The Songs of 2020

It only seems fitting that before I do my big final post of this annual project (and it’s a biggie) I take a little pause and acknowledge the new songs that helped define my year. I’m usually on top of new tracks all year long, adding and subtracting songs to and from my rolling Spotify playlist, but because a larger chunk of my music listening dwelled on Old Stuff my ear wasn’t as close to the ground as it usually is. Still, even after paring it down by more than a half, my unofficial list of favourite tracks clocks in at more than three and a half hours. That’s a ton of music!

My 2020 tracks list is loaded with stuff that I either wrote about or will write about, but there are a few that I should highlight. I have a couple of Kathleen Edwards tracks in there because her comeback album Total Freedom is really good, and I’m so happy she’s back making music because she’d one of Canada’s best songwriters. Orville Peck has been getting bigger and bigger, and his cover of the Bronski Beat classic “Smalltown Boy” is so haunting and beautiful. Renowned progressive rock dweeb Steven Wilson is putting out some of the best music of his career these days, and “Personal Shopper” is one of the best songs I’ve ever heard him do, both an homage to the Olivier Assayas film of the same name (which I adore) and a blistering critique of consumer culture. Phoebe Bridgers started to become huge with her album Punisher, but the only track that has really stuck with me is “Kyoto”, which is as perfect an indie rock song I’ve heard in 2020. Christine and the Queens’ “People, I’ve Been Sad” is as perfect a self-quarantine song that came out during that stinking pandemic. She’s such a genius. And last but definitely not least, Cardi and Megan’s “WAP” will live on as one of the most important songs to ever top the charts. After decades (centuries, really) of men being allowed to boast about their own sexuality, “WAP” follows the lead of feminist classic The Teaches of Peaches but takes it to the mainstream, a vivid, joyous, confrontational manifesto that celebrates a woman’s right to consensual pleasure. A moment like this in popular music was long overdue, and good for Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion for pulling it off.

The first half of the playlist is ranked as accurately and arbitrarily as I could manage. Not much thought went into it, I just started arranging the running order instinctively. Honestly it’s best listened to on shuffle, so if you want to see where part of my head was in 2020, this is a pretty accurate picture.