2020 in Review

What the fuck was this year? I don’t even know. To think I ended 2019 with the phrase: ‘2020, please be kind.‘ I really don’t know how to write about this year. Time has become a bit of a nebulous concept and after a lot of thought, the only way I could divide up this year was by separating it into three ‘chapters’: pre-pandemic, lockdown-into-summer, and semester three of my Masters. It’s a bit of a weird system but then, is there anything about this year that hasn’t been weird?

So, here we go. This is my review of 2020, a year I’m sure none of us will ever forget.


PRE-PANDEMIC

The beginning of the year, the two and a half-ish months before the pandemic became less about ‘wash your hands’ and more ‘we’re going into national lockdown’ (in the UK anyway), feel impossibly long ago and kind of frighteningly busy. Looking back through my photos, it’s so odd to think that that version of me – of all those people in the pictures – had no idea what was coming. And now we’re entirely different people. I mean, I know I’m a completely different person because of the last nine months. I’m only speaking for myself but I imagine that a lot of people can relate to that feeling. I look at photos of myself from January, February, March and I almost don’t recognise myself…

Anyway, on with the review.

I wrote up January at the time because it was such a busy, emotional month. I had a frantic Christmas break, preparing for my January assessments (due to a misunderstanding about the assessment, a lot of my research wasn’t helpful and so I had to redo it so I got almost no free time during that holiday). That was incredibly stressful, as was the presentation, and I was beyond exhausted afterwards. And between the second single of the Honest EP, ‘Clarity,’ coming out and the very distressing DSA assessment in the following week, I didn’t really get any rest between the first and second semesters. And to top it off, I was pretty upset about the grade I received and by the time I felt coherent enough to appeal it, the deadline had passed. But in hindsight, it was the first grade of the Masters with a very new approach to working and grading so it’s probably not that surprising, especially as an autistic student.

The new module I was studying, Musicology (“the scholarly analysis and research-based study of music”), was really interesting and for the most part, the lectures were really engaging, something that was definitely aided by how passionate my tutor was about the subject. I’ve known him since my BA and he’s so knowledgeable; he’s a really great teacher and he’s a big part of why I did so well in the module. Not that my tutor in the first module wasn’t great – she’s truly awesome and so inspiring and I learned so much from her – but I learned a lot about how the Masters worked in that first semester that I was able to put into practice for the second semester, making it easier on my mental health and helping me to work more effectively, which did result in a much better grade. I found the songwriting classes less inspiring but since I was challenging myself with FAWM (February Album Writing Month) for a big part of the module, that wasn’t too big an issue.

I got to spend some really good time with my friends, both in and out of uni. A couple of them came down from London to visit me, which was really nice. Others I spent time with at uni or around London. I also had lots of writing sessions with people, which was really, really fun. I love my uni friends so much – I love my non-uni friends as well, of course, but during the semester, I rarely get to see them because I’m so busy – and there are a solid handful of people I’ve met during my time at BA and MA that I know I’ll be friends with for a really long time. I feel like I learned a lot about friendship this year, as I mentioned in my grateful post, and I just feel so lucky to have met these people; they are so wonderful and I’ve found it really hard to be separated from them for so long. I’m so looking forward to seeing them again and being able to spend time with them in real life whenever that will be.

(I haven’t got photos with all of my friends from this year and I do like to use photos from the year I’m writing about but don’t worry, you’re most certainly not forgotten.)

As well as writing A LOT, I was releasing music and got to play several really, really fun shows but I want to keep the music stuff together so I’ll come back to those.

One sadness of that time was that my favourite place to eat in Brighton closed, first temporarily and then permanently. That was very sad and I know a lot of people were upset by it. They made amazing Belgian fries with loads of homemade sauces and drinks – that I LOVE – that I’ve only ever had when I’ve travelled to and around the Netherlands where I have family. And the staff were absolutely lovely and it was always such an enjoyable experience; I always took friends there when they visited Brighton. So that was a shock. With everything going on this year, I probably wouldn’t have been able to go (and I’m not sure it would’ve survived as an independent business) but I have missed it. It was a true Brighton gem for the time it existed.

I think it’s safe to say that the biggest part of January, the pre-pandemic part of the year, and possibly the whole year, was having to let go of our beloved Lucky, our nearly sixteen year old black Labrador who we’d first met at three days old. He was very old (most Labradors live to between ten and twelve) and had developed some very difficult health problems in the last year or so of his life. We got home one night and he didn’t get up. He didn’t lift his head. He didn’t wag his tail. He was just done. It was heartbreaking and one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever been a part of but the next morning we took him to the vet and they put him to sleep. It was awful and I still miss him everyday, even though I know it was the right thing to do. He couldn’t have been more loved, by us, by everyone he met. He was a bit of a legend. I still wish him back but, again, as I said in my Grateful post, I’m glad that he hasn’t had to live through the pandemic, the sensitive soul that he was; it would’ve been very stressful for him. And the idea that we might’ve had to have him put down during one of the lockdowns where we couldn’t be with him is unbearable, so I do take some comfort from that timing. Still, the house feels empty without him.

Life was fundamentally different after that but we kept going, day by day, and there were good moments. I got to see my course mates put on an awesome show at a local venue, Song Suffragettes announced that they were coming to the UK on tour (I’m pretty sure I dug into my savings to get a ticket for every show…), and my Mum and I celebrated Lucky’s sixteenth birthday, even though he was no longer with us. I’d been planning it and so we just decided to celebrate for ourselves. I think that, in the future, we will think of him or go on a specific walk or something to remember him, even if we don’t actually ‘celebrate’ his birthday. The date will just be an excuse to dedicate some time to thinking about him and all the years we had together.

As well as dedicating the month of February to FAWM, I also took on the #30dayfeb Challenge For Tommy’s, organised by my university tutor/friend/mentor/super inspiring person, Sophie Daniels, under her artist project name, Liberty’s Mother, to raise awareness about baby loss and money for baby loss focussed charities. The challenge involved doing something everyday for thirty days that was positive for your wellbeing; I saw a lot of people doing yoga, for example. I chose origami and made a different piece everyday. These were some of my favourites:

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I was lucky enough to see several shows and concerts before everything closed down. That’s something I’ve really missed this year as they’re sort of THE thing that I spend my money on and go out to. I was going to see The Shires, Alanis Morissette, OneRepublic, The Phantom of the Opera, Hamilton, the Song Suffragettes UK Tour, Taylor Swift at Hyde Park, and Tin Pan South in Nashville – those last three cancellations in particular hit me the hardest. I’d been so looking forward to them so I was really, really upset when they were postponed and then eventually cancelled.

However, I did manage to see Halsey twice on The Manic World Tour, which was incredible. I love her, I love this album (it was one of my favourite albums of the year), and the show was just mind-blowing. It was awesome to see her get to play at The O2 Arena (her biggest headline show to date, I believe), especially on International Women’s Day. She’s an amazing performing but I also love how she speaks to the crowd; it feels like she’s speaking just to you. I wanted to run out of the arena ahead of all the crowds so that that illusion wouldn’t be broken. Both shows, but especially that show in London, felt very special.

I also got to see Sara Bareilles in Waitress The Musical several times. I’ve seen several actresses (all amazing) play Jenna but there was something really special about seeing Sara play her, as the person who’d written so many beautiful songs coming from her perspective as a character. It took a minute to stop seeing Sara as Sara and start seeing her as Jenna but once I’d gotten my head around that, I was just enthralled. She was fantastic and so special; I loved the show all the more for seeing her in the lead role. I was lucky enough to go a handful of times and of those, on several special occasions (sometimes on purpose and sometimes by accident): I saw Sara’s first show, I saw the one year anniversary of Waitress in London show, and I saw Sara’s final show, which also turned out to be Waitress’ final London show. So while I knew that show was special, I didn’t realise quite how special it was until much later. I tried my best to meet Sara (one day, I hope…) but for most of the shows, Sara was either out of the building before we could line up or we were hustled away pretty quickly. I did see her on the last night – she walked up and down the queue of people waiting and waved to everyone – but she didn’t stop to talk or take pictures or accept gifts because of the growing concern about COVID-19. That show was actually the last thing I did before we went into lockdown, not that I knew it at the time.

Everything changed very quickly. One day I was talking to my friend about plans we had later in the week and the next, she was on the plane home before the borders closed. I made the decision to start self isolating but before I would’ve had to go back to uni (or, having come to this decision, contact them about it), the classes were moved online.

LOCKDOWN-INTO-SUMMER

The UK officially went into national lockdown on the 24th March. I’d already been self isolating for eleven days, as had my Mum, apart from necessary trips out (food shopping and business related stuff that had to be done in person). I had two weeks of online classes plus my assessment essay, which I was already working on. It’s strange: at the time, I wasn’t really aware of the outside world because I was a hundred percent focussed on my essay (and it was probably the most difficult, research heavy essay I’ve ever had to write). Maybe I was channeling all of my anxiety into that so that I didn’t have to engage with my paralysing anxiety about the pandemic. But then the essay was done and submitted and it all came flooding in.

Between the inevitable post semester and assessment period crash and the pandemic anxiety hitting me full force, I just went to pieces. I was either having meltdowns or staring blankly at old tv shows, too overwhelmed by fear to function. That went on for weeks and to be honest, it’s kind of a blur. I think I was in some sort of checked out, survival mode haze. I just could not cope. In hindsight (and in the few moments of coherent thought I had at the time) I was and am so grateful that I had that summer semester off. Many of my friends on the Masters were having to work on their final projects during one of the toughest periods of our lives (and created incredible work in spite of it) and I just could not have done it. My mental health was in tatters. Even now that I’m in a better, more stable place, I still feel deeply traumatised by the events of the last nine months: by the constant fear and paralysing anxiety, by the sheer overwhelming grief that so many people have experienced and are experiencing, by the confusion and frustration and outright horror at how the government – the people we depend on to lead us and take charge during extreme situations – have behaved. I mean, how do you cope with completely losing faith in your country’s leaders? Who are you supposed to turn to? Anyway. That could easily turn into a rant and that’s not what this post is about.

I’m not really sure when I started to come out of that because it was such a gradual process. But slowly, with LOTS of ups and downs, I started to feel more able to engage – if only with the people directly around me and the things that I enjoyed doing. Thank god for the cats (and Mum – I’ve talked about how grateful I am for her in my Grateful post – but we both agree that the cats were a lifesaver during the lockdown). They’ve been so good for my mental health this year. It’s so mindful to watch them; you can’t help but feel calmer, watching them play or snuggle and so on. Especially without Lucky, their cuteness and cuddles have been vital and the ridiculous playful moments have made me laugh even when it felt impossible. I’m so, so glad to have had them around during this time and they certainly seem to enjoy our constant presence at home; a day rarely goes by without one cat or another draping themselves over me. As I said, they’ve been a lifesaver. I don’t know how I would’ve made it through without them.

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I had online therapy sessions but I struggled with them and often ended up cancelling at the last minute because they just felt too overwhelming. All I could think about was the pandemic and my fears around it; I didn’t want to dig into that even more and it felt impossible to talk about anything else. So my sessions were fairly sporadic throughout the lockdown and most of the year really. I think, in hindsight, therapy just felt too big, too overwhelming to be helpful while all of my emotions felt so incredibly heightened and raw. I was just focussing on getting from one day to the next. The cats were a big help; I started escaping into the worlds of new films and TV shows, like Absentia and Away; and I lived for the livestreams that a handful of people were doing in place of live shows. My favourites were Kalie Shorr’s, both because I love her and because she did so many of them. She did interviews with both interesting and entertaining questions, played covers, and played her own songs, released and unreleased. I’m so grateful to Kalie for doing all of that; they really helped me keep going, helped me get through the darkest of my pandemic-induced depression.

As I said, towards the end of the first UK lockdown, I became a bit more functional, although it was like balancing on a tightrope: one little knock and I was plunging back into overwhelming anxiety and depression. And it happened a lot. But I also had better, more productive moments. I managed to write a couple of songs (which is pretty monumental what with my mental health being so bad); I had writing and production sessions with Richard; I started gentle music theory lessons in preparation for the upcoming semester with one of my parents (she’s a music teacher); I spent a lot of time playing piano (I started experiencing awful nerve pain in my left hand – as well as in my back and leg – during the first lockdown so playing guitar was basically impossible); and I stayed up until almost six am to watch Ingrid Andress’ first livestream show and chat with her in a meet and greet session afterwards. So I was doing just about okay. Probably the biggest help was that all of my family (and most of my friends) were being exceedingly careful around going out: fortunately able to work at home, they only went out for essential trips, like food shopping and picking up medication, etc. I’m so grateful to them for that. So beyond grateful.

The lockdown began to loosen and more and more people were out, which I found terrifying. The silence outside had been weird at first but suddenly every little sound turned me into an anxious mess. Hearing people converse outside the shop we live above, for example, caused so many panic attacks (for fear that those people were spreading the virus). It was awful. For most of the summer, I kept the windows and curtains closed, enclosing myself in my own protective little bubble. It was the only way I could find to protect my mental health. With the gyms opening, I was desperate to swim again (as I’ve previously mentioned, it’s the only exercise I can do) – both for my physical and mental health – but I just didn’t feel safe at my usual pool. Their precautions just didn’t feel tight enough. On the plus side, after various COVID tests, I finally got to see my brother for the first time in months – longer than I think we’ve ever gone without seeing each other. We were still careful but it was so, so wonderful to see him.

Meanwhile, music stuff (mostly to do with the Honest EP) was still happening. Again, I want to keep most of this together (I’ll probably put it all in one paragraph towards the end) but I think this particular day is important beyond the musical context. I’d spent a lot of time worrying about the music video for ‘Back To Life,’ the next single due to be released at the time because my original idea wasn’t going to be possible during the pandemic, even with the lockdown restrictions having been loosened. Richard and I spent a long time discussing it and eventually came up with a plan…

The filming of the video was a big deal for me. I found it very difficult and very stressful being out for so long (even though our planning meant that, of the videos we shot for the EP, this one took the least time) and just being near people caused me a lot of anxiety, even down on the beach at the water’s edge. We were incredibly careful and I did manage to enjoy it to a certain extent but I’m grateful not to have to do another music video under such conditions. It took everything out of me; I spent the next three days on the sofa, barely able to move from the exhaustion. I have no idea how I managed to look so relaxed and even happy in the video. But, as I said, I’ll talk more about it when I talk about the whole EP process this year.

The rest of the summer was pretty gentle. I was trying really hard to improve and manage my mental health. It still wasn’t great but I was coping better than I had been earlier in the pandemic. So I spent a lot of time doing things that have proven to be good for my mental health: I listened to the Taylor Swift’s new album, folklore, on repeat; I played a lot of piano; I wrote songs when I could; I had video calls and online movie nights with my friends; I kept writing for the blog. I took part in research projects involving Autism Spectrum Disorder, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Depression, and Anxiety; helping out with these always gives me a mental and emotional boost because it feels like some good is coming out of my difficulties, even if they don’t improve my experience directly. I also watched the final season of Agents of Shield, my favourite TV show ever. That was a very emotional experience because the show, and the character of Daisy Johnson, have been a really important part of my life over the last few years and the emotional processing of stuff from my childhood.

And I continued to work on my music theory as the module was based on these concepts and I wanted to be as prepared as possible but I found the idea of going back to university very stressful. I really didn’t want to defer so I spent a lot of time thinking about what I wanted to do in terms of the new semester, what I felt safe doing. I’d originally thought that I’d much rather defer than do online or blended classes but now that the semester was almost upon me, I felt a lot less sure. After a lot of thought and discussion with my family and course mates, I decided to go back as an online student. It wasn’t ideal because of the lack of social interaction and how much harder it made cowriting sessions but I didn’t feel safe commuting to London to be in a building full of people from all over for just two hours a week. It just felt like too much anxiety for not enough reward. Online seemed like the most productive way forward. But even with that choice made, the process of going back to university, getting clear information, the correct timetable, etc, was incredibly stressful, causing meltdown after meltdown after meltdown. I really wasn’t at all sure whether I was going to be able manage university classes during a pandemic.

SEMESTER THREE OF MY MASTERS

The beginning of the semester was a bit rocky as the university tried to make blended classes (the online and onsite groups combined as one using Microsoft Teams) but in the end, it was simply easier and a more productive use of the time to split the onsite and online groups. My groups were great and everyone was really supportive and encouraging, tutors and students alike. Plus it was fun to work regularly with Richard again. The work was hard and the songwriting briefs difficult since musical language isn’t my strong point but after really positive meetings with both of my tutors, I never felt like I couldn’t ask for help or miss a brief if I needed to. As long as we was experimenting with our music – with the use of melody, harmony, arrangement, etc – and turned in the assessment work, everyone was pretty relaxed about what we were working on.

Despite a pretty heavy workload, I managed to get up to quite a lot during the semester. I celebrated my 26th birthday with the family I could and had a couple of socially distanced meet ups with friends; it was simple and quiet but I’m not really into big celebrations anyway. It would’ve been nice to see more of my family though.

I saw a lot of really awesome live-streamed shows, including Ingrid Andress at The Bluebird Cafe, various shows throughout the virtual Country Music Week and Nashville’s Tin Pan South Festival (I’m so grateful that we didn’t lose out on them entirely because of the pandemic), Halsey’s poetry book release day livestream, Maren Morris’ livestream concert, and Kalie Shorr’s charity StageIt show. But my personal highlights were Sugarland’s livestream show, Kalie’s ‘Unabridged For The First Time’ show (even though technical difficulties meant I missed bits of it), several of the Tin Pan South shows, and Tim Minchin’s ‘Apart Together’ livestream show.

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I also attended several webinars and conferences about ASD and mental health, as well as actually speaking at one. That was a really special experience, being invited to speak on a panel and share my experience about being autistic. I felt like I was really able to use my experience to help other people and several of the attendees confirmed how useful my contributions had been. So that felt like a really significant moment.

Even though I was still on the course, many of my friends did the Masters in one year rather than two. They had a virtual graduation ceremony, which I attended in support. They all created such incredible work and under such difficult circumstances; I’m so proud of them and can’t wait to see what they go on to do. Some of them have already released really cool and interesting work and I know that many more are working on really cool projects. We had a celebratory drink via video call afterwards, which was good fun. I hadn’t seen a lot of them since March so I really enjoyed that.

I finally found somewhere to swim that actually felt safe, or as safe as possible: they had really strict safety measures. So I finally got to swim again and it was awesome. Each session gave me such a mental boost and it felt so good to exercise and really stretch my muscles again. I couldn’t get there as often as I would’ve liked (they spread the bookings out to keep the numbers low) but it was absolutely wonderful to be going again. It was erratic, especially with the second lockdown and most of the country now in Tier 4, but I enjoyed every second of it while I had it and I will again when the pool reopens.

The swimming was also good for the nerve pain in my back and leg. A few months earlier, I’d been diagnosed with hypermobility (very common with autistic individuals) and referred for hydrotherapy, which I’m unlikely to get for a while, but the swimming and basic exercises I’d been given did help. Or they seemed to anyway. I’ve also been referred to Rheumatology, Occupational Therapy, Pain Management, and had an MRI just to rule out anything unrelated to being hypermobile. It’s been a very slow process but I feel like we are starting to make progress, which feels really good.

The US Election was obviously a massive deal and not just in the US. I’m really glad that it fell during my reading week because there’s no way I would’ve been able to concentrate on classes. I’m honestly surprised by how much work I got done that week, given how much time I spent checking the news outlets for updates. In the end, it was Richard who texted me that the result was in. I shrieked, I laughed, and then I cried. I was so relieved.

Apart from swimming, the second lockdown didn’t change much for me. I was spending most of my time at my laptop, working on uni stuff. I had to turn in a portfolio of songs and an essay on the 4th January and, determined to get an actual break this year (unlike last year), I worked super hard: I wanted to have all of the work done before Christmas. So the end of the semester was intense and suddenly it was the last week, the session with Richard, and then the Christmas holidays. I worked every day from the end of the semester to Christmas Eve but I did manage to get all of the work done, which I was very proud of.

Christmas was weird. We obviously couldn’t see our larger family but then we couldn’t even see my brother because London went into Tier 4 (and then we went into Tier 4 on Boxing Day). I’d been prepared for a very different Christmas but it didn’t really emotionally hit me until a few days before and then I found it pretty difficult. We tried to embrace the difference: we decorated our tree with origami creations rather than our usual decorations; we structured our day differently… we kept it as different as we could so that the forced differences (like the lack of my brother) didn’t stick out so much. But we still managed to have a good day, I think. My brother and his partner had made a really great quiz, which we all had so much fun doing. That was definitely the high point for me. We were all together, laughing our heads off, and that felt really good.

I also just want to throw in here that there were some really great albums released in the fourth quarter of the year, which definitely boosted my spirits and inspired me a lot. There was Taylor Swift’s folklore: long pond studio sessions, which was both incredible and a fascinating look into the stories and emotions explored throughout the album; Kalie Shorr released the deluxe version of Open Book, Open Book: Unabridged, which included four new tracks, all of them as stunning as the original album tracks, if not even better – ugh, can you tell I love this album? And then, as if folklore wasn’t a big enough surprise, Taylor Swift released a second surprise album, evermore, which was another amazing album. The three of these, plus Manic by Halsey, were the musical highlights of my year. I love them all and I learned so much from them as a songwriter.

We’ve had a quiet few days up to new year, which is good. It’s been nice to have a bit more space to breathe, if that makes sense; there’s a bit less pressure in my life at the moment. Having said that, being in Tier 4 with a spike in COVID cases, has caused my anxiety to rise again.

And that’s the year…

So it’s time to talk about the music. With more content coming, I don’t want to go into too much detail; I kind of want to save the real round up for when everything is done, but I do want to do a quick review of my musical year because I think this is the first year where I’ve really felt like a professional singersongwriter. Of the five tracks on the Honest EP, all but one were released this year (the first single, ‘Bad Night,’ came out late last year). The second single, ‘Clarity,’ came out in early January with an accompanying music video; it did even better than ‘Bad Night’ and was even selected as BBC Sussex & BBC Surrey’s BBC Introducing Track of the Day. That was very cool!

I got to play a handful of gigs, all of which were so much fun. I headlined one of Indigo Eve’s nights, where people both waved their phone lights to a song and sang along to another. It was one of best gigs I’ve done and one of the best nights of the year. I played as part of my university’s songwriters’ circles, which is probably my favourite uni event; it was particularly special because it was the LGBTQ+ History Month special. That meant a lot to me and it was a great round. All of the performers were fantastic and the atmosphere was so positive. Looking back at my Instagram post about the show, I said, “I’m just on a joy train!” That was very accurate; it was a wonderful night. I was also invited to perform in the foyer of The Brighton Dome for their Access Open Day event; it was so much fun and I was giddy about the fact that I was performing there again when it was the first place I publicly performed. And before the lockdown started, I even managed a day in the studio, recording a fun project with some friends.

Everything slowed down when lockdown began but with a lot of help from Richard, we did eventually get the EP cycle moving again, starting with the release of ‘Clarity (Academic Remix)‘. A month or so later, the third single of the EP, ‘Sounds Like Hope,’ came out, followed by a music video beautifully animated by the lovely Lois de Silva. This one didn’t do as well as the previous two but it was a much slower, less radio friendly song so that wasn’t surprising. Having said that, it got some of the highest praise of the EP so although it didn’t reach as many people as the others, it seemed to really resonate with the people who did hear it.

The summer was a very exciting time, in terms of the EP. I got to ‘perform’ in the virtual Disability Pride Brighton Festival: they played the ‘Invisiblemusic video and it was streamed online and on TV! That was very cool: seeing myself on the television for the first time! Then, as I described earlier, Richard and I planned and filmed the music video for ‘Back To Life.’ I was very anxious about putting this one out, given its upbeat sound and title during the pandemic. But in the end, I decided that to leave it out would be to release an incomplete body of work, as the song is an important part of the EP. So I announced it with this message: “Given the difficult and often distressing times we’re currently experiencing, I seriously considered delaying the release of new music, especially as we reach the more upbeat songs on the EP. But I didn’t want to leave the story half told. This song represents the upward turn after a painful chapter of my mental health and it feels important to include because while there are brutal lows, there are also wondrous highs. They’re all important and all part of the journey.” (x) I released the song in August, hoping that people would understand that the title was metaphorical, rather than literal. It didn’t do quite as well as the others had but given everything, I wasn’t surprised. It may have done better in a world without the pandemic but then we’ll never know, will we? Richard edited the video – with my feedback at various stages – and despite it not being what I’d originally imagined, I absolutely loved it. I’m really proud of it, especially given the circumstances and stress under which it was made.

And then, in October, I released the fifth and final single of the Honest EP, the title track, ‘Honest.’ It’s my favourite song on the EP and putting the last of our budget into promoting it, it did really, really well – the best of the EP. I’m so proud of it: the song means so much to me. It felt fitting to have the music video show some of the weird and wonderful ‘behind the scenes’ of this EP process…

As I said, the project isn’t over yet so I don’t want to write anything that sounds like too much of a conclusion but I’ve learned so much from it, from this year. I’ve learned a lot, dealt with enough stress that it’s probably taken years off my life, and never been so proud of anything I’ve done. I can’t wait to share the rest in 2021…

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This blog post spiralled into something much bigger than I thought it would. But then, given that ‘normal life’ sort of evaporated around us and everything was constantly changing, maybe it’s not that surprising. I guess, there were a lot of things I felt I couldn’t leave to assumption so I included them just to be sure. Hopefully it’s made sense and got you thinking (or not thinking) about your experience of this year. It’s weird, isn’t it: we’ve all gone through this massive, world-encompassing event together and yet our years will look quite different. It reminds me of a quote I saw on social media (that I will have to paraphrase, unable as I am now to find it): “We’re all on the same sea but we’re all in different boats.” So, yes, we all experienced a global pandemic but our personal situations created a spectrum of experiences, with either end looking nothing alike. But I think we can all say that we’ll always remember this year. I know I will.

Although I spent a lot of the year feeling very negative, feeling depressed or anxious or frustrated or angry, I’m actually finishing the year feeling overwhelmed by gratitude. Yes, I’m anxious about being in Tier 4 and the rising COVID numbers – I think it would be ignorant not to be – but I’m just so grateful for all the positive moments and experiences that I’ve had this year. And, of course, the people in my life. I could not have gotten through this year without them.

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I don’t even know how to fully sum up this last year. If I thought 2019 was difficult, 2020 was on a whole new level of emotional chaos. I’ve been in survival mode for most of it, just trying to wade through waters that kept rising and rising, and every time I thought I’d found my balance, another strong wave appeared to knock me down. It’s easily been the hardest year of my life and one I know I won’t ever forget. But as painful and terrifying and exhausting as this year has been, there have been some amazing moments too: pre-pandemic gigs, releasing my EP, the contact with my friends and family, time with my cats, the awesome music, movies, and TV shows I’ve discovered this year, the chances to swim… So despite all the negative emotions I’ve experienced this year (and continue to experience), I’m overwhelmed with gratitude for the good in my life. // There’s a blog post with all my ramblings via the link in my bio 💜” (x)

Books, Film, and TV of 2020

Funnily enough, one of my goals for this year was to consume more new media, to experience new stories, expand my creativity, and just for fun. The first semester of the year didn’t really allow for that very much but then lockdown happened. Initially, my anxiety was so high that all I could do was watch comfortable, familiar, and safe stories, but slowly I started adding in new ones as a means of escape. This basically revolved around film and TV as I just didn’t have the brain space to read with all of the fear and anxiety taking up so much space. But I really started to get into watching new things and enjoyed it more and more; I think I’d gotten stuck in a bit of a rut of rewatching old things because it allowed me to do other things at the same time, namely my constant (and desperate) attempts to keep up with my OCD-induced diary. But with so little going on, I really only had to write about the new things I was watching. Back at university, there’s been less time but I have still managed the odd new thing here and there.

I haven’t included everything in this post – for obvious reasons. I’ve just written about the ones I thought were really good or had something specific that I wanted to say about them. Please don’t feel that you have to read the whole thing in detail; feel free to skim or just look at one section for example. Hopefully there will be something in here that you walk away thinking, “oh, I want to read/watch that…” Fair warning, there will be some spoilers but I will try and mark them clearly.


BOOKS

The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse by Charlie Mackesy – My therapist gave me this book just before lockdown and I absolutely adore it. I love the beauty and simplicity of it, of the drawings, of the words, of the characters and the little conversations between them, about everything from cake to fear of the future… I can completely understand it not being for everyone – it is a very specific style of book and approach to life – but  I loved it and found great comfort in it. I still do. It’s permanently by my bed so that I can just open it at random and read a few passages.

I Would Leave Me If I Could by Halsey – Halsey’s first collection of poetry is described as “In this debut collection, Halsey bares her soul. Bringing the same artistry found in her lyrics, Halsey’s poems delve into the highs and lows of doomed relationships, family ties, sexuality, and mental illness. More hand grenades than confessions, these autobiographical poems explore and dismantle conventional notions of what it means to be a feminist in search of power. Masterful as it is raw, passionate, and profound, ‘I Would Leave Me If I Could’ signals the arrival of an essential voice.” It’s definitely true that she bares her soul: some of the poems are uncomfortably honest, giving you the sensation of reading a person’s diary. She’s sharing things she’s never shared before and she’s never been one to hide the ugly from the ugly sides of life. (It’s worth noting that some of the poems have graphic descriptions in them and she does discuss some really difficult subjects like abuse and sexual assault so if those things are likely to trigger you, it may be important to have a conversation with yourself about whether you’re in the right place to read the book.) Some of the ones I found most powerful were Due Date, Battles, Stockholm Syndrome Pt. 1, Wish You The Best, Eight, With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility, American Woman, Telltale, Tornado, Lighthouse, The Painter, High-Five Kids, A Story Like Mine, I Would Leave Me If I Could, Something For Them, and Seventeen. These aren’t necessarily ‘favourites’ because some of them are practically painful to read, knowing that she has gone through these experiences. But these are some of the ones that gave me that gut-punch feeling, ones that felt so important to the collection. I have such respect and admiration for her in sharing these stories; it’s one of the bravest pieces of personal writing I’ve ever seen. You can feel her passion and her sincerity and her emotions pouring off the page and I think that is what most drew me into this book. Yes, I loved the writing but the emotion was what made it so powerful. The closing lines to Ordinary Boys, I think, sums up the book really well: “You write to calm the craving. / To corner them in fiction / And say / Finally, / I have conquered you.

(I also read chapters and excerpts of multiple music and songwriting books for my course but as they weren’t for the sake of just reading and I didn’t always read the complete book each time, it didn’t feel right to include them here.)

I would’ve loved to have read more this year and I had so many plans but between my mental health struggles and university commitments, I just haven’t been able to. Hopefully next year will be a better reading year.


FILM

What Happened To Monday – In a dystopian future where every family is only allowed one child, septuplets, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday must remain hidden by assuming the singular identity of Karen Settman. They each go out one day a week – the day they were named after – and until the age of thirty, they manage to go unnoticed. But then Monday doesn’t come home and the sisters fear their secret has been discovered. It’s a really great action film (although, be warned, it doesn’t shy away from fairly graphic violence) and Noomi Rapace is incredible, playing seven distinct women, each with their own personalities, their own struggles, and their own emotional reactions (I’ve seen some people call the different personalities less than subtle but, if you’re only real existence isn’t really who you are or want to be, I wouldn’t be surprised by a need to defiantly distinguish yourself from the people ‘sharing’ your identity). From the emotional scenes to the action sequences, she was fantastic and I found myself connecting to each of the sisters in different ways, although I think Friday was my favourite. Despite being an action film, the emotional storyline is what really carries the film, getting more and more intense as the minutes pass. And the ending is really, really interesting but I won’t give it away. I thought the aesthetic was perfect for the story and really effective in elevating the emotions of the story. With the complicated moral debate that the film is based on, the multiple characters, the relationships between them, and the challenges they face, it really is a multi-layered movie, leaving you with a lot to think about after it ends.

(I kind of wish they would make a sequel of sorts because the underlying problem – the rapidly growing population and society’s inability to cope with that – isn’t solved. It wouldn’t have to involve the main characters, apart from maybe a cameo or two to bridge the films, and it could be shot like a documentary, like the ‘The Truth Behind The Child Allocation Act’ (the law that enforces the one child per family policy). Half of it could tell the story of how the Settman sisters revealed that truth (which could be where the cameos come in, the use of ‘crowd footage’ of certain moments, and interviews with scientists, etc) and then the other half of it could be about the committees put in place to find a better solution to the population problem. I think that could be a really interesting way to build on an already existing universe but without it needing to be a direct sequel but more an expansion of that world.)

Isn’t It Romantic – Romantic comedies aren’t usually my thing and I’ve never seen Rebel Wilson in something I enjoyed so I wasn’t expecting to like this film when a friend picked it for a Netflix Party but I ended up LOVING it. I loved how it made fun of romantic comedies (as well as challenging the toxic elements that can appear in them); I thought Rebel Wilson was hilarious; the musical numbers were great; and it was just such a joyful, feel good film. I’ve watched it multiple films since my first viewing and it always cheers me up.

Ocean’s 8 – I really enjoyed this film. Probably more than the original trilogy. I loved all of the main characters and how different they all were and yet, they became this great team. I loved the dynamics between them, even if many of them weren’t given the time or opportunity to be properly fleshed out (it was a big cast so that’s not exactly surprising). There were so many awesome people in the cast, even the cameo parts. Helena Bonham Carter was brilliant and I adored both Sandra Bullock and Cate Blanchett. They were gorgeous and hilarious and they had great chemistry; I wanted them to have their own spin off adventures, just the two of them. I’m not sure if I ship them in the conventional sense (as I know many people do) but there’s definitely a relationship there that would be really cool to see explored. Anyway. I loved the multiple twists and the comedy was right up my alley (most of the time – there were a few moments that made me cringe but that’s still quite impressive since comedy isn’t really my genre). And the ending was just perfect.

Laputa: Castle in the Sky – I love so many of the Studio Ghibli films and during lockdown, a group of friends and I watched a few of them. I hadn’t seen this one before and although it felt quite similar to Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, in terms of themes and general storyline, I did really enjoy it. It follows a young girl and her friend in their attempts to keep a magic crystal safe from the power-hungry military and find a mythical floating castle. But the biggest thing for me was how beautiful it was: the design of the castle, the abandoned gardens with all the greenery growing freely, the big, glass rooms… it was just utterly stunning. It was definitely the most beautiful Studio Ghibli I’ve seen.

Fantasy Island – When a group of competition winners land on Fantasy Island, they are given the opportunity to have their greatest fantasy fulfilled. But slowly the fantasies start to spiral out of control, becoming much darker than originally intended. When they start to overlap, the group start to get suspicious that maybe these aren’t their fantasies at all, that they might be in the fantasy of someone else altogether. I was drawn in by the idea of fantasies being fulfilled and because I’m a fan of Maggie Q, Lucy Hale, and Michael Peña. It wasn’t a life-altering film but I enjoyed it and thought it threw out some interesting stuff about the things we fantasise about, whether they’d actually play out that way if they happened in real life, and who we’d be if they did happen. So, yeah, I felt like it was an afternoon well spent.

The Half of It – Solitary, introverted Ellie Chu lives in a small town, practically taking care of her widowed father and making extra money by writing homework assignments for her classmates. When the less than eloquent, dorky football player, Paul Munsky asks her to write a love letter for Aster Flores, a girl who goes to their school, she initially refuses, secretly in love with Aster herself. But when the power company threatens to cut off her house’s electricity, she accepts in order to make the payment. One letter turns into more and Ellie and Aster connect over their shared love of art and literature, although Aster believes it’s Paul she’s connecting with. Ellie and Paul also start to bond over the experience. I won’t say more than that because the story unfolds so beautifully that I don’t want to ruin it. It’s a funny, gentle, and “quietly revolutionary” (as I believe Rolling Stone described it) coming of age story. I’m sure there will be those who find it too whimsical or too Fault-In-Our-Stars-esque but there’s so much more too it than that. I loved it. I loved the characters and I loved the different relationships between them. I loved the ideas they discussed: about longing, about love, about art, about identity, about life… And the ending is perfect. Utterly perfect.

Official Secrets – This is a docu-drama based on Katharine Gunn, a GCHQ analyst, who leaked a confidential memo that exposed an illegal spying operation by American and British intelligence services to potentially blackmail members of the UN into voting for the 2003 invasion of Iraq. It is eventually published but immediately discredited due to someone at the paper accidentally correcting American grammar to British grammar. Meanwhile an investigation is launched at GCHQ and eventually Katharine confesses to what she’s done. War breaks out in Iraq and Katharine seeks help from Liberty, an advocacy group which campaigns to challenge injustice, protect civil liberties and promote human rights. Even though this is about a historical event, I don’t want to give too much away because it’s a really fascinating film and I don’t want to ruin that experience if you’re not familiar with the events. It was a very strange experience to watch because I was alive at the time but far too young to be aware of the politics behind it all. I was aware of the war and went to the protest marches with my parents (so, somewhere, I’m potentially in the march footage that they used) but I didn’t know the details, like the story of Katharine Gunn. So it was a really interesting experience to watch it now and learning about what happened (I researched it more after finishing it) and putting that in the context of the few memories I do have of that time.

The Accountant – I have to admit that I didn’t like this film much, didn’t like how baldly stereotypical the portrayal of Autism was (as an autistic person, I found it so cringe-worthy that I could barely finish it) but there was a moment at the end that I thought was important and so I wanted to include it in this list. A family with an autistic son are being shown around a facility for people with Autism (not hospital or lab like at all though; more like this huge, beautiful country house) where some spend short periods and some live full time. The doctor says something that I think is really important, especially after such a traditional and unchallenging (and, in some ways, harmful) representation of Autism…

NEUROLOGIST: 1 in 68 children in [the US] are diagnosed with a form of Autism. But if you can put aside for a moment what your pediatrician and all the other NT’s have said about your son…

AUTISTIC BOY’S FATHER: ‘NT’s?

NEUROLOGIST: Neurotypicals. The rest of us. What if we’re wrong? What if we’ve been using the wrong tests to quantify intelligence in children with Autism? Your son’s not less than. He’s different. Now, your expectations for your son may change over time, they might include marriage, children, self-sufficiency. They might not. But I guarantee you, if we let the world set expectations for our children, they’ll start low, and they’ll stay there. And maybe… Just maybe… He doesn’t understand how to tell us. Or… we haven’t yet learned how to listen.

Searching – The really interesting thing about this film is how the viewer sees the story entirely through screens: homemade videos, computer screens, FaceTime, news footage, etc. It was really cool, but I can’t imagine that it would work again without feeling like a gimmick. Anyway, for this film, it was a really interesting way of telling the story, what could otherwise be a normal mystery film, albeit one full of unexpected twists. It follows David Kim’s search for his missing daughter, Margot, through which he learns that his daughter was going through much more than he’d realised after his wife and her mother’s death a few years (approximately) earlier. The police come up with multiple theories but continue to hit dead ends but David refuses to give up, leading to some confusing and shocking discoveries.

Enola Holmes – I was really excited for this film and I wasn’t disappointed; I really, really enjoyed it. I never quite got into Stranger Things but I did think Milly Bobby Brown was great from what I did see of it. I absolutely loved her in this role though: the incredibly smart, resourceful, and loyal younger sister of Mycroft and Sherlock Holmes. She had great, effortless chemistry with so many of the characters, including Sherlock himself, her mother (played beautifully and hilariously by Helena Bonham Carter), and the young Viscount Tewkesbury, whose story she accidentally falls into and becomes a part of whilst on her own quest. I loved the story, beginning when Enola’s mother mysteriously disappears, and I loved how it was constantly evolving, starting as one thing and then turning into another and then another. It felt really cohesive and flowed really well as a film: I loved the motifs that kept reappearing throughout, like the meanings of different flowers and Enola paying people to change clothes with her as just two examples. I also really loved how they broke the fourth wall with Enola speaking directly to the audience, looking right at the camera; I think it was a really effective storytelling technique. I really loved it and have watched it several times since my first viewing. It’s an interesting and thought-provoking film while still retaining that feel good factor that makes it so enjoyable to watch over and over again, especially when I’m having a bad day.

Legally Blonde*Spoilers* It was good fun and I loved that it challenged societal norms: that we should fit in and conform, that others can tell you who you are and who you should be, that your interests determine your intelligence, your character, or your value… It was great to see a film with a demographic of (probably) mainly young girls, pushing back against these ideas. I loved how Elle used her own expertise to her advantage and how it allowed her to draw conclusions that the others wouldn’t have come to (although I’m not sure that her knowledge of fashion and style would win her many cases). I loved how accepting she was and how willing to forgive she was, with Vivian for example. I did struggle with some of the stereotypes portrayed, like gay men knowing fashion, the sleazy professor trying to sleep with his student, and so on but it was made almost twenty years ago; I have to hope that things are better now. Having said that, they did publicly out a gay man (technically they tricked him into outing himself but is it really any different if they were planning on that exact outcome?), which is beyond problematic. And then to have the whole thing treated as so hilarious and outrageous makes it seem like no big deal when it is. Outing someone is not only cruel but potentially dangerous. It’s not something to joke about. So as much as I enjoyed the rest of the film and appreciated the positive messages it focussed on, ultimately it left a bad taste in my mouth.

Close – Noomi Rapace as an action hero with a complicated backstory? Count me in. Close follows Sam, a highly experienced Close Protection Officer, who is assigned to protect Zoe, the young and entitled heiress, after her father’s sudden death when she and her stepmother travel to Morocco to secure the future of the family mining empire. But while there, the house is attacked in an attempt to kill Zoe and prevent her from becoming a powerful figure in the company. It seems that the stepmother is trying to eliminate her competition and ultimately it’s left to Sam to protect Zoe (and to an extent, teach her to protect herself) and both get them to safety and find out what’s really going on. While it might not be a life altering movie, I really enjoyed it. I love Noomi Rapace and thought she did an awesome job as Sam. I thought she brought a lot to what could’ve potentially been quite a one-dimensional role: she shows an incredible control, calm and quick-thinking under pressure, but she also has deeply emotional reactions to some of the events that happen throughout the film. Apparently she did all her own stunts and was trained by Jacquie Davis, the UK’s first female bodyguard, whom the character of Sam was actually based on. I just loved her as a character and the conflict she finds herself in protecting Zoe, even when it’s no longer her job. The relationship between them grows as they have to depend on each other and it’s messy and complicated but they ultimately develop genuine affection for each other, which is particularly heartwarming when both of them have had such a hard time trusting others. So, overall, a film I really enjoyed and a greatly appreciated ninety minutes of escapism.


TV

Cheer – I wasn’t sure that this would be something I would enjoy but multiple people that I like and respect recommended it so I thought I’d give it a go and absolutely loved it from the first episode. I already had a hypothetical understanding of how physical and intense and skilled cheerleading is but to actually see it (and see the process of learning a routine, practicing it over and over, and then taking it to the biggest of competitions) gave me a completely new insight and respect for it, in a way that I don’t think I could’ve had had I only had that theoretical knowledge of it. I got so invested in so many of the team members (Morgan especially – I think I related to her the most and her journey had the biggest impact on me) and I finished almost every episode in tears because I was so moved by their stories and their passion and then where they had ended up when the series finished. It’s not an obvious choice for those without an interest in cheerleading or sports but I thought it was really, really good and highly recommend it.

Noughts + Crosses – I loved the books so I’ll admit I was worried that that would affect how I felt about the show or if the show would affect how I felt about the books. But they were quite different (Callum going to Police Training rather than Sephy’s school, Yaro’s appearance in the story, etc), which actually made the series much easier to sink into: I wasn’t constantly comparing them because the difference in the stories felt so significant. It wasn’t hard to love them both and feel emotional about how the events played out in each version. The show had a much darker vibe than the books but then, in the books, we see this society through the eyes of teenagers. However that’s not possible in television: we see the whole picture. Quite literally. We also see different plot lines from characters we saw very little of in the books as the story was told in first person, either from Sephy or Callum’s point of view.

As challenging and upsetting as many of the scenes were, there were so many things I loved about it as a show. I loved the casting and portrayal of the characters, especially when it came to Callum and Sephy. They had such great chemistry that their relationship felt so natural. The acting – all of the acting – was fantastic and you really felt the emotions of the characters as they went through them. I also thought the two families were portrayed so well; the dynamics were so complex, so layered and nuanced. I also loved how visually rich it was: even in the intentionally grim areas, like the industrial areas and the roof of Callum’s house, which I think is ultimately due to the incredible attention to detail that you don’t really get in the books. But in the show, you can really see the cultural influence in every aspect of life (stemming from an African Empire that colonised Europe hundreds of years prior): clothing styles, hair styles, architecture, interior design, advertising, language (slang, pleasantries, terms of endearment, etc), and so on.

I don’t know if I feel educated enough to make an assessment of the representation, especially considering the race reversal and the fact that certain things don’t line up with the present (in the UK at least, which is where it’s set), such as an inter-racial couple being arrested and the death penalty as a potential punishment. It’s not a straightforward comparison. But having said that, it does very effectively and powerfully highlight a multitude of issues around race and class. “Josh Lee [of The Guardian] gave the television series four out of five stars, describing it as a ‘reverse-race love story that is vital viewing.’ Lee praised the series for highlighting the challenges that working-class white people and people of colour share in the real world through its depiction of racism in an alternate world dominated by African supremacy.”

Criminal Minds (Season 15)*SPOILERS* It feels so strange to me that this show is over. I started watching it in mid 2009, in the gap between seasons three and four and now it’s over. I can’t believe I’ve been watching this show for eleven years; that just seems so odd to me. Anyway. I must admit that I’ve been expecting someone to pull the plug on Criminal Minds for a while now. I’m not convinced it’s been consistently good since season seven, although there have been good episodes and story arcs since then; it just felt like they were running out of ideas, reusing old stories and villains, or using ideas that in earlier seasons they would’ve considered too ridiculous or traumatising to make episodes out of. I was endlessly happy to have Emily Prentiss back and that’s ultimately what got me back into the show when I was losing interest, especially with her in the position of Unit Chief; I feel like that was a very natural arc and development of here character. Anyway, back to season fifteen. I hated the cliffhanger to season fourteen and was very relieved to see JJ and Reid recover their friendship and I really liked Reid’s relationship with Max; she seemed like a good fit for him. I wasn’t particularly drawn in by any of the episodes, story wise, and I found Everett Lynch to be a pretty uninteresting nemesis, certainly nothing compared to George Foyet or Ian Doyle. But I liked the more character focussed moments throughout the season. The show was obviously coming to a conclusion and they were muddying the waters of who would be leaving the team, creating new paths for multiple characters. While I would’ve loved to see Emily as FBI Director (not exactly likely given all of the trouble the BAU cause), I think it was fitting that Garcia was the one to leave. She struggled with the darkness of it all and going to work for a non-profit seems like something that would’ve been a really positive place for her to be. As much as I was ready for the show to be over, I found those last few minutes really heartbreaking and I definitely cried when she waved them off, everyone aware that she wouldn’t be there when they got back.

Little Fires Everywhere – As soon as I saw the trailer for this show, I wanted to watch it. The mini series begins with Elena Richardson (played by Reese Witherspoon) watching as her big, beautiful home burns down in front of her and I was instantly invested. We jump back four months and the rest of the series is devoted to finding out what led up to that moment. Set in the late 1990s in the midwest town of Shaker Heights, Ohio, two very different families collide: the Richardson family are privileged, wealthy, and white, while the Warren family are transient, artistic, black, and rarely have money to spare. The children become friends, Pearl Warren drawn to the stability of the Richardson home and developing a crush on the oldest son, Trip, while Izzy Richardson identifies with Pearl’s mother, Mia Warren (played by Kerry Washington), as an artist and outsider. Their relationships bring the mothers closer together with disastrous consequences for all. It’s hard to describe the show without giving anything away, which I don’t really want to do with this one; the show does a much better job than I will. I’m still hoping to read the book but something that I found really interesting was that the author had pictured the Warrens as people of colour because she wanted to talk about how intertwined race and class are but hadn’t felt like she was the right person, as an Asian-American, to talk about a black woman’s experience. But then, when Kerry Washington joined the cast and became an executive producer, the showrunner decided to bring race to the forefront of the story and filled the writer’s room “with creatives who could relate to Mia’s kind of Blackness,” a decision the author was happy with. (x) It was also really interesting to watch how the characters developed and changed due to these relationships and how that affected you, as the person watching, and your feelings about the characters. Everyone I’ve talked to about the show has said the same, that their favourite characters at the beginning of the show weren’t the same as their favourites by the end. But overall, I loved Izzy and I particularly loved the scenes between Izzy and Mia. I thought they were particularly powerful. Having said that, the series is packed with incredibly powerful moments.

Absentia (Seasons 1-3) – Six years after disappearing on the hunt for a serial killer, having been assumed dead, FBI Emily Byrne is found in a cabin in the woods, barely alive and with almost no memory of the years she was missing. Recovering in hospital, she learns that her husband has remarried and that he and his new wife are raising her son. Her former colleagues at the FBI investigate her disappearance again but when they start to find evidence that Emily may have faked her abduction, Emily launches her own investigation and it becomes a race. Will Emily find out the truth before the FBI reach the end of the path they’re being led down? I loved this show. It’s one of my favourites of the year and I may very well rewatch it over the Christmas holidays. I just fell in love with the character of Emily Byrne (played by Stana Katic) – she’s a really well developed character and a total badass – and I was just blown away by how the show portrayed the trauma of what had happened to her, consistently and realistically and with the gravitas it deserved. I also thought it was great that they explored the psychological effects that her disappearance had had on her family and her relationships and how, even though they were incredibly grateful to have her back, their previous issues and their issues stemming from her disappearance didn’t go away and had to be dealt with. So there was a lot of interesting character development throughout the whole show, not just the first season. Fair warning, there’s some serious violence so if that’s not your thing, then you won’t enjoy this. But it’s an incredible psychological-thriller-mystery-drama with great characters. And while I don’t want to talk about the later seasons because that would give away the end of Season 1, I do want to shout out the introduction of the character of Cal Isaac. He’s a really interesting character and I really liked him straight away. The development of his relationship with Emily is done really well too. Anyway, I’m gonna stop here. It’s great. I love it. I can’t wait to watch it again.

Broadchurch (Series 1-3) – Broadchurch follows the partnership of the mysterious and grumpy DI Alec Hardy (played by David Tennant) and the bright and cheerful DS Ellie Miller (played by Olivia Colman) as they attempt to solve cases (one per series) in the small, seaside town of Broadchurch. It was incredibly gripping and the cliffhangers at the end of each episode were almost unbearable. We watched all three series very quickly because we kept finding ourselves watching almost a whole series in one night. Looking back at it though, I’m not sure I could rewatch it: the stories were so painful and emotional that I’m not sure I could bear to, although I guess that’s a testament to how fantastic the acting is. But I absolutely adored Hardy and Ellie’s relationship; the contrast between their personalities was utterly hilarious but their shared commitment to the job and finding the truth made them a remarkable, if unusual, pair.

Agents of Shield (Season 7)*SPOILERS* I was so upset when I learnt that this year’s season was going to be the last (I legitimately called my Mum in tears when I heard the news) but if there had to be a last, this was the best possible last. It was just incredible, from start to finish. I was a bit wary about it, with the previous season ending with them in the past but then, as they moved towards the present, episode by episode, I really got into it and I loved watching the new timeline develop, story by story. Every episode was excellent but a handful of them were real standouts, not just of the season but of the whole show (7×09 is probably my absolute favourite episode). I loved the references to previous seasons and I loved seeing old characters return as we got closer to the present. I also loved the development of the characters: Coulson, May, and Yoyo all had particularly interesting journeys that I found myself very invested in. And of course, I loved Daisy’s storyline throughout the season. I wasn’t sure a love interest was a good move but they handled it so intuitively that the way it played out felt very natural. And I loved the return to her earlier focus on family and where she came from and what that meant for who she ended up becoming. She was already a powerful figure (powers aside) but she really came into herself in this season and I wouldn’t have thought I could love her more but I did. But then Daisy Johnson is my hero and I will love her forever. I also loved that she was the voice of the audience in the sense of her grief over the team’s story ending; that felt really important and special. And despite it being the end. I loved the ending. It was just absolutely perfect. I sobbed through the last few episodes because it was so powerful and so emotional. A part of me will always want more but I don’t think they could have created a better ending. So I’ll be grateful for what an amazing seven seasons and for all the show has given me. I think it’ll probably be important to me for the rest of my life.

The Fix – I was so happy to have Robin Tunney back on my screen, especially as a main character. I thought her acting, especially when it came to the emotions she was experiencing (or when she had to shut off those emotions), was fantastic. I really enjoyed that the series followed one legal case, allowing the show to really delve into the details and the relationships between all of  the characters, as well as side stories that fleshed out the bigger picture. It might not reinvent the wheel but I really did enjoy it and as I said, it was such a delight to see Robin Tunney again, especially in such a beautiful nuanced and complex role.

Lucifer (Season 5: Part 1)*Spoilers* I love Lucifer and this season certainly didn’t disappoint. I love how much work goes into evolving the characters and their own personal journeys. No one in the ensemble feels like a side character; they’re all beautifully fleshed out, more and more as time goes on. I also thought there were some really great storylines in this season. Michael’s introduction was certainly interesting, although I was glad when he was outed as Michael and not Lucifer so quickly as the idea of Chloe starting a relationship with him, thinking he was Lucifer, made me feel seriously uncomfortable. Both Maze and Dan have really powerful storylines and I felt for them so deeply, even though I hadn’t initially liked Dan. I just wanted to hug Maze the whole time. I also thought the ongoing story of Ella and her boyfriend was a really cool addition. But with so many storylines going on at once, I never felt like the show was unbalanced or that any of stories were treated as filler. And yet it never felt too busy.

There were so many amazing scenes but there were a few that really topped the list. One of them was in the first episode when Maze destroys Lucifer’s piano because she feels so hurt and so angry that Lucifer abandoned her for Hell. Lesley-Ann Brandt’s acting is just incredible; I swear I could feel everything she was feeling. And I’m also really freaking curious how the show made the scene possible, what they did to make it possible for her to tear a piano into pieces. My other favourite is the final fight scene, in episode eight. The choreography is awesome and the special effects, particularly Maze throwing Lucifer through a glass wall while time is frozen, are stunning. The glass seems to hang rather than falling to the floor but they can still sweep it aside. It’s beautiful.

And that cliffhanger. Oh my god.

Away*Spoilers* This is a ten episode season about a group of astronauts on the first manned mission to Mars. I’m a sucker for anything about space and I’ve always really liked Hilary Swank so I was excited when it popped up on Netflix one day. I felt like it started a little awkwardly but I thought the cast were fantastic and I loved the characters, especially the astronauts. I found them all really interesting and complex and I loved seeing how their lives had lead them to that point and I loved the relationships between them, as a group and in the various combinations. I don’t know if that many disasters is realistic or not but I think they conveyed the emotions of the characters really well. I was crying by the end of every episode, if not before. My favourite part without a doubt was the end when, in the last episode, they land on Mars and everything that’s been building through the show (the relationships between the astronauts, their evolving emotions about the mission, the complicated concept of duty, their relationships with their friends and family on Earth) all come to a head. It’s a stunning end and I was just sobbing. Even my Mum, who’d only seen snatches of it as she came and went, found it emotional.

Dare Me*SPOILERS* I’ve been finding this one really difficult to write about, I think because there are so many layers to the story and the relationships between the characters are so complicated. The story follows best friends, Beth and Addy, who’ve been inseparable for years until the new cheerleading coach Colette French arrives, removing Beth’s captainship and completely shaking up the team. Beth, a wild and reckless but ultimately lonely girl, distrusts her immediately while Addy, the loyal follower and peacekeeper, becomes more and more infatuated by Coach French, something that drives a wedge between the two friends. The storyline requires some suspension of disbelief (I doubt a real cheerleading coach would encourage parties and underage drinking in her own home but then, given that she’s bringing positive attention to the cheerleaders and therefore the pretty fucked up little town they’re living in, who knows…) but it’s definitely a wild ride from beginning to end. When I first finished it, I thought, “okay, cool, that was interesting,” but a week later, I realised that I was still thinking about it a lot, especially about the characters and their relationships. They were so complex and intriguing. I was fascinated. I even ended up writing a song based on the show.

The Queen’s Gambit*Spoilers* I know a lot of people found this show really gripping right from the start but it was more of a slow burn for me. I don’t think I absolutely fell for it until the last episode. Like an elastic band being pulled, it was almost like I got more and more frustrated with the show and then all of that tension was released in the final episode when I felt it all come together. I loved every second of that episode: her friends coming together to help her with her strategy, her win against Borgov and his grace over her victory, all of her people supporting and celebrating her, and then it ending with her walking the Russian park with all of the old men playing chess and how excited they were to meet her and honoured to play with her. It was fantastic. I do have my criticisms of it as a show but that final episode especially was so powerful that ultimately my experience of it was positive.

The Split (Series 2) – I started watching this back at the beginning of the year but then the pandemic derailed everything and I forgot about it. But recently I found it on BBC iPlayer and had to finish it. I love Nicola Walker and while the whole cast was great, she just delivered incredible performance after incredible performance. The dual storylines of the legal case her character, Hannah, was working and the difficulties in her personal life were balanced beautifully and they informed each other in a powerful but still realistic way. I loved Series 1 but this series really upped the emotional intensity and Nicola Walker’s acting – the subtlety of the emotional spiral – as the pressure mounted and her life started coming apart around her was just breathtaking. And even though she wasn’t innocent, she also wasn’t the only guilty party and the complexity of the story, the emotions experienced, and the relationships between the characters felt very true to life. The pain that Hannah was going through by the end was completely and utterly heartbreaking and the final episodes had me in floods of tears. I just wanted to hug her. It was an absolute masterclass in acting and I only love Nicola Walker more after watching it. I really, really hope there’s another series and I can’t wait to have her back on my screen, whether in a third series or when Series 4 of Unforgotten airs. She’s fantastic in that too.

Little Voice – I didn’t watch this straight away; the idea of watching a TV show about a struggling singersongwriter felt a little too close to home when I was already struggling with my mental health. And the likelihood that it would probably have a really positive ending for her, music wise, just felt like more than I could handle. So I kept it on my ‘To Watch’ list; I mean, it was co-created by Sara Bareilles so I knew that, in the right frame of mind, I’d really enjoy it. But after hearing Sara’s album of the songs in the show and falling in love with so many of them, I had to watch it. And I did, I really did enjoy it.

*SPOILERS* I got really invested in lots of the characters, especially Bess, Prisha, and Samuel, and I loved the relationships between all of the characters; they all felt really different and natural, based on the characters personalities and experiences together. I especially loved Bess’ relationship with the other characters, particularly with her father, her brother, Prisha, Samuel, Benny, her boss at the bar, one of the elderly women at the senior centre she also works in, and so on. I felt like she had a really special way to connect with people. There were some really touching moments – watching Bess write songs, the first time she performs and it goes well, Bess and Ethan’s conversation about hope, etc – but then there were a handful of moments that made me cringe with secondhand embarrassment – Bess’ early stage banter, watching her father rant during her first studio experience, etc. Overall, it was a positive experience but when I cringed, I really cringed.

It was great to see such a diverse cast and for the show to have a disabled character who’s disability wasn’t brushed aside but also wasn’t his only character trait; he was pretty well developed (considering how many characters there were) with his own storyline, involving his relationship with Bess, his love of musical theatre, and his journey to be more independent, to which he had both positive and negative reactions. There were also some very relatable music industry experiences, like producers trying to mould a song to their own vision or telling you what you want to hear, industry people saying good things and then telling you all of the reasons why they can’t work with you, people making promises that never come to anything, and so on. I haven’t experienced all of these situations but I’ve definitely experienced some of them.

My only real issue with it was that I felt like there was just too much going on, too many storylines that ended up not getting the time they deserved. I loved so many of them that I don’t know which ones I would’ve cut but it was too much for nine episodes and what could’ve been really beautifully developed stories ended up being glossed over. I don’t want to say any more because I don’t want to totally ruin it but I would recommend it if you have Apple TV+. I loved the music and I loved how well it matched the story and the characters. Oh, and I loved Sara Bareilles’ cameo and how Bess and Louis fangirled over meeting her.

His Dark Materials (Series 2)*SPOILERS* I loved series 1 so I was really, really excited for series 2 of His Dark Materials. I don’t want to give too much away since it’s literally just finished and so a lot of people may not have seen it yet but I thought it was excellent and looked forward to it every week. I thought the city in the ‘middle world,’ Cittàgazze, was really intriguing and so beautiful. And it was very cool to see characters from Lyra’s world in Will’s world (which I believe is also our, the reader’s, world?) and how they tried to fit in. Sometimes the jumps between worlds was a bit confusing or jarring but I loved how some elements matched up beautifully and how some were in such stark contrast. And that was just background as it was the strength of the characters and their relationships that really drove the show. I thought the chemistry between Lyra and Will (and Pan, of course) was great and I loved their friendship; even with only seven episodes to the series, we really saw it grow and develop as they got to know and trust each other. I also really liked Mary Malone and her relationship with Lyra (and the scenes with Lyra and Mary’s machine were incredible). As much as I love Lyra (Dafne Keen really was the perfect choice), I couldn’t help but be absolutely blown away by Ruth Wilson in every episode. Her performances as Marisa Coulter are just awesome. She’s such a complicated character (I’m desperate to understand how she can do what she can do and why her relationship with her dæmon is so different to everyone else’s: why he doesn’t speak, why she’s so cruel to him, how they can be so far apart – something that does seem to distress him but not her – and so on) and Ruth Wilson does such an amazing job playing her. I admit that a part of me was waiting throughout each episode for the moment where we saw how awesome she is, because there was one in pretty much all, if not all, of the episodes: her interrogation of Lee Scoresby (and the painful moment with her dæmon afterwards), the moment when Lyra sets Pan on her dæmon but she is able to fight off the affects – that whole scene is amazing, not to mention intriguing – her ability to control the spectres, the moment where she almost turns on her own dæmon… She’s a force of nature. I’m kind of obsessed with her because she’s such a fascinating character. I did feel like the end was quite rushed: they spent most of the series looking for Will’s father and then he’s just suddenly there, but it wouldn’t surprise me if the pandemic had played a part in that. It just felt like it was suddenly over and I was completely unprepared for that. I have just seen that it’s been renewed for the third and final series so I’m really looking forward to that, whenever it may come. This team and this cast have done such an incredible job with these stories so I’m really glad that they’ll be able to finish them.


OTHER

Miss Americana – I don’t know if I can sum up this documentary in just a paragraph or two but, between them, Taylor Swift and Lana Wilson created a beautifully honest and emotionally revealing documentary about Taylor’s life so far, the period of transformation she had found herself in, and what she wanted for her future. It shows footage and discusses the history and the fall out of everything with Kanye and the infamous phone call in 2016 (the full recording of which has since been revealed, proving that Taylor was telling the truth all along), the toxicity of social media and how the response to Kanye’s attacks on her continue to affect her, addressing her need to please and how damaging that had become, the harrowing experience of the sexual assault trial, her body image issues and eating disorder, the making of reputation, the reputation tour, her mother’s cancer, beginning to voice her political opinions and arguing with her father and management team about it, the making and release of Lover, the writing of ‘Only The Young,’ and basically her journey of growing as a person. There’s a lot in there and it was a real eye-opening experience, even for someone who considers themselves an avid Taylor fan. I loved her even more than I already did for putting out this documentary and deliberately including details that she knew would help people, like her previously unknown struggles with her body image and the experience of her sexual assault trial. She didn’t have to discuss these things but she did because she knew that there would be people who needed to hear her talk about it. I admire her so much for that. I would highly recommend watching it, fan or not.

City of Lover Concert (Taylor Swift Show) – I was gutted that I couldn’t be at this show when it happened so I was really excited that Taylor was putting it on Disney+. It wasn’t the same and the flow of it felt quite jerky as they had to cut around the songs caught up in the Masters situation (she can perform them but they can’t be recorded and distributed in a film like this one) but it was still really cool and a lovely tribute to the Lover album since we didn’t get a tour for the album (and probably never will since the release of folklore and evermore). You can feel the joy radiating off Taylor as she performed the then new songs and it’s hard not to smile, watching her do this thing that she loves so much. I still wish I could’ve been there for the actual show but I’m so grateful that we got this, especially with the pandemic and the resulting loss of live music.

Hamilton – I’d been planning to see the show in London but then the pandemic hit and obviously that plan was scuppered but then it went up on Disney+ just as my phone contract offered me a free subscription. The timing was beautiful. From the first note, I was absolutely entranced. I loved it. I loved the music, the acting, the set, how the actors interacted with the set… everything. I’ve watched it over and over and read so many articles explaining different aspects of it because I just find the whole production so fascinating. And as both a songwriter and a songwriting nerd, my mind was just exploding. It really is mind-blowing work and I’m sure there are still things I’m missing because it’s so clever and so layered. I could talk about the music for hours but I won’t, I promise. So, yeah, I found it really inspiring as a writer (and I did actually attempt to write a song in the style of it although I’m not sure it’ll ever see the light of day). It was amazing and I love it. I love it more every time I watch it.

folklore: long pond studio sessions – I loved this so much. I love Taylor Swift and I love the folklore album and in a time where we can’t have real concerts, I so appreciated that this film gave us the next best thing. The studio was gorgeous (I would love somewhere like that to write and record music one day) and the performances were stunning; Taylor’s vocals in particular were just breathtaking. She can convey so much emotion just through her eyes and I found watching the film a really emotional moving experience. I also loved getting to learn more about the songs, what they were about, the context in which they were written, and so on. We’ve been speculating and theorising for so long that it was so satisfying to find out where fans had guessed right and get some insight into the ones where we’d been so confused (‘hoax,’ for example). And the whole thing is so beautiful and intimate. It was just so good and I knew from the first watch that I’d be watching it over and over again.


So I hope that was of some interest and that you’re maybe even leaving with a few new things to read or watch. I’m quite proud of how many new things I discovered this year, after being stuck in a rut of just rewatching the same things. I definitely want to continue this approach into next year, although hopefully it will include more books. As I said, I just haven’t been able to concentrate enough to get into a novel. But having said that, I feel really good about pushing myself out of my comfort zone, exploring genres I don’t generally favour, and expanding my creative brain by filling it with new stories, new characters, and new ideas. So I’m proud of this list and I’m excited for the new discoveries that 2021 will bring.

2020 in Songs

Despite being such an upside down and difficult year, and the chaos in the music industry due to the pandemic, so much amazing music was released.  It was a real struggle every single month to choose just one song (and as you can see, in some cases I couldn’t). Having said that, my mental health has been really bad for most of the year and I listen to music less when I’m depressed (I think it’s just too emotional when my emotions are already very fragile) but when I felt able to, it was and is such a comfort. So I’m really, really grateful to all the artists who continued to work on and put out music in a year when so many people really needed it.


1. 929 by Halsey

I was so excited about Halsey’s new album and it turned out to be one of my favourite albums of the year. I absolutely adore it, adore almost every single song. So this was a really hard choice (although I think ‘More’ was a pretty close second). But I love this one because it’s so simple and it tells so many stories and shares so many beautifully detailed painful and powerful moments, like “And I’ve stared at the sky in Milwaukee and hoped that my father would finally call me” and “I lost the love of my life to an ivory powder but then I realise that I’m no higher power.” It drew me in straight away; it’s so visual and yet so emotional that you could be experiencing it all for yourself. It’s honestly hard to describe how and why I love it so much. But it’s one of my favourite songs of hers and I’m so glad I got to hear it live.

Favourite Lyrics: “And I remember this girl with pink hair in Detroit / Well she told me / She said, “Ashley, you gotta promise us that you won’t die / ‘Cause we need you,” and honestly, I think that she lied / And I remember the names of every single kid I’ve met / But I forget half the people who I’ve gotten in bed”

A very important note: I love that, on The Manic World Tour, she changed the lyrics from “She said, “Ashley, you gotta promise us that you won’t die, ’cause we need you,” and honestly, I think that she lied” to “She said, “Ashley, you gotta promise us that you won’t die, ’cause we need you,” and honestly, I think she was right.” It got the biggest cheer both nights I saw the show and I cried my eyes out even though I knew it was coming from all the videos posted of the shows.


2. Life of the Party by Ingrid Andress // Small Town Hypocrite by Caylee Hammack

I absolutely loved ‘Life of the Party’ when Ingrid performed it on tour so I was very happy when it was on the album (although ‘Blue’ may have beaten it if she’d released that one). I love the contradiction of the sad emotions painted as an upbeat, party song. It’s like the song is literally a manifestation of the denial that the relationship is over and everything is awful. Ingrid’s vocals are incredible anyway, but they seem particularly stunning in this song: you can hear how close to the edge all of these volatile emotions are, all the anger and misery and hurt, and how much she’s trying to ignore them. In just her voice. She’s an amazing vocalist. I don’t know how she’ll do at the upcoming Grammys with such heavy competition but just to be nominated for three really significant awards on her first album is incredible. I can’t help thinking back to when I first met her in 2018 and what her reaction would’ve been if I could’ve told her where she’d be today.

Favourite Lyrics: “I’m the life of the party / Round here, everybody loves me / But they don’t know that I’ve been hurtin’ / ‘Cause, baby, ever since you left me / I’ve been the life of the party”

I first heard Caylee sing this song in 2016, on my second trip to Nashville and Tin Pan South. It was so heartbreaking then and somehow, it seems even more heartbreaking now. It tells such a sad story in such rich and painful detail that I can’t help but get caught up in it every time I listen to it. The lyrics are all so stunning and her vocal performance is amazing; she conveys the regret in the song so powerfully that it often makes me cry. Caylee has since released her debut album, If It Wasn’t For You, and it’s full of songs that are just as powerful and emotional. I love most of them but I think my favourites – or at least two of them – are ‘Forged In The Fire’ and ‘Mean Something.’ They both hit me so hard each time that I usually end up in tears. If she ever tours in the UK, you’ll be able to recognise me as I will probably be sobbing obnoxiously through the entire show because her songs trigger such big emotions in me.

Favourite Lyrics: “And that scholarship was a ship that sailed / When I chose you and daddy gave me hell / I made myself into someone else just to love you, damn I loved you /  Took all my plans and I put ’em in a box / Phantom pains for the wings I lost”


3. the other girl (with Halsey) by Kelsea Ballerini

I was so excited about Kelsea’s new album and I was not disappointed. There were so many songs I could’ve chosen, including ‘the way i used to’ and ‘half of my hometown.’ But I absolutely adore both Kelsea and Halsey and their friendship is so freaking adorable (their CMT Crossroads was a true gift) and I love that it’s a female/female duet, which you don’t get half as often as a female/male duet. And what makes it even better is that it isn’t about two girls fighting over a guy, but about each of them recognising why he likes the other so much – because they’re both awesome women in their own way: ‘who’s the diamond, who’s the pearl?’ – and realising that he’s treating them BOTH badly. It’s about whether either of them are willing to put up with it. It would be super cool if they collaborated again and continued the story (in my mind, they both dump him and go on to be best friends) but I can’t really see it happening. It’s super catchy and their voices really compliment each other; it’s such a good song. And this performance (I’m assuming it was during the rehearsal for the CMT Crossroads as they’re dressed and made up differently) of it really shows what great performers they both are.

Favourite Lyrics: “Are you mad? Me too / And I wonder in his world / Is it me? Is it you? / Who’s the other girl?”


4. Couch (Unreleased) by Kalie Shorr

During the first lockdown (in the UK), Kalie was doing a lot of different livestreams on various platforms and I swear, it was one of the things that kept me going when I was really struggling with everything. And during an Instagram live with Savannah Keyes (another awesome – and lovely – Nashville singersongwriter), she played two songs that they’d written together with Skip Black, the day after the big break up that inspired a lot of her album, Open Book. The first was ‘The One,’ which made it onto the album (and is definitely one of my favourites) and then this one, ‘Couch,’ which remains officially unreleased (although she has played it on her podcast, Too Much To Say). I fell in love with it straight away; it was just so raw and heartbreaking. I ended up working out the chords and play it on the piano quite a bit. I just absolutely adore it. It’s such a beautiful song.

Favourite Lyrics: “You left a picture on your old night stand / Like it’s some kind of message, like, ‘I don’t give a damn’ / If I need a reminder that I’m brokenhearted / Baby, there’s a million in this apartment / I don’t need a picture on your old nightstand”


5. Atom Bomb by Lauren Cimorelli // California by Kina Grannis

I loved Cimorelli (at the time, a band of six sisters but the youngest has now left) as a teenager and when I looked them up again a while back, I saw that a few of the girls were releasing their own music. I gravitated towards Lauren’s very quickly because of the lyrics, melody, and production. They just fit my taste in music better. I rediscovered her just after she’d released ‘Atom Bomb’ and I just loved it. I loved the detail and emotive language in the lyrics, the melodies were so catchy, and the production was epic; it really reminded me of ‘Wonderland’ by Taylor Swift. I love how she compares the end of a relationship with something of such catastrophic destruction because that’s often how my emotions feel: enormous and overwhelming and end-of-the-world. So I really relate to it emotionally as well as loving all the songwriting and sonic elements. She’s since released several more songs and ‘Rabbit Hole’ also ranks very highly on my list.

Favourite Lyrics: “What’s yours, what’s mine / Keep trying to pick up what’s left of me / Breathe slow / Let go but that smoke just keeps / Suffocating me”

During the first UK lockdown, I spent a lot of time playing the piano. I find it hard to think about anything but what I’m playing, something I desperately needed, and the lower octaves felt very soothing. One of my favourite songs to play is ‘California’ by Kina Grannis, which she wrote while trapped for a hundred days in Jakarta due to visa problems while touring in 2015; it’s a beautiful song and the sound of it is so gentle and comforting. I ended up thinking a lot about the parallels between the song and everything that was going on in the world at that moment: the pandemic, the lockdown, and how all of that was affecting us all (I hope Kina herself has been coping okay having had to go through these two similar, extremely difficult situations). It’s still one of my favourite songs to play (when the nerve pain I’ve been experiencing isn’t too bad); it feels like a desperately needed hug in these really hard times and I never take for granted how much comfort it brings me.

Favourite Lyrics: “Hey there, California / I can hear you when I wake up / In the distance, like the ocean / You calling me back to your side / Holding my breathe in the night / I listen again for your song”


6. Little Voice by Sara Bareilles

I distinctly remember listening to this song for the first time: I was lying in bed in the dark and it felt like Sara was singing directly to me, putting so many of my thoughts and feelings into words. I listened to it over and over again and just cried my eyes out. It was exactly what I needed to hear. It’s so simple but the lyrics are so powerful, effortlessly capturing so much emotion with so few words. Months later, I don’t have such an extreme emotional reaction but it still means a lot to me. It both lifts me up and calms my soul.

Favourite Lyrics: “It’s just a little voice and if you’re listening / Sometimes a little voice can say the biggest things / It’s just my little voice that I’ve been missing”


7. this is me trying by Taylor Swift

It’s very, very, VERY tempting to cheat and just say the whole of Taylor Swift’s surprise eighth album, folklore, or at least list my top five (‘the 1,’ ‘exile,’ ‘my tears ricochet,’ ‘mirrorball,’ and ‘this is me trying’) but I’m trying my very best to keep to the tradition of having a somewhat concise list. The top spot is a rock solid tie between ‘mirrorball’ and ‘this is me trying,’ because I love them both so much and relate to them both so strongly but, in the end, I decided to write about ‘this is me trying’ because, having had such an awful year mental health wise, it felt more fitting. It just sounds like how I feel so often and Taylor’s voice as she sings it… she sounds like she’s feeling all of it, all of these emotions I feel so strongly, and that only made me feel more connected to the song, to the album, to her. The lyrics are just stunning and I related to so many of them: “I’ve been having a hard time adjusting / I had the shiniest wheels, now they’re rusting / I didn’t know if you’d care if I came back,” makes me think about how everyone called me ‘gifted’ as a child and young teenager but ever since then, my life has been put on hold somewhat by having to deal with my mental health and the difficulties caused by my Autism and that third line is so similar to a recurring thought pattern of mine, of wondering whether anyone would even notice if I disappeared; I feel “Pulled the car off the road to the lookout / Could’ve followed my fears all the way down” so strongly it’s painful, both in the sense of getting sucked into spirals of fear and anxiety and in the sense of having periods of feeling suicidal; “They told me all of my cages were mental” reminds me of how hard I had to fight to get my diagnoses because nobody believed me and I was constantly dismissed, which has ultimately resulted in even more problems; “I was so ahead of the curve, the curve became a sphere / Fell behind all my classmates and I ended up here / Pourin’ out my heart to a stranger” could be the story of my life in how I was always ‘the best’ at things because I was so driven by perfectionism and the fear of getting things wrong or letting people down and while that initially put me ahead, it ended up backfiring and resulting in mental health problems that have now put me behind in so many ways, many of which I’m now dealing with (or trying to deal with) in therapy (although I’d hardly call her a stranger, having seen her for almost six years now); the line “And it’s hard to be at a party / When I feel like an open wound” really just describes any mental health bad day, when having to function feels excruciating because just existing is painful; and “I just wanted you to know / That this is me trying,” just sums me up. I’m always trying. always, always trying.

As I’ve kind of just described, I related to it so much because, with my Autism, my mental health issues, my physical health problems, and so on, I feeling like I’m trying my goddamn hardest everyday, just to get through the minute, the hour, the day. And most of the time, no one even knows that all of this is going on under the surface, sometimes because I don’t want them to and sometimes because I already feel so fragile that to let it all pour out would shatter me. Because it’s taking all of my energy to hold it together and if I let go, I might never be able to get a hold on it all again. And doing all of that work takes so much energy. When you’re working that hard to just survive, it’s so easy to feel like you’re failing because you’re not achieving in the same way as everyone around you – getting through the day doesn’t feel like an achievement when your best friend has just got a promotion or your sibling has gotten amazing grades. It’s easy to feel like it just isn’t worth trying but it is and this song is a testament to that, to staying still instead of moving backwards, to making baby steps of progress, to trying and trying and trying, even when it feels excruciating. I related to all of those feelings so strongly that it took my breath away. It’s an incredible song and maybe one of her most important ones.

Favourite Lyrics: “I didn’t know if you’d care if I came back / I have a lot of regrets about that / Pulled the car off the road to the lookout / Could’ve followed my fears all the way down”


8. Wait For It from Hamilton

I finally saw Hamilton when it was released on Disney+ and I absolutely loved it, every element, from start to finish. It was just incredible. I know that it’s not without its flaws but it’s really fascinating, especially from a creative perspective. It’s so clever and layered and I find it so inspiring as a writer. I’ve been watching it over and over again and I get more out of it every time. I could’ve chosen almost any song because I love so many of them but after much deliberation, I chose this one. I can’t explain it really; there’s just something about it.

Favourite Lyrics: “Death doesn’t discriminate between the sinners and the saints / It takes and it takes and it takes and we keep living anyway / We rise and we fall and we break and we make our mistakes / And if there’s a reason I’m still alive when everyone who loves me has died / I’m willing to wait for it”

(And just in case I needed more awesome, Chloe Bennet – who played Daisy Johnson in Agents of Shield, my all time favourite character – and her cast mate, Jeff Ward, did multiple lip syncs to Hamilton songs and they’re hilarious. As if I needed more reasons to love both Chloe and Hamilton…)


9. Coming Back To You by Sara Bareilles

I was in a pretty bad place mentally when this album, More Love, came out so I kept putting off listening to it; I didn’t want my depression to taint my feelings about the songs. But eventually I managed to listen to it and, as always with a Sara record, I fell in love with it. There are multiple songs that I really, really love but ‘Coming Back To You’ just really spoke to me from the first listen. I love the energy, I love the instrumentation, the melodies are super catchy, and the lyrics are just so beautiful. I connected to the verses especially straight away, especially the ones I’ve listed as my favourites. They just hit so close to home and yet singing along to them feels so freeing. I love it.

Favourite Lyrics: “I’m facing all of my fears / I’ve lined them up and wonder how I’ve been with them for years / They had me crippled before / They made a home in my heart but they’re not welcome anymore”


10. My Voice by Kalie Shorr

October was the month of Kalie Shorr. She announced her record deal, announced the upcoming re-release of her upcoming album – titled Open Book: Unabridged – released her new single, ‘My Voice,’ played an awesome livestream show (I mean, what I saw was awesome but I had major difficulties with the app) during which she also played another incredible new song, ‘Eighteen,’ and she released a worktape of her unreleased song, ‘Strawberry Blonde,’ (which she’d promised to do if Biden won the US election) which was awesome (if the lyric ‘you might find it surprising I stopped taking shit from anyone’ doesn’t describe my life the last few years of my life than I don’t know what does). So a Kalie song was necessary for this month. I could choose all three of the songs we got this month because they were all fantastic in their own way but I’m gonna go with ‘My Voice’ since it was the single she released that month. It’s an awesomely feisty and empowering song that’s a devastating ‘fuck you’ to the music industry but it’s also more than that. It’s also a song about celebrating who you are in all your uniqueness, regardless of what other people tell you. I love the defiance in it, the rebellion of choosing yourself: I find it really inspiring. It actually makes me feel more confident and not just in the dance around like an idiot in front of whoever’s around kind of way but in the deep in your gut way. The lyric, “Get used to the sound of my voice” gets me every time because it makes me feel like, somehow, being me is enough. Enough to do the things I want to do, achieve the things I want to achieve, and be the person I’m often scared is out of my reach. And if I ever needed a song like that, it’s this year.

Favourite Lyrics: “Too rock for country, too country for punk / But who said I had to pick either one / Tattoos at the Opry / I could cover ’em up but it’s not me”


11. Carry You by Tim Minchin

In November, I watched ‘Tim Minchin: Apart Together, The Album Live!‘ which was absolutely incredible. I loved it and I loved pretty much every song he played. He had some awesome, super high energy songs and then some quiet, profound ones that just created this beautiful balance for a show, especially one during these times. My absolute favourites were ‘Absence of You,’ ‘Leaving LA,’ ‘I Can’t Save You,’ and ‘Carry You.’ I could’ve chosen so many songs from his new album but ‘Carry You,’ even though I’d heard it before, pre-pandemic, it just really got me when I watched this show. I guess, in the context of the pandemic, it just hits differently. It was very emotional and I was crying by the end of the first chorus.

Favourite Lyrics: “And though we cannot be together / I know that I will carry you, wherever I go / I will carry you / Lord knows / I will carry you / I will carry you”

(Also, shout out to Kalie Shorr’s ‘Lying To Myself.’ It’s an amazing song, with utterly stunning lyrics, including, “I put you up on that pedestal, and damn, you looked incredible, I guess coming down’s inevitable…” and “Picked out all of my favourite things you said, and like a delusional architect, I built you up like a house of cards…”)


12. Show Me Around – Carly Pearce //  marjorie by Taylor Swift

I first heard Carly Pearce play this song during the virtual Tin Pan South festival a few months ago and she called it a tribute to busbee (an incredible songwriter, producer, and member of the Nashville community) who died last year. She described how she’d been inspired by something said at his funeral about how of course he had to get to heaven first so that he would be able to show his loved ones around when they eventually arrived and thus a song was born. I’m not religious but it’s such a beautiful song, incredibly sad but also incredibly warm and comforting. I was in tears before the second verse started. As I said, I’m not religious but the loss of loved ones is such a painful thing that sometimes, I wish I was; it’s nice to listen to the song and just pretend for a little bit that I am. It helps.

Favourite Lyrics: “Bet you’re up there right now making plans and writing out / All your favourite places that you just can’t wait to take us / And we’ll get to spend forever talking about whatever / When I get there, promise you’ll track me down / And show me around”

I thought I was done but then, Taylor Swift gave us all the shock of our lives and released her second surprise album in six months, evermore. I’m still absorbing all of the songs but a handful of them stuck out to me straight away, including ‘no body, no crime (feat. HAIM),’ ‘happiness,’ ‘ivy,’ ‘long story short,’ and ‘marjorie.’ I could’ve written about any of these but ‘marjorie’ feels so incredibly special that I think it was probably always going to be that one. It’s so heartbreakingly sad but such a beautiful tribute to her grandmother, especially given that it includes recordings of her grandmother’s opera performances as background vocals. That just gets me every time. Justin Vernon’s backing vocals in the choruses also add a gorgeous depth to the song that only makes it more powerful and emotional. The whole sound world of the song is full and warm and rich without being too busy and it just feels like it fills my entire body.

I love the simplicity of the verses and they feel very much like advice her grandmother might’ve (or would’ve) given her but it’s the bridge that has me in tears every time (these are the ones listed as my favourite lyrics because they’re just so powerful). I relate to that section and the last section (“And if I didn’t know better / I’d think you were singing to me now / If I didn’t know better / I’d think you were still around / I know better / But I still feel you all around / I know better / But you’re still around”) so strongly that it makes me cry every time I listen to it. But even though it’s an incredibly sad song to relate to, there’s something really special and important to have a song like this to relate to, to feel understood in these emotions. I absolutely adore it already and I’m pretty sure it will always have a special significance for me, even though it’s only been out a short time. I wish I could hug Taylor and tell her just how grateful I am to have this song in my life. And I can only hope that one day I can write as good a tribute to my Dad as Taylor has done for her grandmother.

Favourite Lyrics: “I should’ve asked you questions / I should’ve asked you how to be / Asked you to write it down for me / Should’ve kept every grocery store receipt / ‘Cause every scrap of you would be taken from me / Watched as you signed your name Marjorie / All your closets of backlogged dreams / And how you left them all to me”

And of course, Taylor Freakin’ Swift drops the bonus tracks and both are top tier songwriting; they’re both (‘right where you left me’ and ‘it’s time to go’) gorgeous songs and are rapidly climbing my list of favourites. I’m still sticking with ‘marjorie’ but ‘it’s time to go’ did make me think, “oh my god, I’m gonna have to change the list the day before I post!” But according to my ranking and my gut feeling, ‘marjorie’ is my favourite song from the album.


There are so many songs I could’ve put on this list (and I’m already over my self imposed twelve song limit…) but if I wrote about them all, we’d still be here at the end of 2021. So I’ll stop here. But this has been really good fun. I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. Here’s a Spotify playlist so that you can check out the songs!

What were your songs of 2020?