☕ The Golden Mug Awards

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December 26, 2023 View Online | Sign Up | Shop

Morning Brew

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Good morning. Hope everyone celebrating had a lovely Christmas and you didn't receive too many gifts you are planning to return. We're back with another special edition newsletter to wrap up the year.

Earlier this month, we asked you to vote on our annual Golden Mug Awards, which aim to crown the best, the worst, and the most forgettable from 2023.

Without further ado, we bring you: the Business Story of the Year, the Story You Most Forgot About, the Most Viral Story of the Year, and the WeWork Memorial Flop of the Year Award, as determined by you, Morning Brew readers. From our POV, you nailed it.

—Sam Klebanov, Dave Lozo, Cassandra Cassidy, Abby Rubenstein, Neal Freyman

BUSINESS

Business story of the year: AI eats everything

OpenAI logo with plugs connected Hannah Minn

Even the people running a roasted chestnut stand probably spent 2023 thinking about how to use AI to make their business more efficient. After the blockbuster unveiling of ChatGPT late last year, the disruptive tech instantly became a corporate obsession.

Despite some folks worrying the technology could bring about Armageddon, the consensus that a new AI-defined technological age is upon us spurred Big Tech into a frantic rush to dominate the space and made AI experts the year's hottest hires for all kinds of industries.

It's where the money's at

The company behind ChatGPT, the Sam Altman-led, Microsoft-backed OpenAI, became one of the world's most valuable startups with a valuation of $86 billion.

Meanwhile, Google, Meta, and Amazon spent the last twelve months making increasingly sophisticated updates to their AI models and unveiling new AI-powered tools. Plus, they've been pouring oodles of cash into startups to complement their in-house innovation: OpenAI competitor Anthropic snagged $4 billion from Amazon and $2 billion from Google.

VCs didn't need much convincing…

  • AI startups hoovered up 26% of all venture capital funding in 2023, compared to just 11% in 2022, according to Crunchbase.
  • The industry raised $17.9 billion in Q3 alone, per Pitchbook data provided to Bloomberg.

It's unavoidable: From Duolingo to Salesforce, companies have been infusing their offerings with AI features. These additions are now helping users learn languages, type brief Slack messages, and summarize Outlook meetings. If you can think of it, someone's using AI to do it: Albania is even using ChatGPT to speed up its bid to join the EU.

Runner up: The Fed hiking interest rates to a 22-year high

There's nothing Wall Street pored over more than every word Jerome Powell spoke. The Fed raised borrowing costs four times in 2023 (on top of the seven interest rate hikes in 2022) in its battle against inflation, putting rates at their highest in over two decades. The central bank paused its rates-to-the-moon campaign in the summer after annual inflation dropped closer to its 2% target, but the sky-high rates caused chaos in the bond market, prompted layoffs in the tech industry, and pummeled commercial real estate. JPow will likely remain a main character next year when the Fed is expected to start cutting rates.

Runner up: Hot Strike Summer

The number of major strikes this year was…striking. Fat corporate profits, a strong job market, and a sharp rise in the cost of living created the perfect storm for organized labor to flex its muscles. Work stoppages by Hollywood writers and actors, as well as auto workers at Detroit's Big Three, and UPS workers' threats to walk off the job were among the most memorable labor actions. And it wasn't just a vibe: According to the Cornell University Labor Action Tracker, there were 25 work stoppages in the US involving over 2,000 people in 2023 compared with just 15 the year before.—SK

     

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ROYALTY

The news story you most forgot about: The coronation

King Charles at his coronation Ben Stansall - WPA Pool/Getty Images

No one can blame you for not remembering King Charles III's coronation in May. Think about all the elderly men who made headlines this year—72-year-old Gerry Turner injected life into The Golden Bachelor, 75-year-old Billy Crystal received Kennedy Center Honors, and 38-year-old LeBron James was named MVP of the NBA's first in-season tournament.

The crowning ceremony, which took place eight months after the death of King Charles's mother, Queen Elizabeth II, included swords, scepters, orbs, a golden staff, and a not-at-all-metaphorical silver spoon. Here are some other interesting details of the coronation you have likely forgotten:

  • Like any good host, King Charles curated a playlist that's available on Spotify. No word on whether those songs have a Burlington, VT, vibe.
  • Five-year-old Prince Louis—King Charles's grandson and the son of Kate Middleton and Prince William—made headlines by mistakenly singing "God Save The Queen."
  • Prince Harry attended without his wife, Meghan Markle, and it was the first time he publicly met royal family members since the release of his dishy memoir.

A mystery man stole the show. In classic internet style, everyone focused on a man sitting next to Andrew Lloyd Weber, wondering if he was Markle in disguise or someone planning to steal the crown jewels. It was actually composer and impeccably groomed gentleman Sir Karl Jenkins.

Runner-up: "Rich Men North Of Richmond"

The Oliver Anthony song went from viral sensation to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts virtually overnight. The surprise hit received praise from Marjorie Taylor Greene and was played during a Republican National Debate. In response to the attention from the GOP, Anthony posted a video saying the song was about the people on the RNC stage, although he also said he doesn't support Joe Biden either. Even if you've forgotten him, Anthony plans to release new music next year.

Runner-up: Pentagon docs leaked on Discord

National Guardsman Jack Teixeira was arrested for allegedly sharing hundreds of pages of classified material, some involving the war in Ukraine, to impress his friends on Discord. The incident led the Pentagon to improve its safeguards—which looked pretty weak, since some documents were reportedly floating around the internet for months. The Air Force hasn't forgotten: It disciplined 15 members of the Air National Guard this month after an internal investigation found that a "lack of supervision" helped enable the leaks.—DL

     

CULTURE

Most viral moment: Barbenheimer

Masculine leg in business suit in pink high heel over sky background. Alyssa Nassner

For a few glorious days this summer, the public shifted its attention away from serious news and whatever was happening with Elon Musk and focused instead on the all-encompassing cultural phenomenon that was Barbenheimer.

Formed from the news that Barbie and Oppenheimer would both premier on July 21, Barbenheimer memes highlighting the wide gap between the two movies and mashing them together fueled the phenomenon to elite viral heights. T-shirts and merch helped to commemorate the moment irl.

When the idea of pairing the films for a double feature went from internet joke to real-world activity, Barbenheimer affirmed just how successful counterprogramming can be—both films surpassed box-office expectations, and Francis Ford Coppola called it a "victory for cinema." It restored some faith in the movie theater industry, which struggled to get people back in their seats after the pandemic. A reported 200,000 people bought tickets to watch the films in succession on opening weekend, according to the National Association of Theatre Owners. But the magic may be singular: Saw Patrol, unfortunately, did not generate significant enthusiasm.

We haven't seen the end of it yet…Barbie scored 10 Golden Globe nominations—a tie for the second-most in history with Cabaret—and Oppenheimer got eight.

Runner-up: Chinese spy balloon

A bird? A plane? It's the Chinese Spy Balloon. In January, photos of a giant white sphere in the sky surfaced and freaked everyone out. It was identified as a Chinese spy balloon before President Biden ordered it to be shot down. Several other suspected spy balloon sightings—and downings—followed, though those turned out to be false alarms. Even the OG balloon wasn't much of a spy—the apparatus didn't collect any information while it was in the US, a Pentagon spokesperson said in June.

Runner-up: Donald Trump's mug shot

Taken after he was booked at the Fulton County Jail in Georgia on charges of racketeering related to his alleged interference with the 2020 presidential election, the former president's mug shot went viral even before it was released. The trial over the charges has not yet begun, but the district attorney for Fulton County, Fani Willis, is aiming for a March start date. Some experts estimate the legal proceedings will go on until the end of 2024 or early 2025. Unlike other jurisdictions where Trump has been charged, Fulton County allows cameras in the courtroom, so there may be more iconic images to come.—CC

     

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TECH

The WeWork Memorial Flop Award: Cage match

Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk Thilina Kaluthotage/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Exuding some of the most powerful recently-divorced-dad energy ever measured by scientists, Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg proved this year that no amount of money can purchase self-awareness.

The petulant billionaires took their long-standing feud to a new level after it was announced in June that Zuck was launching Threads, a rival to Musk's X (formerly known as and still called Twitter by all of us). Musk responded like any well-adjusted captain of industry and challenged Zuck to a cage fight. The Tesla CEO also later proposed a "literal dick measuring contest."

Will they ever get into the Octagon? Both billionaires postured publicly for weeks, but Musk ultimately came up short in getting Zuck to participate in either competition—even when he offered to get into a self-driving Tesla and go straight to Zuck's home (to fight, presumably).

UFC President Dana White initially said both men were serious about the matchup. But in August, Musk said he might need surgery before he could commit to the fight, and about a week later, Zuck announced that "it's time to move on." Musk reacted by calling Zuck a chicken. Even White finally changed his tune in September, saying the fight will probably never happen. That seemed to be proven correct, for 2023 anyway, after Zuck tore his ACL in November.

Runner-up: OpenAI's board firing Sam Altman (who was promptly rehired)

Between Nov. 17 and Nov. 21, Sam Altman: was relieved of his duties as OpenAI CEO, announced he was planning a new venture, was reported to be coming back to OpenAI, then was reportedly joining major OpenAI investor Microsoft, then reached an agreement to return to OpenAI as CEO after almost every OpenAI employee threatened to leave and join Altman wherever he ended up. We assume you relegated this debacle to runner-up status solely because Altman did not challenge anyone to a cage fight.

Runner-up: SBF's friends turn on him and he's convicted of fraud

FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried was convicted in October on seven counts of fraud and conspiracy. Highlights from his downfall after his crypto company imploded include a judge admonishing him for using a VPN to watch the Super Bowl, his ex-girlfriend testifying that he directed her to commit crimes, and a performance on the witness stand that led his own lawyer to call him possibly "the worst person I've ever seen do a cross-examination." SBF's sentencing is scheduled for March 2024.—DL

     

RECS

Tuesday To Do List

This week, we're bringing you the most-clicked links from the Recs section across the entire year.

Watch: Here is the explainer you didn't know you needed on the extreme measures the US Army takes to stop invasive fish.

Redecorate: There's a right way to lay out your living room.

Stat of the year: We present without comment this list of the average age at which people lose their virginity around the globe.

Rep your region: This quiz can guess where in the US you're from based on how you talk.

Learn how to earn: Better financial decisions start with Yahoo Finance. Get high-quality, real-time market data + a comprehensive ecosystem that offers news, tools, and in-depth analysis. See for yourself.*

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GAMES

The puzzle section

Brew Mini: Cozy up to today's Mini, titled "Fireplace." Neal solved it in 32 seconds—can you beat that?

Awards trivia

Now that we've handed out the Golden Mugs, let's see how well you can remember other awards from the year.

We'll give you an award, and you have to name who (or what) won it.

  1. Academy Award for best picture
  2. Academy Award for best actress
  3. Academy Award for best actor
  4. Grammy Award for album of the year
  5. Tony Award for best musical
  6. The Emmys were delayed until 2024 due to the Hollywood strikes, but the nominations came out. Can you name the three shows that got the most? (Hint: They're all on HBO)
  7. NBA's most valuable player
  8. Pantone's color of the year for 2024

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ANSWER

  1. Everything Everywhere All at Once
  2. Michelle Yeoh in Everything Everywhere All at Once
  3. Brendan Fraser in The Whale
  4. Harry's House by Harry Styles
  5. Kimberly Akimbo
  6. Succession, The Last of Us, White Lotus
  7. Joel Embiid
  8. Peach Fuzz
         
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