Recap of 2019: What went down this year |

By Lindsay Wong

2019 was an eventful year to conclude the 2010s. This year saw the rise of activism and a series of violent protests, as well as a couple of unfortunate natural disasters. On the up side, there were milestones in terms of feminism, scientific achievements, and cultural touchstones. This year also marks the end of three major Hollywood franchises and a major shake-up in the Korean music scene.


Some of the biggest historical milestones of 2019 include a Japanese emperor abdicating for the first time in 200 years, and a record number of women taking the seat of power (102 women in the US Congress and Finland’s government is run by 5 young women). While it’s the centennial since the end of WWI, it was also Singapore’s bicentennial, marking 200 years since Sir Stamford Raffles first arrived in Singapore.

As we celebrate 50 years since the first moon landing, we also made a huge achievement in the world of astronomy: the first picture of a black hole was taken in April (pictured below). If the image looks familiar it may be because Singapore witnessed the final annular solar eclipse of 2019 on Dec 26.

First picture of a black hole

On December 18th, Donald Trump became the third US president in history to be impeached. The House of Representatives impeached him for abusing his power and obstructing Congress.

2019: Year of Activism 

In September, 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg took a stand at the 2019 UN Climate Action Summit, criticising world leaders for their lack of action against the current climate emergency. Three days prior, Greta’s activism inspired millions of people in over 100 countries to participate in School Strike 4 Climate. Thunberg was recently named Times’ “Person of the Year” for 2019. 

Greta Thunberg, Times’ Person of the Year 2019

In June, protests started in Hong Kong after a controversial extradition bill was passed, sparking outrage from Hongkongers who argued that this bill would limit human rights. Clashes between protestors and police turned violent in the last few months, and although the bill has been withdrawn, demonstrations persist as protestors are now fighting for full democracy.

In October, Chile and Lebanon also experienced violent protests due to economic injustice this year, while Iranians took to the streets to protest their government for several issues. Closer to home, students took to the streets in Jakarta (May) to protest a new legislation, while violence in Northern India escalated in the face of new citizenship laws earlier this month.

Hong Kong protests

Disasters of 2019

Mega bushfires in Australia’s New South Wales have been choking Sydney with thick smoke since early December, with no end in sight. Earlier this year, major fires in the Amazon Rainforest – a major source of oxygen for the planet – alarmed the world. In Japan, Typhoon Hagibis caused widespread damage in the Kanto region, and disrupted the Rugby World Cup in October.

Amazon Rainforest fires

The Christchurch Mosque terror attacks and Sri Lanka Easter bombings took place in the first half of 2019, shocking the world as hundreds of people were killed. 

In Singapore 

Over the course of 2019, several incidents at NUS and NTU highlighted the issue of sexual misconduct on campus and called for harsher punishment against perpetrators. Incidents like the unconsented filming of undergraduate student Monica Baey in the residential hall shower, similar Peeping Tom cases at NTU, and the molest by an NUS student on a woman on the MRT highlighted how male student deviants seemingly got away with simply a slap on the wrist, and how molest cases have been on the rise.

Jewel Changi Airport – designed by Moshe Safdie, who also designed Marina Bay Sands – garnered media attention in April because of its unique architecture, including the Rain Vortex, which is the world’s tallest indoor waterfall. Its design sparked Qatar’s tourism minister to comment on how they had a similar plan to expand their own airport, and was promptly shut down by Singapore’s netizens. In June, Funan Mall reopened, boasting an indoor cycling path lit by LED lights whenever there is movement on the path.

Jewel Changi Airport

Another hot topic this year concerns PMDs (personal mobility devices) – there have been many cases of pedestrian injuries caused by errant riders, prompting the government to set speed limits and ban PMDs from pedestrian footpaths. The latter caused a backlash from the thousands of food delivery riders who use PMDs for a living.

In other news, Singaporean foodies were really into Korean Army Stew, brown sugar bubble teas, cheese hotpot, and raclette cheese (ie. Flavour Flings), and popular flavours include salted egg yolk, mala, and truffle. Sadly, 2019 saw the demise of some long-time brands like Metro, Sasa, DIYHomefix, DFS and Honestbee, with Forever 21 scheduled to close its doors permanently soon.

Korean Army Stew

In Entertainment

2019 witnessed the conclusion of The Avengers, Game of Thrones, and Star Wars franchises. Avengers: Endgame was released in April as the conclusion to Infinity War and became the highest-grossing film of all time. Fans shed tears and even beat up people who spoiled the ending for them. The eighth season of Game of Thrones was aired from April to May, concluding the series. Although the final season was highly anticipated, fans were mostly left disappointed and angry at its ending. 

Avengers: Endgame

Keanu Reeves also made a comeback as one of 2019’s top stars after John Wick 3, an impromptu road trip with fellow United Airlines passengers, and an iconic cameo in the Netflix film Always Be My Maybe

Keanu Reeves in ‘Always Be My Maybe’

Earlier this year, the Burning Sun scandal rocked the K-pop world, primarily involving Big Bang member Seungri and singer Jung Joonyoung, leading to their exit from the entertainment industry. The scandal revolved around prostitution, sex bribery, drug trafficking, and police corruption. 

Popular boy group members including Hwall from The Boyz, Woojin from Stray Kids, and Wonho from Monsta X made their departures from their respective groups, breaking fans’ hearts around the world. Towards the end of the year, veteran K-pop girl group members Sulli from f(x) and Goo Hara from Kara took their own lives. Their deaths stirred controversy regarding how females were treated in the entertainment industry.

From left to right: former members Hwall (The Boyz), Woojin (Stray Kids), Wonho (Monsta X)

In July, Japan’s Kyoto Animation arson attack tragically killed more than 36 people. However, many animators have already returned to work despite this setback, with Violet Evergarden the Movie scheduled for release on 24 April 2020. 

Upcoming Violet Evergarden the Movie

On a positive note, 2019 saw greater Asian representation in Western media, with Asian artists like BLACKPINK and Perfume playing at Coachella, and 88rising artists like Rich Brian and Joji gaining popularity.

Blackpink at Coachella 2019

2019 Trends

The phrase “OK boomer” is one of the freshest memes to come out of 2019. Used to dismiss old-fashioned ideals, this two-word phrase addresses the generational gap between the younger generations and baby boomers (grandparent age). 

In the art world, a banana duct-taped to a wall was recently sold for $120,000 to a couple in Miami – it has since been donated to a museum – while the photo of a plain, hard-boiled egg became the most liked image on Instagram, with more than 53 million Likes. 

Duct tape banana

Meanwhile, Smudge the cat accidentally became a star in 2019’s most popular meme, ‘woman yelling at cat’:

woman yelling at cat