At the beginning of 2020, a global pandemic spread across the world and changed life as we know it for the foreseeable future. With live performances indefinitely postponed, musicians and artists were among the hardest hit. Luckily, artists spend their whole careers learning to overcome adversity with creativity, and this time was no different.
Songwriters and performers responded en masse by using this forced down time to fire up the creative spark and make new songs, albums and music videos with whatever resources they had in their own homes. In this article, we’re going to share our ten favorite music releases that were created during lockdown.
Benjamin Gibbard – Life In Quarantine (single)
Back in March 2020 when the pandemic was still in its infancy, Death Cab For Cutie frontman Benjamin Gibbard was one of the many musicians and songwriters that took to streaming live performances from their homes. In addition to taking requests and playing stripped down versions of songs by Death Cab For Cutie and The Postal Service, Gibbard also shared a new song he wrote inspired by the current state of affairs he was witnessing in his home city of Seattle. Over a gently strummed acoustic guitar, Gibbard sings:
“The airports and train stations are full of desperate people
Trying to convince the gate agents that not all emergencies are equal
But no one is going anywhere soon.”
Avenue Beat – F2020 (single)
Nashville trio Avenue Beat wasn’t on many people’s radar when they wrote and recorded the unlikeliest anthem of 2020. They posted a snippet on TikTok and it raked in millions of views in a single day, prompting them to release the viral song in July. On “F2020,” they channel what pretty much everyone was feeling by raising a middle finger to the year with lyrics like:
“A global pandemic took over my life
And I put out some music that nobody liked
So, I got really sad and bored at the same time
And that’s why I’m like lowkey f*** 2020”
Nick Cave – Idiot Prayer (concert film/live album)
Like many artists, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds planned to spend 2020 touring in support of their latest album Ghosteen. But when they had to cancel the tour because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Nick Cave secretly booked London’s 11,000-capacity Alexandra Palace to film a career-spanning performance with only his voice, a piano and two cameras. Filmed in one take by cinematographer Robbie Ryan, the especially haunting performance was intended to be a one-time only ticketed online event, but fortunately for us, it has since been released as a concert film and live album.
Phoebe Bridgers – Kyoto (music video)
Although the album wasn’t recorded entirely during the quarantine era, Phoebe Bridgers’ Punisher was one of our favorite albums of 2020. Bridgers planned to film the music video for single “Kyoto” in the Japanese city it was inspired by. In fact, she was scheduled to be there on tour in March of 2020. When travel restrictions canceled those plans, she didn’t let that stop her. With the help of director Nina Ljeti and a green screen, Bridgers surfs her way through the music video imposed on top of stock footage of Kyoto, presumably from the 80’s. It’s a fun and charming video for a great song, and a good example to follow for fellow DIY artists seeking inspiration during the pandemic.
HAIM – I Know Alone (music video)
Although some responded to the pandemic by postponing their planned releases, LA-based trio HAIM went the other way, deciding to release Women In Music Pt. III months before its intended release date. Not a bad choice, considering it ended up on GRAMMY nominee list for “Album Of The Year.” To promote the album, the band put out multiple quarantine-inspired music videos in 2020, but perhaps our favorite is the one they filmed for single “I Know Alone.” Directed remotely by Jake Schreier, the fun one-shot video features the sisters performing a socially distanced choreographed dance together on a neighborhood basketball court.
Ratboys – Go Outside (single/music video)
Chicago-based Ratboys recently released a new song titled “Go Outside” that finds frontwoman Julia Steiner singing about the simple joys of going outside, seeing friends and traveling—things we all used to take for granted. The single is accompanied by a beautiful lyric music video featuring stop-animation collages that juxtapose nature, cityscapes and otherworldly images. In addition to the new single, Ratboys have also been weathering the lockdown with their own series of livestream performances titled “Virtual Tour.”
Taylor Swift – Folklore (album)
The isolation of social distancing has inspired artistic changes in many songwriters, but perhaps the most dramatic shift of all is portrayed by Taylor Swift’s surprise album folklore. Produced by Aaron Dessner of The National and co-written by Dessner, Swift and her frequent collaborator Jack Antonoff, the album finds Swift taking a hard left turn away from the anthemic pop production she’s known for and pivoting towards a softer, more stripped-back sound that’s very appropriate for the current state of the world. The sound isn’t the only thing that Swift changed—she also traded her more personal and confessional style of songwriting in for more of a third-person narrative style that showcases a newfound knack for storytelling. There are many unexpected elements about folklore, but the fact that it won a GRAMMY for “Album Of The Year” is no surprise.
Charli XCX – How I’m Feeling Now (album)
British artist Charli XCX responded to the beginning of the pandemic by publicly interacting with her fans and famous friends on platforms like Instagram Live and Zoom. It was during one of these live sessions that she announced at the beginning of April she would completely write, record and produce a new album during quarantine and only gave herself six weeks to finish it. The resulting album How I’m Feeling Now is a work of art that gives back to the cultural moment as much as it owes to it. To make things even more interesting, Charli XCX included her fans in the creative process by asking for their input and involving them in making decisions on artwork choices, song titles and which songs should be singles.
Cloud Nothings – The Black Hole Understands (album)
After being forced to cancel tour dates and return to their own homes in different cities, Cloud Nothings frontman Dylan Baldi and drummer Jayson Gerycz decided to try something new. Self-released on Bandcamp on July 3, The Black Hole Understands was created entirely remotely by Baldi and Gerycz sending files back and forth. In stark contrast to the noisy and aggressive band-in-a-room sound Cloud Nothings is known for, the quarantine-created album showcases a looser and more melodic songwriting approach and production quality. The result is a surprisingly fresh collection of songs that somehow transcend the circumstances they were made in to exist in a singular universe of their own.
OK Go – All Together Now (single/music video)
OK Go frontman Damian Kulash and his wife were unfortunately a few of the first recorded positive diagnoses of COVID-19 in California. After recovering from a scary battle with respiratory difficulties and a stay in the hospital, Kulash bounced back and felt inspired to give back to the frontline healthcare workers fighting the disease every day. In the video for “All Together Now,” the four members of OK Go appear in their own frames, filming themselves remotely recording their parts from their own homes. Through the magic of editing and mixing, all of the members seem to be locked in perfect harmony as if they created the song together. At the very end of the video, every member reveals with a clock that it’s 7:00pm in Los Angeles, and they each step outside to join in the ritual widespread cheering to acknowledge the nurses and doctors risking their lives in hospitals. The video invites the viewer to make a donation to Partners in Health, an organization that helps provide healthcare to people in need.