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30 December 2016updated 29 Jul 2021 12:06pm

The best pop culture moments of 2016

From the best entrance to the best exit, the cultural highlights of 2016.

By Anna Leszkiewicz

The best entrance

Beyoncé, Lemonade

Just ten months after its release, it’s hard to imagine a cultural landscape without Lemonade. Beyoncé’s second visual album, which dropped in February, set the bar high early in the year. By turns blistering, bitter, and blissful, listening to Lemonade for the first time can feel like a kind of baptism, cleansing through its catharsis. So it’s only appropriate that one of the film’s most lasting visuals plays with similar ideas, as Beyoncé begins “Hold Up” with waves breaking through heavy doors. That’s one way to make an entrance.

The best use of social media

Kim Kardashian West, Snapchat

It would take a much higher wordcount to explain the tension that had been building between Taylor Swift and Kanye West for years, but their relationship was more tense than ever when West released a rap mentioning her: “I think me and Taylor might still have sex / Why? / I made that bitch famous.” West claimed he had her approval for the lines, but Swift hinted at her horror at the Grammy’s. Contentious comments in interviews followed, until Kim Kardashian West came to her husband’s support with a delicious serving of revenge: posting video footage of Taylor’s approval on her Snapchat. A truly electrifying use of personal social media channels that showed Kardashian West’s dominance of the form. It’s bittersweet to remember her triumph after a traumatic assault has seen her move away from her former social media persona.

The best British export

Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Fleabag

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Hilarious, depressing, filthy and always surprising – Fleabag was undoubtedly the best of British comedy in 2016. Constantly leaving its audience on a knife-edge between laughter and tears, Phoebe Waller-Bridge – who wrote and starred in the sitcom – offered an irresistible exploration of a woman struggling to entertain those around her while dealing with grief, shame, and insecurities financial and personal. It was extra sweet to see her success translate Stateside when Amazon Prime Video distributed the series. Extra points, too, must go to a show that manages to make a scene starring Hugh Dennis talking about orgasms and his dishwasher moving.

The best revenge

Every woman on Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones has been rightly criticised for its voyeuristic and degrading treatment of women across its six seasons. We’ve seen Arya, Sansa, Cersei, Daenerys, Ellaria and Yara beaten, raped, humiliated and tortured at length. So when this season saw several disparate plotlines culminate with the triumph of the women at their centres, it was hard not to celebrate for them. Particularly sweet was Sansa’s revenge, as she finally sat at the head of her house and murdered her husband using his own preferred method of torture: death by dogs. Let’s hope they don’t fuck up her character (there have been hints of a “the power goes to her head” storyline) in season seven!

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The best non-stop monologue

Aoife Duffin, A Girl is a Half-formed Thing

I loved two female-driven monologue performances in 2016: Fleabag at the Soho Theatre was one, and the other was A Girl is a Half-formed Thing at the Young Vic. Following on from runs in Dublin, Edinburgh and Manchester in 2014 and 2015, this production finally came to London this year, and it was transcendent. This uninterrupted 90-minute show is relentlessly traumatic and terribly bleak, but the sheer force of it reminds us of the depths simmering beneath the faces of every passing person you meet.

The best nostalgic romance

Barry Jenkins, Moonlight

2016 has been a year thick with nostalgia: from Stranger Things to La La Land and beyond. Moonlight, a coming-of-age film set in Eighties Miami by director Barry Jenkins – described by one critic as “Carol meets Frank Ocean” – is the most nuanced and stylish of the lot. Following the troubled youngster Chiron as he grows up, discovers his sexuality, and even falls in love, Moonlight seduces you from its very first frame. An honourable mention, too, must go to the Black Mirror episode “San Junipero”, which managed to transcend all the melodramtic, po-faced elements of your typical Black Mirror episode by choosing to look at the potential positive aspects of future technology. 

The best exit

Damien Chazelle, La La Land

It’s not out in the UK until 12 January, but La La Land has dominated the cinematic conversation in 2016. A lush, sweeping musical centring on two LA romantics (Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone), it spends its two-hour run time hovering between fantasy and reality. It’s irresistible throughout, but it’s the final scene – a dreamy musical montage with a gorgeous score – that knocks the wind out of its audience. I’ve seen this film three times, and so far I haven’t managed to not bawl my eyes out throughout. Just go and see it, okay?