Houston is internationally recognized for its arts scene. You’ve heard the stats and the slogans by now: We’re one of only five U.S. cities with permanent, professional resident companies in all of the major performing arts disciplines—ballet, opera, symphony and theater—and second only to New York City when it comes to the number of theater seats we’ve packed into a concentrated downtown area. Houston has high culture covered. But what about pop culture?
While we obviously aren’t Hollywood, our city has exerted more influence on the American mass media landscape than many may realize. We’re not talking sports, or politics, or even moon landings. We’re talking music, movies, artists and stars, molded here, who went on to mold pop culture everywhere—and not just Beyoncé (but also definitely Beyoncé).
Houston put grillz and Gen-Xers on the map thanks to Paul Wall and Reality Bites. It inspired Wes Anderson and Richard Linklater to create their finest films (Rushmore and Boyhood, respectively), and Arcade Fire to lash out spectacularly at the suburbs (The Woodlands, specifically). It created stars out of dancing rollerbladers; it gave us the best of Quaids and the worst of Quaids. Houston may not have a TV show named in its honor, but where would Americans be without Jim Parsons—once a fixture on the Alley Theatre stage, now the highest paid television actor in America—making them laugh every night in syndication on The Big Bang Theory?
Within, a look at the biggest bangs Houston has made in the pop culture scene. These are the rappers’ phone numbers a million fans memorized, the honky tonks that hundreds of thousands flocked to, the Instagram posts that nearly broke the Internet. And—most of the time, anyway—they’ll make you proud to live here.