Forbes Celebrity Awards 2020: The Year Of The Sell-Out

The world of celebrity revolves around premieres, tours and red carpets, but in 2020, movie debuts were postponed, concerts were canceled, and award shows took place on Zoom. Stars who wanted to stay relevant—and make money—had to get creative.

Here are our picks for the best products, most intriguing people and most exciting trends from the star-studded world in a year like no other.

Best Product: OnlyFans

Besides getting a shoutout in Megan Thee Stallion and Beyoncé’s chart-topping hit “Savage,” OnlyFans, a London-based platform originally built for adult content, has become a way for celebrities to connect directly with fans and share exclusive content. Stars like Cardi B and Black Panther’s Michael B. Jordan have joined. The danger of using the platform to make a pretty penny? “Some of these people become so ubiquitous and often obnoxious online presences that they destroy their value in that other world,” says Forbes Awards judge Richard Rushfield, editor of the Ankler and an expert on Hollywood.

Most Intriguing Newcomer: Verzuz

What started as an impromptu showdown between Timbaland and Swizz Beatz on Instagram Live in March evolved into an ongoing webcast series called Verzuz, produced by the two rappers. In August, Apple Music won a bidding war to stream Verzuz’s musical battles, which have featured everyone from Gladys Knight and Patti LaBelle to Alicia Keys and John Legend. Michelle Obama and Mariah Carey are fans. A November standoff between Jeezy and Gucci Mane broke live-stream viewership records with 9.1 billion viewers across platforms.

Official Verzuz After Party Hosted By Young Jeezy And Gucci Mane

Official Verzuz After Party Hosted By Young Jeezy And Gucci Mane

Prince Williams/Getty Images

Disruptive Innovator: Travis Scott 

The hip-hop star has rewritten the rules of celebrity endorsements by partnering with big brands while maintaining creative control and taking a piece of the profit. Take his deal with McDonald’s this fall. He crafted a menu item so popular—a medium Sprite, a Quarter Pounder and fries with barbecue sauce—that it caused supply shortages for the multinational giant. Thanks to a smart negotiation for full rights to develop a merchandise line around the partnership, he took home $15 million from sales of blankets, hoodies and McNugget-shaped body pillows.

Best Firm: Spotify

The Swedish streamer has proved unmatched when it comes to collecting the hottest podcasts for its platform. In 2020, the company purchased sportswriter Bill Simmons’ podcast network and website the Ringer for nearly $200 million, signed Joe Rogan for $100 million and became the exclusive home to the podcasts of Michelle Obama and, most recently, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. It was a good year for it: Podcasting ad revenue was up more than 10% in 2020 and is expected to hit $1 billion in 2021.

Annus Horribilis: Johnny Depp

Cancel culture has meant a backlash for a number of celebrities in 2020, but no one has seen his or her career obliterated like Depp. Once the bankable star of blockbusters like Pirates of the Caribbean and Alice in Wonderland, able to collect $40 million per role, Depp has displayed erratic on-set behavior and been the subject of allegations of violence and spousal abuse, ruining his reputation. In November, Warner Bros. fired him from the Fantastic Beasts franchise, and he will not appear in the upcoming Pirates spinoff.

Forbes Forecast: No shame in selling out

With no concerts and film production at a standstill, celebrities sought other ways to make money in 2020, putting their names on everything from Christmas cookies (Mariah Carey) to collagen (Jennifer Aniston). “Every famous person has been sitting at home, not able to shoot,” says comedian and Forbes Award judge Esther Povitsky. “We will see more and more wacky celebrity brands launch—and they will shock us all when they do really well.”

And drumroll, please …

The Forbes Celebrity Of The Year: Dolly Parton

The 74-year-old Parton proved to be a light in an otherwise dark year. She created a viral meme, wrote a song dedicated to Covid-19 victims and released her first holiday album in 30 years—and her 47th studio album overall. Her most important contribution? A $1 million donation that helped fund Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine research.

Dolly Parton

Dolly Parton

Mickey Bernal/GettyImages

Our inaugural Forbes Celebrity Awards were chosen in consultation with Richard Rushfield, editor of the Ankler, and comedian Esther Povitsky.


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