Observant readers may have noticed that a few things changed in 2020. But while you focused on the lockdown, and the election, and the protests, and the attack on the Capitol, and the hurricanes, and the collapse of professional sports, and Hollywood’s struggles, and dear God, everything else, many stories flew under the radar. And while we can’t judge which ones were the most important, we’re qualified to inform you about the strangest and stupidest. 

So Many Musicians Lost Their Grip On Sanity

COVID has been hard on everyone but, in a way, aren’t celebrities the greatest victims? They’ve certainly had some of the worst reactions: Black Panther actress Letitia Wright, for example, shared a rambling anti-vaccination video with her fans. Wright played the ol’ “just asking questions” card before fleeing social media, where the irony that she was famous for playing a genius scientist was not lost. 

Wright made a strong case that celebrities should avoid social media like the, well, you know. But of all our pop culture overlords, musicians struggled the most with their brains turning to Jell-O. Van Morrison released a trio of anti-lockdown songs, including the creatively titled “No More Lockdown.” It accuses scientists of inventing “crooked facts” and the government of plotting to enslave us, all sent to a jaunty tune that feels like it was ripped from a subpar DreamWorks montage. 

His collaboration with Epic Clapton, “Stand and Deliver,” is at least a little more lyrically inventive, although it still compares public health to slavery because, like all slaves, Clapton is a multimillionaire who owns a Ferrari collection. Clapton, who once had sex with a witch, also warns of an impending police state and confusingly equates masks with highwayman Dick Turpin, although the song’s greatest sin is sounding like the shittiest performance at a honky-tonk open mic night. 

But the worst anti-science song goes to Ian Brown’s “Little Seed Big Tree.” Brown, who you know as either the frontman of the Stone Roses or the wizard in Prisoner of Azkaban who’s seen reading Stephen Hawking, summons a whole two chords to back the grunting of profound insights like “Masonic lockdown, in your hometown,” “A plan to chip us all, to have complete control,” and “5G radiation, beamed to Earth from space by satellites.” The message is moronic, but what’s really sad is that a once-great musician can’t even express his stupid ideas with competence. If you’re going to call COVID an evil government conspiracy you should at least rock out a little, goddammit.   

Maybe this is just the consequence of grumpy old men getting stuck at home with only their guitars and their thoughts, but they’re not the only musicians to boldly embarrass themselves in public. M.I.A. said she would “choose death” over a COVID vaccine, before clarifying that while she actually supported vaccination, COVID was clearly linked to the proliferation of 5G data networks. Glad she cleared that up! 

And for one final “Where are they and what stupid thing are they saying now?” update, Isaac Hanson, member of famous “Mmmbop” band Hanson, warned “At some point very soon Christians and Church’s (and for that matter anyone of any faith) is going to have to decide, is your faith is more important than your fear,” amid a rant about how the government was out to destroy Christmas. Meanwhile, Zac Hanson compared AR-15 owners to Rosa Parks, angering Hanson fans who, in the most shocking development of all, still exist. Taylor Hanson still seems cool though, so adjust the posters over your bed accordingly. 

Politicians Kept Getting COVID, Often After Denying Its Existence

Remember when Trump got COVID and half of social media treated it like VE Day? Trump, who downplayed COVID’s dangers and refused to use masks in the White House, treated his illness as an inconvenience. But privately he was telling confidants, in a phrase only his slurried brain could produce, “I could be one of the diers.” 

Stratos Brilakis/Shutterstock

Of course he was able to pull through, and celebrate by never thinking of people dying of Covid again.

America was so focused on Trump (and Rudy Giuliani, Chuck Grassley, Ben Carson, Rick Scott, Chris Christie, and many more) getting COVID that Herman Cain getting killed by it was a footnote, and news from other countries went almost completely unnoticed. Even when that news was totally insane.   

Tanzania’s John Magufuli, who spent months telling his people that masks and tests were useless and vaccines were dangerous, declared in May 2020 that statistics no longer needed to be tracked because national prayer had stopped the disease. When his pesky citizens kept getting COVID anyway, he suggested herbal remedies and steam inhalation. While other countries have had anti-lockdown protesters, Tanzanians have been protesting their government’s lack of a response. In February 2021 Mangufuli finally embraced masks, but he vanished the same month and, after weeks of uneasy silence, the government confirmed his death. You’ll never guess what did him in. 

Eswatini’s Prime Minister, Ambrose Dlamini, was also lost to COVID, although he wasn’t a denialist. Many leaders who got COVID were, and Christ, there were a lot of them. Burundi said President Pierre Nkurunziza died of a heart attack, but he’d expelled WHO workers (and election monitors) while downplaying case numbers and allowing political rallies and sporting events, so it looked pretty dang COVID-y to outside observers. Nkurunziza had also claimed that God was offering Burundi unique protection, so divine wrath seems to be working pretty swiftly these days. 

Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro caught COVID while orchestrating one of the world’s most inept and misinformation-riddled responses, and Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko caught it after denying its existence and arguing that vodka and sauna visits are all you need to stay healthy. Armenia was overwhelmed by COVID falsehoods, leading to a surge of cases that included Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan. Honduras’ kleptocratic President Juan Orlando Hernandez caught it too, although he at least took time out from his busy schedule of election rigging and drug trafficking to endorse precautions. 

Guatemala, Bolivia, Poland, Bulgaria, France, the UK, and Algeria also saw their leaders test positive, and that’s not even getting into various ministers, opposition leaders, Putin lapdogs, and other key figures. But really, the biggest takeaway here is that Trump’s response somehow wasn’t the dumbest. 

The Weed Industry Boomed During Lockdown

For countless Americans, 2020 was the most stressful year of their lives. And, for countless Americans, the solution to that stress was weed, as states with legal marijuana saw sales reach record, ahem, highs. Those hippies in Colorado dropped $226 million on weed in July 2020, up from a monthly average of $145 million, while Michigan, which only legalized being cool in 2018, saw monthly sales jump from $23 million to more than $100 million. 

Considering how COVID has ravaged state budgets, the significant tax revenue that accompanies those numbers has not gone unnoticed. Arizona recently enjoyed their first weed payday, New Jersey just signed off on legalization, New York and Virginia appear to be on the brink of approving it, the governor of Pennsylvania has declared it a priority, and politicians in about a dozen states are advocating for the devil’s lettuce, to varying degrees of success. Nebraska governor Pete Ricketts’ aggressive anti-legalization campaign has included warnings that jazz cigarettes will “kill your kids,” so don’t plan on partying in the Cornhusker State anytime soon. 

Gage Skidmore

He clarified that line with "That’s what the data shows from around the country."  We're guessing "Data" means "School film strips from 1971."

People are growing more weed too, citing time at home and the chance to save money as their primary motivations. Opiate abuse is unfortunately up as well, but a small study found that the use of cocaine, MDMA, and LSD is way down, because they’re no fun if you’re doing it with your hamster and a Netflix show you paused on the image of a bunch of happy people. 

Given that the White House just booted five staffers for past marijuana use, we’re probably not on the verge of federal legalization efforts or the kind of futuristic weed paradise that old stoner comedies envisioned. But as governments look for new revenue streams, cannabis will be a big part of the conversation. Some of those state bills have also earmarked cannabis tax revenue for “Sorry we imprisoned you for smoking a joint when you were 19, would you like some help reintegrating into society?” initiatives, so we may come out of COVID with a generally healthier attitude towards reefer. That’s what the kids still call it, right? We’re still cool? 

The Flu Almost Vanished

Masks, distancing, and other efforts to combat COVID prompted a passionate debate over whether such measures represented A) basic science, or B) were part of an evil effort to combat a disease that isn’t really that bad and/or was invented by the government to execute a nefarious plot that’s totally right around the corner, depending on which YouTube video in the genre of sweaty men screaming in their cars you view. But one of the many data points in favor of masks is that, by using them, the flu had a worse year than the Jacksonville Jaguars. 

During the height of the 2019-20 flu season, an estimated 400,000 Americans were hospitalized with the flu, and 32,000 died. While numbers on 2020-21 are still rolling in, hospitalizations have plummeted to roughly 14% of last year. Child fatalities dropped from 195 to one. Flu medication sales dropped too, with their place on the sales charts taken by eyedrops for easing the pain of staring at screens all day. While both the flu and COVID spread via respiratory droplets, the flu is much less infectious. Between masks, a sharp decrease in social gatherings, and the fact that even the grossest among us tend to wash their damn hands now, it didn’t stand a chance. 

Romariolen/Shutterstock

Though, downside, the rise in remote work meant that if you did get the flu, you still probably had to clock in.

There was concern we’d have to deal with influxes of both diseases at once, so being spared flu season was the tiniest of silver linings in the largest of clouds. Oh, except once COVID’s vanquished, the flu might strike back with a vengeance. Our antibodies will be weaker, and there will be less data and time for flu preparations because governments have been kinda busy. It’s not going to be cataclysmic, but the flu could potentially beat its modern fatality high score. Unless, that is, COVID fundamentally changes how we approach disease. 

Going forward, will healthy adults be more willing to get their flu shots for the sake of protecting others? If we get the sniffles, will we wear a mask to the grocery store and stay away from grandma for a couple weeks? Will our employers let people work from home or allow more sick days instead of insisting that people come in and say “it’s nothing serious” as they spew germs all over department meetings? America has long considered flu fatalities part of the cost of modern life, but maybe we’ll be willing to interrupt our lives a tiny bit if doing so could help someone else. Or maybe we’ll just get right back to sneezing on everyone in line at Starbucks. We’ll find out soon! 

Mark is on Twitter and wrote a book.

Top image: Studio Romantic/Shutterstock

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