Our tentative heroes found themselves at the epicenter, with events rumbling around them. Yet, not all faced trials. Some had a stupendous year, and we’re here for them. We’re here for women! Here is a list of 50 women who rose to prominence in 2020.
Taylor Swift is phenomenal every year, but this year she really dazzled. The 31-year-old artist released two surprise albums. Big surprise! Her record company only learned about it a week in advance. She was named Artist of the Year (for the sixth time) at the American Music Awards, where she debuted her new song “Betty” from Folklore.
"Evermore," the second album she dropped, has put Tay fans in a frenzy. They say “Dorothea” is a song about Taylor’s bestie Selena Gomez. Taylor said she and her boyfriend Joe Alwyn created the music together to deal with being stuck at home.
Elected the first female US Vice President, Kamala Harris has her share of “firsts.” As the 46th Vice President-elect, she is also the first woman of color to be elected. Earlier in her career, she was not only the first woman to become attorney general of California, but she was also the first African American and first Asian American to do so.
As attorney general, Harris made a strong impression as a hard-hitting prosecutor, quickly making her one of the state’s most prominent leaders. In the Senate, she was California’s first black woman to represent the state.
Beyoncé has a reputation for topping the charts. She is the only artist to break into the music scene with six consecutive number one hit singles. The past couple of years have been hectic enough, releasing "Lemonade," touring, and producing the documentary film "Homecoming." On top of it, she and hubby Jay-Z welcomed twins into the world.
She says it’s been four years of back-to-back projects. Beyoncé is lighting up 2020 too! She stunned on the cover of "Vogue UK" and talked about her latest project, "Black is King," a tribute to the tunes of "Lion King." She also said that 2020 “absolutely changed” her.
Though 2020 was challenging for everyone, it seems like Kylie Jenner found a way to capitalize more than any other celeb. At 23, she topped "Forbes'" annual list of highest-paid celebrities for the year 2020. She earned a whopping $590 million; yes, you read that right.
The makeup mogul has found ways to keep in touch with fans during these hard times through Instagram, making sure to keep up her social media presence and stay relevant as ever.
Simone Biles is, arguably, the greatest gymnast of all time. She holds 30 medals, including 14 Olympic gold medals, making her the world’s most decorated gymnast. In the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Ms. Biles took home four gold medals.
She got into gymnastics at daycare as a child in her hometown of Spring, Texas. Seeing as she was chosen to represent the United States in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, she was disappointed when it was announced that it would be postponed until 2021. Nevertheless, the 23-year-old believes it is the right decision and is looking forward to competing in Japan.
Media mogul Oprah Winfrey is inevitably up to something outstanding and often supportive of women. This year it’s her mega-event called "Oprah’s 2020 Vision Tour: Your Life in Focus." Many of the women on our list interviewed with Oprah.
Lady Gaga, Michelle Obama, Tina Fey, and Jenifer Lopez all joined her with audiences of tens of thousands of people. The inspiration for the Vision Tour arose from a WW luncheon Oprah hosted. She told "ET" the Tour was a way to take that “energy of inspiration and people feeling triumphant in their lives” and use it for the “greater good.”
Christina Koch became an astronaut in 2013. Serving as a flight engineer on the International Space Station, Koch set a record for longest single spaceflight by a woman. She floated around Earth in the space station for 328 days. While she was up there, Koch completed six spacewalks.
She also worked on studying the effects of space on human health. She grew plants like mustard greens (yes—plants grow in space!). She said one of the best parts about zero-gravity is sleep; it’s perfectly comfy with no pressure points. She returned to the blue planet on February 6, 2020.
Actress Regina King has won four Primetime Emmy Awards, more than any other black performer. She was awarded an Oscar and a Golden Globe for "If Beale Street Could Talk." 2020 has been so good for King she feels a twang of guilt.
The Venice Film Festival screened her film "One Night in Miami" this year, making her the first black woman director ever to have her work screened at the festival. Weeks later, King picked up her fourth Emmy, setting the record for HBO’s "The Watchmen." On top of it all, "Glamour" named King “Women of the Year.”
Country music’s Queen of Nashville grew up dirt poor on a Tennessee tobacco farm. Today Dolly Parton has a $500 million net worth and nine Grammy’s. Her wide smile, platinum-do, and perky twang characterize the music legend. With 47 Grammy nominations, country music would not be the same without Dolly.
Behind the scenes, her heart is as giving as it seems. She runs a literacy program delivering over 100 million books to children. The money she donated in 2020 was used to help find a life-saving vaccine. She's said she just wants to “do good.”
Rihanna has been teasing fans all year about her new album. She’s been a very busy diva. Besides working on the R9 release, the beautiful pop star and fashion icon appeared at the 2020 NAACP Image Awards to collect the President’s Award. Her impassioned speech generated serious buzz.
"Harper’s Bazaar" recently profiled Rihanna’s wildly successful makeup brand featuring socially conscious products like a foundation that matches all skin tones.
AMY CONEY BARRETT
Judge Amy Coney Barrett found herself front and center as she was interrogated at the Supreme Court confirmation hearing in DC this year. On October 27, she was officially sworn in, and she is the fifth woman to become a Supreme Court justice.
Barrett is celebrated as a strong academic, graduating first in her class at the University of Notre Dame Law School. She clerked under Justice Antonin Scalia after graduating. The mother of seven is a practicing Catholic who is popular with the religious right.
2020 dubbed Oscar-winning actress Angelina Jolie the second-highest-paid actresses in the business, but recently, she is more known as a human rights leader. As a teen, she grew up in the LA punk rock scene. Since then, she devoted her life to positive change by becoming a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations at 26.
Cambodia was the first humanitarian crisis she witnessed, prompting her philanthropic work and adopting her first of six children. She has completed at least a dozen refuge field missions, advocating on their behalf.
Ariana Grande is a diva queen. This year she teamed up with Lady Gaga for “Rain on Me” and also performed at the Grammys. But she really surprised fans in October when she announced her new album. Titled "Positions," Grande’s latest offering is a tender and sweet and breathy dish of R&B.
In her new music video for the title song, she’s perched at the desk in the Oval Office, taking on presidential roleplay as well as other positions inside the presidential mansion. A pop diva playing president seems apropos in 2020. Grande is making it cool to be a powerful woman.
Two-time US Open champion Naomi Osaka has found herself advocating for black rights. The astounding 23-year-old athlete said, “I don’t consider myself an activist; I consider myself a person that has something they believe in and wants to speak about it.”
This "Sports Illustrated" “Sportsperson of the Year” feels her fame creates a responsibility to speak out. During the US Open, she wore a different face mask to every game, honoring a cause she so deeply believes in.
Jane Fonda is 82, but the ‘60s activist and actress is as busy as ever. In one year, Fonda presented at the Oscar’s, published a book, and got arrested. "The Truth About Climate Change And How To Fix It" came out in September 2020.
She was arrested five times in Washington DC protesting climate inaction, a movement sparked by youth climate activists. In February, the "Grace and Frankie" star moved her protests to the LA area, where many other celebs such as Joaquin Phoenix and Lily Tomlin joined her.
MacKenzie Scott made an indelible commitment to philanthropy in 2020. This summer, she announced a $1.7 billion gift to charities and a commitment to give much more. She ended 2020 on a high-note donating $4.2 billion in just four months. With a net worth of $36 billion, she said she would donate “the majority” of her wealth throughout her lifetime.
In 2019, MacKenzie Scott, formerly MacKenzie Bezos, divorced the richest man in the world. She received 25% of Jeff Bezos’ stake in Amazon and went immediately to the task of giving it away. Scott signed The Giving Pledge, an organization spearheaded by Bill and Melinda Gates to encourage billionaires to give away their wealth.
In 2020, Billie Eilish won the Album of the Year Grammy. She also won Song of the Year. And she won the Grammy for best new artist. At 18, Eilish is the youngest musical artist in history to win the top Grammy category. Her album “When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?” was released in 2019.
She performed at the DNC and did the title track for the James Bond movie "No Time to Die." Eilish made the "Forbes" Celebrity 100 list, the youngest person to be featured. How much did she make this year? A lot, $53 million.
Greta Thunberg has been named "Time" magazine’s person of the year, and she’s only 17. Growing up in Stockholm, the Swedish girl became a climate activist when she was eight. Championing her cause has influenced an entire generation of young climate activists.
She has 10.5 million Instagram followers. In 2019, she addressed the UN climate conference in NYC. This year a surprise set of media waves hit her when the President of the United States mocked her, saying she “must work on her anger management problem.” The teen took Trump’s Tweet in stride and quoted his dig in her Twitter bio.
Fed up with bad scripts and degrading portrayals of women in film and TV, Oscar-winning actress Reese Witherspoon launched Hello Sunshine to create much-needed space for female-driven stories. The "Legally Blonde" star opened the Hello Sunshine book club under the production umbrella, and it is on track to rival Oprah’s.
The savvy entrepreneur has made ties with powerful partners and has created TV series for Netflix, Hulu, HBO, Amazon, and Apple TV. At 44, Witherspoon commands a $200 million net worth while Hello Sunshine is just getting started. 2020 is set to be just another great year for Witherspoon.
As you may have already guessed, Bonnie Castillo is on the 2020 "Time" 100 List. The former ICU nurse and current executive director of National Nurses United sensed the urgency of the news coming out of Wuhan, China. She took action by calling for investigations into the preparedness of US hospitals.
Most significantly, Castillo signaled the alarm about a shortage in personal protective equipment long before anyone else. The role of nurses is nothing short of heroic, and Castillo has been there since day one, making sure they are safe.
ALEX MORGAN, CARLI LLOYD & MEGAN RAPINOE
These women have been called “the holy trinity” of US Women’s Soccer. The three-team captains, Alex Morgan, Carli Lloyd, and Megan Rapinoe, are a formidable trio of forwards who racked up three World Cup titles and four Olympic gold medals for US Women’s Soccer.
Together, they are responsible for 282 goals. Carli leads the pack with 123. Alex knocked in 107 and plays professionally in Tottenham on the FA Women’s Super League. Megan is wing and captain of OL Reign in Washington for the US NWSL pro league. Carli also plays in the NWSL on New Jersey’s Sky Blue FC.
Former SNL writer and Weekend Update anchor made a splash with "Mean Girls" and "30 Rock," both award-winning projects. She’s executive producing two upcoming television shows and is co-creator of the Netflix series "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt."
The writer/actress/comedian recently sat down with Oprah Winfrey as a guest on the media queen’s 2020 Vision: Your Life in Focus Tour. She’s hot property. The Golden Globes award show has already booked her to host the event next year with co-host Amy Poehler.
Lady Gaga lit up the 2020 MTV Video Music Awards. She won five VMAs, more than any other artist, and she clinched Artist of the Year. The first-annual Tricon Award went to Gaga as well. But ask anyone, all we could talk about was her outrageous outfits and fascinating masks.
She wore a different elaborate ensemble for each award acceptance. Naturally, the style maven never disappoints. Earlier in the year, she organized the One World: Together at Home virtual concert that broadcast to the world live in April. The concert raised $130 million for charity.
RUTH BADER GINSBURG
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away this year. The gender equality champion was 87. As the second-ever female Supreme Court justice, Ginsburg served 27 years. She became a feminist rockstar overnight with Notorious RBG, the documentary film, and a book about her life.
RBG faced inequality directly. When she was accepted into Harvard Law, the dean said her place “should go to a man.” After graduating at the top of her class with a recommendation for a Supreme Court clerkship, she was turned away. Likewise, law firms wouldn’t hire women. In the 1970s, Ginsburg became a pivotal figure for Woman’s Rights laws.
At the E! People’s Choice Awards in November 2020, J-Lo won! She was recognized for over two decades as a global pop star taking home the 2020 E! Award. She said it was “the greatest award she ever received” because it’s from the people, her peeps. Two weeks later, J-Lo’s single, “In the Morning,” dropped like a bombshell out of nowhere.
The artwork on the surprise-release featured a very revealing NSFW image of the 51-year-old singer by photography legends Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott. On Instagram, Lopez also showed her laid back side rocking the 2020 sweats look in cobalt blue.
Selena Gomez released her third number one album at the beginning of the year, but the success of Rare is a drop in the bucket to a very eventful 2020. Rare is also the name of her new makeup brand that was launched this year. But it’s not all about beauty and 48 shades of foundation; 1% of all Rare profits will be added to the Rare Impact Fund.
Founded to increase access to mental health resources, the philanthropy has a goal of hitting $100 million. Gomez reaches out to fans on Instagram, where she has 195 million followers.
"Modern Family" icon Sofia Vergara is the highest-paid actress of 2020. For seven years, the Colombian American actress has been the highest-paid television actress. 2020 was even better.
She made $43 million this year. Vergara won the People’s Choice Award for the final season of ABC’s "Modern Family." The sitcom ended after 11 seasons, but then "America’s Got Talent" quickly snatched her up as a judge.
Michelle Obama delivered a strong media presence in 2020. In July, she made an impassioned commencement speech to high school and college graduates via YouTube’s “Dear Class of 2020” virtual commencement ceremony. President Obama addressed graduates as well.
She reminded folks that “structural barriers” make it hard for some, “no matter how hard they work,” and commended those who stood up for justice instead of staying quiet. “Don’t let anyone tell you that you’re too angry or you should keep your mouth shut,” Michelle Obama told the graduates. Her speech at the DNC in August also made a strong impact.
Katy Perry had a big year. She performed live at YouTube’s “Dear Class of 2020” and released a new album. At the virtual graduation commencement, Perry had the privilege of leading the graduating class in turning the tassel on their graduation cap.
The pregnant diva dressed in an elegant white gown and presented a blend of her new song “Daisies” with her hit tune “Firework.” The fireworks went wild in August. She delivered baby girl Daisy on the 26th and released her new album "Smile" just two days later.
Susan Wojcicki is 52 years old and one of the world’s most influential women. Don’t take it from us; according to "Fortune" magazine, she is the 18th most powerful woman of 2020. Wojcicki is a founding member of Google and the longest-running CEO of YouTube. YouTube was actually her idea.
She proposed the acquisition of the video app service in 2006. Under her watch, YouTube has generated over 2 billion monthly users and created monster profits of $15 billion in annual ad revenue. The Google CEO advocates for gender equality, getting girls into coding, and supporting Syrian refugees.
Cardi B is 2020 Billboard’s Woman of the Year. She is the first rapper to win the prize. Cardi has more chart-topping songs than any rapper. “Wap” is her latest No. 1 hit, scoring 93 million views in its first week. She’s also celebrated for her activism. At the award ceremony, Tamika Palmer presented it, thanking Cardi.
In her acceptance speech, Cardi B encouraged her fans to hope and dream big. But emphasized the need to work: “Don’t think it’s gonna come and fall from the sky to your lap.”
Samantha Bee kicked off "Full Frontal with Samantha Bee" in 2016. The Emmy-winning talk show made a big splash in the political comedy niche. By 2017, she found herself on Time’s 100 List. This year, with the busy 2020 election cycle, Bee has been basking in her element, albeit from the woods outside of her home.
Publications like "Variety," "HuffPost," "Hollywood Reporter," and "Rolling Stone" have all featured her during the contentious political season. In 2020, Bee walked away with a Writers Guild Award after "Full Frontal" was nominated for two Writers Guild Awards and a Critics’ Choice Award.
2020 is First Lady Melania Trump’s final year in the WH spotlight. During her time in the White House, the former model has maintained a fashionable front and brought awareness to the social and emotional well-being of children with her prominent Be Best program.
Be Best's main focus is dealing with online bullying, a subject Melania feels very strongly about.
As co-founder of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the world’s largest charitable organization, Melinda Gates is one of the most influential people in the world.
Her global philanthropic work includes advocating for women and girls, world health, and running Pivotal Ventures, a private/public advocacy she founded to support social progress for women and children.
DR. DEBORAH BIRX
From 2005 to 2014, Dr. Deborah Birx quietly served as a director at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That all changed in 2020 when she was thrust into the media spotlight.
Suddenly, every American knew her name and greatly anticipated the former physician’s pandemic updates.
Supermodel Kendall Jenner has made 2020 her year. Ranking as the highest-paid female Instagram influencer, she has 120 million followers and averages one million likes per post. She rakes in over $600,000 for just one brand-oriented post. In 2019, she banked $15.9 million on the photo-based social media platform.
Around the globe, Jenner trails just two other Instagram accounts in followers, footballer sensations Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. The only drawback is social media pressures negatively affect her mental health.
White House correspondent for the "PBS NewsHour," Yamiche Alcindor is a political journalist who reported for "The New York Times" before joining the "NewsHour." Alcindor was honored at the 2020 White House Correspondents dinner with the award for “overall excellence” in WH coverage.
Judges said, “Alcindor’s qualities reflect integrity, impartial analysis, breadth and depth of knowledge.” She was also admired for being “serious, incisive” and “tough as nails.”
Television maven Shonda Rhimes is the creator of too many TV shows to mention. Shondaland is the name of her production company, and it makes her quite possibly the highest-paid showrunner on television. She broke into showbiz with "Grey’s Anatomy."
The longest-running TV series yet airs at ABC, where the writer had a yearly $10 million contract. She gave that up for a $100+ million deal with Netflix in 2018. Shondaland is currently developing 12 new shows for the popular streaming service. "Inventing Anna" is her latest Netflix originals.
Gwynne Shotwell is president and chief operating officer of SpaceX. She is the 55th most powerful woman globally and has a net worth of $290 million. But wait until you hear what she does. Her job is to oversee the daily operations of space travel.
In May, SpaceX was the first private company to obtain permission to fly astronauts to the International Space Station. On August 2nd, when SpaceX astronauts returned to Earth, Shotwell said, “This is just the beginning.” She went on to say the company plans to bring people to and from Earth and on to Mars.
Stand-up comic Amy Schumer smashed onto the Hollywood scene with "Trainwreck" (2015), the award-winning film she starred in and wrote. Right now, Schumer’s HBO Max documentary "Expecting Amy" is making headlines as a sort of follow up to "Amy Schumer: Growing," the 2019 Netflix stand-up special about pregnancy.
What’s especially making headlines is the fact that weeks after the couple’s one-year-old son was born and his name was announced via Instagram—Gene Attell Fischer—the internet bit back. The couple agreed: “Gene Attell” was a name no one would want, so they changed it to Gene David.
MEGAN THEE STALLION
2020 has been the year of the female rap artist. Exactly 150 years after women got the right to vote, rap divas command authority while asserting their femininity. Megan Thee Stallion is a 2020 phenom. Her chart-topping album "Good News" has been great news for Thee Stallion producing three singles.
Apple named her “Breakthrough Artist of the Year,” and she is nominated for four Grammy’s. Megan’s song “Savage Remix,” a number one hit single, is a collaborative work with none other than Beyoncé, and it just very well may win the Grammy for Best Rap Song.
Nancy Pelosi is the highest-ranking woman in the US Congress. The minority leader made history, becoming the first woman Speaker of the House. At 80, she accepted another term as a speaker but says it will be her last. Pelosi has been called an astute strategist, even by her adversaries.
Her popularity seemed most evident when #PelosiForPresident began trending. Pelosi is also super-wealthy with a $29 million net worth that she and her investment banker husband share. The political maven is a grandmother of nine and a mother of five and is a staunch advocate for women and children.
KIM KARDASHIAN WEST
2020 has been an eventful year for Kim Kardashian. She celebrated her 40th birthday (with 40 of her closest people) on a private island. She announced that 2021 is the final season of "Keeping Up with the Kardashians," the E! show launched in 2007. Kardashian holds more influence than you’d think.
She has said numerous times, “I know that I can walk into the White House and have the conversation.” And she’s been using her sway for prison reform.
Sima Sistani is CEO and co-founder of Houseparty, a video and chats app that became unexpectedly relevant this year. The service, similar to Zoom and other video conferencing apps, was relatively unknown except by younger users until it came to the rescue of families.
Family members were unable to visit loved ones in the hospital, but with Houseparty, patients could easily connect with everyone on their smartphone or tablet. Apps like Houseparty became as common as Instagram this year. One difference with Houseparty is that it’s operated by a woman, a rarity in the tech industry.
Tiffany Haddish knew she hit it big the time she heard her name in a Beyoncé song. The Emmy Award-winning comedian made waves sealing an $800,000 deal with Netflix. That was for her series "Tiffany Haddish Presents: They Ready," featuring up-and-coming stand-ups. "Black Mitzvah," her latest Netflix comedy, her very own show, features the instant classic stand-up about discovering she’s Jewish.
It has a Grammy nomination for the best comedy album. We’ll be seeing a lot more of Haddish, but not as a 2021 Grammy’s host. The controversy was followed by an apology when she refused the gig because it offered no pay.
Nora Lum’s career sparkled and glittered this year. The comedian/actress/rapper who goes by Awkwafina in the entertainment world is a rising star. She kicked off the year premiering her Comedy Central series "Nora From Queens." Also, in January, Lum received a Golden Globe award for "The Farewell."
The win made her the first-ever Asian American woman to win a Best Actress Golden Globe. Other than that, she filmed a new Marvel movie. This year the actress has been killing time playing many video games, according to an interview with "AV Club."
Up until April, Kellyanne Conway served as national press secretary for President Trump’s reelection campaign. She was thrust into the limelight and stepped up to the podium as White House Press Secretary.
After securing the high-profile Trump administration position, she stated, “I knew that God put me in this position, at this moment in time, for a reason.” The Harvard Law graduate is a former CNN commentator.
Although she doesn’t have an extraordinarily bright media spotlight, 2020 was made for Kelly Steckelberg. Her company quadrupled profits in six months. You’ve probably heard of it, even if you never heard of it before 2020. Steckelberg is the chief financial officer at Zoom Video Communications.
Zoom CEO Eric Yuan hired her three years ago to help the company go public. In April 2017, the Zoom IPO lit up the markets in a blaze of glory. Nasdaq shares soared 80% over expected pricing. She has a net worth of $255 million, most of which is held in stock options.
This National Security Council career government official experienced an unexpected bout of media attention. She calmly extinguished the flames and returned to her exam. That was her style as she fielded questions from Democrat and Republican senators.
Instantly hailed as a role model for women, Twitter dubbed her “President Hill.” In August, she announced a book deal with a 2021 release date.