Eight songs I played on endless repeat to deal with 2020
Luckily, the worst year gifted us some pretty good music
Music has been a lifeline for many of us during the chaos of COVID-19 — either to cope, distract, cheer up, or perhaps delve deeper into the depression. (No? Just me?)
Admittedly, I’ve spent a large chunk of 2020 plugged into the past and consuming old albums; listening to pre-pandemic songs has been a constant comfort to me these last nine (!) months. However, that’s not to say some beautiful music didn’t come out of this ugly year of isolation.
Though there were a lot of contenders on my 2020 playlist — like “The Steps” by HAIM and “Borderline” by Tame Impala — here are eight of my favorite tracks from this crazy year that made the cut.
All songs are listed in order of release date.
1. “Shampoo Bottles” by Peach Pit
Release date: Jan. 23, 2020
Genre: Indie pop, surf rock
Vancouver-based Peach Pit is known for its shoegaze style matched with honest lyrics, and “Shampoo Bottles” is no exception. Rather than serve up boring generalizations we’ve heard in every breakup ballad, frontman Neil Smith focuses on the mundane parts of cutting ties with someone using little details — such as keeping the ex-partner’s toothbrush on the sink, looking for their dented red Corolla parked on the corner, or using their deodorant: “It’s fricking trash, all that organic hoo-hah / From one of your health food stores.” Though released pre-pandemic, it still has the depressing feel of 2020. And while it’s definitely a breakup song on the surface, a looser examination of the lyrics — along with watching the artistic, ambiguous and slightly absurd music video — portrays loss of all kinds, from death of pets to lost friendships.
2. “On The Floor” by Perfume Genius
Release date: March 16, 2020
Genre: Progressive rock
Even though Perfume Genius, aka Mike Hadreas, has been around for more than a decade, I’m embarrassed to say I just discovered him during quarantine. (When I was finally leafing through the old New Yorker magazines gathering dust on my coffee table ...) Hadreas, who identifies as queer, is known for creating music that explores desire, sexuality and the body, along with the often accompanying feelings of both love and shame. On first listen of his 2020 single “On The Floor” — about a crush that turns into a unhealthy obsession — I was hooked, drawn in by Hadreas’ emotional intensity and intensely personal lyrics. And Hadreas’ artistic talent goes beyond his music, which you can see for yourself in his self-directed black and white music video for the single, featuring Hadreas executing impressive modern dance choreography.
3. “Dear April” / “Cayendo” (Side A) by Frank Ocean
Release date: March 25, 2020 (vinyl); April 2, 2020 (digitally)
Genre: R&B, ambient pop
Musical genius Frank Ocean didn’t bless us with a new album this year — even though we really, really needed it — but he did release two, limited-edition 7-inch singles on vinyl: “Dear April” and “Cayendo,” featuring acoustic versions on Side A and remixes on Side B. While the coveted remixes are in the hands of few, the acoustic singles were later released digitally and available to stream. In typical Ocean fashion, “Cayendo,” a bilingual ballad accompanied only by a guitar, makes me feel pain even when I don’t understand the words. Similarly, slow-paced “Dear April” is directed at a love interest, but with lyrics like “And what we had can’t be the same now” make me personify the month of April I grew to resent during stay-at-home orders. Both singles are the perfect background noise — which I mean as a compliment, not an insult — as Ocean’s vocal style and moody lyrics soothe me into submission. In short, the Side A twins are slivers of calm in 2020’s chaos.
4. “Space Girl” by Frances Forever
Release date: March 26, 2020
Genre: Indie pop
In all honesty, my most played songs of 2020 have probably been the snippets of tunes in the background of TikTok videos (an addiction I developed in quarantine). Right away, I was surprised to learn how influential the social media platform has become in marketing new music, re-popularizing old hits, and getting lesser known acts on the charts. Many of these TikTok songs drive me up the wall (don’t get me started on “Mood” by 24kGoldn ...), but I’m happy to have “Space Girl” by Frances Forever hold real estate in my head. Frontwoman Frances Garrett croons about her female crush in a dreamy voice with a happy-go-lucky vibe. Yet this bubbly persona is tinted with doubtful gloom: “Girl, are you a cancer / Cuz you make me cry.” Even if you don’t know the trending TikTok dance, I’d bet “Space Girl” will still make you want to dance around in your kitchen.
5. “Cheesin’” by Cautious Clay (featuring Remi Wolf, Still Woozy, Sophie Meiers, Claud, Melanie Faye and HXNS)
Release date: April 22, 2020
Genre: Indie pop, neo soul
At the beginning of the pandemic, hip-hop/R&B artist Cautious Clay gathered up his fellow musician friends to record the ultimate collaboration. The song, which features seven indie artists of various genres, was written and recorded almost entirely remotely. What resulted was “Cheesin’” — an energetic, optimistic tune that challenges the flood of sad music born out of 2020. Despite the overwhelming number of indie stars featured on the track, the musicians blend their genres and talent with ease. The best part? Not only does the beat make you feel good, but the song is also for a good cause: all streams and downloads raise money to MusiCares COVID-19 Relief Fund. As of print, the collab has amassed nearly $158,000 in donations ... just another reason to hit “replay.”
6. “2020 Riots: How Many Times” by Trey Songz
Release date: June 5, 2020
Trey Songz released “2020 Riots: How Many Times” at the height of this year’s series of riots and marches protesting police brutality, serving as the unofficial anthem of the Black Lives Movement. The piano-forward track is paired with smooth R&B beats, but the focus is truly on the lyrics. Every line is worth quoting; in particular, its chorus — which starts with “How many mothers have to cry? / How many brothers gotta die?” — breaks my heart every time. The song was also my pick for PACIFIC’s 2020 Summer Must list, but this song transcends all seasons. With less protests in the streets and social media posts on our feeds, having “2020 Riots” on the top my playlist reminds me that, just like the pandemic, the fight for equality isn’t over.
7. “Moral of the Story” by Ashe (featuring Niall Horan)
(Re) release date: June 16, 2020
Genre: Indie pop
For most of us, 2020 was not our year, but it turned out to be for singer-songwriter Ashe. Though her single “Moral of the Story” was originally released in 2019, Ashe’s song didn’t go viral until it was featured on the soundtrack of popular 2020 Netflix film “To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You” ... followed by Ashe re-releasing the track as a duet with former One Direction singer Niall Horan a few months later. Inspired by Ashe’s messy divorce, the song reflects on her failed marriage in an attempt to heal and learn from the experience. Ashe reminds me of a folksy version Billie Eilish — and turns out, Eilish’s brother Finneas is a friend of Ashe’s and even worked as a producer on the track.
8. “I Know The End” by Phoebe Bridgers
Release date: June 18, 2020
Genre: Indie rock, emo
If I was allowed to make my entire roundup the full track list of Phoebe Bridgers’ sophomore album “Punisher” ... this article would have been a lot more boring. Her latest collection is pure magic, but the final track “I Know The End” is probably the best encapsulation of the album. In it, her whimsical voice gently spews out a flurry of emotions — from angst to anxiety, projecting blame one minute to internal criticism the next — with a lyrical and musical range that you don’t come across too often. The slow, but never dull, start turns out to be the calm before the storm — abruptly transforming into mayhem with escalating guitar and drum beats, culminating with literal screams to end both the song and album. Her art makes you feel both satisfied yet unsettled, fulfilled but wanting more. At only 26, this Grammy-nominated musician knows what she’s doing, and I can’t wait to see where Bridgers takes us into of the new year — full of unknowns that I’m hoping she can help guide us through.
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