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”


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?

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

2018 in Songs

Just as I did last year, I want to send off 2018 with the songs that made up my year, the songs that marked the happy moments and the sad, the lost and the lonely. Here goes:


1. Damn Sky by Kalie Shorr

I am obsessed with Kalie’s most recent EP, Awake. It’s SO GOOD. The songwriting, the production, the guitar parts, the vocals… I love it. There are multiple songs I could’ve chosen for this list but I think this one is so empowering. These songs have been the soundtrack to my year and I listen to them practically everyday.

What do you do when your whole heart breaks

And love only leaves you blind

Somebody had to light the way

So I learned to have the stars in my own damn sky

 

I got the nails, I got the hammer

If I got myself, I got the answers


2. I Am Disappeared by Frank Turner

Back in February I went to my university’s monthly songwriters’ circle and Frank Turner was the special guest. I love his songwriting, especially his lyric writing. The stories he tells are so rich and vivid. He asked if anyone had a request and someone shouted out this song and I just fell in love with it on the spot. It’s become a soundtrack to my anxiety, but not in a negative way. It’s like it translates my anxiety into something real and that’s such a relief.

I keep having dreams

Of pioneers and pirate ships and Bob Dylan

Of people wrapped up tight in the things that will kill them

Of being trapped in a lift plunging straight to the bottom

Of open seas and ways of life we’ve forgotten

I keep having dreams


3. Without by Megan O’Neill

Another month, another songwriters’ circle. Megan was the special guest at the March circle and I just fell in love with her voice. And her lyrics and her melodies. With every song she played, I was more and more inspired. This one is a particular favourite.

If I can’t have you, you can’t have me

‘Cause it’s all or nothing and there’s nothing in between

If you’re halfway in, I’m halfway out

Baby, we can’t shine in the shadow of a doubt

I can’t live with a love you can live without


4. Babe by Sugarland feat. Taylor Swift

I still can’t quite believe that two of my absolute favourite artists/bands collaborated and created such a beautiful song (and performed it live – what I wouldn’t give to have been there). It’s one of those songs that I’ve just had on repeat. I love Jennifer Nettles’ voice and Taylor Swift’s lyrics blow me away as usual. The imagery is especially gorgeous. I also love the combination of their voices, a nice treat that we otherwise wouldn’t have.

What a waste
Taking down the pictures and the plans we made, yeah
And it’s strange how your face doesn’t look so innocent
Your secret has its consequence and that’s on you, babe

I break down every time you call
We’re a wreck, you’re the wrecking ball
We said no one else, how could you do this, babe?


5. Running Out Of Red Lights by Lena Stone

I have loved Lena’s writing ever since I saw her perform at Tin Pan South in 2016 and I feel like I’ve been waiting for her to release this song for almost as long. It’s so beautiful and the sense of urgency is so real. And I freaking love the electric guitar part, more than life itself. Just kidding, but I do really love it. I can’t wait for her to release more music.

Six blocks down from your new place

High heels never hitting those breaks

If nothing’s gonna stop me then it’s too late

To change my mind

Wishing I could leave you in the rearview

‘Cause every yellow that I run through

Gets me closer to crashing to you

Tonight

And I’m running out of red lights


6. Tennessee Bound by Sinead Burgess

I saw Sinead Burgess open for The Shires on their tour earlier this year and I loved her writing from the first song, which was this one. I was in a really bad place and her energy just woke me up. It was magical. And now, every time I feel like I’m getting lost, I listen to it and it reminds me of that. I’m really grateful for that.

Hell, I’m ready for my brand new life

Get a new apartment, change my hair, no I won’t be thinking twice

About the things that I’m gonna miss

‘Cause I sure as hell ain’t going out like this

So I’m ready for my brand new life


7. New Light by Baylor Wilson

I have Song Suffragettes to thank for the discovery of this song. They posted a video of it on their YouTube channel and I just fell in love. I love her voice. And I love the lyrics: they’re all beautiful but there’s one – “I thought ‘love’ was just a word that people use, until I heard you say it and I said back to you” – that takes my breath away every time I hear it. There’s something about it that makes me believe that love really is out there somewhere.

Every wrong turn turned out all right

And even when the sun sets, it’s still gonna rise

I see it in a new light

I see it in a true light

Every chapter, every verse of my life

Every time that I look in your eyes

Every cloud and all the blue in the sky

Now I see it in a new light

 


8. Nightmare by Nikita Karmen

My inner songwriting nerd gets so excited about this song. I saw Nikita Karmen at Tin Pan South earlier this year and I just fell in love with the way she writes lyrics. They’re smart and funny and quirky and wise; I get major songwriting jealousy. And the fact that she deliberately rhymes ‘right’ with ‘right’ and then ‘left’ with ‘left’ – in the SAME SONG – makes me shriek every time I hear it; I love it.

It was just a little doubt that got left behind

From a love that didn’t work out

Just ghosts from yesterday

But they don’t live here now

Reach over to my left

To know you never left


9. Eyes Closed by Halsey

I got to see Halsey live this year (twice!) and it was an amazing experience (even though I was in a really difficult place). This was the first song on the set list and the crowd sang along so loudly that it took my breath away. Literally. I felt breathless with… just awe. The concert was amazing and the crowd was amazing and it was really, really special. This song reminds me of that and I’m really grateful for it.

Now if I keep my eyes closed, he looks just like you

But he’ll never stay, they never do

Now if I keep my eyes closed, he feels just like you

But you’ve been replaced

I’m face to face

With someone new


10. Get Up by Nick Wilson

I heard this song at one of my university’s songwriters’ circle and then listened to it on repeat for the next week. It’s beautiful. The imagery is gorgeous, the production is amazing, and his voice sounds incredible. And it sounds even better live!

You gotta get up, you gotta get up
I know it’s always better than you think it will be
It’s never enough, it’s never enough
You don’t know what you want until you know what you need
Don’t break the silence when it’s beautiful
Just hold your tongue
But you gotta get up, you gotta get up now


11. The Goldfish Song by Kina Grannis

I finally got to see Kina Grannis live this year after following her on YouTube for years and years. That was so exciting and I got to hear so many favourite songs, old and new. This is one of those favourites and I’ve been listening to it on and off for the last few months. I guess it just really resonated with me.

I know what you’ve been thinking

It’s too soon to empty my cocoon

This butterfly’s not ready

But wouldn’t she know better than you


12. Loving You, Using You by Caylan Hays

Caylan is one of my favourite people and I am so excited that she’s putting her gorgeous songwriting out into the world. We’ve written together several times and I always look forward to it because she just has this way with words that is different to anybody else I’ve ever met. This song is so raw and so honest and I’m so excited for the project she’s about to release.

Maybe I’m loving you because I’m lonely

Maybe I’m holding you because you know me

Maybe I’m loving you

Oh, because you’re lonely too

Maybe I’m here because I’m grieving

Maybe I’m terrified of leaving

Maybe I’m loving you

Maybe I’m using you

I wish I knew the truth


13. The Middle by Zedd, Maren Morris, and Grey

I know that the format of this is twelve songs – one for every month – but I have to include this one, a song for the whole year if you like. This is no doubt my most played song of the year – it feels pretty fitting that just a few weeks ago, it was nominated for multiple Grammys. And I got to here it performed live and acoustic. I love it. Maren’s voice is beyond gorgeous and there is no song more fun to sing in the car.

So pull me closer
Why don’t you pull me close?
Why don’t you come on over?
I can’t just let you go

Oh baby, why don’t you just meet me in the middle?
I’m losing my mind just a little
So why don’t you just meet me in the middle?
In the middle


So there we go. My 2018, my songs of 2018. As always, there could’ve been so many more but I’ll leave it there. I hope you enjoyed reading this as much I enjoyed writing it.