2019 in Songs

It’s become a bit of a tradition for me to keep a log of my favourite songs throughout the year, roughly one a month. As a songwriter especially, it’s nice to look back and see which songs I loved and played obsessively throughout the year. It was hard to choose this year – there were multiple choices each month and sometimes I couldn’t choose, as you’ll see – but here are the songs that had my heart singing.


1. Family Tree by Caylee Hammack

I first heard Caylee sing this song at a Tin Pan South show in Nashville, just a vocal and guitar and she immediately had the whole room singing along. It’s so fun and you can’t help feeling like you know the people she’s describing, the members of her family. And then the chorus is – hopefully – relatable, whether it’s your blood family or your chosen family. It’s super catchy and such a feel good song. Plus the arrangement and production are really unique and interesting.

Some swing a little higher, some’ll just hang low
A few of us are on fire to get out, and some just wanna stay home
But it don’t matter, ’cause the roots run deep
And ain’t nothing gonna shake our family tree
And ain’t nothing gonna shake our family tree, ooh


2. Lady Like by Ingrid Andress

Another song I first heard at Tin Pan South, this one a few years ago. But this year, I was lucky enough to see Ingrid twice, both times in London. Every time I see her perform it, it seems like she’s fitting more and more into her skin, not that I ever would’ve called her uncomfortable when performing this song. But she just seems stronger and more confident and it’s beautiful to see. The whole song – the lyrics, the melodies, the production – is so cohesive, like every puzzle piece fits perfectly together. It’s a great pick-me-up song, one that can totally change your mood around, from feeling low to feeling badass. Also, Ingrid is one of the loveliest artists. She’s also so grateful that I’ve come to a show and so supportive of my endeavours to be an artist. I don’t think I’ll get to see her when I’m in Nashville in March, which I’m really gutted about, but hopefully another opportunity will come up.

Woah, I could bring you to your knees and
Get you kicked out the Garden of Eden
Untamable, unframeable, Mona Lisa, oh
Kiss you like a whiskey fire
Turn around, leave your heart in a riot
Lipstick in a cigarette pack on the dash
I’m a lady like that
I’m a lady like that


3. Great Ones by Maren Morris

It took me a while to get used to the new Maren Morris album, I think because I was so attached and so familiar with the first one (not that other people weren’t – I just don’t adjust to change well). But now I love it so it was freaking hard to choose a favourite. But there’s something about this one that just feels extra special. The production is fantastic and the lyrics are just beautiful. The line ‘The myth of me and you’ really sums it up for me because the song sounds like a myth, like a legendary love story, and I can’t help but hope for something like that, even though I’m not sure that’s possible.

You just fell out of the sky
The best things come when you don’t even try
Lightning in a bottle doesn’t happen twice
The kind of gospel that saves you just in time
The myth of me and you
Is fiction turned to truth
Most loves don’t make it through
But the great ones do


4. How Do I Get Close by Nick Wayne

A third song I first heard at Tin Pan South and it was just stunning. Nick Wayne has such a beautiful voice, unreal high notes and gorgeous low notes, and the emotion just pours out of it and out of his lyrics, even if, personally, I would write it differently. He writes in particular details that I’ve never heard anyone else pick up on but there’s a simplicity to the lyric so that you don’t feel that you’re being overwhelmed with imagery. I learned a lot from listening to this song.

How do I get close to you
There ain’t nothing I won’t do
I used to know that I was your home
Now I’m in this house alone
Wondering how do I get close to you


5. She Used To Be Mine by Sara Bareilles

I’ve long loved this song and during this part of the year, when I was desperately depressed, I learned to play it on the piano and sang it everyday, sometimes multiple times. It helped somehow to focus on something that I love so much, even if it made me sob over the keys. It creates this stillness in me, this clarity, that brings all of my emotions to the surface. Waitress and this song mean so much to me and they got me through a really hard time. And now that things are a bit easier, they bring me joy as well.

She’s imperfect, but she tries
She is good, but she lies
She is hard on herself
She is broken and won’t ask for help
She is messy, but she’s kind
She is lonely most of the time
She is all of this mixed up and baked in a beautiful pie
She is gone, but she used to be mine


6. What If I Never Get Over You by Lady Antebellum

From the moment I heard this song, I was in love. I related it so strongly to an experience I went through in my late teens that took me a long time to get over and at the time, I didn’t think I’d ever get over it. I’d never had that sort of experience TO get over before so I didn’t personally know that you could get over something like that, not really. Not truly. So the song instantly felt like it could’ve been written for me. It’s a beautiful song: lyrics, melodies, build up, harmonies, and so on. It definitely got me more into Lady Antebellum.

It’s supposed to hurt, it’s a broken heart
But to movin’ on is the hardest part
It comes in waves, the letting go
But the memory fades, everybody knows
Everybody knows


7. Love Wins by Carrie Underwood

I’ve wanted to see Carrie Underwood live for years and I finally got to in July and she was even better than I thought she would be. She’s an incredible performer and her voice is even better live than it is recorded and it’s amazing recorded. It was really hard to choose a favourite song but this one was so positive and you could feel it lifting your soul. It doesn’t take in all of the complexities of the world we live in, of course, but we all need – we will always need – songs that inspire us, inspire kindness and compassion.

I, I believe you and me are sisters and brothers
And I, I believe we’re made to be here for each other
And we’ll never fall if we walk hand in hand
Put a world that seems broken together again
Yeah I, I believe in the end love wins


8. Cruel Summer by Taylor Swift

I am obsessed with this song. It’s chaotic, intense, and emotional, with both classic (“snuck in through the garden gate”) and unconventional imagery (“in the glow of the vending machine”). It’s easily one of Taylor’s best songs and I’m pretty sure it’s my favourite on ‘Lover’ (although that’s a tough call because it’s such a great, interesting, and diverse album). I’m fascinated by all the layers in the lyrics and the production is practically mythical and the bridge is a classic Swift/Antonoff work of art, building from the chorus and exploding like a firework. Then it drops back to the chorus to remind us of the core of the song, of the story, before taking off again. And then it ends suddenly. There are so many details in this song that I could write a dissertation dedicated to figuring them out and that is… awesome.

I’m drunk in the back of the car
And I cried like a baby coming home from the bar (oh)
Said “I’m fine”, but it wasn’t true
I don’t wanna keep secrets just to keep you
And I, snuck in through the garden gate
Every night that summer just to seal my fate (oh)
And I screamed for whatever it’s worth
I love you, ain’t that the worst thing you ever heard?


9. The One by Kalie Shorr

This choice was the hardest. I was obviously going to choose a song from Kalie’s (long awaited) album but I wanted to choose every single one, each for different reasons. It’s an incredible album. I could’ve chosen Messy, F U Forever, Alice in Wonderland, The World Keeps Spinning, Big Houses, Gatsby, Vices, Lullaby, Angry Butterfly… practically the whole album. I could’ve chosen the few remaining that I haven’t listed. I don’t honestly know why I chose this one, why this one is the one (well, if I’m honest, one of a couple) that catches me in the chest every time but it does. It brings me to tears in moments. The instrumentation, the production, Kalie’s vocal and melodies, the emotion, the lyrics, even the specific arrangement of the words… They’re beautiful. They’re stunning. They’re heartbreaking.

This album ties with ‘Lover’ for album of the year for me. Sometimes I can’t listen to it because the emotions are so overwhelming, so blinding in their clarity. She’s brutal in her honesty but the vulnerability is heartbreaking. The imagery is so powerful, emotional and literal. I’m rambling. I don’t know if the songs were written or arranged chronologically but they sure do sound it and you can feel the emotional journey like the movement of ocean waves. There’s heart aching confusion, hollow vulnerability, visceral anger, self sabotage, growth, incredible strength… It’s one of the most emotionally compelling albums I’ve ever heard. It’s an origin story. I’ve always been a sucker for an origin story.

You were always supposed to be my seatbelt when we crashed
Answering the questions that I didn’t have to ask
I was supposed to be the concrete heart that couldn’t crack
Yeah, you were always supposed to be on my side of the war
Tell me what the hell were the last five years for
Now we’re just broken hearts and slamming doors
And you were supposed to be the one
You were supposed to be the one


10. I Can Love You From Here by Liberty’s Mother / This Isn’t Love (feat. Sam Jackson) by NADINE

I’m including two songs for this month because they were both played at the same event. I went to my tutor’s EP launch (released to raise awareness about baby loss), the title track of the EP being ‘I Can Love You From Here.’ Sophie (Liberty’s Mother being her artist name) performed the whole EP but the title track will always be special to me. It’s the first song I ever heard her play and it’s about how her daughter died the day before she was born, about how to love someone after they’ve died. It almost always reduces me to tears because of how strongly I relate to it. No one teaches you what to do with the love you have for someone when they’re gone – especially when it’s sudden.

The other song was performed by NADINE, who Sophie had invited to play a set at the launch. ‘This Isn’t Love’ is a song of hers that I’ve heard live several times now and absolutely love. But this time, she performed the newer, duet version with Sam Jackson and it was amazing. The guitar jack didn’t work so they stepped off the stage and performed acoustically, out of the spotlight and practically in the dark, and it was magical. Their voices fitted together beautifully and it was such a special one-of-a-kind moment. I felt so lucky to be witnessing it. The rest of her set was incredible too and there were several other songs I could be listing here, more amazing, special moments, but this one was the first of the show.


11. club by Kelsea Ballerini

I really like Kelsea Ballerini and while I liked ‘Homecoming Queen?’, I was a bit skeptical about a twenty six year old singing about high school. I much preferred ‘club’, despite being the person least likely to be found in a club. The melodies are so catchy and I really like the lyrics, the message that you don’t have to go out and get drunk to have fun. It’s been played many a time when I need a pick-me-up. Plus I love the video. The only thing that bothers me about it is the line ‘so what’s wrong with me?’ because it implies that there’s something wrong with not wanting to go to a club, despite the message of the rest of the song.

Yeah I like my friends, yeah I like tequila
I like puttin’ on a dress and dancin’ with my feelings
I could be the life of any party
I can play along with anybody
But sorry

I don’t wanna go to the club
I don’t wanna watch everybody around me try to hook up
And say stuff they don’t mean
And get drunk and get cheap
So what’s wrong with me?
‘Cause I don’t wanna go to the club


12. Graveyard (Acoustic) by Halsey

I love the original version of ‘Graveyard’ (the darkness in the lyrics, the urgency in the rhythms, particular production choices – when some instrumental/electronic parts were used and when they were pulled back or out completely) but there’s something about the acoustic version that just sounds so magical to me. The  slower tempo gives it a more introspective feel and I love the sound of the electric guitar. Something about it just connects deep inside me and it feels like I can breathe more easily. And on that note, the gasp that follows the bridge in the original version seems to be replaced with an exhale, like a letting go of the situation, of the person, and that small detail profoundly changes the song somehow.

You look at me
With eyes so dark, don’t know how you even see
You push right through me
It’s gettin’ real
You lock the door, you’re drunk at the steering wheel
And I can’t conceal


So there you have it. My songs of 2019. As I always say, there could’ve been so many more but I’ll stop there. I hope you liked reading this as much I liked writing it but now I have a monster of an essay to finish. Yay for me.

EDIT: If you’d like to listen to all of these songs, I made a Spotify playlist:

https://open.spotify.com/embed/playlist/1NWlFAodE18mIdvhIZUbn6

Books That Teenage Me Loved

As today is World Book Day – probably my favourite day of celebration as a child and young teenager – I thought I’d do something special and list that I absolutely adored as a teenager. I have never been so enamoured with reading as I was as a teenager and most of my favourite books are still ones that I read as a teenager. So here are some of those books, in no particular order:

Noughts and Crosses Series by Malorie Blackman (or any Malorie Blackman book)

I read every Malorie Blackman book I could get my hands on and then I reread them until they literally fell apart. I truly adored them and it was these books, I think, that inspired me to pursue writing as a career, rather than just a hobby. I even sent Malorie Blackman the book that I wrote when I was twelve (I never got a reply but I’m fine…). The story of Noughts and Crosses takes place in a society where the dark skinned Crosses are revered and the light skinned Noughts are reviled. Sephy and Callum grew up together, unaware that anything separated them but as they get older, the divide gets wider and wider. As characters, I found them – and their relationship – complicated and compelling, and I was so invested in what happened to them. The narrative discusses racism, privilege, terrorism, relationships, the individual versus the society, the lack of easy answers… and the sequels continue to tackles those topics, from multiple viewpoints. It introduces questions like ‘why are plasters all made in one colour?’ and ‘why does the law treat people differently because of their skin colour?’ in a way that makes you want to know why, rather than feel ashamed because you don’t already know. I think that’s important in a book aimed at young teenagers.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

I was pretty late to the John Green party but I’m glad I made it. I know that many people have issues with this book but I loved it from the first page. The story starts as Hazel meets Augustus at a cancer support group and it follows their relationship and their quest to meet their favourite author and how their health impacts and interconnects all of that. I really related to Hazel and how she approached the world; her thinking followed the same paths as mine. My emotions synched up with hers very easily. I’m pretty sure I read in a day and the story has stuck with me ever since. I also absolutely loved the film when it came out and it’s still one of my favourite films.

Deeper Than Blue by Jill Hucklesby

Deeper Than Blue follows the story of Amy, a thirteen-year-old champion swimmer after an accident that changes her life forever. It deals with grief and identity, losing dreams and finding them again, friends and family from the most unlikely places. It’s warm and funny and sincere and it’s one of the books that made me want to be a writer; I wanted to tell a story like this one.

Tomorrow When The War Began Series by John Marsden

I had the Harry Potter Series in my early teens and this series in my late teens. It begins when a group of teenagers go camping in the Australian bush and return to find their country invaded. Everyone they know has been captured and their only safety is their camping hideaway. It sounds like a bit of a cliché – kids forced to be heroes – but it’s so much more complicated than that. This group of very different teenagers go through a lot: the loss of people they love, learning to survive on their own in a wild environment, conflict within their group, whether or not what they’re doing is right, and wondering why this has happened. They’re thoughtful and desperate but they learn quickly, staging rescue attempts and attacks against the enemy. The war goes on and on and there are no easy fixes. I loved this series and I have all of them on audiobook as well. The characters are interesting and complicated and throughout the series, you can go from loving them to hating them and back again. I loved how deeply they all felt everything, how they didn’t just brush it off and move on – it felt real. Neither the achievements nor the failures were clear-cut. I recommend it to everyone because I love it so much. And the film is great too. This series, man. This series is SO good.

Blind Beauty by K M Peyton

I was the typical girl-obsessed-with-horses when I was younger and although I never read the more famous ‘Flambards’ books, I fell in love with ‘Blind Beauty.’ I don’t remember reading it for the first time; it feels like a story I’ve just always known. It follows teenage Tessa who, having been kicked out of another boarding school, finds herself in the racing stable on her family’s property. It’s there that she finds Buffoon, the ugliest, most ungainly horse the stable has ever seen but Tessa loves him and dedicates herself to training him. While I didn’t have the problems that Tessa has – nor the strength of will that she does – I identified with the way she didn’t seem to fit anywhere, and how deeply she felt that, how deeply she felt everything.

Harry Potter Series by J K Rowling

Almost everyone my age grew up reading Harry Potter books. So many of my childhood memories are tied to both the books and the films: my parents reading them to me and my brother, almost being late for school because we needed one more chapter in the car outside the gates, the endless debates about this character or that storyline, marathoning the films, staying up all night to finish the final book… I grew up with these characters and the stories were as real to me as my day-to-day life was. They’re a part of my identity now.

Small Steps by Louis Sachar

Holes by Louis Sachar was another staple of my childhood (and is possibly the best book to film adaption ever, by the way) but Small Steps spoke to me on a deeper level. It follows one of the Holes characters, Armpit, and his life after Camp Greenlake and the events of Holes. He meets, and falls for, popstar Kaira DeLeon but things get complicated when his past actions come back to haunt him. It’s hard to talk too much about it without giving away details that are much better revealed in the book.

Broken Soup by Jenny Valentine

It has been a long time since I read this book so please forgive me if my memory fails me here. The story follows Rowan as she copes with the loss of her older brother, with finding out that he wasn’t who she thought he was. The people she meets on this quest have a profound effect on her and while the details are a little blurry with time (I’m seriously considering sitting down and reading the book again after reading the blurb and reviews online), I remember so vividly relating to Rowan. She was thoughtful and perceptive and grieving. And I only loved her more because I almost ended up with the same name. It’s a story with a lot of tragedy but also a lot of hope.

The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham

I would call this one of the best scifi books ever but I haven’t read every scifi book ever so I’m going to call it one of the best scifi books I’ve ever read. It’s old and so some of the language is difficult to get your head around (I vividly remember my friend reading it while we were on holiday and every few minutes she’d ask me what a word meant and she’s one of the most intelligent, eloquent people I know) and the lives the characters lead aren’t particularly relatable anymore but the effortlessness of how the story unfolds is breath-taking. The suspense is almost claustrophobic and the ending is perfectly executed. I would say more but I don’t want to spoil it. Read it. Seriously.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

This is another one I need to read again. I first read it because one of my parents had bought me a ticket to see Markus Zusak speak and in typical fashion, I didn’t start reading it until the night before. But a few pages in and I was hooked; I read it in one sitting. I’ve never read anything like it, before or since. It follows a young girl called Liesel, living in Germany with a foster family during World War II, but the story is told from the point of view of Death, as if Death is a very present character. Unsurprisingly, the theme of death and mortality is prominent throughout the story. But it was the themes of reading and writing and storytelling that pulled in teenage me who was constantly writing stories. It’s the kind of story that makes you feel like you’re a different person for reading it.

So I hope this has been interesting and that something in here that has inspired you to pick up one of these books (or any book at all). What are some of your favourite books?

Why Sara Bareilles Means So Much To Me

Since I’ve already posted this week (tips for talking about mental health), I wasn’t sure whether or not to post again today, whether I wanted to write something else as well as that. But last night, I went to the opening night of Waitress the Musical in London. The music was written by Sara Bareilles (who I LOVE) and the songs I’d heard from it (she released some of them as an album) were absolutely gorgeous. So I was very excited to go.

The show was amazing, hilarious and heartbreaking, and exactly what I needed. It’s not the story of the chosen one facing ridiculous obstacles; it’s about a woman who found herself very unhappy and how she tries to find happiness. Jenna, a baker at heart, discovers that she’s pregnant and starts making plans to run away but of course it isn’t that straight forward. I won’t give anything else away because if you can see it, you really should. Plus they make the theatre smell like a kitchen full of freshly baked pies. It was lovely.

Screen Shot 2019-02-09 at 15.24.23

It was a great evening but what made it all the more special was that Sara herself was there, introducing the show and then bidding the audience goodnight. I haven’t seen her since her two London shows in 2014 and I’ve really missed her. She’s funny and warm and genuine and she even sang us a little of her latest single. It was so nice to see her again.

I went to both London shows in 2014 and at the first, I left her a letter. I was really struggling with depression and social anxiety and I just wanted to thank her for all her music had done for me, how much it was helping me with all I was dealing with. And during the second show, she dedicated her song ‘Uncharted’ to me. It’s my favourite song of hers and it was such a special moment. That show was just a beacon of joy and having that through the difficult stuff that followed is something that means so much to me. I’m more grateful than I’ll ever be able to express.

I’ve been listening to Sara’s music since I was thirteen and I’m now twenty four. A lot has happened in that time: I got through sixth form, took a lonely year out, decided that I wanted to be a songwriter, worked through my degree, moving out of my childhood home, plus all my mental health stuff. I’ve had her music through all of that and it’s helped me process it and get through it.

When my depression is at its worst, I can’t listen to music. I find it hard to put into words because it’s so deeply rooted in feeling but it’s suffocating and miserable and painful. It takes me a long time to recover from that state and coming out of it leaves me feeling fragile and raw. It’s like I’m made of glass and anything too loud will shatter me. It causes me a lot of distress. I can’t listen to music straight away – it’s just too much, in terms of both emotion and sensory information – but I can listen to Sara Bareilles songs. They’re gentle and genuine and they strengthen my soul. I’ve had her music in the best of it all and the worst of it all and that means the world to me.

I also really connected to and loved her book, Sounds Like Me. I read it in one sitting and just fell in love with this new form of her writing. Again, her writing was so gentle and I loved getting even more of the stories behind the songs. If you want to understand me, read the chapter ‘Red.’ Reading the book, I felt connected to her and that was very strengthening.

She’s also one of the reasons I got into songwriting. Her lyrics are beautiful and honest and heartbreaking and I learn something from every song. If I could write songs half as well as her, I’d be ecstatically happy. And when it comes to pursuing music as a career, her choices as a creative have really inspired me: to be authentically me, to try out everything I can, to be brave, to stick to who I want to be and to what I want to create. When you’ve got people trying to mould you or redirect you at every turn, that’s magic.

Sara Bareilles and her music will always be so special to me. Hopefully one day I’ll be able to thank her.