Cultural Icons of 2020
Updated: Dec 17, 2020
For better or for worse, we look at the people that made a big splash in 2020
The tragic murder of George Floyd, by US police sparked some of the biggest protests of not only this year, but all time. The Black Lives Matter movement expanded quickly and extensively across the globe, further highlighting the massive inequalities faced by black people, indigenous people and all people of colour. Impacts of this brutal crime include, but are not limited to: the removal of problematic monuments, programs and movies, the changing of street names, the changing of product names, updated laws and policies, prosecution of police, significant donations to related causes and an ongoing commitment to education and action from many individuals and brands.
The now 74 year old singer, songwriter, instrumentalist, businesswoman, humanitarian, actor and author is still making waves. After the chart-topping final episode of the 'Dolly Parton's America' podcast was released at the start of 2020, a renewed and further-reaching appreciation of Dolly emerged. The narrative talked to a divided America across which the record-breaking musician manages to navigate expertly in her diverse popularity. Her impact didn't stop at the podcast, she starred in a Netflix special and one of 2020's biggest memes was borne of Dolly. Finally near the close of 2020 she caused one final stir by donating USD $1 million to Covid research, also creating one of the best headlines of the year with "Vaccine, vaccine, vaccine vacciiiiiine" (think Jolene).
Kamala Harris As the Vice President elect, Kamala Harris will not only be the first female in the role, but also the first Black and Indian American to hold this title. She well and truly shattered the ceiling and it seems as though her legacy will be to live by her mother's words; 'Kamala, you may be the first to do many things, but make sure you are not the last'. With the US facing economic, public and health crises, she'll be critical in ensuring all communities in the US are considered in the plan moving forward. And with rumours that Biden might only pursue one term due to his age, Kamala could well be in track to become the first female president of the United States.
Podcast 'The Joe Rogan Experience' was the most popular podcast in Spotify in 2020. The podcast which is often controversial and invites many A-list guests ranging from the likes of Ben Shapiro to Elon Musk and Malcolm Gladwell, often includes a lot of weed and right leaning topics of conversation. The show is big enough that celebrity responses during the podcast become news, like this Miley Cyrus retort from earlier in the year. In his own words Rogan explains his power as: "I'm the bridge between the meat heads and the pot heads."
The Inspired Unemployed
The Instagram comedy duo are another honourable mention for adding some joy to an otherwise pretty dark year. The young Sydney-dwelling men Jack Steele(27) and Matt Ford (26) have amassed more than 800,000 followers with their very Australian mini skits, mainly looking at the minutia and ridiculousness of everyday events. The once tradies now seem to live a very healthy life off the platform, having used their celebrity to host events and recieve sponsorship deals from the likes of The Iconic, Fendi, Louis Vuitton and have even landed on the covers of GQ and Vogue.
Jacinda Arden Being a leader who possesses compassion and one who governs for the benefit of all people gets you great credit these days. Jacinda Arden has been an authentic leader through the entirety of her role as Prime Minister but this year her stance on climate change, strong measures to protect the country against COVID-19 and empathetic response to tragedy continue to make her so noticeable. Winning re-election this year (by a landslide), Jacinda Arden has another four years to make a positive difference for her country, while the world watches on in awe of her leadership.
Actor Elliot page has seen huge success in recent years. Breaking out in cult classic Juno, the Academy Award nominated actor has also starred in the likes of Whip-It, the X-Men films and more recently the hugely popular Netflix series The Umbrella Academy. When the actor came out recently as non-binary and transgender, and changed their first name to Elliot it was big news. With the LGBTIQ groups gradually receiving a louder voice in recent times the impact of such a popular actor publicly taking this step, and the related discussions it helps to generate, is very significant. Netflix has already changed the star's name in all of the related credits on the platform.
British Manchester United player Marcus Rashford generated huge publicity when he called to attention the state of disadvantaged families in the UK. The successful striker petitioned the UK government to provide free meals to struggling school children during the first Covid lockdown. Boris Johnson eventually agreed to the scheme and while Rashford continues to put pressure and lobby for similar causes he has now received recognition for his work in the form of an MBE.
Growing up as a trained dancer, Charli D'Amelio migrated her talents to TikTok. Whilst she only first started posting onto the platform in May of 2019, she has become the first person to amass, first 50 million, and now 100 million followers on the platform. The 16 yr old has made her feature film debut, starred as a voice actor, has a book, a podcast, a nailpolish collection and a sweatshirt collection.
“An arrogant cancer on our democracy." That's how Former PM Kevin Rudd launched an organised, sustained attack on the Murdoch media empire this year, kicking off with a parliamentary petition calling for a Royal Commission into the diversity of the Australian media, and Murdoch’s monopoly over it. His petition gathered over 500,000 names, making it the biggest e-petition to be presented to the House. It is unlikely to lead to a royal commission, but has prompted a Greens-led Senate Inquiry into media ownership and perhaps more importantly, sparked fierce debate among the public about this country's media diversity. Will all this, and Rudd's latest call for a consumer boycott on realestate.com.au ( which is majority owned by News Corp), have an impact on the finances of the empire? Unlikely. Nonetheless, it's a bold move from the former PM and for that he gets our nomination as a 2020 culture maker.
Jameela Jamil is the rebel without a filter we all need— the actress is also an advocate for feminism, body positivity, inclusivity and someone who calls out celebrity bullsh*t, the patriarchy and other flawed systems. With over a million followers on Twitter, Jamil does not hold back with her opinions, and people love it. Last year, she made headlines for calling out the Kardashian family for their promotion of meal replacement shakes (laxatives). She has built a popular podcast called I Weigh - a platform for promoting radical inclusivity. Jameela Jamil is a new breed of celebrity who many admire thanks to her rawness and honesty.
Whilst in the background Jordan Firstman was already seeing some significant success with the likes of acting in cult hit Search Party and writing for Netflix animated comedy Big Mouth (hello season 4), Jordan (or JT) blew up this year on Instagram. The LA-based comedic actor and writer exploded in popularity with his impressions that came to entertain us just when we needed it most. Ranging from the mundane to the highly political Jordan Firstman covers a range of topics in both his feed and his stories - where he also responds to viewers submitted secrets. Generating responses from the likes of Katy Perry, Chrissy Teigen and Ariana Grande, he has amassed a large internet following and will surely not be slowing down his trajectory any time soon.
Turning a red state blue in the United States of America is no small feat, but Stacey Abrams was instrumental in doing so in this year's presidential election. Responsible for getting thousands of new voters to register and vote for Joe Biden, Stacey Abrams showed that it's not about finding the right candidate but changing the electorate so the right candidate can win.
Famed for her honest and comedic take on highly glamourised celebrity poses, Celeste Barber made headlines this year for a very different reason. The politically outspoken Australian used her voice to generate donations for the 19/20 bushfires and the fundraising efforts themselves took off enormously. Raising more than $51 million, she broke the record for Facebook's biggest ever fundraiser. Although there was a disappointing end result for the funds she undeniably proved the power of celebrity with her huge efforts.
Also known as Jordan Shanks, FriendlyJordies is a popular Australian Youtube celebrity who often takes aim at local politicians and political issues. With more than 450,000 subscribers he has managed to make quite a stir this year by firstly calling out the Federal Government's handling of the 19/20 bushfires and then uncovering corruption of NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro. Last year the Youtube personality also had Clive Palmer threaten legal action after he published a video which was critical of the politician.
Considered to be one of the most charismatic Australians on the internet, 26 year old Flex Mami is a seriously successful ‘slashie’. The DJ/TV presenter/podcaster/entrepreneur shot to new heights when she was crowned Social Star of 2020 at this years’ People’s Choice Awards. Loved for her ability to spark important conversations covering everything from racism to identity, it’s Flex’s unapologetic attitude that makes her so likeable (and followable, judging by her 125k fans). The self-professed ‘professional opinion haver’ even created her own critical thinking game. Proving that if anyone can make self-reflection cool and culturally relevant – it’s Flex.
The Current Team