2016: The Year in Pop Culture

28 December 2016

From music and movies to games, we take a trip down memory lane for some of the most momentous pop culture highlights of the year

Malaysia gets Netflix

Got internet? You’re good to go. In January this year, Netflix had finally rolled out its global plans and extended its arms to more than 130 countries including Malaysia. Being the world’s leading internet television network, Netflix boasts 70 million members who watch 125 million hours of TV shows and movies daily. Close to a year in, Netflix has brought a wave of top-rated TV series such as Orange is the New Black, Narcos and Stranger Things to Malaysia.

However, there are some limitations as not all movies and TV series in the United States are shown here. Tailored for regional appeal and for licensing and/or censorship reasons, some of the more notable shows that missed our boat are Sons of Anarchy, Portlandia, Parks and Recreation and Mad Men.  Thankfully, we did get Marco Polo, an American drama series inspired by Marco Polo’s early years in the court of Kublai Khan. Watch and you’ll find familiar faces such as Michelle Yeoh, Patrick Teoh and Mano Maniam.

Pokémon GO comes to Malaysia
Niantic’s Pokémon GO is a global phenomenon – and a pioneering augmented reality (AR) game of our time – amassing an incredible amount of positive craze. In fact, the game garnered over RM806 million worldwide in less than a month since its launch in July this year. The premise of the game is simple: catch Pokémon and battle it out in “gyms” for Pokécoins. But what makes it incredibly addictive and engaging is the AR component that comes with it. Malaysians loved it, but the game did stir dissonant opinions from various political figures. Among them were Penang Mufti Wan Salim Wan Mohd Noor and Kedah Mufti Datuk Sheikh Mohammed Baderudin.

"We are worried that this game will have a negative impact on children as they may believe Pokémon GO can make magic while only Allah are [sic] capable of things beyond our ability," the Malay Mail Online quoted the Kedah Mufti as saying.

Fear not, the game persists in our mobile phones even today, although the craze has died down. According to reports, the game was knocked off its number one spot last August, citing more than 15 million users dropping out daily.


Joe Flizzow becomes the face of Subang Jaya
Budak Subang Jaya memang ada gaya.” That memorable line from Joe Flizzow’s song Havoc has implanted itself as the defining contemporary psyche of Subang-ites and Malaysians alike. Subang Jaya born-and-bred Joe (aka Johan Ishak) has been the proverbial face of the town; he even opened the first Joe’s Barbershop in SS15, Subang’s bustling hub of hip cafés and college students. 

This year marked Subang’s 40th anniversary, and it was a magnanimous celebration with a run of social media campaigns and an exclusive collaboration with Joe himself. Officiating the township with the song, Budak Subang Jaya, the music video features a 360-degree view of Subang that garnered close to 700,000 views on YouTube alone. In the song, Joe speaks of his and his family’s experiences growing up in Subang Jaya, observing how his town has grown and changed along with him.

Walaupun keliling dunia kemana pun / I tell them aku Subang Jaya.”


The DC universe gets a Malaysian character
She may have slipped under the radar for the past two years, but DC Comics has a Malaysian character, and she's an expert in espionage. Created by Gail Simone and Fernando Pasarin, Munira "Muni" Khairuddin goes by the alias Obscura. She is a martial arts expert and spy and was formerly college roommates and good friends with Barbara Gordon (aka Batgirl). In the comic, the 15-year-olds sparred and practised martial arts together during their time at Gotham University.

Having already appeared in Batgirl #32 in June 2014, the popularity of Obscura’s character only began to hit our shores this year. However, Obscura isn't the only Asian character to appear in the aforementioned Batgirl issue. Bartender Alysia Yeoh is, as previously revealed by Gail, Batgirl's best friend and a transgender woman from Singapore.

Yuna x Usher hit the charts

It’s been a good year for Yuna. Just last month, the homegrown superstar made it to one of the world’s most iconic billboards in New York City’s Times Square. Earlier this year, the singer’s latest album, Chapters broke into the top ten of Billboard’s Hot R&B chart alongside Beyoncé and Rihanna. 

There’s more: earlier this year Yuna released Crush, her hugely successful single featuring Usher, which lead to the unfortunate black-face parody by local TV show MeleTOP, angering the singer. The TV show received flak and backlash for broadcasting a parody segment featuring local comedians Jihan Muse and Shuk SYJ performing in black-face makeup as Yuna and Usher respectively.

In a Facebook post to her fans, Yuna slammed the parody as being extremely disrespectful and insensitive: “Please educate yourselves […] You obsess about your stupid parody [that] you forget about having some dignity,” she wrote.

MeleTOP since pulled the video from its social media channels and issued apologies to Yuna and Usher.


and Ola Bola make the waves
This year, Jagat was named Best Malaysian Film at the 28th Film Festival Awards (FFM28), but it was not without some initial dissent. FFM first segregated the Best Picture, Best Director and Best Screenplay awards into Bahasa Malaysia (BM) and non-Malay categories. While the Best Non-Malay Film category was introduced in 2011, Best Director For Non-Malay Film and Best Screenplay for Non-Malay Film were only introduced this year, much to the uproar of the public and celebrities alike, including filmmaker Afdlin Shauki.

It all culminated in August, where under pressure, the National Film Development Corporation (FINAS) announced that it will introduce a new mechanism following the Communications and Multimedia minister’s decision to open up FFM’s Best Picture category to all films regardless of language, as well as create a Best Film in National Language category. FINAS also added that all candidates in the now-abolished non-Malay categories would be included in the main categories instead.

Following this, Ola Bola acquired 14 nominations while Jagat earned nine. Fellow Best Non-Malay Film nominee The Kid From the Big Apple also bagged nine nominations. Although it didn’t win Best Film, the Ola Bola anthem, Arena Cahaya (composed by singer Zee Avi and songwriter Rendra Zawawi) won Best Theme Song at the 53rd Golden Horse Awards.


Hollywood is set on making a film on The Rajah of Sarawak
Last September, Margate House Films, the production house behind upcoming James Brooke biopic The White Rajah, signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture Malaysia to film in Sarawak. A quick scour on IMDb reveals the movie to be about “The epic tale of Sir James Brooke, the British adventurer who became King of Sarawak in the 1840s and embarked on a lifelong crusade to end piracy and head-hunting – only to face charges of murder and piracy himself.”

According to The Borneo Post, the movie will be produced by Simon Fawcett and Rob Allyn under Margate House Films, which will collaborate with the Brooke Heritage Trust and Sarawak state government. While details on the cast and filming locations have yet to be revealed, shooting is slated to begin in 2017, “tentatively between May and August,” said Allyn.

By Lillian Wee
Photos courtesy of respective names featured.

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