From Barbenheimer to Britney, these are the pop culture stories that kept us entertained in 2023

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Let’s get the honourable mentions out of the way, first.

Rihanna performed at the SuperBowl — and announced a pregnancy while she was onstage. The Beatles released a new song using an old demo from the late John Lennon, featuring additions by Paul McCartney, the late George Harrison and Ringo Starr, as well as a little help from their friend, artificial intelligence. And the Succession finale sent dedicated viewers of the HBO drama into a tailspin.

But those couldn’t quite top the best pop culture stories of 2023.

The same-day release of polar opposite blockbusters Barbie and Oppenheimer became the moviegoing event of the year.  (Warner Bros Pictures/Universal Pictures/The Associated Press)

Barbenheimer

Somehow both an unlikely pairing and a match made in heaven, the social media frenzy that surrounded Greta Gerwig’s Barbie — a bubblegum pink, feminist 101 meta-comedy about the world’s most famous doll — and Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer — an epically bleak, cerebral biopic of the physicist who invented the atomic bomb — turned their same-day release into the pop culture event of the year. 

Barbie or Oppenheimer?” quickly became a reliable conversation starter as moviegoers pledged their allegiances to one or the other (or both).

WATCH | Debating the merits of two box-office titans: 

Barbie or Oppenheimer? These reviews can help if you’re torn

The simultaneous blockbuster release of the Barbie and Oppenheimer has sparked debate among fans about what movie you should watch first in your ‘Barbenheimer’ binge. CBC film critics Eli Glasner and Jackson Weaver share their take.

With Barbie having cracked $1 billion at the global box office and Oppenheimer not far behind, Barbenheimer became the emblem of a healthy theatrical industry as event-style theatregoing continued to draw people back to plush theatre seats following pandemic lockdowns.

A composite image of Sarah Polley winning the Oscar for adapted screenplay, Brendan Fraser winning for best actor, Michelle Yeoh winning for best actress and the cast and crew of Everything Everywhere All at Once winning for best picture.
Clockwise from left, Sarah Polley, Brendan Fraser, Michelle Yeoh, and the cast and crew of Everything Everywhere All At Once won Oscars at the 95th Academy Awards ceremony on March 12, 2023. (Mike Coppola/Getty Images; Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

Everything Everywhere All At Once, Canadians win at the Oscars

The multiverse had a strong showing at this year’s Oscars when the absurdist dramedy Everything Everywhere All At Once won seven Academy Awards, including best picture, best actress for Michelle Yeoh and best supporting actor for Ke Huy Quan, whose Hollywood comeback story made him a favourite among award season voters. 

But the Canadian stories that emerged from Hollywood’s biggest night are still resonating.

WATCH | The Oscars had a northern touch in 2023: 

Canadians have big night at the Oscars

Canadians came out of the Oscars with several prestigious awards, which has some in the film industry hoping the Oscar buzz will draw attention to other Canadian projects.

That includes a best actor win for Canadian-American actor Brendan Fraser — who stunned audiences with a transformation for his role in The Whale — and a best original screenplay win for Toronto filmmaker Sarah Polley and her adaptation of the novel Women Talking by Canadian Miriam Toews.

Taylor Swift holds up three fingers while singing into a mic.
Taylor Swift performs during her Eras Tour at Sofi stadium in Inglewood, Calif., on Aug. 7. Swift cemented herself as a business savvy pop icon this year as she went on tour, promoted re-recorded albums and released a hit concert film. (AFP via Getty Images)

Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour

This was the year that Taylor Swift cemented herself as a pop star-cum-business icon, maintaining the attention of her fans — and those she might call her haters — as she embarked on an expansive concert tour across the U.S. that proved to be so popular it caused a Ticketmaster meltdown. 

The Eras Tour was practically designed for TikTok virality, and Swift’s performances were dotted with announcements about re-recorded albums and references to a certain Kansas City Chiefs player. 

If that weren’t enough, Swift’s concert film has grossed more than $250 million globally to date, with Swifties flocking to theatres faster than you can say Cruel Summer.

WATCH | Can Taylor Swift boost Vancouver’s economy? 

‘Swift-onomics’ and what Taylor’s tour could mean for Vancouver

Some experts say Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour has created an economic phenomenon known as “Swift-onomics” in host cities. CBC’s Michelle Gomez explains what this could mean for Vancouver after highly awaited concert dates in the city were announced for December 2024.

She might even be a boon to the economy; Canadians will find out next year when she makes stops in Toronto and Vancouver for short residencies.

Striking Hollywood actors hold signs as they picket.
People carry signs on the picket line outside Netflix on Wednesday, Sept. 27, in Los Angeles. Hollywood’s writers and actors strike caused a historic halt to film and TV productions as the industry’s tradespeople sought better pay and working conditions. (Chris Pizzello/Invision/The Associated Press)

The Hollywood strikes

Hollywood went into lockdown this year when the Writers Guild of America and the Screen Actors Guild went on strike within two months of each other.

It brought the film and TV industry to a standstill as they renegotiated their collective agreements with the major studios.

Pushing for higher wages, changes to how royalties are earned during the streaming era and for regulations around the use of artificial intelligence, both the Writers Guild (with a strike lasting 148 days) and the Screen Actors Guild (after a strike that lasted 118 days) claimed wins for their tradespeople as the lockouts ended.

A book display is shown in a large bookstore.
The Britney Spears memoir The Woman In Me is displayed at a Toronto bookstore on Oct. 24. It was one of the most hotly anticipated celebrity memoirs during a year jam-packed with them. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Britney Spears releases her memoir

During a year when it seemed like everyone released a celebrity memoir — from Prince Harry’s Spare to Jada Pinkett-Smith’s Worthy — The Woman In Me by Britney Spears seemed to stand out because so many people were actually interested in hearing her story two years after she won a legal battle to end the strictly managed conservatorship that controlled her life and finances for 13 years.

Spears gets into all of the details that you’d want from a celebrity tell-all, from her relationship with pop singer Justin Timberlake to the circumstances that led to her infamous public breakdown in 2007, but the overarching theme of The Woman In Me was of a woman surrounded by controlling men in an industry that enables these behaviours.



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