WORST OF THE YEAR
20 Biggest Pop Culture Fails of 2015: Steve Harvey, Donald Trump, and So Much More
Fantastic Four bombed. The Tidal wave crashed. Rihanna never released an album, and those Good Wife stars didn’t share that scene. A look back at 2015’s biggest pop culture fails.
Steve Harvey’s Miss Universe Disaster
Everything about this was hard to watch. Miss Universe host Steve Harvey announces—incorrectly—that Miss Colombia won the beauty pageant, only to come back on stage after she had been crowned to say he read the card wrong and Miss Philippines was the actual winner. Then they took the crown off Miss Colombia’s head and put it on Miss Philippines. To make matters worse, Harvey tweeted out a misspelt apology to “Miss Philippians” and “Miss Columbia,” and then turned the whole snafu into fodder for his own personal comedy. In the contest for Biggest Fail of the Year, Harvey is Best in Show.
Donald Trump on SNL
Live from New York… it’s a really, really bad idea. The ratings were as The Donald would say, “YUGE,” when the Republican presidential hopeful made his ill-advised appearance as host of Saturday Night Live back in November. The whole event was cringe-inducing. That the night’s comedic highlight was Larry David’s surprise appearance as Bernie Sanders shouting, “You’re a racist!” during Trump’s monologue speaks volumes. Trump preened. He bragged. He danced to “Hotline Bling.” In other words, he embarrassed himself. As for NBC? Aside from a ratings windfall, they were hit with equal-time mandates for Trump’s rivals and a spate of bad press for a booking that had everyone asking: “Why?”
The Good Wife’s Infamous Split-Screen
Few series benefit from the unbridled good will of loyal TV critics than the reliably delightful and often powerful CBS legal drama The Good Wife. Then we were all duped. When it became very conspicuous that leading lady Julianna Margulies hadn’t shared a scene with co-star Archie Panjabi in over 40 episodes, rumors swirled that it was a creative necessity stemming from real-life bad blood between the actresses. When Panjabi was written off the show fans were promised, finally, one last scene with the two stars. They raged, however, when it was apparent that the actors so clearly did not film the scene at the same time, but were instead spliced together in post-production. The scandal has been a dark cloud over the show ever since. Margulies publicly denied any behind-the-scenes drama with Panjabi and said that they shot the scene separately because Panjabi was unavailable. When Panjabi swiftly denied this on Twitter, it became apparent that there would be no satisfying end to this drama.
When Jay Z launches a streaming service and enlists 16 multimillionaire artists including Beyoncé, Nicki Minaj, Madonna, Kanye West, Rihanna, Daft Punk, and Jack White to not only promote it, but also to assume a 3 percent ownership stake in it, you expect headlines to call Tidal the future of music. What you don’t expect is for headlines to say things like “Inside Tidal’s Crashing Wave,” “Jay Z’s Tidal Is a Disaster,” or “Jay Z’s Faltering Streaming Service Is a Case Study in Failure.” In the short run since its March debut, Tidal has already relaunched once, and the pay service’s influence has been dwarfed by rivals Spotify and Apple Music. Maybe it was doomed from its utterly tone-deaf beginnings. As Death Cab for Cute frontman Ben Gibbard told The Daily Beast, “I think they totally blew it by bringing out a bunch of millionaires and billionaires and propping them up onstage and then having them all complain about not being paid.”
“Pretty Girls” by Britney Spears and Iggy Azalea
Attention must—and should—be paid any time our queen, lord, and savior, Britney Jean Spears, releases new music. That she enlisted polarizing, though undeniably popular, rapper Iggy Azalea to join her on “Pretty Girls” should have catapulted the track to Song of the Summer event status. But for all of the pre-release excitement, the song and its video were both so grating they bordered on inconsumable. When “Pretty Girls” failed to catch fire, Azalea insinuated in a Twitter Q&A that it was Spears’s fault for not promoting it. When Brit’s fans stormed at Azalea with their 140-character pitchforks, she retaliated with this classy response: “My comment is factual. It applies to any song. I don’t have to suck the woman’s asshole 24/7 to be her friend, do I? Bye girls.” And enjoy that visual.
Few movie trainwrecks were as public as Cameron Crowe’s latest cinematic calamity, Aloha. Even before critics ravaged the star-studded, ill-conceived sort-of rom-com starring Emma Stone, Bradley Cooper, and Rachel McAdams, behind-the-scenes drama that was revealed during the infamous Sony hack ensured that Aloha hit theaters like a flaming paper bag filled with dog doo. The emails hinted at Sony’s disgust with Crowe’s script, annoyance that story issues were never fixed before shooting, disastrous test screenings, and even issues titling the film. The cherry on top was controversy over the casting of (the very white) Emma Stone as a Hawaiian fighter pilot of mixed Asian descent named Allison Ng, an obtuse, othering decision that both Stone and Crowe issued sort-of apologies for—further tainting the critical and box-office bomb.
The road to heaven is paved with good intentions. And sometimes bloggers, critics, and Twitter users line that road and throw tomatoes at you while you travel it. Such is the case of Roland Emmerich and his misfire gay liberation drama Stonewall. Emmerich’s tone-deaf rewrite of the Stonewall riots took a movement that began when a group of marginalized and persecuted gay men, drag queens, and trans New Yorkers fought back against the policemen who had harassed them, and white-washed it, sex-shamed it, and ignored real-life heroes in favor of a more palatable fictional cute white guy protagonist. The backlash to the cinematic blasphemy was loud and swift. In the end, Stonewall grossed a mere $187,000—a far cry from the Independence Day director’s usual hauls.
Oh, Babs, what has become of your View? There was a time that Barbara Walters’s brainchild was noble, provocative, current, intelligent, and infuriating—the way a talk show founded on the discussion of differing opinions of its hosts should be. These days, only that latter word—infuriating—serves to describe it. In the wake of Walters’s departure from the show, Rosie O’Donnell returned, and then left again in dramatic fashion. A dizzying array of rotating hosts have been hired in her absence, coming together in a cacophony that only Raven-Symoné’s voice seems to pierce—but often only because what she says is often so ludicrous, bordering on offensive and even dangerous. The show is in such dire straits that it’s reported that unless Gwyneth Paltrow accepts a fat seven-figure offer to join the table (yeah right), that it will be axed.
The first TV show of the fall to be canceled is always a dubious distinction. The “honor” was even more embarrassing in 2015, however, given how long networks waited to pull the plug on their faltering new offerings. In an age of splintered viewing and declining ratings, executives have been reluctant to cancel any new show until DVR numbers, streaming views, and social media impressions are tallied and weighted. It took until mid-November for any series to be cut, and the series in the gauntlet was ABC’s Wicked City, a period crime drama about L.A. cops chasing serial killers starring Ed Westwick and Erika Christensen that debuted to atrocious reviews and even worse ratings.
Anti Release Hype
Maybe we all were naughty this year. Or maybe we’re just bitches that didn’t have her money. Despite rampant speculation that Rihanna’s long-promised, long-MIA eighth studio album Anti was going to be released on Christmas Eve, we all woke up with the musical equivalent of coal: no new music from badgalriri. The no-show album wouldn’t sting as much if it hadn’t have been dangled in front of us for so long. Reports of a Thanksgiving or Black Friday release preceded the Christmas rumors. Rihanna appeared on the cover of T magazine, ostensibly promoting an album that doesn’t exist. A world tour named for Anti was announced before the album was released, and will begin in February. A convoluted Samsung promotional campaign, called the “ANTIdiaRy” experience, has been releasing cryptic video clues weeks apart about the album. But still no album!
We Are Your Friends
Zac Efron’s passions, unlike those sweet, sweet abs, fail to move moviegoers to get it up. His film about an aspiring DJ, We Are Your Friends, was called “a passion project for Zac Efron” by Warner Bros. Executive VP Jeff Goldstein, which must make its distinction as the worst major studio film opening of all time hurt even more. The movie grossed $1.8 million from 2,333 theaters its opening weekend. (It was expected to bring in closer to $8 million.) “Yes, the result was disappointing,” Goldstein continued. I’d say so.
Jem and the Holograms
Oh, just kidding, Zac Efron! There were apparently two more movies that people had even less interest in than your window into the world of electronic dance music and the people who make it. Since We Are Your Friends’s August release, both Rock the Kasbah and Jem and the Holograms had worse box-office totals. The decision to reimagine the cult favorite ’80s cartoon as a grounded, tween-friendly modern movie musical backfired completely, with Jem earning just $1.32 million in 2,413 theaters. That’s the worst opening ever for a studio film with a major marketing push behind it. Its $547 per-screen average means that it’s likely that Jem even played to empty theaters. It’s a big year for movie bombs!
Miley Cyrus’s Antics
If 2014 was the year that we learned that Miley Cyrus wasn’t just style over substance, but was an artist that boasted serious musical chops and progressive, if not even fearless, performance ambition, then 2015 was the year we all started to change our minds. Call it Miley Cyrus fatigue. Call it #PeakMiley. Call it enough, already. The crazy outfits went from provocative to trolling. The obsession with weed bordered on bizarre. The cultural appropriation veered toward actually racist, and her speaking out—as in the Nicki Minaj/Taylor Swift Twitter beef—was less candid than just ignorant. And the music? Well, that wasn’t very good either. Cyrus sort-of redeemed herself with lovely work singing on the Bill Murray Christmas special. All I want for Christmas is more of that.
The Misguided Bloat of Pan and Jupiter Ascending
Earlier this month we wrote a piece heralding the fact that blockbusters this year were truly great. It was not a perfect generalization. Case in point: Pan and Jupiter Ascending, two films that confused creative ambition for big-budget bombast and empty-calorie special effect. They were loud, messy, confusing, and emotionally bankrupt, having spent all their studio dollars on manufacturing cinematic universes that were visually striking at best—and just plain lame at worst. Pan, aside from its laughable performances from Hugh Jackman and Garett Hedlund, boasted a nonsensical plot to complement its $150 million budget. It’s domestic total thus far? $35 million (though it fared much better internationally). Jupiter Ascending, the latest argument for the Wachowski siblings as one-hit wonders, had a budget of $176 million but earned just $47 million domestically. Again, it was bailed out by the foreign box office. Is the rest of the world more easily duped?
Best Time Ever With Neil Patrick Harris
More like Most Mediocre Time Ever, amiright? After getting mixed-to-negative reviews, paltry ratings, and a blow to the idea that Neil Patrick Harris singing a song is Teflon-quality entertainment, NBC canceled the ambitious live variety hour in December. It’s a knock for both the star and the network, the former looking for his next TV hit following the end of How I Met Your Mother and the latter having shelled out a hefty amount of dough for the rights to the British variety hour Harris’s show was based on. If we’d bet on one thing, though, it’s that NPH will be tap-dancing on our TV screens again soon enough.
Confused Celebrity Feminists
It’s the gotcha-journalism question for the digital age, the one every famous person was forced to answer this year and whose answers no one was ever going to like because there is just no truly satisfying, inarguable, universally appealing answer to this question: “Are you a feminist?” Salma Hayek and Marion Cotillard raised eyebrows with their responses. (“No.”) Meryl Streep was positively un-Streepian with her controversial response. Everyone from Adele to Taylor Swift to Patricia Arquette to Hillary Clinton had their ideas of feminism dissected and pilloried—and then that’s not even going into the “male feminists” who spoke on the topic. Slate said it perfectly when it called 2015 “the year that lots of celebrities were confused about feminism.”
TLC’s Handling of the Duggar Scandal
When it was revealed that Josh Duggar, the eldest of reality TV’s most famous litter of children, molested five underage girls—among them his sisters—the outraged public demanded to know why TLC hadn’t immediately canceled 19 Kids and Counting, the show that turned the family into rich and famous hypocrites. It took two months for TLC to finally pull the plug on the show—just in time for it to be revealed that Duggar cheated on his wife through the Ashley Madison website—but, almost unbelievably, the network would not be severing ties with the Duggars completely. Nope, instead two sisters got a spin-off!
The Fantastic Four Reboot
In the Golden Age of Superhero Films, the 2005 and 2007 Fantastic Four films so sorely stick out as lame creative misfires that Hollywood plucked Chris Evans out of his Human Torch tights, put him in the Captain America spandex, and figured no one would remember his time as Johnny Storm anyway. (They were right.) But for some reason, it was ruled that Fantastic Four fans deserved a good movie featuring their favorite heroes. Josh Trank’s reboot, starring a Who’s Who of rising stars (Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Bell, and Kate Mara), was not that. The movie, mired by reshoots and studio meddling, was such a mess that Trank even slammed it in a tweet: “A year ago I had a fantastic version of this. And it would’ve received great reviews. You’ll probably never see it. That’s reality though.” (For the record, not many people saw the movie that did hit theaters, either.)
Blake Lively’s Preserve
Few things are more insufferable to the snarky cynics who blasély dissect pop culture on the Internet than when a celebrity launches a “lifestyle” brand. The horde could barely stifle their giggles of glee, then, when Blake Lively’s website Preserve, her Martha Stewart-by-way-of-Gwyneth Paltrow peddler of artisan spoons and $300 T-shirts, shuttered after just barely a year in business.
It’s a dismal situation when the year a biopic of Martin Luther King, Jr., Selma, is released and is among the top-reviewed and most-awarded films, it is still the whitest Oscars since 1998. Not one person of color received an acting nomination. Selma’s director, Ava DuVernay, was also snubbed. It sparked a conversation about institutional racism in Hollywood and lack of opportunity that only amplified months later when trade website Deadline ran an essay arguing that minorities were being given too much opportunity (on television, specifically) at the expense of white actors, in response to hits like Empire and How to Get Away With Murder. With this year’s slew of Oscar nominations expected to feature pathetically few performers of color, we can’t help but laugh at that argument.