For political junkies, elections are always nerve-racking. But this year, suspense over the November verdict has been worsened by a pandemic, a demagogue, and a decent possibility that Election Night will extend into a slog of ballot counting, lawsuits, and insurrection threats. At least music can reflect—and momentarily soothe—the stress. Here’s a playlist that rummages through pop history to approximate what the next couple of weeks might feel like. Over the course of 12 songs, you can practice moving from panic to impatience to excitement to more impatience to (please, please, please) serenity. (Listen to the playlist here.)
1. Shamir, “Paranoia”
To start, let’s slurp down some medication and scream in agony. Black Flag’s “Nervous Breakdown” or Green Day’s “Brain Stew” could have gone here instead, but there’s something very now about the young singer Shamir’s version of the punk-rock freak-out. There’s also something oddly comforting about the playful oh-well quaver of his voice.
2. Madonna, “Hung Up”
Time goes by … so slowly. But Madonna knows there can be a dark thrill in watching the clock while amped on anger and dread. Pause your podcasts and dance to the spooky mash-up of ABBA and wristwatches.
3. Nu Shooz, “I Can’t Wait”
Like most songs about waiting and impatience, this 1980s R&B oddity is about romantic tension, not the possibility of court packing. All the same, the arrangement suits this season of fidgeting. Just think of the song’s “baby” as the electorate, whom we’re all begging, “Tell me what is on your mind!”
4. Clint Black, “Killin’ Time”
Dull dread sets in. No matter how much Emily in Paris you binge, it won’t subside. Nothing like a country baritone to remind you that whiskey can delete hours from the day.
5. A Tribe Called Quest, “Melatonin”
Released days after the 2016 election, Tribe’s excellent final album, We Got It From Here … Thank You 4 Your Service, bottled our era’s world-weariness as well as any artwork has. “Population getting tired now,” Q-Tip says in a sad, dexterous flow on “Melatonin.” He’s not talking about the kind of exhaustion that easily gives way to rest.
6. Stevie Wonder, “Superstition”
They say that the number of presidential masks sold for the Halloween before an election indicates the ultimate winner. They also say that you can’t trust the polls. It’s only logical to groove with Stevie—while keeping your fingers crossed—in the campaign’s final days.
7. LCD Soundsystem, “Us V Them”
“The time has come, the time has come, the time has come today!” So bellows James Murphy as his disco band twitches toward a climactic conflict. Do us and them refer to red versus blue states, or voters versus the irritating pundits on TV?
8. Radiohead, “How to Disappear Completely”
If conditions in Florida start evoking Bush v. Gore or Pennsylvania gets stuck looking purple, the ensuing suspense will become dangerous to personal health and national peace. Thank goodness for Thom Yorke’s gorgeous guide to psychological dissociation.
9. Nina Simone, “New World Coming”
An epiphany: Whatever happens, the reality of the past four years will be replaced by some new paradigm. Nina Simone’s take on a Mama Cass classic greets a potential apocalypse with visions of renewal.
10. Lenny Kravitz, “It Ain’t Over ’Til It’s Over”
Lenny Kravitz’s dance-floor lullaby will be of use whether the election results are decisive or not, and whether your guy wins or not. The greater struggle over the American soul will continue. Best to soldier on with love and leather pants.
11. The 1975, “Love It If We Made It”
Party or protest with the grab-bag political anthem of our era, whose hopefulness is appropriately hedged. “Modernity has failed us,” Matthew Healy yelps while new-wave confetti cannons spray, “and I’d love it if we made it.”
12. Mariah Carey, “GTFO”
One way or another, resolution will eventually arrive. Ideally, Americans will make like Mariah and stay calm, even if they utter an obscenity as they wave the losing candidate buh-bai.