From Trump, to the deaths of Bowie and Prince, to the birth “Stranger Things” and the re-birth of “Gilmore Girls,” to the Cubs finally winning the World Series, American pop culture in 2016 has been by turns wacky, woeful, wonderful and just-plain wild.
But let’s not forget all the highs and lows we experienced right here in our own hometown over the past year. Look, there’s a lot of ground to cover, so let’s get right to it: In no particular order, these are the 15 moments that influenced Charlotte pop culture the most in 2016.
1. Maroon 5 cancels Time Warner Cable Arena show in protest of North Carolina’s House Bill 2, which some describe as the most anti-LGBT legislation in the U.S. Nick Jonas, Demi Lovato and Cirque du Soleil had backed out of arena shows for the same political reason, but the May 20 cancellation of the Sept. 11 concert stung the most. “In the end,” frontman Adam Levine said, “it comes down to what we feel is morally right as we feel everyone should be treated equally.” (Maroon 5 eventually re-booked in S.C., and performed on Sept. 10 at Columbia’s Colonial Life Arena.)
2. “Masterminds” finally lands in theaters… with a thud. Take an all-star cast of funny actors (Zach Galifianakis, Owen Wilson, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones and Jason Sudeikis), put them in a based-on-a-true-story comedy about a $17 million bank-vault heist perpetrated by some of the dumbest criminals the Charlotte area has ever seen, and what have you got? Well, in this case, you’ve got an object lesson in Hollywood mediocrity, featuring unnecessary (and not-historically-accurate) gross-out scenes where Galifianakis’s character poops in a pool and Wiig’s forces vaginal cream down McKinnon’s throat. The movie, filmed mainly in Asheville in 2014 then shelved due to internal studio issues, limped to $17 million at the box office after being released on Sept. 30. That’d be the payday of a lifetime for bank robbers, but for Relativity Media, it was a less-than-masterful outcome.
3. Rihanna throws a foam party at Time Warner Cable Arena on March 20. In her first Charlotte appearance since opening for Kanye West in 2008, the Barbadian singer bowled over the crowd with her fashion choices, which included thigh-high chap boots, a nude-colored catsuit, a leather bustier and a shimmery/see-through black dress. But the most eye-popping visual was a humongous shower curtain that served as a canvas for oversized soapy suds. More than any other show this year, hers felt like an extravagant music video brought audaciously to life.
4. Charlotte Hornets guard Jeremy Lin shakes his head at the Oscars after host Chris Rock cracks wise about Asians. During the Feb. 28 show, Rock brought three young Asian children onto the stage as “accountants” for PricewaterhouseCoopers. “They sent us their most dedicated, accurate and hard-working representatives. Please welcome Ming Zhu, Bao Ling and David Moskowitz,” Rock joked. Then: “If anybody’s upset about that joke, just tweet about it on your phone that was probably also made by these kids.” Lin tweeted his annoyance the following afternoon: “Seriously though, when is this going to change?!? Tired of it being ‘cool’ and ‘ok’ to bash Asians smh #Oscars.” Plenty of other Asian Americans (but not all) expressed concern about Rock’s jokes, but Lin’s voice came across loudest. (After the season, he became a free agent and left Charlotte for the Brooklyn Nets.)
5. Oprah Winfrey slays her speech to graduates at Johnson C. Smith University’s spring commencement on May 15. The 62-year-old former talk-show queen – who accepted the invite because the Class of 2016 included two graduates of her Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa – didn’t appear to look at any notes over the course of 37 minutes that included humor, inspiration, enlightenment and a story about calling Cam Newton in the middle of the night to borrow shoes for her partner, Stedman Graham. Her closing line, as she appeared to choke up: “You make me proud, and your future’s so bright, JCSU, it burns my eyes. Go with God.”
6. Speaking of Cam Newton: The Panthers star quarterback walks out of his post-Super Bowl interview following his team’s loss to the Denver Broncos on Feb. 7. Sure, Carolina’s loss was bigger than Newton’s meltdown, but the defining moment was not any particular play or turning moment in the game. It was Newton doing something we’ve all secretly fantasized about: He got up and left a conversation he didn’t want to be in, then people debated in for months.
7. Emily Maynard Johnson’s tell-all first book, about her TV romances and her real-life love, becomes a New York Times bestseller after being released on March 1. And in September, the former single-mom star of ABC’s “The Bachelorette” added a fifth member to her growing family, which now includes 11-year-old daughter Ricki, husband Tyler Johnson and their two little ones – 17-month-old son Jennings and infant son Gibson.
8. “Hamilton,” the hottest Broadway musical of the decade, officially makes plans to show itself in Charlotte. According to the announcement made on June 1, the national tour of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hip-hop-inspired trip through the life of Founding Father Alexander Hamilton (winner of 11 Tony Awards last summer) will show up here as part of Blumenthal Performing Arts’ 2017-18 Broadway Lights season – which seems to be roughly how long tickets are sold out until in New York.
9. Ryan Lochte goes from Olympic hero to Olympic zero to reality-TV star to (expectant) father, all in the course of just over four months. Lochte began the year with Charlotte-based SwimMAC Carolina and great expectations for the Summer Games, where he hoped to… oh, never mind. Whether you love him or hate him, you’re sick of recitations of the bizarre events involving the disgraced swimming idol-turned-repentant comeback kid (as seen on ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars”). All I know is he seemed right at home in the front row of the Vanilla Ice concert at Spectrum Center on Dec. 4 – fiancee/baby-mama-to-be Kayla Rae Reid at his side, a grin on his face and a beer in his hand.
10. Dolly Parton fights off “a little bit of a head cold” to put on one of the best concerts of the year. The only hitch in her giddyup was repeated visits to the Kleenex stand during the Nov. 19 show at Spectrum Center. “Thank God it ain’t a chest cold,” the famously big-busted country singer said at one point. “I’d be like a giraffe with a sore throat, wouldn’t I?” Otherwise, Parton, 70, was flawless, charming the cowboy boots off her fans with an endless parade self-deprecating jokes but also touching personal stories and soaring versions of standards like “I Will Always Love You” and “Hello God.”
11. Luke Kuechly cries as he’s carted off the field at Bank of America Stadium with a concussion during a Thursday Night Football matchup against the New Orleans Saints on Nov. 17. This is something that Panthers fans will not enjoy recalling at all, but it’s an unforgettable image that should serve as a brutal, sobering reminder that football is basically bloodsport – and that these guys aren’t Marvel comic-book heroes.
12. “Shots Fired” brings big-budget TV production back to Charlotte… and it may end up being among the most-talked-about shows of 2017. The first season of the forthcoming primetime Fox drama was shot almost entirely in and around Charlotte between March and July, marking the first Hollywood-like activity here since Showtime’s “Homeland” and Cinemax’s “Banshee” fled North Carolina in 2014 (as legislators prepared to get rid of an attractive refundable tax credit program). The show – starring up-and-coming talent alongside Hollywood vets like Helen Hunt and Richard Dreyfuss – centers around the shooting of a white teen by a black officer, and the racial tensions that erupt in the aftermath. No premiere date has been set yet, but when it does debut next year, it will probably stir controversy.
13. That’s fiction, though. This is real: Toussaint Romain becomes a beacon of hope during a time of great despair in Charlotte. With the country watching on cable news networks, Romain – a lawyer in the Mecklenburg County public defender’s office – set a perfect example of how to peacefully express dissent as he marched night after night with protesters following the Sept. 20 fatal police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott. And he even took care to look professional (in a crisp white shirt and tie) while doing it.
14. Carrie Underwood takes over the Spectrum Center – literally. The country-music megastar brought her “Storyteller Tour: Stories in the Round” show to Charlotte on Oct. 23, but it wasn’t so much in the round as it was all around: Her sprawling, Super Bowl-halftime-worthy stage setup essentially reached from baseline to baseline and sideline to sideline; over the course of the night, she made it to each corner of the arena several times. And every song seemed to reveal a new trick up the creative team’s sleeve, whether it was a center stage that rotated like a lazy Susan, a receding orchestra pit, a sparks-spewing jukebox, huge pieces of fabric set to motion via wind machines, or a thick layer of purple, red and pink fog. Shows this spectacular only come along once a year or so. This was our one.
15. “Purple Shirt Guy” spews trash-talk at the Miami Heat’s Dwyane Wade during a critical playoff game and becomes an instant villain. Lots of factors contributed to the Charlotte Hornets’ first-round Game 6 loss on April 29, but most of the social-media blame was foisted on loud-mouthed, courtside-seated Hornets fan Michael Deason, who – as the legend now goes – jawed at Wade so irritatingly that the Heat guard responded by nailing two three-pointers to seal the win and tie the series. “No, I didn’t lose the game for them last night,” Deason told me the next morning. “Hell, did I win the game for them in Game 3 and 4? Because I was cheering a hell of a lot louder in Game 3 and 4.” Deason, by the way, did not renew his season tickets for 2016-17…