The Celebrity Nude Photo Leak
In late August and early September, hacked photos belonging to female celebrities like Jennifer Lawrence, Kate Upton and Kirsten Dunst leaked online and spread across sites like 4chan, Imgur and Reddit. Naturally, extreme online chaos ensued. People scrambling to view the photos, other scrambling to get them taken down. People imploring their fellow citizens of the Internet not to view the images, others panicking about the security of their own photos stored in Apple’s iCloud. About a month after the photos leaked, Jennifer Lawrence opened up about the saga to Vanity Fair. “It is not a scandal. It is a sex crime,” she said. “It is a sexual violation. It’s disgusting.” Actress Gabrielle Union, another victim of the hack, described the situation like this: “It felt like The Hunger Games: You’re waiting to be attacked. People are critiquing and judging, cheering for more. They’re shouting, ‘Next! Next!’” Though the initial shock and chaos has quieted down, the hack continues to prompt discussions about privacy, security and violation.
Solange and Jay Z’s Elevator Fight
Back in May, video of Beyoncé’s sister Solange punching and kicking her brother-in-law Jay Z in a hotel elevator leaked online thanks to TMZ. The incident, which happened at New York’s Standard Hotel after the Met Gala, immediately sparked a thousand reactions and questions and theories and jokes and guesses about #WhatJayZSaidToSolange. It was all such a mystery, and we were all totally captivated. A few days after the footage surfaced, the family released a statement, assuring everyone that “our family has worked through it.” They added, “We love each other and above all we are family. We’ve put this behind us and hope everyone else will do the same.” Of course, it took a while for the Internet to really move on. Speculation about what really went down continues to this day, although at a much lower volume. For the most part, though, everyone has mostly accepted that we’ll never really know what happened. But we’ll always remember that video.
The Ice Bucket Challenge
Even people who spend a reasonable, limited amount of time on the Internet couldn’t escape the Ice Bucket Challenge, the phenomenon that dominated social media for weeks and weeks this summer. Participants — including a huge number of celebrities — shared videos of themselves dumping ice water over their heads, all part of an effort to raise money and awareness for ALS (also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.) The videos spread far and wide, with Bill Gates’ version racking up 20 million views and Charlie Sheen’s getting nearly as many. Eventually, the craze died down — and the ALS Association ended up raising $115 million to fight the disease.
Taylor Swift's New Album
In its first week alone, Taylor Swift’s fifth album, 1989, sold 1.287 million copies. That’s quite a few, of course, but not super surprising — because there was a huge amount of online promotion leading up to the Oct. 27 release, generated by both Swift herself and by her hordes of diehard fans. It all began in early August, when she began sharing cryptic clues on Instagram that pointed to an Aug. 18 livestream, when she officially announced her “first documented, official pop album.” From there, Tay-Tay continued promoting the album, teasing songs and interacting with fans on Tumblr, Twitter and Instagram. She reposted fans’ videos, shared snippets of lyrics and generally drummed up tons of interest before the album even came out. And of course, once it officially debuted, the Internet exploded. Finally, T-Swift diehards and skeptics alike seemed to sigh. It’s finally here. Swift, meanwhile, created some new hashtags that quickly became trending topics — #TS1989 to represent the album, along with #taylurking, a portmanteau of “Taylor” and “lurking” that she created to creep on her fans enjoying the new album. And then, of course, there were the two music videos she released: “Shake It Off,” which has already racked up hundreds of millions of views, and “Blank Space,” which earned 24 million views in just three days.
The iPhone 6 Release
People always go nuts whenever there’s a new iProduct, but people went especially nuts about the iPhone 6, which made its official debut on Sept. 19. But along with the rabid excitement about the device — which led many people to wait in obscenely long lines for obscene amounts of time — came a slew of bizarre complaints. Most notably: several users claimed the 6.2-inch-tall phone was bending in their pockets. Soon enough, a #Bendgate hashtag was born, putting all the complaints — many with photographic evidence — in one place. (The online outrage grew enough to prompt a response from Apple.) Next up was #Hairgate, where users complained that the phone was ripping out their hair. Strands would get caught, outraged victims explained, in the seam between the device’s glass and aluminum. In the end, these controversies were, of course, pretty negligible. In just three days, Apple sold more than 10 million iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus devices.
The Apparently Kid
Noah Ritter was just a normal five-year-old kid, living his normal five-year-old life in Pennsylvania, until a scene-stealing appearance on a local news segment in August changed everything. The video began spreading across the web, and he became affectionately known as the Apparently Kid, thanks to his, uh, apparent affinity for the word “apparently.” His original video racked up more than 17 million views, and since then, he’s made several appearances on Ellen and has even done a commercial for a pet food company. Though Internet fame can of course be incredibly fleeting, people still seem to love the Apparently Kid several months after he made his web debut.
The 45-year-old actress made an appearance at an average Hollywood red carpet event in October. Not a huge deal, right? But then people noticed that something about her was different. Headlines asked “What HAS Renée Zellweger done to her face?” and urged us to stop what we were doing to look at it. Her name soon became a trending topic on Twitter as countless people commented on (not to mention mocked and shamed) the actress’s new look. As dozens of news outlets posted photos of her new visage, it was clear that people simply couldn’t get enough. Zellweger soon responded to the Internet’s incessant chatter, telling People, “I’m glad folks think I look different! I’m living a different, happy, more fulfilling life, and I’m thrilled that perhaps it shows.” Of course, she thought all this chatter was “silly” but chose to address it because, as she said, “it seems the folks who come digging around for some nefarious truth which doesn’t exist won’t get off my porch until I answer the door.” As the speculation continued, some articles, like this one published on TIME.com, urged everyone to just let it go and leave her (and her face) alone. “There is a very real reason Zellweger would want a whole new face,” Brian Moylan wrote. “We were all incredibly mean to her old one.”
The “Sexy Felon”
Oh, Jeremy Meeks. When the mugshot of this undeniably good-looking convicted felon, first posted by the police department of Stockton, Calif., began circulating in June, the Internet took a collective double-take before devolving into a mess of giddy, swooning schoolgirls. Overlooking the fact that police called him “one of the most violent criminals in the Stockton area,” citizens of the Internet were determined to make Meeks a star, with some rallying to get him a modeling contract. Though several news outlets said that that happened, those reports were ultimately false. But really, who needs an official modeling contract when just one photo of your blue-eyed, chiseled, stoic face can capture the entire Internet’s heart?
The Potato Salad Kickstarter
When some guy who goes by the name Zack “Danger” Brown got a craving for potato salad, he started a Kickstarter to try and raise the $10 needed to purchase the ingredients. “Basically I’m just making potato salad,” he explained on his fundraising page. “I haven’t decided what kind yet.” In the “Risks and challenges” section, he wrote, “It might not be that good. It’s my first potato salad.” Somehow, over the course of a few days, that silly Internet joke grew into a huge viral phenomenon. Word spread about this peculiar fundraising initiative and Brown ultimately raised more than $55,000. He ended up using the money not to make the world’s largest vat of potato salad, but instead to throw a public party called PotatoStock in his hometown of Columbus, Ohio, in September. Of course, he did make plenty of potato salad at the event, which raised money for nonprofits that fight hunger in Ohio. (Oh, Brown also gave a shoutout to another one of the year’s viral sensations, the Ice Bucket Challenge, by dumping a bucket of Idaho yellow potatoes over his head.)
Kim Kardashian's Butt
Many people become viral sensations by mistake. Internet fame kind of just falls into their lap — and sometimes they truly never wanted it to begin with. But other people — like, say, Kim Kardashian — specifically set out to achieve the kind of buzz that “breaks” the Internet. Kardashian posed on the cover of Paper magazine in November baring her very naked, very shiny butt, and the headline actually read, “Break the Internet: Kim Kardashian.” On Nov. 12, one day after publishing the story, Paper’s website saw 6.6. million page views. The next day, the site generated nearly 15.9 million page views and reached over 11 million unique visitors. The Internet simply could not get enough of Kim’s derrière, soon turning it into the subject of countless memes. Some people criticized her for baring her booty — she’s a mother, after all — while others commended her for an artful, provocative cover shoot. Either way, NOBODY would stop talking about (and, probably, looking at) her butt. So no, Kim did not literally break the Internet, but she came very close.