Cardi B had a massive viral hit with "WAP", featuring Megan Thee StallionFLICKR / SEAN DAVIS

I was asked to make a playlist of songs which encapsulated the 2020-21 academic year, the definition of which I’ve stretched slightly (okay, a lot). Here are my picks, with a quick word on each one. Sorry if I missed your favourite song: I’m only human (although it’s easy to forget that fact). Hope you enjoy!

“Blinding Lights” – The Weeknd. Kicking this list off is the biggest song of 2020, racking up over 2 billion streams and being performed in front of millions at the Super Bowl. Despite this, The Weeknd got zero Grammy award nominations. Injustice? I agree.

“Coriolan, Op. 62: Overture” – Ludwig van Beethoven. 2020 was the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth, with concerts scheduled around the world to mark the event. Some of them were cancelled and others had to adapt to virtual performances, but the circumstances didn’t take away from his undeniable genius. It was tough to pick from so many classics (pun intended), but this is a must-listen.

“Alright” – Kendrick Lamar. This year was marked by huge protests around the world in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. Lamar’s moving, defiant lyrics on police brutality and the fight for equality made this an anthem for protestors in the mid-2010s, and it remains a fantastic song in its own right.

“Black Parade” – Beyoncé. Staying with the theme of black pride, Beyoncé’s charity single is a celebration of her roots. It was released on Juneteenth – a holiday celebrating the end of slavery in the United States – but it gained even more significance in the wake of George Floyd’s murder.

“Love Lockdown” – Kanye West. While I don’t think many of us loved lockdown, this song from Kanye’s 2008 album 808s and Heartbreak is great and it has ‘lockdown’ in the title, so why not? 

MF DOOM, one of hip-hop's most innovative artists, died in late 2020FLICKR / KMERON

“Miami” – Kali Uchis. This song ticks two boxes: it’s from Kali’s (excellent) 2018 record Isolation (a word which I’ve heard far too much this year) and the guest verse from BIA contains the lyric ‘I ain’t too bougie for corona’ (referring to the drink). Basically what I’m saying is that the pandemic was clearly caused by this song.

“WAP” – Cardi B. Cardi B teamed up with Megan Thee Stallion for one of the biggest and most popular hits of the year, helped by a viral dance. I don’t really think I need to explain this much further. This list would be severely lacking without this track.

“Drivers License” – Olivia Rodrigo. TikTok had a huge influence on the music of the past year, propelling several artists to superstardom. Olivia Rodrigo’s debut single racked up over 700 million streams, and she’s only 18. I’m 19. Sometimes I ask myself what on earth I’ve been doing this whole time.

“Immaterial” – SOPHIE. The hyperpop icon sadly passed away this year at the age of 34. Picking one song from her was difficult given the strength of her discography, but this uplifting banger about being anything you want encapsulates what made her music so great for so many.

“All Caps” – Madvillain. MF DOOM, one half of hip-hop’s Madvillain and an incredible solo artist as well, passed away in late 2020. British-born but raised in New York, the masked MC raised the game for underground rappers and also made a huge impact on the mainstream. Another difficult decision to pick just one track from his incredible discography.

“Jump” – Van Halen. The final song of this mini in memoriam section: rock icon Eddie van Halen passed away in late 2020. This song is easily the biggest hit for his band, and they have several: Van Halen’s legacy will live long.

Rina Sawayama (centre) shot to stardom in 2020FLICKR / JUSTIN HIGUCHI

“Kyoto” – Phoebe Bridgers. This single was one of the most critically-acclaimed tracks of 2020 – a breakthrough year for Bridgers – and for good reason. Her album Punisher was nominated for three Grammy awards, two of which were for this track. Not too bad, if you ask me.

“XS” – Rina Sawayama. Whether it was campaigning for the right to be recognised as British for the Mercury Prize, or stunning everyone with her flamboyant dress on the red carpet of the BRIT awards in May, pop sensation and Cambridge graduate Rina Sawayama had a huge 2020. In the first half of 2020, she also released an album, which was my personal favourite album of the year. Although her song was released before the academic year, she continued to make headlines all the way through it, so I’m including it.


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“Yeh Vaada Raha” - Kishore Kumar. One of the defining features of this year for me was that it was the first one without my granddad, who passed from COVID-19 in April of 2020. His music taste included Bollywood classics and, later, the music of his adopted homeland of the UK. This smooth love duet, the title track of the 1982 movie of the same name, was one of his favourites, and features two of India’s most iconic singers of all time: Kishore Kumar and Asha Bhosle. He loved to listen to music with me, and I’m sure he’d have loved to share this song with you, too.

“Kerosene!” – Yves Tumor. I didnt want to end on a sad note, so I’m rounding off this list with my personal favourite song of 2020, which was technically released in the first half of the year. The inclusion of this song here is a reminder of two very simple facts: this is my list, and I make the rules. Tumor absolutely crushes this song with their brilliant instrumentation, and this is probably one of the few genuinely good songs with the lyric ‘I ain’t like them other girls’ in it. What more could you ask for?