15 Songs That Helped Me Through 2020
THIS YEAR I decided to change things around, hopefully for the last time, in order to include the songs I enjoyed in 2020 regardless of when they were released. I did this because, to be frank, I found myself retreating to music that was comfortable and easy to digest. Which included a lot of older music because it was essentially a ‘known quantity’ and I knew what I was getting was going to be, at worst, Good and at best, a Classic. That isn’t to say that I stopped listening to ‘new’ music, everything in this list I discovered this year, I just stopped listening to the majority of new 2020 releases unless they were from known quantities.
So without further ado, here are fifteen songs that made my 2020 almost tolerable:
Honourable Mention: High Constrast – Days Go By
This was a song I randomly heard on a stream and immediately had to listen to it ad nausem. I enjoy The Edge of Seventeen by Stevie Nicks a great deal, so to hear a Drum and Bass remix of the song done so tastefully was very impressive. Plus, although I know the song isn’t necessarily about this, I found the repetition of “and the days go by” to be extremely relevant to the unending drudgery of 2020.
15) 100 Gecs (feat. Charli XCX, Rico Nasty & Kero Kero Bonito) – Ringtone
This year was the year I really really got into Hyperpop. The crazy bass, the earblistering synths and warped vocals shouldn’t be enjoyable and honestly I can’t blame anyone for finding the genre unlistenable. However, for whatever reason, this year I found the artistry and enjoyment in some of 100 Gecs’ music. And this remix of Ringtone is one I came back to repeatedly. Everyone performs well in and it and remains annoyingly catchy all the way through to Rico Nasty’s wild verse and reprise of the chorus sung by Charli XCX. I still can’t tell if 100 Gecs are ironic or not, but I honestly don’t care.
14) UGK – Murder
There is still a part of me that considers old school aggressive rap music to be kind of taboo in certain contexts because of the lyrical content and general profanity. So working from home listening to UGK kept me going early on in the lockdown. And, unsurprising since it is called Murder, is one of the most hardcore songs I listened to whilst whiling away the days infront of my computer. It is a real ‘trunk knocker’ and the flows from Pimp C and Bun B are so crazy good. OutKast introduced me to Southern Rap but UGK was when I truly decided to take the time to explore the style.
13) Carly Rae Jepsen – Stay Away
The Jeps decided to bless us with another B Side to the quite good Dedicated, following on from the classic B side to EMOTION. Was it as good as the previous B Side collection? Absolutely not but there were still some jams on there and Stay Away was the cream of the crop. Its just such an unrepentantly joyous song about being unable to keep away from someone you love, which considering the circumstances of the year, really hit hard. I also adore the production and the way it explodes on the chorus. Jeps hits it out of the park again.
12) Flume, Toro Y Moi – The Difference (Jon Hopkins Remix)
Appreciating electronic music is a relatively new thing for me. Its only in the last couple of years have I been able to really enjoy it. I attribute that to both Flume and Jon Hopkins, whose epic and challenging music really spoke to me at times. This remix of an already great Flume song is just absolutely stunning. Much like Jon Hopkins’ last album, it almost reaches a sort of sublimity one would attribute to a mountain range and yet still retains a sort of low-key edge to it. Dunno how Jon Hopkins does it to be honest; the man is a wizard.
11) Three Six Mafia – Side 2 Side
I listened to a lot of hardcore rap music this year, as I said in the UGK entry to the list, probably as a way to spice up the confines of my house. Even the most boring milquetoast task gains a bit of swagger when listening to something like Three Six Mafia. And boy Side 2 Side is a serious banger. At first the beat and the chorus sounded very familiar and then I found out that MikeWillMadeIt sampled it heavily for Rae Sremmurd’s Powerglide – another great song. This is a club song filtered through the old school hardcore rapper lense, so it is really catchy but doesn’t sacrifice flow, lyrics or craftsmanship.
10) Mac Demarco – My Old Man
I saw Mac Demarco in 2019 at Glastonbury and he won me over with his exuberant personality and catchy minimalist songwriting. And then I promptly forgot about his music until this year (or late last year I don’t remember). A lot of it didn’t grab me, but My Old Man did. For whatever reason it struck a chord with me. I interpreted the song, instead of it being about becoming my Dad, as a wistful acceptance of aging and all the sadness it brings.I also adore the guitar motif that repeats through the track, it really makes it feel soulful. It resonated with me since I am on the precipice of turning 30, which still feels old to me.
9) Dua Lipa – Cool
As weird as it is to say about ultra-mainstream pop music, it took me a while to warm up to Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia. It stems from finding her voice pretty anonymous. But after a couple more listens – what else was I going to do – I grew to appreciate the exquisite songwriting and production that lived up to the title of the album. Cool has Dua Lipa taking advantage of her lower register was the part that really hooked me, I wish she did it more often. The song is – like all great pop music – a sugar rush that I returned to again and again throughout the year.
8) Bone Thugs-N-Harmony – 1st of tha Month
I had heard of Bone Thugs-N-Harmony when they featured on Lord by A$AP Ferg – a fierce song where everyone raps as fast as humanly possible saying the most brutal things. So I came to their debut album expecting the same, and got some of that. But what I wasn’t prepared for was the ‘Harmony’ part of their name. Never in my life have I heard such aggressive and fast flows excuted in such a tuneful and soulful way. And 1st of tha Month, a song about the difficulties of getting money, kept me grateful for the crap job I DO have so I don’t have to grind every day just to get by.
7) Rina Sawayama – Fuck this World (Interlude)
This song nearly became my anthem for 2020 after shit just kept on piling on top of one another until it was almost suffocating. I honed in to the first 2/3rds of the Fuck This World and nothing else. But the longer the year went on, the more I appreciated the ending which exclaims that it is still worth trying to save the world, despite how impossible it might be. Bracing stuff sung beautifully.
6) The Roots – Act Too (Love of My Life) (feat. Common)
As I have made abundantly clear throughout this list, I love rap music. And one of my favourite genres of rap songs is the one where the rapper(s) examine the impact rap music had made on their life and how it has changed it. Act Too is perhaps the best version of that concept put to music, with Common’s I Used to Love H.E.R. a very close second. You can really feel the passion behind what Black Thought and Common rap – with two abasolutely incredible verses. It resonanted with me a great deal because ultimately…”hip hop is the love of my life.”
5) The Weeknd – Heartless
The Weeknd is one of the few musical acts where I can feel all hipster-y because I first heard him way back when House of Balloons (his first mixtape) came out. Before he blew up to become one of the biggest pop stars on the planet. My enjoyment of his music has waxed and waned over the years, I think before this album the best thing he made post-mixtapes was I Can’t Feel My Face, but it wasn’t until the release of Heartless and All Alone where I feel like the came closest to recapturing what made him so good during his heyday. Heartless is, to me, the best of both worlds. You get the pop side but it has this hard edge to it that his most recent music has lacked. The pounding juddering bass, the explicit lyrics and the breakdown into a very Balloons-esque pre-chorus comes together to make one of his best songs ever.
4) Lady Gaga – Rain On Me (feat. Ariana Grande)
Lady Gaga has never really appealed to me. I am not sure what it is about her music – divorced from her style – that never grabbed me. And to be honest, if I didn’t see Ariana Grande’s name on Rain On Me, I probably wouldn’t have even listened to it. Thankfully, I took the plunge and holy shit is it is a great song. It is so exuberant and unironically positive that it honestly became my anthem for 2020. When faced with such an undending anodyne morass of days, Rain On Me never failed to lighten my mood. I will say though, the way Ariana Grande flatly sings “alive” makes me cringe so much. She is ordinarily such a great singer but that choice of vocal inflection just sticks out like a sore thumb.
3) The 1975 – Me & You Together Song
I didn’t love The 1975’s latest album. I found it even more unfocused than the one from a couple of years ago, to the point where it was just boring. But tthere were a couple of absolute gems in amidst the weeds: Me & You Together Song and If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know). Both great songs but I continually returned to the former one because, to be honest, I have grown to appreciate sincerity in this post-modern world that can sometimes feel consumed with edgey irony. And as much as I love the latter song, it’s 1980s New-Wave sound just felt a bit false. Me & You however feels like it comes from the heart and I put a lot of weight in that.
2) The Midnight – Sunset
The Midnight were a band I happened upon watching a stream early in 2020 – before the world went on pause. I thought they were pretty good; some strong songs with a great athestic. But as the months rolled by, I just kept coming back to Endless Summer and Sunset. It was like a lighthouse on a rocky outcrop surrounded by the foaming tubulant sea. It dredged up a lot of nostaliga for the years past, when I was in my early 20s and life didn’t feel like it was weighing so heavily. Sunset kind of became a bit of a medatative song for me, with its euphoric chorus, great synthwork and lyrics that were just broad enough to be relatable. It just has this nostaligic vibe that drew me in despite having no nostaliga for synthwave or the 80s – actually think the latter style is played out nowadays. The band even released a new album this year but it didn’t appeal to me the same way this song and accompanying album did. It is lighting in a bottle.
1) Charli XCX – C2.0
Of course Charli XCX was going to be number 1. Her venture into ‘Hyperpop’ has appealed to me ever since Number 1 Angel back in the beginning of 2017. This year she made music that accurately summarised what it was like to be on lockdown for everyone: the pining for partying, the worry the relationship with the you are locked in with will go to shit, the desire to feel anything and anyone…it was the perfect album for the perfect moment in time. And C2.0 is the song that I felt distilled my feelings during lockdown the most because I missed (and as of writing, still do) hanging out with ‘clique’ and experiencing life.
Other great songs that helped me through 2020:
Big Pun – Beware, A.G. Cook – 2021, Rosalía – Con Altura (feat. J Balvin & El Guincho), 100 Gecs – xXXi_wud_nvrstøp_ÜXXx (Remix) (feat. Tommy Cash & Hannah Diamond), American Football – Sillhouettes, The Wrens – Happy, QT – Hey QT (Diplo Remix), Three 6 Mafia – Sippin On Some Syrup (feat. UGK), Gorillaz – Chalk Tablet Towers (feat. St Vincent), Charli XCX – Enemy, The Weeknd – Escape From L.A., Mos Def – Ms. Fat Booty, Common – I Used To Love H.E.R. Alanis Morrissette – Hand in My Pocket & Harry Styles – Watermelon Sugar