The best pop culture moments of 2022: Kanye West, Wordle & more

Will Smith hits presenter Chris Rock.

One of the biggest pop culture moments of 2022: Will Smith slapping Chris Rock at the Oscars.

Chris Pizzello, Associated Press

We saw a lot this year. We laughed. We cried. We looked on in puzzlement. But in 2022, there were a few standout moments that really grabbed our attention and, at the very least, generated intense Twitter discourse.

If you’re ready for a year in review, let us peruse the biggest (and maybe some of the dumbest?) pop culture moments of 2022.

Will Smith slapping Chris Rock

It was dubbed “the slap heard around the world” — in a shocking turn of events at this year’s Oscars, Will Smith slapped comedian Chris Rock over a less-than-tasteful joke about Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith. Later that night, Smith won his first Oscar for his portrayal as Richard Williams in “King Richard.”

The slap caused a lot of discourse online: did Rock deserve it? Was Smith out of line? Was Rock’s joke inappropriate?

While Rock declined to press charges, the Academy condemned Smith’s actions, saying in a statement: “The Academy condemns the actions of Mr. Smith at last night’s show. We have officially started a formal review around the incident and will explore further action and consequences in accordance with our Bylaws, Standards of Conduct and California law.” 

The Academy took further action, banning Smith from the Oscars for 10 years, according to BBC. Smith released an apology to both Rock and the academy, saying, “My behavior at last night’s Academy Awards was unacceptable and inexcusable.”

Rock has remained relatively silent on the incident, but Smith has since opened up about his behavior. Smith chatted about the slap on “The Daily Show,” telling Trevor Noah, “I had to humble down and realize that I’m a flawed human and I still have an opportunity to go out in the world and contribute in a way that fills my heart and hopefully helps other people.”

Johnny Depp vs. Amber Heard

We saw another event that divided the public this year: Johnny Depp and Amber Heard’s defamation trial. According to Vox, Depp sued Heard for defamation in 2019. Heard counter-sued Depp in 2020.

Depp v. Heard finally went to trial this year with a very rapt audience. The trial was incredibly public and widely commented on — fans pored over clips of accounts from Depp and Heard, witness testimonies and even Depp’s and Heard’s behavior in court.

In a trial that Vox called “overwhelmingly messy and complicated,” both Depp and Heard testified of abusive behavior from both sides. Some fans were solidly on Depp’s side, while others were on Heard’s.

After six weeks, the jury found that Heard defamed Depp. Depp received a total of $10.4 million in damages. Despite the trial now being over for months, some are still scrutinizing the verdict.

Quiet quitting

This was the year that we reevaluated the way we work. “Quiet quitting,” a term that originated from TikTok, became the latest topic of conversation. Quiet quitting refers to doing the bare minimum at work — essentially doing the least to get your paycheck.

This sparked discourse around work/life balance, managerial expectations and burnout in the workplace. Is quiet quitting actually beneficial? Does it help stave off burnout? Create boundaries? Or is it just the lazy man’s way to get a paycheck?

Everyone has their own opinions. It seems that we haven’t settled on an answer, so the discussion on quiet quitting might continue in 2023.


If 2022 was a game, it’d be Wordle. The fun daily word game took over our phones — and our Twitter feeds.

The game became so popular that it even spawned a variety of Wordle spin-off games, including Lordle of the Rings, Come Follow Medle, Beatle and more. Wordle even got its own board game — only $19.99, if you want to play with the whole family.

Taylor Swift

Whether you like it or not, Taylor Swift dominated headlines this year. Swift released a 10 minute version of her song “All Too Well,” accompanied by an emotional short film directed by Swift herself, late last year. At the beginning of 2022, the short film rehashed the drama around an alleged, short-lived relationship between Swift and actor Jake Gyllenhaal. According to People, the pair dated in 2010.

Little did fans know that Swift had so much in store. In August, Swift announced the release of her newest album, “Midnights,” at the MTV VMAs, per Rolling Stone. “Midnights” was released in October and received favorable reviews.

Shortly after her album released, Swift announced that she’d be going on tour for the first time since 2018, according to Reuters. Swifties quickly rushed to Ticketmaster as soon as tickets became available, which subsequently crashed the site, the Deseret News reported.

The Ticketmaster debacle caused the public to further scrutinize the company. Swift herself released a statement about the situation, saying, “I’m not going to make excuses for anyone because we asked them, multiple times, if they could handle this kind of demand and we were assured they could,” per the Deseret News.

According to The New York Times, the Department of Justice is currently investigating LiveNation, Ticketmaster’s parent company.

The British royal family

This year, we couldn’t stop talking about the British royal family. Queen Elizabeth II, Britain’s longest-reigning monarch, died this September at the age of 96. She was succeeded by her son, the now-King Charles III.

Charles’ succession to the British crown led to scrutiny of his past scandals and some discussion of his first wife, Princess Diana.

But it doesn’t end there: Prince Harry and Meghan Markle made headlines when a trailer for their Netflix limited docuseries, “Harry and Meghan,” dropped in early December. It was released in two parts — the first of which was panned by critics, while the second received more favorable reviews.

Unsurprisingly, the public seems divided on “Harry and Meghan.” Nigel Farage, a former U.K. politician, called Harry and Meghan “two of the most dishonest people to ever walk the face of the earth” in a tweet.

Another tweet reads, “You can’t tell me that the #Royalfamily, the institution, didn’t actively work towards and succeeded in getting the result they wanted, which was for Meghan to reach her limit and leave. I just don’t think they bet that Harry would’ve have left with her. #MeghanandHarry

Climate activists doing the most

Climate activists were busy this year. In 2022, we saw a spike of climate activists targeting famous paintings.

It seemed to begin when a man, disguised as an old woman, smeared cake on the “Mona Lisa” at the Louvre Museum in Paris in June. Since then, we’ve seen a bevy of attacks on famous paintings: activists have targeted “Girl with Pearl Earring,” “The Scream,” “Sunflowers” and more.

Unfortunately for climate activists, their efforts might backfire. According to a recent study from the University of Pennsylvania, these protests might actually deter people from supporting climate action, the Deseret News reported.

Kanye West

Some might say that Kanye West has been in decline for a while, but 2022 was the year that his behavior felt especially outrageous. West was already in the news — thanks to his very public split with Kim Kardashian — but he made waves at Paris Fashion Week this September.

West was photographed wearing a “White Lives Matter” shirt, along with right-wing commentator Candace Owens, at his Paris Fashion Week show. The shirts sparked immediate outrage, due to “White Lives Matter” being labeled as hate speech by the Anti-Defamation League.

West made another controversial move in October, when he tweeted that he was “going death con 3 (sic) On JEWISH PEOPLE.” The tweet has since been deleted. Wests’ statements caused Adidas to drop its partnership with the rapper. Adidas said in a statement: “Adidas does not tolerate antisemitism and any other sort of hate speech.”

West made further antisemitic statements earlier this month when, in an interview with conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, he said, “I like Hitler.” He continued to say, “We got to stop dissing the Nazis all the time,” the Deseret News reported.

West’s behavior led to a lot of criticism and ridicule online. One tweet reads, “I’m proud to say I’ve never purchased a Kanye West product, album, or single. Stop making excuses for his disrespect, he hides behind his mental issues and uses it to justify being a political pawn.”