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A look back at some of the biggest music stories of 2020

A pilot performance at The London Palladium (Andy Paradise/PA)
A pilot performance at The London Palladium (Andy Paradise/PA)

Coronavirus and its devastating effect on the live music industry may have dominated headlines in 2020, but the year has also served up other gripping narratives.

From Taylor Swift surprise releasing not one but two albums, to Kanye West running for US president, it has been a memorable 12 months.

Here we take a look back at some of the biggest music stories.

Kanye West for US President
Kanye West (Ian West/PA)

– Coronavirus halts live music

In March, when Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the closure of music venues, few imagined that nine months on the sector would still be in the deep freeze.

Glastonbury festival and Eurovision were among the first major events to be cancelled or postponed.

Soon it became clear that many venues, from small grassroots spaces to The London Palladium, would struggle to reopen while social distancing was required.

The O2 in London was turned into an NHS coronavirus training facility and the Government ran pilot tests to see how venues could safely reopen, with select spaces implementing deep cleaning of auditoriums, reduced venue capacity and limited ticket sales.

And July saw the Government announce a £1.57 billion support package for Britain’s museums, galleries, theatres and venues.

– The industry struggles to adapt

Musicians responded to their enforced isolation with a bevy of releases.

Charli XCX was among the first, recording and releasing an album in six weeks. How I’m Feeling Now encapsulated the anxiety and alienation of self-isolation. Other notable releases came from Taylor Swift, Kylie Minogue and Sir Paul McCartney.

Artists also embraced the possibilities of live-streamed concerts with Dua Lipa and Gorillaz delivering stand-out shows online.

Billie Eilish No Time To Die music video
Billie Eilish (Ian West/PA)

– Billie Eilish breaks records at the Grammys

The teenager made history by sweeping all four major categories at the 62nd Grammy Awards.

She earned her trophies for her debut album, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? and the single Bad Guy.

Christopher Cross was the last artist to win all four major categories back in 1981.

– Musicians back the Black Lives Matter movement

The killing of unarmed black man George Floyd in May prompted anti-racism protests around the world and a resurgence in the Black Lives Matter movement. It wasn’t long before the music world responded.

In the UK, grime star Stormzy pledged £10 million over the next 10 years to organisations engaged in the fight for racial equality and social justice.

Stormzy (Ian West/PA)

And the music industry itself took part in Blackout Tuesday where social media platforms were flooded by black squares and industry workers spent a day reflecting.

Acts including Lady Antebellum and the Black Madonna changed their names after facing accusations of cultural appropriation.

– Taylor Swift releases two surprise albums

Swift has rarely been out of the headlines in recent times, but 2020 was an especially active year for the country singer turned pop princess.

There was controversy surrounding the ownership of her first six albums, after prominent talent manager Scooter Braun sold her master recordings to a private equity firm in a deal reportedly worth more than 300 million US dollars (about £223 million at the time).

She also stepped into the political arena by endorsing Joe Biden for president.

MTV Video Music Awards 2019 – Show – New Jersey
Taylor Swift (PA)

And in July, she released the surprise album Folklore, which was recorded in isolation and received rave reviews, landing a string of Grammy nominations including album of the year.

She soon followed it up with another surprise album, Evermore.

– Kanye West unsuccessfully runs for US president

The rapper and fashion designer launched his longshot bid for the White House in July but it was hampered by repeated failures to make the ballot in several states.

While he eventually conceded his loss to Joe Biden, West hinted at another attempt in four years, tweeting: “WELP KANYE 2024.”

– Increased scrutiny of the streaming giants

An unseen consequence of Covid-19 halting live performance revenue was increased scrutiny of the business models of platforms such as Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music and Google Play.

In November, a Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee inquiry began into how the streaming model has affected artists and record labels, with high-profile figures including Nile Rodgers and Guy Garvey from Elbow giving evidence.

– Mariah Carey finally gets to number one, but misses out at Christmas

Mariah Carey – Glasgow
Mariah Carey (Danny Lawson/PA)

Twenty-six years after it was released, Carey’s festive classic All I Want For Christmas Is You finally reached number one in the UK on December 11.

The song initially peaked at number two in 1994, missing out to East 17’s Stay Another Day, and the last three years saw it return to match that original chart position.

But it was beaten to the Christmas number one by the comedy vlogger LadBaby.

– Bob Dylan sells his entire back catalogue

December saw Universal Music Group acquire Dylan’s entire back catalogue in a deal reported by the New York Times to be worth more than 300 million US dollars (£225 million at the time).

The agreement, thought to be one of the largest in recent years, covered the copyrights to some 600 of the 79-year-old US musician’s tracks spanning his six-decade career.

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