Look, even without COVID, 2020 was going to be garbage. It was an election year, for fuck’s sake, so a glut of unhinged political punditry was destined to clog up our social media feeds and needle our glazed eyeballs. In keeping with tradition, it all turned out to be even worse than we could have ever imagined, which was bad for us but good for this list of the absolute dirt-worst shit on the internet in 2020.
Ah, but it wasn’t all politics this year. As we experienced our loved ones on the very same screens where we work, post, and scroll, our shared despair resulted in an almost perverse sense of comfort in the dregs of online. Dunking on the rich, callous, and attention-hungry became a group activity, a way to pass the time that wasn’t just counting down the days until your unemployment benefits expire. And it’s the rich and oblivious that mostly make up this list, an indication of just how intensely issues of class flared up in 2020. (We also have a list of the best things on the internet this year, if you’d rather focus on the positive.)
Enjoy, and remember: This is what we get for never logging off.
10. The celebs are at it again
The celebrities could not—and would not—allow a global pandemic, international protests for Black lives, and a historic U.S. election to interfere with their eternal quest to keep their names and faces at the forefront of our minds. Their desire for our continued worship took many absurd forms this year, including, most infamously, a cover of John Lennon’s “Imagine” shot and released in the early days of quarantine. In it, celebrities like Gal Gadot, Will Ferrell, and Amy Adams give a kind of trash budget Live Aid performance from the comfort of their mansions, singing us a lullaby urging us to… actually, we still haven’t figured out what we were supposed to take from the video. Despite the backlash to the tone-deaf video’s release—and the many good jokes made at its expense—the celebs refused to learn their lesson. They would go on to release shit nobody needed like smooth-brained coronavirus commentary, somber (and hashtagged!) disavowals of racism, and nude PSAs on following voting instructions. Several of the stars involved in the “Imagine” video have since tried to justify their decision-making process, but it’s too late. Let 2020 serve as a lesson that there are times when even our most famous celebrities should heed oft-repeated social media advice and, sensing that we all have other stuff to deal with, just log the fuck off. [Reid McCarter]
9. Cakes that don’t look like cakes
We hereby decree that cakes are no longer allowed to look like anything but cake. 2020’s worst culinary trend began back in January, when the Chicago Med cast commemorated their 100th episode by cannibalizing a cake fashioned to look like a corpse. A month later, a viral video from @the_bakeking horrified us with cakes that looked like spaghetti, Coke bottles, and human arms, among other objects. And then, just when you thought this unasked-for barrage of grotesque, deceitful confectionary was over, Tasty released a monstrous compilation of trompe l’oeil cakes—Crocs, toilet paper, potted plants—set to inappropriately peppy stock music. The artistry of the cakes is notable, but the cognitive dissonance is unwelcome, especially when it causes us to stare into the sky and ask the dispassionate stars: Are we all cake? [Hannah Hightman]
8. Mike Bloomberg wants to be a meme
Between November 2019 and March 2020, former New York City mayor Mike Bloomberg spent nearly a billion dollars on a pathetic campaign that got him a whopping 59 delegates. That’s plenty embarrassing in itself, but his campaign’s comically inept attempts to turn him into a meme were somehow worse. With serial plagiarizers/Fyre Fest knuckleheads Fuck Jerry leading the charge, the campaign slapped Bloomberg’s face on a meatball and funneled money into popular Instagram accounts in an effort to “build a self-aware ironic character” around the multi-billionaire stop and frisk advocate. But money can’t buy online savvy, and the campaign’s cringey social media posts, including one in which they called Bernie Sanders gay, were routinely (and rightly) ratioed by the right and left alike. All the online piling culminated during a February debate in which Elizabeth Warren brutally roasted Bloomberg over his history of sexism. He became a meme, alright, just not the kind he’d intended. [Randall Colburn]
7. Tom Cruise wants you to see Tenet in a theater
Tom Cruise is willing to devote his boundless, advanced OT energies toward a few noble causes: The advancement of his abusive spaceman cult beliefs, the vicarious enjoyment we get from watching a multi-millionaire nearly die, and, of course, the agnostic pleasures of watching films in a theater. “Big movie. Big screen. Loved it,” he wrote alongside a bizarre little film documenting himself—in the midst of a pandemic—heading to a theater to watch Tenet. In the time since he seemingly advocated for extending a public health crisis by watching a Christopher Nolan movie a few months before its home release, COVID-19 has only worsened. “Great to be back in a movie theater everybody,” he says to his fellow moviegoers at the end of the clip, suggesting that the pandemic nightmare was behind us. Back in August. Cruise, who’s since made quite a show of his reverence for COVID-19 protocols, has been audited so extensively that he’s unable to get sick, but the rest of us need to exercise more caution, lest we leave behind obituaries citing our cause of death as: “Big movie. Big screen.” [Reid McCarter]
6. Herman Cain tweets from beyond the grave
Whether or not you subscribe to the idea that one should not speak ill of the dead—and, uh, we don’t, assuming the dead were giant fucking assholes—surely we can all come together to speak ill of still-dead Herman Cain’s still-active Twitter accounts. It’s not like Cain, who died of COVID-19 on July 30, was a master of social media prior to his death. Remember when he was tweeting stills from Twin Peaks: The Return for no apparent reason? Good times. But Cain, who, again, was felled by the coronavirus, didn’t stop being bad at social media from the afterlife. Granted, the since-rebranded “Cain Gang” account was eventually revealed to be “supervised by his daughter team and family [sic]”, but it’s still pretty repellant to use a dead man’s Twitter account to attempt to dunk on Joe Biden (this time without the Twin Peaks references). But the ghoulish absurdity reached its peak when Cain, still dead from the still-happening pandemic, tweeted about how the libs have totally exaggerated the impact of the disease that killed him. It is objectively, gruesomely, pitch-darkly hilarious, but also nightmarish in a more straightforward, wow this isn’t all that funny kind of way. It wasn’t the only recent instance of a tweet hitting in a way it shouldn’t, but it was the most ridiculous, which makes it a perfect encapsulation of this flaming hot turd of a year. Save it for the group text next time, Herman Cain’s Ghost. [Allison Shoemaker]
5. The Dickcourse
In October, famed writer Jeffrey Toobin was fired by The New Yorker after pulling out his dick on a Zoom call with colleagues and making kissy-faces at the camera. He thought he was off-camera, but that doesn’t excuse him from, you know, jerking off during a work meeting. It seems like a pretty cut-and-dried sort of thing: Don’t jerk off during work meetings, virtual or otherwise, or you’ll get fired. That, however, didn’t stop our best and brightest from whining about “cancel culture” and penning galaxy-brained op-eds about how Toobin’s firing is due not to him jerking off in front of his colleagues but to us for “feeling weird and guilty” about masturbation. In a year of horrible discourse, the dickcourse was the worst, if for no other reason than it forcing us to imagine what Jeffrey Toobin’s dick looks like. [Randall Colburn]
4. Turning Democrats into the Avengers
When somebody as cartoonishly corrupt as Donald Trump occupies the White House, it makes sense that people would want to celebrate anyone who stands against him, from slack-jawed grifters to warmongering scumbags. The problem with this kind of thinking is that we begin to see politicians, who are fallible and hyper-aware of their public perception, as heroes instead of public servants who need to be held accountable. So while, yes, we should absolutely campaign and advocate for the political figures whose policies we support, we should also run like hell from anything that tries to equate Mayor fuckin’ Pete with Spider-Man. Stephen Colbert was the first to reimagine the Avengers as contemporary Democrats, but in the days following the election a new video emerged that elaborates upon this fantasy by bafflingly throwing Sean Connery and a smoking Hunter Biden into the mix. Even crazier? It was made in earnest. We enjoy the Marvel movies, too, but idolizing policy makers is just another means of giving them too much power. [Randall Colburn]
3. J.K. Rowling casts “Transphobius Maxima”
In a year that included what we’ll briefly summarize as “a lot of really bad, extremely serious shit,” a woman with a massive platform—incalculably huge, really—decided the time was ripe to air out her transphobic bullshit, again, and again, and again. Often draping feminist language over her bigoted views like a scarf over a really transphobic lamp, she simply would not shut up, going so far as to return a human rights award when the organization rightly called her out. It drove major fan sites to stop devoting coverage to Rowling, and forced quite a few cast members from the Harry Potter film franchise to denounce her many comments, each presumably wishing she’d just delete her account and fuck off back to her castle. That group includes Daniel Radcliffe, whose statement—released through The Trevor Project—is compassionate, frank, and succinct. Rowling’s screeds, on the other hand, have been incoherent lies delivered with all the nuance and empathy of the people who yelled “SNAPE KILLS DUMBLEDORE” to readers waiting in line to buy Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince. But at least one great thing emerged from all of this when the denizens of the internet decided collectively that the person who created the Potter series is actually Britney Jean Spears, writing under a pen name. Remember, when the time comes to choose between what is right and what is easy, choose what’s right, and then give credit to Britney. She deserves a win. [Allison Shoemaker]
2. Having to look at Rudy Giuliani
As the Titanic sank, the story goes, the ship’s band played on while they awaited their death in the icy waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Former New York City mayor and Trump legal gremlin Rudy Giuliani has updated this tale for 2020, entertaining the world with his dipshit antics as the presidency he supported slowly comes to an ignoble end. Giuliani’s been busy the last few months, publicly humiliating himself by doing everything from trying to take his dick out in front of a woman he thought was a journalist, putting together an “election fraud” hotline quickly overrun by pranksters, hosting a press conference in the parking lot of the Four Seasons (Total Landscaping), sweating out oily rivulets of shoe polish hair die while quoting from My Cousin Vinny, and trotting out a court witness who slurred her testimony like an anthropomorphic version of gray wine teeth. In the time between writing and publication, we can only imagine that Giuliani will have stepped on even more rakes, cramming in ever more ridiculous last-minute entries to his awful year in an apparent attempt to make us somehow feel bad for the slimeball on the basis of the sheer volume of his fuck-ups. [Reid McCarter]
1. Coronavirus song parodies
They were everywhere in the first weeks of the pandemic and, nine months later, they’re somehow still everywhere. We even covered a few, foolish in our thought that this was simply a short-lived novelty. But, with hundreds of thousands dead and millions afflicted with a virus we still know little about, the peppy song parodies continue to roll in. We blame not the creators of the songs, which are harmless, but the specific brand of brain-melt spawned by nearly a year’s worth of cabin fever and boredom. Of the innumerable ways to reckon with a global crisis, this is truly one of the strangest. And there are so many.
The chief chronicler of this new and depressing art form is Alexander Smith, the Louisville songwriter behind Lydia Burrell and Howell Dawdy. Since March, he’s sought out and excerpted the most relevant sections in a few sprawling Twitter threads. Just dozens and dozens of corona-themed parodies, from “Never Gonna Give You Up” to “Desperado” to the Fresh Prince theme song, are piled one on top of the other, each urging you to wash your hands and wear a mask and stay inside. 2020 will forever be remembered as a year of absolute madness—Trump derangement, anti-maskers, murder hornets, Chewbacca shoes, the Pope liking a photo of an ass on Instagram—but this thread chronicles something altogether more sad: How desperate we were to laugh.
Smith chatted with us over email about his journey with COVID parodies, the form’s obsession with toilet paper, and the biggest stinker of the bunch.
The A.V. Club: How did these parodies initially begin coming on your radar?
Alexander Smith: I’ve always been fascinated by homemade YouTube parody songs. You get all kinds of people doing them, it’s a form of comedy everyone thinks they can do, so people who wouldn’t be comfortable doing standup or making a comedy short will make one. So it’s a fun thing to search on there.
AVC: What kept you coming back for more?
AS: Generally I like to compile song parodies in themed threads because it sort of changes what they are. You aren’t supposed to watch hundreds of these. You’re supposed to watch the one your cousin did and go “Ah, that’s cute” and carry on with your day. Seeing a hundred of them in a row is like going to Burning Man or something, I would guess. Never been to Burning Man.
As for why I keep coming back to coronavirus parodies: I can’t believe we’re still doing this shit. It’s still happening. People are now singing Christmas carols about how you have to wear a mask and wash your hands. The gulf between the seriousness of this tragedy and the silliness of these videos is now just inconceivably vast. I found a bunch of Christmas COVID parodies the other day and one has this guy singing “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” but he sings “Walking around with COVID-19 at your local grocery shop’ and he’s singing in this really sweet voice and… I don’t know. I’m addicted to watching these things and I love them but that could actually be the most fucked up thing I’ve ever seen.
AVC: Which ones are the absolute dirt worst?
I’ll link to the one that I think is the worst which is this couple doing a parody of “Eye Of The Tiger.” It’s a real ride. It starts with them working out for a very long time, then they sing a little bit about how it sucks to go to the grocery store, and then the chorus is about how a disease rose “up from the streets of China” but Jesus will save us.
Aside from that one it’s sort of hard to decide which ones are “bad” and which are “good.” It’s an art form that is universally bad but I love it. You could say low-effort ones are worse on some level but I like them more. There’s something I admire about someone just doing a single take in the bathroom while reading their lyrics off an iPad—as opposed to forcing all your neighbors to participate in some shit you make with a crane and a Steadicam.
AVC: Are there any trends you noticed after watching so many?
AS: Yeah, there’s lots of trends, because in parody songs you have to say all of the keywords related to a particular topic. But the weirdest trend in COVID parodies, hands down, is the toilet paper thing. Toilet paper has nothing to do with the disease but it ran out back in March everywhere so it has to be mentioned in every corona parody song. And even when it isn’t mentioned people use it as a prop. There’s videos where people wrap themselves and their families in toilet paper and then don’t even mention it in the song. They’re just choosing to wear toilet paper. Or they’ll have a line about how there’s no toilet paper and for a visual gag they’ll be sitting on a throne of toilet paper. It ends up looking like the reason there’s no toilet paper is because everyone is hoarding it for props in their videos.