The end of 2020 is here, the year of the World Altering Pandemic has come and gone. The year where we took two steps in the wrong direction, countless times. We took steps forward followed by leaps backwards, steps backwards that were not followed by steps forward and we have lived for nearly an entire year now in fear and disarray on a battleground, but somehow have not lost hope. Not often is humanity fully aware of history in the making, but we know that 2020 is a year that will be talked about for generations to come.
Unfortunately, although this year, that most of us associate with pain and suffering, life-altering changes out of our control, struggle and heartbreak, is about to come to an end – these feelings of uncertainty and our global scrimmage for some form of normalcy is not. Not yet and not only because we don’t have a solid vaccine execution plan or scientific confirmation that we even have a vaccine that will end this constant state of tragedy once and for all, but because the revolution has just begun and this generation will surely not let that be swept under the rug.
We have seen a plethora of uprisings this past year. From the hauntingly appalling death of George Floyd awakening a Black Lives Matter movement arguably much larger than ever before, with so many unspoken names achingly being screamed from streets across the world, to more people voting to out the President of the United States than ever before. There have been records set for natural disasters, with Australia and the west coast of the United States quite literally lighting up in flames and there have been records set for people standing in unison, with police officers taking a knee with people protesting police brutality. We are on the brink of something beautiful that could change the world if executed and received properly. We have proved to ourselves this year that nothing is impossible – even in an unprecedented, agoraphobic climate.
This year has taken our jobs, our ability to do a lot of our hobbies, our quality time with loved ones, the capability of much to any travel, and most crushingly for many – live music. Venues, among all kinds of small businesses around the world, are suffering and closing down and we have no idea when the next time we will be able to get to go out with our friends and family to see music played live will be. Trapped in our own living spaces, most people without work or any true ability to do pretty much anything, turn to music. Whether it is creating it, consuming it, or finding another way to make it a part of your daily life.
Musicians, industry folk, and music lovers alike have faced the same challenges as the rest of the world in their own unique way. In the end, though, music is not only a passion but it is a release and a coping mechanism. While not able to do so in the way that we are used to, there is still music being consumed (maybe even more now than ever before) and there is still music being made. There are some artists/bands that have stayed inspiringly active through a time that could have been taken as a break for an industry that never sleeps or stops moving and that has kept the music alive and made this year a little more bearable for the people sitting at home. Whether the musicians have been active or have taken this year as a much needed and well-deserved break, their music has kept millions of struggling people going.
Here’s a list of songs that got the soldiers of 2020 through it all, the songs that spoke to the year the most and the reasons why.
Reasons Not to Be an Idiot
Choosing one Frank Turner song feels impossible because there are so many amazing songs that have the power to take you out of any funk that you are in and make you realize that you’re being an idiot. The multi-faceted Englishman has been active for 20 years and has produced enough gems that there are nights where he’s all that plays. Turner’s choice to move through genres and ability to do so seamlessly makes a full night of his music a great choice when you just want to hit the shuffle button and leave it at that. Saying that this is the number one Frank Turner song would be wrong in many ways, but this one stands out in 2020 in particular because it has become a social norm and not just a depressive tendency to be sat at home, alone. “So get up, get down and get outside.”
The Blue Stones
After the pandemic forced them to postpone and cancel all upcoming tour dates, this breakthrough Canadian rock duo remained very active. They streamed guitar lessons and hosted happy hour live streams, taking this opportunity to connect with their friends and fans in a new way. Much of their music is themed around figuring out who you are and what you want, which is something many of us have had to do this year. It is also about reaching out and grabbing it, which is the hope for 2021. Grim feels like a song about redefining who you are, which follows suit with 2020 as well. “Yeah it’s grim, but I’m fine” could be an internal monologue for 2020. The song ends with a heavy kick in the face outro that can easily transport you back to one of their infectious live performances.
House of the Rising Sun
While it’s common for an established band to put out a cover, it’s rare that it hits as hard as this one. Running just over a minute longer than the original, Gazebo Effect’s cover of The Animals’ House of the Rising Sun is one of those covers that makes you forget what the original sounds like. We saw it with Green Day’s rendition of Closing Time – people forget that, or never even know that it is not an original. These Chicago locals drive the guitar solos home like it’s the only thing they know how to do. The dual solo in this song in particular, paired with the always uniquely mollifying and hard-hitting vocals leaves this song not allowing itself to be played in the background – something not taken for granted this year. With everything that’s been going on, it has been easy to drown in thought and a song that brings you back into something more peaceful is quite special. Their originals are outstanding, but this year, for these reasons among others – House of the Rising Sun was an absolute staple.
Hell You Talmbout
This song brings forward names that generations passed have failed to shout out as loud as Monae and her bandmates do in this jarring track. Released in 2015, it was just as relevant then as it ever has been because we should always be screaming these names from the top of our lungs until something actually changes – but it became even more relevant this year because people across the world began doing just that, screaming them from the streets. Monae’s delivery and relentlessness to the subject matter in this song and her career is beautiful.
Some songs hit the ground running so hard that even if you’ve never actually heard the song, you know the lyrics and are weirdly connected to it. WAP was definitely that song for 2020 and it captured the essence of the year in a unique way that not many others did. It brought us some ridiculousness in a very serious time, released at the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak in the US. The track has lyrical undertones of societal and political conflict, which aligns more with 2020 than most of us would like to admit, directly and bluntly aiming to piss off Conservatives. Which it of course accomplished, as did the results of this year’s election. Whether you are itching to get out to the club to hear WAP bumping from the speakers and have the feeling of another sweaty body up against yours, you like the fact that it challenges people, or you think it is just flat out ridiculous and obnoxious, it is undeniable that it is a 2020 anthem.
Make America Great Again
Turner making the list twice is not all too surprising after the description of our #1 track of 2020 and while it’s a bit taboo to put the same artist on a list like this two times, this one couldn’t be left out. It maybe even should have gone first and it’s pretty obvious why. Above all, 2020 defined us, and the United States had a particularly tough go in a lot of ways. Arguably the craziest thing about this year for the US is that the pandemic actually might have been a needed awakening, as so many more eyes were opened to the blatant negligence of President Trump when he grossly downplayed the outbreak, resulting in countless deaths. All of that aside, though, in this song Turner does it again lyrically, outlining how beautiful a place the United States is and how it is already great if you look closely. This year opened our eyes to a lot of things but we still get blinded sometimes and with so much scandal and tragedy, we need “an ignorant Englishman” to remind us of the beauties that we are losing sight of. So “let’s make America great again, by making racists ashamed again.”
Honourable Mentions –
All of This Is Fleeting
To me, this song reflects all of the anxiety and sadness that I felt this year and made me realize how short the bad moments are. It made me see that it doesn’t matter how bad it seems, it will always pass eventually.
Tom Misch released his latest album, ‘What Kinda Music’, right at the beginning of the quarantine and lockdown orders. Festival, the second song on the album, speaks to me of the euphoria and joy we all feel at music festivals. Unfortunately during this pandemic age, festivals are just a beautiful memory to us. The song is a calm and jazzy groove that will turn the vibe of any room into an easy-going one, with Misch’s vocals paired with the drumming of Yussef Days.
I feel like it’s a song about wanting to spend time with someone but not being able to because of certain circumstances and this year everyone has been faced with the same circumstance, keeping them from being able to spend time with the ones they want to. Yearning to be with someone, but not being able to because of our situation.
This has been my pump-up song for years, but the lines “hey world you’ll never break me, bring it on, give it your best shot ” really apply to 2020. Plus, the powerhouse that is Liam’s voice helps push through any shit days.
Tears for Fears
Everybody Wants To Rule The World
Throughout 2020, the feelings of isolation, of loneliness, and of being trapped and confined seemed to plague us all. One song repeatedly hit home and lyrically became a great fit to the context of 2020 as the year progressed, as did the virus and similarly the frustrations we’ve all felt during this time. “I can’t stand this indecision married with lack of vision.” I lost myself in many many albums, but this is the one song that will always make me think of 2020.
Thank you to all of those who shared your sounds of 2020 with us!
Neal Zeleznak, Photographer, Brooklyn, NY | @nealpatrickz | Blue Stones, Tom Misch
Denis Cheng, Musician – Dog Spelled Backwards, Chicago, IL | @denisj_cheng | Polaris
Johnny Mac, Music Enthusiast, Ottawa, ON | @johnny._mac | Cancer Bats
Kareem McCray, Music Enthusiast, Brooklyn, NY | @_brooklynkingk | Kehlani
Adam Bagyan, Musician, Kingston, ON | @adambagyan | Tears for Fears