Slap, spritz, sink: The pop culture moments that defined 2022

By Meg Watson and Thomas Mitchell

We’ve made it to the end of the 2022. And, frankly, time still refuses to make any sense. Somehow it feels like January was last week and the Will Smith Oscars slap was three years ago.

To help you take stock of the past 12 months and catch up on the things you’ve missed, we’ve picked the 10 pop culture moments that defined the year. Sorry in advance for reminding you of the ones you wish you missed.

From Elon Musk ruining Twitter to Tom Cruise saving cinema, don’t worry darling, we’ve got you sorted. Credit:Composite image created by Marija Ercegovac

Elon Musk buys Twitter, ruins it

As far as billionaire takeovers go, Elon Musk purchasing Twitter seems like the kind of hellish simulation spat out by an AI generator. But in 2022, it became a reality with Musk coming good on a threat he’s been making for years.

The official acquisition took place on October 27, and really we should have all known how things might pan out based on Musk’s cringe announcement. Taking to Twitter, the 51-year-old posted a video of himself waltzing into Twitter headquarters as its new owner, carrying a sink – all so he could tweet a pun.

“Let that sink in,” was the accompanying announcement.

From there, the Musk-ification of Twitter began, with the new owner running a poll on whether Donald Trump should be allowed back on the platform. While Trump may soon be back, others are going the other way, with high-profile users including Jim Carrey, Whoopi Goldberg, Shonda Rhimes and Gigi Hadid leaving Twitter. TM

Goodbye Neighbours! Oh, welcome back Neighbours

Everyone needs good Neighbours.

Is it OK to feel relieved and cheated at the same time?

When news broke in March that Neighbours was being cancelled, everyone felt sad. How would we survive without good old reliable Ramsay Street? Sure, most people hadn’t watched the show since Scott and Charlene left, but it was a comfort to know it existed.

And so we reminisced, rounded up the best moments and laughed at Toadie’s worst (hair) moments. The farewell was lavish, by Erinsborough standards anyway, with a bunch of famous faces coming back to say goodbye. Even Kylie Minogue found time to swing by and say three words: “Home sweet home”.

It was a perfect send-off fit for a legendary show, attracting a total TV audience of 1.38 million people. But before the dust had even settled on Harold’s hangover, Neighbours was gearing up to go again. In November, streaming service Amazon confirmed a partnership with production house Fremantle Australia to bring Neighbours back.

Production will start in early 2023, and the new episodes will screen in the second half of the year. Which is good, I guess? But it feels like a waste of a solid farewell. TM

Beyonce and Drake revive the rave

Beyoncé‘s single ‘Break My Soul’, released in June, was hailed as “awe-inspiring” by NME.

“I just quit my job… they work me so damn hard,” mutters Beyonce in Break My Soul before demanding listeners “release the stress” and “release your mind”. Set to a heavy house beat, Beyonce’s anthem may be the opposite of quiet quitting, but when it sounds this good, who cares?

Both Beyonce and Drake wound the clock back this year, releasing Renaissance and Honestly, Nevermind respectively. Both albums drew heavily from the dance and club scene, which triggered a (very slow, very gentle) return to the dance floors for ageing millennials. TM

The fall of the wife guy

“That body of yours is absurd.” With just six simple words, Adam Levine found himself the punchline of the internet.

Despite building a career off being the wholesome Maroon 5 frontman, Levine learned the hard way that if you’re going to slide into another woman’s DMs, then you really should think about what you say. He was allegedly having an affair with Instagram model Sumner Stroh, who claimed his feelings for her were so intense he wanted to name his unborn child after her. Charming.

Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, a member of the popular YouTube trio The Try Guys, Ned Fulmer, gave it the full “hold my beer” treatment. Fulmer’s entire persona centred on being “The Wife Guy”, but that all came undone when he was spotted kissing producer Alex Herring in a New York bar.

Cue a public apology from Fulmer, a public ousting from the Try Guys and a very public roasting on Saturday Night Live. Bye-bye Wife Guys! TM

The slap that rocked the Oscars

The Slap That Rocked The Oscars is just one of the many memorable pop culture moments to define 2022.

It was the Slap that Rocked The Oscars, a moment in awards ceremony history that won’t ever be forgotten. The 94th Academy Awards were pretty boring up until the point host Chris Rock copped a public slapping from Will Smith. Smith took issue with a joke Rock made about his wife’s bald head (Jada Pinkett-Smith has alopecia), so he took matters into his own hands (well, his right hand), striding on stage and slapping the comedian.

“Keep my wife’s name out of your f—ing mouth,” commanded Smith, while a shocked room of celebrities tried their best not to tweet. The moment instantly overshadowed the rest of the ceremony (including Smith’s win for best actor) and triggered a debate around Smith’s behaviour. The Academy banned him from attending events for 10 years. Smith later apologised to Rock and the Academy, but the sting of that slap won’t soon fade. TM

The Amber Heard pile on

Johnny Depp and Amber Heard went through a protracted defamation lawsuit.Credit:AP

2022 was not a great time for Amber Heard. Not only did she spend much of the year in court battling defamation charges from ex-husband Johnny Depp (undertaking numerous appeals and finally settling), she also faced a trial by TikTok. And with countless – very emphatic – videos under the hashtag #JusticeForJohnnyDepp, the latter never once turned in her favour.

Heard endured what The New York Times called “industrial-scale bullying” online which marked a significant shift from the sympathies and support of the early #MeToo era. And it wasn’t just Johnny Depp fans getting in on the action. A number of companies even participated in the pile-on to gain viral clout. MW

The endless Don’t Worry Darling drama

Remember those wild 24 hours when we genuinely believed Harry Styles had spit on Chris Pine? Olivia Wilde’s Don’t Worry Darling was an endless wellspring of drama that, if you were following it close enough, completely warped your sense of what was real or even possible.

It started with Olivia Wilde being served custody papers on stage from ex-partner Jason Sudeikis. Then Shia LaBeouf upped the ante with bombshell video receipts on why he left the production. Then it just got kind of fun – from Spitgate to Chris Pine dissociating during interviews to Florence Pugh swanning about Venice drinking an Aperol Spritz. And that’s without even mentioning the rumour about Sudeikis lying under a car because of Nora Ephron’s salad dressing from Heartburn.

After years of pandemic stagnation, this was the glorious return to chaotic celebrity gossip and live Hollywood events that we needed. MW

Tom Cruise saves cinema

Top Gun: Maverick soared to incredible heights at the box office in 2022.Credit:Paramount

People went to the movies for escapism this year. They wanted fun and adventure. And, more than anything, they wanted to see Miles Teller take his shirt off while Tom Cruise dangled out of planes.

It’s almost impossible to overstate what a success Top Gun: Maverick was in 2022. It smashed Australian and international box office records to become one of the most popular films ever released. And it did so during a time when people were worried if theatres would survive at all. MW

Stranger Things fuels the Kate Bush revival

The year in music may have been dominated by superstars like Taylor Swift, Harry Styles and Beyonce, but the year’s biggest music moment belonged to 63-year-old art rocker Kate Bush.

Her 1985 track Running Up That Hill was catapulted to the top of the charts in June, thanks to its inclusion in season four of Stranger Things. And it was completely impossible to escape in the weeks and months that followed – especially if you’re on TikTok.

This isn’t the first time an older artist has had a huge renaissance thanks to pop culture and social media (remember the craze around Fleetwood Mac’s Dreams after that guy with the cranberry juice?), but it definitely solidified the formula for success. So much so that Metallica even re-entered the charts after featuring in the final instalment of the season in July.

With season five of Stranger Things set to start filming in 2023, ’80s artists will be falling over themselves to get included. MW

Everyone checks into The White Lotus

The couples of The White Lotus toast to good times, bad friends and really awkward dinners. Credit:HBO

When HBO announced it was commissioning a second season of Mike White’s celebrated limited series The White Lotus, many fans were sceptical. Did we really need it? And what would it even be without breakout Aussie star Murray Bartlett?

But the second season, which just finished up this month, turned the show into a bona fide phenomenon. Focused on sex and power, the Sicilian drama reignited the joys of week-to-week TV, sent TikTok into overdrive with theories about the apparent murder mystery plot, and produced a hugely satisfying finale we’ll be thinking about (and referencing) all summer. MW

Find out the next TV, streaming series and movies to add to your must-sees. Get The Watchlist delivered every Thursday.

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