Hindsight 2020: Pop culture events that defined 2020, from BTS to Sugu Pavithra


2020 was a dynamite year for the seven-member group, BTS. Photo: Handout

BTS

Global K-pop superstar BTS has made 2020 its dynamite year alright. The group ends an accomplished year as Time magazine’s Entertainer Of The Year, and as the No.1 most tweeted about musicians in the United States for a fourth straight year.

Its first English single, Dynamite – from its second album of 2020 titled BE – not only gave BTS its first No.1 on Billboard's main singles chart but a Grammy nomination in the Best Pop Duo/Group Performance category.

Not one to sit idle during the pandemic, the seven-member group turned to livestream performances. Its Bang Bang Con livestream generated close to US$20mil in a single virtual show, while its two-day virtual pay-per-concert Map Of The Soul On:E drew nearly one million viewers.

Siti Nurhaliza

There aren’t many local artistes brave enough to release an album during a pandemic. Datuk Seri Siti Nurhaliza took the risk and released ManifestaSiti2020 on July 3. It paid off when the album sold 5,000 physical copies, despite the fact that CDs had been in decline in recent years.

The 41-year-old also landed on Forbes Asia’s 100 Digital Stars list for using her social media presence to help promote local food businesses.

Most recently, she had her name inscribed on Adelaide Festival Centre’s Walk Of Fame. Every year, artistes who performed at the venue stand a chance to be chosen for the honour. She performed at Adelaide Festival Centre as part of OzAsia Festival in 2019.

On the personal front, Siti made headlines when she announced she was expecting her second child, a boy.

Michelle Yeoh

Making Malaysia proud over and over again at the international stage is the 58-year-old Ipoh-born actress who worked tirelessly throughout the year – from hit TV series Star Trek: Discovery to sci-fi film Everything Everywhere All At Once and the first Marvel Asian superhero flick Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings.

Her hard work hasn't gone unnoticed. Last month, BBC named Yeoh as its 100 most inspiring and influential women from around the world for 2020.

Chadwick Boseman

The announcement of the tragic passing of Black Panther actor Chadwick Boseman on his Twitter account became the most liked tweet of all time. The actor was 43 when he died after a four-year battle with colon cancer, a shock pretty much to everyone as not even his close colleagues were aware of his deteriorating health.

However, Boseman's legacy is very much alive. On Dec 6, he was named the Hero Of The Ages at the 2020 MTV Movie & TV Awards. There’s also talk of an Oscar nomination for his final performance in Netflix film Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.

Marvel Studios recently announced that the actor will be heard and seen in an animated form in the series What If...?. Kevin Feige revealed to a magazine that the late actor “came in about four times and recorded numerous episodes” of the show.

The studio also announced that no new actor will be cast in Boseman’s role in Black Panther. In other words, he’d be the one and only T’Challa, the king of a fictional African nation known as Wakanda.

Sugu Pavithra

Former estate worker M. Sugu and his wife, homemaker S. Pavithra is undoubtedly one of 2020’s biggest local breakout stars.

Armed with just one wok, a spatula and two pots from their Sungai Siput, Perak home, their cooking channel Sugu Pavithra won over the hearts of Malaysians with its simple, stripped down recipes and the couple’s sincerity and humility. So much so, the channel drew some 700,000 subscribers in just a matter of months.

But things took an unexpected turn when Sugu was investigated in July for allegedly hitting Pavithra. The incident led to some 98 past videos being deleted from their channel. The charges were later dropped and Pavithra said she has forgiven her husband. A few days later, the couple returned to YouTube and vowed to put the past behind them and continue sharing more homecooked recipes.

Ellen DeGeneres

After years as the resident Ms Nice on daytime TV, 2020 showed us that it might all just be an act with DeGeneres. The talk show host was all over the news for the wrong reason when staff (past and present) came out to spill tea about working at the talk show. Accusations range from racism to rudeness. Guests on her show as well as people who have met her also chimed in on unpleasant experience with the 62-year-old comedian.

Naturally, a campaign to "cancel" DeGeneres started to trend on social media. On the premiere episode of her show in September, DeGeneres told viewers: "I want to say I am so sorry to the people who were affected. I know that I'm in a position of privilege and power... And I realised that with that comes responsibility... We have had a lot of conversations over the last few weeks about the show, our workplace, and what we want for the future. We have made the necessary changes and today, we are starting a new chapter." Ratings for her show has since slipped.

Cinema (closing, reopening, closing again)

It was not an open-and-shut case for cinema halls. For the months Malaysia was under MCO, the cinema was closed. When it reopened on July 1, there were some business as people were interested to watch Hollywood film Tenet, as well as Asian titles like Vanguard and Train To Busan: Peninsula.

But the revenue for cinema kept dropping due to cinema capacity being halved, lack of strong content and many people staying away when the new wave of Covid-19 hit the country again. Film exhibitors decided to temporarily close in November, to then reopen at states undergoing recovery MCO on Dec 16 in time for Wonder Woman 1984.

While film exhibitors are wondering why cinema is asked to be shut when other shops in the same malls are allowed to be opened regardless of the MCO, audiences are wondering will they ever see a film on the big screen again.

Parasite

While director Bong Joon-ho’s capitalist satire clearly deserved top Oscar awards, no one could’ve guessed it would walk away with Oscar’s biggest prize. The Korean drama was named Best Picture and made history as the first film not in English language to win this award. It also took Oscar’s Best Director, Best Original Screenplay and Best International Film.

The unprecedented victory came after multiple wins for the excellent film including Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language and BAFTA Award for Best Foreign Language Film. As Bong said during his Golden Globes speech, “the one-inch-tall barrier of subtitles” might just be a thing of the past.

TikTok

Short-form video sharing app TikTok took the world by storm in 2020. Its appeal? Offering bite-sized entertainment, whether it’s comedy sketches or infectious dance moves, for users who just want a quick distraction.

TikTok was also a hit among celebrities like Mariah Carey who washed her hands to Fantasy and Jane Fonda who brought back her popular 1980s workout. In Malaysia, singer Andi Bernadee tapped into his comedic side with his hilarious skits while actress Nora Danish (pic) encouraged us to dance our worries away.

Emily In Paris

There's no such thing as bad publicity, says showman P.T. Barnum years ago. And that rings true for Netflix's much-talked and oft-ridiculed series starring Lily Collins as an American working in the French capital.

Critics were out to crucify the shallow series while fans say it is this kind of escapism we need in these troubled times. But numbers don't lie: the series had so many people watching (and hate-watching) that Netflix has granted it a second season. Which means you can expect more Emily memes populating your timeline soon.

Naya Rivera

The story of former Glee star Naya Rivera’s death flooded our news feed in July, and especially affected those who followed the musical comedy-drama series.

When Rivera was first declared missing after going on a boating trip with her son (who was found alive) at Lake Piru, California, on July 8, there was still hope that she would be found alive. Fans waited day after day for new updates on the 33-year-old’s whereabouts. Five days later, Rivera’s body was found dead.

Some mooted the idea that the stars of Glee were cursed. Rivera’s passing marks the show’s third death, after its lead star Cory Monteith was found dead in a hotel room in 2013 due to heroin and alcohol overdose and, in 2018, another cast Mark Salling, who pleaded guilty for possession of child pornography, took his own life while waiting to be sentenced.

Neelofa

One of the biggest local entertainment news of the year was fashion influencer and entrepreneur Neelofa’s decision to don the niqab. The 31-year-old, who is an ambassador for multiple international brands, says she was ready to be rejected by them.

”I was ready for any possibilities including being turned down or labelled as an extremist," she shared with actress Uyaina Arshad. "Instead they asked me, 'how can we (the brand) fit in with your new appearance?’”

Neelofa, who is the most followed Malaysian on Instagram with 8.3 million followers, also earned a spot on Forbes Asia’s 100 Digital Stars list. She also premiered her very own talk show, Next To Neelofa, in July.

There was also some exciting development in her love life, as preacher PU Riz held a merisik ceremony at Neelofa’s home (a ceremony where a man visits the family of his prospective wife).

Jennifer Lopez

This Latina just goes from strength to strength in 2020. Lopez started out the year on a high note when she headlined the Super Bowl half-time show in February. Together with Shakira, they drew 103 million viewers to the show (and that's just in the United States).

Throughout the year, the 51-year-old kept herself busy filming (Marry Me) and recording music (Pa Ti with her Marry Me co-star Maluma and In The Morning, in which she appears nude on the cover of the single).

Lopez said the pandemic has helped in getting her ready for bigger things to come in her career. She tells Harpers Bazaar: "Working from home is reading scripts, developing new projects, even working out and learning new dance routines. Because now, you can use the time to prepare. At some point, hopefully soon, we're going to bounce back. So, we need to use this time to get ready to come back even better." And you can bet your bottom dollar, J.Lo's gonna be better.

Black Lives Matter

Los Angeles Times summarised this historical turning point with the headline: “2020 was the year America embraced Black Lives Matter as a movement, not just a moment.”

George Floyd’s death due to police brutality in May sparked conversations in numerous industries including the entertainment world. Racial injustice and depiction of police officers in cop shows are things that are being looked at seriously due to the movement.

In the process, American reality show Cops was cancelled, while some other new series were shelved. Existing programmes like Blue Bloods, Brooklyn Nine-Nine and NCIS had to rethink how law enforcement characters behave on their respective shows.

As previously seen, the police officers sometimes break the rules and get away scot-free, which activists reportedly said leads to police misconduct. The hope is, they said, when police violence is not glorified on TV, issues leading to bad behaviour on force and racism can be changed too.

Dua Lipa

While other music artistes fear the sophomore slump – in which the second album tanks after the success of the first one — Lipa didn't have to worry one bit. Her Future Nostalgia album not only produced a handful of hits, it also propelled the 25-year-old to superstardom. Name a talk show that she didn't perform at (virtually or otherwise) this year.

And speaking of performance, her virtual concert Studio 2054 in November drew more than 5 million global views, a record for a paid livestream. We didn't expect anything less for Dua Lipa.

Blackpink

The Korean girl group was definitely in everyone’s area in 2020. In October, Blackpink released its first ever full-length album titled The Album, which debuted at No. 2 on the US Billboard 200, becoming the highest-charting female Korean album.

The group also increased its profile by collaborating with American superstars Lady Gaga and Selena Gomez.

There was no missing the Lovesick Girls hitmaker on the small screen either. The group became the subject matter of Netflix’s first K-pop documentary Light Up The Sky, that charts members Jisoo, Jennie, Rose and Lisa in their musical journey from idol trainees to superstars.

Unexpected TV gems

Who knew a period drama about chess, a reality show about a long-suffering matchmaker and another about an eccentric (to say the least) zookeeper would all become some of the biggest TV hits of the year?

While there have been a number of movies revolving around chess, there isn’t a chess-themed TV show quite so celebrated as The Queen’s Gambit. More than just chess, the Anya Taylor-Joy-starrer told a compelling, emotional story.

Watching Mumbai-based matchmaker Sima Taparia help find a match for her super picky clients was incredibly entertaining. Indian Matchmaking not only offered drama and humour, it gave us an insight into Indian culture and its take on love and marriage.

Lastly, there’s Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem And Madness. There’s so much going on in this true crime series about tiger breeder Joe Exotic, who is behind bars for murder-for-hire and animal cruelty charges, that there is no way to accurately describe it without watching the show yourself.

Youth-themed K-dramas

South Korean dramas have always been a hit among Malaysians. But this year, K-dramas with storylines revolving around youths seem to resonate with viewers more.

The biggest titles of 2020 – Itaewon Class, Record Of Youth, It’s Okay Not To Be Okay, Start-Up – all spoke about the struggles of the young people.

"In the past, youth dramas featured students' lives and love but now they have expanded their horizons," culture critic Jeong Deok-hyun told The Korea Herald. "The young generation is experiencing uncertainties about their future and feels the wide gap between them and their parents. There are a lot of things to say in youth dramas."

Dolly Parton

Everyone's beloved country star Dolly Parton may be 74 but that hasn't slowed her down one bit. This year saw Parton releasing her 47th (!) solo studio album, A Holly Dolly Christmas.

Also in the holiday spirit, Parton starred in the Netflix musical Christmas On The Square playing an angel. A befitting character, we later found out, when it was revealed that the US$1mil the philanthropist donated for Covid-19 relief efforts were later used to fund Moderna's Covid-19 vaccine.

Zoom

It was all about social networking this year as we stayed home. The most popular app that became everyone’s go-to during quarantine was Zoom. Other favoured videoconferencing tools used to stay in touch include Skype, WhatsApp Group Chat, Google Hangouts and WebEx.

Talk show hosts began to get onto the virtual interviews too, as they restarted their programmes from their homes. Filmmakers got creative as well, making movies in entirety with Zoom. Rob Savage’s low-budget horror film titled Host is about a group of friends who enact a seance over Zoom during lockdown that goes awry.

Likewise, Japanese director Shinichiro Ueda (One Cut Of The Dead) released a 26-minute-long comedy horror shot using Zoom titled One Cut Of The Dead Mission: Remote.

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