What a year. Obviously this has been memed to death as the year faded and we arbitrarily look to “2021” for brighter times. I had meant to do a top 25 list of my favorite songs, but I’ll chalk it up to 2020 and the difficulties of making anything happen. The songs below are my favorites from the year. This year more than ever I tried to pick songs that truly encapsulated what it felt like to live in 2020. I hope to release lists for best TV shows, albums, and movies soon, so keep checking this space. Here’s to 2021!
10. “exile” by Taylor Swift (feat. Bon Iver)
Perhaps the most indie-head poser choice from the excellent surprise album that Swift dropped mid-
quarantine, but this duet with Bon Iver is gorgeous with its layered vocals, which overlap to express the
feelings of a tumultuous relationship. There’s just nothing better for us sad sacks, thank you Taylor.
9. “Is There Something in the Movies?” by Samia
A pretty straightforward end of the album ballad that finds its place here because of 35 seconds where
Samia shifts from hushed longings into an emotional and impassioned cry. Sometimes all it takes is
moments like this that stick with you and you wish to hear over and over. This is one of those for me.
8.“Garden Song” by Phoebe Bridgers
The official album opener and first single from Bridgers’ sophomore album is another somber and
quietly beautiful track, if you’re listening to these one by one I’m sure you’re sensing a theme.
7. “circle the drain” by Soccer Mommy
Sophie Allison’s ode to self doubt and depression is representative of a lot of how I felt and I’m sure
most of us felt at one time or another this year. She sings “hey I’ve been falling apart these days /
Watching my heart go ‘round and around / Circle the drain I’m going down / Tryna seem strong for my
love / For my family and friends / But I’m so tired of faking”. I don’t think there’s a much better way of
6. “Martin & Gina” by Polo G
There’s a couple of outliers on this list and this is one of them, a joyous song about trying to get the girl
that ironically comes from an artist known for writing sad songs. Polo G’s vocal inflections are infectious
resulting in a song I couldn’t get out of my head for most of the year.
5. “Dressing America” by TORRES
TORRES sings this ode to her love with a restraint that falls somewhere in between joy and frustration.
Her amour keeps coming up with excuses to doubt their relationship, but TORRES assures her “Come on,
woman / I tend to sleep with my boots on / Should I need to gallop over dark water / To you on short
notice”. It’s a beautiful song of devotion, with bits of lingering doubt that prevent it from becoming a full
on love song.
4. “My Best Friend’s Wedding” by The Chicks
I went back and forth on many songs from this album to include in this top 10, but I ended up choosing
this. The chorus goes: “I see a wildfire comin’ / Burnin’ the world that I’ve known”. While this is not explicitly about an actual wildfire, when they sing those words the emotion is palpable, taking the sorrows felt from the end of Natalie Maines’ relationship and transporting each feeling into 2020 where California wildfires destroyed so much and prevented one of the only comforts we had at the time in the ability to hang out outdoors.
3. “Take_it_Back_v2” by Denzel Curry & Kenny Beats
This is a straight up riot; a punch to the face both in the verses and beats. Curry uses multiple voices to
the point that I had to look up whether there were guests on the song. Kenny Beats samples a song from
“Shake Hands with Danger”, a video from the construction company Caterpillar raising awareness about
safety on construction sites. It feels like something from an old cowboy movie. You may need to wear a
hard hat just to listen to it.
2. “walking in the snow” by Run the Jewels (feat. Gangsta Boo)
RTJ released their fourth album early, saying that the album felt timely in the aftermath of the killing of
George Floyd at the hands of the police and the protests that followed. Their music has always felt like
protest music and “walking in the snow” features a song where Killer Mike imagines the cops choking
him repeating Floyd’s words, “I can’t breathe”. It’s haunting and infuriating. Our world has
tragedy on repeat and our country consistently treats Black Americans as subhuman. “walking in the
snow” wraps all of the sorrow and the fury into one.
1. “The Ascension” by Sufjan Stevens
“The Ascension” brings everything I’ve felt for the last four years together in one 6-minute magnum
opus. Everything I once thought about the world seemed to sink before my eyes, opening up a hell on
earth that I suppose I knew existed, but not in the ways that were revealed. When it comes time to
stand up for goodness where were those who taught me to be good and to stand for what’s right? Sufjan sings:
And now it frightens me, the thought against my chest
To think I was asking for a reason explaining why everything’s a total mess
And now it frightens me, the dreams that I possess
To think I was acting like a believer when I was just angry and depressed
And to everything there is no meaning, a season of pain and hopelessness
I shouldn’t have looked for revelation, I should have resigned myself to this
I thought I could change the world around me
I thought I could change the world for best
I thought I was called in convocation
I thought I was sanctified and blessed
But now it strengthens me to know the truth at last
That everything comes from consummation, and everything comes with consequence
And I did it all with exultation while you did it all with hopelessness
Yes, I did it all with adoration while you killed it off with all of your holy mess
The song ends with Sufjan singing “what now?” Some have seen the end music as a hopeful ascension of
good, while others see this unanswered question as him embracing the unknown. Maybe it’s both
hopeful and dark. But what better question is there as we head into this new year, leaving behind one
that was universally awful: What now?