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Introducing the New Yorkers of the year

Let’s hear it for the local luminaries who made the city—and the culture at large—that much more awesome in 2018

Yaeji
Photograph: Kristina Bakrevski Yaeji
By Time Out New York contributors |
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It’s not surprising that the greatest city in the world fosters some of the greatest talent in the world. Need proof? Just peruse Time Out’s list of the New Yorkers of the year, including Netflix’s next big thing, groundbreaking NYC drag queens like Aquaria, a political bigwig, street-art royalty and many others. For more of-the-moment goodness, check out the top dishes and drinks of 2018, as well as the 101 best things to do in NYC.

RECOMMENDED: New Yorkers of 2017

 

 

 

Photograph: L. Cara Howe/Netflix

↑ Hasan Minhaj 

Comedic Patriot

If laughter unites, then in today’s divided ideological landscape, chuckling along to Hasan Minhaj is a political act. As the Muslim son of Indian immigrants, he brought a distinctly “brown” (his word) perspective to his segments at The Daily Show; that point of view has only sharpened in his new Netflix series, Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj. In it, he transforms the deep dives of John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight into rapid-fire, multimedia explorations that he jokes are like a “woke TED talk.” Whether he’s discussing the ramifications of oil spills or dropping references to the Super Star in Super Mario Brothers, his kinetic silliness comes through. “I like doing a Call Me by Your Name peach joke and a lota joke in the same episode,” he says, referring to the film’s infamous masturbation scene and a hygienic vessel found in South Asian bathrooms. “That breadth is really cool to me, and that is America.” Though Minhaj has lived in NYC for only four years, he hustles like a lifelong local. Not content to launch just Patriot Act, he released a charming Comedy Central special this fall with sketch troupe Goatface, performed at Carnegie Hall as part of his “Before the Storm” tour, and popped up at the Comedy Cellar to prep new material. His warm feelings about the city aren’t restricted to comedy, however: “It’s one of the only cities where there are multiple vibrations happening,” he says. “We’re all on top of each other here, and I love it.”—Matthew Love 

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Photograph: Corey Torpie

↑Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Political Crusader

At the start of 2018, most New Yorkers had never heard of this Bronx native. Ocasio-Cortez was just beginning her first run for public office in the hopes of unseating the Democratic incumbent, Rep. Joe Crowley, a feat that sounded like a pipe dream. Driven by a determined grassroots approach and an Oscar-worthy campaign ad, she won the primary in a landslide. At 29, she is just a few years past the minimum age required to be elected to the House of Representatives and but a year away from being able to launch a Senate run. When she takes office on January 3, she’ll be the youngest member of Congress in the chamber’s history. The inspirational story of her come-up has reached virtually every corner of the country, turning the unabashed progressive into the new face of the Democratic Party. Since being elected, she has taken on some of our nation's most powerful figures, from Amazon honcho Jeff Bezos to the President himself. But, in true scrappy New York fashion, she’s also heading to Washington on a razor-thin budget, noting that she may not be able afford a D.C. apartment until her congressional paychecks clear. “Last year I was bartending, and I bought my first couch two weeks ago—shortly after I got health insurance,” she Tweeted, following her victory in November. “So don’t worry, growth doesn’t happen in a straight line! We’re all closer than we believe.”—Clayton Guse

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Photograph: JoJo Whilden/FX

↑Janet Mock

TV Trailblazer

“The reason I came to New York is that I wanted to fulfill a dream,” says Janet Mock, a producer and writer for the FX hit Pose. While the Harlem resident has had two memoirs, Redefining Realness and Surpassing Certainty, ascend The New York Times best-seller list, her glow-up reached new peaks this year when Pose captured hearts, minds, cultural attention, Golden Globe and Critics’ Choice nominations (and a renewal for a second season). Like Mock, Pose is glamorous yet raw, revealing the triumphant and devastating world of NYC’s LGBTQ and ballroom community—nay, family—during the 1980s HIV-AIDS crisis. As a trans woman of color, she infuses the show’s material with the authenticity of her own journey, making the plot’s discoveries and struggles feel real to viewers. “There is that sense of self-creation in the show and in New York,” says Mock. “Think of Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s: She could leave her small town, come here and reinvent herself, having everybody completely agree that, yes, girl, you can be a supermodel.” With Pose, Mock also wanted to nail that New York attitude. “The characters are all New Yorkers, so they need harsh, sharp tongues but also the ability to embrace each other,” Mock says. “The challenge for all of us in this political and cultural climate, not just for LGBTQ people, is to look at Pose's time period to see how they fought. The prevailing themes still echo today: How valid are my dreams? And if I don’t like my reality, how can I change that?”—Rocky Rakovic

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Photograph: Micaiah Carter

↑Yaej

Dancing Queen

Listen up, Brooklyn: Yaeji, the Korean-American electropop breakout, is bringing authentic joy back to a borough that prizes irony above all else. Although the 25-year-old spent most of her childhood in Atlanta and Korea, she was born in Flushing; upon returning to NYC after college, the musician found herself experimenting in the city’s ever-thriving rave scene. Her dine-and-spin “Curry in No Hurry” parties at her apartment soon spun off into full-fledged club shows. But it was in 2018 that her blend of house, hip-hop and dance beats, with whispered vocals in Korean and English, started spreading… everywhere. By summer, her song “raingurl” was ubiquitous, played lovingly at DIY warehouses in Brooklyn and pool parties on Fire Island. Then, in November, Yaeji packed the Knockdown Center with an unexpectedly big and broad audience, far beyond her diehards from the queer, rave and “Slaysian” worlds. Straight couples waited in the rain to scream along while Yaeji danced like a giddy goon with a horde of Asian drag queens by her side. “That was maybe the biggest show I’ve played as headliner,” Yaeji said a few days after the gig. “Even though there were more people than ever, I still felt this energy that was very sweet, loving, queer and friendly.” Now Yaeji is going global, but she keeps NYC in her heart. “When I tour, I try not to forget that my music was mostly influenced by the music I encountered here in Brooklyn and the people who live here.” Go conquer the world, Yaeji, and keep taking us along for the ride.—David Goldberg

For the full interview with Yaeji click here.

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Photograph: Andrew Tess

↑Scott Rogowsky

The Host

Here’s a tough one: HQ Trivia, the live game-show app phenomenon that attracts around 2 million daily participants since its 2017 debut, is headquartered in A) Los Angeles, B) Silicon Valley or C) NYC. If you guessed C, you’re right (though you probably had a little help from the headline of this feature). Twice each day, everyone and their bodega guy logs on to the app hoping to win some cold, hard cash. And when they do, the smiling, cartoonish face that greets them is the charming, quick-witted Scott Rogowsky, who hosts HQ from a small studio in Soho. “When people see me in public, they’re usually like, ‘Whoa, you’re a real person,’ ” says Rogowsky from HQ’s, er, HQ. “It’s as if they’re seeing Pinocchio or a cartoon character come to life. I’m waiting for the Times Square characters to start dressing as me.” It took Rogowsky almost 10 years working in the New York comedy scene to get to this level of celebrity. During that time, he was probably best known for Running Late with Scott Rogowsky, his interview show that had pop-culture players like R.L. Stine and Amber Tamblyn. A prank video of him reading fake books—10,000 Dick Picks, anyone?—on the subway attained viral fame; as luck would have it, just before receiving the call from HQ, he was about to decamp to L.A. He’s glad he didn’t: “I still consider myself a New Yorker before all other nouns.”—Will Gleason

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Photograph: Marco Ovando

↑Aquaria

Drag Wunderkind

Even before winning the 10th season of RuPaul’s Drag Race, Aquaria was turning looks (and heads) in NYC’s nightlife community, working with nightlife titans like Ladyfag and Susanne Bartsch before she could even drink legally. “The scene can be very friendly and family-like, but it can also be competitive,” says the 22-year-old, born Giovanni Palandrani. “To become a star here, you need to be versatile, work hard and have the instinct to hustle.” In an era of LGBTQ visibility, Aquaria is doing her part to drive drag into the cultural forefront. “Some people talk about the negatives of drag going mainstream,” she says. “But to have a job like this be a very valid profession in 2018? To pay my rent in this expensive-ass city? It’s astounding and fabulous.” Aquaria has garnered more than a million Instagram subscribers and maneuvered her onscreen success: This year, she signed on with IMG Models, posing for the Moschino x H&M capsule collection, and she was recently named a contributing editor to Dazed Beauty. “All my idols are entertainers with many different strong suits—RuPaul did radio, made music and wrote a book,” she explains. “I don’t want my drag to stop at the club or bar stage.”—Dan Q. Dao

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Photograph: Ben Lau

↑Eduardo Kobra

Street-Art Preacher

Noticed that New York felt a little more vibrant this year? We can thank Eduardo Kobra. Over the course of five months, the Brazilian street artist painted 18 kaleidoscopic murals around the city as part of his “Colors of Freedom” project. He toiled atop a ladder for up to 12 hours a day to create messages of peace and hope, like “a street-art missionary,” he says. His subjects ran the gamut from Michael Jackson (pictured, right) and the Statue of Liberty donning a sombrero to Mother Teresa facing Mahatma Gandhi. Kobra got his start in São Paulo at age 12, creating illegal graffiti that was inspired by New York street-art culture, popularized by Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring and other artists and chronicled in books like Subway Art (1984). Now 43, his work has taken him to five continents and earned him a Guinness World Record for the largest spray-paint mural, but painting graffiti across New York felt like a spiritual homecoming for an artist rooted in an art form that was born here. Working on the street had its challenges: intense cold and pain in his fingers, to name two. But the response from New Yorkers—like the firefighters who offered their support as he finessed an eight-story memorial to September 11 in midtown—made it all worth it. So, too, does the message, he says, noting, “If one person looks at my walls and becomes really aware that all types of violence must stop—along with all types of aggression, of racism—I really will have had a huge conquest with my work.”—Heather Corcoran

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