From Jane Fonda to Dolly to David Attenborough, Our Top Zoomer Pop Culture Moments of 2020

Cultural moments

Jane Fonda going silver at the Oscars in February, above, is one of our top pop culture moments of 2020. Photo: Richard Harbaugh - Handout/A.M.P.A.S. via Getty Images

We consumed pop culture oh so differently this year, as the experiential was suddenly replaced by the virtual. But our celebrities and cultural and political figures stepped into the breach and provided a steady diet of content to keep us distracted over the long months of lockdown. The highs were, well, less high due to the isolation, and the lows were often lower due to some terrible losses. But the pandemic did force culture to shift online and community to carve out new pathways of connection. The silver lining may be that without the bright lights and loud gatherings and busy social and travel schedules, we were forced to stop and appreciate the little things in life more. There were some innovative solutions that charmed us, while a yearning for the old world made nostalgia a hot ticket. Here are our favourite pop culture moments of 2020.


An Age-Defying Spectacular



Way back in the before times — also known as January — J.Lo electrified the Super Bowl halftime stage along with her special guest, Shakira. Fans were not only wowed by the singing and dancing, which included some epic booty shaking, but by how Lopez, who turned 51 later in the year, had with this performance singlehandedly redefined what it means to look 50 now. She’s not just in good shape — she’s actually somehow in better shape than she was as a backup dancer for New Kids on the Block 30 years previous. In addition, the two Latina superstars lit an inspirational spark at the beginning of a year where the push for inclusion came to dominate the conversation.


A Fashionable Statement


Another notable pre-lockdown moment occurred when Jane Fonda, then 82, arrived onstage at the Oscars in February. She dyed her hair an icy silver for the event as a surprise. Known for her blond locks, the act was a deliberate statement. The actress, who has written much about her own journey working through her relationship with fashion, beauty and men, said in her memoir My Life So Far, “Hair has ruled me for many years. Perhaps I used to hide behind it. Men in my life liked it long and blond, and I had been blond so long I didn’t actually know what my real colour was.”


The Grace and Frankie actress had moved to Washington to be involved in climate protests and famously declared the red coat she wore to be repeatedly arrested in was to be her last fashion purchase ever. Fonda was right on trend as being part of a growing movement to re-wear gowns as a statement of environmental concern. The Elie Saab red ombre sequin number was something she had previously worn in Cannes in 2014. Fonda, it seems, doesn’t need to use her voice to make a statement.


Celebrities Light the Way


The moment in March that Tom Hanks announced that he and wife Rita Wilson had both tested positive for COVID-19 was when many of us accepted things were hitting the fan. The cascade started with the NBA shutting dow,n and governments everywhere swiftly moving towards lockdown. But it took America’s dad to help us get through the denial most of us were living in.

However, it was Canada’s first couple of comedy — Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara — who brought levity to small screens everywhere. Schitt’s Creek, the little CBC sitcom that could, steered by Levy’s son, Dan, swept the lockdown-era Emmys, nabbing seven trophies. But it was the chic bubble party the cast threw at Toronto’s Casa Loma to film their acceptances that really left a mark. Clad in formalwear (showrunner Dan wore a kilt under his suit jacket) the triumphant gang brought a spot of glamour to our otherwise sweatpants-filled year. Other standout Canadian entertainment moments include the small-screen resurgence of older stars: from Donald Sutherland (The Undoing) to Kim Cattrall (Filthy Rich) and Christopher Plummer (Departure).


Celebrities, They’re Just Like Us (Sort Of)


With no sets to go to for a big chunk of the year, celebrities took to social media to create content and keep up their profiles and promotional work. But out of that rush to our phone screens, we got some real gem viral moments. There was everyone’s favourite pandemic man crash, Stanley Tucci, looking soigne at home mixing negronis.

Meanwhile, the domestic goddesses — Ina Garten and Martha Stewart and Nigella Lawson — were relatable (remember Ina’s giant martini glass?) and soothingly aspirational in their kitchen pursuits. We saw some celebrities very much out of character — think Naomi Campbell in head-to-toe hazmat suiting — or the shock of Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour donning sweatpants (it happened).

Still other stars brought their A-game to the execution of stylish isolation outfits, with the likes of Sarah Paulson and Tracee Ellis Ross emerging as clear winners in the OOTD stakes. Ross was also part of another celebrity-led nostalgia wave: the cast table-reading trend to raise money for charity. She appeared in an all-Black reboot of Golden Girls (alongside Regina King, Alfre Woodard and Sanaa Lathan).

And, of course, Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston set social media on fire more than once this year. In January, a pic of the former couple backstage at the SAG Awards, complete with Pitt holding Aniston’s wrist, became the most talked-about photo in the world overnight.

And then a few months later, in September, the pair “reunited” for a buzzy table read of the ’80s film classic Fast Times at Ridgemont High.


The Healing Power of Song


In what might be the biggest-ever assembly of Canadian music talent, the Canada Stronger Together national isolation concert helped unite the country and raised funds for the Canadian Red Cross. From Bryan Adams to Celine Dion, Justin Beiber to Michael Buble, Avril Lavigne, Sarah McLachlan, Geddy Lee, Jann Arden, Buffy Sainte-Marie and the Tenors all gathered remotely for the historic occasion. We all knew that Canada punched above its weight in musical talent, but seeing all these stars united pulled at our heartstrings – and our wallets.


Legends and Royals Embrace the Digital Life


Legendary broadcaster and environmentalist David Attenborough, 94, broke a social media speed record when he joined Instagram this fall. The much-loved Brit went from zero to one million followers in four hours, 44 minutes, besting beloved Friends star Jennifer Aniston’s swift uptake of fans on the site. At the time, he said he was “exploring this new way of communicating, for me, because, as we all know, the world is in trouble … Over the next few weeks, I’ll be recording messages to explain what the problems are — and how we can deal with them.”

He said what he wanted, then left the site a couple of months later, when he had surpassed six million followers (his profile is still up but inactive). Meanwhile, the Queen upped her own online footprint this year, sharing messages with her public and receiving ambassadors virtually. She also appears to be quite the whiz now on Zoom for both work and family purposes. Her magnificent colour sense — those bold hues that make her stand out in a crowd — serves her well when her image is scaled down to screen size.


It’s Dolly’s World, We Just Live in It


Dolly Parton has cast her beam of sunshine into the darkness of this COVID year. The top line Dolly news story was the $1 million she donated to the development of the Pfizer COVID vaccine that was first to be approved for emergency use.

But she also released a Christmas album (Holly Dolly Christmas), an autobiography (Songteller: My Life in Lyrics) and a Netflix Christmas movie (Dolly Parton’s Christmas on the Square). In this last, she plays an angel; in real life, on the movie set, she saved a child actor from being run over by a car. A biographical documentary of her life — Dolly Parton: Here I Am — is also racking up views on Netflix. Her warmth and tenacity and sparkle was exactly what we needed this year.


In Memoriam


Of course, we can’t close out the year without saying a final goodbye to some of those notable entertainers, cultural figures and politicians we lost in 2020. The list includes Alex Trebek, Kenny Rogers, Kirk Douglas, Kelly Preston, Eddie van Halen, Regis Philbin, Sean Connery, RBG, John Lewis, Kobe Bryant and Gianna Bryant, Chadwick Boseman, Olivia de Havilland, Carl Reiner, John Le Carre, Joel Schumacher, Charlie Daniels, Charley Pride, Ennio Morricone, Diego Maradona, Wilford Brimley, Vera Lynn, Jerry Stiller, Neil Peart, Shirley Douglas, Jean Kennedy Smith (JFK’s last surviving sibling) and David Prowse, the actor who played Darth Vader.


Victory Lap


After a long and bitter and ugly election campaign, Joe Biden, then 77, offered a stirring visual clip to symbolize the United States heading out of a terrible year (a terrible four years of Trumpism, really) and into the future. Having won the election, he made history by becoming the oldest man to ever win the position often referred to as the most powerful one in the world. Biden beat Donald Trump who, at 74, leaves office as the oldest president since Ronald Reagan who left office in 1989 at 77.

On the evening of Nov. 8, Biden jogged out onto the stage to make his victory speech. That night marked the point where the Democratic ticket Biden helmed with his running mate Kamala Harris surpassed the 270 electoral college votes needed to declare them the winners. The (socially distanced) crowd at the Chase Centre in Biden’s hometown of Wilmington, Del., went wild, and the video of the event, fireworks and all, went viral. It was a reassuring sight for watchers the world over, as Biden, who turned 78 a few weeks later, brought his brand of calm and steady back to politics. In the cabinet he has been in the process of naming, there are many “firsts,” including Harris who made history as the first ever female African-American and South Asian vice-president–elect. In fact, for a quintessential “old white male,” Biden has enabled history twice by agreeing to serve as vice-president to the first African-American president, Barack Obama, and appointing Harris to his ticket. Biden has effectively bounded into the future, putting ageism on notice and proving – this being his third run for the highest office in his land  – that it’s never too late .