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Events That Have Defined The Year 2020

Updated November 2, 2020 • 12:07pm PST 14.8k views25 items

What is popular right now depends on the latest political events, the biggest pop culture moments, what the most recent meme is, as well as international relations, scientific breakthroughs, and more. The trending topics in 2020 define the year and not only allow us to reflect on what we've been through, but also show us where we might be headed in 2021.

Since 2020 is an election year, what's popular right now heavily depends on politics and what voters are looking to accomplish. But the things that will happen in 2020 also include major cultural shifts, franchise reboots, everything coming to Disney+, the beginning of Phase 4 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the Duke and Duchess of Sussex leaving the royal family.

What was the most trendy thing in 2020? What are the popular topics right now online? And what major events captured our attention and became historical markers of the year? 

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  • The Black Lives Matter Protests

    The Black Lives Matter movement began in 2012 in response to George Zimmerman being acquitted after Trayvon Martin's death. Activists across the US joined together to fight the racial discrimination that still threatens lives. 

    After George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police officers in May 2020, protests rose up around the world calling for justice to be served. As a result officials began reexamining ways to prevent racial discrimination within the US, monuments celebrating historical racism were taken down, and people started to support campaigns that change how Black lives are treated internationally. 

  • The Coronavirus

    A new strain of the coronavirus family originated in Wuhan, China, in early January. The virus spread quickly through the Hubei province, causing the central Chinese government to lock down the affected areas. By March, it had spread internationally, widely affecting counties such as Italy and the US. By July, over 130,000 American citizens had died of COVID-19, and another 2.9 million had tested positive.

    The virus has roughly a 98% recovery rate but lingering effects in many who have contracted the illness.

  • Land O'Lakes Retires The Image Of The Native American After Nearly 100 Years

    Land O'Lakes retired the nearly 100-year-old image of the Native American woman from its product packaging. The company's intention is to feature "the farmers who are the foundation of the cooperative's membership."

    By the end of 2020, "Some products, including stick butter, will also include photos of real Land O’Lakes farmers and co-op members and copy that reads, 'Since 1921' and 'Proud to be Farmer-Owned: As a farmer-owned co-op, we stand together to bring you the very best in dairy.'"

  • Asian Giant Hornets Are Discovered In North America

    Asian giant hornets, otherwise known as "murder hornets" for their lethal stingers, were discovered in Washington state in December 2019. The hornets are the largest in the world, and are native to Japan and Russia all the way down to Thailand, according to Scientific American

    The biggest threat the hornets pose is to the North American honeybee population, as they tend to target bee colonies for their food. 

  • Tiger King

    In March 2020, Netflix released the documentary series Tiger King. The series follows zookeeper Joe Exotic and his two husbands as they attempt to stop big cat conservationist Carole Baskin from taking down Exotic's tiger zoo in Oklahoma. G.W. Zoo is known to exploit endangered species. 

    Tiger King was watched by over 34 million people within the first 10 days of its release. 

  • The World's Longest Flight

    Flight TN064 took off on March 14 and traveled a record-breaking 9,765-mile journey from Tahiti, French Polynesia, to Paris, France, meaning the Boeing 787 passenger flight was airborne for 16 hours. According to The Independent, "this was only possible due to the low load factor, which meant the aircraft was light enough to continue without stopping to refuel." 

    The extended flight and the limited passenger count was due to travel restrictions caused by COVID-19, which prevented the plane from landing in Los Angeles as it ordinarily would for a layover. 

  • The First Jetpack Stunt 

    Vince Reffet soared over Dubai with a fully functional jetpack on February 14. In just about 30 seconds, Reffet reached 3,280 feet from the ground, and managed to make a loop-de-loop at 6,000 feet before safely parachuting down. 

    XDubai wrote, "It is the first time that a Jetman Dubai pilot could combine hovering safely at a limited altitude and flying aerobatics at high altitude in the same flight." 

  • The Reclined Seat On An Airplane Debate

    American Airlines passenger Wendi Williams posted a video on Twitter of a man repeatedly punching her reclined seat during a flight, sparking an international debate as to whether it's okay to recline your seat on an airplane just because the option is available. 

  • Mr. Peanut Tragically Passes, And Is Subsequently Reborn

    On January 22, Mr. Peanut tragically passed in a Planters commercial, sacrificing his life for the sake of his road trip buddies. He lived from 1916-2020. During the 54th Super Bowl, Planters revealed Baby Peanut, a new, younger version of the famous character. 

  • Shortly before 10 am on January 26, NBA Lakers star Kobe Bryant; his 13-year-old daughter Gianna; Orange Coast College baseball coach John Altobelli, his wife, Keri, and their daughter Alyssa; mother and daughter Sarah and Payton Chester; Mamba Academy basketball coach Christina Mauser; and pilot Ara Zobayan went down in a helicopter over Calabasas in LA County. 

  • Harry And Meghan Step Down As Senior Royals

    On January 8, Prince Harry and Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, announced they would be stepping down as senior members of the royal family. They intend to split their time between the United Kingdom and North America in order to raise their son "with an appreciation for the royal tradition into which he was born" while also providing them room to focus on launching their "new charitable entity." 

  • Patrick Stewart plays Jean-Luc Picard in the eighth series of the Star Trek franchise, which premiered January 23. The series follows Picard 18 years after Star Trek: Nemesis.

  • US Airstrike Takes Down Iranian General Qassem Soleimani

    On January 3, the US president ordered an airstrike over Baghdad that took out Iran's elite Quds military general, Qassem Soleimani, in what President Trump's administration said was a "response to imminent threats to American lives." Iran promptly promised "crushing revenge." 

  • US Civil Rights Leader And Congressman John Lewis Passes

    Democratic US Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, a noted civil rights movement leader, perished July 17, 2020, from pancreatic cancer. Lewis participated in the 1963 March on Washington and a march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge that resulted in what became known as "Bloody Sunday." He served in Congress from 1987 until he perished, and was a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Three former presidents, including Barack Obama, spoke at his funeral. His casket was escorted across the Edmund Pettus Bridge where he had been beaten, and he was the first Black lawmaker to lie in state in the US Capitol.

  • Comet NEOWISE Captivates Skygazers

    Comet NEOWISE - the name comes from NASA's Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, which discovered the comet - lit up the Northern Hemisphere from around the middle to the end of July. The comet was visible at night even with the naked eye; at its closest point to Earth it was 64 million miles away. 

     

  • Three Nations Send Missions To Mars

    The US, China, and United Arab Emirates all launched missions to Mars in July. United Arab Emirates sent an orbiter; China sent a spacecraft in the hopes of landing it on the red planet; and the US sent the Perseverance rover to collect soil and mineral samples.  

  • China Passes A Strict New Security Law In Hong Kong

    China, still dealing with protests in Hong Kong, passed a new security law that went into effect June 30. The law criminalizes "secession, subversion, organization, and perpetration of terrorist activities; and collusion with a foreign country or with external elements to endanger national security." Law professor Johannes Chan of the University of Hong Kong told the BBC that the law "will have a severe impact on freedom of expression, if not personal security, on the people of Hong Kong."  

  • US Residents Receive 'Mystery Seeds' In The Mail

    Beginning in June, residents in all 50 US states reported receiving shipments of unsolicited seeds in the mail that appeared to come from China. The US Department of Agriculture, worried the seeds might introduce harmful pests or diseases to the US, told people not to open the packets or plant the seeds, and suggested the unsolicited mailing might be part of an "internet 'brushing scam,' where sellers send unsolicited items to unsuspecting consumers and then post false reviews to boost sales." Toward the end of July the USDA announced that a study of the seeds revealed they were plant species including mustard, cabbage, morning glory, mint, sage, rosemary, lavender, hibiscus, and roses. 

  • 'Hamilton' Premieres On Disney+

    On July 3, Disney+ began streaming the much-awaited filmed version of the Broadway stage production of Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda's Tony- and Pulitzer-winning musical. The film features the original 2016 cast, including Miranda in the title role and Leslie Odom Jr. as Aaron Burr. 

  • An Explosion Of Unsafely Stored Ammonium Nitrate Blasts Beirut

    On August 4, 2020, more than 200 people died and about 6,000 people were injured in Beirut, Lebanon, when 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate stored unsafely in a warehouse near the port ignited during a fire and exploded. Many government officials, including the prime minister of Lebanon, resigned when residents protested that the incident was the result of government corruption. The country had already been suffering economically before the explosion.   

  • A Derecho Storm Hits The Midwest

    On August 10, a rare storm called a derecho traveled 770 miles in 14 hours through Nebraska, South Dakota, Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana, and Michigan, at some points with winds of higher than 100 mph. The destruction included damaged crops and buildings, and loss of power. At least four people lost their lives. According to the the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Storm Prediction Center, a derecho - the Spanish word for "direct" or "straight ahead," is "a widespread, long-lived wind storm associated with a band of rapidly moving showers or thunderstorms." 

  • Drive-In Theaters Make A Comeback

    As movie theaters around the US shut down during the coronavirus pandemic, drive-in theaters made a comeback as moviegoers eager to see a film on a big screen while keeping a safe social distance flocked to the outdoor venues. The theaters started out showing previously released films, then in some areas became the only public theaters to screen newly released movies. Drive-ins also hosted live or virtual concerts by artists including Metallica, Blake Shelton, Brad Paisley, Garth Brooks, and Keith Urban. 

  • Teenager Hacks The Twitter Accounts Of Numerous High-Profile People

    On July 15, a 17-year-old hacked the Twitter accounts of 130 high-profile people including Jeff Bezos, Michael Bloomberg, Kanye West, Bill Gates, Barack Obama, and Elon Musk, making it appear that they would send back double the amount of money sent to a bitcoin account. On July 31, authorities in Florida arrested Graham Ivan Clark, 17, on 30 felony charges and announced plans to prosecute him as an adult. Two others were accused of helping him. According to Twitter, the hackers gained access to the accounts by tricking Twitter employees into giving them account access through a "phone spear phishing attack."

  • Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg Dies

    Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away on September 18 at age 87 due to complications from metastatic cancer of the pancreas. 

    Ginsburg, known affectionately as "RBG," had been fighting for women's rights since the 1970s. The second woman to become as a Supreme Court justice, she was appointed by former President Bill Clinton, and served for 27 years, becoming a legal, cultural, and feminist icon. She was the first woman to lie in state at the US Capitol. 

  • The Emmy Awards Take Place Both Live In LA And Virtually Around The World

    The 72nd Emmy Awards were presented September 20 live from the Staples Center in Los Angeles, with Jimmy Kimmel as host. Kimmel mostly had the venue to himself, however: Due to the coronavirus, no audience was there, and honorees accepted their awards and gave speeches via video, although some presenters did appear onstage. Schitt's Creek was one of the big winners, sweeping all seven comedy awards that night, including the four acting categories (the first time that has happened in Emmy history) and best comedy, plus two Creative Emmys handed out earlier. Zendaya, 24, made history as the youngest winner for dramatic actress for her role in “Euphoria.” Watchmen won 11 Emmys, including best limited series, and Succession won seven, including best dramatic series.