From Sandra Bland to the shootings in Charleston, South Carolina, African Americans were sadly reminded that being Black in America is much harder than it ought to be. And yet in the same breath, 2015 was a year of Black joy during which our culture dominated not only in our lives, but in the mainstream consciousness. From Cookie Lyons to the Cosby Ebony cover, our brilliance helped to push the conversation, affirm our greatness, make history and most important, make us laugh.
So to celebrate that greatness, we put together this list of the most defining Black pop culture moments of 2015. And don’t worry: Rachel Dolezal is nowhere to be seen.
1. Top Black Pop Culture Moments of 2015
From Sandra Bland to the shootings in Charleston, , African Americans were sadly reminded that being Black in America is much harder than it ought to be. And yet in the same breath, 2015 was a year of Black joy during which our culture dominated not only in our lives, but in the mainstream consciousness. So to celebrate that greatness, we put together this list of the most defining Black pop culture moments of 2015.
2. Top Black Pop Culture Moments of 2015: Titus Burgess and His Peeno Noir
Depending on whom you ask, Netflix’s The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is either incredibly funny or incredibly offensive. What’s not debatable is that Emmy nominee Titus Burgess gave us one of the most memorable television moments with his “Peeno Noir: An Ode to Black Penis” video. Given the many costume changes and ridiculous lyrics, no wonder it went viral this year.
3. Top Black Pop Culture Moments of 2015: Michael B Jordan’s Abs in ‘Creed’
The smash film ‘Creed’ showcases more than just the major talents of its director Ryan Coogler (‘Fruitvale Station’)—but Michael B. Jordan’s ripped abs, too. The talented actor, who’s come a long way since his ‘All My Children’ days, told Men’s Fitness he gained 25 pounds of muscle thanks to intense workouts with his trainer. We can tell, boo. We can tell.
4. Top Black Pop Culture Moments of 2015: Lisa’s Funeral Scene on ‘Being Mary Jane’
Depending on your sensibilities, Lisa’s funeral on ‘Being Mary Jane’ either brought you to tears or made you incredibly uncomfortable. Either way, it’s clear that the show’s writing team, lead by Mara Brock Akil, dug deep within themselves when penning this episode, as it painfully forced Black folks to confront some serious issues that we often refuse to acknowledge. Gabrielle Union also did some serious acting.
5. Top Black Pop Culture Moments of 2015: Misty Copeland’s “I Will, What I Want” Commercial
Misty Copeland recently told the NY Times that she wants success and to be on the “forefront of pop culture.” Copeland achieved just that in 2015 by becoming the first Black principle dancer at the American Ballet Theater and going viral with her Under Armor commercial “I Will What I Want. ” The video quickly drew more than 4 million viewers. #ForThoseWhoDareToDream
6. Top Black Pop Culture Moments of 2015: Zendaya and Amandla Read The Girls For Filth
In the year of the clapback, our stars used their platforms as teachable moments. In response to Giuliana Rancic’s offensive remarks about her locs, Zendaya penned a striking letter affirming that our hair is beautiful. Meanwhile, Amandla Stenberg schooled Kylie Jenner when Kardashian-lite jacked Black culture and used her position to spread awareness about the issues that actually affect us. #WhiteGirlsDoItBetter
7. Top Black Pop Culture Moments of 2015: “Black-ish”’s ‘N-Word’ Episode
Kenya Barris’ ABC comedy came back with a vengeance this fall when it touched upon the delicate topic of the “n-word” in its second season premiere. And what could have easily been trite and flat was the exact opposite. The episode was pitch-perfect, poignant and nuanced, not to mention absolutely hilarious thanks to the impeccable timing from the entire cast and great writing staff.
8. Top Black Pop Culture Moments of 2015: Cicely Tyson Scratching Viola Davis’ Scalp on ‘HTGAWM’
ABC’s ‘HTGAWM’ definitely isn’t afraid to go there with Analise. Remember when she got barefaced and wig-free for us? But seeing the usually in-control lawyer nestled in between her mother’s knees, played by veteran actor Cicely Tyson, as her scalp was scratched and mane combed out, was one of the realest and most endearing scenes we’ve seen in a long time. Thank you Shonda.
9. Top Black Pop Culture Moments of 2015: The Year of The Black Cover Girl
Once upon a time, the only magazine covers Black celebs could be featured on were the Essence’s and Ebony’s of the world. And while our media definitely matters, this year in record-number, Black women were front and center on many publications such as Vogue (twice), Vanity Fair, Sports illustrated, New York Magazine, Glamour, In Style, Elle, Interview and Time, reaffirming that our beauty and grace matter, too.
10. Top Black Pop Culture Moments of 2015: Tristan Wilds in the Adele Video
Tristan Wilds is no stranger to Black folks—he was the baby-faced drug runner Michael Lee on ‘The Wire.’ But when he left to focus on his music, he was pretty much “out of sight, out of mind.” Then when Adele broke the internet with her “Hello” video, we were kindly reminded of what a cutie Wilds is. Even with his tired flip phone, we definitely wish he would pick up when we call.
11. Top Black Pop Culture Moments of 2015: Grace Jones’ AfroPunk Performance
Speaking of jaw-dropping, this summer at Brooklyn’s AfroPunk Fest, model and singer Grace Jones proved that at 67 years old, she hasn’t lost a step. Topless, covered in body paint, swirling a hula-hoop for one song and dressed as a lion and a tiger for another, the icon and author gave a show-stopping performance that was hailed as “bold, honest, provocative and peaceful.”
12. Top Black Pop Culture Moments of 2015: Beyonce’s Met Gala Dress
It’s expected that when Beyoncé arrives on the red carpet, we’re going to be wowed. But the “Flawless” singer made our jaws utterly drop when she wore this barely-there Givenchy gown to The Met Gala. It’s rumored that she hadn’t planned on wearing that particular dress, but changed last minute when she saw online what other people were wearing. Good move Bey!
13. Top Black Pop Culture Moments of 2015: Missy Elliot’s Super Bowl Halftime Performance
While Katy Perry may have gotten mixed reviews for her Super Bowl XLIX Halftime Show in February, it was Missy Elliot who stole the show right from under the pop star. So much so, that the following day, Elliot’s albums saw a 1,000 percent bump in sales. Thankfully, this wasn’t a one-time deal. With her new “WTF (Where They From)” video, it’s clear that the veteran rapper is here to stay.
14. Top Black Pop Culture Moments of 2015: Common and John Legend at the Oscars
Normally the musical numbers at The Academy Awards are pretty forgettable, but when Common and John Legend performed Selma’s “Glory,” it brought down the house with an emotional standing ovation. Equally as moving, was their acceptance speech for Best Song, which despite the Oscars being one of the whitest ever, the duo made sure the issue of race and injustice took center stage.
15. Top Black Pop Culture Moments of 2015: That Bill Cosby ‘EBONY’ Cover
It’s clear that Ebony magazine is no longer your Granny’s Ebony. This was brilliantly conveyed with the fearless and polarizing November “#CosbyVsCliff” cover. Editor-In-Chief Kierna Mayo admitted that she “hadn’t slept in two days” before the issue hit newsstands, but stood firmly behind the need for Black folks to have the difficult conversations about sexual violence, rape culture and when our heroes fail us.
16. Top Black Pop Culture Moments Of 2015: The Throning of Queen Serena
Even with her disappointing loss at the U.S. Open, 2015 served up some of the most captivating moments in the player’s near 20-year career. This summer, Williams won the “Serena slam” at Wimbledon, marking her twenty-first Grand Slam singles title and was named Sports Illustrated “Sportsperson of the Year,” becoming the first solo Black woman to grace the cover of the mag’s annual issue. Hail to the Queen!
17. Top Black Pop Culture Moments Of 2015: President Obama Having No F*$^ks Left to Give
While we have always loved President Barack Obama and admired his poise and intelligence, this new gangsta, second-term, not scuuuured POTUS has given us utter life. From lifting the travel ban to Cuba to using a selfie stick to his “folks wanna pop off” comment, President Obama will definitely go down as one of the most successful (and realest) leaders in history.
18. Top Black Pop Culture Moments Of 2015: Dem Patty Pies
Who knew that a dessert that you’ve been eating since you were a kid could spark such a nation-wide frenzy? But thanks to James Wright’s hilarious YouTube review that went viral, Walmart couldn’t keep legendary singer Patti Labelle’s sweet potato pies on the shelves this Thanksgiving. We hope you got yours for Christmas though.
19. Top Black Pop Culture Moments Of 2015: The Rise of ‘Empire’
Before Fox’s ‘Empire’ debuted in January, the joke in Hollywood was that it was destined to fail. But Lee Daniel’s Black novella not only proved naysayers wrong by boasting some of the highest ratings on network television, but it introduced us to the queen of one-liners, Ms. Cookie Lyons, who instantly became one of the best and most influential characters this television season.
20. Top Black Pop Culture Moments Of 2015: Viola Davis Wins an Emmy for HTGWM
Even without the accolades, Viola Davis’ Analise Keating stood out by being one of the most complex and multifaceted portrayals of a Black woman to date. But her historic Emmy win for Best Actress in a Drama Series made it even sweeter as she fearlessly addressed the lack of diversity in Hollywood. That #BlackGirlMagic Emmy moment along with Regina King and Uzo Aduba’s, definitely had us in tears.
21. Top Black Pop Culture Moments Of 2015: Drake Demolishes the Internet
Who knew wheelchair Jimmy wouldn’t just win the Internet this year, but demolish it? From his grown and sexy beard to his beef with rapper Meek Mill to his ‘Hotline Bling’ video, Drake was a constant in our conversations and on the airwaves. Even when folks were making fun of him, i.e. his peculiar dancing, it only seemed to make his popularity soar.
22. Top Black Pop Culture Moments Of 2015: “Miley, What’s Good?”
Speaking of beefs, Nicki Minaj proved that it’s never in your best interest to come for her. A lesson that Miley Cyrus learned after telling the NY Times that Minaj was “not polite” for a past Twitter rift between the rapper and singer Taylor Swift. Minaj retaliated at the MTV Music Awards giving us one of the biggest clapbacks known to history. #NotTheOne
23. Top Black Pop Culture Moments Of 2015: The Black Brilliance of ‘The Wiz’ Live
Since Empire, Black folks haven’t been as excited to watch TV as we were for The Wiz. And you can’t blame us. Kenny Lyon’s updated Broadway classic showcased some of the best African-American talent in the game with newcomer Shanice Williams, Queen Latifah, Ne-Yo, Mary J and more. It was arguably one of the most unapologetically Black things we’ve experienced all year. I mean, they were voguing in Emerald City y’all!
24. Top Black Pop Culture Moments Of 2015: Ava DuVernay’s Barbie Sells Out in 17 Minutes
She may have been robbed of an Oscar nomination for Best Director for ‘Selma,’ but it’s no secret that amazing award-winning filmmaker Ava DuVernay is well loved by everyone from Oprah to the Obamas. Yet, this year, her popularity rose far greater than she may ever have imagined when her Barbie sold-out in a mere 17 minutes, inspiring Black girls all around the world. Remember: In order to be it, you have to see it.
25. Top Black Pop Culture Moments Of 2015: John Boyega Stays Drinking White Tears
Despite white opposition to John Boyega starring in the Star Wars franchise, the Brit brushed his shoulders off telling the NY Times he “is grounded in who [he is] …[as] a confident, Nigerian, Black, chocolate man.” The rising star can also add role model to that list as he proves to a new generation that they too have a place in the galaxy, far, far away.
26. Top Black Pop Culture Moments Of 2015: Everything Black Twitter Did
From #ThanksgivingClapBack to #GrowingUpBlack to #CelebritiesOnlyBlackPeopleKnow, Black Twitter’s infectious and dry humor brought us to tears this year. But their hashtags weren’t just about making us laugh. From #IfIDieInPoliceCustody to #SayHerName to #MelaninOnFleek, they were committed to keeping up woke and celebrating our greatness. #ThankYou
27. Worst Moments In Pop Culture Moments Of 2015
The death of Bobby Kristina; Kanye’s zombie apocalypse clothing line; the “Whip and Nae,” everything Raven-Symone said; the fall of Empire; Key and Peele leaving television; Serena being compared to a horse; Steve Harvey crowning the wrong Miss Universe; trap queens; and “If You Can’t Party at Bella Noches…”
What did we miss? Let us know!