Closing the Book on 2023

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As my long-time readers know, there’s nothing I love more than a good recap. So, today I want to highlight the trends of 2023 that will shape the arc of 2024 as we all try to zero in on “what’s next.”

This year, a few macro trends hung over our heads, creating a great deal of uncertainty:

  1. Civil unrest in our country and extreme political groups generating consistent chaos
  2. Two global wars that collectively could lead to a much bigger war
  3. Inflation, interest rates, and the looming threat of a recession

Needless to say, it didn’t feel like the ideal moment to start a business, fund an idea, raise capital, or have confidence in any long-term predictions or campaigns. And yet, there were several fantastic lessons to learn from 2023.

Here are some of 2023’s greatest case studies in culture…

Barbie was a box office smash. It owned the summer and showed that movies are still relevant. It opened the door for a couple Q4 hits as both Taylor Swift and Beyoncé launched concert films in theaters. Ultimately, Barbie saved the theater business, for this year anyway.

But why did Barbie win and how is Barbie relevant to music? Well, Barbie was marketed through a partnership bonanza. That IP was licensed six ways to Sunday with enough lead time to reclaim its household status across many a market and demographic.

On top of that, the soundtrack connected in a big way. So what if the year end lists aren’t giving it its due. I still think the song of the year was “I’m Just Ken.” I can’t get that ear worm out of my head.

2023 was also the year of the biography. Books filled with tea are littering the shelves and putting reading back in style. This trend toward openness and speaking truth to power is also leading to more exciting documentaries.

Taylor Swift was the person of the year in music (and in TIME Magazine!) with her tour, albums, film, and new love interest. Taylor’s relationship with Travis Kelce has been a case study in the power of 1+1 being equal to 11. Taylor and Travis, where does it end? A Super Bowl commercial? That’s so dirty, but it also feels so right. Bonus points to the brand that locks that in. Imagine Kelce back on the Super Bowl field for it. Talk about a watershed moment. I’m calling a Clio for whoever pulls it off.

Meanwhile, The Sphere is taking movies and concert experiences to new heights, literally and figuratively. I’m bullish on movies as I hear about 4D cinema and continue to believe in the potential for augmented live concert experiences.

The golden era of TV came and went with the strike. It was the best of times in TV land for the better part of a decade, but after the writers’ and actors’ strikes, TV lost its luster. I’m still finding new obsessions (Rap Sh!t, Dave, Tommy & Pamela) but TV isn’t where it’s at right now.

Zuck’s rebrand was brilliantly played in 2023. He went from a ghostfaced surfer to a bad ass fighter who was in people’s mouths more than Joe Rogan and Tim Ferris. With Insta, WhatsApp, and even Threads, he put Meta back on top. In Zuck We Trust, at least over a host of other icky tech titans.

2023 will also be remembered for Hip Hop 50. The Yankee Stadium show was definitely one for the books and everything around it made for a great summer. The 12-month celebration got a little Hallmark towards the end, but it was fun to celebrate my favorite art form in so many ways.

Pharrell aimed to fill the void left by Virgil as the new creative director for LVMH. In my opinion, he’s been brilliant in the role. Like Abloh but different, Pharrell’s impact in the fashion house will have a positive ripple effect for years to come.

The Bud Light marketing kerfuffle was bad and gave unfortunate credence to the “go woke, go broke” threats. The notorious flip-flop was a reminder that if you don’t stand for something, you can’t be relevant in the modern era. Bud lost its base without winning over any new fans, ultimately opening the door for a new era in beer: one that doesn’t include Bud Light.

Latino culture became mainstream culture in 2023, and for the first time in history, Mexican food became more popular than Italian (tacos > spaghetti & meatballs all day). To boot, Tequila is now the biggest spirit category; Modelo is outselling every other beer; and Reggaeton and Mexican Regional music are dominating the global streaming charts as rapidly changing dynamics in America create remarkable opportunities for artists and brands.

This was AI’s breakout year, too, but we are just getting started down the path to unlocking its potential and use cases. For now, the ChatGPT pros have the ultimate resource in their pocket, one which gets smarter by the day.

So…where to now? Einstein’s definition of insanity is doing the same thing but expecting different results. So it can’t be TikTok and Discord, can it? We’re all looking for something new: new challenges, new clients, and new ways to make an impact.

We’ll talk about where things are going next week, but in the meantime I’m moderating the Hennessy 3 Digital Blend session on Web3 and Hip-Hop this Thursday at 1PM EST on Twitter Spaces. We’ll focus on brands taking risks in technology and innovation. The convo will be co-hosted by Adrien P from Hennessy as well as Web3 rapper, Spottie WiFi, founder of Lyricist Lounge DAO, Ant Marshall, and the artist Latasha. Join us as we explore music, the year in Hip-Hop, and for Web3 in 2024 and beyond. Join us at the town hall conversation and tap in here.

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Also published on Medium.