arrow-right cart chevron-down chevron-left chevron-right chevron-up close menu minus play plus search share user email pinterest facebook instagram snapchat tumblr twitter vimeo youtube subscribe dogecoin dwolla forbrugsforeningen litecoin amazon_payments american_express bitcoin cirrus discover fancy interac jcb master paypal stripe visa diners_club dankort maestro trash

Shopping Cart

How to Write Personal Essays About Pop Culture

by Writing Workshops Staff

A year ago

How to Write Personal Essays About Pop Culture

by Writing Workshops Staff

A year ago

"It was mostly through pop culture, through hip-hop, through Dungeons & Dragons and comic books that I acquired much of my vocabulary." -Ta-Nehisi Coates

Write about Pop Culture with Lit Hub and Crime Reads contributing editor Lisa Levy



We all engage with pop culture every day: we check gossip sites, we hit Spotify, we read about a new movie; we play an alphabet soup of games, we scan websites, or watch a YouTube video, or binge a Netflix show. There are as many forms of popular culture are there are ways to write about it.

We start engaging with pop culture as soon as we're able to perceive the world around us. You know when you're a teenager, and you have all these obsessive interests that might seem strange to anyone who doesn't understand the rabbit hole you've gone down (or live in)? Your entire world revolved around a grunge band from the 1990s that only released one album with five good songs, but you listened to those songs on repeat and learned every lyric.

Or you were obsessed with this one character in an animated show about animals that was too odd for adults, but it was just so funny, even now. Or, you followed every move of some boy band from the early 2000s that you can only find on YouTube now (a few rungs below LFO). 

Some of these obsessions follow you into adulthood, or you're discovering them for the first time years later. What do all of these things have in common? They are all obsessively obsessed with pop culture. And while they might seem trivial or silly, they also offer a lot of great insight into who we were as younger people. Or who we are now. Or who we have discovered ourselves to be through some portal into the long-forgotten. 

Why did we love this particular thing or moment so much? How did it impact us as young people in forming our own identities? Why did we like it so much at the time? And would others benefit from our intelligent and incisive commentary?

Want a great example? Read The Ecstasy of Frank Ocean by Doreen St. Félix, MTV News.


What Is a Personal Essay About Pop Culture?

In the Washington Post, Sonny Bunch wrote, "the best writing about popular culture — about music, about movies, about TV shows, about books, about whatever — interrogates the way we think rather than what we think." Indeed, pop culture is an integral part of the development of a person's personality and identity.


And a personal essay about pop culture can be like any other essay you've written. You might have fond memories of watching The Office and choose to write about how it worked its way into your life at the time, how it shaped your sense of humor, or the conversations you had at school or work. You can look back on it and recognize a link between how you felt about the show and how you feel about it now. If you enjoyed it back then, you might still enjoy it now, but you might also notice flaws you didn't see at the time. It can be the starting point for a personal essay that takes a second (or third or fourth) look at the pop culture that shaped or changed you.


Want a great example? Read The Grace of Keanu Reeves by Angelica Jade Bastién, Bright Wall/Dark Room

Writing Your Essay About Pop Culture

Of course, writing about The Office is but one of infinite possibilities. Writing your essay about pop culture is about finding the small details that link your past (recent or otherwise) to the present day. How does the fictional character you were obsessed with or the album you cared so much about still inspire you in your life now? Or, how does it show the flaws in the way you might have thought about culture then as now? 


Do you think about the plot of the movie or book you read often? What do you think about the music or song lyrics that impacted your life? How do you think that specific moment shaped who you are today? 


When you write your essay about pop culture, try to focus on specific details that link you to the time; you don't have to try to go for some grandiose idea of how it changed your life, but that is fine if you do. What matters is the emotional connection you make on the page. As the cliche goes, to be genuinely universal, you need to be specific, so write into the details that stand out, are personal, and will be relatable to your reader.


Want a great example? Read As Not Seen On TV by Pete Wells, The New York Times


We live in an age of democratized criticism: the only thing stopping you from writing about your favorite show or game or app is you.


When you write a personal essay about pop culture, you might be trying to praise or critique the cultural artifact in question. However, to make your piece of writing more impactful, you should focus on how it impacted your life and how it still impacts you in the present day in some way. 


Pop culture connects us and, in many cases, shapes who we become and what we like and molds our worldview and ethos, and it's important to reflect on these moments that shaped us and our identities.


Want a great example? Read The Weight of James Arthur Baldwin by Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah, BuzzFeed


More Examples:

The Babysitter's Club by Jesse Barron, Real Life

Read The Confessions of R. Kelly by Chris Heath, GQ


Write about Pop Culture with Lit Hub and Crime Reads contributing editor Lisa Levy


How to Get Published