There’s no way around it; this year has been hard for everybody. They had to adapt. They had to find new ways to interact with their fans. They had to find new ways to record their music. They had to find new ways to perform the music. But they still managed to make this year feel special by creating events out of their releases and performances. These nine artists defined the year in more ways than one.
Like most of us, Taylor Swift had a big year planned. Lover Fest East and West, performing at some of the biggest festivals around the world, and I’m sure there was more we didn’t even get to hear because it got cancelled before she got the chance to announce it. While we sat at home eating ice cream and streaming countless series and movies, she turned to what she does best. She was hard at work on not one but TWO albums. So after we ran out of ice cream and had no more shows or movies left to watch, we listened to folklore again and again. Then she dropped evermore, and we listened again and again. At the start of the year, she dropped her Netflix documentary, ‘Miss Americana,’ which pulled back the curtain on her career and showed some of the struggles she has had to face privately and publicly. As a Thanksgiving present, she treated us to a surprise self-directed concert film called ‘folklore: the long pond studio sessions’ on Disney+ where she performed every song off the highly acclaimed album with collaborators Jack Antonoff, Aaron Dessner, and Bon Iver. Within a span of less than 15 months, she released a total of 3 albums with ‘Lover,’ ‘folklore,’ and ‘evermore.’
You would think that might mean there would be a little bit of a lack in quality, but think again because I think it had the adverse effect and only made her work better. I can’t wait to see how she performs these personal and intimate songs on a more grand scale in a stadium setting, but you better believe I’ll be there when she does. If she was able to pull this much off in a year like 2020, I fear/look forward to what she has in store next.
Dua Lipa capped off 2019 with the release of “Don’t Start Now,” so expectations were high heading in 2020. Oh my, did she surpass those expectations, though. 2020 didn’t slow her down one bit. If anything, it rushed things along, and her album was released a week early. She couldn’t perform her album to crowds of thousands like she otherwise would’ve been able to, so what did she do? Naturally, she rented out an entire warehouse and shot a livestream concert called ‘Studio 2054’ prepped with multiple different stages and transitions into mini-worlds. No big deal. Then she had Kylie Minogue, FKA twigs, Elton John, Miley Cyrus, and more incredible artists join her to perform on the show. Prior to this, she had already released one of the best albums of the year with ‘Future Nostalgia,’ and dropped an entire remix album called ‘Club Future Nostalgia’ with The Blessed Madonna featuring Madonna, Missy Elliott, Gwen Stefani, and Mark Ronson. Again, no big deal. Not to be outdone by anyone, she remixed “Levitating” again, this time with DaBaby. Then she did a song with Miley Cyrus called “Prisoner,” which was the most perfect song they could have done together. She capped off the year with six nominations at the Grammys. Between all of these major milestones, she also brought us into the Future Nostalgia universe when she performed on just about every award show and talk show out there. So, yeah, no big deal. After the year she has just had, I think it’s finally safe to say that she’s going to be around for a while and is really working on taking over the pop genre and the entire music industry.
Megan Thee Stallion
Megan Thee Stallion was poised to have an incredible year this year from the get-go, but she has quickly become one of the biggest artists at the moment thanks to her confident yet relatable personality and catchy but original songs. With all that, she has won just about everybody over as a fan. And if you’re not a fan, she could care less. In less than a year, she got to collaborate with her idols Nicki Minaj AND Cardi B AND Beyoncé all on separate songs. Now that’s some *real hot girl shit*! Name someone else who could say that. After a series of mixtapes and EPs, she released her official debut album, ‘Good News,’ and it was exactly the good news we had been looking for. She has a song for every moment and emotion on the album, which also features SZA, City Girls, DaBaby, Big Sean, and more — including a collab with her alter ego Hot Girl Meg. Her songs reigned supreme over Tik Tok with dances to her songs “Savage” and “Body” taking over the app. It’s hard to imagine how she could’ve had a better year.
The Weeknd faced the unfortunate (for him, but fortunate for us) timing of releasing his new album, ‘After Hours,’ just as the world started to shut down. He could’ve let this album go and written it off due to bad timing, but he did the exact opposite. It only made him work harder to push this album. His performances were some of the biggest of the year with each one leading in to the next as he played his Red Suit Man character. Who can blame him for looking all bruised and beaten every time he performs? He’s probably just exhausted from carrying the music industry for the better part of the year. He collaborated with some of the biggest artists in the industry with Ariana Grande, Doja Cat, ROSALÍA, Maluma, Calvin Harris, and Kenny G. As good as 2020 was to The Weeknd, 2021 is shaping up to be even bigger when he will kick things off by performing the Super Bowl Halftime Show in February.
This was supposed to be Ariana Grande’s off year. Not that she has ever been able to handle down time well (for example, secretly writing and recording a whole album called thank u, next in a matter of weeks). So what did she do? She collaborated with Lady Gaga on “Rain On Me,” released a duet with Justin Bieber titled “Stuck With U” with the proceeds going to charity, released a new single called “positions” a week before dropping an entire new album called ‘Positions’ featuring collaborations with The Weeknd, Doja Cat, and Ty Dolla $ign, got three #1 hits on the Hot 100 this year, collaborated with her biggest inspiration Mariah Carey on the “Oh Santa!” Remix with Jennifer Hudson, and released the Sweetener World Tour movie, ‘excuse me, i love you,’ on Netflix. (The concert doc was especially timely now given that none of us have been to a real concert in almost a year now). Oh, and she just got engaged to her fiancé Dalton Gomez. Did your 2020 go as good as Ariana’s did?
Harry Styles has had a standout year following the release of his second solo album, Fine Line. “Watermelon Sugar” and “Adore You” were two of the biggest hits at radio this year, and his music videos have been some of the most popular. He finally got his well-deserved Hot 100 #1 with “Watermelon Sugar,” and “Adore You” stayed within the top ten for a number of weeks. Our followers named “Watermelong Sugar” the song of the summer (by a landslide; he got 45.38% of the votes) in our poll this July. He has made a close friend of the legendary Stevie Nicks. We’re still waiting on them to release a song together. It just has to happen at this point. He appeared on the cover plenty of magazines this year, but none made as much noise as his Vogue cover where he was wearing a light blue dress and a jacket. If you logged on social media in November, you know the photoshoot I’m talking about. It caused an uproar on one side, but the rest of us celebrated him for breaking gender norms. He earned his first Grammy nomination, but not only that, he earned a total of three for Best Pop Vocal Album, Best Pop Solo Performance, and Best Music Video. He has been busy broadening his horizons in the acting world and started filming Olivia Wilde’s new movie, Don’t Worry Darling, alongside Florence Pugh, Chris Pine, and Dakota Johnson. As great as 2020 was for him, all the signs are pointing toward 2021 and beyond being even bigger for Harry Styles.
Doja Cat absolutely blew up in 2020. Just the beginning of last year, she was the “I’m a cow, MOOO!” girl, and now she’s got a #1 single, countless chart hits, and has performed on the biggest shows in the world. She did the VMAs, AMAs, BBMAs, Jimmy Kimmel, Jimmy Fallon, James Corden, The Voice, EMAs, Jingle Ball, Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve, NBC’s New Year’s Eve, AND more if you can believe it. Her live performances have been some of the most inventive and original of the year, even in the middle of a pandemic. She wasn’t able to go on tour or perform on the big festival stages she was booked for, but I know she is more than ready to take them on when things go back to normal (and the crowds will be swarming to see her, including me). She collaborated with so many artists this year, we lost count, including Nicki Minaj, Ariana Grande, The Weeknd, Bebe Rexha, City Girls, Anne-Marie, and Ozuna. Now, that’s what you call a level up. Like so many artists this year, she has benefited from the rising success of TikTok, and her songs “Say So,” “Cyber Sex,” and “Like That” all had their own dances and trends on the app. Her album, Hot Pink, has done so well because every song sounds entirely different, so there’s really something on it for everyone. The Grammy voters clearly agreed, and she got three nominations for Record of the Year, Best New Artist, and Best Pop Solo Performance. We’ve been hearing about some of the collaborations she has in the pipeline, and if they’re anything close to what she’s done so far, they’re worth getting excited about.
Chloe x Halle
Chloe x Halle had a transcending year in 2020, and from the looks of it, they didn’t have to leave their home. They had the best performances of any of their peers performing the songs from their amazing album, Ungodly Hour, on their home tennis court. This should serve as inspiration to everyone to turn lemons into lemonade. They totally transformed the tennis court into a movie or music video set with backdrops, lasers, and flashing lights (shoutout to Andrew Makadsi!). These two sisters have the voices of literal angels, and it is such a joy to hear them sing on the album, and they sound the same (actually, better) when performing the songs live. They are definitely on my concert bucket list when life gets back to normal, and we can talk about tours again.
He broke almost every record that could be broken in country music, and he has gained the respect from the entire industry for simply being himself. There isn’t a better title for his sophomore album than What You See Is What You Get because ask any of his peers, and they’ll tell you that the person you see on TV is the same person you’ll get off camera. He gave Ariana Grande a run for her money when she released her lead single, “positions,” and he released his highly anticipated song, “Forever After All,” off the new deluxe edition of his album. His song ended up debuting at #2, but it became the highest debut on the chart ever for a male country artist. The fact that he was even competitive with an international pop superstar’s lead single says wonders about him as an artist and speaks volumes for his fanbase. He released the deluxe edition of his second album, What You See Is What You Get, and in the first week of release it broke its own record for the biggest streaming week for a country album in the United States with 102 MILLION streams. He performed everywhere on Saturday Night Live, the BBMAs, CMAs, and ACM Awards. He is making moves that country artists just don’t do and showing up in places that have never happened before now.