The most Googled questions of 2020 aren’t so surprising: Why is it called COVID-19? Why is Australia burning? Why are people protesting? Why is the moon pink?
Kofi Lost, a Boston-based artist tasked with writing and narrating last year’s Google Year in Search, a video that illustrates some of Google’s top searches from the year, sat for a while with a long list of the questions, pen in hand, paper blank. To him, it seemed like people were confused. They were looking for a solution, a way to survive one of the most chaotic years in recent history, but they didn’t quite know how to ask the right question, Lost said.
This year, there wasn’t enough time to just breathe, he said.
“Sometimes you just need to be able to sit and be like, some wild stuff happened,” said Lost, 22. “So in the video I didn’t want to feel like I was performing. I wanted it to feel like a spot where you can just sit and be like, wow, we really did go through a lot.”
And millions of people did sit and watch: Google’s Year in Search 2020, released Dec. 9 on YouTube, has received more than 238million views as of this article’s publication.
During the 3-minute piece, photos and videos flash across the screen highlighting emblematic moments: a mother and daughter finally find toilet paper and smile for the camera, Bong Joon-Ho, director of Parasite, celebrates his Oscar win, health care workers hug in full PPE, a man places an American flag at a memorial for those lost to COVID-19. The video serves as a tool for remembrance: of people who died and the messages they leave behind, of social justice movements, of the distance between us, as Lost’s words fill the background with questions. Why, why, why?
The rapper, poet, and producer said he wanted the video to create space for reflection. His own quarantine has been a time of silence — he wasn’t doing much writing. It wasn’t exactly creator’s block, he said, but he was tired. In February, Lost released an EP “Afro Moses” and thought he’d spend 2020 touring and performing.
“Which obviously didn’t happen,” he said. Instead, he stayed home, created beats and practiced drawing. The stillness of this time was strange for Lost — after dropping out of University of Massachusetts Boston in 2018 to pursue his music career, he had bounced around the state, performing, creating music, collaborating with other local artists, and writing.
Lost’s participation in the Boston art scene has always been about asking and answering questions. His family moved to Worcester County when he was 13. When he was 16, he started taking the train into the city for poetry slams, art shows and concerts. Sometimes he’d watch, but most of the time at poetry slams, he’d be onstage.
For almost a decade, he’s written and performed poems that asked difficult questions. What if no lives mattered? What if Black did crack?
Lost has always used his words — in poetry and lyrics — to form questions and answers, so it’s only fitting that the project that got him writing again in one of the most tumultuous years of his life was about the questions asked during the mayhem. Receiving that initial e-mail from Google’s Creative Production team in September was a complete surprise for Lost. He wasn’t asked to audition or apply, instead they asked for his ideas and said they were fans of his poetry, said Lost.
“I didn’t even know I was on their radar,” Lost said. “I walked into the project only thinking I was going to be writing and researching for [Google], but as the creative process went on, it became clear that I’d be narrating too.”
Lost wanted this narration to be different than the poetry and rapping he was known for. He didn’t want to “paint all these complex metaphors.” He analyzed and reflected, watching some of his own Google searches appear on the top questions list during his research.
“The world is really smaller than I thought,” Lost said. “It’s nice to know I wasn’t alone in my thoughts and questions.”
The confusion of 2020 spilled into the new year, which was to be expected, he said.
“We didn’t necessarily leave everything we were dealing with in 2020,” said Lost. “But I guess I’m hopeful. Maybe 2021 will turn into a year of recovery.”
For now, many of 2020′s questions remain. In the video, you hear Lost’s voice explaining that the word “why” was searched in 2020 more than ever before. The video doesn’t answer questions; instead, it ends on a note of human resiliency.
Lost’s voice holds steady over video of children holding up an “I love you” sign outside their grandparents’ door, a couple exchanging vows at a virtual wedding celebration, a little girl marching. “Until we get to every answer,” he says, “we’re still searching.”
Natachi Onwuamaegbu can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.