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The Year in Music: Pandemic, politics and pop

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Getty Images/Getty Images for Global CitizenThe COVID-19 pandemic affected all areas of life this year, and pop music was no different.

Live shows, festivals and events were cancelled, including highly anticipated tours from Harry Styles and Justin Bieber, and the Jonas Brothers’ Las Vegas residency. Lady Gaga pushed back the release of Chromatica from April to the end of May, and cancelled her planned Chromatica Ball world tour. The album eventually debuted atop the Billboard 200 chart with a boost from the hit single "Rain on Me," featuring Ariana Grande, and Gaga curated the virtual benefit concert One World: Together at Home for COVID-19 relief.

Sam Smith also delayed their album release from June to October, and changed the title from To Die For to Love Goes.

Artists, as well as listeners, shifted focus to music relevant to current times. Julia Michaels and JP Saxe’s suddenly timely “If the World Was Ending” became a hit; Justin Bieber and Ariana released a COVID-19 charity duet, “Stuck With U”; and Demi Lovato got political ahead of the election with the fiery “Commander in Chief.”

And speaking of getting political, pop stars used their voices for activism this year. Halsey, Selena Gomez, Camila Cabello, Shawn Mendes, Ariana and more joined protests for racial justice, used their social media platforms to amplify Black voices, and encouraged everyone to vote.

For all the changes 2020 brought to the music industry, here are a few artists who particularly thrived in spite of it all:

Dua Lipa — The pop star had the best year of her career, starting with the release of her sophomore album, Future Nostalgia, in March, which had people dancing in their kitchens all quarantine with songs like the timely “Don’t Start Now” and “Levitating.” The effort sparked a remix album Club Future Nostalgia, scored Dua six Grammy nominations, her first American Music Award, and Billboard Women in Music’s Powerhouse Award. She even reinvented live shows with her super successful Studio 2054 virtual concert, watched by over five million people worldwide.

Miley Cyrus — She kept busy in lockdown by creating her Bright Minded Instagram Live show where she had meaningful conversations with various celebs from the safety of their own homes. She ended the year by becoming a bona fide rock star with her new album, Plastic Hearts, featuring her idols Joan Jett, Billy Idol and Stevie Nicks, and new friend Dua on the track “Prisoner.”

The Weeknd — He may have been inexplicably shut out of the Grammy nominations this year, but The Weeknd hit career highs with the release of his album After Hours. The project debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 Albums chart and spawned the hit single “Blinding Lights,” which rose to number one on the Billboard Hot 100 and spent 40 weeks in the top 10. Further solidifying his mega successful year, The Weeknd was announced as 2021’s Super Bowl halftime show performer.

BTS — This year saw the K-pop group score two number-one albums and top the Billboard Hot 100 not once but three times — with "Dynamite," the "Savage Love" remix and "Life Goes On." They also received their first-ever Grammy nomination, sold nearly a million tickets to a massive virtual concert, and were named TIME’s Entertainer of the Year.

Honorable mentions:

Ariana Grande, who released her new album positions and is closing out the year with a concert film on Netflix and an engagement to beau Dalton Gomez.

Harry Styles, who scored his first-ever U.S. number-one hit with "Watermelon Sugar."

Jason Derulo, who topped the chart for the first time in 11 years with "Savage Love (Laxed Siren Beat)."

Selena Gomez, who released the pre-pandemic album Rare, launched cosmetics line Rare Beauty, debuted a quarantine cooking show Selena + Chef, and took on more producing and acting projects.

Shawn Mendes, who released new album Wonder and an accompanying Netflix doc, In Wonder.

By Andrea Dresdale
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