By TESS HOWAT
We’ve made it. 2020 is almost in our collective rear view mirror, its flaming wreckage billowing smoke behind us as we tear away, rubber burning. It’s tempting to call this year a disaster, a cosmic joke with no rhyme or reason, especially for those living in the United States. As the line between SNL cold-opens and actual news wore thin this year, so did the world’s respect for our so-called American values; freedoms manifested as acts of selfishness and stupidity, the media fought a war on reality waged by our political leaders, and our healthcare system gasped for air at the hands of ignorance and misinformation. Now, ten months into the pandemic, the loved ones of the 280,000 American lives claimed by COVID-19 brace for a holiday season with grieving hearts and an empty seat the table.
These things we know. And as we approach closing time for 2020, I think we all deserve a recap of this unreal year. The pandemic aside, we endured multiple climate crises, an ongoing battle for human rights, Pentagon proof that aliens exist, a WWIII scare, social media hacks, and—you get the point. And just for fun, we chose to narrate your recap via song. That’s right, in addition to each month’s chronological rundown of pandemonium, we’ve curated a song that captures the essence of that month. Many of our emotions were felt as a collective this year, so here’s to bumping the same playlist to the beat of chaos.
Listen along to our Spotify playlist of the following songs as well as other music curated to help you grieve 2020 here. For those without Spotify, enjoy the playlist on YouTube here.
**Disclaimer: Seeing as the world at large braved the turbulence of a thousand lifetimes this year, we’re mainly focusing on U.S. events. The rest of the world deserves an anthology on the subject.
The year starts off with an official WHO report on January 9th of a mysterious coronavirus-related pneumonia that had emerged in Wuhan. We ignore it. Bush fires tear across Australia, Brexit happens, Trump’s impeachment comes and goes, Meghan Markle and Prince Harry give up their royal duties, Trump orders the drone strike assassination of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani and as tensions rise with Iran, there’s a half-kidding but very real fear of draft among US men, Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna die in a helicopter crash that shatters the hearts of NBA fans across the globe, and the first COVID-19 case is confirmed in the U.S. just ten days before the WHO declares a global health emergency on January 31st. Tough start.
January’s song is “Silver and Gold” by City and Colour. Given the WWIII scare and the reality of what the following months had in store, I find it only fitting that we begin 2020 with a song to the tune of an omen. In this ethereal folk recording, Dallas Green launches into a song about waking from a dream where bombs dropped and began the end of times. A bit on the nose, if you ask me.
Still pretty much in the dark about the virus, we kick off February with the Superbowl. Yeah, that was this year. J-Lo and Shakira deliver a fiery (and tonguey) performance on the 2nd, we hit 10,000 cases worldwide a day later, the US declares a public health emergency, oh and “Parasite” swept the Oscars and made history—pretty much the only good news this month—Kobe Bryant and Gianna’s memorial service is held on the 24th, the same day Harvey Weinstein is convicted of sexual assault and rape, the worst locust storm in over a quarter of a century plagues East Africa, and we go on living our lives normally, unaware of what’s about to happen. These are the glory days.
February’s song is “The Less I Know The Better” by Tame Impala. This hit about blissful ignorance from Kevin Parker’s 2015 masterpiece Currents went viral on TikTok this year and was launched to double platinum in the U.S., just in time for his 2x Grammy nominated fourth studio album The Slow Rush. It’s a banger, a last meal type of song.
For most, the start of March is a visit from the grim reaper— of death, of our social lives, all of it. As our world is rocked by COVID-19 and we bunker down for quarantine, we can’t keep our eyes off the news. On March 6th, The Grand Princess cruise ship is quarantined in the San Francisco bay after passengers test positive, just three days before the stock market crashes and The Dow suffers the worst ever point drop in a single day. On the 13th, the president declares COVID-19 a national emergency, just hours before Breonna Taylor is murdered asleep in her home by plainclothes officers in Louisville, Kentucky. Soon after, schools close their doors and college kids pack for the longest spring break of all time.
March’s song is “Psycho Killer” by The Talking Heads. With such little information about the spread of COVID-19, the first month of quarantine felt like hiding from, well, Jeffrey Dahmer. The virus was around every corner, hiding in supermarkets and on gas pumps, waking us in the middle of the night with pumping hearts and sweaty palms, and we had no choice but to assume our closest friends were holding the knife.
A month into lockdown, we’re going crazy. We miss our friends, our hearts hurt for the world and anxiety levels are soaring. We’re exhausted mentally, Tiger King has been #1 on Netflix for way too long, and a lack of human connection is making for sad vibes all around. Kim Jong Un misses a few photo ops and we all assume he’s dead, Trump suggests drinking bleach to kill the virus, and The Pentagon releases official video evidence of UFOs and we’re too distracted to give a shit. We’re all struggling in different ways; for those with the financial means to stay inside, quarantining is a mentally taxing privilege. For others, mask mandates and stay-at-home orders are seen as breaches of freedom that warrant putting the health of others at risk. On the 30th, anti-Lockdown protesters arrive at the Michigan State Capitol with automatic weapons to voice their anger, some complaining about needing haircuts.
April’s song is “Night and Day” by Lee DeWyze. It’s song about waiting for nothing. The days feel short, the nights feel long and we’re tired of being tired.
We begin May the same way we ended April: glued to our screens. May 2nd brings news of Japanese murder hornets and on the 4th, the internet loses it over Grimes and Elon Musk’s new child, X Æ A-12, and the memes are top-notch. The death of George Floyd at the knee of officer Derek Chauvin on the 25th sparks anti-police brutality protests in Minneapolis that catch traction across the nation, all united under one message: Black Lives Matter. The month ends with news that the U.S. death toll has surpassed 100,000.
May’s song is “Better Than” by Lake Street Dive. “I could spend ages reading the news / I could spend days singing the blues / But I turn up the TV light / Give up without a fight / Better than pretending / To know what's wrong and what's right.”
Just as the heat everyone is hoping will kill the virus arrives, the U.S. hits two million COVID-19 cases. Joe Biden seizes his presidential nomination for the democratic party and as BLM is on its way to becoming the largest human rights movement in history, with millions internationally taking to the streets in peaceful protest against police brutality, Rayshard Brooks is murdered by police in a Wendy’s drive thru in Atlanta, Georgia on June 12th. Protests are met with police brutality, seriously and sometimes fatally injuring protesters with rubber bullets and tear gas, and images of rioting and looting disproportionately dominate the news feeds of many Americans.
June’s song is “This is America” by Childish Gambino. One of the many songs that served as a soundtrack to the movement, Childing Gambino’s anthem about the Black experience in America had millions marching to its beat.
Ghislaine Maxwell is arrested for two charges of sex trafficking, the U.S. surpasses three million COVID-19 cases, and on the 15th, a 17-year-old Florida boy hacks Twitter accounts belonging to Elon Musk, Kanye, Joe Biden, Bill Gates and more to run a Bitcoin scheme, and some people bought it. Black Lives Matter protests continue across the U.S. and internationally, the U.S. protests met with police brutality and retaliation from militarized forces called in by President Trump, including the National Guard. Protesters are abducted by Federal officers fitted in camouflage and thrown into unmarked vans in Portland, OR.
July’s song is “The Walls Came Down” by The Call. The lyrics of this alt rock anthem circa 1983 sing, “Sanctuary fades / Congregation splits / Nightly military raids / The congregation splits.” Millions of Americans unite under the Black Lives Matter movement’s call for anti-racism and reallocation of police funds while millions are swayed by the news footage of the protests that grew violent and deem the movement an unjust attack on police. The congregation splits, and it splits deep.
An explosion of ammonium nitrate stored at the port of Beirut kills 204 people and injures 6,500, COVID-19 becomes the third leading cause of death in the U.S. and 367 known wildfires are reported in California, a start to what has become the worst year of wildfires ever recorded in California’s modern history, with over 9,250 fires destroying over 4% of California’s 100 million acres of land and displacing hundreds of thousands of people. Jacob Blake is shot seven times in the back at close range and left paralyzed by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin on the 23rd, sparking mass protests in Kenosha. 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse, a Blue Lives Matter advocate, murders two people with an AR-15 style rifle amidst unrest in Kenosha over Blake’s death. On August 28th, beloved Actor Chadwick Boseman dies at the age of 43 from colon cancer, a shocking blow to those who loved and respected his kind heart and incredible work, most notably his portrayal of The Black Panther, the first black superhero and a role model to millions. As August comes to an end, a variation of online and in-person school is back in session for K-12 and college students.
August’s song is “A Change Is Gonna Come” by Sam Cooke. Another piece of the soundtrack to the movement, demanding change in equal favor of Black lives, Trans lives, and life on Earth. As human rights and climate crises continue, the need for systemic change has never been more dire.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg dies on September 18th, ten days before the global COVID-19 death toll reaches one million. A grand jury fails to charge any of the officers involved in the death of Breonna Taylor with murder but indicts one of the former officers on three counts of wanton endangerment of Breonna’s neighbors for recklessly firing shots into her home, damaging the walls. Protests erupt in Louisville over the decision, two officers are shot. On the 29th, the world watches as Donald Trump and Joe Biden take the stage for what has since been called the worst presidential debate of all time.
September’s song is “Don’t Wanna Fight” by Alabama Shakes. “My life, your life / Don't cross them lines / Attacking, defending / Until there's nothing left worth winning / Take from my hand / Put in your hands / The fruit of all my grief.”
Two days into October, President Trump announces that he and the first lady have tested positive for COVID-19. Four days later, rock legend Eddie Van Halen dies. As global cases surpass 40 million on the 19th, we see a spike in U.S. cases. Multiple states report record breaking early-voting numbers, Donald Trump books a last minute town hall debate on NBC at the same date and time as Joe Biden’s town hall on ABC (Oct 15th, 8PM), and the second and final presidential debate practices the muting of one candidate’s mic while the other is speaking.
October’s song is “You Could Be President” by Theo Katzman. Katzman’s lyrics tactfully address what it felt like to watch these debates. Released in January of this year, Katzman’s album Modern Johnny Sings: Songs in the Age of Vibe is a perfect listen every month, but especially genuine during election season.
Joe Biden becomes the next President Elect of the United States, closing a historic five-day election week with record breaking voter turnout, Trump refuses to concede the election and fights various lawsuits in individual states to invalidate mail-in ballots on account of fraud that has yet to be identified, and on the 17th, trails reveal the Pfizer vaccine to be 95% effective, with the Dolly Parton-funded Moderna vaccine results not far behind and proven 94% effective.
November’s song is “Float On” by Modest Mouse. After eight months of a mishandled pandemic and a country that becomes further divided every day, news of a new president and a vaccine is more than enough reason to celebrate. A song about taking tragedies with a grain of salt until hope arrives just makes sense.
On the 4th, a federal judge reinstates the DACA act, protecting the estimated 700,000 undocumented children known as “Dreamers”, Rudy Giuliani tests positive for COVID-19, and we embrace holiday traditions as the season arrives in a changed environment, taking a breath and preparing for a second wave, this time with a bit more hope. We virtually embrace our loved ones and count our blessings this holiday season, bracing ourselves for both a vaccine and a new president.
December’s song is “Sons and Daughters” by The Decemberists— and not just for the band’s name. This is a song about hope, about new arrivals and the happiness felt in rebuilding a new, just community after fighting for so long. I hope you find as much joy in this song as I do.
About the Writer
Tess is a folk singer-songwriter and freelance content creator with a lifelong passion of language and music. A student of writing and marketing, she uses her uniquely creative skills to discuss and amplify the work of folk/indie artists, start conversations about sustainability and write about everything from lifestyle to social media business strategy.
In her free time Tess works on her music, drives her ’81 Datsun with the windows down and listens to her favorite music by John Mayer, Gregory Alan Isakov and Tame Impala.
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