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Anu Ambasna

The music that kept the gal-dem team going in 2020

From pop joy to soulful reflection, some of our team reflects on how music has helped get them through this Strange And Unprecedented year.

24 Dec 2020

Illustration by Anu Ambasna

2020 was, of course, a year of chaos, grief and strangeness. Sometimes, even listening to anything felt like a chore – there were days where I would press play on an album and clock hours later that the record was over and I was sitting in silence, not having taken any of it in. 

But, thankfully, for the most part music has been a healing balm to soothe the fraught feelings of life in a pandemic. Whether it was straight-up cheesy joy to dance alone to, new pop fandoms to obsess over, figuring out the tracks that would get our housemates gassed with our new DJ hobbies, yearning for the Before Times or simply soaking up healing sounds, music helped keep us afloat this year.

“Music has been a healing balm to soothe the fraught feelings of life in a pandemic”

So, as we look back on this Strange And Unprecedented time, while still being in the Strange And Unprecedented time, we thought it would be nice to shout out some of the music – the artists, the tracks, the albums, the genres – that kept the gal-dem going through it all, dancing alone, together. 

After some consideration, I won’t be making a playlist of the below because the result would be far too chaotic. All the same: enjoy.

Joining the BTS ARMY

It took me until 2020 but… I have finally joined the ARMY? I used to listen to BTS here and there but ‘Dynamite’ really cemented it for me. When I’m feeling like pure, steaming trash, or I’m struggling to get up, putting BTS on and dancing around my room instantly brings me joy. I just can’t not feel happy and warm when I listen to them!Life Goes On, one of their more mellow singles, really just hones in on what 2020 has been like for the world, but in a soothing “we’ll get through this” kind of way.

– Niellah Arboine (Life Editor)

Solo karaoke sessions singing H.E.R.

In lockdown, my living room has become my own personal karaoke booth – and the song that’s been on blast is H.E.R’s ‘Hard Place’. Music you can sing along to, and I mean SANG, belting out those big, throaty notes, is personal pleasure that could never be replicated in the office and something I haven’t really been able to enjoy since moving out of the uni space. ‘Hard Place’, gentle and acoustic though it is, has been my favourite sing-along. Husky, smooth and with lyrics that remind me of my last break-up – what more could I want?

– Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff (Editor-in-Chief)

Healing with the joyful hope of Lady Gaga

When Lady Gaga dropped ‘Stupid Love’ in February, the world was in the process of shutting down, as was my brain. With life on pause, I was left alone with my own thoughts, beginning a difficult year of confronting long repressed emotions and memories. Through it all, there was ‘Stupid Love’, a pure, hopeful mantra of emerging from the muck. It was big but it wasn’t clever. All you had to do, sang Gaga, was have faith and believe that someday soon you’d be joyful enough to love stupidly once more. As one YouTube comment put it: every listen sounded like the first time. Perfect.

– Moya Lothian-McLean (Politics Editor)

Lockdown DJ sets playing D Double E

I always wanted to learn how to DJ, so when lockdown happened, I couldn’t ignore my call to be the next Peggy Gou any longer. Though I was first pulled in by house and techno, I started mixing in some old school grime into the bedroom DJ sets that my flatmates were forced to listen to. D Double E’s ‘Lyrical Hypnosis and ‘Street Fighter Riddim’ have been favourites, as well as his new release with Kano, ‘Tell Me A Ting. I’ve also been listening to some of South London’s up and coming artists Ayrtn, Sam Wise and Kish! ‘Cosy, ‘south andEDGAR DAVIDS’ by Ayrtn were all in my top songs of 2020 Spotify playlist.

– Diyora Shadijanova (First Person Editor)

Soaking up dreamy soul and dancing to fierce tangos

‘Baby Powder’ by Jenevieve was my most played song of 2020. It’s dreamy, hazy perfection. I suggest blasting it while tidying up and singing into your broom at the top of your lungs. My best find was ‘Stranger’s Sweater’ by Emi Choi. It’s one of the loveliest tracks I’ve heard – a vulnerable love song where the songwriting is just as beautiful as Emi’s sweet but soulful voice. Finally, as the name suggests, Hope Tala’s ‘All My Girls Like To Fight’ warns potential lovers that her girls can fight, which alone is enough to justify its brilliance. The production sounds like a tango… but one you can shake your booty to. What more could anyone ask for?

– Sophia Powell (Commercial Assistant)

Remembering a very obscure band called ‘Nirvana’

gal-dem’s entire music coverage is often adjacent to what I’ve been listening to, so I’m confessing to something a bit different to usual here. I’ve been aching for gigs – before the pandemic I went to a show every week, now I haven’t seen live music since the beginning of March. Maybe that’s why, for the first time in years, I’ve been rinsing Nirvana’s 1994 live album, MTV Unplugged in New York. That Bowie cover, the audience buzz, Kurt’s fuzzy cardigan and unwashed hair as he quips between songs – it’s all joy. Also, one of the most romantic things anyone has ever done for me was learning to play this version of ‘About A Girl’, in spite of them hating Nirvana, because they wanted to cheer me up – so maybe it’s my water sign self yearning for that comforting feeling in a uniquely bad year? But, more than anything, it’s nice listening to the scuzzy, warm blanket of a band I fell in love with as a pre-teen.

– Tara Joshi (Music Editor)