2020 may not go down as the greatest year for music, but there was still no shortage of magic moments to celebrate. While we mourned the absence of masterful Glastonbury headline performances and sweaty nights in spit-and-sawdust venues, there were still some reasons to be cheerful. Here are 6 top music moments that defined this difficult year.
Dolly Parton part-funds a COVID vaccine
When it emerged that Dolly Parton had part-funded the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, it shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise. After all, she’s proven herself an excellent human being on multiple occasions over the last few decades.
She’s set up a charity that donates free books to children around the globe, given families affected by wildfires a monthly stipend until they’re back on their feet, and was a vocal supporter of HIV/Aids groups at a time when it certainly wasn’t beneficial to her career.
While her 2014 performance in Glastonbury’s legend slot solidified her reputation as an immensely popular and influential artist and the NPR podcast series helped us better understand the woman behind the performer, her role in funding the Moderna vaccine surely secures her place as one of the music industry’s all-time greats.
Beyoncé gives us Black is King
While COVID-19 dominated our lives for almost all of 2020, other important battles have been raging across the planet – most notably the movement for racial equality. In many ways, 2020’s music was defined by events and ideas that have no right to exist in the 21st Century.
While Black Lives Matter was the principal political manifestation of the people’s protest, there was a strong musical response, too. Albums like Sault’s Untitled (Black Is), Run the Jewels’ RTJ4, or J Hus’ Big Conspiracy all contained a political message and often focused on black experience, but it was Beyoncé who released the work that will likely define this moment in time for years to come.
Beyoncé’s Black is King explores more themes and ideas than can be done justice in a quick summary. The groundbreaking visual album looks at black identity, masculinity, femininity and community and embraces music, film and dance, re-defining musical cinema in the process. It’s a sensational piece of work and a vitally important political, social and artistic record of the times we live in. If you haven’t checked it out yet, now’s the time.
Bob Dylan shows what he’s worth
While not all of Bob Dylan’s modern output has been met with critical acclaim, the Great American Songwriter showed he’s still capable of recording sensational albums with Rough and Rowdy Blues. Released in June, the album sees Dylan leave the Sinatra-inspired style of previous albums behind. Instead, he returns to his trademark lyricism, grounding himself once again in American folklore and mythology and writing several tracks that rank amongst his best.
If this wasn’t enough to cement his legend, Dylan closed the year out by agreeing a whopping $300 million deal with Universal for his entire back catalogue. Though precise details aren’t yet known, it seems this may be one of the biggest deals of its kind to have ever been signed.
Bad Bunny breaks the language barrier
The English-speaking world is often accused of being a little insular when it comes to music. Though this has changed in recent years as digital platforms allow for a more global music scene and make it easier to dig out gems from abroad, that cultural shift hasn’t necessarily been reflected in mainstream success.
All that changed at the end of 2020, as Bad Bunny went and made history by releasing the first-ever Billboard chart-topper to be performed entirely in Spanish. While the Puerto Rican rapper’s album El Último Tour Del Mundo went straight in at number one in the Billboard 200, he was also named Spotify’s most-streamed artist of 2020. Bunny’s success over the last year is representative of the growing popularity of commercially successful foreign-language pop, with Korean supergroup BTS another obvious example. For many international music fans, this was a watershed moment and one that could change the face of pop forever.
Fontaines DC push musical boundaries with a virtual reality gig
2020 may just go down as the worst year for live music on record. Venues have been forced to close and we’re yet to see how many will reopen their doors. Artists have had their principal source of income cut. An entire industry has suffered. However, 2020 has also been a year of innovation in the industry. A year in which artists have looked for new ways to get their music to fans.
Enter Fontaines DC.
Having recorded one of the albums of the year, A Hero’s Death, Fontaines DC went on to perform a ground-breaking gig at the O2 Brixton Academy in November. Obviously, no fans were able to attend. So the band recorded the performance and streamed it in full 3D, allowing those with VR technology to get up close and personal with the band and enjoy a full, (almost) in-person musical experience.
Jay Electronica ends a 13-year wait
No hip-hop artist has enjoyed so much hype, for so long, having released so little music, as Jay Electronica. This is an artist who is as much myth as he is man – someone who has managed to maintain a cult following amongst fans and built a reputation for brilliance in the notoriously fickle music industry, despite the fact that we’ve been waiting for his debut album for thirteen years.
When his first mixtape dropped in 2007, Electronica instantly became the next big thing in hip hop. Jay-Z was knocking at his door and the whole of the music world eagerly awaited his first studio album. Instead of rushing, Jay did his thing. He went on a personal pilgrimage to Nepal, had a child with Erykah Badu and allegedly ghost-wrote for Nas. Only thirteen years later has he finally given us the album he promised. And boy was it worth the wait.
What were your top moments of 2020?
So, now that we’ve given you a few of our top music moments of 2020, why not let us know about yours in the Comments below? You can also browse our extensive collection of prints for inspiration or to find the perfect photo for your home.