What does it mean to "rule" a year? For this list, I chose people who not only met with great success in their chosen fields in 2019, but who dominated the media landscape (especially on the Internet, where I live). People whose names and likenesses you saw again and again, who were the constant subjects of praise, opinion, and fascination. As this is essentially a pop culture website, my list will focus mostly on entertainment; politicians and business leaders were, as usual, the real owners of 2019, but it would be boring to spend time on them. Instead, let us salute:
- Billie Eilish. Whether or not her career will outlast her breakout hit "bad guy", this 17-year-old singer/songwriter held sway over all of 2019. How big is Eilish? Atop three billion streams of "bad guy" and multiple Grammy nominations, her distinctive look was one of the most popular costumes this Halloween. That's when you know you've made it.
- Greta Thunberg. 2019's other great influential teenage girl. The diminutive Swede, who looks younger than her sixteen years, showed no fear in staring down world leaders as, overnight, she became the face of the environmental movement.
- Marie Kondo. Japan's queen of "tidying up" has been a known quantity since 2011, first in her homeland and then abroad. But she really became a household name in the States with her 2019 Netflix series, and by year's end she had opened up her first online store. Part charming hostess, part unnerving cult leader, Kondo and her home organization philosophies (branded the "KonMari Method") will surely be replaced down the line by someone else. But for now, she is the indisputable domestic goddess of 2019.
Lizzo. Like Kondo, singer/rapper Lizzo has had a following for several years. But her 2017 song "Truth Hurts" roared back to life in 2019, thanks to the TikTok video sharing app (as 2019 a thing as anyone can name), reaching #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and making Lizzo a bona fide celebrity. She became so popular that her brief cameo in Hustlers earned her star billing, next to Jennifer Lopez and Constance Wu, in advertisements for the film.
Coco Gauff. Another teenage girl! Cori "Coco" Gauff is fast becoming one of the brightest lights in tennis, especially after defeating her idol Venus Williams at Wimbledon in 2019, only a year after her first professional match. Gauff is, in fact, the youngest player to compete in Wimbledon's main draw. Megan Rapinoe and Simone Biles (arguably) received more attention and money this year – to say nothing of male sports superstars like Lionel Messi, LeBron James, and Roger Federer – but with such major accomplishments already under her belt at the tender age of 15, Gauff's future looks great.
- Lil Nas X. Back to the music world we go for the song that broke the record for most weeks at #1: the goofy, catchy hip hop/country hybrid "Old Town Road" by Lil Nas X (later joined by Billy Ray Cyrus). The artist born Montero Hill is just 20 years old, but with a massive crossover hit and a refreshing openness about his homosexuality, Lil Nas X both represents 2019 and offers an optimistic glimpse into America's cultural future.
- Keanu Reeves. Although Reeves has been famous since the 1980s, the meme world crowned him King of 2019, first half-jokingly, then with genuine love. Hailed as one of the nicest guys in showbiz – he even makes a point of not touching female fans who pose for photos with him – Reeves also had a productive career this year: John Wick 3 and Toy Story 4 were hits, his starring role in the upcoming video game Cyberpunk 2077 has made the game one of the most anticipated releases of 2020, and he finally went to work on a long-awaited Bill & Ted sequel.
- Phoebe Waller-Bridge. Surely a finalist in any competition for Most British Name, Waller-Bridge was the surprise winner of a trio of Emmys for acting in, writing, and creating the BBC dramedy Fleabag, a show which, for a few months, was all my middle-aged female friends could talk about. She followed up this triumph with the news that she cowrote the screenplay for the next James Bond film. Killing Eve, another Waller-Bridge creation, closed a second season this year as well.
- Bob Iger. I almost listed "Baby Yoda" here, but it's merely another product of the Walt Disney Company, CEO of which is one Bob Iger. 2019 has been a juggernaut year for the studio, even by its own high standards: box office records broken left and right, the addition of Star Wars Land to its theme parks, the debut of the Disney+ streaming service... It may be hard for the Mouse House to top themselves next year, especially with the (nominal) end of the movie franchises that have made it so much money. Iger, of course, is not solely responsible for Disney's success. But the buck stops with him, and right now the bucks are not stopping at all.