10 defining digital moments of the year that was 2020, from Verzuz to TikTok

Posted by Chloe James in Comment

3 years ago

It might have been a total disaster, but 2020 delivered some of the best digital content in years. Spending more time on social media than ever, the combination of frustration, boredom and spare time had endlessly creative results. At the same time, social and political issues worked their way to the front of the digital landscape, with users rallying behind the Black Lives Matter movement and the fight to depose Donald Trump from the White House. Need help mapping out the year that felt like a century? Here’s our roundup of the biggest digital moments in 2020…

1. PE with Joe Wicks: 2020 has been a difficult 12 months for many, but for Joe Wicks it was the year that saw him become a national treasure. After schools closed in March due to the pandemic, Joe stepped up and created PE With Joe Wicks; fun live-streamed workout sessions designed to get children and parents moving every morning. He was an instant hit, with nearly one million households tuning in to take part in March. His dedication, hilarious fancy dress costumes and goofy dance moves cemented his place in the nation’s heart, and in October he was awarded an MBE for his efforts.

2. No Signal Radio: created during lockdown by brothers Jojo and David Sonubi as an online alternative to the former’s London-based club night Recess, No Signal has produced a number of shows including its popular music clash, 10v10. Prioritising its core Black audience and network of DJs and presenters has not only resulted in a dedicated body of support but a steady transition from bedroom broadcasting to a media powerhouse with the crowdfunded arrival of their new studio space. In November, the station announced its measures to establish a home for young aspiring Black creatives with its most recent initiative in partnership with Youth Music, No Signal Academy.

3. Share The Mic: in an effort to amplify Black women’s voices, a group of notable entrepreneurs, activists and creatives took over the Instagram accounts of high-profile non-Black women, including A-list celebrities Kourtney Kardashian, Gwyneth Paltrow and Alexa Chung. An initiative originally created in the US by Bozoma Saint John, Luvvie Ajayi Jones, Glennon Doyle and Stacey Bendet Eisner, was recreated in the UK during Black History Month by British Vogue’s publishing director Vanessa Kingori and chair of the British Fashion Council Stephanie Phair. Bringing together Black women across the country and reaching millions of people on social media in a move to generate change saw over 70 women with a combined audience of over 175million on Instagram alone participate in the initiative.

4. Verzuz: the music clash series was formed at the height of quarantine by American producers Timbaland and Swizz Beatz and has facilitated legendary battles between the likes of Erykah Badu and Jill Scott as well as Gladys Knight and Patti LaBelle. And while Verzuz’s initial aim was to provide a universal form of entertainment in response to the pandemic, it quickly turned into one of the biggest digital phenomenons to come out during this period. Garnering millions of views worldwide – one of its battles between singers Brandy and Monica smashed previous records by becoming the first livestream to reach 1.2m views – led to the platform being officially trademarked a month after its launch and additionally boosted music streams for artists (Scott and Badu amassed a total of 6.7m streams after their performance). In August, Verzuz went on to sign an exclusive partnership with Apple Music where it can be watched both via livestream and on-demand.

5. TikTok: in the year the app went stratospheric, TikTokkers became celebrities in their own right. Charli D’Amelio became the first user to reach 100 million followers, while she and sister Dixie are set to branch out into television in 2021 with The D’Amelio Show, a Kardashian-esque Hulu series documenting the family trying to navigate fame. Viral moments of the year include the lockdown-defining dance to Megan Thee Stallion’s Savage, “meatier” VS “meteor”, and the man who became famous with nothing more than a skateboard, cranberry juice and a Fleetwood Mac tune. The biggest moment of them all? Ratatouille: The Musical, in which users collaborated on a stage show inspired by the Pixar movie about a rat who loves to cook (a filmed concert version is now planned to raise money for charity in January).

6. Gaming: another favourite pastime of lockdown, the gaming industry has boomed in 2020 due to the restrictions of the pandemic leaving the nation desperate to find something to do. We’ve seen popular games such as Animal Crossing’s New Horizons  – the best-selling game of the year – and the intergalactic sleuthing game Among Us, become digital phenomenons of 2020, with the latter even resulting in influencers such as the Sidemen recreating life size versions of the game. Gaming platforms have become so popular that rappers such as Lil Nas X and Travis Scott have used Roblox and Fortnite respectively, to host online concerts that have been viewed millions of times.

7. #IWantToSeeNyome: this is the perfect example of how a digital moment can lead to change. In August 2020, model and mental health advocate, Nyome Nicholas-Williams shared a photo of herself on Instagram with her arms crossed over her bare chest. Within hours of her posting, the photo had been taken down and Instagram had threatened to delete her account, despite the fact that similar photos taken by the same photographer but of white women had not. This led to an outcry amongst Nyome’s followers over the censorship of black and plus-sized bodies, leading to the rise of #IWantToSeeNyome. This movement led to a petition of over 20,000 signatures and fellow influencers such as Stephanie Yeboah and Emma Slade Edmondson showed solidarity with their own photos and posts. The original photos were eventually reinstated after writer Gina Martin took on the case and in October, Instagram and Facebook changed their policies to “allow content where someone is simply hugging, cupping or holding their breasts”. 

8. The TV everyone tuned in for: with the pandemic keeping many inside for the majority of the year, it’s no surprise that the hours we spend watching TV has increased. And with not much else to do in the evenings, watching certain programmes became a shared experience that has shaped 2020 culture. At the beginning of lockdown there was Tiger King, a true-crime documentary series on Netflix that explored the eccentric, niche world of big cat owners and their bizarre antics. The show became a digital hit, sparking TikTok dances, conspiracy theories and even inspired one of Kim Kardashian’s Halloween outfits. Later on in the year, we saw the nation settling down to watch the Great British Bake Off, the wholesome content of which is in stark contrast to the drama of Joe Exotic. Despite this, it was the most popular series of the show since its move to Channel 4 and has already created new influencers out of its contestants, including winner Peter Sawkins and fan favourite Lottie Bedlow.

9. Digital Fashion Week: with the pandemic rendering usual fashion week protocol impossible, designers shifted shows online. Chanel streamed its show to its entire Instagram following, and one in-person guest, actress Kristen Stewart. Most brands embraced this kind of “phygital” show, an interactive physical and digital hybrid. Not only did the absence of a mass audience allow for more creativity, but it drove engagement on social media – Chanel’s phygital show had nearly five times the views of its digital-only show in June.

10. Grounded with Louis Theroux: the presenter went digital in 2020, creating lockdown’s most listened to podcast as a chance to fulfil his wishlist of high-profile interviewees. A highlight is his episode with KSI. Interviewed for the first series of the show alongside the likes of Helena Bonham Carter and Lenny Henry, the YouTuber, rapper and amateur boxer opened up about his education, income and relationship with his family. A must-listen for old and new KSI fans alike.

By Jennifer Adetoro, Lucinda Diamond and Chloe James.