadly, the world loses deliciously tart-tongued Joan Rivers, a trailblazer for women in comedy.
Kate Middleton appears in public for the first time since announcing that she's expecting her second royal heir. As for Hollywood royalty, Jennifer Lawrence, about to make a splash with the latest "Hunger Games" installment, speaks out on the hacking scandal that led to nude photos of her - intended for her boyfriend - being published on websites. "It is not a scandal. It is a sex crime," she says.
Remember when Ellen's selfie sorta broke the Internet? Well, Kim Kardashian, aiming to do the same, poses nude for Paper magazine, and the focus on her posterior leads to all sorts of talk about "the year of the booty." Kudos to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which tweets a photo of a strikingly similar figure from one of its 4000 B.C. statues, noting that they can "BreaktheInternet" too. Taylor Swift, meanwhile, takes a stand, asking Spotify to stop streaming her music, and setting up an intriguing standoff between the industry's most popular artist and its top music streaming service. On a much more serious note, Bill Cosby, once America's most beloved TV dad, faces a cascade of allegations that he drugged and sexually assaulted women decades ago. The comedian's planned return to television is shelved, and his career suffers perhaps irreparable damage.
Suddenly it's the only thing anyone in Hollywood is talking about: The devastating Sony hacking scandal. After several weeks of embarrassing disclosures in hacked emails, the focus turns sharply in mid-December to genuine fear, as hackers threaten violence and mayhem at theaters showing "The Interview," the Seth Rogen-James Franco film depicting the fictional assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Theater chains pull out, and Sony finally shelves the movie.
The fallout is still developing, but it's clearly a sober ending to a dramatic year for the entertainment industry.