Top 10 Pop Culture Moments of 2011

1. Beyonce at Glastonbury

On 26 June history was made at Glastonbury, not least because it had its first female headliner in its 40 year history, but because that headliner was Beyonce, and she was phenomenal. The mighty Beowulf tore through a back catalogue that anyone else in the business would die for, and she did it all in killer heels. ‘Crazy In Love’ was a trusted opening number, ‘Irreplaceable’ was the surprising sing-a-long of the night and ‘Single Ladies’ was the festival’s anthem of the year – performed with the iconic dance routine perfectly in tact. She threw in a Destiny’s Child medley, for good measure, and covers of Alanis Morissette, Kings of Leon and Prince made sure the broad spectrum of music lovers in the 200,000 strong crowd were all impressed. Her set was perfectly crafted and well polished, as theatrical as a Madonna show, with all the raw energy of Tina Turner – to name but a few of her many influences. This career defining performance made one thing crystal clear: standing out in a league of her own, Beyonce is the only true superstar of our time.

2. Adele at the BRITS

Adele’s second album 21 was already top of the charts in 17 countries when she took to the stage at the BRIT Awards on 15 February. Then she sang ‘Someone Like You’ and the rest is history. With a simple acoustic performance of an incredible song, Adele captured the attention of the entire O2 Arena, and the hearts of millions watching on TV, who saw her raw delivery culminate with a tear at the end. Unwittingly, Adele propelled herself into a meteoric sphere of success. Much to the amazement of the music industry, she garnered as much publicity with a single performance as most artists can hope to achieve with a gruelling promotional schedule. Furthermore, this was the kind of ‘moment’ that the BRITS are made of. The key to Adele’s ensuing international success was summed up by James Corden, as he hosted the BRITS that night: “You can have all the dancers, pyrotechnics, laser shows you want, but if you sound like that, all you need is a piano.” Less than a year on, the video boasts 80 million hits on YouTube, 21 is the best-selling album of the new century, and ‘Someone Like You’ is firmly established as a classic pop standard.

3. The Royal Wedding

They thought a royal wedding might drag us out of economic depression, so on 29 April we partied like it was 1981, and watched Prince William marry his university sweetheart Kate Middleton. There was a triumph for British fashion in the form of Kate’s Grace Kelly-inspired dress, crafted specially by Sarah Bourton for Alexander McQueen. Indeed there was an equally famous fashion faux-pas in the form of Princess Beatrice, who thought she could pull off a Philip Treacy hat, and ended up just looking like a pretzel.  Pippa Middleton nearly stole the show – or at least her bum did – and many wondered if William hadn’t picked the wrong sister. Meanwhile, President Obama didn’t attend, because he’d planned for Osama Bin Laden’s assassination the following evening. Carlsberg don’t do weekends…

4. My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding

“A unique blend of ancient cultural traditions and modern celebrity extravaganza” – that’s how Channel 4 described the spectacle that is the gypsy wedding; the second favourite marriage ceremony of the year. Liverpudlian dress-maker Thelma Madine spoke candidly about how the traveller women may look like “tramps and whores” but they are in fact “the salt of the earth.” The one thing she didn’t speak about was how much money she makes from her consistent production of over-sized, fluorescent pink dresses; so heavy that they have been known to break bones, and often decorated with so many electricals that they must be followed around with a fire extinguisher. The documentary series did provide an eye-opener for the nation on the traveller community, but perhaps not quite the same one the stars of the show may have hoped for – they have Channel 4’s dry, ironic voiceovers to thank for that.

5. Bridesmaids

It was the big movie surprise of the year: that the summer blockbuster was not a 3D action packed sequel with major Hollywood names, but rather a modest comedy, with a cast composed entirely of unknowns. The movie was produced by Judd Apatow, responsible for The 40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up and Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and it was written by Saturday Night Live member Kristen Wiig – who also stars as Annie. Bridesmaids narrates the all too familiar ritual of women preparing a wedding, with all its mayhem, madness, and cut-throat jealousy. Throw in an unusual love story between protagonist Annie, and her local policeman (Irish comedian Chris O’Dowd), and you’ve got yourself a winner. An unlikely star was made in Melissa McCarthy (the slightly more sizeable sister-in-law), whose character and one-liners made her the star turn of the movie. There was even a small cameo from one of our own, Matt Lucas. Considering Bridesmaids took almost $300 million at box offices, I’d imagine we can expect a similar comedy, if not a sequel, from the same production team at some point in the future.

6. The Harry Potter Finale

After 10 years, and $7.7 billion dollars made in worldwide receipts, the Harry Potter film series finally came to an end this summer. The all star cast of the final installment was a reminder of J.K. Rowling’s original wish that the line-up remained primarily British. The films have helped secure Harry Potter as something as ingrained in British pop culture as Shakespeare or The Beatles. It remains to be seen whether or not Warner Brothers’ substantial campaign for Oscar recognition for this final film will succeed. Whether or not it deserves such an accolade remains debatable. If anything, an honorary prize for the overall effort would appear much more agreeable than something like Best Supporting Actress for Emma Watson. The horror…

7. Lady Gaga – Born This Way

You’d be forgiven for thinking Lady Gaga’s hit ‘Born This Way’ had been around for longer than 10 months; not just because of its striking resemblance to Madonna’s ‘Express Yourself’, but because it has been played more times than ‘tag’ in a primary school playground. The Born This Way campaign got off to a rocky start. People were unimpressed with Gaga’s declaration that it was “the album of a generation”, and many of her faithful followers felt her title track was too much of a contrived gay anthem. But, the campaign still managed to go from strength to strength. Some standard Gaga stunts (arriving at the Grammys inside an egg, attending the MTV VMAs as her male alter ego Jo Calderone) were fine accompaniments to a string of hit singles, including ‘Judas’, ‘You and I’ and the wonderful ‘Edge of Glory’. As we enter 2012, the album has sold over 8 million copies, and rumour has it a 450 date epic world tour is right around the corner.

8. The King’s Speech

Speech therapists everywhere rejoice! Your art is suddenly interesting. For many, Downton Abbey was the major success of the 2011 period drama revival, but it was The King’s Speech that kicked it all off. Winning four of the major Academy Awards, it was the biggest Oscar success for the British film industry since Slumdog Millionaire, and it gave Colin Firth the major leading role he’s been waiting on for nearly two decades. Even the Queen was said to be moved by the portrayal of her father on screen. The Queen Mother was given a fierce character portrayal by Helena Bonham-Carter, who demonstrated her famously bold personality and her distaste for Wallis Simpson. And for anyone interested in the Wallis and Edward sub-plot, get ready for Madonna’s exploration of it in her directorial debut W.E, coming out early in 2012.

9. Take That – Progress Live

Following Robbie Williams’ return to Take That, and the band’s hugely successful Progress album, anticipation was high for their reunion shows. Breaking records only previously held by Michael Jackson, Progress earned $180 million with 29 shows, and secured Take That’s status as a stadium act. The boys continued with their famously well choreographed performances, and a stage design by Es Devlin became the most recognisable image of the shows (see above), securing her a spot for designing the Olympic Closing Ceremony and the forthcoming Lady Gaga world tour. It’s true that a few people raised eyebrows at the segregated Robbie segment, which perhaps dwelt too much on his own solo success; but it did mean the other four got to bask in their glory too before the show culminated in all the classic numbers. Isn’t it great when everyone is friends again? Next up, The Smiths…

10. The demise of X Factor

2011 saw the take over of the apparently ‘New Generation’ of X Factor, in the form of Gary Barlow, Kelly Rowland, Tulisa, and still – Louis Walsh. By and large, most of us were not impressed, and the show was watched out of habit, as opposed to any genuine interest in the acts. Gary Barlow used the gig to continue his campaign for national treasure status, and in the process won the hearts and minds (and knickers) of every woman in the country – and quite a few men too. Other highlights included Kelly Rowland’s many ghetto catchphrases (“you put it down!”), her pathetic ‘sick call’, and Kitty Brucknell getting a hug from Lady Gaga. The Voice is coming to BBC1 next year – so let’s never speak of this again.

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