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The Top 20 Culture Makers of 2022, According to Gen Z

For 2022’s last two Culture Translators, we’re doing a top 20 countdown of the biggest culture makers of 2022. This week we’ll cover numbers 20-11, and come back next week for 10-1. All of these people made a profound impact on the world that your teens are growing up in. We hope you enjoy—and if there’s disagreement about the order in your family, all the better.

20. Lin Manuel Miranda

It’s hard to believe that there was a time the Encanto soundtrack wasn’t, well, everywhere. The animated film, complete with beats composed by Hamilton hit-maker Miranda, was released late in 2021. Since then, the songs of Encanto have become TikTok-viral phenomena, particularly the single “We Don’t Talk About Bruno.” With 4.6 billion views, #wedonttalkaboutbruno was a defining song of the year for many families with young children and teens, too.

19. Harry Styles

The musician and actor was the center of attention on several fronts this year, releasing the hugely successful album Harry’s House, embarking on a world tour and starring in the much-talked about thriller Don’t Worry Darling. The film might not have broken box office records, but it did serve as meme fodder as its behind-the-scenes drama spilled into awkward press calls. Styles’ tour drew in thousands of boa-clad fans as he hit several major US cities, and his song “As It Was” was the most streamed song on Spotify in 2022.

18. Joe Rogan

The podcaster, comedian, and UFC announcer continued to have the #1 podcast on Spotify in 2022. Rogan waded into controversial waters several times, hosting guests with contrarian views on everything from COVID-19 vaccines to ancient alien technologies. Rogan devotees continued to praise his long-form, freewheeling interview style, while critics continued to express concern over the people he chooses to host on his tremendous platform. In February, Rogan made headlines when he offered an apology for using racial slurs in older podcast episodes.

17. Jeffrey Dahmer

The serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer died in prison in 1994, but a new true crime dramatization on Netflix put a new spotlight on his life. Dahmer—Monster broke records as the most-watched series ever on the streaming platform. But the series’ approach to telling Dahmer’s story drew controversy, as surviving family members of Dahmer’s victims said they felt retraumatized by what was shown on screen. That didn’t stop Netflix from capitalizing on their success. The platform inked a deal for several spin-off series that will engage other true-crime stories, presumably presented in the same style and filmed over the next several years.

16. Mr. Beast

YouTuber and philanthropist Mr. Beast officially became the most-followed person on YouTube this year, surpassing the “retired” gaming YouTuber PewDiePie. Mr. Beast also drew attention for his burger-joint venture, which opened its first brick-and-mortar location this past summer in New Jersey’s American Dream mall. Most of Mr. Beast’s videos revolve around outlandish pranks, campy competitions, and big cash giveaways. Somewhat ironically, these giveaways have enriched Mr. Beast (known in real life as Jimmy Donaldson) to the point where he might become YouTube’s first billionaire.

15. Drake

The self-serious rapper and human meme released a collaboration album with 21 Savage entitled Her Loss, which debuted in November. The record’s press campaign was a spoof of advertising techniques commonly used to drum up attention for music releases, including a fake Cartier ad and a fake Vogue cover. Her Loss hit #1 on Billboard within its first week, and was named by Complex and Rolling Stone as one of their top albums of the year. Major themes of the record include loneliness, disappointment, love, and as is par for the course with Drake, the empty nature of fame.

14. Aaron Judge

The Yankees slugger had a banner year, dethroning Roger Maris as the AL record-holder for home runs hit in a single season. Judge set some other records, too, when he inked a 9-year, $360 million contract—the largest free agent deal in Major League Baseball history. Judge took his successes in stride, displaying his characteristic hubris, praise of his teammates, and calm under pressure during his record-making season.

13. Tom Cruise

Tom Cruise brought people back to the theaters when he starred in Top Gun: Maverick this year. As the sequel to the cult classic original Top Gun, the movie set post-pandemic records for ticket sales. With $1.4 billion in worldwide box office sales, the film resonated with audiences of all age groups, reminding them that a night at the movies doesn’t have to make a big political statement—it can simply be something fun and entertaining.

12. BeReal

Though “BeReal” isn’t a person, per se, posting to the “authentic” social media app became a bit of a personality. The app took off on college campuses in 2022, and now has over 7.6 million downloads. A fall semester program that paid college students to use BeReal from August to November might be part of the reason why BeReal became so popular now, almost three years after its initial release. The app’s signature feature is its timed-notification that prompts users to take a selfie of their current moment and upload before two minutes runs out. BeReal has been so successful that Instagram will launch a copycat feature next year.

11. Queen Elizabeth II

The death of Queen Elizabeth was not entirely unexpected—the royal family matriarch was 96 years old, after all. But the loss of Britain’s longest reigning monarch, in addition to the pomp and pageantry surrounding her funeral, became a meme-launching flashpoint for teens on Twitter and TikTok. Royal interest wasn’t limited just to Queen Elizabeth, though. As the year closes out, the Netflix documentary Harry and Meghan is reigning on Netflix, with the first three episodes coming in as the #2 most-watched series in the US.

That’s it for this week. We’ll be back next week with numbers 10-1. Until then, from all of us at Axis, we hope you have a Merry Christmas!