Your Favorite Song This Year is Probably Already Out

While the focus is on adapting to this new reality, let’s not forget that creativity thrives when humans feel safe.

Go back a few months ago, even if they feel like a whole lifetime in the past. When this year started, who were the musicians you were looking forward to hear from the most? What were the tours you swore you wouldn’t miss? Maybe you even had tickets already bought that you got heartbroken to return when the concert was inevitably canceled. Think about all the memories you don’t get to make with your favorite songs as soundtrack this year.

While we already have a lot of the answers to the questions we asked when we were first told to shelter in place, the first semester of 2020 came to a close with live music being an otherworldly suggestion in most countries. But humanity has found ways to adapt and to make beauty out of chaos, and so has the music industry. With the so-called quarantine music, a series of livestream concerts and music videos directed through FaceTime. But while the focus is on adapting to the new reality, many of us are forgetting to mourn the things that were lost this year — and without going through the mourning, we won’t be able to enjoy normality when it comes again.

Back in May, artist CHIKA posted a series of tweets explaining why she didn’t feel like “making content” while she stayed home. “Everyone told me that my work last year would pay off and now we gotta stay inside and there is no touring” the 23-year-old rapper explained her frustration. CHIKA released EP Industry Games on March 13th 2020, a day that for many of us marked the first day of quarantine. 

But that’s not what the EP should be remembered for: Industry Games is a groundbreaking collection of songs that show a very confident and specific style for an artist that is young and new in the industry but that has been working on her craft for most of her life. If you’ve been following CHIKA’s career, you know she is not afraid of telling it exactly as it is and how driven she is on creating things that reflect exactly what she wants to. Industry Games is all that and a little more. It was supposed to be the music you play to get yourself hype in the morning before a long day of work or during commute so you don’t yell at the driver in front of you. 

Another project that arrived almost at the same time as quarantine and was affected by the worst month for streaming was Jhené Aiko’s Chilombo. The album is a cultural reset. The vibes are so thick they feel liquid, melifluent. If you choose to dip your fingertips on the magic of Aiko’s vocals, don’t be surprised when the crave to completely submerge yourself takes control of you. Yet Chilombo is left out of many trends and playlists of 2020’s R&B albums. Possibly because it dropped on the bitter spot that makes music feels like it was released a million years ago. A week before the world went from making fun of postponed Coachella TikToks about chocolate cake to hoarding toilet paper and trying to learn how to use bidets. But we can’t let the album that would play around your smoke and chill nights with your friends — and let’s be honest, the romantic nights with your boos too  — be played off like that.

And you know we were ready for Kiana Ledé’s KIKI to drop in April and to be accompanied by a few local performances and an European tour. You know we said that “The roaring 2020s belonged to R&B” and Ledé was leading the game. And though KIKI dropped a few weeks into quarantine when everyone was still scared and streaming habits were off, it’s still one of the greatest albums to come out this year. KIKI is a debut in the best of senses. In the same way debutants are introduced to society, KIKI debuts Kiana Ledé to the game with a blast. Every song title ends with a period because she’s done. KIKI is sexy, provocative, confident, sugar, spice and everything, nice or naughty. It should be playing in more places than . We deserved to go to that tour with our friends and I hope we get to, soon.

After KIKI, things seemed to take their place and the music that came out wasn’t just the music that “couldn’t be delayed”. By April we knew damn well that waiting for things to come back to normal before releasing things was out of the question. Normal didn’t exist anymore. So we got “quarantine music”. Music that related to the state of the world, either on purpose or not. And don’t get me wrong, Kehlani’s It Was Good Until It Wasn’t is my favorite album of the year so far. It feels, in many ways, perfect for quarantine and it’s definitely because she did an amazing job with her music videos and album photoshoot but truth be told, the album was fully recorded before quarantine and it’s the result of years of hard work. That can’t be ignored. Not saying the album wouldn’t be as good if it was fully recorded during quarantine, I mean, Kehlani is a God. But the album is the results of experiences that wouldn’t happen to humans who are closed up on their houses, fearing for their lives. And though some of those experiences were bad and resulted on trauma, it’s the “after writing” that makes a musical project everything it could be.

Turning ugliness into beauty is a magical thing but without knowing beauty exists, you can’t find that magic in things. In sum, creativity thrives when we feel safe. When we’re given time to process the things that are happening. And thank humans for things like music, that gives us the space to process things, whether you’re a songwriter or a music stan. New music is coming through this second semester of 2020. Some of it was written pre-quarantine, some of it was written during, some of it is a product of both the fear and the hope that we’ve all felt for the last few months. May we not forget that though it has the capacity of keeping us alive, art grows healthier when it’s planted in safe grounds.

What are your favorite songs so far this year? We made a playlist with all the projects mentioned on this article and we have two new projects dropping this month that will definitely be reviewed here. And that includes singer Kira Kosarin’s new EP Songbird, coming July 15th. Kosarin also made a playlist of her favorite 2020 projects and I’m including it here as a little extra. Can’t wait to hear from you about your favorites!!

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