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If you had to describe the year 2020 using only the songs and music that defined the mood, vibe and tone of the year, what would they be? Our correspondent and resident DJ Julie Chang Murphy has taken on this formidable task and curated our playlist of the 20 defining songs of 2020 – the ones that best define the year of the COVID-19 pandemic, and capture the vibe and the new normal we’re living in right now. You can find it on Spotify here. Press play. And kiss 2020 goodbye.

What are The Songs That Best Define the Year 2020?

During this historically challenging year 2020, we turned to the arts more than ever.

We traveled virtually to museums around the world and gawked at the Netflix phenomenon that was Tiger King. We shelled out for a Disney Plus account to relive the revolutionary Broadway musical, Hamilton, and tried to learn Cardi B and Meghan Thee Stallion’s WAP dance.

Highbrow, lowbrow and everything in-between, they all brought us some much needed diversion and pleasure while we sheltered in place at home. Or ventured out into the world because we had no choice.


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And there was plenty of great music, too. In this highly subjective list of the music released in 2020 that best defined the year and its zeitgeist, we are sharing the top 20 songs that got us through this bizarre time.

best COVID-19 playlist with songs of pandemic 2020

The best new songs with a 2020 vibe that helped us through the COVID-19 pandemic months this year.

Some made us feel less lonely and indulged our introspective moments. Others were the catchy and seductive dance tunes that reminded us of pre-pandemic times (remember when we could all gather and party?) And practically speaking, they got us to move our bodies when it was much easier to stay on the couch. The best tracks somehow combined both impulses.

our playlist of 20 songs that defined the year 2020

When we look back, these are the songs that will conjure memories of a truly bizarre year.

1. nada surf: so much love

Rolling Stone wrote of the “sun-through-clouds loveliness” of this alt-rock band’s song released in January. Little did we know then how prescient the lyrics would be. “So much love trapped insidetook on multilayered meanings and reminded us of the silver linings as we sheltered in place for the first time.

2. christine and the queens: people i’ve been sad

Héloïse Adelaïde Letissier, the French singer and songwriter behind Christine and The Queens, delivers a plaintive and intimate track that could verge on cheesy and maudlin. Instead it’s pitch perfect for these times.

3. the weeknd: blinding lights

We love a moody yet euphoric vibe and The Weeknd’s glossy ’80s synth-pop homage fits the bill. It was the #1 hit as Coronavirus transformed our life seemingly overnight. “The city’s cold and empty/No one’s around to judge me/I can’t see clearly when you’re gone.” Who thought a danceable jam like this would have such resonance in tough times?


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4. stray kids: god’s menu

We’re not 100% clear what this song is about. Just gonna say that up front. But if the K-pop boy band’s highly entertaining video is any indication, it’s got something to do with cooking. Nothing starts a family dance party in the kitchen faster than blasting this song through the speakers. You may find yourself chopping with more agility and speed than usual! Just don’t get the sourdough starter all spun up.

What are The Songs That Best Define the Year 2020?

Our COVID-19 pandemic song playlist of the best music with a 2020 vibe.

5. perfume genius: on the floor

Pitchfork declared Perfume Genius’ Mike Hadreas to be our “poet laureate of constant longing.” This song is about a crush and abusive relationship: starting off with a nostalgic upbeat quality and ending with dreamy, swirling harmonies that continue to haunt those with lonely hearts.

6. fiona apple: fetch the bolt cutters

We had to wait eight years for Fiona Apple’s latest album. And it was worth it! All the raw energy is still here, along with her signature candor and introspection. This was the last song she wrote to complete the album and the message is loud and clear: “Fetch the fucking bolt cutters and get yourself out of the situation that you’re in — whatever it is that you don’t like.


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7. the strokes: bad decisions

The Strokes comeback track is nostalgic in more ways than one. There’s the sample of Billy Idol’s “Dancing With Myself that works its way into the melody and the sound and insouciant energy will please fans of their 2001 record, Is This It? Which is to say, it’s insanely catchy.

What are The Songs That Best Define the Year 2020?

Our COVID-19 song playlist with the best new music with a 2020 vibe.

8. moses sumney: cut me

This multi-layered song complete with a twinkling piano, horn section and buzzing synths is topped off with Moses Sumney’s delicate falsetto that takes the listener on a sonic journey through pain and hope.

9. chloe x halle: do it

Remember going out with friends without a care in the world, save for how much your shoes are starting to hurt? Chloe x Halle do, and this sweet and effervescent song has us really re-living pre-Covid nights out. Good vibes only.


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10. dua lipa: don’t start now

Is disco the answer to our troubled times? Yes, if the past is any indication. Disco hits coincided with the wake of youth uprisings and conflicts of the 1960’s. Not to mention its resurgence after the financial downturn in 2008. No wonder Dua Lipa’s disco pop hit exploded on the charts this year. Plus the girl can really sing.

Our COVID-19 song playlist with the best new music of 2020.

Our playlist of the 20 best songs of 2020 that define the year of the COVID-19 pandemic.

11. the 1975: if you’re too shy (let me know)

The sound is pure ‘80’s (and for us, that’s a positive) but this time the “girl of your dreams” isn’t walking down the street but “on the screen.” It’s a feel-good song with just the right dose of weird. Sax solo anyone?

12. doja cat (featuring nicki minaj): say so

TikTok reigned supreme during 2020 and “Say So” might as well have been its soundtrack. There are 17.2 million videos of its users dancing to the song’s irrepressible beat. Apparently some people hate this song. To which we say, “Shut it, save it, keep it, pushin.”


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13. tame impala: is it true

Australian band Tame Impala’s 4th album, Slow Rush is full of smooth, psychedelic hits — many of which have made other top songs of 2020 lists. This one is our personal favorite. The effortless, cascading rhythms lighten the mood. And that’s a good thing.

Our COVID-19 song playlist

Our playlist of the best songs with a 2020 vibe that define the year of the COVID-19 pandemic.

14. taylor swift: cardigan

Taylor Swift’s “Cardigan” debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 songs chart back in August. And we can see why. The song, inspired by an image of “a cardigan that still bears the scent of loss 20 years later” envelops the listener in the warm and cozy memory stage, after the hurt has subsided.

15. bad bunny: yo perreo sola

This is the woke dance song we all need. “Yo Perreo Sola,” which translates to “I twerk alone,” is an empowering anthem for women everywhere who need their personal space on the dance floor. Yep, even when we’re back in the club, we may still want you to keep 6 feet away.


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16. jessie ware: what’s your pleasure

Even though we’ve all been living in sweatpants, this breathy disco tribute certainly makes us want to put on a smoky eye and tight dress and dance on velvety banquettes. It’s the perfect escape from quarantine times — flirty, seductive, and fun.

Our playlist of the 20 best songs of 2020 that define the year of the COVID-19 pandemic.

17. india jordan: for you

This earworm is glittery and bouncy but the backstory adds a layer of self-love and acceptance that makes it all the more meaningful. According to Pitchfork,  the “you” in the title refers to Jordan themself, who came out as nonbinary just before Christmas last year. We’re all about catharsis on the dance floor.

18. phoebe bridgers: i know the end

The closing track of Californian artist Phoebe Bridgers’ much lauded album, Punisher, could be interpreted in many ways. It’s a breakup song. Or perhaps its about other kinds of painful loss and regret. She sings a plaintive refrain: “Yeah, I guess the end is here…the end is here…the end is here…” Normally, that might be kind of ominous. But as 2020 comes to a close, we choose to think of it as a message of hope!


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19. soccer mommy: circle the drain

If there was one song this year that captures the “I’m not OK” feeling and the experience of ennui during the pandemic, it’s this surprisingly up-tempo one. When Sophia Allison of Soccer Mommy sings: “Things feel that low sometimes/ Even when everything is fine/ Hey, I’ve been falling apart these days,” it’s like being seen.

20. wap: cardi b and meghan thee stallion

You knew it had to be on here! WAP took the world by song with its explicit sex positive message and lascivious floor-humping dance video. It would have been a hit in any other year too, but in 2020, the juxtaposition of our ‘“don’t get too close” reality vs. the lusty urgency presented by Cardi B and Meghan Thee Stallion may just define this strange, strange year.


The Definitive 2020 Playlist

2020: you were a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year. Thankfully, there was good music — great music, in fact, to bring us together through tears, through boredom, and even through lots of spontaneous (and planned) dance parties.

Good riddance 2020. We’re really excited that we won’t be seeing you again. But we’re well aware that your earworms will stay with us forever. What’s your favorite song of the year?

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Crediting her training as a cultural anthropologist at Wellesley College, Julie has immersed herself in various industries in the last 15 years including fashion design, event planning, and fitness. Julie lives in New York where she loves trying every ramen and dumpling restaurant with her husband and three children. She finds joy in bold prints, biographies of fierce women, kickboxing. And spending way too long finding the perfect polish color to express her mood.

Julie Murphy

Julie began her career in fashion as a design intern at 3.1 Phillip Lim after graduating from Parsons School of Design. As the fashion editor at Dandelion Chandelier, she brings over a decade of experience as a designer and marketing creative to cover trends and styling.