It was an unusual year marked by unusual events: an unprecedented global pandemic, youth-led protest movements, impassioned Black Lives Matter demonstrations, a divisive US Election.
The list goes on.
Amid all the negative news, and just when we needed nourishment and escape the most, COVID-19 devastated the creative industries.
Broadway lights went out, the Met Gala and Glastonbury were cancelled, galleries and theatres closed.
Yet despite all this, culture still managed to thrive in unexpected and innovative ways.
Take, for example, the group of resilient Spanish musicians who serenaded an opera house full of plants instead of a live audience, or the Emmy Award ambassadors who delivered trophies to winners while wearing Hazmat tuxedos.
Below are some of the cultural moments that offered hope and distraction in an otherwise tough 2020.
Harry and Meghan retired as working royals
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex announced on Instagram that they would be “stepping back” as senior members of the British royal family in January.
(Yes, this happened in 2020).
Instead of being granted the hybrid role they originally pitched for, Prince Harry and Meghan gave up their royal titles and subsequent duties entirely as they packed up and moved to California.
Far from shrinking into the shadows, their post-royal lives have been highly visible.
They urged Americans to vote in the US presidential election (a move criticized for breaching the British royal family’s tradition of political neutrality).
Then, in an op-ed for the New York Times, Meghan revealed she had suffered a miscarriage earlier in the year, another example of high-profile figures helping to break the taboo around pregnancy loss.
And, like the Obamas, the pair is set to become Hollywood producers, closing a multi-year deal with Netflix that will see them create scripted series, docu-series, documentaries, features and children’s programming.
Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt flirted on Zoom
The exes reunited for a charity virtual reading of “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” and the internet, and Julia Roberts, grinned uncontrollably.
“Hi Brad … I think you’re so sexy, will you come to me?” Aniston crooned.
And for a brief moment, we forgot about all the bad news in the world and burrowed into a safe cocoon of nostalgia.
‘Tiger King’ reigned
In March, as countries throughout the West went into strict lockdown, a self-described “gay, gun-toting cowboy with a mullet,” called Joe Exotic provided the ultimate escape, in the form of docu-series “Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness.”
The big cat owner and his arch-nemesis, animal rights advocate Carole Baskin, re-ignited our love for animal prints (which inspired many Halloween outfits) and provided hours of much-needed entertainment as they waged war against each other.
Madonna bathed in milk
While we love to see celebrities taking a stand, there are times when we just don’t want to hear from them at all.
None more so than during a global pandemic.
Social media backlash ensued when Gal Gadot and her famous friends sung a cringe-worthy rendition of John Lennon’s “Imagine,” many from the comfort of their spacious homes.
Failing to read the room, Madonna then posted a bizarre video on Instagram, where she called COVID-19, “the great equalizer,” and claimed that “what’s terrible about it is what’s great about it.”
This epiphany came to her, naturally, while soaking in a milky tub of rose petals, piano music tinkling in the background.
People recreated iconic artworks at home
With most art exhibitions and galleries shut down, the Getty Museum in Los Angeles launched a social media challenge, inviting people to recreate their favourite artworks with three household objects.
Among our favourites: swirling cloud formations of “Starry Night” (1889) recreated with spaghetti; a woman and bulldog posing as “Madonna and Child” (1290-1295), and two rows of colourful Xanex boxes, nodding to Warhol’s famous soup cans.
‘The Crown’ blurred the line between fact and fiction
Audiences devoured the fourth season of “The Crown,” with many younger viewers introduced to the ill-fated marriage, and drama, between Prince Charles and Princess Diana for the first time.
Concerns arose over the portrayal of royal members and its casting of future king Prince Charles in an unflattering light.
(Charles, played by Josh O’Connor, is depicted as a petulant, selfish serial-cheater who eventually drives the sacrificial lamb-like Princess Diana, played by Emma Corrin, to bulimia and depression.)
The series’ creative license – especially in its re-imagining of private conversations – has drawn criticism from some quarters, leading the UK’s Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden to demand that Netflix include a disclaimer clarifying to viewers that they are watching a work of fiction.
Netflix hasn’t baulked.
The internet went monolith mad
In late November, a three-metre-tall silver structure appeared in the Utah desert.
Its rectangular form resembled the otherworldly monolith in Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey.”
Discovered during a routine helicopter mission by the state’s Department of Public Safety, the mysterious object went viral as people debated whether it was the work of artists or aliens.
It wasn’t long until curious online sleuths geo-mapped its coordinates, and a wave of visitors soon arrived to pose with (and in some cases crudely mount) the sculpture.
Then, it suddenly disappeared, only to have imitations spring up in places as far afield as Romania, Australia and Britain’s Isle of Wight.