Philadelphia Pop Culture


This weekend, after the 4th of July holiday, I’ll be headed to Philadelphia for a few days to attend a concert. I’m very excited – not only to see Jay Z and Beyoncé, but also to get the chance to explore a city that I haven’t had the fortune to spend much time in to date. Though Philly is less than 4 hours from Albany, I’ve only been to the City of Brotherly Love twice – once to see a Phillies game last year and once when I was a kid visiting family in nearby Trenton. I’ve seen Philadelphia from the highway on several road trips to Baltimore or Washington D.C., but sadly have never had time to stop. My two previous visits were fine, but fairly narrow in focus – we went to a museum with my family and I only went to the baseball stadium on my last trip. I haven’t even seem the basics, like the Liberty Bell or Independence Hall which is sacrilege for someone who spent a fair amount of time in graduate school studying and teaching the founding period of our country. This time around, I’ve cleared out some time specifically to see more of the city; since it is the 4th of July weekend and the place will probably be crawling with visitors, I’m opting to mostly skip the major tourist attractions and am focusing more on restaurants and breweries this time around. If I’m only going to be in town for a little over 24 hours, I don’t want to spend most of that waiting in line. But I do plan to check out some of the neighborhoods and better orient myself for future visits. I really need to take advantage of the fact that the city is relatively close by.

Though I may not know much about Philadelphia from personal experience, I certainly know about the city’s many contributions to pop culture. As one of the country’s oldest cities, Philly has long held a place of prominence in the world of arts and entertainment. So it’s not surprising that there are a lot of connections to the city in recent pop culture. A city that gave us the cheesesteak certainly has a lot to offer.

I’m not a local, so I’m sure that I’m missing some major Philadelphia related pop culture – for that I apologize in advance. One thing I do know is that you don’t want the good people of Philadelphia mad at you 🙂 But as a pop culture connoisseur, when I hear Philadelphia, the following things immediately pop to mind:

The Roots


Arguably the greatest house band of all time, I was familiar with The Roots before they teamed up with Jimmy Fallon but there is no doubt that their stints on Late Night and The Tonight Show have opened them up to a wider audience. They are ridiculously talented musically – that was never in doubt – but the real surprise was just how darn funny they can be. My love for Jimmy Fallon is well established, but even I recognize that without The Roots by his side, his show wouldn’t be nearly as good; they provide him a deep bench of talented people that he can draw on for a musical number or a sketch. They are so versatile and can seemingly do anything. The Roots proudly represent their Philly roots (ha!) and often make reference to their hometown. They are great ambassadors, since they are now the first thing I think of when I think of Philadelphia. In fact, I’ll miss the free concert that The Roots organize every 4th of July in Philly, but I’ll get to see them Labor Day weekend in Boston at a music festival.



I don’t know how it is possible to think of Philadelphia and not think of the Rocky films, since the city was basically a character in so many of the films. While I do plan to skip a lot of the more touristy things that the city has to offer, I think I will make an exception to run (or walk – depends on how humid it is) up the stairs of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and check out the Rocky statue. I may even punch a slab of meat if given the opportunity. Rocky III was probably my first exposure to Philadelphia, so it only seems right that I pay my respects.


It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia


I mean – Philadelphia is right there in the title! This FX comedy may be about a group of terrible people who are friends, but they do right by the city in which the show is set. There have been several Philly specific storylines over the years, mostly having to do with the local sports teams. The opening credits of the show also highlights the city; it was shot on the cheap using a handheld video camera as they drove around the city and they haven’t’ replaced it since the show has become successful and has a real budget. Rob McElhenney and Kaitlin Olsen even co-own a bar in Philly, though sadly it looks a lot nicer than Paddy’s Pub.


Will Smith


“In West Philadelphia, born and raised” is more than just lyrics to the theme song for The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air; actor and former rapper Will Smith is from Philadelphia and often pays tribute to his hometown by wearing Philly sports attire or dropping a reference or two in his songs. Of course, the theme song is probably his most notable Philadelphia pop culture reference as he turned life into art by making his fictional character on the show hail from Philly. The great store Pop Culture Lab even has this print for sale, commemorating the epic journey of young Will.



Hall & Oates

Photo of Hall & Oates

I have no idea why I know that Hall & Oates hails from Philadelphia, but I do and know you do too. Recently inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (introduced by fellow Philadelphian Questlove), Hall & Oates dominated the airwaves in the 70s and 80s with some of the catchiest tunes of the era. That’s right – I like Hall & Oates, which only furthers my obsession with questionable music. I dare you to listen to “Rich Girl” and not sing along and God help you if you hear “Private Eyes” and don’t clap along. And they seriously had some of the most glorious facial hair in rock and roll. During their induction speech, they lamented the lack of Philadelphia representation in the Hall, an omission that seems ludicrous to me with all the musical talent out of the city.


The Philly Phanatic


The Phanatic may be the mascot for the Philadelphia Phillies, but he is an institution upon himself. I’m not a huge fan of mascots – blame that on the Yankees not using mascots for most of their existence – but I’ll be damned if the Phanatic hasn’t won me over. He’s probably my favorite sports mascot behind Bernie the Brewer. I have no idea what it is about the Phanatic that appeals to me; he is definitely among the more spirited of the mascots out there and he just looks ridiculous, which perhaps I find charming. Whatever it is, I can’t think of Philadelphia without thinking of this green guy.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg; there’s plenty more Philadelphia inspired or connected pop culture. There’s the Oscar winning film Philadelphia, which was just too depressing to include on the list, as well as Silver Linings Playbook, which uses Philadelphia for its backdrop. I can’t wait to see what else I uncover during my weekend getaway. What’s your favorite Philly pop culture? Sound off in the comments below.


One thought on “Philadelphia Pop Culture

  1. Laura Often says:

    LOVE this post -as someone who grew up outside of Philadelphia I have always enjoyed the city- some of my other favorite pop culture references are from the great musical 1776 which has lines about it being hot as hell in Philadelphia as well as this promotional commercial that came out in the 80’s

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