Annually, we recognize a special set of tech innovators, artists, creators and digital vanguards as Webby Special Achievement Winners. This class of honorees are individuals or groups who have made extraordinary strides on the Internet, and who dare to embrace every stage of the Internet—the nascent to the chaotic. From Webby Lifetime Achievement Winner Shigetaka Kurita, creator of the first set of emoji in 1999; to Webby Artist of the Year SZA, whose enigmatic art has made her a quintessential force in music and on the Internet; the 2023 Webby Special Achievement recipients expand the possibilities of online work. Their creations give us That Feeling—connection in a way that we can’t describe, but we know it when we feel it.
See our Special Achievement Winners below, and view all of the 2023 Webby Winners in the Winners Gallery + Index. Save the date—all winners will be celebrated during the star-studded 27th Annual Webby Awards Show on May 15, hosted by Roy Wood Jr.! Follow @TheWebbyAwards across Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube to catch the night’s best moments.
Shigetaka Kurita – Webby Lifetime Achievement
Shigetaka Kurita will be honored as the 2023 Webby Lifetime Achievement recipient for creating the first set of emoji in 1999—forever changing modern communication.
As a 25 year-old designer working for Japanese mobile phone company NTT DOCOMO, Kurita translated 176 ideas, concepts, emotions into grids of only 12×12 pixels. Since he created the first set, emoji has evolved into a digital form of communication that transcends cultural and societal differences, and language barriers. More than a fun way to enhance conversation, the over 3,600 colorful emoji in use worldwide have also become instrumental in representing each generation’s unique colors and nuances. They’ve furthered online conversations about inclusiveness in our symbols, from nationalities, ethnicities, gender identities, abilities, beliefs and beyond, which has led to a wide range of new emoji each year that help foster a sense of belonging for people everywhere. See the original 176 emoji below.
Shigetaka Kurita. Emoji 1998-1999
The original set of 176 emojis was acquired in 2016 by MoMA for its permanent collection
SZA – Webby Artist of the Year
SZA is an undeniably quintessential force in music and on the Internet. Since the nascent days of her career—uploading demos on Soundcloud—to the release of her latest album “SOS”, SZA has captured the Internet’s attention with her genre-bending sound, unique melodies and brilliantly honest songwriting. Within just a few months of release, “SOS” dominated music charts and streaming, and inspired countless remixes and trends made by fans everywhere. Anything that SZA attaches herself to takes off online, like her Saturday Night Live performance of “Big Boys,” a novelty song that went viral on TikTok.
In her lyrics, she beautifully captures the heavy and nuanced emotions that come with growing up, being in your 20s, going through break-ups, living through weighty periods of sorrow, and ultimately reclaiming your worth. SZA navigates the music industry her own way, from surprise-dropping three songs on an anonymous Soundcloud account, to defying expectations of what song structures make a hit. She is an artist that refuses to be put into a box, and her discography is an evident testament to her versatility. See one of our favorite SZA moments below.
Sharon Horgan, Webby Best Actress
A legendary comedian, executive producer, writer, Sharon Horgan has captured the Internet’s attention with her razor sharp wit and comedic brand of radical self-awareness. Since her 2006 breakthrough Pulling through her comedy Divorce, Sharon Horgan has dazzled viewers worldwide with her signature dark humor, eviscerating self-awareness, and propensity to say the quiet part out loud.
Her latest creation, “Bad Sisters” on Apple TV+, is a continuation of the style we’ve come to know and love. Adapted from a Belgian limited series, Bad Sisters takes streaming audiences and critics on a hilarious, ten-episode journey of four siblings—the Garvey sisters—attempting to kill a somewhat innocent man. In her role as eldest sister Eva Garvey, Sharon Horgan brings strength to her portrayal as a protective sister who comes into conflict with her younger sister, Grace’s abusive ex-husband. Watch the Bad Sisters trailer below.
SmartLess – Webby Podcast of the Year
Jason Bateman, Sean Hayes, and Will Arnett, better known as the hosts of SmartLess, will accept the 2023 Webby Podcast of the Year Award. Since launching in 2020, SmartLess has cemented itself as a pop culture phenomenon that resonates with online audiences everywhere. As hosts, Hayes, Bateman and Arnett blend witty banter and genuine friendship with thoughtful interviews. By leaning on the hosts’ incredible dynamic, SmartLess creates a space on the Internet for listeners to learn more about their favorite celebrities and public figures—from Bono and Charlize Theron to Jordan Peele and even President Joe Biden—in a laid back format that allows for seamless vulnerability and wow moments. Listen to an episode featuring Webby Special Achievement Winner Tracee Ellis Ross.
Tracee Ellis Ross – Webby Special Achievement
Tracee Ellis Ross is one of the Internet’s favorite people, and everyone’s best friend in their mind. Since her debut in “Girlfriends,” she has taken the entertainment industry by storm as an actress, producer and CEO—and as an example of living on your own terms.
Her unwavering belief in self-acceptance and belonging is evident in Pattern, her inclusive haircare brand, and new podcast I Am America. Through the former, Ross has increased Black representation in the beauty industry with a line of hair products and tools to serve curly hair. Through I Am America, Ross brings her innate storytelling skills to the audio industry as executive producer and co-writer. She is using a new medium to pull back the curtain on explored stories of people searching for belonging in the nation—from men navigating what masculinity means to them to architects developing spaces for restorative justice. With her at the helm and behind the scenes, I Am America is sharing beautiful stories of those who define their identities within complex systems with audiences worldwide. Listen to the first episode of I Am America below.
Tobe Nwigwe – Webby Special Achievement
Tobe Nwigwe’s vision and artistry is at the heart of all of his endeavors, from his 2020 release “CINCORIGINALS” to his 2022 album “moMINTS.” Nwigwe is an artist who is widely celebrated for his deeply affective lyrics, breathtaking execution and digital savvy; for “moMINTS,” he released 11 music videos within four months of each other. Nwigwe has a talent for fostering a holistic digital presence, with his robust catalog of music videos acting as visual extensions of his art.
Moreover, he’s brought his talents to television and film by starring as Nick in the Netflix comedy series Mo. His character mirrors Nwigwe’s roots in Houston–specifically Alief, a suburb in which both he and lead actor, Mohammed “Mo” Amer, grew up in. His work in the show has been hailed as his exciting and impressive foray into film. It illustrates his constant charge to push his craft to the next level and his adamant refusal to be boxed in as an artist of one medium.
Under The Desk News – Webby Special Achievement
Vitus “V” Spehar will receive a 2023 Webby Special Achievement Award for creating Under The Desk News, and for making the news accessible and understandable to young people through their candid, hard-hitting, and synoptic reporting. What started out as a series expanding on news events in a nutshell quickly became TikTok’s go-to source for news. V has mastered the art of short-form, giving audiences brief recaps of notable headlines daily. Under The Desk News promptly garnered a massive following–2.9 million to be exact–for its informal and relaxed feel, all hosted under a table.
Their in-depth citizen journalism led them to collaborate with notable figures like former President Obama and U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to lucidly inform and push for civic participation. They’ve even brought their laid-back coverage to audio, hosting Lemonada Media’s podcast “V Interesting.” V ingeniously sorts through the noise, briefing their audiences on all the essential facts.
Chat GPT- Webby Breakout of the Year
Sam Altman and the OpenAI team will receive the 2023 Webby Breakout of the Year Award for creating ChatGPT, the game-changing, generative AI writing tool. Launched by the OpenAI team in November 2022, Chat GPT was created to serve as an artificial intelligence tool that can write human-like prose. Its efficiency is astounding; when someone types in a prompt, the tool uses a language processing model to provide an answer that closely mirrors language written by a human. Just months after launch ChatGPT is a global phenomena, with 30 million users and 5 million daily visits it is the fastest adopted software product in recent history. Moreover the release has kicked off a global race to release AI products for consumers now impatiently waiting for AI technology to bring more efficiency to their lives.
As we approach the dawn of a new era for the Internet, one that will be largely driven by artificial intelligence, ChatGPT has paved the way for AI to become more integrated into the fabric of our society.
See all of the 2023 Webby Winners in the Winners Gallery + Index. Save the date—all winners, including our Special Achievement Winners, will be celebrated during the star-studded 27th Annual Webby Awards Show on May 15, hosted by Roy Wood Jr.! Follow @TheWebbyAwards on Instagram, Twitter and YouTube to catch all of the night’s best moments.