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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. Last week we covered numbers 20-11, this week we’re covering 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.

10. Kate Bush

Kate Bush’s 1980’s hit “Running Up That Hill” went viral earlier this year after being featured in season 4 of Stranger Things. The song became emblematic of a dramatic, fan favorite scene, and that translated to TikTok and lots of radio plays. Kate Bush says the song is about being in a powerful relationship and wishing you could trade places with the other person via a “deal with God” so that you can finally understand their point of view. This desire seems to resonate with a generation longing for deeper connections, and who are often vocal about their pluralistic viewpoints.

9. Tom Brady

Legendary quarterback Tom Brady quit football, and then he came back. There was some speculation that this decision marked the end of his marriage to international supermodel Gisele Bündchen. (Speculation fueled perhaps, in part, by 2022’s voracious appetite for gossip). Whatever the case may be, Brady’s return to the game has been disappointing, by his standards, as his Buccaneers stand at a 6-7 record marching toward the end of December. Speculation on Brady’s health, his relationship, and his mental state has been at a fever pitch throughout the year as sports analysts wonder how this season could impact his long-term legacy. Brady himself seems a bit concerned, as a popular meme featured the typically poised QB throwing a tablet to the ground in a moment of frustration.

8. Vladimir Putin

It’s been ten months since Russia invaded Ukraine, and the war there continues to grind on. At first, young Americans expressed fear of a military draft and forced participation in the conflict. Misinformation abounded on TikTok, and it was hard to know exactly how things were going on the ground. It doesn’t seem like a draft is imminent, but Russia’s aggression toward Ukraine doesn’t seem close to resolving, either. Questions over Vladimir Putin’s health and mental state linger, and the possibility of nuclear war is more real than it has been in decades.

7. Fleetwood Mac

Fleetwood Mac may be Gen Z’s favorite throwback band. Their 1977 hit album, Rumours, was one of the top-selling albums of the entire year, 45 years after its initial release. “The Chain,” “Dreams,” and “Go Your Own Way” have had serious staying power on TikTok, which may have contributed to the units moved this year. The death of vocalist Christine McVie this fall contributed even more to public awareness of the group. Rumours combines passion, verve, and poetry in a way that hasn’t been replicated, so its resonance with young people looking for classics that hit their heartstrings makes perfect sense.

6. Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift’s Midnights set the charts on fire when it dropped in October. The album set out to set the scene for the “sleepless nights” that Swift had experienced, and the deeply personal nature of the pop tracks had fans practically eating out of her hand. Midnights’ first single, “Anti-Hero,” attracted particular attention on social media platforms with its provocative delivery of the line, “It’s me/Hi/I’m the problem/It’s me.” Swift fans hoping to catch the artist on tour waited in online queues for hours in a Ticketmaster fiasco that got almost as much attention as her upcoming tour. (Check out our newest podcast The Deep Dive for more on Taylor Swift and Midnights.)

5. Ye

Ye (aka Kanye West) got divorced after a two-year dispute with ex-wife Kim Kardashian, but that was not the main reason the rapper found himself in the headlines. Longtime fans of the “Jesus is King” rapper were disappointed when Ye made a host of increasingly anti-Semetic statements on several podcasts. The statements raised questions about Ye’s current mental state, and were particularly concerning to Christians as he seemed to connect his defense of Adolf Hitler with Christ’s command to see value in all people. Ye’s personal wealth and career prospects seem to have hit rock bottom, and it’s not clear if there’s any way to recover his reputation as a creative genius and person of influence.

4. Elon Musk

The Tesla owner and aspiring Mars colonist took a gamble purchasing social media giant Twitter, a $44 billion sale that was finalized in late October. Since becoming the head of the company, Musk has released a steady stream of information about how Twitter’s moderation decisions were previously made, with many conservative accounts being “de-amplified” by a powerful committee. Musk promises there is more to come in what he’s dubbed “the Twitter files,” but it’s murky whether or not the changes he’s making to Twitter will reinvigorate its platform or just shutter the space for good.

3. Pro-life marchers

The Dobbs decision by the Supreme Court marked a victory 50 years in the marking for the pro-life movement. As abortion rights went back to individual states to decide, so-called “trigger bans” that highly restrict abortion took effect. Now that the biggest abortion protection law in the country no longer stands, the future of the pro-life movement might look like grassroots activism to support women in crisis more effectively. But for many of those who worked for decades to get to this moment, the Dobbs decision provided a moment of pause, clarity, and celebration.

2. School shooting victims

School shootings, and mass shootings in general, continued to hold prominence in what Gen Z and their parents are concerned about. That concern turned to horror for parents in Uvalde, Texas, as 21 people were killed and 17 more were injured at a shooting at Robb Elementary School. That was just one of 600 mass shootings that took place in the United States so far this year, according to the Washington Post. Gen Z’s growing anxieties over gun violence in public places are unfortunately not unfounded.

1. AI

Was this the year that AI finally became sentient? Well, no, because that is not currently possible. But it was a year when AI got a whole lot closer. The popularity of Lensa and ChatGPT toward the end of 2022 underscored how quickly this tech is evolving, and how eager many are to incorporate it into their everyday lives. But as AI becomes more applicable, it’s more important than ever to reckon with its implications in our physical and spiritual lives. The nature of God’s physical creation and the importance of embodied, spiritual lives are among the topics AI forces us to grapple with.

That’s it for The Culture Translator this year. We hope you appreciated this list, and that it helped spark some conversation with your teens. We’ll be back in January with our regularly scheduled programming. From all of us at Axis, we hope you have a Happy New Year!