2020 is a year that's challenged us all in different ways. It's been horrible for everyone around the globe, and we're still not out of this disaster yet. There's been no live music, and the industry has been forced to reconcile with how to stay relevant in all this uncertainty. Changing the rules on charting and sales at Billboard only made things more confusing. Artist went from hosting constant Instagram lives to connect to selling tickets to virtual shows, making TikToks, and working with radio stations to get to word out about their music. As hard as this year has been, it's been incredible for music releases. All of my favorite albums have released this year, and I got a new album from every single one of my favorite artists. Beyond just music releases, there were plenty of other cool moments that happened, so since I've already unveiled my 10 favorite albums of the year on YouTube (watch it here), I figured I'd close out the year on my blog with my favorite music memories of 2020, in the general order they happened.
Back in January, I was running a music podcast that has since switched over to being a YouTube channel, but every Friday night, I would get a list of songs that seemed interesting. I don't know how, but "The Story" made the list. I remember so much about that night really clearly. I guess something in me knew it was going to be a significant moment? I had my notebook out to take down my original thoughts, and I put in my AirPods like I always do for music releases, turning out all the lights except the lamp. I closed my eyes and let it start playing. I thought it was a bold choice to make the closing track a single because closing tracks are always so important to be. They're the end of a journey. And as I listened, I stopped thinking about anything else. I don't think I've ever been so captured by a song on first listen. The way it starts quiet and acoustic, all about the story, and then it builds so subtly that you just feel all the emotion building and building. Then the drums come in for the last bit of chorus and everything strips back to where it began. It's a beautifully crafted song about hardship and hope while avoiding being cheesy. I think it works because Conan admits that the world sucks and is full of horrible things. The only light at the end is the casual "but I think that it can work for you and me". Like a shrug. A shrug that invites you to come along for the journey. It's still a brilliant closing track, and on that night, I discovered an artist I will remember for the rest of my life.
Halsey Releases Her Album Manic
While I've always liked Halsey songs on the radio, I'd never gotten immersed in her world. Towards the tail end of the Manic singles, I started paying more attention, and I found a truly amazing safe space. I loved how she fostered such an online community and kept up with fans online, looking out for them. When you start paying attention, it's clear that Halsey isn't just a great songwriter or vocalist, she compulsively cares. She wants to help people, and part of that is sharing her own messiness and struggles. She's still the most honest pop star I've ever witnessed, and that makes it impossible to not start caring. By the time Manic dropped, I'd started to get fully immersed. Manic is my most played album of the year on Apple Music. I've played the album over 900 times, and that's not even counting all the times I've heard it on CD. Like Halsey, the record is pure honesty and relatability, and that pays off. I've found myself in every different part of this record as they year progressed, but that first night, I felt so alive. It felt like being surrounded by magic.
Miss Americana on Netflix
I need to give this doc a rewatch, but I remember it so vividly, I still haven't gone back. I've seen it twice now, both in the same week in February. It's the best, most original music documentary I've ever seen (and trust me, I watch all the new ones that come out). Taylor gives the viewer an incredibly intimate look at her fears and anxieties and also what her life looks like now. She's so incredibly driven and hardworking, but she also shows the lows. She talks about body image and disordered eating in a way I know helped so many people and her assault case. I still can't believe this movie came out in 2020. It feels like a lifetime ago.
Last Concert For a While- Seeing Olivia O'Brien
On March 4th, I saw Olivia O'Brien in Houston. I impulse bought the concert tickets and meet and greet passes a few weeks before after searching Olivia on Instagram the first time. I'd loved "I Hate U, I Love U" since it was big on radio, and I particularly loved songs like "Empty" off of her later projects. I felt like I just needed to go. So I took a plane down to visit my dad and grandma and see the show. I remember everyone in the audience was murmuring about COVID, about how many more shows there would be. The trip started in a swirl of stress, and the meet and greet was honestly a disappointment, but the show was epic. Hey Violet opened, and they were incredible. And the show was great. The energy, pouring through me from the spot I made it to on the barricade was exhilarating and exactly what I needed at the time. I made friends for the night, and I talked to the girl selling merch who gave me tips for how to get jobs on tours in the future. It'll be useful if shows ever come back. Then I flew home and basically never left again. At the time, I felt stupid for going. Now, I'm so incredibly glad. It was a good reminder that sometimes following an impulse is the right answer. I would've regretted it if I decided the whole trip was too hard. Here's my full article on the show.
Niall Horan Releases His Album Heartbreak Weather; I Spend Most of These Months Watching His Instagram Lives
Most of what I remember from March and April is staring at Niall and his dark living room with the blue light of the TV playing over his face. I spent full days with Niall as he'd randomly go live and stay on for hours talking, watching TV, and sometimes playing songs. The whole experience definitely made me feel less alone, and he sounded truly amazing, even slumped on the couch accompanying himself at 1AM. His talent is real. He would even accept requests to go live with fans and chat with them, which takes a lot of guts. I feel like I really got to know the album through the stories he would tell. He was clearly frustrated that all of his promo appearances got cancelled, but I think that intimate, conversational approach he took instead made me love the album and feel more attached to it than any Today Show appearance ever could. Originally, Niall was on my "sure I'd go" list of concerts, but after this spring, I know he's truly a must see live. (His virtual show was also amazing. He got us all singing along from our living room).
Kid Krow Gets Released- It Becomes My 2020 Soundtrack
Kid Krow also released in March into the void of COVID panic. Still, it charted well, the best for a pop debut in something like 2 years. For good reason. It's a perfect album in my opinion. I go into it more in the top albums video, but the album is truly amazing. My funny memory from that night is that Apple listed the clean on first, so I thought that there was only a censored version. In "can we be friends" they put the most obnoxious TV style bleeps to keep it clean, and I remember being like, well that's a choice... I have since found the explicit version, and it makes much more sense now. Kid Krow is my most listened album on Spotify and second on Apple Music. It's also one of my favorites for car trips on CD. I've listened to this album almost every day since its release, and I'm so sad it never got a tour. So many of those songs would be incredible live. Also, that night, one of my favorite music videos of all time for "Wish You Were Sober" came out. I still don't get why that song/video didn't blow up. It's one of the best pop songs I've heard in the last few years.
Wake Up To The News of Folklore Coming Out That Night
So I had a ton of anticipated music for 2020 on my radar, but I wasn't expecting to hear from Taylor for years. She had Loverfest cancelled and had already dropped an album the previous August. When I woke up to the folklore announcement, I was thoroughly convinced I was still dreaming. It was less than a year after Lover, and she'd already put out a documentary. That night, I met her quiet, quarantine project full of alternative and singer songwriter songs made with a new collaborator (outside of Jack Antonoff's surprise appearances). I immediately knew it was probably her best album yet. It was songwriting genius, but it wasn't an album I listened to daily that soundtracked my life till months later when I felt like I finally unlocked folklore.
"Heather" Music Video Gets Released
Heather was the last song on Kid Krow I expected to get a music video, but after it blew up on TikTok, that became the natural progression. I was thrilled when I saw the announcement the day before it dropped in August. This video is pure art and the best use of the quarantine limitations. In a way, it benefited from the confines because it forced the video into a far more personal place than the possible literal interpretation that could've happened. It all took place in Conan's apartment shot with a friend. It might be my favorite video of the year, and it was a good reminder of the true meaning of the song after TikTok warped it.
Back to the Badlands Mystery
This fall was hard for me. Really, really hard. I felt like I had nothing to look forward to and every day was a battle. And then clues started popping up. A mysterious Badlands twitter account from back in the day, photos taken around the country on a strange, unexplained road trip Halsey was taking. She was laying out clues for us to follow, and I decided to start writing down all the steps so that when we found out what the endgame was, I could remember exactly how it all went down. That post became one of my most successful ever on the blog and gave me a real feeling of community. Finding and documenting the next clue gave me a reason to get up, and for that, I'm so thankful for Halsey and her quarterly mysteries. At the end, we got a Badlands live album from Webster Hall (which was epic) and my favorite merch line ever.
Meeting Conan Gray on Zoom
So this was probably my coolest quarantine moment. I'm still in disbelief that it actually happened. But I sent in an email to Hits 1 since they asked people to send in a question submission to get into a Zoom with Conan. I sent a question, expecting nothing, and I get an email back and then a call saying I was chosen. I literally started shaking I was in so much shock. The zoom didn't quite go how I anticipated (we weren't allowed to unmute ever and they never sent out our group photo (what's up with that?)), but overall, it was an amazing experience. It was surreal to have Conan answer my question, and it was the boost I needed as an artist to keep going. I have a clip of his answer to me, and I play it for myself on really bad days. Afterwards, I asked the coordinator if she could get Conan a letter I'd written, and she said yes, so I sent it on. I hope it made it to him, but at least I tried. It definitely felt a bit full circle with how much Conan's old videos and music helped me through this year. I watch his old Q&As for advice sometimes, and to have a piece of advice directly answering my question is truly amazing. And, yes, he is definitely the nicest human.
Halsey's Poetry Book- I Would Leave Me If I Could
Since Halsey never stopped, she released a poetry collection this year. It's one of the most beautiful books I've ever read, and it's given me so much comfort. I got to dig into highlighting and annotating and falling into that world. I wrote the book review I'm most proud of because of it. I'm so happy I have those words to go back to whenever I need to. And now that I own three copies, I'll always have one on hand.
Long Pond Studio Sessions Brings an Acoustic Taylor Concert
My mom and I constantly wished for a Taylor acoustic folklore show since July. We joked about just how much she could charge for a livestream. I'm glad she didn't go that route. Instead, she released a documentary/concert on Disney +. I love how she talked through all the songs and how they came about along with performing them all. Playing them with Aaron and Jack was the perfect choice. I love how Jack's passion is always written straight across his face. Taylor shines the most just sitting there singing because she so fully embodies the characters in each song. She transports you. I found it incredibly inspiring.
Yungblud on Tour (Virtually)
Yungblud dropped an incredible album, Weird! in December. He also dropped a tours worth of virtual shows for $5 so I bought four. Even though it was the same set over and over again, it was still fun to have a date to show up for a quick little show. He definitely brought the energy, and I loved getting an early preview of the album. I even fully dressed up for the first show.
Taylor Swift Shows Up With A Second Album- Evermore
If July wasn't unbelievable enough, December was sure a shock when Taylor announced that she just couldn't stop writing. And then we had a second Taylor Swift album in a year. She's so defined by eras that if you told me in 2019 that 2020 would have 2 Taylor albums, I would have laughed at you. My friend Julia was the one who got to tell me in a text. That night, listening to the release, was magical. I got to sit in the dark and soak it all in, live tweeting and celebrating on Twitter. I also had so many more swiftie friends by then that we were all texting and the excitement was palpable.
This is my most recent 2020 win. I've been following the about journey on the blog for the last month or so. The idea that it was make-up worked out, and yesterday, I got into the password protected preorder for About Face, Halsey's make-up line. One of my 2021 "want to learn's" is make-up, so this came at the perfect time. This make-up is ethical, good for your skin, and not horrible for the earth. Also, all the products are so unique and fresh that it's gotten me so excited. Halsey is definitely someone whose style I idolize, so I can't wait to get the products in and give it a try. I even got my mom excited about About Face, so Halsey's already giving me something to look forward to to get through the rocky start of 2021 too.
This is random, but this year, I really got into physical music. I got a vinyl record player on Black Friday which was something I'd wanted for a while. It turns out I really love vinyl. I started collecting signed CD and got a few hoodies and shirts I love from my favorite artists. I used to be so against merch, but I started getting a few pieces from artists I follow the most when I needed new clothes, and now I mostly only wear merch because I don't leave the house ever, and it makes me smile so much looking down at what I'm wearing. It makes me feel more confident to have that energy with me when I do go out. I started personalizing my room more and even my laptop. All my stickers make me constantly smile every time I look at them because they're all nods to my favorite lyrics. Having the CDs propped on my bookshelf and a few posters on my walls have been so inspiring. I'd never done much to really personalize my room, and this year, being inside so much, having all my favorite albums and people who inspire me surrounding me helped a lot.