The Pop-Cultural Year That Was: A Reading Guide

From Beyoncé to Breaking Bad, a roundup of The Atlantic's entertainment coverage in 2013

AP; Reuters; AMC

One easy prediction for 2014: Pop culture will remain a battleground. The new year will bring new acclaimed films, new maligned celebs, and new buzzed-about TV shows, all of which will spark social debate about issues both important and trivial. Evidence? They year that just finished. Here are the 13 topics that The Atlantic's Entertainment channel wrote about most frequently in 2013.

You Can Call Her Queen Bey

From the cover of GQ to her own HBO special, from the Inauguration to the Super Bowl, Beyoncé ruled pop music without even releasing an album. And then, of course, she surprised everyone by doing just that with no warning. As her halftime show and the unexpected arrival of her fifth album remind us, Beyoncé is a hard-working, All-American diva and feminist, but she’s also an eye-opening case study of the intersection between social media and celebrity culture.

Further Reading:
Beyoncé's Deal With Pepsi Has Thousands of Years of Precedent
Want Singers to Do the National Anthem Live? Don't Ridicule Flubs
Super Bowl Reveals Beyoncé to Be a Sweaty, Hard-Working Human Being
Why Don't More People Call Beyoncé a Genius?
What Rush Limbaugh Got Right About Beyoncé
How Beyoncé Keeps the Internet Obsessed With Her
What Beyoncé Could Learn From Ke$ha: How to Actually Humanize a Pop Star
Beyoncé’s New Album Is Sexy, Shocking, and Has Something to Say
When Beyoncé Samples Your TED Talk, This Is What Happens to Your Book

Manti Te’o’s Fake Dead Girlfriend

When a Deadspin revealed that the late girlfriend of now-San Diego Chargers linebacker Manti Te’o—whose death hung over his inspiring 2012 season at Notre Dame—never actually existed, sports fans and non-fans alike had a lot of questions. How could they fall for such a hoax, and more importantly, how could Te’o, if he wasn’t in on the scheme himself? A story as bizarre as it was explosive, Deadspin’s investigation became for many a crash-course in the Internet phenomenon of catfishing, and a welcome reminder that fact-checking is a vital part of journalism.

Further Reading:
The Psychology of Rooting for the Guy With the Fake Dead Girlfriend
The Meaningless Hoax Before Manti Te’o’s Meaningless Hoax
How The Simpsons Explains the Manti Te’o Fake Girlfriend Saga
The Manti Te’o Dead Girlfriend Hoax: Blame the Media
You’re in Good Company, Lennay: 5 Other Famous People Who Didn’t Exist
The Samoan Roots of the Manti Te’o Hoax

Binging Bad

It’s tempting to think of AMC’s anti-hero drama as an addiction given its drug-dealing subject matter, but as the story of Walter White and company came to a close, it felt more like an epidemic. Seasoned viewers compared the show to the greatest works of literature in anticipation of its finale, while Breaking Bad newbies furiously binge-watched their way through past seasons in order to consume the final episode the old-fashioned way: gathered around the TV like everyone else.

Further Reading:
Watch Walt and Jesse's Initial Reaction to Breaking Bad's Ending
The Walking Dead vs. Breaking Bad
The Breaking Bad Roundtable
How Shakespeare Would End Breaking Bad
Which Great Literary Work Explains Breaking Bad Best?
Breaking Bad's Big Critique of the Macho (and Its Problem With Women)
The Alternate Breaking Bad Universe in Which Walter's House Burns Down
Netflix and On-Demand Aren’t Killing ‘Water Cooler TV’—They’re Saving It
Albuquerque Newspaper Runs Breaking Bad Obituary

A New Chapter for the Booker Prize

The Man Booker Prize for Fiction is one of the most prestigious literary prizes in the world, and this year Atlantic staffers offered takes on each of the shortlisted novels. Twenty-eight-year-old Eleanor Catton became the youngest winner ever when she claimed the prize for The Luminaries, the longest book to ever win (at 832 pages). But some fear that once a rule change starts allowing authors from any country to be considered for the Booker, The Luminaries may be the type of book that will get lost in the growing volume of contenders.

Further Reading:
Logs vs. Dead Donkeys: The Tweet That Helped Me Make Sense of Jim Crace
An African Writer Who Doesn’t Mind Being Called an 'African Writer'
The Transcontinental Novel That Probably Won’t Win the Booker Prize
The Bleakest Story Jhumpa Lahiri Has Ever Told
The Testament of Mary Isn’t Really About Jesus’ Mother At All
Will The Luminaries Be the Last Hidden-Gem Booker Prize Contender?
How to Place a Winning Bet on the Booker Prize: Don't Read the Novels
Of Course the Booker Prize Should Get More Inclusive—Because English Has

Blue is the Most Talked About Color

Abdellatif Kechiche’s lesbian love story took top honors at Cannes, but chatter about the movie and its lengthy sex scenes persisted even after the festival circuit. Blue wasn’t just another launch pad for debates about whether such explicit material is more porn than art; it also highlighted new trends in French cinema and Hollywood’s lingering biases against foreign films just like it.

Further Reading:
Spielberg’s Jury Names a Powerful Same-Sex Love Story Cannes’ Top Film
The Best Film at Cannes Is the French, Lesbian Answer to Brokeback Mountain
The Unsexy Parts of Blue is the Warmest Color Are the Most Important Parts
Graphic Lesbian Sex is Not What Makes Blue Is the Warmest Color Radical
French Film in 2013 Was Even Sexier, and Smarter, Than Usual
The Frustrating Language Bias of This Year’s Best Actress Oscar

The Year of the Doctor

The long-running British sci-fi series Doctor Who not only celebrated its 50th anniversary with a special episode, “Day of the Doctor,” that was simulcast worldwide. It also saw one Doctor, Matt Smith, pass the title role to the next, Peter Capaldi. Fans spent much of the year taking stock of how the show has evolved, and how it can evolve even further by addressing, among other issues, its treatment of female characters.

Further Reading:
Doctor Who’s Latest Big Mystery Wasn’t Much of a Mystery At All
The Depressing, Disappointing Maleness of Doctor Who’s New Time Lord
Doctor Who's Girl-Women Weirdness
How Doctor Who Survived 50 Years
Doctor Who's 50th-Anniversary Episode: Delightful, Fan-Servicing Chaos
How Fanzines Helped Put Doctor Who Fans in Charge of Doctor Who
The Captain Kirk Problem: How Doctor Who Betrayed Matt Smith

The Ascension of Yeezus

Kanye West’s behavior and personal life tend to make more headlines than his music does, but in 2013, the two were inseparable: His much-maligned ego is immortalized in the title of his critically acclaimed sixth album, Yeezus, and his fiancé Kim Kardashian is all over his music video for “Bound 2.” But there’s a simple explanation behind what seem like eye-roll-inducing interview soundbites and the lyrical and sonic belligerence of Yeezus: He’s working through his demons on a mission to bring us all some joy.

Further Reading:
The Shocking Poignance of Kanye West's Yeezus
Yeezus Everlasting: Why Do So Many Rappers Impersonate Christ?
How Kanye West's Yeezus Is Like Sgt. Pepper, or Kid A, or Riot Goin' On
The Anticipation for Kanye West's New Album Is Insane—and Totally Justified
The 6 Things I Needed to Appreciate Yeezus
Why Kanye West Acts That Way
Reminder: Fiona Apple Is Not Insane (and Neither Is Kanye)
'Bound 2': More Evidence Kanye Just Wants to Make People Happy

Lance Armstrong’s Duping and Doping

After years of denying allegations of performance-enhancing drug use during his string of Tour de France wins, the celebrated cyclist admitted he'd been lying  in a tell-all interview with Oprah Winfrey. Armstrong presents a few reasons to sympathize with him, but with an entire career (and the Livestrong brand) built on his cancer-survivor-turned-cycling-star story, there are many more reasons to feel betrayed.

Further Reading:
Why I’m Still Wearing My Livestrong Bracelet
My Newfound Sympathy for Lance Armstrong Fans and Hatred for Lance
A Former Cyclist Reflects: I Would Have Done What Lance Armstrong Did
Who Cares If Lance Armstrong Confesses?
Rebranding Lance Armstrong: Marketing Pros’ 6-Step Recovery Plan
Lance Armstrong, Antihero
Why You Shouldn’t Judge Lance Armstrong (And Why You Should)

“Accidental Racist” Misfires

In one of the year’s least thought-out ideas, country artist Brad Paisley and hip-hop veteran LL Cool J joined forces to discuss, through song, the Confederate flag—either a symbol of Southern pride or a hurtful reminder of the legacy of slavery depending on whom you ask (but usually the latter). The collaboration backfired, courtesy of some misguided generalizations (“If you forget my gold chains, I’ll forget the iron chains,” raps LL Cool J in one verse) that failed to get to the heart of why the symbol is so offensive in the first place.

Further Reading:
Brad Paisley and LL Cool J Show How Not to Sing About the Confederate Flag
'Accidental Racist' Is Not a Joke
Why 'Accidental Racist' Is Actually Just Racist
Against the 'Conversation on Race'
Reminder: Songs About Racism Can Actually Be Quite Good
Brad Paisley and the Politics of Offense and Offense-Taking

Kickstarter Comes to Hollywood

The cancellation of the underappreciated teen detective series Veronica Mars had fans clamoring for a movie for years, but it wasn’t until creator Rob Thomas and star Kristen Bell put the project’s fate in the hands of fans that it finally happened. Set to open in theaters one-year after 92,000 fans broke Kickstarter records and raised $5.7 million dollars (almost triple its fundraising goal), the success of the Veronica Mars movie convinced other filmmakers that their struggling projects could be saved—even wealthy filmmakers who maybe shouldn’t have resorted to Kickstarter the first place.

Further Reading:
Why Hate Zach Braff’s Kickstarter Campaign but Not Veronica Mars's?
Veronica Mars: TV’s Realest Depiction of Rape Is Going to Be a Movie

The Twerk Heard ‘Round the World

Say what you will about Miley Cyrus’s antics at award shows, there’s a very good reason why the former Hannah Montana starlet was on the shortlists for various person-of-the-year designations as 2013 wound down: She sparked some of the most important conversations about pop culture this year. And not just conversations about how great “Wrecking Ball” is—serious stuff, like the troubling implications of her racial and cultural appropriation.

Further Reading:
The Secretly Conservative MTV VMAs
Was Miley Cyrus’s VMA Performance a Failed Blurred Lines Critique?
If Miley Cyrus’s Twerking Is Racist, Isn’t Janis Joplin’s Singing Also Racist?
Miley Cyrus and Janis Joplin: How Racism Subverts Good Intentions
Of Course Miley Cyrus Is a Sham
Is Lily Allen’s New Music Video as Progressive as the Internet Says?

The Redskins By Any Other Name

Football fans’ concerns over the ethics of America’s most-watched sport are at an all-time high, but calls to change the name name of Washington’s pro football team were especially loud in 2013. Even President Obama voiced his support for doing away with the name that many consider an ethnic slur.

Further Reading:
Why Debate the Redskins Name Now?
A Name Change for the Redskins: Unpopular, Insufficient, and Necessary
Why RG3 Should Speak Up About the Redskins' Team-Name Controversy
Another Front in the Redskins’ Name-Change Battle: Cleveland?

The Rom-Com Battles

The year began with a heated discussion about whether romantic comedies are terrible, and so the year shall end with a heated discussion about whether one romantic comedy in particular—Love Actually—is especially terrible. The Atlantic’s film critic, Christopher Orr, took shots at the state of the genre in March, but it wasn’t until his back-and-forth with colleague Emma Green that debates about the divisive holiday movie (and rom-coms in general) turned into an all-out war. See the Twitter hashtag #LoveActuallyWars for evidence.

Further Reading:
Why Are Romantic Comedies So Bad?
What Went Wrong With Romantic Comedies, Part 2
What Went Wrong With Romantic Comedies, Part 3
If Rom Coms Are Getting Worse, It’s Not Because Society’s Getting Better
Drinking Buddies: This Is How Rom-Coms Should Work?
Love Actually Is the Least Romantic Film of All Time
I Will Not Be Ashamed of Loving Love Actually
Love Actually: Still Awful