Making a breakthrough in pop culture during any year is hard. Doing it during a global pandemic is an entirely different thing.
This year’s five Associated Press’ Breakthrough Entertainers of the Year managed to create buzz and art against a year like no other. They brightened a 2020 that badly needed light.
They are Anya Taylor-Joy, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Daisy Edgar-Jones, Sarah Cooper and Finneas. These performers broke through into the mainstream and made a mark on entertainment this year, despite lockdowns — and, in the case of Edgar-Jones, perhaps because of them, sending people desperate for connection to her series “Normal People.”
The AP’s fourth annual list spotlights how fast fame can come: It took a mere four months from when Cooper started posting videos of herself on TikTok lip-synching President Donald Trump to filming her own hourlong Netflix special alongside Helen Mirren.
Abdul-Mateen’s career may have started later than most, but he was all over 2020, in the films “All Day and a Night” and Aaron Sorkin’s “The Trial of the Chicago 7.” His year was highlighted with the Emmy for Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or Movie for his acclaimed performance as Dr. Manhattan in HBO’s lauded series “Watchmen.”
And while Billie Eilish is a sensation, it’s time her brother, Finneas, is also celebrated. She won five honors at the Grammy Awards earlier this year, including album of the year for “When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?” But since Finneas produced, co-wrote and engineered that album, he walked away with six Grammys, one more than his sister.
In a year when many people’s output slackened, Anya Taylor-Joy seemed to find another gear: She played a meddling British brat in “Emma,” a Russian mutant with teleportation powers in the latest “X-Men” film, and an American orphan who turns out to be a chess phenom who can checkmate grown men by the time she’s 8 in “The Queen’s Gambit.”
Taylor-Joy said when she was a kid she dreamed of flying off to imaginary lands. “Now as an adult, I’m like, ‘I live in Narnia.’ Like, this is amazing.” In a year like 2020, it was appropriate that millions escaped with her.