2020 has been a year unlike any other we've ever experienced.
In music terms, the crushing of live music has presented colossal challenges, while exposing existing inequalities in the digital sphere.
A few figures and organisations have risen to the challenge, though, and the sight of collective action has allowed many to keep the faith against overwhelming odds.
Clash writers decided to countdown the Heroes and Villains of 2020...
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Megan Thee Stallion
2020 was the year Houston’s Megan Thee Stallion became not just a viral sensation, but a powerhouse within the intransigent world of rap.
Overcoming a shooting, and a maelstrom of misogynoir, Megan fashioned an agenda that opened up discourse about the right to bodily autonomy. Fans adopted her quirks and her catchphrases as emblems; she reigned all year on Tik-Tok and the charts, such was her cultural cachet.
Most importantly, with her hit ‘Body’ and her debut LP ‘Good News’, Megan affirmed the splendour of black women. This year, we all became devotees of Meg, or shall I say, Hotties.
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Charlatans frontman Tim Burgess has united music fans through lockdown thanks to his tireless crusade to promote his musical peers and use the power of social media for good during these tricky COVID times. Tim’s Twitter Listening Parties which started at the onset of the pandemic, has not only received critical acclaim, but it has provided a much-needed boost to both his fellow musicians and fans alike.
From The Moons and Tears For Fears to Kylie Minogue and New Order, Tim encourages listeners to play the chosen album and follow the relevant artists as they tweet their stories and memories behind some of the greatest albums of the last few decades.
Two words – absolute hero!
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The pandemic virtually wiped out the music industry overnight, hurling a plethora of financial and logistical challenges that put the future of millions of artists and labels in jeopardy. Then, low and behold came our knight in shining armour... is it a bird? Is it a plane? Is it another eat out to help out? No, it’s Bandcamp Friday.
Bandcamp announced last week that their Bandcamp Fridays initiative has raised over $40 million (£29.68 million) in 2020 for artists and labels during the coronavirus pandemic.
The announcement in March saw Bandcamp waiving their revenue share to ensure that as close to 100% of the profits as possible from fan purchases go to artists and labels. It encouraged us to change our buying habits, exploring new and more constructive ways to support the artists we love. This is how you support artists during a pandemic, Spotify take note.
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Music Venue Trust
When the pandemic reached these shores the lights in our music venues went out one by one. The prospect of seeing them lit again – at times – felt extremely bleak, with government assistance proving to be perilously slow in arriving.
A collective of industry veterans and concerned fans, Music Venue Trust sprung into action during this darkest hour. Helping spread vital information to those on the ground, they’ve assisted in countless venues gaining funding, while also amplifying fan-led calls to action.
Simply put: when this is all over a huge amount of the live music infrastructure in this country will owe the Music Venue Trust a debt of gratitude.
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In October, Chancellor Rishi Sunak suggested musicians and workers employed in the arts sector “retrain and find other jobs”. A Freudian slip or a misquote, the sentiment was emphatically clear, underscoring the government’s divestment of an already ailing industry.
Sunak clarified his remarks were not a disavowal of musicians but when a tailor-made “retraining quiz” churned out haphazard occupations as alternatives, we knew we didn’t stand a chance. During the pandemic, Rishi Sunak, and the Conservative cohort as a whole emerged, not as a government that valued art beyond the pecuniary, but as the preservers of joyless elitism.
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Like a lot of people who like music and have a phone, I am a Spotify user. I’m one of the millions who pay a monthly subscription, which means the music comes without between-song adverts.
Having grown-up buying vinyl, downloading songs on Bluetooth before school, the online service is still a thing of inevitable wonder, a miraculous manifestation of digital ingenuity to date that lets you discover such a wide array of music in a relatively affordable way.
Amongst all this has been a nagging sense of discomfort, as more artists, labels and producers have spoken out about the mistreatment from the streaming service, who have come under severe criticism for their constant negligence surrounding the issue. Spotify’s fragile business model reflects where it sits in the history of musical commerce.
This year’s Spotify Wrapped was about recognising the hardships we’ve all been through this year, it’s now time for them to recognise the financial hardship they are contributing towards for artists.
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London’s Night Czar has endured criticism almost from the moment she took up the position, but the colossal challenges opened up by the pandemic seemed to bring those moments of confrontation to boiling point.
A petition calling on Amy Lamé to resign gained more than 1000 signatures earlier this year, a sign of just how exasperated many in the city’s night-time industries had become, not only with the current situation but with years of in-action, forced closures, and license inhibitions.
With her current wage exceeding £80,000 at a time when many in the live sector are existing on state benefits, this anger isn’t going away. It’s wrong to vilify Amy Lamé, but we can’t help but feel that significant structural change is urgently required to the Night Czar’s position in order to create some desperately needed breathing space.
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The switch from IRL to URL predicated by the pandemic pushed millions of users back online, initially rejuvenating moribund web spaces. For a while, social media seemed to ring with clarity, a newfound positivity to the messaging surrounding channels that had become dominated by trolls. But old habits, it seems, die hard.
Megan Thee Stallion suffered greatly at the hands of online misogynists, while the heartbreaking letter of departure from Little Mix star Jesy Nelson laid bare the impact that fame and social media toxicity can have on someone’s mental well-being.
Environments that have become vital to maintaining some of the most important connections in our lives, we all have a part to play in ensuring that social media channels become safer, more positive platforms in 2021.
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