13 Celebrities Who Are Making Pop Culture More Innovative, Inclusive and Interesting

Adweek looks at the year's high-profile creative icons

Actress, producer and screenwriter Lena Waithe created Showtime’s The Chi.
Getty Images

High-wattage celebrities are plentiful, but only a small number make the cut each year in Adweek’s Creative 100, where we honor the actors, musicians and iconic personalities who bring multiple talents and bold perspectives to everything they do. Below, you’ll find this year’s selections, many of whom have used their considerable pop-culture platforms to create and celebrate a bigger, more inclusive world.

Solange
Artist, Musician

While many might know Solange for her contributions to the music industry—her 2016 album, A Seat at the Table, received widespread praise from critics and fans alike—this artist does much more than drop killer albums. Over the course of her career, Solange has perfected the art of connecting music with other, boundary-pushing artistic pursuits. Earlier this year, she was honored at the 70th annual Parsons Benefit for her contributions to the world of fashion, design and art.

Emblematic of her ability to merge artistic worlds can be found in this year’s Metatronia. In the performance art installation, which she directed, a series of dancers performs different movements in front of a massive cube sculpture. Solange partnered with Uniqlo, agency Droga5 London and the Hammer Museum on the piece, meant to explore the process of creation while also highlighting Uniqlo’s line of sportswear.

Solange says about the work: “Continuing my practices and interest in exploring the relationship of movement and architecture as a meditation, Metatronia centers around building frequency and creating change through visual storytelling.”

Solange also brought her directing talents to the music video for SZA’s hit song “The Weekend,” and it was recently announced that Solange’s Saint Heron collective will be collaborating with Ikea on an as-yet-undefined project about “architectural and design objects with multifunctional use.”
Katie Richards

Getty Images

The Entire Cast of The Good Place
Actors

Creator and showrunner Michael Schur expected that audiences would initially watch his wildly inventive NBC sitcom about the afterlife because of stars Ted Danson and Kristen Bell.

“But we all knew this is an ensemble,” he says. “It was always going to be about four people [D’Arcy Carden, William Jackson Harper, Manny Jacinto and Jameela Jamil] who are locked in a weird, private hell , the demon who was torturing them [Danson] and the weird repository for all the knowledge in the universe that is there for the ride [Carden].”

To fill out a cast that deftly sells every farcical twist and matches comedic wits with Danson and Bell, Schur credits casting director Allison Jones and her associate Ben Harris for “finding these people who no one’s ever seen before, who magically fit the roles perfectly. Jameela was a host from England, and had never acted before. Manny is a Filipino kid from Vancouver, Will was a New York theater actor, and D’Arcy was an L.A. improvisational actor.”

For Season 2, as The Good Place switched gears with the big revelation that its characters were actually in “the bad place,” Schur and his writing team amplified the cast’s comedic strengths (“we know what the weapons are now,” he explains), leading to more moments like a scene early in Season 2 where the cast distracts Jacinto’s dopey Jason with a lit sparkler, to his utter delight. “It’s a very simple scene,” Schur says, “but they’re so alive with each other, that even those tiny, throwaway moments become really special.”
Jason Lynch

Lena Waithe
Actress, Producer, Screenwriter

This is Lena Waithe’s moment. This year alone, Waithe appeared in Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One and stole the spotlight on the red carpet at the annual Met Gala wearing  a colorful, pride-inspired cape. She’s earned accolades and notice for her breakout role in the Netflix series Master of None, where she plays Denise, a character coming to terms with her sexuality. Then there’s Showtime’s The Chi, which Waithe created and serves as executive producer.

A prolific writer too, Waithe co-wrote (with the Master of None creator and star Aziz Ansari) the groundbreaking “Thanksgiving” episode, which aired during the second season. In it, Waithe’s character grapples with how to tell her mother about her sexuality, eventually bringing a love interest to the family’s holiday celebration.

In addition, she’s become quite the ad star, anchoring a multipart Nike campaign in which Waithe plays a “shoe therapist” helping athletes cope with their footwear obsessions.

Her work, both on screen and behind the camera, earned Waithe an Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing in a Comedy Series—the first black woman in history to be so honored. Talking about African-American representation in TV, at a Blackhouse Foundation panel during this year’s Sundance festival, she said: “We as artists can do whatever the fuck we want to do. We just have to do it really, really well. … You have to write and develop and wait for the world to catch up to your art.” —Katie Richards

Courtesy: BBC America Sid Gentle Films Ltd

Phoebe Waller-Bridge
Writer, Producer, Showrunner, Actor

Fear is a powerful motivator for Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who says she knows she’s found a worthy new project “when I start to feel nervous or a little bit scared about what I’m writing.”

That’s what prompted her to turn Luke Jennings’ Villanelle novellas—about an MI5 operative tracking an assassin around Europe—into Killing Eve, BBC America’s critically acclaimed new drama, starring Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer. “With Killing Eve, strangely, writing the psychopath wasn’t the thing that felt dangerous. It was writing Eve, who was an everywoman, and then revealing her darker self, that was the hook.”

Hooking viewers too, Killing Eve has built on its 18-49 and 25-54 demo audience each week during its just-completed debut season, which BBC America says is the first new scripted series to do so since Nielsen’s live-plus-3 measurement began more than a decade ago. The drama helped Waller-Bridge avoid Hollywood pigeonholing after the success of her 2016 BBC/Amazon comedy series Fleabag, which she starred in and created (second installments of both series will air next year). “I feel like you have to teach the industry about the kind of creative you want to be,” she says. “I want to keep swerving left—or right!—and keep surprising people, because it keeps it fresh for me as well.”

Her mantra led to yet another unexpected turn this year: a motion-capture performance as droid L3-37 in the new Star Wars film Solo. “I’ve made a career through Fleabag on ridiculous facial expressions, and not being able to have that box of tricks was a fun challenge,” she says. “It was very liberating.”
Jason Lynch

Getty Images

Cardi B
Rapper

“You know what makes a good outfit? A good, poppin’-ass shoe,” says Cardi B, the multitalent hyphenate in her campaign for Steve Madden. The rapper, who released her first full album, the chart-topping Invasion of Privacy, in April, starred in several 15-second vignettes for the fashion brand back in December. In those spots she offers fans “daily tips” on shoe styling in a way that only Cardi B can (wearing a pair of bedazzled boots in one and proclaiming: “Why her shoes so shiny, she thinks she’s in da club”).

No matter what the rapper is doing—from starring in brand campaigns for Madden, to sharing very candid updates with her 24 million-plus Instagram followers, or announcing her pregnancy during a Saturday Night Live performance—Cardi stays true to the persona fans know and love: based on her “no-filter attitude.”

The 25-year-old (born Belcalis Almanzar) got her start as a dancer and then quickly became a household name through her famed Instagram account. 2017 (and it seems 2018, too) was truly the year of Cardi. She gained massive attention when her track “Bodak Yellow” unseated Taylor Swift’s “Look What You Made Me Do” on the Billboard Hot 100 chart last September, making her the second female rapper ever to reach the top of the charts as a solo artist.

This story first appeared in the June 11, 2018, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

Recommended videos