As 2020 comes to a close, it’s time for some reflection. And trust me, we’ve got a lot to unpack here.
In the past twelve months, we’ve weathered everything from a global pandemic to fears of an impending World War III. We witnessed a historical presidential election, saw a society mobilize in the name of racial justice, and even braced for siege of murder hornets (seriously, though, does anyone have any updates on what happened with that?).
And what better way to look back on this absolute rollercoaster of a year than to reflect on the internet trends that made us laugh, cry, and full–body cringe our way through these unprecedented times? Love them or hate them, virtual fads can tell us a lot about what we went through this year—and inform our journey forward. While the sheer madness that is 2020 may be temporary, the internet is forever.
– Hannah Lonser, Style Editor
Trends We Loved
Animal Crossing: New Horizons
Whether you were nostalgic for your childhood days of playing Animal Crossing on your DS or searching for a no–stress form of escapism, Animal Crossing: New Horizons was one of our favorite ways to stay entertained while COVID–19 related regulations shuttered our favorite businesses and kept us six feet apart from loved ones. Rather than spiraling into a panic over spiking case counts, Millennials and Gen–Zers alike took an hour or two—or five—out of their socially–distanced days to get away to Animal Crossing’s virtual islands. Turning our attention to catching fish, talking to villagers, picking out outfits for our characters, and paying back our loans to Tom Nook was enough distraction to make us forget that we hadn’t left the house in a while.
Nostalgia for times past is ever so present in a year like 2020. A true throwback, capturing memories with film or disposable cameras resurged in recent months, especially after celebrities like supermodel Gigi Hadid and David Dobrik started posting retro–esque shots of their famous friends to their Instagrams. Scrolling through TikTok, you’ll find hundreds of videos with a combined 14.4 million views under the hashtag “disposable camera.” Instead of snapping thousands of pics on an iPhone to select the perfect one and then further editing it using filters, film allows us to capture more candid moments. No longer having the option to “delete” or “retake,” these cameras provide an escape from the digital environment that has taken over our lives.
The Banana Bread Craze
As lockdowns were mandated across the country in early March, COVID–19 updates dominated national news outlets, while banana bread photos took over the internet. Stuck at home, thousands of social media users decided to break out their favorite banana bread recipes, sharing pictures of the finished products with their followers. A beacon of comfort during anything–but–comforting times, the process of making this baked good from scratch proved to be an enjoyable and reassuring task for many. And with many people over–stocked on groceries following the initial pandemic buying panic, baking banana bread was also a way to prevent over–ripe bananas from going to waste. As life seemed to slowly spiral out of control, banana bread’s social media sweep undoubtedly emerged as one of the best trends of the year.
Sharing the Good News
While the headlines this year felt like they were being ripped from the script of an apocalyptic horror movie, there’s plenty of positive news out there–and several social media users were dedicated to spreading it. Whether you were tuning in to John Krasinski’s feel–good web series “Some Good News” or scrolling through Instagram accounts like @goodnews_movement, 2020 saw an uptick in the number of internet spaces devoted to sharing the good in the world. In stark contrast to the deluge of doom and gloom that overtook mainstream media, netizens took to their favorite social media platforms to showcase all things hopeful, from this story about a California woman’s donation of 7,500 pet oxygen masks to help man’s best friend escape wildfires to this clip of dinosaurs dancing to Whitney Houston that you never knew you needed.
Incoming! The imposter is near. A contest of sabotage, strategy, teamwork, and betrayal, the virtual game Among Us became an internet sensation in 2020. The perfect solution for when boredom strikes, Among Us has also given rise to some of our favorite memes on social media platforms like TikTok, Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat. In a true testament to its addictiveness, celebrities and small–time players alike have posted lighthearted videos of them recreating the mafia–style game IRL perfect for a laugh. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio–Cortez (D–N.Y.) even used the popular streaming platform Twitch to broadcast her experience playing Among Us to the world wide web in a move to relate with young audiences and encourage them to get out and vote in the 2020 election.
Trends We Hated
TikTok’s Pillow Dress Challenge
It’s only fitting that one of the most bizarre social media trends in recent memory took off during one of the strangest years to date. The #pillowchallenge—which emerged at peak quarantine boredom–entails placing a large pillow in front of your midsection and securing it with a belt. And while you could try to argue that the resulting pillow ensemble kind of resembles an extreme celebrity statement dress from the front, beware that it will leave your backside totally exposed. At the end of the day, this trend seemed unnecessary and just a little too odd to avoid falling flat. A reminder of just how weird people were willing to get to alleviate lockdown ennui, let’s hope that the pillow challenge doesn’t make a comeback in 2021.
Remember when Instagram flooded with black squares for #BlackOutTuesday following the police killing of Minneapolis’ George Floyd? What about the time your friends pressured you to post powerful black–and–white selfies for #ChallengeAccepted, an Instagram trend that went haywire as famous creators pried it from Turkish activists protesting femicide? 2020 was the year of Instagram activism, of pastel infographics hawking well–meaning but uninformed statistics about the prison industrial complex, COVID–19 safety measures, and mutual aid tips. As well–meaning as these PowerPoint–esque slideshows are, they trick us into the pitfalls of slacktivism. They let us think we’re changing the world with the swipe of a repost. In reality, we’re just passively consuming media—just like we do on TikTok and Twitter. Enacting real change means getting off of your profile to make good on the graphics you keep posting. Donate to a bail fund. Register voters. Use that curiosity to read books, watch movies, and talk with your friends about what justice actually looks like.
In an era when in–person photo shoots are less commonplace, CGI models, which are hyper–realistic digital avatars created through computer generated imagery, are taking over Instagram feeds. Debate on the ethics of using CGI models in ad campaigns has been on the rise ever since digital influencers like Lil Miquela started launching their collaborations with fashion brands like Prada and Calvin Klein. These high–tech creations raised concerns about their ability to promote extremely unrealistic beauty standards and caused an uproar amongst models who worry that these digital mock–ups are stealing work from a financially vulnerable population. CGI models are also not subjected to the same standards when disclosing ad and sponsorship deals. In other words, when these digital avatars wear a label on Instagram, they don't have to mention if their creator was paid. Whether you’re more creeped out by their lifeless expressions or by their service of our capitalist overlords, let’s hope that CGI influencers’ social media takeover doesn’t continue.
Imagine this: posting a cringworthy photo of yourself, complete with a facial expression that you didn’t even know you were capable of making, to Instagram for 24 hours. For all of your followers to see; close friends, NSO acquaintances that you haven’t spoken to in years, and crushes included. This was the premise for the Until Tomorrow challenge, which dominated the ‘gram back in March. Sure, seeing some people post their most unflattering pictures can give us a good laugh, but did we really need to be DMed a message reminiscent of a chain mail threat after leaving an unsuspecting like on another person’s post insisting that we do the same? There were definitely more meaningful challenges that we could have been devoting our social media real estate to instead.
Someone really needs to let influencers know that their follower count won’t protect them from the coronavirus, because they sure aren't acting like it. From the social media uproar that followed Bryce Hall’s huge birthday party back in August to Ariana Grande calling out TikTokers for frequenting Saddle Ranch, influencers have faced a lot of backlash for hosting large gatherings in the midst of a global pandemic. Worse yet, their prolific posting of their reckless behavior has people worried that they might be influencing their young fans not to take COVID–19 seriously. Dr. Fauci went so far as to make an appearance on Lil Wayne’s podcast to urge young people–influencers included–to be more careful. Unfortunately, many content creators still don’t seem to care, as several are still traveling, eating out, and throwing down without concern for CDC guidelines.