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.”

Inspired by #BlackLivesMatter and LGBTQ Marches, Autumn Nicholas Premieres Video for “Side by Side”

When soul-pop singer-songwriter Autumn Nicholas witnessed #BlackLivesMatter protests out on the street near her home in Raleigh, NC, she didn’t feel comfortable jumping into the fray. “I had fear because of what the TV and news blasted – they lacked the good, it was all focused on the bad,” Nicholas says. “But I wanted to make a difference and raise my voice.” She asked herself what she could do to further the movement and how she might inspire others who are hesitant to protest. The answer to that question was her latest single, “Side by Side.”

“I chose to write about it and learn more about the injustices and the facts behind the news,” Nicholas says. “I took away my own fear by connecting with the community and the artwork posted to display everyone’s voices through images.”

The song spotlights her powerful, rich vocals with minimal instrumentation, primarily acoustic guitar and piano. You can hear the passion in her voice, not just for social justice but also for her music, as she sings, “I can’t understand why we all just keep taking sides/Why can’t we sympathize?/If we really care about each other’s lives/Then let’s go and make it right/Standing side by side for equal rights.”

On September 14, Nicholas released “Version A” of the song, which is intentionally minimalistic; she wanted to release it as soon as possible just to get the message out. But she also plans to record a “Version B” featuring more production and other artists of all different races from different parts of the world, representing the unity she sings about.

When the queer, biracial artist plays the song live, she introduces it by talking about #BlackLivesMatter. “It grabs the attention and captures the importance of those words,” she explains. However, she adds, “it is deeper than that — it’s about equal rights and LGBT, but it ties in as a whole to unity, something during these times we do not have a lot of, especially since we are feeling like we’re trapped in our homes, like we are divided, whether it’s by sickness or by color. I hope this song can bring some unity to our time period.”

In the video, she performs the song in Raleigh in front of different pieces of street art related to #BlackLivesMatter and other social justice movements, her way of giving her community a platform and a voice. For “Version B,” she plans to make another video that spotlights even more street art. “I want it to focus less on me and more on the words and the art and the community,” she says. “It was a little bit rushed because we were getting it out before any of the artwork was actually taken down.”

“Side by Side” will appear on Nicholas’s second EP Shades of Beige, a followup to 2016’s Chapter 1. The other songs on the EP are consistent with the message of “Side by Side” – unity and equality – and Nicholas cites Pink as an influence on it. “She has very strong beliefs, and she also is more of an anthem singer; she sings about things that are really passionate to her,” she explains. One of the songs she’s working on, for instance, “On Sunday,” is about the internal conflict of belonging to a religion and being LGBT and “trying not to be placed in a box just because you are gay,” she says.

She’s still hard at work on the EP, as the process of recording music during COVID-19 has been a challenge. “It’s been hard because of the times we’re going through, the lack of spaces to go and produce it,” she explains. “That’s been a struggle, but we are working tirelessly, hand in hand with where we are and where the world is and whatever phase we’re in, trying to adjust and make this EP work and release singles as fast as we can with the times.”

In the meantime, Nicholas has also been developing a clothing line called Unbrand.d, which features items designed to be worn by anyone of any gender. “Ever since I was younger, I have had issues with finding clothes I liked to wear that weren’t super girly but weren’t boy-y either,” she explains. “Some people call it tomboy, but I’d rather not call it a gender, and my goal as I gain success is to create a brand where people can feel comfortable in the middle.” She’s currently working on rolling out the first item from the brand, a t-shirt whose proceeds will go to a food bank.

Growing up with a father who played drums and a brother who played guitar, Nicholas took up the guitar herself at age 13. “I just wanted to show off — that was my main goal. I didn’t think I would actually make a career of it,” she laughs. When she’s not creating music or clothing, she spends time with her family, her partner, and her “25 pound child” — that is, her dog. “Making sure I stay balanced in being a human and an artist at the same time has been a journey,” she says.

Follow Autumn Nicholas on Facebook for ongoing updates.