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People of the Year 2023: Who had the biggest impact on Culture?

People of the Year 2023
People of the Year 2023 Copyright Euronews
Copyright Euronews
By Euronews Culture
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Here are Euronews Culture's People of the Year 2023 - the figures who impacted, influenced and defined a year in European and Global Culture.

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Euronews Culture has selected its People of the Year, both European and Global, in cinema, music, arts and literature. 

We spent several weeks weighing our options and have come up with this list, which while non-exhaustive, represents the eight figures we collectively agreed upon – the personalities that have defined our year, and furthered conversation in their respective fields.

Cinema - Europe: Sandra Hüller

Sandra Hüller
Sandra HüllerTaylor Jewell / Invision / AP

The undisputed European star of 2023 in the movie world was Sandra Hüller, who starred in Palme d’Or winner Anatomie d’une chute (Anatomy of a Fall) and Cannes Grand Prix winner The Zone of Interest - two of this year's best films. 

We say European – but she’s also bringing Hollywood to its knees. 

Hüller is hardly new on the scene, and most people will recognise the German actress from her international breakthrough role in 2016 with Maren Ade’s Toni Erdmann, which wowed the Cannes crowd and propelled the actress to new heights outside of her native Germany. But this year, Hüller was well and truly in the spotlight. 

In Justine Triet’s Anatomy of a Fall, she played Sandra Voyter, a novelist and mother accused of murder; in Jonathan Glazer’s Holocaust drama The Zone of Interest, one of the most vital films in recent memory, she starred as Hedwig Höss, the wife of Auschwitz commandant Rudolf Höss - one of history’s most notorious mass murderers. 

The versatility the 45-year-old actress displayed on screen this year in portraying these different women is truly impressive, and has drawn comparisons to both Ingrid Bergman and Isabelle Hupert. She even did it in three different languages. And when taken together, both her 2023 roles show a performer at the summit of her craft. 

She’s already been raking up the gongs (Gotham Awards, European Film Awards, Los Angeles Film Critics Association) and has netted a Golden Globe nomination. Mark our words: there’s every chance that Hüller could land an Oscar by March 2024. She could very well be nominated twice, thereby joining a group of 12 actors, including Cate Blanchett and Scarlett Johansson, who have received dual acting nods in the same year. She would also become the first performer recognised for two non-English-language European films in the same ceremony. 

Euronews Culture had the pleasure of sitting down with Hüller in Berlin this year, and we’re very excited to see whether this awards season proves what we know to be true: 2023 was the year that made her a global star.

Cinema - Global: The rise of the actor-entrepreneur

Lady Gaga
Lady GagaBorn This Way Foundation

2023 was the year of the actor-entrepreneur – the actorpreneur, if you will. 

So many performers are expanding their brand beyond the screens, and although working actors supplementing their income with side gigs is hardly new, the practice of leveraging fame to sell products is now at a stage where a significant number are launching their own brands, as opposed to endorsing existing companies.

Salma Hayek, Kerry Washington and Margot Robbie have started their own production companies to spearhead projects that might otherwise have gone by the wayside due to the studio system; Ryan Reynolds continues to hawk his Aviation Gin; Selena Gomez followed in the footsteps of Rihanna’s Fenty and made great profit from make-up company Rare Beauty... Stars are taking control of their careers and boosting their profits. 

When it comes to production companies, it can be an empowering way of giving platforms to female-driven projects and offering agency to performers that wish to do something more meaningful than star in films that only value looks. 

In some cases, however, the initiatives may look like cynical cash grabs.  

It’s a double-edged sword that felt unavoidable this year. Stars are investing, and the ones that stay afloat (as opposed to turn a quick profit and sell it on) will be the ones who use their platform for good, thereby avoiding consumer fatigue. How? By uplifting causes through their investments. For instance, a percentage of Rare Beauty's sales profits has in part gone to Gomez’s Rare Impact Fund, which provides mental health services. Elsewhere, Lady Gaga partnered with House Labs and through a shared investment, proceeds have gone to Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation, which addresses the youth mental health crisis. 

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Beauty products and alcohol may be the biggest drivers, but hopefully this trend of the actorpreneur can continue going in more positive directions, with companies that uplift voices in the industry and give platforms to important causes. It’s a phenomenon we’ve been monitoring this year, and which we'll be following closely in 2024.

Music - Europe: Jalen N’Gonda

Jalen N’Gonda
Jalen N’GondaJean-Christophe Bott/Keystone via AP

This still very young decade has seen contemporary artists pushing the soul revival forward, and 2023 was a great year for nu-soul. 

From Black Panthers to Duran Jones and Gabriels, the genre is still a rich source of inspiration in dark times, and has a bright future ahead of it. 

One of the beacons is 28-year-old Jalen N'Gonda, an east coast American singer-songwriter who makes the European category, as he moved to Liverpool nearly a decade ago to study at the city’s Institute for Performing Arts and has made the UK the place in which he would flourish as a musician. 

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Thanks to the legendary Daptone label, N’Gonda completed his debut album, 'Come Around and Love Me', this year. His sweet falsetto has made us swoon since its September release. Reminiscent of classic artists like Marvin Gaye and Sam Cooke, N’Gonda’s sound transports you back to a golden era of soul, while blending contemporary influences to ensure his sound is very much his own. It’s a sensational and life-enriching debut, and he is one of the rising stars of the music world – all genres taken into account. 

We’re keeping a close eye on him and what he’s got planned next – namely a European tour in 2024. Make sure you don’t miss out if he’s coming to a venue near or far from you.

Music - Global: Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift
Taylor SwiftChris Pizzello/Invision/AP

2023 was truly the year of Tay Tay supremac-ay. 

The 34-year-old singer songwriter was not only named TIME Magazine’s Person of the Year (iconically posing with one of her cats on the cover), but was also this year’s most streamed artist globally on Spotify. Her concert film ‘Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour’ became the highest-grossing concert film of all time, earning approximately $250m (€225m) after seven weeks in cinemas. This followed the release of her sixth re-recorded album, ‘ 1989 (Taylor’s Version), which topped the music charts for eight consecutive weeks. 

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Swift’s project to re-record all her earlier albums began in 2019 after the sale of her former record label to record executive Scooter Braun, and has made her a pioneer of reclaiming power in an industry that has historically sought to control artists through unfair, agency-denying contracts. 

While all these achievements further cement Taylor Swift’s place as one of the world’s biggest superstars, perhaps most impressive has been her ability to bring people back together and spread messages of inclusivity and empowerment. After years of isolation and anxiety from the COVID-19 pandemic, Taylor’s music and live performances - at which Swiftie’s traded friendship bracelets - reminded the world what it’s like to shake it all off and embrace pure joy again.

Art - Europe: Jesse Darling

Jesse Darling
Jesse DarlingPA / David Parry

British artist Jesse Darling was the recipient of this year’s highly coveted Turner Prize, winning for his exhibitions that feature striking sculptural works, utilising objects such as hazard tape, concrete-filled ring binders, net curtains, tattered UK flags and welded barriers to create a sense of confused familiarity and offer commentary on class and the instability of society. 

Based in Berlin, the 42-year-old was nominated for "No Medals, No Ribbons" in Oxford and "Enclosures" at the Camden Art Centre in London. At a time of cost-of-living crises across Europe, war, rising hate speech and a general distrust for those that govern us, Darling’s works are more pertinent than ever. They allow us to reflect on our place within imposed societal structures, and also so accurately express what it feels like to live in a world distorted by corruption and power.

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Art - Global: Nan Goldin

Nan Goldin
Nan GoldinChris Pizzello/Invision/AP

The pioneering American photographer and campaigner against the billionaires who fuelled the US opioid epidemic tops our list for the most influential figure of the Art world in 2023. 

Nan Goldin, 70, has long been recognized for her craft and her advocacy. Her work has documented the US’ LGBTQ+ history, New York’s ‘70s counterculture and the AIDS crisis, and in 2017, she founded the advocacy group Pain (Prescription Addiction Intervention Now) after her own addiction to OxyContin. The group puts pressure on museums and other arts institutions to end collaborations with the Sackler family, the owners of Purdue Pharma, which was central to the opioid epidemic. 

Her tireless work has seen the Sackler name removed from museums and galleries around the world, and this artist-activist role she holds was traced in one of the year’s best documentaries, Laura Poitras’ All the Beauty and the Bloodshed, which won the Golden Lion at last year’s Venice Film Festival. 

Goldin’s passionate quest against the wealthy who profited from the suffering of others shows once again that artists who use their work and platforms to intervene in pressing socio-political issues can inspire and embolden others. No matter how insurmountable the odds, Goldin has proven that even the biggest and most powerful can be taken to task.

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Literature - Europe: Salman Rushdie

Salman Rushdie
Salman RushdieEvan Agostini/AP

After suffering a horrific knife attack last year, from which he lost sight in one eye, Indian-born British author Salman Rushdie returned to headlines this year for more positive reasons. 

He was awarded The Peace Prize of the German Book Trade for his “great imagination” and “deep humanity” despite living under threats of violence, along with the first-ever Lifetime Disturbing the Peace Award

In October, he also announced the upcoming release of a memoir about his attack titled “ Knife: Meditations After an Attempted Murder ”, due to be published in April 2024. 

Known the world over for his exceptional writing and advocating on free speech, his 2023 comeback after such a traumatic ordeal showed, once again, Rushdie’s resilience in the face of violent adversity, standing up against those that threaten to censor creative voices.

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Literature - Global: Claire Dederer

Claire Dederer
Claire DedererKnopf

There have been some fantastic books released this year, but none stayed with us quite as much as Claire Dederer’s "Monsters: A Fan’s Dilemma", a thought-provoking and timely exploration into whether it’s OK to love the art of morally repugnant artists. 

Expanded from an essay she published in the Paris Review in 2017, “What Do We Do With the Art of Monstrous Men?”, the book is a personal account of how she, as a film lover, critic, and compassionate human being, negotiates her moral values and what she calls her “art love.” From Allen to Polanski, Picasso to Nabokov, Dederer’s insights are not only smart but honest. 

By delving into the dynamics of artist-fan relationships, whether male monstrosity is the same as female monstrosity, and questioning why it seems imperative that the people who make art be good people, she widens the discussion to being honest about our own monstrosity. 

"Monsters" perfectly anchors itself in the ongoing discourse regarding culture wars, social media courts, rampant cancel culture, and how we experience art in the age of #MeToo. And considering the polarised and frequently dispiriting arguments we witness on a daily basis, voices like Dederer’s are vital – now more than ever. She recognises that knotty questions can’t always be easily resolved, and her shrewd observations give hope that honest debates might still be possible, and that conversations about the age old dilemma regarding the separation between art and the artist can be incited without resulting to intellectually impoverished binaries.

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