Remember 2022? Elon Musk had just been named Time’s Person of The Year, Marvel still ruled the box office, Tucker Carlson was the most-watched host on cable news and it seemed as if all of life was going to take place on the blockchain (the Staples Center in LA had been rechristened the arena, and Yuga Labs, the company behind Bored Ape Yacht Club, was valued at $4bn).

What a difference a year makes: 2023 has seen the crash of digital currency, the flatlining of NFTs, and the floundering of blockbuster franchises. Previously beloved musicians took on a more sinister edge, a celebrated social network imploded, and a TV show became the biggest “faceplant” in a network’s five-decade history. Below, experts from the worlds of tech, politics, and the arts give the inside track on the sacred cows that have been put out to pasture, the buzzy upstarts that faced a reckoning, and the lessons that can be learned for the future.


Sam Bankman-Fried was crypto’s poster boy. Photograph: Jane Rosenberg/Reuters

When the investigative journalist Zeke Faux first pitched a book about crypto in 2021, digital currency was at its peak. Bitcoin had hit an all-time high of $69,000. English soccer teams were being sponsored by crypto exchanges or wearing Dogecoin’s shiba inu logo on their sleeve. Sam Bankman-Fried, founder of the crypto marketplace FTX, was being hailed as tech’s next great innovator. “Only Zuck has been as rich ($23 billion!) this young (29!)” read the cover of Forbes. “I thought the whole thing was pretty dumb,” says Faux, who published Number Go Up: Inside Crypto’s Wild Rise and Staggering Fall, this September. “It turns out I should have been even more skeptical.”

This year has been crushing for crypto, and it may never recover from the dramatic denouement of its poster boy. Nearly a year to the day after FTX filed for bankruptcy, Bankman-Fried was convicted of seven charges of conspiracy and multimillion-dollar fraud this November, and faces up to 115 years in prison. Another exchange, Coinbase, is being sued by the SEC, accused of operating as an unregistered broker. And Changpeng Zhao, who once seemed like crypto’s heir apparent, resigned as CEO of the Binance marketplace after pleading guilty to money laundering charges. “For a while, crypto was really fun,” says Faux. “People like gambling, especially when you win. But not only have the prices of nearly every coin collapsed, but FTX – which was viewed as the most legit of the crypto casinos – was actually stealing everybody’s money. So crypto doesn’t seem that fun any more.” Thousands of FTX customers lost all or part of their savings; the US government does not insure digital currencies, and they may never get that money back.

Blockchain devotees insist the crypto winter is thawing. Companies are throwing money at federal lobbying in an attempt to win over policymakers. The hope is for “alternative and looser regulatory environments”, says Faux. “But given all the terrible things that have happened, is Congress really going to step up and pass a pro-crypto law?”


The Marvels was Marvel’s lowest-grossing film. Photograph: Laura Radford/AP

Despite its films being the Marmite of the multiplexes, Marvel has inarguably set a new bar for the maximalist blockbuster. Everything is bigger, brasher, more hulking in Marvel Land, including its receipts: 10 Marvel Cinematic Universe movies have each grossed more than a billion dollars globally. “The company had seemed box office bulletproof for so long,” says Joanna Robinson, a co-author of MCU: The Reign of Marvel Studios.

But not too big to fail. This year has brought mixed blessings for the studio. February’s Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania was derided as an “incoherent effects-dump” and grossed only $476.1m – a relative flop. “Quantumania was a real wake-up call for them internally because they felt really good about that one,” says Robinson. “They [asked themselves]: ‘Is our internal barometer so far off of what the fandom wants?”

For every smash like Guardians of the Galaxy 3 or Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, there was a commercial non-starter like Nia DaCosta’s The Marvels, the MCU’s lowest-grossing offering to date. Prestigious hires like DaCosta and Chloé Zhao (Eternals) haven’t quite managed to thread the needle between art and commerce like Ryan Coogler’s Oscar-winning Black Panther movies. Working within the MCU “requires a certain flattening of creativity”, says Robinson. “It makes more sense for Marvel to hire more workmanlike directors than these intensely creative sorts of people.”

This year has been “a real drop off a cliff” for the company’s reputation, she adds. “But the reports of Marvel’s death are premature.” Robinson sees the studio’s relatively modest 2024 slate as a net positive, noting that the January launch of the Marvel Spotlight banner, a new strand of films that will stand alone from the core MCU narrative, could usher in “a burst of creativity”. And news of extensive reshoots on the forthcoming Captain America: Brave New World seems like a good thing. “They’re on a knife’s edge right now,” says Robinson. “I would much rather Marvel takes all the time they need to make sure they get it right.”

Formerly Twitter

Workers remove letters from the Twitter sign at the company’s San Francisco headquarters amid rebranding. Photograph: John G Mabanglo/EPA

Since acquiring the company in October 2022 and changing its name to one everyone hates, Musk, an impetuous “free-speech absolutist”, has turned it into a barely functional hellsite that platforms racists, marginalizes sex workers, and rewards far-right influencers with five-figure payouts. X is currently worth $19bn, less than half of what Musk bought it for.

Musk’s new CEO, Linda Yaccarino, insists X is a “much healthier and safer platform than it was” when Musk bought it, which is hard to square with the flurry of organized crime on the platform that has proliferated now blue checks can be bought for $8 a month. “She pretends that moderation tools do exist, when it’s pretty clear that if they do exist, they’re not being used,” says Paris Marx, host of the Tech Won’t Save Us podcast. “I would be surprised if they actually exist at all.” After Musk boosted antisemitic tweets in November, advertising executives implored Yaccarino to resign to save her career. “She seems determined not to do that,” says Marx.

The X vision of free speech is one where government requests for censorship and surveillance are almost always greenlit, Alex Jones and Infowars are given free rein, and anyone who doesn’t like it can “go fuck yourself”, as Musk told Disney’s CEO, Bob Iger, this November. The idea that X can become an “everything app” in the mold of China’s WeChat is “a complete joke”, says Marx. “He’s lost a lot of money, and some sanity along the way.”

Even so, the alternative platforms Mastodon, Bluesky, and Threads don’t yet feel like rivals. “We’re going through a larger shift in what social media looks like,” says Marx, noting that video content is increasingly lucrative. “It’s not clear what we’re going to arrive at at the other end.”


A September report said 95% of NFTs had become worthless. Illustration: Illustration by Craig Robinson/Getty Images/The Guardian

Even at the peak of the NFT gold rush, when Bored Ape Yacht Club’s scraggly primates were breathlessly being hailed as “tickets to a whole new lifestyle”, most non-fungible tokens weren’t exactly the kind of thing you’d want to hang on your wall. Many felt closer to the kind of novelty poster you’d see while doing bong rips in a college dorm: “a pic of a nun with a Nintendo Switch” or “Supreme Court Justice Chuck E Cheese”, as an SNL skit put it. But in March 2021, the obscure digital artist Beeple made history when one of his NFTs sold for $69m at Christie’s. “I was shocked,” says the art adviser Adam Green. “Particularly by the prices for NFTs that resembled graphic design or screensavers.”

Per a September report, 95% of NFTs are now effectively worthless, making the investments of 23 million people feel a bit like that shiny Pokémon card that you were convinced would one day be the down payment for your house. The durag-sporting Bored Ape that Justin Bieber paid $1.3m for in 2022 is now worth just 5% of that. “But that means people are still paying $50,000 for an ugly ape cartoon on the blockchain,” says Faux. “Why? It’s mystifying to me.” While the company’s 2022 ApeFest featured performances from LCD Soundsystem, Haim and Lil Wayne, the 2023 event made headlines for all the wrong reasons: more than 20 attendees left with severe eye burn.

Only the most “technologically innovative” NFT artists have a serious future, says Green, who recently helped a client acquire a piece by the MoMA-exhibited Refik Anadol. Even so, sales like this are the exception to the rule. “Most traditional art collectors prefer to live with paintings, sculptures and drawings,” he says, “rather than something they have to consume through a digital display.”


Drake’s eighth album felt like a conscious departure from the artist that many fans fell for, with few traces of the playful lothario taking his dates to the Cheesecake Factory, the lovable goofball lint-rolling his pants courtside, or the sensitive diarist of Take Care. “It’s really hard to hear someone who built his career on being this emotional, caring person turn into what sounds like a men’s rights rapper,” says the writer and critic Julianne Escobedo Shepherd. Here is a bitter paranoiac with money, sex and power on his mind. Punchlines about Rihanna’s “average” sexual prowess (excuse me?), and Megan Thee Stallion’s assault felt especially grim. “She made a whole album about how awful that experience was for her,” notes Shepherd. “Is he jealous because she is more influential at this point?”

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Drake’s For All the Dogs got poor reviews but plenty of listeners. Photograph: Chris Young/AP

Despite getting the worst reviews of his career, For All the Dogs shot to No 1 on Billboard with 514 million on-demand streams in its opening week, giving it the largest streaming week of any 2023 album – yep, more than the chart-bulldozing 1989 (Taylor’s Version), whose stratospheric sales mostly came from collectible vinyl and CDs.

“He had a very good year commercially, but I do think he understands that he doesn’t have the same sway with very young people,” says Shepherd. That frustration is metabolized into headline-grabbing snark on record, but elsewhere Drake has taken a more pragmatic approach to winning gen Z ears. The It’s All A Blur tour featured 21 Savage as co-headliner and openers including Lil Yachty, Central Cee and Zack Bia. “There’s a combination of him anointing these people into his audience, but also reaching out to their audience to ensure longevity,” says Shepherd. “It’s a good business move.” Even so, other ventures have felt less prestigious. Since 2020, Drake has netted a reported $100m by shilling for the crypto gambling site Stake. “Maybe that shows how far Drake has fallen,” says Faux.

In a 2022 commercial, Meta’s Vishal Shah made the metaverse sound like a delight. “Comedy clubs, speakeasies, haunted houses,” he promised, cruising down a highway lined with candy-colored buildings, as Keke Palmer nodded approvingly. Shah was speaking of Horizon Worlds, Meta’s flagship metaverse app. Mark Zuckerberg had believed enough in the metaverse to rename Facebook Meta and restructure the company around it, sinking $36bn into the company’s Reality Labs division.

Citi once estimated that the metaverse could be worth $13tn by 2030, but Facebook’s big gamble turned out to be haunted in all the wrong ways. Users found Horizon Worlds basic, blocky and buggy – a far cry from cutting-edge games like Roblox and Fortnite. Last year, Meta said that 200,000 people logged on to the app each month; the YouTuber Jarvis Johnson recently put it at 900 a day. “At the beginning of the year, it felt like the metaverse was a joke,” says Joanne McNeil, a culture and tech journalist and the author of the novel Wrong Way. “Now we’ve reached the point of irrelevance.”

The metaverse was supposed to be worth $13bn by 2030. Photograph: Metaverse

Visiting Horizon Worlds, Johnson was greeted with digital tumbleweed, finding a tiny number of users – mainly kids – “your mom” jokes, and extreme empty glitchiness. After laying off thousands of employees between November 2022 and May 2023, Meta is pivoting to AI, with a freaky – and much-memed – new digital assistant that can be skinned as Tom Brady and Kendall Jenner. This October, the company launched its “mixed reality” Meta Quest 3 headset, which, Zuckerberg noted, offers the potential for conference room meetings with both in-person and online colleagues as well as “a bunch of AI guys who are embodied as holograms”. Suddenly Zoom meetings don’t seem so bad.

McNeil is skeptical that “corporate attempts to gather a bunch of users and get them to hang out” holds a candle to “independently minded projects” in the real world. Yet despite a mixed reception and repeated delays, Apple is pressing ahead with the launch of its Vision Pro headset in 2024. And while Horizon Worlds may be running on fumes, Meta still has enough clout to attract A-listers to the app. Elton John and Foo Fighters have performed there, and a Blackpink “concert experience” arrives this Boxing Day. Which seems like a great booking, until you realize that they won’t be there at all: it’s a concert filmed in 2D earlier this year, and, as a treat, you need $250 goggles to watch.

Sam Levinson

The Idol was supposed to be the next streaming juggernaut. Photograph: HBO

In early 2023, HBO was on a Teflon-plated run. House of the Dragon, The White Lotus, and The Last of Us were viewer magnets and critical darlings, while the final season of Succession looks set to add every Emmy going to the network’s ludicrously capacious awards cabinet. “HBO was coming off of arguably one of its hottest streaks in its 51-year history,” says John Koblin, co-author of It’s Not TV: The Spectacular Rise, Revolution, and Future of HBO. “There was a huge amount of anticipation: ‘what does HBO have up its sleeve? They seem to do no wrong.’”

The Idol was supposed to be the next streaming juggernaut from Sam Levinson, the maverick creator of Euphoria and a prized addition to HBO’s “stable of auteurs”, says Koblin. Early reports had painted The Idol as cursed, but the network “at the time wasn’t really sweating it very much”, he says. “They were anticipating that it was going to court controversy. If anything, they saw that as a good thing.”

Levinson’s miniseries aimed to be a dark Hollywood fable but turned out to be an incoherent buffet of schlocky shock value, hurling a grieving young pop star (Lily-Rose Depp) into a snake pit of self-interested execs, fake friends and an abusive lover (the Weeknd). “It is arguably HBO’s biggest faceplant in close to a decade,” says Koblin. “This is a show that was panned by critics, rejected by audiences, became a punchline on social media.”

The Idol had been lined up as the tentpole show for HBO’s new streaming app Max, but its season premiere drew 3.6 million viewers, a fraction of the 16.3 million who watched the finale of Euphoria season two. It wasn’t a terrible showing, but things got worse from there – and after losing viewers each week, HBO decided to kill the program early, after just five episodes.

“This is not all The Idol’s fault, but this was the thing that was supposed to get customers through the turnstiles,” says Koblin. “It clearly did not help this new service come sprinting out of the gate.”

Levinson went from “the man with the Midas touch to having a pretty big flop on his hands”, says Koblin. Plus, “it took Levinson away from his mega hit,” he adds, noting that the Hollywood strikes added to the delay. “So the earliest that the next season of Euphoria can premiere is at some point in 2025,” says Koblin. It’s not certain to replicate its past success, given viewers’ short attention spans. “That’s a really big ask of the audience to say, ‘Come back.’”

Tucker Carlson

Fox News’s Tucker Carlson Tonight was an incoherent buffet of conjectures and conspiracy theories, with flat-out lies about the “mostly peaceful” January 6 protesters, petty personal grudges dressed up as warnings against wokeism, and a fixation on “the great replacement” – a racist conspiracy theory that immigrants are being imported to the US to edge out its nationals.

Tucker Carlson left Fox News in April. Photograph: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

By 2020, it was the most-watched show on cable news, and Carlson among the American right’s most influential figures. Behind closed doors, Carlson threw his weight around a network still reeling from the cataclysmic sexual assault allegations against its former boss. “He’s a frat boy at heart,” says Alex Shephard, senior editor at the New Inquiry. “He does not like to be told what to do. After Roger Ailes’s defenestration, [some of Carlson’s behavior] was him trying to tell Fox he was bigger than the network.”

After exiting the network this April, dogged by lawsuits, Carlson said it wasn’t the last we’d hear of him. (There “aren’t many places left” to find “Americans saying true things”, he opined.) One such place turned out to be X, where Carlson currently hosts daily shows featuring an all-star lineup of guests including Marjorie Taylor Greene, Vivek Ramaswamy, and the guy who claims to have had sex with Barack Obama. His own network started with a whimper this December. It promises to “tell the unadorned truth”, and hearing it will set you back $72 a year.

Shephard is sceptical that Carlson’s brand of red-faced smarm is enough to stand out in the jostling world of “anti-woke” commentators. “If I want to listen to somebody make horrific comments about some trans teenager playing volleyball in South Dakota, there’s 14 guys I can think of that do that,” says Shephard. “There was only one of them at Fox News.”

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