The 50 Most Shocking Pop Culture Moments of the 2010s

Over the last 10 years, we've seen some shit. The world as we know it has shifted forever, and continues to do so—our phones hold the entire world, and the television struggles to hold our attention. Outrageous pop culture moments once reserved for award shows and annual sporting events are now happening every day, and we're finding out about them in real time. A plethora of feuds, marriages, pregnancies, crimes, elections, and albums have solidified themselves as some of the defining moments of the 20teens. It's been an honor just to witness them.

These are the most shocking pop culture moments of the decade.

‘Gossip Girl’ reveal (2012)

If you haven't heard already, Dan Humphrey is Gossip Girl. Sure, it's easy to look back now and think, “duh” (and maybe you felt that way then, too), but the reveal was highly anticipated and drew in great ratings after the series suffered from a dip.

Charlie Sheen's meltdown (2011)

Charlie Sheen has struggled with substance abuse for since at least the 1990s. In the early 20teens, entertainment news followed along as a divorce (that included accusations of domestic violence), an arrest, another rehab stint, and hospitalization culminated in a bizarre interview in which he claimed to have “tiger blood” and his firing from Two and a Half Men. In the next couple of years, Sheen would continue to spiral, be arrested again, and harass his ex-wives on Twitter, before announcing in 2015 that he is HIV positive.

Pete Davidson & Ariana Grande (2018)

Arguably the biggest celebrity romance story of 2018, the coupling up of Pete Davidson and Ariana Grande was inescapable for several months. In May 2018, shortly after both stars announced splits from longtime partners Mac Miller and Cazzie David, the two went public with their relationship, sealing the deal with a number of coordinated tattoos. Just over a month later, Davidson confirmed their engagement on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. Unfortunately, by October, the engagement had been called off. The relationship is forever immortalized, though, in two separate Ariana Grande songs: Sweetener's “Pete Davidson” and the title track from Thank U, Next, which became Grande's first-ever no. 1 single.

‘Mad Men’ finale (2015)

The finale of Mad Men, despite dipping its toes into fan service, was mostly moving, satisfying, and optimistic—and that third adjective is saying something, given the often-heavy subject matter of the series. Though certain parts were controversial, it was largely well-received, and solidified the series as a cultural beacon.

Amanda Bynes' breakdown (2013)

In 2012, beloved former child star Amanda Bynes was arrested on suspicion of DUI, and formally charged two months later. This set off a pattern of erratic behavior, including troubling (and offensive, racist tweets), throwing a bong out of the window of a NYC high-rise, setting a fire in a stranger's driveway, and a stint in rehab. At the time, the very public breakdown was alarming and disturbing to those who remembered Bynes as a fun-loving, goofy TV star. Bynes has since admitted to marijuana and Aderrall abuse during that time, which doesn't quite explain her behavior. Either way, she appears to be doing much better now.

Leo's Oscar (2016)

With a long and storied career in cinema, 2016 seemed rather late for Leonardo DiCaprio to be winning an Oscar. Regardless, though, it was well-deserved; DiCaprio received the award for his performance in The Revenant, a role that required such feats as sleeping in an animal carcass, consuming bison liver, and facing near-constant freezing temperatures.

‘Breaking Bad’ finale (2013)

Another beloved AMC series, Breaking Bad wrapped things up in 2013 with its epic final episode, “Felina.” Over the years, the show became known for its anti-heroic lead, chilling violence, and incredible character chemistry (whether that stemmed from positive or negative relationships). The finale was almost universally acclaimed, and is widely regarded as one of the best series finales of all time. 

Kanye West's “Famous” (2016)

The rollout of Kanye West's seventh album, The Life of Pablo, was, in a word, chaotic, from the various album titles to Ye making edits after the album had been uploaded to streaming. No aspect was more chaotic, though, than the controversy surrounding the song “Famous,” and its now-infamous (no pun intended) opening lyric, which alluded to fornication between West and his longtime frenemy, Taylor Swift. West insisted that he'd received Swift's permission to use the lyric, though a spokesperson for Swift denied West's claim and expressed outrage about the song.

The song's video, which premiered in late June 2016, further fueled the controversy, as it featured sculptures of the naked bodies of a handful of famous/infamous figures, including Donald Trump, Bill Cosby, Anna Wintour, and Swift herself. Kim Kardashian noted on Twitter that the video's release date correlated with National Snake Day, which was read as a diss to Swift. A month later, Kardashian released a video recording of a phone call between West and Swift, in which the latter agreed to the former's use of the lyric. Swift later clarified that she did not approve of the words “that bitch” and “was never given the full story.” In 2018, Swift used snake imagery in the promotion of her album Reputation and the subsequent tour, and in 2019, she referred to the entire ordeal as the last straw in her friendship with West, bringing a decade-long rollercoaster to a close—for now, at least.

#OscarsSoWhite (2016)

The entertainment industry, like most other institutions, has neglected to acknowledge and properly award the contributions of non-white actors, directors, producers, and writers throughout its existence. The long-standing issue came to a head in 2016, when every single acting nominee was white—in a year when a critically acclaimed Civil Rights film (Selma) was released, no less. As a result, a number of entertainers boycotted the awards show, including Spike Lee and Will and Jada Pinkett Smith. Some chose instead to spend the night of the show in Flint. Michigan, at a benefit for its residents in the wake of their toxic water crisis. Host Chris Rock addressed the controversy in his opening monologue, jabbing at both the lack of diversity in cinema and protestors like the Smiths.