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: Subhi Searches for Silver Linings on “Wake Me Up”

When Indian-American singer-songwriter Subhi went to LA to record a new song in March, she’d just begun hearing news about COVID-19. Tasked with improvising a song in the studio, she began offloading her feelings about the rising pandemic. The result is “Wake Me Up,” a meditative, vocoder-enhanced single about coming to terms with a rapidly changing world.

“We were in these dark times where everyone was quarantined and we were going to have to wear masks,” she remembers. “I knew that would close things up for a bit, so that was a song about what was happening around us.”

Even though the chorus — “wake me up, wake me up, wake me now/pull me out from the dark” — may sound like a plea to escape the situation, she also considers it to be a hopeful message, anticipating the process of emerging from the COVID era. “‘Wake Me Up’ is really about how these are dark times, but I also am realizing that I will wake up,” she explains.

This mixture of darkness and hope characterizes the in-progress EP on which “Wake Me Up” will eventually appear. “They aren’t feel-good, happy songs, but they are songs with a silver lining,” she says. “I’d like to believe my goal is to create meaningful songs, but songs that also have hope and shed some light on good stuff happening in the future.”

Subhi’s 2017 debut, Shaitaan Dii, is very different from her recent work, incorporating elements of Indian folk music, American pop, and jazz. It was recorded in collaboration with a jazz band, and on it, you can hear an unlikely combination of scatting and Hindi.

During this phase of her career, Subhi was leading an all-male band, and she remembers dealing with a band member who was bullying her and bossing her around. “He would try to shut me down and discredit me and discredit my songs,” she remembers. “It took me two years to figure out what was going on. [Then] I got the courage to stand up and be like, ‘This is my band, and this is the way I want to do it, and everyone needs to respect everyone.'”

After that, she went through a period where she was reluctant to collaborate with anyone out of fear that the same thing would happen again. Though her combative band member was no longer in her way, she was getting in her own way — which inspired “In My Way,” a slow, synthy single about the effects of hanging on to past hurts. Once she came to that realization, she picked herself back up and collaborated with a variety of producers and other artists, which ultimately became corrective experiences that opened her up again.

She also considers “Wake Me Up,” which was recorded with producer Taylor Sparks, a testament to this transformation. In addition to waking up from the dark times of COVID, the song is about “waking me up as an artist,” she explains. “And really, these collaborations did pull me out of the dark, so it’s really symbolic of what was happening in the outer world and what was happening with me internally.”

Subhi’s path to becoming a musician has been long and winding. After growing up in India and attending high school in the U.S., she went to college for finance and minored in music, then began working on Wall Street by day and covering Indian entertainment as a TV news reporter by night. Through the latter job, she met Indian-American filmmaker Mira Nair, who was looking for a music intern, and ended up getting the position.

“After that whole project, I realized, ‘Oh, my god, this is what I could see myself doing my whole life — music is it,” she remembers. “So, I usually say it took me three careers to realize music is my true passion.” Her husband lived in Chicago, so for a while, she split her time between there and Mumbai, working on music for Bollywood films. Soon, she realized she wanted to be a full-time artist, so she planted herself in Chicago and forged ties with its jazz scene.

In the past, she’s experienced internal conflict between her Indian and American identities, especially with regard to her music. One of the upcoming songs on her EP, “Better,” is about reconciling these differences and choosing both sides of herself. “I was dealing with this whole conflict of ‘which one do I choose?'” she says. “And now, I’m more settled, it’s kind of resolved — I’m two sides of this coin.” She’s continued to sing in both English and Hindi, and even though her new EP is primarily inspired by American pop, she considers it Indian-influenced simply because it’s inspired by her life.

“Every song on my EP is very personal to me,” she says. “There’s a story behind every song, and everything written in the EP is an observation for my own personal life. Everything is something I have personally experienced. There are a lot of different themes in the EP, and I hope people resonate with it and can take something from it. The EP in general is not happy-go-lucky, but I’d like to believe it’s meaningful, and it’s an EP with hope, where there is a silver living to everything that I’ve written about.”

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