8 Songs That Got Us Through the 2020 Garbage Fire

When everything’s going south, one of the few things you’ll always have to lift you up is music. That was especially true this year, when many of our social lives came to a halt, but there was no shortage of new songs to listen to from the safety of our homes.

COVID-19 and other 2020 events inspired a lot of good music — both the hopeful and the relatably downtrodden — and plenty more came out this year that suited the times, even if it wasn’t born from them.

Here are a few songs out this year that helped us get through the garbage fire that is (but, thankfully, will soon no longer be) 2020.

Edoheart – “Original Sufferhead”

In Nigeria, the home country of singer/songwriter/producer Edoheart, the term “original sufferhead” refers to someone who’s divinely ordained to suffer — and I’d venture to say a lot of people felt like the original sufferhead this year. The song has an optimistic note, though, because even as Edoheart declares herself the original sufferhead, she also proclaims, “I will fight it out.”

CAMÍNA – “Cinnamon”

Dallas-based musician Ariel Saldivar, a.k.a. CAMÍNA, wrote her debut single about the mistreatment of asylum-seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border, but it contains a wider message of resilience that’s especially applicable to the racial justice struggles of 2020, putting a trip-hop spin on African-American spirituals like “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen.” 

Atta Boy – “Lucky”

If you’re having a bad year, you can take comfort in the fact that the fictional protagonist of this fun indie rock song is having just as bad a time as you. LA-based band Atta Boy has managed to tell a story that is equal parts sad and comical; Lucky’s “got a bum leg,” and his boss tells him he’s “dumber that dirt,” but despite it all, he’ll “keep on trucking.”

Naïka – “African Sun”

World-pop artist Naïka penned “African Sun” to celebrate her Haitian heritage, singing Creole lyrics in response to riots in Haiti. People of all backgrounds, however, will be able to relate to the lyrics this year: “I let things hit me deeply/heavy weight ’til I can’t breathe/I keep the noise right beside me/this cycle’s pulling me mad deep.” In the end, though, she’s “strong like the African sun,” celebrating the strength of Haitian people and reminding us all that we can get through anything.

Subhi – “Wake Me Up”

Indian-American singer-songwriter Subhi wrote her vocoder-filled single “Wake Me Up” just as lockdown was beginning and the realization that the world would never be the same was settling in. Even as she processed the impending sense of doom we were all feeling in the song, she also gave it a positive spin, using the refrain “wake me up, wake me up, wake me now/pull me out from the dark” to point toward a light at the end of the pandemic tunnel.


While some songs offered us commiseration or hope, this danceable single from LA-based electro-pop duo Joyeur gave us practical advice with lyrics like “I need some trees and stones/I’ll call you later/I saw a sign that warned me it was over/I’m going to hang my phone up.” For times when quarantine got difficult, Joyeur’s Anna Feller and Joelle Corey advocated retreating to nature and disconnecting from technology, which is never a bad idea if you need a break from all the bad news surrounding us these days.

Ciara Vizzard – “Victory”

This R&B-influenced single, inspired by a streak of bad luck in UK-based pop artist Ciara Vizzard’s own life, reads like a letter to 2020 (or perhaps even to Donald Trump, given that it came out right around election day in the U.S.). “Look what you do to me/you stole my inner peace,” she begins the song, working up to a hopeful chorus — “I can’t let you hurt me/never ending but I’m trying” — and turning triumphant by verse two: “Now that I’m finally free/you’re just a memory.” We can all look forward to the day we’re able to say that.

Autumn Nicholas – “Side by Side”

There was a lot of division in the world this year, particularly the U.S. – racial, political, and of course, literal physical separation thanks to COVID-19. Soul-pop singer-songwriter Autumn Nicholas wrote “Side by Side” to represent the best of what happened in 2020 – and what could happen more if we make the most of the situation: people coming together to support one another through these tough times, “standing side by side for equal rights.”

Atta Boy Reunite After Eight Years for Sophomore Album ‘Big Heart Manners’

When the members of LA-based indie rock band Atta Boy are together, it’s easy to tell they’re childhood friends. The group was first formed when lead singer Eden Brolin, guitarist Freddy Reish, keyboardist Dashel Thompson, and drummer Lewis Pullman were in high school, and their first album Out of Sorts was recorded soon after graduating college. After an eight-year hiatus, they’ve just reunited to release their sophomore album, Big Heart Manners.

“[For our first album] we weren’t very emotionally mature,” points out Brolin, citing the growing up the band did in the interim as a major creative driver of the album. “There was something about that flip-flop and taking risks in either direction and seeing the growth in something even though you put it down for a while.”

“We were curious to get back together and see what our sound was because it had been eight years since we were in the same room together,” Pullman adds. “My personal goal was to refine what our sound was and reintegrate and just kind of challenge ourselves to push each other into new realms.”

In contrast to the more upbeat, poppy vibe of Out of Sorts, folk and country influences are audible in the new music, which is more reminiscent of bands like Band of Horses or Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. The new album also incorporated some new instrumentals, including acoustic guitar and woodwinds.

In the first single off the album, “Devoted,” Brolin’s smooth, mellow voice reflects on a troubled friendship. The second, “Shade,” was co-written by Brolin and her partner Cameron Crosby and is based on a macabre dream she had about twins living in the same big house yet separated in different rooms, who ultimately took their own lives together. “What I take most and enjoy most from my dreams are just images that give you a different sense of what your own reality is,” she says.

Whether pulled from a dream or from those encountered in real life, Big Heart Manners is populated with a wide range of characters, their stories rendered in potent lyrical imagery. “Every time I hear lyrics that I’m amazed by, the first thing  I want to do is look up the analysis. It’s nice to hear an explanation to some degree, but it’s also awesome to leave that up to the listener to have their own relationship to the words,” Brolin says. “I want people to have their own experience with it.”

The album’s title comes from lyrics from the song “Lucky,” which the band members all wrote together. Like “Shade,” it centers on a rather pitiable fictional character. “Your boss at work tells you that you’re dumber than dirt / but you got them real big heart manners,” Brolin sings against simple, subdued keyboard chords.

“It’s about somebody that just sort of persists through the shittiest shit and just mean fucking people all day that just don’t give them the benefit of the doubt, and still, through that, being able to lend yourself to trying to be the best possible person that you can be,” says Brolin, who is also known for her acting work on shows like Beyond and Yellowstone. “And that’s what I think big heart manners are.”

“The best way to beat hate is to beat it with love, that’s what ‘Lucky’ does,” Reish agrees.

The band is currently collaborating with animator Deepti Menon on a video for “Lucky,” as well as an additional EP. In the meantime, they’re serving as ambassadors for the organization for Headcount, which helps people register to vote, and will be posting information on how to vote on their Instagram and even their previously inactive Twitter. “That’s gonna be our first tweet and could very possible be our last tweet,” Reish jokes. “A lot of people feel powerless when it comes to their vote or even if they should vote, but Headcount has tons of valuable information that can help you find and support candidates who actually fight for change, not just preach it.”

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