The Music That Held My Hand Through 2020

I don’t know anyone who would deem 2020 a good year (except, okay, maybe Jeff Bezos). A turbulent US election, social unrest, and of course the ever-growing elephant in the room: Covid-19. Personally, this year has been a mixture of really high highs, and really low lows. 

I experienced the death of a close family member, battled tumultuous mental health, lost the last semester of university, but also graduated, got into my first queer relationship and wrote lots and lots. A cliché for sure, but with the bad comes the good, which is important to hold onto in the climate in which we currently find ourselves.

There are a few things that have held my hand through the turbulent times, such as water colouring, long walks and of course, music

Growing up, I never really had much of an affinity with music, until age 11 when I was gifted my first iPod touch, and even then it was only really filled with Taylor Swift. It’s only in the past 5 years that I have really found the music that seeps into the crevices of my soul and stays there, forming the soundtrack to my life.

I have chosen 4 albums and 4 particular songs that got me through 2020. I am always interested in songs and albums that people hold extremely dear to them, so I shall let you take a peek into the music of my mind, whilst also meandering back through this year…

In 2020, I have majorly struggled with sleep for many different reasons. Anxiety being the main one – as my brain likes to run in circles at godawful hours, which means no matter how exhausted I feel, I stay awake. Music is good at pacifying those thoughts and Tom Rosenthal’s Z Sides album is one that can send me to sleep whatever the weather. These dulcet tones are covers of beautiful songs designed to help people to drift off – and boy, does it work. Tom is such a wonderful artist with a vast music discography, but it’s especially this Z Sides album that has seen me through many a sleepless night.

In a similar vein, Ben Howard is my favourite artist of all time; emphasis on the artist, because his songs are literal poetry. His Spotify Session of I Forget Where We Were is my favourite song ever. Ben has 3 albums (Every Kingdom, I Forget Where We Were and Noonday Dream) and I can put them all on shuffle to send me to sleep. 

Ben’s music holds my hand through every year without fail, but his lullabies have accompanied me on rainy days, anxious evenings but on content train rides, too. I could write a whole article about how much BH means to me, but let’s save that for another time. Onto the next.

On a cheerier note, another significant life event that has characterised my 2020 is graduating from university. Due to completing a humanities degree, it meant that there was a lot of essay-writing involved. I can’t listen to songs with lyrics when I write, meaning I can only listen to classical or instrumental music. 

The album that takes the cake is The Pianist soundtrack. The music was predominantly composed by Chopin and the soundtrack is performed by various artists including the Polish pianist, Janusz Olejniczak. I actually watched The Pianist during lockdown -it might shatter your heart, but it is such a profound and amazing film.

Dancing to a particular song definitely helped get me through times of isolation. One of the worst parts of my 2020 was March-June and I saw a sizable dent in my mental health. It was difficult to sustain motivation to complete my university work, stay positive about the state of the world or even to make time for daily exercise. 

My housemate and I got into the habit of dancing to Witchy Woman by The Hollies whenever we felt a little miserable. That small act of wiggling our hips and flailing our arms to the beat, followed by usually baking a cake, would make us feel at least a bit cheerier. I won’t ever be able to hear that song again without remembering lockdown.

In May of this year, I experienced a loss very close to my family. This hit me hard as I hadn’t felt grief in a few years. This unexpected return really shattered me in many ways and as usual, when I experienced emotional turmoil, I turned to music.

“Every night I try my best to dream,
Tomorrow makes it better.
But I wake up to the cold reality,
That not a thing has changed.”

I clung onto these lyrics to Paramore’s Last Hope during the difficult months, as it really epitomised my 2020. I am sure most people can relate to how it felt like every day merged into one and the year felt like wandering through an endless field at night. At times, it felt like I just clung to a piece of wardrobe whilst floating in a big sea – like Jack from Titanic.

I have always adored Paramore and hold their music very close to me but this song made a comeback during those months. There is nothing like the live version, and like Hayley sings, there is a spark that will eventually lead you out of the darkness.

Jeff Buckley also sat with me through grief. A little late to the party, I found him when my friend Ross recommended his album Grace. I can’t really articulate how much Jeff moves me but he does so in a new way every time I listen. This album, especially the Legacy Edition, helped me feel what I needed to. My favourites being So Real, Lilac Wine and Lover, You Should’ve Come Over. 

One of the moments where I finally started to feel okay again, began when I couldn’t sleep one night. I decided to cycle to campus at 4:40 am and watch the sunrise from the top of the hill. I distinctly remember listening to Fine Line by Harry Styles on repeat the entire time whilst I finally felt the sky give me a hug and show me that life can be good, and will be good again. Listening to him sing we’ll be alright over and over as I silently wept to the sunrise made me feel like 2020 wouldn’t be all bad.

And all bad it wasn’t. Although lockdown brought an extreme mix of emotions, with it came reflection and acceptance. I think without all the goings on of life, it strips you back and forces you to think about who you really are. I finally accepted that I was a queer woman, and I couldn’t really mention this without referencing my most listened to song this year – Girl in Red’s cover of Say It.

I found Girl in Red from TikTok, which was also a big part of accepting who I am. Seeing people who look like you is so validating and says a lot about the need for representation. 

Now 2020 is ending, I am eager to kick it out the door. Perhaps a didactic year at best, and although time is a social construct, I think everyone is aching for a fresh year. Music has and always will be terribly necessary for my overrunning mind. 

There is a tune to suit every mood and life event and music sees me through the best and worst of times. These songs, quite literally, helped me feel everything I needed to feel this year. And for that, I say thank you.

Honourable Mentions

You can find out more about Amelia Groves and her writing by following her on Instagram and Twitter: @amjanegr

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