In Slate’s annual Music Club, Slate music critic Carl Wilson emails with fellow critics—this year, Rolling Stone staff writer Brittany Spanos, New York Times contributor Lindsay Zoladz, and special guests Ann Powers, Jack Hamilton, Chris Molanphy, and Julyssa Lopez—about the year in music.
Hi, Carl, and the rest of this year’s Music Clubbers!
Honored to be here for the first time. And what a year to try and sum up with you all.
Carl, you hit the nail on the head with so many of this year’s broader topics. My 2020 began with a lot of promise and plans that have all been postponed or wholly canceled. I had built trips and social occasions around the shows (and weddings and vacations) I was hoping to enjoy. My last pair of live shows were two small, packed, and short Harry Styles radio shows, full of energy and excitement. I left them both sweaty with no voice and the buzz of believing that I would get to see him live several more times this year. Welp.
When life began to lock down in March, my brain was already skipping ahead to the future. “When this is all over” is such a cliché at this point, but it has also been a cliché I’ve needed to get through this year. I need to believe that one day, sharing music with friends and other fans in physical spaces of all kinds will exist again, and safely at that. And all the music I have loved this year has filled that hope with concrete visions of what that future might look like.
I will share my Top 13 as well, not for the bad luck but for the incredibly good luck that number brings the artist who made my favorite 2020 album.
1. Taylor Swift, Folklore
2. Jessie Ware, What’s Your Pleasure?
3. City Girls, City on Lock
4. Rina Sawayama, Sawayama
5. Fiona Apple, Fetch the Bolt Cutters
6. Lady Gaga, Chromatica
7. Halsey, Manic
8. Dua Lipa, Future Nostalgia
9. Bad Bunny, YHLQMDLG
10. Miley Cyrus, Plastic Hearts
11. Haim, Women in Music, Pt. III
12. Flo Milli, Ho, Why Is You Here?
13. Charli XCX, How I’m Feeling Now
Most of the albums I loved this year were necessary reminders that we will dance again. Jessie Ware and Dua Lipa brought disco, my favorite genre of music, back in vogue. Lady Gaga delivered cathartic house anthems that make me miss the dance clubs my friends and I would find ourselves frequenting every weekend in our past lives. Flo Milli and City Girls delivered the type of raunchy, hook-y rap songs I would love to be screaming along to in the middle of a really messy house party, in between twerking to Bad Bunny. Miley Cyrus served up the type of ’80s-style rock anthems I’m dying to belt in a cramped karaoke room. Charli XCX sang it best: “I want anthems/ Late nights, my friends/New York.”
I have been surprised by how upbeat my taste remained in this long, taxing year. Thankfully, there have been glimmers of hope and shared enjoyment throughout. Zoom DJ nights and synced-up Instagram live DJ sets were vital the first few months. When the weather was finally warm and my friends and I felt comfortable spending time outside together, the inaugural summer hang was soundtracked by a socially distant “Rain on Me” dance party, a necessary release we had been waiting months to experience.
I’m curious for other music clubbers: Without the physical spaces we have depended on, what are the new ways you’ve learned to experience your favorite music from this year? And what kind of themes have you been drawn to in isolation?
Until next time, I’ll be doing the opposite of everything I just said and sinking deeper into the blissful dreariness of Swift’s Evermore.