We’ll never have a pop culture moment as iconic as this – and it was 20 years ago

We’ll never have a pop culture moment as iconic as this – and it was 20 years ago

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In 2004, pop culture was changed forever when three of the biggest popstars – Brtiney Spears, Beyonce and Pink – joined forces for one of the most epic adverts the world has seen since.

Few years can match 2004 for cultural significance. It was the year that saw the release of cinema’s best sequel, Shrek 2; Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg launched Facebook; and fans mourned as the era-defining sitcom Friends came to a dramatic conclusion.

That same year, music royalty touched down in London’s Trafalgar Square and sent the city into a frenzy as Pepsi launched its multi-million dollar advert.

It featured pop divas Beyonce (who would go on to win five Grammys that year), Britney (riding the high of her latest hit single Toxic) and P!nk (who had just dropped her third studio album Try This).

During the three-minute commercial, Enrique Iglesias casually plays a Roman Emperor. Meanwhile, the chart-topping music artists are kitted out as female gladiators, ready to fight to the death in the Colosseum.

But when they step out onto the arena, instead of throwing weapons, they strike up a powerful cover of Queen’s We Will Rock You for the roaring crowds, each getting their moment in the spotlight. It reads like a fever dream.

This advert made pop culture history that can’t be repeated (Picture: PA)

You would be hard-pressed to find a household that didn’t recognise and love at least one of the trio. But to see their star power come together was a historic moment that won’t be easily replicated.

It’s difficult to imagine a trio of modern-day pop stars, also in their early 20s, with that level of cultural influence and widespread appeal.

There are certainly strong contenders such as Sabrina Carpenter, Olivia Rodrigo, Billie Eilish and SZA but no one is losing sleep over a new advert. Certainly not one that is still talked about 20 years later.

And with Gladiator II about to hit screens with a star-studded cast including Paul Mescal and Pedro Pascal, there’s never been a better time to remember the OG gladiators that stole the nation’s heart.

How did Pepsi make the iconic commercial?

Queen icons Brian May and Roger Taylor were heavily involved in the process (Picture: Getty)

In 2003, Queen’s Brian May and Roger Taylor delivered a new version of their 1977 hit We Will Rock You specifically created for Brtiney, Beyonce and P!nk right into Pepsi’s lap.

According to advert director Tarsem Singh, Brian and Roger had produced a four-to-five minute cut of the song which was simply too long – so he had to work some magic.

‘I just went in to edit the track and gave Pink, Britney, and Beyoncé one phrase each, then cut it all together in about, I’d say, 20 minutes. And that was it,’ he recalled to Rolling Stone.

‘And all the girls were happy, and we came back on track. That was the song. And then we basically did it as a music video.’

The set itself had links to the Oscar-winning film Gladiator as they both used the same CGI set-up to recreate the ancient Rome landmark.

Each singer got their own solo in the three-minute musical extravaganza (Picture: Getty)

As P!nk told People, she couldn’t wrap her head around being flown to Rome and filming in the real deal.

‘Why are we here? We could have gone to Canada. I don’t understand. That’s Pepsi money. For a while, everything I saw that was really fancy, I was like, “that’s Pepsi money.” It was bizarre,’ she reflected.

And it was a tense shooting schedule, with only two takes and 11 minutes to get the perfect lighting.

Tarsem recalled Britney having to hold off going to the bathroom so they could get the perfect shot.

‘She understood and hung in there. When the sun works, it all just turns out fine,’ he added to Rolling Stone.

They even had real-life spectators, including Brian and Roger.

Finally, Tarsem added that there were very few hiccups aside from one moment when he joked he lived in Disneyland. Britney’s team was quick to slam him as the singer was trying to escape her past on Disney’s Mickey Mouse Club.

What was the dynamic between the pop stars?

There were very few blips between the cast and crew (Picture: Getty)

From all accounts, the three got along like a house on fire.

‘Beyoncé is the prettiest person you could ever stand in front of,’ P!nk told People in 2022.

‘She glows like a goddess. She’s so f*****g talented, she’s a total pro — always has been — and always just the sweetest, gentlest person. So for her to be that sweet, and that gentle, and then that f**king fierce on stage is insane.’

The Raise Your Glass hitmaker even pushed back against any rumours of tension between herself and Britney after her 2001 single Don’t Let Me Get Me – which mentioned the younger artist – was seen as a diss track.

‘People think I was picking on Britney on Don’t Let Me Get Me, but I’ve always felt like a big sister to her,’ she added.

‘I’m very protective of her, and she’s the sweetest person in the world.’

And it seems like Britney is in total agreement, saying at the red carpet premiere: ‘Filming the ad was awesome and I got to work with these two fantastic gladiator women.’

What is the commercial’s legacy?

Two decades on, it remains a firm favourite in the cultural corpus, with fans fondly reminiscing on its brilliance.

‘Britney, Beyoncé and Pink literally slayed this Pepsi commercial. The vocals all cleared and I desperately need them to remake a commercial at this calibre again,’ @dailybravomail praised on X.

‘I’m sorry but they just aren’t making Pepsi commercials like this anymore. Pink, Britney, Beyoncé, and Enrique?!’ @carllately echoed.

‘Remember when Beyoncé, Britney and Pink did one of the most iconic commercials of all time. The new girls ain’t serving like the 2000s girls anymore,’ @beyfobic added.

Not only are fans as loyal as ever to the Pepsi ad but it has remained a consistent feature of iconic 00s moment round-ups since it first aired. We don’t see that changing anytime soon.

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