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.”

PREMIERE: Ciara Vizzard Powers Through Bad Luck in “Victory”

A lot of us are going through a rough time right now, to put it mildly, and UK-based pop artist Ciara Vizzard can relate. Several years ago, she lost two family members over the course of a week, and a few months later, someone set her car on fire. “I felt so attacked,” she remembers.

Needing a positive attitude adjustment, she wrote “Victory,” a song about triumphing over challenges, to give herself a mental boost. “I wrote this song to say, ‘You can try to bring me down, but I’m still going to get up and still going to have a victory,'” she says. “The song is me talking to the devil and basically saying, ‘F off.'”

Sadly, declaring victory was premature – soon after the song was written, Vizzard’s grandmother, who she was living with, died, and the singer was in an accident that required four surgeries on her leg. By the time the fourth procedure had been completed, quarantine had started, so Vizzard remained sidelined, essentially unable to leave her home. But the message within “Victory” remained, and at this point, it wasn’t just Vizzard who needed to hear it. Today, its release offers some very needed encouragement as much of the world re-enters quarantine.

“I feel like more people can now relate to that feeling of being totally knocked around and working really hard to be getting back up and be like, ‘I’m not gonna be defeated by this year,'” she says. “I guess it’s my fight song. When I listen to it now, I still relate to the lyrics. I still feel the emotion just as much as I felt when I first wrote it.”

“I thought I was breaking on down/But I’m standing my ground/I won’t forget how this feels/Remember that it’s real,” her gentle, comforting voice sings and then repeats in dreamy echoes against poppy guitar riffs and percussion meant to evoke the sound of a marching band, perpetually pushing onward in the spirit of the song. She played the guitar herself, plucking rather than strumming, and producer Nosa Apollo (Craig David, Ella Mai, Mabel) added an ethereal quality to the sound.

Vizzard created a feeling of perseverance in the song by singing in a lower register in the verses and a falsetto voice in the chorus. “I feel like the way the song has been sung, it holds that balance between vulnerability and feeling broken, but also, I’m gonna keep singing because I’m not gonna give up,” she says. “I think that’s what I’m really proud of in this song — the way the song is melodically, it’s a mirror of what’s being spoken about in the lyrics.”

She initially came into the studio with a different version of the song, then quickly decided to scrap it and re-wrote most of it on the spot. “Some songs just write themselves,” she says. “This was one of those songs.”

Vizzard was born in the U.S. to an Irish mother and American father and moved to France at age 12, where she started playing the guitar. Now based outside London in Reading, she studied medicine and went on to become a doctor with the goal of becoming a full-time musician once she paid off her debt. She released her first EP, Fearless, in 2017 and has released four more singles (including “Victory”) since, while continuing to work in a rehab ward at a hospital.

Her latest singles all have a similar theme of conquering hardship and compassion for those going through it, including oneself. Last year’s “Hurricane” is about feeling alone and wanting support from others after her accident, “Is It Okay” is about struggling to move on after romantic heartache, and “Price” is about “recognizing that you don’t know what everyone’s going through and you can’t judge someone based on how they present themselves,” she says.

“‘Victory’ is another aspect of that same thing — you never know what someone’s going through,” she explains. “All of them are about going through something and recognizing how important it is for us as human beings to show each other love and compassion, and that’s how we get through it together.”

Perhaps that’s one of the greatest lessons COVID has taught us — “you have to help each other out,” as Vizzard puts it. “Something I’ve learned is people come at you with their emotions because they’re scared, because they’re hurting, and it’s really easy to become defensive with that. But actually, something else is driving that, and it’s important to recognize that someone’s going through something. It’s jut a matter of showing love and compassion toward each other.”

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