If there’s any sort of running theme among the year’s biggest pop culture fails, it’s a mind-boggling lack of self-awareness. The biggest entertainment disasters were born out of a clusterfuck of delusion, hubris, apathy, and, in most cases, an almost unforgivable deafness to the conversations defining this moment in our culture.
So while we’ve spent much of this last month cheering the output that challenged, invigorated, and, of course, entertained us this year, let us also grand marshal this parade of shame—in the hopes that maybe, just maybe, there will be lessons learned heading into next year. Here are 15 flops from the past year, be it commercial bombs or tone-deaf cultural grenades, from the worlds of music, TV, movies, and celebrity culture.
Kendall Jenner’s Pepsi commercial
The solution to institutionalized racism, millennial apathy, police brutality, and Trump-era anger? A nice cold Pepsi, and a tangential Kardashian to deliver it. The message of the resistance-themed Pepsi commercial was so laughably obtuse and reductive, and the reaction so brutally eviscerating, that the company immediately removed it from the internet and actually apologized to Jenner for its misguided creative direction. Seriously, though: Think of the sheer number of people who had to OK this ad before it was released. It’s mind-boggling.
Sean Spicer at the Emmys
Notoriously cowering former White House press secretary Sean Spicer finally embraced the spotlight at the 2017 Emmy Awards, making a cameo appearance during host Stephen Colbert’s monologue ruthlessly attacking President Trump. Spicer giggled and soaked up the attention and applause, an ovation for a public figure who lived out his short tenure in relentless disgrace and disgust, cheering him for “gamely” participating in the roasting of his former boss. But for many viewers, the booking of Spicer was a shameless absolution of a man who was toothlessly complicit in spreading lies by the Trump administration to the American people; the worst example of the entertainment industry’s instinct to bend any moral for a cheap laugh.
“As a father of daughters…”
This entire recap of the year’s disasters could be populated with the horrifying misconduct of the litany of Bad Men exposed this year—from Harvey Weinstein to Kevin Spacey and beyond—and the ways in which various institutions mishandled the behavior and fallout. No reactions to these revelations were more infuriating than the famous male figures, ranging from Matt Damon to Ben Affleck to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who clarified that they were horrified because they are fathers who have daughters. It’s a sign of how clueless men are and have been in processing these scandals and the nature of this predatory and misogynistic culture. As Hunter Harris perfectly wrote in Vulture, “Only a sociopath needs a daughter—or a sister, a girlfriend, a wife, or even just a lady standing in front of him at Starbucks—to make him queasy enough at the thought of a sexual predator in his industry to do something about it.”
Mariah Carey at New Year’s Eve
Maybe it was a simple mistake made in a very public forum. Maybe it was an ominous warning of the year that was to come. Nonetheless, Mariah Carey’s interminable avalanche of live disasters during the New Year’s Rockin’ Eve telecast was excruciating to watch. One of the greatest singers of all-time standing on stage pissed off, first saying she couldn’t hear a backing track to sing along to, then not bothering to lip sync the next song before storming off. It was an inauspicious way to start the new year, especially when you consider the optics of it: a woman helpless as the world, albeit in this case just the Times Square stage, burned around her, then vilified for refusing to smile through the carnage. The fallout was hardly handled elegantly with Carey’s team and the production company engaging in a public she-said-they-said over who was to blame.
The launch of Megyn Kelly Today
At Fox News, Megyn Kelly was a marketable if polarizing star presence, known for her prosecutorial manner in lines of tough questioning—always admirable, even if you didn’t necessarily agree with the direction. NBC found it admirable enough to spend $15 million to woo her away from the cable news network, rearranging its entire morning news lineup to launch a full hour of Kelly-led programming. Confusingly, however, it eschewed the attributes that made Kelly so popular at Fox. Instead, a manufactured, awkwardly fitting personality emerged that was crucified by critics at each tonal whiplash segment transition, especially during painful interviews with liberal celebrities who couldn’t bother to hide their disdain for the host.
La La Land Oscars gaffe
The phrase “Oscars mistake” is typically employed to groan about a film voters crown Best Picture that critics or fans don’t necessarily think deserved it, not for a situation in which the literal wrong winner is announced. That a gaffe both so monumental and so careless happened at the 2017 Academy Awards—Warren Beatty was handed the wrong envelope and, confused, announced La La Land as Best Picture instead of Moonlight—is already excruciating and embarrassing. But, again, the optics of it all make everything worse. The La La Land team had to cede the stage after the gaffe was clarified, about as awkward a moment as an award show can produce. But the filmmakers behind Moonlight, a film about the marginalized black and gay experience, were denied the emotion that comes from a watershed cultural moment like winning Best Picture, and the chaos overshadowed the power of the moment, let alone their speeches. While it was deserved to a measure, the amount of attention given to the La La Land team’s graciousness after the mistake only further magnified how problematic the incident was.
It’s bad enough when the phrase “worst thing Marvel has done” is used to describe your new TV show, as it was for ABC’s fall foray into the Marvelverse. But the launch of Inhumans became more dire in light of the investment made in the series and its hubris in assuming audiences would consume it anyway, despite its middling quality, just because it’s Marvel. The big-budget bet included a release in IMAX theaters of its first two episodes ahead of its ABC launch, a theatrical run that garnered a pitiful $2.9 million.
It’s been quite the year for Matt Damon, who needs to fire any publicist whose advice isn’t simply, “Stop talking.” His response to the Weinstein scandal has been disastrous bordering on offensive, with the actor running out of feet to put in his mouth as he attempted to add nuance to the conversation but instead came off as defending bad men’s behavior. But even if you reluctantly put all that aside, the films he was promoting during those calamitous interviews, Suburbicon and Downsizing, have underperformed at the box office and divided critics. All that on top of the way he kicked the year off: in a riotously silly man-bun white savior-ing Chinese history in the epic box office bomb The Great Wall.
Louis C.K.’s I Love You, Daddy
In September, Louis C.K. premiered I Love You, Daddy at the Toronto Film Festival. It’s a film in which C.K.’s protagonist, Glen, in a very Woody Allen-ish plot, has a 17-year-old daughter who enters a relationship with a 60-something man who is a legendary filmmaker. In one scene, a character played by Charlie Day vigorously mimes masturbation, not bothering to stop when a female producer, used to such things, enters the room. What was purposefully provocative in the film now borders on lunacy after The New York Times confirmed an industry open secret: that Louis C.K. had masturbated in front of upcoming female comedians. Suffice it to say that I Love You, Daddy’s theatrical release was canceled.
Kathy Griffin’s Trump mask fiasco
When Kathy Griffin was made aware of how ghastly and in poor taste the photo of her holding a bloodied, decapitated Trump head was—which happened instantly—she apologized for the offense. But few celebrity controversies have spiraled this out of control this quickly. Griffin was immediately let go from nearly every entertainment job she held, and, in response, she staged a misguided press conference in which she alleged that the Trump family was targeting her. It’s a classic case in disastrous damage control, but it shouldn’t have damned Griffin the way it has. It certainly says a lot about the latent misogyny in the industry that, as recent months have brought to light, famous men are guilty of truly horrific behavior that for so long was excused—yet an atoning Griffin still can’t get representation or a footing back into the industry she made her name in. The one good to come of this: Griffin’s fed up with all of it, too, and she’s naming names.
The best thing to happen to Coachella’s reputation is the worst thing to have happened to the hoodwinked revelers who shelled out upwards of $250,000 for a luxurious VIP concert experience on a private island in the Bahamas. Rich kids arrived only for it to instead resemble, as one fooled attendee attested, a refugee camp. The entire thing was organized by rapper Ja Rule and out-of-his-element entrepreneur bro Billy McFarland under false pretenses, with no infrastructure in place to support, house, or feed the thousands of concertgoers who paid premium prices only to be met with an unfinished tent village, packs of feral dogs, mountains of trash, no-show artists, and not enough food to go around. A breaking point for the increased lunacy surrounding the culture of music festivals, or merely a cautionary tale for how not to ruin the next one?
Maybe it’s schadenfreude that Harvey Weinstein’s swan song as a Hollywood mogul included this long-gestating, notorious disaster of a period film, riddled with false starts and re-castings and shuffled release dates and, most notably, Harvey Weinstein’s constant tinkering. Perhaps the lowest moment in the botched release of the film, which starred Dane DeHaan and Alicia Vikander and earned a Rotten Tomatoes score of just 9 percent, was when Weinstein himself penned an essay defending it, citing the fact that Vikander’s mother’s friend called her to say she enjoyed the movie as evidence.
Kid Rock’s “Senate run”
The music industry’s resident American Jackass dialed up his reign of terror this year with the threat of a Senate run, to be launched on his tried-and-true values of cheap beer and racism. In the end, it was nothing more than a barely veiled publicity stunt. Nonetheless, breathless headlines blared the preposterous idea, and, considering the trajectory to public office mapped out by Donald Trump, seriously considered it. Of course, we can hardly fault anyone for, against their better judgement, giving credence to the nonsense that Kid Rock says. We still can’t get over his bigoted use of “gay” as a pejorative—let alone his embrace of the Confederate flag.
Baywatch vs. Rotten Tomatoes
A bad movie is a bad movie. That’s fine and inevitable, and Baywatch was a bad movie. But shining a spotlight on this turd in particular came reports of industry insiders pissed that critical reviews decimated the movie’s box office haul, as well as that of the fifth Pirates of the Caribbean movie. It’s not the fact that these movies were shit you could smell from miles away that made audiences not want to buy tickets. It’s Rotten Tomatoes! If you ever want to know how little Hollywood studios think of you, the audience, just read this quote: “The critic aggregation site increasingly is slowing down the potential business of popcorn movies. Pirates 5 and Baywatch aren’t built for critics but rather general audiences, and once upon a time these types of films—a family adventure and a raunchy R-rated comedy—were critic-proof.”
The Mummy and the Dark Universe
Tom Cruise’s The Mummy wasn’t just supposed to be a franchise reboot cash-grab using a familiar property and a big Hollywood star. It was supposed to launch an entire shared cinematic universe, dubbed the “Dark Universe,” for Universal, filled with monsters including Russell Crowe as Dr. Jekyll, Javier Bardem as Frankenstein, and Johnny Depp as the Invisible Man, as well as Sofia Boutella’s Ahmanet from The Mummy. It was a whole big plan. They all posed for a photo together and everything! But following disastrous box office returns for The Mummy, not to mention abysmal reviews, plans for the interconnected Dark Universe, at least as far as they were in motion, were scrapped and its architects, producer-writers Alex Kurtzman and Chris Morgan, jumped ship for other projects.