As 2021 begins, it is important to take a moment and reflect on 2020. Our limits were tested this year, as the pandemic isolated many of us and caused untold grief. As we reckoned with the world changing around us, many found information, connection, distraction and comfort through the arts. Read on to look back on some of the biggest cultural moments of the year.
“Parasite” Wins Best Picture
At the 2020 Oscars, “Parasite” became the first-ever foreign-language movie to win the award for best picture. The South Korean film by Bong Joon-ho follows a family from the slums of South Korea and their interaction with an upper-class family. While the families’ interactions start peaceful, if not entirely honest, the movie takes a shocking turn toward the end.
Bong used both subtle and overt tactics in Parasite, blending wry comedy and thrilling moments of conflict to convey his commentary on class dynamics. “My films generally seem to have three components: fear, anxiety, and a kekeke sense of humor,” Bong told Vulture, using the Korean equivalent of “ha-ha.” “Humor comes from anxiety, too. At least when we laugh, there’s a feeling that we’re overcoming some kind of horror.”
When Beyoncé Meets TikTok
The phenomenon of TikTok seemed to stay well within the bounds of lower Gen Z’s interests for a while. Last year, in my junior year of college, only a few of my peers had ever seen a TikTok. I occasionally checked to watch my younger brother’s videos as he racked up one million likes.
That all changed in quarantine when people who used to boast that they had never seen a TikTok began downloading the app. In March, 28.8 million users 18 years or older downloaded TikTok while “in April, that number jumped to 39.2 million—three times the 12.6 million who used the app last April.” At the end of April, Beyoncé hopped on the TikTok train when Megan Thee Stallion’s “Savage Remix” dropped.
Suddenly my friends were not only watching TikToks but learning the dance to the song. Older Gen Z and lower Gen Z were united. The song quickly worked its way up to the No. 1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100.
The Year of Limited Series
Limited series have been growing in popularity over the years, but in 2020 they thrived. Typically, limited series are released as a one-season television series with only up to eight episodes. The beauty of a limited series is its concise telling of a single story. Each scene can be thoughtfully directed and curated because the creators know how the story will end.
Some of the most influential limited series released this year have been Netflix’s “Tiger King,” Hulu’s “Little Fires Everywhere,” Netflix’s “Queen’s Gambit” and HBO’s “Undoing.” Although many other limited series came out throughout the year, these series released when lockdowns were more widespread and strict. These series sparked conversations and potentially gave a glimpse into the future of television.
Anti-Racist Reading List Rose In Popularity
As grassroots protests grew across the United States in response to the unjust deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd and decades of police brutality, many wanted to learn more about racial injustice in the United States. As a result, books like “So You Want to Talk About Race” by Ijeoma Oluo, “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coats and “How to Be an Antiracist” by Ibram X. Kendi soared in readership. People across the United States were putting together and learning from anti-racist book lists.
Some activists were encouraged by the popularity of anti-racist reading lists, and contributed to sharing resources, literature and powerful messages to encourage continued learning. However, others are concerned that too many will see learning about racial injustice as the last step of their activism, rather than their first. Reading literature and unlearning privilege can be a good first step in the road to a more just future, but following learning with action and practice is essential to making a difference.
Taylor Swift Tries Her Hand with a Surprise Album Release
Swifties everywhere held their breath the morning of July 23 when Taylor Swift announced she would be dropping an entire album at midnight Eastern Time. Surprise albums are not a new phenomenon (see Beyoncé for perfection) but this was Taylor Swift’s first. Typically, she releases a single or two before the full album comes.
The day leading up to the release I felt mixed emotions; although I always liked Taylor Swift, I stopped relating to her albums as much on the previous two releases (“Reputation” and “Lover”) save for a few beautifully done songs. I expected her talent to shine through in the new album but I could not have imagined the art and emotion “folklore” included. With each passing song I fell deeper into the imaginary world she created and emotions overtook me. She honed in on her storytelling ability and the poetic devices integral to her early songs.
Fans got a bonus treat when Swift released the sister album “evermore” on Dec. 11. Listening to this album in real-time as my Twitter feed filled with reactions was such a unifying feeling.
Americans Turned Out to the Polls in Record Numbers
Voting is a form of speech available to millions of Americans, making the U.S. presidential election a unique cultural moment. The U.S. election season looked different than most years, but that didn’t stop voters. In fact, this year was a historic year for voter turnout. Biden won the presidency with over 80 million votes, making him the president elected with the most votes in U.S. history — to be exact his 81,283,098 votes beat Trump’s 74,222,957 votes from 2016.
Not only was there the largest total number of votes, but this year saw the highest percentage of the eligible population voting in 120 years. In 2020, 66.7% of eligible voters voted in the election compared to 60.1% in 2016. The only other election that had a higher voter turnout was in 1900 with 73.7%. Mail-in ballots and early voting could have had a major impact on these numbers. About 100 million Americans used these methods to help ensure their voice was heard in this election.
Take some time to reminisce about some of the more memorable moments of 2020 as 2021 begins. While our lives undertook major changes this past year, it is refreshing to think back on the moments that really brought us together as a country.