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: Joyeur Makes Moves to Quell COVID Blues with “Motion”

Photo Credit: Jessica Chanen Smith

These days, it’s easy to let a whole day go by without tearing yourself away from your computer screen. The isolation becomes a self-perpetuating cycle: you spend all day online because you’re lonely, and that makes you feel lonelier, so you turn to social media or Netflix. Joyeur, the LA-based electro-pop duo consisting of Anna Feller and Joelle Corey, has a simple message for people in this situation right now: get outside.

Their latest single, “Motion,” is about dealing with COVID-related stress by getting out into nature and finding peace amid the uncertainty. “Why don’t they leave me ‘lone/I’m not a hater/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,” Corey opens the song with a strong, simple beat and breathy voice that give off Lykke Li vibes. More tracks enter the mix in the chorus, giving it a chaotic techno sound that belongs in a nightclub; you can almost see the colorful strobe lights as you hear the heavy synths.

“We started writing the song before the pandemic, but it really influenced the choice of sounds, which are darker than our usual sound, and the pacing of everything really reflects our emotions about what’s happening — everything happening at once,” says Corey.

In accordance with the song’s title, they also wanted a sound people could move to. “We’ll want people to move to it but also feel some catharsis from the music, a kind of cleansing of everything that’s bottled up inside the body,” Feller explains. “I was using a lot of synth that I wasn’t using before, and rhythmical patterns that were a little heavy and techno-ey, to kind of reflect that.”

The song is off their second EP, which comes out early next year. Much of this project was written during quarantine and explores “the feeling of confinement and breaking free,” says Corey. “That’s sort of what ‘Motion’ is exploring — it’s a constant pattern and struggle, where we truly are playing hide and seek with ourselves. I find myself, and then I hide from that, either by numbing myself with social media or finding myself distracted.” Perhaps the song on the EP that embodies the spirit of quarantine most is “Living Room,” a sultry, almost bluesy ode to dancing in the comfort of one’s own home.

Because of the personal, intimate feel of the EP, the production is simpler and less showy than that of their past work, says Corey. Another difference? On their last EP, 2018’s Lifeeater, Feller did all of the production while Corey served as a singer/songwriter. On this one, their efforts were more split, with Corey experimenting with production by sending Feller interesting sounds, like ringtones she found on her phone.

“She started making up cool beats and melodies and sending them over to me, and I’d work on that,” Feller recounts. On the flip side, Corey encouraged Feller to get out of her comfort zone and sing. “I love harmonies, so I started singing the harmony on the record, which I haven’t done before,” she says. “I feel like we merged into each other and the process was much more fun because it’s more unpredictable, which I think Jo and I like. We like the challenge, but it also gives us confidence.”

The two members of Joyeur — a portmanteau of “joy” and “voyeur” — met when Feller’s husband was mixing a song for Corey. Feller’s background is in classical piano and production, while Corey’s is in voice, and they clicked right away and booked a show together the week they met. It took them a while, however, to find their authentic image rather than catering to music industry norms.

“When I was starting out with Jo, we were just women in the industry trying to be cool and looking good and trying to convince everybody of that,” Feller recalls. “In that process, I was encouraged to not talk about the fact that I am a mother. Maybe people were scared that it would be a turnoff or not relevant. I kind of went with it, and as time went by, I started feeling like we should write our own identity and not be told what this identity should be. I am a mother; I am a musician; I am a DJ; I am millions of things, like everybody is.”

Right now, Feller is pregnant again, which she says has actually aided her creative process. “I’m not experiencing things the same, and I feel like it gave me a different perspective on things,” she says. “Being pregnant really gave me a lot of ideas — my dreams are more vivid, I hear things differently, and this urge to create got even bigger. My brain is kind of changing, too. I feel like I got so much more detail-oriented and am just enjoying creation musically.”

“For some reason, we thought we needed to be 20-year-old sex symbols,” says Corey. “But we’re not, and at the end of the day, we just need to be who we are, and that’s what people are going to connect to.”

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