The past year in pop culture has been defined by historic farewells and debuts, as well as scandals and feel-good success stories. Here are just a few of the entertainment-themed stories that made a huge impression on the American public’s consciousness in 2015:
Call her Caitlyn – After months of speculation and a high profile interview with Diane Sawyer in April, former Olympian turned reality star Caitlyn Jenner made her debut on the cover of Vanity Fair on Jun. 1. Although much of the attention focused on her glamorous appearance, Jenner used her celebrity platform to put the focus on more underprivileged members of the trans community. Her journey this year culminated with an honorary Arthur Asher Courage Award at the ESPYS in July, where she spoke passionately about the need to combat bullying. “If you want to call me names, make jokes, doubt my intentions, go ahead, because the reality is, I can take it,” she said. “But for the thousands of kids out there, coming to terms with being true to who they are, they shouldn’t have to take it.”
“50 Shades of Grey” – The sexually explicit and critically reviled literary phenomenon finally had its long awaited cinematic treatment in February, just in time for Valentine’s Day. The film, starring newcomers Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dorman, got middle of the road reviews but became a bonafide blockbuster anyway, grossing more than half a billon dollars worldwide by the end of its run. The film opened up a national dialogue about BDSM relationships and thrust author E.L. James uncomfortably into the spotlight. She wound up releasing a follow-up novel, a retelling of the original narrative about a college student drawn into a passionate affair with a billionaire with very particular sexual appetites. It, too, became a bestseller.
Hollywood wage gap — Gender disparity in salaries for actors and actresses took center stage early this year at the Academy Awards, when Best Supporting Actress winner Patricia Arquette called out a double standard when it comes to paying women who grace the stage and screen. The conversation picked up steam throughout the year, especially after A-lister Jennifer Lawrence penned an essay in the feminist newsletter LennyLetter, asking rhetorically: “Why do I make less than my male co‑stars?“ Despite some pushback, Lawrence’s rallying cry drew widespread support from many members of the Hollywood community — even Democratic presidential candidate from Hillary Clinton.
“Saturday Night Live” turns 40 — The most successful comedy franchise in American television history turned 40 years old this year, and producer Lorne Michaels celebrated in style by corralling the biggest stars to emerge from the show to unite and even perform in a few brand new sketches on a highly-rated prime-time special, which aired in February. Even Eddie Murphy, who had been estranged from the show for 30 years, came back for a special tribute. As the show kicked off its most recent season, it continued to make headlines with their polarizing decision to invited GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump to host in November. His performance drew protests and mixed reviews, but the episode was a ratings bonanza for the show.Amy Schumer’s moment in the sun — No performer had a bigger breakout year than comedian Amy Schumer. First, her feminism-friendly Comedy Central sketch show broke ground with savage sketches parodying “12 Angry Men” and “Friday Night Lights.” Then, this summer, she established herself as a force in Hollywood with the hit film “Trainwreck,” which she also co-wrote. When a gunman killed two women at a July screening of her film in Lafayette, Louisiana, Schumer got serious, teaming up with her cousin, Sen. Chuck Schumer, to lobby for common sense gun regulation.
Cosby accusers hit the 50 mark — The mounting allegations against iconic comedian Bill Cosby that resurfaced late in 2014 of sexual assault and drugging — and which he has vehemently denied — continued throughout this year. By now, more than 50 women have come forward, some of whom were featured on a striking cover story for New York magazine. The former sitcom star will be deposed early next year in a case involving one of his accusers, and he has counter-sued seven of the women who have made allegations him, claiming they have caused him “severe emotional distress.” The story became such a fixture on the pop culture landscape that even President Obama weighed in. “If you give a woman, or a man for that matter, without his or her knowledge a drug and then have sex with that person without consent, that’s rape,” he said in June.
Jared from Subway goes to jail — For 15 years, Jared Fogle was the public face of the popular sandwich chain Subway, which hyped his personal story of losing more than 200 pounds on a diet that largely consisted of their food. His work as a spokesman for Subway made Fogle a millionaire, but it also provided him with the opportunity to indulge a disturbing proclivity — sex with minors. Fogle plead guilty in August to charges of child pornography and solicitation of underage sex across state lines. Needless to say, Subway has severed all ties to Fogle, who is currently serving a 15-year prison sentence.
The Duggars derailed — In another sordid story involving allegations of sexual abuse, the conservative reality TV family the Duggars saw their squeaky clean image shattered when past accusations of child molestation against eldest son and right-wing activist Josh Duggar resurfaced in May. TLC subsequently canceled the family’s popular show “19 Kids & Counting” and, to add insult to injury, Duggar was linked to the infamous hacking of the Ashley Madison website. Duggar checked himself into a long-term rehab treatment center in August after conceding to being the “biggest hypocrite ever.”
Jon Stewart exits “The Daily Show,” Trevor Noah era begins - Comedian Jon Stewart brought an end to his acclaimed and influential tenure as host of “The Daily Show” in August, leaving fans fearful that his politically astute program would never be the same. Enter relative unknown Trevor Noah. The South African-born host rubbed some viewers the wrong way before he even took over the show, after some offensive past tweets of his resurfaced in April. But once he took over the reins of the show in September, audiences appeared cautiously optimistic. Meanwhile, those missing their Stewart fix will have his new four-year deal with HBO to look forward to.
Letterman says goodbye, Colbert says hello — In another historic exit, television icon David Letterman retired in May after more than 30 years of classic late night comedy. The CBS host received the prototypical all-star send-off, but he also earned a lot of respect from his peers for truly changing the face of mainstream humor, injecting it with his signature sardonic wit. His eventual replacement — Stephen Colbert — was clearly cut from the same cloth, and he’s already made his impression felt as a late night force in his own right.
Adele/Drake dominate — Arguably, no two musical artists dominated the pop culture conversation this year more than Adele and Drake. Both scored epic viral hits late in 2015 that inspired endless memes and imitations. Drake made his stamp on the soundscape with his catchy song “Hotline Bling,” which came complete with a memorable music video, featuring the rapper doing some eccentric dance moves that were so iconoclastic they became cool. A few weeks later, pop powerhouse Adele blew him out of the water with her chart-topping ballad “Hello” and record-breaking album “25.” These two will continue to be the most buzzworthy mainstream musicians as we enter 2016.
“The Jinx” — Director Andrew Jarecki’s squirm-inducing true crime documentary series about alleged killer Robert Durst became a breakout hit for HBO in February. The series was intended to provide Durst (the descendant of a prominent, wealthy New York City family) with an opportunity to defend himself against several allegations of foul play, but instead the show only managed to indict him further in the court of public opinion. Following an unforgettable finale during which — SPOILER ALERT — Durst appeared to confess to a crime, he was arrested and charged with first degree murder and a separate weapons charge.
Charlie Sheen confirms he has HIV — Former sitcom and movie star Charlie Sheen confirmed that has been carrying the HIV virus for several years in a shocking interview on NBC’s “TODAY” in November. Sheen insisted that he was always upfront with sexual partners about his status, but just a few weeks after his admission, his former fiancee Scottine Ross came forward in December with a lawsuit, alleging that the “Two and Half Men” veteran had been abusive towards her and had forced her to sign a non-disclosure agreement under “duress.” Sheen countered that Ross was a porn star who had tried extort money from him in exchange for keeping his HIV-positive status a secret. Ross has denied Sheen’s allegations against her.
“To Kill a Mockingbird” sequel backlash — Fifty-five years after the novel “To Kill a Mockingbird” caused a sensation a controversial follow-up to Harper Lee’s book, “Go Set a Watchman” was released. The book’s release came amid debate over whether the 89-year-old Lee was mentally fit enough to approve of the new work and anger that the character of Atticus Finch, portrayed as noble and heroic in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” is revealed to harbor racist sentiments in the sequel, which takes place several years later. Still, despite the backlash, the book would sell well over a million copies.
“The Force Awakens” — 2015 was a huge year for nostalgia. “Rocky,” “Jurassic Park,” and “Mad Max” all returned to huge commercial success with brand new iterations, but by far the biggest comeback of the year came in the form of “Star Wars,” with the latest installment reuniting the stars of the original trilogy with a brand new cast of diverse stars. “The Force Awakens” may have been the most hyped film of all time with ad campaigns and product placement on an unprecedented scale. Luckily for fans, the film appears to have lived up to sky-high expectations, setting the stage for much more “Star Wars” in the decades to come.