2020, huh? Easily the most *interesting* year in modern history thus far. It started with Australia in the grip of catastrophic bushfires, moved onto the globe-spanning civil resistance that was the #BlackLivesMatter movement while COVID-19 sent some into lockdown and others into conspiracy overdrive, before wrapping up with an American election that came straight out of a bad soap opera. And those were just the big moments - in between were thousands of stories that coloured the year in different ways.
After all that, it’s natural to want to look back. And right on cue, here come brands and platforms with their Year In Review experiences, churning the milk of audience data into the butter of nostalgia and analysis. So let’s review some Year In Reviews (Years In Review?) and see what they said about 2020, starting with the top dog - Spotify.
Spotify’s Wrapped has become a cultural moment over the last three years as people flood social channels with selections from their stats during early December, driven by the easily shareable nature of the content. As is natural with any widespread trend on the internet, it spawned a million memes.
While the personal data for each user may have reflected their 2020 experience, the overall wrap up took a more general approach of most listened to artist/songs/podcasts, without speaking to the events of the year much beyond the top 3 self-care playlists and the top 5 ‘Songs That Soundtracked a Movement’ which directly referenced Black Lives Matter. This is understandable, since music is such a subjective form of art. The top artist (Bad Bunny) and top song (The Weeknd’s ‘Blinding Lights’) gave some insight into trends of the last few years, like the globe-spanning diaspora of Latinx culture and the role of social platforms like TikTok in helping to drive particular songs to market saturation.
Twitter’s approach seems to be somewhat unevenly applied. Official regional accounts are using #ThatHappened2020 as a way to share localised data about top 10s, but not every region is getting involved – the Australian account hasn’t posted anything about it. A blogpost from the Global Head of Consumer Communications looked at the top 5 most retweeted and liked posts, of which the untimely passing of Chadwick Boseman took the #1 spot for both while the rest encompassed quarantine, Kobe Bryant’s death, k-pop group BTS and the election. Also thrown in were top 10s of emojis, TV shows, tweeted-about people and sporting events, which didn’t paint too accurate a portrait of the year. This is disappointing since Twitter is more often than not an engine of social change, and there would be a huge trove of data that could be sliced up and analysed in interesting ways.
With so much communication taking place online against the backdrop of a global pandemic, Giphy released a breakdown of the 25 most viewed GIFs of the year, and surprisingly the list is overwhelmingly positive. People celebrated medical workers, sent professions of love, reminded others about social distancing and overall remained fairly upbeat. Giphy’s wrap up feels a little lean. It would’ve been more satisfying to dive a bit deeper and look at a variety of categories like most popular entertainment GIF or a breakdown of which GIFs were most popular for each month.
Reddit put together a charming video of footage and images that were posted on the site throughout 2020, soundtracked by a song that drew on how most people felt about the year (it rhymed ‘burning tire’ with ‘dumpster fire’). On top of that, they went deep into the stats in a blog post, looking not only at major events but how those major events evolved usage of the site, such as the user growth of subreddits like r/Sourdough and r/HomeGym as people looked for ways to copy with quarantine lockdowns. They even put together their first-ever UK-focused Year In Review, as well as a series of interviews with community moderators that added a human element to the numbers. Of all the year-end reviews, Reddit’s definitely feels like the most comprehensive and satisfying snapshot of 2020 despite lacking the polish of other platforms’ consumer-friendly experiences.
Youtube have confirmed that they will not release a Rewind video this year, citing everything that’s gone on (we’re sure it’s got nothing to do with how maligned the 2019 Rewind was). The Head of Culture and Trends at Youtube has published a blog post outlining the top videos, creators and music of 2020 based on site stats. Of these lists, the top videos speak to the big moments of the year, with content on the election, quarantine and civil unrest among the usual Minecraft speedruns and creator drama. Breakout creators who made the list like Chloe Ting and SomeGoodNews show that people turned to the platform during quarantine lockdowns to maintain physical and emotional wellness.
It remains to be seen whether Facebook will create a personalised piece of content for users this year – a risky proposition considering the potential inclusion of death announcements and political posts that may open old wounds. However, they have assembled a brief year in review infographic. The difference between it and the Reddit wrapup is that there’s a focus on how events drove people to use platform tools, rather than what those actions meant in the wider context of 2020. Nonetheless, it provides a snapshot of what people were talking about this year, such as Kobe Bryant’s death, Kamala Harris’ nomination, the wildfires and more.
Data-driven summations are all well and good, however the world of journalism is still vital for encapsulating the major moments of the year. Getty Image’s Year In Review galleries capture both world events and the strangeness of everyday life turned upside down. They’ve also assembled short videos that look specifically at Black Lives Matter, COVID-19 and a memoriam of notable deaths. One major thing lacking is the presence of editorial content as a companion to the images to provide context, however this was more than made up for in the New York Times Year in Photos, which tells the story of 2020 month by month. Each photo features a short blurb explaining the context, and scattered throughout are short interviews with the photographers explaining how and why they captured certain photos.
There’s a few missing from this roundup. Instagram is notorious for not reflecting on the year that was, leaving it to third-party apps to round up people’s top 9s. Twitch hasn’t revealed if it will be doing a 2020 review, and honestly it would be a crime not to consider the explosion of activity on the platform this year. And for a year that left us with a lot of time (and other *things*) on our hands, there’s been nothing from Pornhub and breakout creator platform OnlyFans – perhaps they’ll find a release before the year reaches a climax.
It’s important to take stock, both personally and generally, when December 31st looms on the horizon. Year In Review experiences can be helpful for this since so much of our lives now occur online, however there has to be cohesive analysis that teases a story out of the data to put everything in context – just numbers won’t do the job. For platforms that offer personalised content for their users, it’s important to ensure there is a robust general companion piece that covers the major events of the year, since not everyone experiences events with the same focus. 2020 felt like 10 years packed into one, and being able to dissect and reflect will hopefully help some find peace, while giving others the chance to prepare for the future.
This article was written by our Senior Editor JV, aka Jonathon Valenzuela.