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Crowds are a no-no this New Year’s Eve, but there are no restrictions on dancing by yourself. To help you say good riddance to 2020 in style, I asked three writers who cover music—Spencer Kornhaber, Hannah Giorgis, and James Parker—to put together a playlist worthy of your evening. Follow along on our Spotify.
May their picks inspire many a living-room boogie. Thanks for reading The Atlantic this year. We’ll see you in 2021.
VICTORIA MONÉT, KHALID, AND SG LEWIS, “EXPERIENCE”
Using a magic-dusted groove and a velvet voice, the Ariana Grande songwriter and rising R&B star Victoria Monét offers counsel relevant to all of humankind after 2020: “I’m hoping that experience will get you to change.”
DUA LIPA FEATURING DABABY, “LEVITATING”
“If you wanna run away with me, I know a galaxy / And I can take you for a ride,” Dua Lipa sings, and for a moment, interstellar travel seems possible. Somehow, DaBaby’s brisk, frenetic rapping doesn’t feel out of place on the bubbly pop track; instead, it adds a live wire.
UNDERWORLD, “REZ/COWGIRL LIVE”
Euphoria? Communion? Here it is, the pure, silvery, “everyone’s together” rush. This live version is the best: The crowd’s delayed roar of gladness as the beat drops at 8:39 is like a chemical exploding softly across the brain centers. Musical bioengineering at its most soulful and loving.
BREE RUNWAY FEATURING MISSY ELLIOTT, “ATM”
Something to look forward to every new year: the future of music. The rapper Bree Runway makes a solid case for the title of Next Big Thing on “ATM” while commiserating with that forever-future-of-music, Missy Eilliott, about the hassles of travel.
KAYTRANADA AND SHAY LIA, “CHANCES”
If ever there were a song that insisted on shimmying, it’s this gauzy offering from the pair of Canadian musicians. Shay Lia’s voice is so light, it’s practically atmospheric, the song a reminder that there’s beauty—comfort, even—in thoughtful repetition.
AUGUSTUS PABLO, “KING TUBBY MEETS THE ROCKERS UPTOWN”
Dub reggae is literally bottomless: an echo-world without a floor, and an inexhaustible amount of material. But search as you may, delve as you might, you won’t find a deeper, more wildly creative two and a half minutes of dub than this. A brain-mending micro-symphony.
LADY GAGA, “FREE WOMAN”
In a career full of cheesy-ass liberation cries, this is Gaga’s purest one. The pandemic won’t fully be over until go-go boys at crowded beach bars get to shout the final chorus.
BAD BUNNY, “LA DIFÍCIL”
Really, you could play the entirety of Bad Bunny’s YHLQMDLG and catapult yourself into the new year with the Puerto Rican star’s high-energy Latin trap. One of the racier songs on the album, “La Difícil,” finds him waxing poetic about a woman who calls only when she needs him after a night out. Remember those?
KILLING JOKE, “REQUIEM”
“When the meaningful words/ When they cease to function …” Catastrophe-ready since 1979, millenarian post-punkers Killing Joke have never really gone out of style. But 2020 was an especially Killing Joke type of year. And “Requiem”—with its brain-canceling synth-pulse, its angelic staircase of a riff, its processional stomp into the end times—is once more the anthem of the hour.
CHARLI XCX, “ANTHEMS”
In the early days of quarantine, the noise-pop hero Charli XCX recorded this feral, meta tribute to camaraderie-creating anthems such as the very ones on this playlist.
SAM SMITH FEATURING NORMANI, “DANCING WITH A STRANGER”
“Dancing With a Stranger” is a union of two pop juggernauts. Smith and Normani bring soulful energy to the club-friendly track, elevating it beyond normal nightclub fare.
NEIL YOUNG, “DON’T LET IT BRING YOU DOWN”
From the ineffably sad slump of its three main chords to the ringing, spacey melancholia of Young’s imagery, there is much strange comfort to be found here. It does the job, this song: It pierces downward, through shelves of loneliness, into a substrate of human connection.
PROTOJE, “STRANGE HAPPENINGS”
In Search of Lost Time, the reggae artist Protoje’s meditative album, is a lush record. Listen to “Strange Happenings,” its final track, if you need to be eased into 2021 like a gentle ride along a river.
SINEAD O’CONNOR, “JACKIE”
The Irish MMA fighter Conor McGregor used to walk out to Sinead O’Connor singing “The Foggy Dew.” I always thought he should have picked “Jackie.” What a build, what an electric escalation through wistful lostness to an ecstasy of abandonment, what a channeling of untethered, almost inhuman grief. What a song.
RÓISÍN MURPHY, “MURPHY’S LAW”
Miss the real world? Put on this slinky disco testimonial about being afraid to leave the house, doing so anyway, and immediately bumping into your ex.
KALI UCHIS AND RICO NASTY, “¡AQUÍ YO MANDO!”
Here’s a delicate-yet-brutal bilingual confidence boost, ideal for stomping all over—but not quite destroying—the furniture you’ve gotten to know so well over the past year.
TAME IMPALA, “ONE MORE YEAR”
This psychedelic bop, a callback to carefree times past, pulses with the sound of what the Australian singer-songwriter has called a “Gregorian choir.” Really, it’s just his own voice reverberating at a different octave, a robotic effect that’s surprisingly soothing.
BERHANA FEATURING MEREBA, “GOLDEN PT. 2”
“Golden,” one of the songs on Berhana’s kaleidoscopic 2019 debut, was already a transportive delight. With the addition of the songstress Mereba’s honeyed vocals, it becomes sublime.
HONEY DIJON FEATURING HADIYA GEORGE, “NOT ABOUT YOU”
This vigorous house anthem makes collectivism sound sexy while rattling a tambourine in the faces of un-masked narcissists everywhere.
WUGAZI, “NOWHERE TO WAIT”
Mashing up the austere, ferocious post-rock of Washington, D.C.’s Fugazi with the hoarsely inspired verbalizings of the Wu-Tang Clan’s 36 Chambers, the Wugazi project basically invented a new type of music, a new type of indestructibility—one that we need more of, urgently.
- What song are you planning to greet 2021 with? If there’s a tune that got you through this year, tell us about it at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Looking for more? Revisit our picks for the 16 best albums of 2020.
- Not in the mood for music? Put on one of the best films of 2020 instead.
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