Remember when we were young and naive 4 years ago, believing that 2016 was the be-all-end-all of cataclysmic years? In a year that saw some notable celebrity deaths like Prince, Carrie Fisher, and Debbie Reynolds, along with the election of a literal fascist — 2016 pales in comparison to the dark timeline that ended up being 2020. Seriously, we should all blush at how good we had it in what seems like a lifetime ago.
This year was an apocalypse. I mean this with all sincerity. Society and life as we all knew it crumbled. Hard. We discovered the failings of nearly every American system, saw some of the most egregious acts of racial violence, witnessed destruction from climate catastrophes across the country, and suffered through a weeklong election that is still contested by half the country. All with the backdrop of 300+ thousand dead and a pandemic our leaders refuse to pause capitalism to eradicate (as most of the developed world has).
There was some deep shit that happened this year. But what I bring you here to commemorate for five minutes is what fantastic things we did get out of this hellscape of a year. I believe that when times are tough politically or socially, people cling hard to the comforts of pop culture. It is no coincidence that the most culturally stylish and subversive periods in this country’s modern history occurred under hyper-oppressive conditions (think Reagan, W. Bush, Clinton). The regime of Trump was no different. And this year, artists and citizens alike made it their mission to have fun in spite of it all.
Outside of the obvious highlights of electing Joe Biden and finalizing a vaccine, there were many delightful cultural moments to speak of from this year. Here’s my list of 20 of them, in no particular order.
Animal Crossing and its grand horizons
Oh, how we loved our furry neighbors and friends in this addictive social simulation game.
The ending of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power
Spoiler: there is no heterosexual explanation for this one.
Tiger King’s tales of Exotic-a
Corruption, Joe Exotic, Carole Baskin, oh my! Doesn’t it feel like so long ago when everyone was watching this?
Doggface208’s TikTok seen ’round the world
A level of carefree to aspire to. Often imitated, never duplicated.
Zendaya’s Emmy win
The youngest to win Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series for Euphoria, and a biracial Black woman to boot!
Shea Coulee finally snatching the crown on All-Stars 5
The visionary drag queen finally got her moment after infamously coming up second in RuPaul’s Drag Race season nine.
Parasite winning Best Picture at the Oscars
The first non-English language film to win the honor. When the film also scored big at the Golden Globes, director Bong Joon Ho was sure to drag us for that fact, too.
Great queer representation on HBO Max
The updated streaming service wowed viewers with shows like Legendary and We’re Here.
Supermarket Sweep back on our TVs
Another revival of the hit game show with Leslie Jones. Hilarity ensued!
For wrestling fans, the long-awaited Bayley vs. Sasha Banks feud
Baysha stans were FED this year, finally! All the gold, baby!
All of the celebrity babies born and conceived this year
What can I say, I’m pregnancy-obsessed. It’s poppin’ off in the maternity wards next year!
Megan the Stallion’s first studio album
Aptly titled Good News, the H-Town Hottie delivered fans a new collection of bangers to twerk to in the club….eventually.
The Last of Us Part II was finally released
The highly-anticipated sequel to the original video game delivered on expectations — depending on who you ask. (Hint: not the people in the comments of this video.)
Black Is King was another crown jewel in Beyonce’s catalogue
Again, depending on who you ask…
The Savage X Fenty Fashion Show Vol. 2 stunned
Another anticipated sequel released to much fanfare on Amazon Prime.
“WAP” was the anthem of our lives
Infuriating misogynists of all genders for weeks on end, the Cardi B/Megan thee Stallion song also reminded us about the importance of maintaining a moisturized punani. No really.
P-Valley showed us the real deal in Black Southern strip clubs
More pussy dominance! (What else did you think the “P” stood for?)
The birth of Verzuz battles!
Purely for The Culture (IYKYK), we saw such legendary battles as Jill Scott vs. Erykah Badu, Gladys Knight vs. Patti LaBelle, and most recently Too $hort vs. E-40 (for all the Oakland baes!). No beefs, all love.
They say when you hit rock bottom, the only way is up. I’d like to believe that for most of us, rock bottom was this year. We really had the rug pulled out from under us. We were either burnt out from being overworked during a pandemic, or depressed and lonely out of work in extended solitude. If this list is any evidence, when everything around us sucks, those little victories start to matter more. The little things that make us smile — a video game, a song, even a TikTok — become the soundtrack to those unforgettable periods in our lives.
As we move forward into 2021 and the rest of our lives, let’s not forget what got us through this time. Maybe somewhere down the road when your life takes another turn, you’ll remember how you made it through 2020 and let a gentle smile creep into the darkness.