The 13 biggest pop culture moments of 2012

The Week
Like a virus, Psy's "Gangnam Style" had everyone from Madonna to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon performing the song's crazy horse-riding dance.
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Like a virus, Psy's "Gangnam Style" had everyone from Madonna to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon performing the song's crazy horse-riding dance.

From the rise of an unexpected NBA superstar to the announcement of a royal baby, this was a year of smiles, shocks, and sheer Gangnamminess

1. Linsanity takes over the NBA
When the New York Knicks picked up Jeremy Lin as a backup point guard in late 2011, he was widely regarded as a temporary Band-Aid designed to cover for injured players Iman Shumpert and Baron Davis. Shocking both fans and analysts, Lin came from nowhere and absolutely dominated for a weeks-long stretch in early 2012, averaging nearly 25 points and 9 assists per game, with a peak of 38 points in a February 10 game against the Lakers. Lin's remarkable ascent led The New York Times to dub him the Knicks' "most popular player in a decade," and, though Lin's subsequent tenure this season with the Houston Rockets has been less successful, the brief period of "Linsanity" qualifies as the NBA's most surprising and entertaining story in years.

2. Whitney Houston dies
The music world was rocked in February by the unexpected death of best-selling singer and actress Whitney Houston at age 48. Famous for songs like "The Greatest Love of All" and "I Will Always Love You," Houston enjoyed enormous success in the 80s and 90s but floundered amid widely publicized reports of drug use in the early 2000s. Despite numerous attempts at rehabilitation, Houston drowned in a bathtub after ingesting drugs that included Xanax, marijuana, and cocaine. Her death triggered an outpouring of grief from admirers and friends including Oprah Winfrey, Dolly Parton, and Mariah Carey, who called Houston "one of the greatest voices to ever grace the earth."

3. Encyclopedia Britannica suspends print edition
In a March blog post titled "Change: It's okay. Really," the editors of the venerable Encyclopedia Britannica — the massive, leather-bound tomes seen in libraries and schools since 1768 — announced that they were discontinuing the printed edition. The blog post goes on to promise that "the encyclopedia would live on" in "bigger, more numerous, and more vibrant digital forms," but the end of the 244-year old institution was yet another harbinger of the death of printt.

4. Fifty Shades of Grey sparks "mommy porn" revolution
There was no bigger story in the literary world this summer than the remarkable rise of E.L. James' Fifty Shades of Grey and its two sequels, which sold even faster than the works of J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter) or Stephenie Meyer (Twilight). The books — which chronicle the sadomasochistic romance between billionaire Christian Grey and the virginal Anastasia Steele — were largely consumed by married women over 30, which led many in the media to dub them "mommy porn." And as 2012 draws to a close, a Fifty Shades film is reportedly in development, with fans eagerly debating who should step into the lead roles.

5. The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises square off at the box-office
Though superhero blockbusters have dominated the summer movie season for the better part of a decade, two of the most anticipated takes on the genre, The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises, upped the stakes this year. In the end, the funnier, looser Avengers, an ensemble piece, came out on top, earning over $1.5 billion worldwide — but Warner Bros. shouldn't feel too bad about the box-office take of their grimmer star vehicle, The Dark Knight Rises, the only other movie to earn more than $1 billion worldwide in 2012.

6. "Gangnam Style" takes over the world
Carly Rae Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe" may have been this summer's buzziest new single, but no song has defined 2012 more than Psy's inescapable "Gangnam Style," which recently set the record for most-viewed YouTube video ever. "Gangnam Style" has become a worldwide phenomenon, earning more than 1 billion views (and counting), spawning thousands of tribute videos, and giving the South Korean singer the opportunity to do his crazy horse-riding dance with everyone from Madonna to Britney Spears. Hey, sexy lady, indeed.

7. London's Summer Olympics delight
The 2012 Summer Olympics, which took place from July 27 to Aug. 12, were a widely celebrated, headline-dominating affair. More than 10,000 athletes from 204 countries hopped a flight to London, England to participate in more than 300 events. In the end, the United States won more gold medals and more medals overall than any other nation, with China and Great Britain taking second and third.

8. NHL lockout: No end in sight
NHL fans have suffered through lockouts before, but virtually no one expected the 2012 lockout, which officially began on Sep. 15, to last for more than a few weeks — let alone for nearly half the season. But as December draws to a close, no end is in sight for the lockout, as the franchise owners and the NHL Players' Association continue to battle over contracts and hockey-related revenue — all to the increasing frustration of fans. "It's pure madness in my opinion. All of it. Both sides," said ESPN's Pierre Lebrun in a recent column.

9. Felix Baumgartner completes world's highest skydive
On October 14, daredevil Felix Baumgartner leapt from a capsule floating nearly 24 miles over the earth in a successful attempt to break the record for the world's highest skydive. To complete his daring feat, Baumgartner relied on a specially designed balloon and pressure suit, and the help of an entire ground control team. Baumgartner's leap was also a triumph for online media: The event set a record for live-streaming with the most concurrent views on YouTube.

10. AMC's The Walking Dead smashes ratings records
AMC's The Walking Dead has always been a hit, but few TV analysts foresaw the strength with which the show would begin its third season. An average of 10.9 million viewers tuned in for the gory zombie drama's Oct. 14 premiere, making it the most-watched drama-series telecast in basic cable history, and soundly trouncing any of the show's network competitors.

11. Disney buys Lucasfilm, prepares Star Wars: Episode VII for 2014 release
Hundreds of thousands of Star Wars fans felt a great disturbance in the Force when Disney announced it was acquiring Lucasfilm and all of its assets, including the venerable Star Wars franchise, and was planning to release a new installment in the series in 2014. Though virtually nothing is known about the tentatively titled Star Wars: Episode VII, the announcement may herald a new direction for the franchise. Star Wars' future has never been more open-ended.

12. The Twilight Saga draws to a close
The Nov. 16 release of The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2 marked the end of the massively popular tween franchise, though the series' influence will be felt in the countless paranormal-romance novels and films its revenues have inspired. The five films in the Twilight series earned a combined total of $1.35 billion at the box office, and turned young, relatively untested stars Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson into international icons. 

13. Will and Kate announce royal pregnancy
On Dec. 3, St. James Palace announced that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge — otherwise known as William and Kate — are expecting their first child. Unfortunately, the joyful news has been tempered by Kate's hyperemesis gravidarum, a pregnancy illness that resulted in her extended stay at a hospital, and the suicide of nurse Jacintha Saldanha, which occurred shortly after Saldanha was the victim of a prank phone call by a pair of Australian DJs.

SEE ALSO: The 2013 Screen Actors Guild nominations: 5 surprises

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