Top 10 Pop Culture Moments of 2012

1. London Olympics Opening Ceremony

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As the London 2012 Olympics approached, it was generally accepted that Britain could never deliver an Opening Ceremony that would come close to the spectacle produced by Beijing in 2008. Then it began, and much to the surprise of everyone – least not the Brits themselves – it was great. Artistic director Danny Boyle took the Isles Of Wonder show through a historical commentary featuring everything from the Industrial Revolution to the creation of the NHS, as well as sections dedicated to children’s literature, Saturday night TV culture, and the victims of 7/7. Some of Britain’s greatest exports took centre stage, with the Queen ‘parachuting’ into the stadium with James Bond, Mr Bean getting mixed up with ‘Chariots of Fire’, and Paul McCartney bringing celebrations to a close with an epic sing-a-long of ‘Hey Jude’. The lighting of the caludron was a breathtaking moment when British Olympic champions passed the flame to young children, perfectly embodying the mantra of the games, ‘inspire a generation’. The Closing Ceremony was criticized as a sloppy tribute concert with too many appearances from Emeli Sande and Jessie J, but it was here at the beginning of the games that the finest cultural moment of 2012 took place. Rio, it’s over to you…

2. Whitney Houston 1963-2012

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In February the world woke one morning to the sad, yet ever expected news that Whitney Houston had died. Born into a connected musical family, the gift of a powerful gospel voice and the direction of Clive Davis meant Whitney sailed straight through to global superstardom in the 1980s. But the young girl who was once the voice of America soon fell prey to alcohol and drug addiction, after a tempestuous marriage to Bobby Brown. Her untimely death at age 48 sent shockwaves around the world, and registered as a loss on the same scale as that of Elvis, John Lennon or Michael Jackson. She left behind a rich catalogue of popular music, which soundtracked the lives of millions. Her version of ‘I Will Always Love You’ is more than just her own musical legacy – it will survive as one of the most important works in the history of art and culture. Bette Midler summed up the tragedy of Whitney, and all the other artists we lost too young, when she tweeted, “What a shame her talent didn’t bring her the joy and happiness it brought to all of us.”

3. Call Me Maybe

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After coming runner up on Canadian Idol in 2007, Carly Rae Jepsen was releasing music on small labels. In January 2012 her single ‘Call Me Maybe’ was heard by Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez on Canadian radio, and after tweeting about it, Jepsen and her song were rocketed into the international mainstream. With the help of celebrity parody videos, the originally music video went viral, and the song started to top the charts around the world. It’s been named the best song of the year by many respected publications, for staying true to traditional pop without conceding to the raunchier elements of peers like Rihanna and Lady Gaga. Whether you think it’s a cheesy piece of bubblegum pop, or a carefully crafted classic, it’s been inescapable, and undeniably catchy. Unfortunately for Jepsen, this is the kind of track one hit wonders are made of.

4. Gangnam Style

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Dance crazes have been slim on the ground since the turn of the century. Apart from Beyonce’s ‘Single Ladies’, there hasn’t been much to rival Thriller, Vogue, or even the beloved Macarena. But this year along came Psy – a South Korean musician who has immortalised his home district in Seoul and its specific style of lavish living with a bizarre dance record and a move that mimics a lassoing horse rider. Referencing a lifestyle of opulent living in his home city, ‘Oppan Gangnam Style’ quickly became the most popular catchphrase of the year, and everyone was having a go at it, from David Cameron to Barack Obama. In December, ‘Gangnam Style’ broke a major world record in becoming the first video on YouTube to reach 1 billion views, just five months after its release. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon was said to be disappointed at being replaced as the most famous South Korean in the world, but nevertheless called the song ‘a force for world peace’. North Korea responded by firing some warning rockets.

5. Skyfall

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Bond 23 got off to a shaky start, with MGM financial difficulties stalling its production by over a year. But once given the green light, director Sam Mendes set about creating a Bond movie like no other. In the year of the 50th anniversary of Bond, Mendes made a movie that went back to basics, and triumphed the British origins of 007. From the vintage cars to the traditional London locations, with a symbolic British bulldog thrown in too, it’s a Bond movie paying homage to the traditional. Even the stunning theme song by Adele is much closer to the classics of Shirley Bassey and Tom Jones than the more experimental offerings of recent years. By focusing on the back story of Judi Dench’s M, her relationship with the agents, and Bond’s formative childhood experiences, Mendes succeeded in making a ‘psychological Bond’ which goes beyond the action whilst still delivering all the usual goods. In less than two months it’s become the highest grossing film in the UK of all time, with many already calling it the best Bond movie ever made. And – for the first time in history – 007 could be headed for Oscar success in the new year.

6. Space Jump

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Stunts that were once impressive faded into insignificance after watching the triumphs of the Olympics this summer. Maybe that’s why Felix Baumgartner felt like he needed to perform the highest sky dive ever, from the edge of the earth’s atmosphere – effectively, space. On 14th October, the world watched with baited breath as he slowly ascended 128,100ft above ground (24 miles), before jumping from the capsule he had travelled in. He was in free fall for 4 minutes and 19 seconds, and achieved his goal of breaking the sound barrier. Upon landing in the New Mexico desert, he immediately got to his feet and punched the air – celebrating his victory, and proving that after minutes of somersaulting out of control at 834mph, he was in fact, still alive. No wonder it was sponsored by Red Bull.

7. Naked Royals

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It seems Prince Harry needed to let his hair down a bit after the demands of the Jubilee and the Olympics, not to mention his day job in Afghanistan, but when photographic evidence of his naked antics in a Las Vegas hotel room was revealed in August, we saw just how hard the prince could party. The Royal Family weren’t best pleased, but admirers of the cheeky ginger rejoiced. Then, in September, photographs of the Duchess of Cambridge sunbathing topless appeared in a French magazine, signalling a massive violation of privacy, which upset the couple greatly. The public at large were appalled by the photographs, and boycotted those who published them – but secretly had a good look at them online.

8. Grace Jones at the Jubilee

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You can’t accuse Gary Barlow of not catering for every audience when he arranged the Diamond Jubilee Concert for The Queen in June. The most bizarre moment came when the iconic Grace Jones took to the stage to perform her 1985 classic hit ‘Slave To The Rythym’. Unusual as ever, the 64 year old wore a red plastic corset with nothing on her legs but oil, looking like a cross between Lady Gaga and Usain Bolt. She then curiously proceeded to hula hoop the entire way through the song, without a single slip up. The Royal Family watched open mouthed and bemused, as did most of the global television audience. To round off the madness, she yelled ‘Happy Birthday!’ at the end, giving further evidence that she may not have had a clue where she was, or what she was doing. As ever, it was the stuff of legend.

9. Fifty Shades of Grey

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Former British TV executive E. L. James began her writing through Twilight fan fiction, before developing it into something more ‘adult’ in nature. Initially released as an e-book in 2011, the resulting novel Fifty Shades of Grey told the erotic tale of a sadomasochistic relationship between a female college student and a wealthy young businessman. Its beginnings as a digital book meant that it became a naughty pleasure which women could read at ease on the tube or in public, and no one need know what they were engrossed in – like Lady Chatterley’s Lover but without the over the counter shame. Critically slated, and generally accepted to be poorly written (even by the author herself), the original book has nevertheless become a best-seller, shifting 65 million copies, overtaking the Harry Potter books as the fastest selling ever. The book’s popularity peaked during the publication of its two sequels in 2012, and a film adaptation is highly anticipated – but who will play the irresistibly handsome Christian Grey whom women have lusted over on the page, and imagined for the past year? The search continues.

10. Madonna at the Superbowl

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Devising a career highlight performance in just under 15 minutes, in front of a TV audience of over 150 million is a daunting task for the greatest of performers – but not Madonna. In February her Madgesty was carried into the Superbowl stadium by the Cirque de Soleil troop, in an imitation of Cleopatra’s historic arrival in Rome. As she sailed through performances of ‘Vogue’, ‘Music’, and ‘Like A Prayer’, she found room to include Nicki Minaj, LMFAO, M.I.A. and Cee Lo Green, without letting anyone else anywhere near centre stage. Whilst other half-time acts usually give a traditional band performance, Madonna used the entire football field, with a full cast of dancers, acrobats and a gospel choir, all choreographed under the direction of her long-term collaborator Jamie King. Often slated for a lack of real talent, Madonna’s unrivalled skills at producing a live spectacle was on display at its finest, and quickly became a hot topic of conversation the world over, and one of her most memorable performances. Not least because she remained fully dressed for the whole thing.

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