A few days after Pantone announced its selection of “Classic Blue” as the 2020 Color of the Year, I was at a dinner party. Over a plate full of breadcrumb-topped truffle mac and cheese, my friend asked my opinion of the new hue. My response: “Classic Blue is the color equivalent of watching Friends.”
I don’t watch Friends, and I never have—not because there’s anything wrong with the sitcom per se, but because I simply don’t care about it. My idea of it, as a non-watcher, is that it’s vanilla and better off as white noise background chatter. “Classic Blue” is as forgettable, as pedestrian, and as safe as a TV show about six people who all look alike. I’m not offended by “Classic Blue,” but I’m offended that Pantone has assigned it the vitally important role of ushering in a new decade, particularly one that follows a decade as tumultuous as the 2010s. “Classic Blue” feels aggressively 1997.
It’s an odd choice because in recent years, Pantone has taken pains to make its Color of the Year culturally relevant. That’s why 2019’s “Living Coral” was meant to represent “our natural surroundings and, at the same time . . . a lively presence within social media,” and 2018’s “Ultra Violet” was supposed to suggest “the intrigue of what lies ahead.” Pantone, the leading color trend and palate curation company since 1962, describes “Classic Blue” as “a timeless and enduring blue hue . . . elegant in its simplicity,” adding: “Suggestive of the sky at dusk, the reassuring qualities of the thought-provoking Pantone 19-4052 Classic Blue highlight our desire for a dependable and stable foundation on which to build as we cross the threshold into a new era.”
This shade of blue—which looks like a bright navy or the color of new denim—is timeless, sure. But I don’t find it reassuring. To me, the hue calls to mind Facebook’s logo and my Google Docs icon. A vivid blue reminder of data surveillance and the tireless demands of work in 2019 doesn’t exactly soothe the soul.
In this sense—worse than looking dated or vanilla—Pantone’s assessment of Classic Blue feels dishonest. We may desire a sense of stability as we hurtle toward 2020, but in truth, nothing about today’s world feels firm. It doesn’t accurately capture the headspace most of us are on the eve of 2020, which promises to be every bit as frenzied and as uncertain as 2019, if not more so. At least “Living Coral,” 2019’s Color of the Year, had a sense of peculiarity, which resonated with the cultural moment and which feels utterly sabotaged by 2020’s Color of the Year.
I’m not alone: Michelle Ogundehin wrote at Dezeen, “Pantone played it safe and still missed the mark by picking Classic Blue as its colour of the year for 2020,” citing Classic Blue’s position on the color wheel—somewhere between a refreshing ocean and the bluesy shade of depression—as an argument for its failure.
Of course, Pantone always tries to make its Color of the Year aspirational. This year’s is no exception. In Pantone’s words, Classic Blue is “imprinted in our psyches as a restful color” capable of bringing “a sense of peace and tranquility to the human spirit, offering refuge.” Ideally, blue—the world’s favorite color—could achieve such a feat! But today, it’s a loaded color. In a technologically saturated world, in which blue has become a symbol of corporate power, shades of green (like Behr’s 2020 selection of the grassy “Back to Nature”) feel more apt—especially when we have a climate crisis we desperately need to address. A truly aspirational color might come from a verdant garden, an emerald forest, and the offlineness of it all—not an omnipresent, hyperlink-colored shade of blue.
Then again, perhaps a corporate color is apropos, since Pantone’s Color of the Year has always been about selling merchandise and dictating the palette companies use to encourage consumers to buy new clothes, furniture, and more stuff they don’t need. In this way, Classic Blue is a depressingly cynical color to usher in the 2020s—passive, plain, and always for sale.