There were tell-all memoirs, record-breaking concert tours, a Scandoval, Beef, Beckham, The Bear and a movie about the one and only Barbie.
And these celebs were part of it, telling stories — often, their own — entertaining us in stadiums and on the big screen and often offering us levity with their work when the world got dark.
Here, in no particular order, see the full list of PEOPLE’s Most Intriguing People of 2023.
Swift is on top of the world — and more in control than ever as she closes out her biggest year yet. Her record-shattering Eras Tour (a 3.5-hour spectacle that draws from her 10 albums and spawned a history-making concert film) helped boost Swift to billionaire status, Forbes reported in October. And the 12-time Grammy winner remains a force in pop culture, defining friendship goals with her tight-knit group of girlfriends and causing Taylor-mania in the NFL amid her new romance with Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce.
After 17 years living in the spotlight, “she knows when, where, how to promote [her work], but she also knows when, where, how to be normal and be a human just living her life,” Tim McGraw tells PEOPLE of Swift, whose friends and collaborators describe her as a fiercely loyal confidant (and culinary wiz). “I think she has brilliantly navigated that line.”
The Emmy-nominated star of The Bear — hailed by critics as one of the best shows on TV — and the wrestling biopic The Iron Claw is still shocked by his newfound stardom. “It surprises me,” he says. “But I’ll take it! I’ll take what I can get.”
Already one half of the musical duo Chloe x Halle, Bailey made a big-screen splash in May as Ariel in Disney’s The Little Mermaid. “Surreal,” she’s said of living out the childhood dream of countless young girls of color. Now, she’s focused on her newest role, Nettie in The Color Purple.
After her boyfriend of nine years, Tom Sandoval, was caught in an affair with a costar in March, the Vanderpump Rules star emerged from the reality TV scandal of the year with a long list of brand endorsements, a new book and a spot in the Dancing With the Stars season finale. “I’ve made sure to stay true to who I am and not let someone else’s behavior make me smaller,” she says.
It was a year of energy thanks to Queen Bey, who painted the town chrome wherever she stopped on her high-fashion, disco-drenched Renaissance World Tour, the second highest-grossing ever by a female artist. This month her anticipated concert film hit theaters, inviting all into the unmissable show. “Time,” she reveals in the doc, “is my biggest obstacle.”
With two meaty roles — as civil rights activist Bayard Rustin in Rustin and the sinister Mister in the musical The Color Purple — the self-described character actor is officially a leading man. Already an Emmy winner for Euphoria, he may add an Oscar (or two) to his home office bookshelf. “I’m going to make room,” he quips, breaking into laughter.
Affectionately known as Mama Kelce, the retired banking exec and grandmother of three bakes a mean chocolate chip cookie and doesn’t play favorites with her NFL superstar sons, Philadelphia Eagles center Jason, 36, and Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis, 34, even at the Super Bowl. “Sometimes I feel I’m on … a different planet,” Donna told PEOPLE in November. “I’m like, ‘What has my life become?’ ”
How much more is there to know about soccer megastar Beckham? Turns out quite a lot: Millions were transfixed by the Netflix docuseries Beckham, which showcased everything from his meticulously organized closet to a couple’s goal “Islands in the Stream” dance with wife (and former Spice Girl) Victoria. “It was a series that took me a while to come to terms with filming,” Beckham has said. But he’s “very, very proud.”
Barbie’s been an icon, an astronaut and a presidential candidate, but this year she became a bona fide movie star thanks to Robbie. The idea of a Barbie film languished in Hollywood for years before Robbie’s surprisingly subversive take took the industry by storm, earning a whopping $1.4 billion at the box office. “I’ll never forget, after talking to [director-cowriter] Greta Gerwig for years, I sat down and read the script,” she told PEOPLE in July. “There was a joke on page one and I was like, ‘They’re never going to let us make this movie.’ But they did!”
Gladstone pondered a career shift from acting to agriculture before Martin Scorsese cast her opposite Leonardo DiCaprio in Killers of the Flower Moon, the true story of the Osage Reign of Terror. As an Indigenous woman whose family are killed for their oil-rich Oklahoma land, she is earning rave reviews and Oscar buzz. All the attention feels “very surreal,” says Gladstone, who’d be the first-ever Native American up for Best Actress. “But you just roll with it.”
The Oscar winner and mom to 2-year-old daughter Louise Jean, with husband Dave McCary, capped off her year with the Showtime dark comedy The Curse and the fantastical film Poor Things. Playing Bella Baxter, a woman who gets a second chance at life from an unorthodox scientist, Stone embraced raw sensuality and extreme vulnerability for the role. “It felt like acceptance of what it is to be a woman,” she’s said. “To be free, to be scared and brave.”
The star of The Last of Us and The Mandalorian was also a constant in this year’s social media froth. From his viral Starbucks order and exuberant reaction to being at a Beyoncé concert to his avant-garde Met Gala look, Pascal’s fans just can’t seem to get enough of their “Daddy.”
In her bestselling memoir Love, Pamela and a hit Netflix doc, the Baywatch star revealed a touching vulnerability and a quiet strength in finally telling her story. Going makeup-free at Paris Fashion Week won even more raves. “It’s very freeing to be comfortable in your own skin,” she told PEOPLE. “I don’t have to be cool to anyone. I can just be me.”
The prince opened up like never before with his bestselling memoir Spare, revealing what he called “the good, the bad and everything in between” of life behind palace walls. Almost four years after breaking from the Crown and heading to California with Duchess Meghan, a move that has irreparably fractured the relationship with his father and brother, Harry is looking to the future. As he told PEOPLE in January: “I feel I am exactly where I am meant to be and exactly where [my family] are meant to be.”
From his star-making role in HBO’s Euphoria, the Australian actor delved into even meatier projects this year, including the thriller Saltburn and Sofia Coppola’s Priscilla, in which he plays Elvis. Prep work involved channeling the late King of Rock and Roll’s penchant for burned bacon. “I averaged like a pound a day,” Elordi told EW. “I was the biggest I’ve ever been.”
She got her big break playing Lily Collins’s best friend on Emily in Paris — but this year proved Park is a sidekick no longer. After a scene-stealing turn in the acclaimed Netflix series Beef, she went on to star in the raucous comedy Joy Ride before holding her own opposite the likes of Steve Martin and Meryl Streep on Only Murders in the Building. Says Park: “For the first time I got to really understand what it is to be a protagonist in your own story.”
After turning heads at age 15 with a first-round win over Venus Williams at Wimbledon in 2019, the question was when — not if — Gauff would earn her first Grand Slam trophy. This turned out to be the year, as the former world No. 1 junior dominated the 2023 U.S. Open, making her the youngest American champion since Serena Williams in 1999. But Gauff is still in disbelief she’s carrying the sisters’ mantle. “I don’t think I’ll ever get used to it. They’re my idols,” she told PEOPLE earlier this year, adding, “I’m just a person who plays tennis.”
Robert Downey Jr.
He may be beloved for his portrayal of Iron Man in the Marvel Universe, but the star — and likely Oscar nominee — insists this year’s Christopher Nolan-directed historical drama Oppenheimer is “the best film I’ve ever been in.” As he told premiere attendees in July: “No matter what your expectations are, [this] transcends that.”
It’s no rumor — in a year of can’t-miss Vegas shows (from U2 to Usher), the hottest ticket was Adele, whose intimate residency showcases her catalog in a deeply personal way; during sets she walks through the crowd, chatting up fans and snapping selfies. “These shows have changed my life,” she wrote in October.
Jada Pinkett Smith
In her memoir Worthy, the mother to Jaden, 25, Willow, 23, and “bonus son” Trey, 31 (Will Smith’s child from his first marriage), opened up about her husband slapping Chris Rock at the 2022 Oscars — and revealed they had been separated for six years at the time. “We just got deep love for each other,” she told PEOPLE in October. “And we are going to figure out what that looks like.”
The Marvel star proved himself to be a real-life superhero on Jan. 1, when he was crushed by a 14,300-lb. snowplow while saving his nephew from being struck. More than 30 broken bones and multiple operations later, Renner is jogging as part of his improbable recovery — and even releasing new music, aptly titled Love and Titanium. “[He] has that drive,” Dr. Christopher Vincent, his chiropractic sports physician, told PEOPLE in April. “I’ve seen so many people with injuries way less [severe] just give up.”
The pop star proved she’s stronger than all of her yesterdays with The Woman in Me, a searingly personal memoir that found Spears taking control of her narrative. “It is finally time for me to raise my voice and speak out,” she told PEOPLE in October of the revelatory book, a No. 1 New York Times bestseller.
He may just be Ken, but this (and every) year the Oscar nominee is a ten. Gosling leaned all the way in as Barbie’s bleached-blond arm candy, stealing scenes and delighting audiences as a surprisingly layered himbo, complete with killer choreography. His daughters Esmeralda, 9, and Amada, 7, with partner Eva Mendes even helped Dad prep for his big routine. “They were at home while I was [practicing],” he told PEOPLE, “and they ended up knowing it as well as I did.”
The Wednesday powerhouse had another banner year, slaying the box office with Scream VI and filming Beetlejuice 2, where she’ll play the daughter of Winona Ryder’s Lydia. But it’s the star’s determination to control her own fate that fans find most inspiring. “I want to be able to really orchestrate my own future and make more specific, precise moves,” she told Harper’s Bazaar UK.
Five years after his directorial debut, the Oscar-nominated A Star Is Born, Cooper is now putting his stamp on the new drama Maestro as director, cowriter and star, portraying legendary composer Leonard Bernstein. Cooper chalks up his fascination to watching Bugs Bunny conduct in cartoons as a kid, and he even led a live orchestra performance of Mahler’s Symphony no. 2 in the film. “I just felt like it was so powerful,” he told Howard Stern. “Like riding a dragon.”