I'll be calling everything an "entanglement" for the rest of my days
There's no need to say it: 2020 was a rough year for everyone. But amidst the bounty of badness, there were small gems.
Black culture especially took some major losses — Rappers endorsing Trump, the death of major icons like Kobe Bryant and Chadwick Boseman, and constant political and social unrest reminding us of the persistence of structural racism.
And yet, it managed to be a really good year for Black culture. From music to film and some of the little good quarantine content that emerged from the pandemic, the best, small joys were the products of Black joy.
Female Rap Collaborations
Megan and Cardi in WAP
For too long, it has felt like there could only be one Black female rapper at the top. The industry has profited from pitting Black female artists against each other for a long time — Missy Elliot and Lil Kim; Brandy and Monica; Nicki and Cardi B — but 2020 said no more.
While it's not uncommon for big names to recruit up and coming artists for features, this was the year for massive collaborations. Some of the biggest Black female artists came together this year for chart topping, record breaking hits.
As if the viral phenomenon of "Savage" by Megan Thee Stallion wasn't already enough, Beyoncé (Tiffany Pollard voice: Beyoncé!!) hopped on the track for a Grammy-nominated remix that immediately topped the charts. Shortly after, Nicki Minaj and Doja Cat released a remix of "Say So" which bumped "Savage" to #2 on the charts, making it the first time in history that four Black Women were at the top of the charts.
And because Megan Thee Stallion is, despite the trauma in her personal life this year, the gift that keeps giving, she released a high energy collaboration with Cardi B, "WAP", with a video that featured Normani (and inexplicably Kylie Jenner, but she was quickly forgotten).
While all these singles deserve praise in their own right, they're most exciting for the possibility that they usher in an era of collaboration rather than competition between high profile Black female musicians.
Brandy and Monica at their Verzuz Battle
Competition done right, however, can be exciting and invigorating — which we needed in the midst of quarantine when the Verzuz Battles appeared.
The appeal of TikTok dance challenges and the novel experience of Instagram concerts were fading fast. Then came the brainchild of Swizz Beatz and Timbaland, the Verzuz series. The battle series played on the best, most exciting parts of music fandom to create something that fueled our music fanaticism through social media.
The premise is simple but the execution was genius, especially at its genesis. Each battle gave fans a chance to support their favorites while spurring passionate debate about each pairing. The livestream format felt intimate and gave fans insight into the stories behind their favorite songs.
Boasting a roster of R&B and Hip Hop legends, the program was a goldmine for Black music fans. This was competition done right — with mutual respect, equal parts passion and lightheartedness, and music fans at the center.
I May Destroy You
Thank God for Michaela Coel.
The Chewing Gum star has been an emerging talent beloved by niche audiences for a while, but this year's hit HBO show, I May Destroy You, saw her at her best yet.
The show is an achingly vulnerable story set in the aftermath of a sexual assault. A treatise on healing and a guide to being a trauma-informed friend, the series is one of the best things to come out of 2020. The London writer and actor pulled no punches — telling an empowering and nuanced story that confronted the complexity of being a survivor and a human being.
Black Lives Matter Protests
June brought with it a month of protest fueled by the murder of George Floyd in late May. In the aftermath, what was clear was that America would be forced to internally reckon with the fundamental racism at its core.
This was not news for Black people. While some were surprised that the country could still be so cruel, Black Americans have known this intimately, and have been talking about it the whole long while. So despite the frustration and mourning, the month of June felt like a step forward.
From the catharsis of the Black Lives Matter protests to the movements to pass the mic to activists and organizers who were given bigger platforms to spread awareness, and even to the introduction of police and prison abolition into the mainstream lexicon, the energy of June is not one Black people will soon forget
Beyonce in Black is King
Beyoncé's Black is King
How lucky we are to be Black and alive during the time of Beyoncé Knowles-Carter.
Since the release of her self-titled album in 2013, Beyoncé's career has been defined by her pursuit for representation. From the bold feminist statement of "Flawless" when the idea of being a feminist was less mainstream in popular culture, to the ode to Black women of Lemonade and now the love letter to global Blackness of Black is King, Beyoncé's unapologetic love for Black people and culture is awe inspiring, every time.
The Disney+ film for the Lion King soundtrack premiered on Juneteenth, in the middle of that month of turmoil, on the anniversary of the freedom of enslaved people in the US. The film was liberating in itself, a representation of Blackness that emphasized the multiplicity of cultures, nationalities, ethnicities, traditions, and aesthetics that Blackness contains.
"I believe that when Black people tell our own stories, we can shift the axis of the world and tell our REAL history of generational wealth and richness of soul that are not told in our history books," Bey said via Instagram.
The film drew from global visual aesthetics as the music drew from global sounds. A feast of fashion and color and vibrancy, Beyoncé also enlisted Black collaborators and friends such as Kelly Rowland, Naomi Campbell, and Lupita Nyong'o as well as her own family. The focus was undoubtedly on community, on Black present, past, and future.
It was a monumental display of beauty, creativity, and so much love — all directed at Blackness.
Zendaya at the Emmys with her Emmy. Just look at her.
Zendaya's Historic Emmy Win
Everything Zendaya does makes us love her more — and it's all with the culture in mind.
From her dedication to staying on Disney Channel until the time was right, a decision she made because she wanted there to be more Black stars on the network, to her step into Euphoria, a high school drama with the opposite cadence of KC Undercover, Zendaya has handled her transition from child star to veritable actress with unerring grace.
But she's still young at heart, which was endearingly obvious when she won her Emmy for best lead actress this year — making her the youngest ever recipient of the award. We didn't need any more reason to love her, but we have it.
Jada bringing herself to the Red Table
Jada Pinkett's Entanglement with August
The power couple of all power couples, Will and Jada Pinkett-Smith, had some drama come to the forefront this year for all of us to see.
In theory, The Smith Family Red Table Talk is about healing. In reality, it's tea time for us all to tune into. When rumors began about a supposed affair between Jada and August Alsina, no one expected Jada herself to confirm it. In a tweet, she said: "There's some healing that needs to happen…so I'm bringing myself to The Red Table."
Just that phrase would have been enough to set the internet alight. And it did — this year, of all years, there is some healing that needs to happen. But the episode itself wrought one of the most iconic phrases of the year: "entanglement."
Will Smith was not impressed by Jada's turn of phrase but we were. We are. And we will continue to be.
Ziwe, master provocateur
Baited by Ziwe
Instagram Live shows were like, kind of fun in March. What else were we supposed to do? But as we became barraged with more and more video content from TikTok to Reels to the short life of Quibi and even Zoom, there was only so much we could take.
But of the oversaturated IG Live content, only a few could have garnered their host a Showtime deal: Baited with Ziwe.
The comedian took proverbial cancel culture and turned it into a spectacle hilariously studying white audacity. Ziwe invited 'canceled' celebrities or controversial influencers like Caroline Calloway to her show and asked them questions like "how many Black friends do you have" or "who is your favorite Black person."
The show does exactly what it describes and its host is relentless in a riotously funny tongue-in-cheek way. Her show has not lost its momentum, and she has signed a deal with Showtime and A24 for a TV show version of it to go into production, because we deserve to see her on more than an iPhone Screen.
The conjunction was only one of the things that happened December 21st
The Black Solstice
Your friend who is super into astrology, always posting their Co-Star updates and badgering you for your birth sign, was probably freaking out about December 21st. The winter solstice combined with a once in a lifetime Great Conjunction in which Jupiter and Saturn were the closest they had been in the Earth's view since the 1600s, ushering in the Age of Aquarius, alongside a meteor shower and a bunch of other astrological phenomena I don't have enough crystals to explain.
The energy was unmatched, and for some reason, a girl on twitter decided that Black people would get superpowers?
The tweet was unearthed by Black Twitter, who ran with it. Soon, everyone was asking each other what superpowers they were going to get and making jokes about us all channeling Black Panther or what a convention of Black folks would look like.
Chadwick Boseman in Ma Rainey's Black Bottom
Chadwick Boseman in Ma Rainey's Black Bottom
Chadwick Boseman's death was one of the most surprising losses of the year. Immortalized in roles like Jackie Robinson, James Brown, and T'Challa in Black Panther, his career has been defined by his dedication to representing "the best of us," of Blackness.
In the last role he played before his death, Boseman portrayed Levee in Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, a film adaptation of August Wilson's play about the Mother of the Blues.
His performance told us what we already knew: he was one of the greats and we lost him too soon.
It's a sad thing, but his gorgeous portal of a complex, hopeful, haunted character contains so much about the Black American experience. There is so much nuance in Levee, so much compassion in Boseman's portrayal, and though the character is flawed, it's a love for Chadwick, and for the Black people who have seen so much pain but still hope and dream and create, that we walk away with.
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