We were all online more than we’d have liked this year. All the time we were meant to spend at dinner or the movies was instead spent scrolling for news—good news, bad news, what’s the difference? The president tweets and we sigh. The president tweets and we laugh. The president tweets and Twitter slaps a label on it. A musician we like livestreams a concert and it’s not the same. Some actors are reuniting on Zoom. That’s nice. And boring. Our smartphone’s screen-time notifications began to feel accusatory. This was 2020, and it sucked.
Still, spending more time online means putting more effort into being online. Bored and unemployed, isolated creators without a stage embraced digital formats more than ever before, and while not everything on this list is a product of inspiration—some things (Da Vinki!) are just funny—many of them were made by clever people determined to smoosh their talents into our digital tools. Below, you’ll find 10 of our favorite things we saw on the internet in 2020. Some sing, some scare, and some dance (at funerals).
10. Da Vinki!
Chris and Patrick Vörös are twin men with pineapple tops of bleached hair on their heads and barrels of confusion in their brains. They are the “Da Vinki” boys, and their attempt to answer an online trivia question about the artist who painted the Mona Lisa gave 2020 a moment of comedy so pure and gorgeously timed that it will live in our hearts forevermore. The internet has plenty of questions about the Da Vinki twins: Are they really that dumb? Was the whole thing set up before it was filmed? But the answers are unimportant. No matter how these big, beautiful boys came to be sitting in front of a camera in identical white T-shirts, furrowing their brows and exclaiming their confusion over whoever the hell a “Da Vinki” is, they effortlessly produced one of the funniest few seconds of video we’ve ever seen. Bless you, Da Vinki boys. We hope you’re warm, safe, and enjoying trivia with one another right now. [Reid McCarter]
9. TikTok musicals
It was a good year for music on TikTok, especially if you’re Mick Fleetwood or the “Bored In The House” guy. But the most exciting thing to happen musically on the platform had nothing to do with cranberry juice. no, that honor goes to the collaborative musicals that sprung up and tore through the app like a run in a pair of dance tights. At its best, TikTok is a platform that encourages a “yes, and” mentality; one post begets another, adding layer upon layer to each joke or trend. There’s perhaps no better example than Grocery Store: The Musical. What began with a contemporary musical-theater pastiche in the form of a cover of Louisa Melcher’s “New York Summer” grew into a dramatic, chaotic, and extremely funny all-skate, in which Mom, Dad, Kid, Can Of Soup, and many other characters joined together in a glorious symphony of the ridiculous. It wasn’t the first, and it won’t be the last—Ratatouille The Musical proves that—but as a celebration of both absurdity and collaboration, it’s unbeatable. [Allison Shoemaker]
8. Zillow horror
It didn’t take long for us to succumb to quarantine-induced cabin fever this year, prompting many to engage in the act of “Zillow Surfing,” a creative, albeit desperate means of achieving virtual escape through online real estate listings. Thousands trawled the digital housing markets throughout shutdown, revealing that there are some seriously weird places on the market these days. From the labyrinthine nightmare of this 3D virtual tour to the home with the subterranean goblin village to Perpetual Christmas Land, we’ve found that Americans sure live in some strange locales. It wasn’t all horror, however: Scrollers also discovered some pretty badass places, too, providing the potential for some inspired home-renovation ideas once everyone gets themselves inoculated. [Andrew Paul]
7. All Gas No Brakes
No project was better suited to chronicle a year as absurd, horrific, and surreal as 2020 than Andrew Callaghan’s roving reporter series, All Gas No Brakes. Straddling the line between Tim And Eric-esque meta-irony and brutally honest journalism, AGNB sought to document the fringes of a nation plagued by ills both viral and societal, sometimes venturing into situations even mainstream outlets refused to get near. Often, his show posits, the best way to confront chaos is to let it rant (sometimes incoherently) into a camera about QAnon conspiracies, bigfoot, and alien sex toys. The madness won’t be ebbing in 2021, but rest assured that Callaghan will be in the thick of it. This recent viral video is proof of that. [Andrew Paul]
6. K-pop stans co-opt racist hashtags
Stan culture earned a spot on our worst of list in 2018 (and in 2019, sorta), but perhaps a new day is dawning. Sure, some will continue to weaponize their followings for nefarious means, but rabid fans of the K-pop scene are setting a new example by rallying their armies against racism. Earlier this year, anti-BLM hashtags (like #WhiteoutWednesday and #WhiteLivesMatter) were hijacked by fan-edited videos of K-pop groups. BTS fans used the same tactic to crash the Dallas Police Department’s iWatch app, which was intended for sharing “video of illegal activity from the protests” but ended up becoming a haven for glamorous edits of K-pop idols. To hear them tell it, the K-pop contingent was also responsible for the humiliatingly low turnout at Trump’s infamous Tulsa rally in June, though that’s been disputed. Who would have thought that BTS fans would be such a powerful force in American politics? The past four years have seen Oreos, MyPillow, and New Balance become politicized, so it tracks that in 2020 posting a fan cam of Blackpink is considered activism. [Hannah Hightman]
5. Animal Crossing and The Sims become online playgrounds
Many, many bad things came out of us all sheltering in place for much of the year (if you’ve got the cash, consider donating to a local arts organization! They need you!). But hey, we got a real renaissance period for Animal Crossing and The Sims. People painstakingly re-created apartments from sitcoms, built Disney’s Haunted Mansion, covered Toto’s “Africa,” and even made actual music videos (it’s on Vevo and everything). But the game-as-pop-culture-playground reached new heights with this inventive staging of Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull from playwright Celine Song and New York Theatre Workshop. Staged in real time in The Sims over the course of two nights and streamed via Twitch, Song’s production is both an intellectually rigorous and profoundly moving experience. No, really. Much more than an interesting artifact from a strange year, it prompts questions about the nature of art, self-determination, the images we present to the world, our relationship to great literature, and whether or not Konstantin would wear a bracelet. [Allison Shoemaker]
4. The Ghanaian pallbearers meme
In a year of sick, twisted memes, none captured the national temperature quite like the Ghanaian pallbearers. The format is simple: Begin with video of somebody seemingly on the verge of disaster, then just as shit goes south, bring in the smiling, dancing pallbearers, whose joyous approach to mourning was first chronicled in a 2017 BBC report. All of it is set to Vicetone and Tony Igy’s ecstatic “Astronomia,” a 2010 club hit that, quite fittingly, rings like a warning siren. Initially, the meme served as a reflection of the pandemic-era anxiety that we’re all perched on the precipice of infection. After months of mask discourse, however, the pallbearers’ celebratory dances began to pop up whenever another virus-denying MAGA chud caught the bug. The pallbearers are taking their viral fame in stride: “Stay at home or dance with us,” they cheekily said earlier this year, making them the winners of not only best meme, but also best PSA. [Randall Colburn]
3. All things Nick Lutsko
Nick Lutsko’s been making catchy mockeries of America’s worst blowhards for years, but the latter half of 2020 saw the musical chameleon slipping into a whole new realm of weird. Ever since going viral with a ballad about getting unfollowed on Twitter by Chrissy Teigan, the songwriter’s increasingly sweaty online persona has been on a roll. His catalog is vast, but standouts include a spooky ode to Spirit Halloween, a pitch for Gremlins 3, and a desperate plea to become the son of right-wing pundit Dan Bongino. “I have been very intentionally making things up as I go,” Lutsko said of his ever-expanding “lore” during a Zoom chat with The A.V. Club. “I feel like if I were to sit down and plan everything out, it wouldn’t work.” While he was tight-lipped about where his basement-dwelling alter ego (now a murder suspect) will go in 2021, he did let us in on how he manages to look so upsettingly sweaty in his videos: “This is a super exclusive. I purposely have been kind of secretive about this—it’s called the My Little Steamer,” he said, holding up the portable iron. Shine on, Lutsko. Shine on. [Andrew Paul]
2. David Lynch’s YouTube
If you needed a friend this year, David Lynch was there. Early in the pandemic, the Twin Peaks creator and Oscar-nominated filmmaker turned YouTube into an online diary of sorts, sharing weather reports, fix-’em-up videos, art projects, and, um, a daily number. While most are exactly what they appear to be, loyal viewers were often rewarded with a bit of Lynchian oddness, like his recitation of a vivid dream in which he was a dying soldier on D-Day. In addition, Lynch uploaded a handful of his rarely seen shorts and even hosted a fascinating Q&A packed with indelible quotes. Is all of it prologue to the fog-shrouded Netflix project he may or may not be working on? It remains unclear for now, but it is our sincere hope that Lynch is every bit as present in 2021. [Randall Colburn]
We were still getting used to Zoom back in April, roughly a month after COVID banished us to our hovels, so the concept of using the group-chatting software for spooky purposes was still a novel one. We even joked in this post about a creepy Zoom-based prank that Blumhouse was probably already cooking up some brand of online pandemic-era terror. What eventually emerged, however, wasn’t from Blumhouse, but from the architect of that very Zoom prank. London-based filmmaker Rob Savage, emboldened by his clip going viral, swiftly drafted up a 17-page outline and got to work on Host, gathering some talented pals to play the doomed participants of an online seance gone wrong.
Host, which was released on Shudder in late July, turned out to be one of the year’s biggest surprises. Savage’s lean, mean feature is packed with impressive practical effects and jarring jump scares, many of which cleverly incorporate the Zoom features to which we’ve grown so accustomed. Perhaps more importantly, though, Host showed us that entertainment in lockdown doesn’t have to be relegated to grainy livestreams and tiresome Zoom reunions. With studios in disarray, now’s the time to explore the storytelling potential that exists within the apps we spend all day navigating. If that sounds wild, consider that one of 2021’s most anticipated movies is based on a tweetstorm. A new era is upon us, and it is very online. [Randall Colburn]