The Throwback: 15 Pop Culture Moments That Turn 15 This Year

Pop Break’s King of the Throwbacks, Angelo Gingerelli, looks back at 15 pop culture moments that turn 15 this year

2002 will be remembered for many reasons: a white rapper from the Midwest becoming a cultural icon, a basketball player form China dominating the NBA, Spiderman kissing Mary Jane upside down in the rain, the Shaq/Kobe Lakers and Ja Rule’s rapping/singing/growling are just a few of the things that made ’02 a year for the ages. Let’s take a look at fifteen pop culture moments celebrating their fifteenth anniversary this year.

1. Marshall Mathers Loses Himself

Eminem spent the 90’s making a name for himself on the battle rap/mixtape circuit, introduced Slim Shady to the world in 1999 and in the early 2000’s Marshall Mathers became one of the most recognizable figures on the planet. While already a superstar in 2002, the underground-MC-Turned-Pop-Star took his fame and impact to a new level by releasing a hit album, hit movie and signing the biggest rising rapper in the game to his label.

The Eminem Show dropped in May and was immediately embraced by critics and fans while producing classic singles like “Cleaning Out My Closet” and “Sing For The Moment.” In November, “8 Mile” debuted in theaters and shocked the world with an insanely profitable opening weekend, a climactic final sequence and an underdog story that proved to be the “Rocky” for a new generation. Not content to stand alone in the spotlight, Eminem signed NY’s most dominant mixtape rapper of the era to his Shady/Aftermath imprint and proceeded to introduce 50 Cent and his G-Unit crew to a national audience that would eventually buy ten million copies of his debut album in early 2003.

2. Spider-man

Spider-man is a good comic book movie, that is sometimes called “classic” based more on the circumstances of its’ release than the actual movie itself. In the summer of 2002 America was still reeling from the terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers and a story about a young “every man” that saves New York City was exactly what the general public needed.

Sure, the sequel is infinitely better (the third movie, not so much.), Green Goblin’s Halloween mask looks ridiculous and there are a dozen other reasons the movie doesn’t hold up that well, but it was absolutely a step in the evolution of the current dominance of the super hero genre and if you are old enough to remember Toby McGuire webslinging around NYC or upside down kissing Kirsten Dunst, you probably remember having a great time in the theatre all those years ago.

3. Patriots Begin

There are few sports dynasties as polarizing as the Belichick/Brady New England Patriots. The team’s run of dominance started during the 2001 regular season and culminated in a victory over the high powered “Greatest Show on Turf” St. Louis Rams in early 2002. Whether you think they are geniuses (innovative play calling, shrewd roster moves, etc.) or cheaters (spy gate, deflate gate, etc.) it’s hard to argue the impact this incarnation of the Patriots has had on the NFL in the last decade and a half.

4. Murder Inc.

Before 50 Cent explained that Ja Rule “Sang for Hoes and sounds like Cookie Monster” on 2003’s “Back Down” and everybody kind of agreed with him, Ja and Murder Inc. were the biggest thing in urban music. Smash singles by Ja Rule and Ashanti and collaborations with Jennifer Lopez, Fat Joe and others propelled Murder Inc. to the top of the pop charts and made household names of their marquee acts. Unfortunately, the run wouldn’t last long, but it’s hard to argue that it wasn’t fun while it lasted.

5. Grand Theft Auto goes back to the 80’s

2001’s Grand Theft Auto III redefined video games. The open world environment, adult content and hundreds of hours of gameplay made video games cool for adults and fueled the PS2’s victory in that console generation (GTA was a Playstation exclusive until 2008’s GTA4). 2002’s Vice City raised the stakes and convinced any nonbelievers that GTA was the future of console games. The game had everything that made the first one great, placed those elements the 1980’s and perfected the gameplay, humor and overall ambiance that have become synonomous with the series.

Fifteen years later Vice City is still remembered as one of the high points in a series that has been incredibly successful and consistent over the years.

6. The Mickey Mouse Club Grows Up

In the late 90’s Disney Channel alum Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera and Justin Timberlake all became pop superstars. By 2002, the family friendly act was starting to wear thin and it was time for all three to start acting like their version of adults. Let’s see how they did…

Britney – Continued to release singles from 2001’s Britney album, made her acting debut in the film Cross Roads (best used as a punchline or drinking game today) and released a videogame based on her dance moves.

Result: While a full meltdown was still several years away, it was not one of Mrs. Spears’ best years.

Christina – Started the year quiet and ended with a bang by releasing her Stripped album that contained the hits “Beautiful” and “Dirty.” While the album was well received the video for “Dirty” is still a topic of conversation as the pop princess partakes in all manners of filthy debauchery at a club in desperate need of a health inspection.

Result: The questionable decisions in the “Dirty” video are forgiven due to the inclusion of a verse by legendary emcee Redman.

Justin – Says “Peace Out” to N’Sync and releases his solo debut Justified that would contain smashes like “Cry Me a River” (directed at Britney Spears) and “Give it to You” featuring a relatively unknown rap duo called The Clipse. The album was a huge hit and would set the precedent of Timberlake working with producers like Timbaland and The Neptunes to push the boundaries of pop music that he would employ for the next decade.

Result: Probably the smoothest transition from child star/boy band to A-List adult celebrity of all time.

7. Out of This World Beats

The Neptunes’ impact on music dates all the way back to Wrecks-N-Effect’s 1992 anthem “Rump Shaker” and their production credits include some of the biggest hits of the last twenty-five years. While the duo (Chad Hugo & Pharrell Williams) have had many great years, 2002 was clearly the year of The Neptunes. In twelve months Chad & Pharrell produced massive singles by Nelly, Justin Timberlake, LL Cool J, Jay-Z, NORE, Busta Rhymes, Beyonce and Birdman to name a few. In the last fifteen years both producers have continued to make big hits (Pharrell’s “Happy” and Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” from the last few years), but 2002 was definitely the banner year for the two self-proclaimed “band geeks” from Virginia.

8. Austin Powers 3 (aka Goldmember)

There are very few comedy trilogies and none had third installments as eagerly awaited as Austin Powers. The first movie is an often-quoted classic, the sequel is actually funnier according to most fans and critics and the movie-going public could not wait for the completion of the trilogy. Add in budding superstar Beyonce in one of her first movie roles and you have a recipe for a big box office. The movie was a huge hit, but by most estimations didn’t live up to the standard set by the first two films.

However, it was our last chance to spend time with Agent 008, Dr. Evil, Mini-Me, Foxy Cleopatra and the other characters that kept us laughing and quoting well after we left the theatre.

9. Lakers Three-Peat

In the 80’s there were the Bulls. In the 2010’s there are the Warriors. In between there were the Lakers. In 2002, the Shaq/Kobe/Phil Jackson Lakers beat the New Jersey Nets to win their third consecutive NBA title and cement them as one of the greatest teams of all time. Shortly after the Three-Peat the key players would all go their separate ways and achieve varying levels of success that ranged from Kobe Bryant winning another two titles in Los Angeles to Phil Jackson’s complete and abject failure as an executive in New York, but the revived version of The Lake Show was definitely fun for the first few years of the new millennium.

10. American Idol: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

In the summer of 2002 a reality show/signing competition would debut and take the nation by storm. The show’s judges (Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson) and host (Ryan Seacrest) would ultimately become bigger stars than any of the contestants, but the format for America selecting their “Next Big Thing” is still popular fifteen years later as shows like The Voice and America’s Got Talent remain hits.

We are still experiencing the after-effects of American Idol today with good, bad and ugly parts of the show still hanging around pop-culture.

Good: Kelly Clarkson, Jennifer Hudson, Ryan Seacrest’s entertainment empire,

Bad: Simon Cowell’s dream crushing critiques, purposely bad audition videos, Paula Abdul’s constant state of confusion

Ugly: William Hung, the Mariah vs. Nicki judge feud, the fact that most contestants don’t really have music careers after the show.

11. Attack of the Clones

After waiting close to 20 years for another installment in the Star Wars saga, most fans were disappointed (to say the least) with 1999’s The Phantom Menace. George Lucas and company got another shot at critical acclaim (everybody already knew this was going to be commercially successful) with 2002’s Attack of the Clones.

Upon release, the second movie in the prequel trilogy was fairly well-received and viewed as a huge step up from the first film and a sign that the franchise was back on the right track. Over time, the movie hasn’t held up that well with many critics siting too much CGI, bad acting, heavy-handed foreshadowing and not telling enough of Annakin’s fall from grace as reasons why it’s one of the weaker Star Wars films, but at the time it was viewed by many as a good sign for the future of the franchise.

12.The Beginning of the End of Roc-a-Fella

Roc-a-Fella Records (the independent label started by Jay-Z and Damon Dash in the mid ‘90’s) started off 2002 in an incredibly strong position: Jay’s 6th studio album The Blueprint was being universally hailed as a classic, his MTV Unplugged performance/album was a hit and he appeared to emerge unscathed from lyrically sparring with Nas for most of 2001. This would all change by the end of the year.

During the course of 2002, Jay and Dame’s relationship seemed to be increasingly strained and culminated in Dame naming Harlem rapper Cam’ron (who had arguably been throwing subliminal shots at Jay for years) a vice president of the label and signing Dipset imprint to The Roc without consulting Jay. This lead to an odd chain of events that included Cam’ron having the biggest pop hit of his career (the straight FIRE “Oh Boy”), his protégé Jewelz Santana becoming a star and Jay releasing his first creative misstep (the double album The Blueprint 2).

The partnership would eventually dissolve in 2005 and most parties would go on to have success individually, but it’s hard not to look back at 2002 and wonder what could have been for “The dynasty like no other…” if they could have stayed together.

13. M. Night Shyamalan show us “Signs”

Fresh off the blockbuster “The Sixth Sense” and the well-received “Unbreakable” (in all fairness this movie would probably be even better received if it came out in today’s comic book obsesses landscape) M. Night dropped his third feature “Signs” in the summer of 2002. The movie is atmospheric, tense and a different take on the aliens-come-to-take-over-the-Earth genre that places the focus on one family facing the end of the world. It may not be an all-all time classic, but it was interesting to watch a former minor leaguer “Swing Away, Swing Away” in an attempt to save the Earth.

14. “With the first pick in the 2002 NBA Draft the Houston Rockets select…”

Few NBA players have had the global effect of China’s Yao Ming. Standing 7’ 6” tall and coming to the Houston Rockets as the best basketball in China’s history made him a force to be reckoned with before he even put on his uniform and once his career tipped off in 2002 there was no turning back for the complete globalization of professional basketball.

Over the next decade Ming would be an eight time all-star, five time all NBA team member and eventually get inducted into the Hall of Fame the same year as icons like Shaq and Allen Iverson. Off the court, Ming lead the charge to make basketball popular throughout Asia and became the game’s global ambassador during a period of unprecedented growth. Yao Ming didn’t singlehandedly bring the NBA to the world’s stage, but it would have taken a lot longer without his presence.

15. And the single most memorable moment of Pop Culture in 2002…

Fat Joe & Ashanti performing “Whut’s Luv?” at MTV’s Spring Break

Angelo Gingerelli has been contributing to The Pop Break since 2015 and writing about pop culture since 2009. A Jersey shore native, Gingerelli is a writer, stand-up comic, hip-hop head, sneaker enthusiast, comic book fan, husband, father and supporter of the local arts scene. He likes debating the best rappers of all time, hates discussing why things were better in the “Good Ol’ Days” and loves beating The Pop Break staff at fantasy football. You can catch up with Angelo on Twitter/IG at @Mr5thRound, at his website www.FifthRoundMovement.com or interviewing rising stars in NJ’s Hip-Hop scene on “The A&R Podcast” (iTunes/SoundCloud).