I’ve always had mediocre taste in music, made better by a healthy dose of peer pressure. The pandemic made it much worse. My top songs of 2020 were mostly played directly from my headphones to my ear canals. I’ve forgotten how to play songs for groups. Unless I’m running or dancing alone in my room, I tend to skip the anthems. My housemates and I play the same few songs (mostly inside jokes) on repeat over card games. There are whole albums that I’ve listened to dozens of times, always solo.
The purpose of this column is to explore where we find and have found musical comfort while still submerged in this pandemic. Each week will feature a new guest and a new set of music picks. These are songs that have eased anxiety, comforted in moments of isolation, echoed the moments of fear and of hope. Living through this pandemic has been a universal but uniquely individual experience; no one’s shock, isolation or grief has been exactly the same as another’s. It follows that no playlist will be exactly the same, that each will have its own distinct tone; this one, for example, is embarrassingly sincere.
“Graceland Too” (2020) by Phoebe Bridgers
“Punisher” (2020) is my album of the pandemic, and many of the songs on the record deal directly with existence, boredom, fear, purpose, etc. “Graceland Too” is different, a tribute to a specific kind of closeness that I miss more than any other in these pandemic times — the kind where you’re sitting, dazed, on the floor of a friend’s house, maybe tipsy and maybe cried out and sure only of your love for the people around you. The apocalyptic “I Know The End” (2020) also makes my pandemic picks (“Romanticize a quiet life / There’s no place like my room”), as does the broodingly beautiful “Moon Song” (2020).
“Mirrorball” (2020) by Taylor Swift
There’s a specific intensity that comes with intimacy in isolation — are you more or less your true self “when no one is around, my dear”? In Swift’s first installment of her indie phase, “Folklore,” “Mirrorball” is the standout, designed to be heady, sparkling, shoegaze in high heels. Swift pleads for her partner’s attention with desperation and self-awareness, simultaneously conjuring images of ballet dancers and circus performers. For less shoegaze-y options, see also: “Urs” (2019) by NIKI and “Official” (2019) by Charli XCX.
“No One’s in the Room” (2020) by Jessie Reyez
I’ve spent a lot of time alone this year (at least five quarantines’ worth), and I spent a questionable amount of that time asking unanswerable questions. “No One’s in the Room,” a deluxe edition bonus track from “Before Love Came to Kill Us” (2020), is Reyez’s inner monologue, the bluntest confrontational questioning of God and her own head. Like Bridgers, Reyez wrote her confrontations with morality (see: “Does the voice in my head … belong to me? / Or does it come from the clouds?”) in a pre-pandemic world. Perhaps it’s comforting that the context of these songs has changed, but the sentiment has always existed.