A Look Back at 2021’s Biggest Cultural Moments

A Look Back at 2021’s Biggest Cultural Moments (Photo: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Universal Music Group)

The year began with a Capitol insurrection and ended with a new COVID-19 variant. Kanye and Drake dropped new albums, the latest Spider-Man movie just came out, and vaccines kept the worst of the pandemic at bay. 

This year is characterized by uncertainty and untimely transitions, and a few cultural phenomena and incidents throughout the 12 months stood out like no others. Closing out the year and entering a period of reminiscence, our staff compiled a list of our favorite trajectory-shifting, joy-sparking, and plot-developing moments of 2021.

Take a look back at some of 2021's biggest cultural moments.

A$AP Rocky and Rihanna’s Met Gala Outfit

A$AP and Rihanna showed up as a couple to the Met Gala for the first time. His ERL tuxedo and quilted blanket coverup next to her huge Balenciaga coat made for a coordinated fashion statement.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 13: ASAP Rocky and Rihanna attend 2021 Costume Institute Benefit - In America: A Lexicon of Fashion at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on September 13, 2021 in New York City. (Photo by Sean Zanni/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)

Lil Nas X and Jack Harlow - Industry Baby


Along with the release of Lil Nas X’s song, “Call Me By Your Name,” the viral sensation released a pair of “Satan Shoes” which incorporated one drop of human blood. The shoes created curiosity around the artist, driving listeners to his new song at the time. He proved himself a marketing genius all around. Lil Nas X rocked the boat with Jack Harlow for his song “Industry Baby.” The song went #1, and the music video was just as spectacular. Lil Nas X proved that impact can happen outside of music at every point of his rollout. The rapper turned pop star even took the time to donate to bail funds with the release of his album. 

Donda vs Certified Lover Boy Billboards

Kanye West and Drake released their highly-anticipated albums within a week of each other, which surged a lively campaign. “Donda” billboards appeared next to “Certified Lover Boy” billboards in Drake’s hometown Toronto. Drake fans also vandalized West’s childhood home in Chicago.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings


Simu Liu starred as Shang-Chi, the first Asian Marvel superhero. This movie was a big step for representation in Hollywood. The movie is now streaming on Disney+.

Saucy Santana Dance Challenge


TikToker and rapper Saucy Santana released his hit song “Here We Go” along with an accompanying dance. This dance blew up on Tiktok and is now used for other songs. 

"Squid Game"


Netflix’s “Squid Game” was released this year and became the most streamed series ever on the platform. The Korean drama series, which offers a critique of wealth inequality and classism in South Korea, inspired weeks of memes and commentary by the press and social media. Writer-director Hwang Dong-hyuk came up with the idea for the dystopian satire back in 2008, but after being told it was too unrealistic and violent to be commercially successful, he did not see it come to fruition until Netflix gave it the green light in 2018. It’s safe to say the streaming service has no regrets, after “Squid Game” made nearly $900 million in value for the company.

Conviction of Ahmaud Arbery Killers

Travis McMichael, Gregory McMichael, and William "Roddie" Bryan were convicted of murdering Ahmaud Arbery and will be sentenced on Jan. 7. The McMichaels each face an additional charge of using, carrying, brandishing, and discharging a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence. The McMichaels and Bryan are also awaiting trial on separate federal hate crime charges. 

BRUNSWICK, GA - NOVEMBER 24: Annie Polite puts on a button for Ahmaud Arbery outside the Glynn County Courthouse as the jury deliberates in the trial of the killers of Ahmaud Arbery on November 24, 2021 in Brunswick, Georgia. Greg McMichael, his son Travis McMichael, and a neighbor, William "Roddie" Bryan were found guilty in the February, 2020 fatal shooting of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery. (Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images)

"Keeping Up With The Kardashians" Final Season


“Keeping Up With the Kardashians” aired its final season this year. The show lasted 14 years, producing 20 seasons for the E! Network. 

Black TikTok Dancers Striked


Black TikTok dancers went on strike in June to protest a lack of recognition for their creation of TikTok dance crazes and trends. Black creators still use the app, but began making videos pointing out just how much everyone else struggled without their input and contributions.

Juneteenth Designated a Federal Holiday

President Joe Biden declared Juneteenth (June 19th) a federal holiday this year. Originally recognized in Texas, Juneteenth marks the actual end of slavery for Texans, who didn’t hear of their freedom until nearly three years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued, and a year after the Civil War ended. 

LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 19: A motorcade of people celebrating Juneteenth makes its way down Crenshaw Boulevard in Leimert Park on Saturday, June 19, 2021. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Chlöe - Have Mercy


After teasing TikTok with a taste of her independence, Chlöe came into her own with the release of "Have Mercy." Stepping into her role of Beyonce’s protege, she didn’t disappoint with this track and delivered just as much star power in its music video and on stage. We can’t wait to see what 2022 brings for Chlöe.

#FreeBritney Victory

After successfully fighting to end the conservatorship that stripped her rights for over a decade, Britney Spears is finally a free woman! The fan-led #FreeBritney movement drew major media attention to the issue. The movement also applied pressure on key figures involved with the case. Many of these fans vow to continue the fight to reform this country’s abusive probate court laws. Whatever she decides to do now is her choice, and that’s exactly what she deserves.

WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 25: A supporter of pop star Britney Spears participates in a #FreeBritney rally and march in front of the U.S. Capitol Building on September 25, 2021 in Washington, DC. The group is calling for an end to the 13-year conservatorship lead by the pop star's father, Jamie Spears and Jodi Montgomery, who control her finances and business dealings. (Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images)

Olivia Rodrigo


At the beginning of the year, she had a platform on a couple of Disney shows when her single “Drivers Licence” went viral via TikTok trends and global charts. The singer's debut album is nominated for Album of The Year and Pop Album of the Year. 

Friends: The Reunion


After years of the “Friends” sitcom finale, fans had been begging for a cast reunion for the iconic show. The original six cast members reunited and allowed the fans to see where the actors are now. The show is now available on HBO Max with Warner Bros. 

Prince Harry & Meghan Markle Oprah Interview


The Prince Harry and Meghan Markle Oprah interview was a revolutionary moment for the royal family and Hollywood. Prince Harry renounced his title out of his love for Meghan so they could foster their family and get away from the toxicity they described was in the royal family. 

Simone Biles Mental Health

Simone Biles dropping out of Olympics for mental health reasons put a spotlight on the importance of self-care and moved one step closer to normalizing mental health issues.

INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA - MAY 22: Simone Biles warms up on the beam prior to the 2021 GK U.S. Classic gymnastics competition at the Indiana Convention Center on May 22, 2021 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images)
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