Faithful readers of Just Exactly Perfect have come to expect an annual review capturing highlights of popular culture from the preceding year. Not this time, friends. Here at JEP, we’re running away from 2020 as fast as we can. Put it in the books and don’t look back. “Bag it/Tag it/Sell it to the butcher in the store,” as Phish say in “Reba.” Or, as Taylor Swift once said, “We are never ever getting back together.”
Not to dismiss some of the miracles, great and small, that happened in 2020 — the vaccine, the courage of frontline healthcare workers, the rise of flexitarianism, the perseverance of millions of Americans — but in the aggregate, 2020 was the epitome of annus horribilis. So let’s move on.
In 2021, JEP isn’t looking back; we’re leaning in. Drawing ideas and inspiration from a small circle of JEP advisors (see credits at the end of this post), we’re looking out over the next 12 months and making predictions — without fear or favor — about what will happen. A note of caution: we aren’t just guardedly optimistic about 2021, we’re exuberantly optimistic. Here’s what we think will happen once we push through this final hump (keep your masks on for a while longer, people!). Let’s check back in at the end of 2021 and see how well we fared, keeping in mind what Neils Bohr once said: “Making predictions is hard, especially about the future.”
The Global Economy Will Take Off Like One of Elon Musk’s Rockets. This will be the uber-trend of 2021. There are so many latent drivers for an economic resurrection — animal spirits, pent-up demand, a wave of refinancing that has fortified consumer balance sheets, the Fed, and the vaccine, to name some. Dow 40,000 anyone?
Drs. Ugur Sahin and Özlem Türeci will win the Nobel Prize in Medicine. This husband-and-wife team, who founded BioNTech, partnered with Pfizer and leveraged years of pioneering work in mRNA research to produce the first approved and marketable vaccine for Covid-19. Moderna soon followed, and others will too. But they were first, emerging victoriously from years of grinding work at lab benches. Science is hard work, but the results are often spectacular.
Multiple-choice predictions for Trump’s Future: The Donald will do one of, or a combination of, several things: a) Boycott Biden’s inauguration and announce his candidacy for 2024 on the same day, b) Move to Venezuela and announce his candidacy for President with the slogan, “Make Venezuela Great Again!”, c) Become a squatter at Mar-a-Lago and dodge the sheriff’s deputies who will be trying to evict him, d) Take Sean, Laura and Tucker with him to a yacht moored in international waters and launch a pirate radio station, e) Become a game show host, f) Slowly, quietly become a back-bencher (the term applied to members of the British Parliament who do not hold leadership positions). Applying the theory of Occam’s Razor, which holds that the simplest explanation is usually the right one, we’re choosing (f) as the likely outcome.
It’s Amazon’s World, We Just Live In It. 2021 will be the year of logistics. With Amazon hiring 1,000 people a second and everyone from 5-year-olds to your grandmother getting comfortable with e-commerce, connecting the Internet with the last mile of delivery will be essential. We’re already witnessing one of the greatest feats of logistics this century with the deployment of Covid vaccines. That experience will spur a wave of skills and discipline across the logistics industry, which will in turn drive more convenience and lower costs for consumers.
The Innovation Curve Will Take Off. It’s an established phenomenon that crises breed innovation — Margaret MacMillan wrote a book about it this year, “War: How Conflict Shaped Us,” that made a lot of Top 10 lists. So look to 2021 for a Big Bang of innovation across the world. From the digitization of health care and the democratization of investing through sites like Robinhood and public.com, to the complete restructuring of entertainment platforms and the continuing proliferation of supercomputing, drivers of innovation will be in high gear. Commercial real estate will be reinvented. The peace agreements being struck in the Middle East will create a wave of business innovation in that region. The cloud will fully evolve to a hybrid model. Fin-tech will go mainstream. You get the idea; fasten your seat belts.
Live Music Will Return With a Vengeance. Guess what? People like to party together. And that was hard to do in 2020 unless you wanted to become a superspreader. Once the vaccine is fully deployed around mid-year, people will be flooding back to performance venues, from Lincoln Center to Red Rocks. Pre-pandemic, Madison Square Garden was the world’s top-grossing arena, and bookings for 2021 are already running 50% ahead of what had been reserved for 2020. The Yarrow clan will be fully present at Phish’s scheduled shows this summer in Eugene and San Francisco.
Home Gyms Will Replace Commercial Gyms. People have figured it out. Better to sweat in your own home, guided by Peloton, Apple Fitness+, or your own individual motivation, than in a crowded gym. Cheaper too.
Organic Marketing Will Become the Gold Standard. Midway through 2020, Nathan Apodaca was late for work at a potato factory near Idaho Falls after his car broke down. So he hopped on his skateboard, grabbed his cranberry juice and started skating to work. Turning on Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” and filming himself was an afterthought, he later said. The video went viral on TikTok and suddenly a 43-year-old Fleetwood Mac record was topping the charts. How do you replicate that? Marketers will be working feverishly in 2021 to figure it out.
Conspiracy Culture Will Metastasize. This is unfortunate, but true. The social media complex is just too entrenched to put the genie back in the bottle. P. J. O’Rourke asks a good question about social media: “Whose bright idea was it to put every idiot in the world in touch with every other idiot?” Sorry, I don’t mean to profile social media as all bad. I spent as much time as anybody on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, and TikTok was a guilty pleasure. But there are dark corners of the social media universe where the idiocracy reigns supreme (you can go to thedonald.win, but you may be sorry you did). It would be one thing if Sydney Powell suggested to a friend over a cocktail that communists controlled the election, but when social media spreads it to 100,000 people overnight, that becomes something altogether different. As my father said, “Don’t believe everything you read.”
A Rapprochement With “Big Tech.” The political backlash against the big tech companies will subside as cities and states realize they need this vital sector of the economy more than ever for sustained prosperity. Following a big year for business formation in the tech sector, 2021 will be a record-breaking year for tech IPOs.
A Return to the Center. We will see a bridging of the nation’s parties in 2021. The last four years were exhausting; the country is exhausted. People want boring. President Biden does too. “Give me vanilla, and make it 2 scoops.”
Maybe the Office Was Kind of Cool After All. The end of the office never comes and the vast majority of white collar workers will go back to majority time in offices, but with more flexibility. There’s a reason why “The Office” is one of the top three shows on Netflix. We’re social animals.
Taylor Swift Will Release a New Album. We’re going out on a limb here. But Taylor did release two great records during the plague year, so maybe she can squeeze out another one during the recovery year. But for sure, it’ll be upbeat, more like “Red” than “Folklore.” As someone commented on YouTube, “Life is too short to pretend u don’t like TAYLOR SWIFT.”
There’s so much more that will happen in 2021, much of which is utterly unpredictable. One of my general rules of life is, “Anything can happen . . . and probably will.” But qualitatively, we’re feeling pretty confident at JEP HQ. Not to the point where we’d get to the end of the year and look back on 2020 and laugh. There was too much tragedy in 2020 and it will forever be remembered as such. Even the passage of time will not dim the memory of the lives that were lost and all the light that left the world in that horrible year. And yet, we remained standing. We fought. We persevered. We gave life to the notion that William Faulkner expressed so eloquently in his Nobel Prize speech (I paraphrase here a little): “I believe that humanity will not merely endure: we will prevail. We are immortal, not because we alone among creatures have an inexhaustible voice, but because we have a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance.”
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(These predictions were sourced from a small circle of JEP advisors who bear no responsibility for their accuracy: Jessie and Breton Birkhofer, John McIver, Greg Berardi and Richard Rubin. Thank you to all and to all a Happy New Year!)