The year 2020 has been an historic one, and not necessarily in good ways. The United States is still navigating life in a global pandemic, people across the country protested racial injustice with a renewed fervor throughout the summer, and we dealt with a contentious presidential election in the fall.
In tumultuous times, many of us search for comfort and understanding in music. Even in these times of turmoil, country music has supplied listeners with songs that can help us keep moving forward, question the status quo and shine a light on our truths, no matter how dark or scary they may be.
These 10 songs from the year have each made a huge impact on the genre: They’ve connected with fans and helped mark an important chapter in history that won’t soon be forgotten.
It took 14 years to get a new single from the Chicks (formerly known as the Dixie Chicks), but it was worth the wait. “Gaslighter,” produced and co-written with Jack Antonoff, is, like the Chicks themselves, unapologetically honest. Partially inspired by Natalie Maines’ divorce and subsequent legal battle, the song — like its fellow Gaslighter track “March March” – also acts as a scathing commentary on today’s political climate. In fact, Maines posted multiple videos of the track set to footage of President Trump following the song’s release in March. — LL
“Long Violent History”
Childers’ September release Long Violent History arrived by surprise, but the old-time instrumentals-filled tracklist wasn’t the only stunner. The song’s title track, its final song, is a weighty rumination on racism: “It’s the worst that it’s been since the last time it happened / It’s happening again right in front of our eyes,” Childers begins, pointedly.
What makes “Long Violent History” more than just another song about inequality from white singer-songwriter is how Childers so directly and effectively addresses his audience and those who grew up like he did. He also recorded a video message to accompany the song and album’s release, similarly urging empathy and action. — AS
“Six Feet Apart”
For many of us, one of the hardest parts of dealing with the novel coronavirus pandemic has been being kept away from our loved ones. Written by Combs, Brent Cobb and Rob Snyder, “Six Feet Apart” thoughtfully vocalizes those frustrations while gently reminding us that these strange times won’t last forever. — LL
“What Are You Gonna Tell Her?”
One of the most moving moments of February’s 2020 Country Radio Seminar was Mickey Guyton’s debut performance of “What Are You Gonna Tell Her?” The song directly addresses the inequality, injustices and stereotypes that women, people of color and others still face on a daily basis. Emotional, honest and powerful, “What Are You Gonna Tell Her?” will likely be noted as one of the most important country songs of both 2020 and the entire decade. — LL
“Black Like Me”
Guyton’s “Black Like Me” asks listeners to check their privilege: to stop and realize that ”the land of the free” isn’t necessarily free and equal for everyone. Appropriately, she released the song on June 2, dubbed Blackout Tuesday, as the music industry observed a day-long blackout meant to raise awareness of, and spur action around, racism and inequality.
“Black Like Me” reflects on the racism and biases Guyton has faced throughout her life, both during childhood and while trying to find success in Nashville. The title comes from Black Like Me, the 1961 book that chronicles white journalist John Howard Griffin’s experiences after he temporarily darkened his skin to pass as a Black man and travel in segregated states. — AS
“What’ve I Done to Help”
At almost seven minutes in length, Jason Isbell’s “What’ve I Done to Help” examines what can happen when those in better circumstances choose to block out the challenges that those around them face on a daily basis. Reflective and timely, the song reminds us all that change won’t happen unless we work to help people other than ourselves. — LL
With all the curveballs life has thrown at us all over the past year, it’s essential to find those little moments from which we can pull joy and determination. Lambert’s uplifting and anthemic single “Bluebird” taps into that feeling of hope, even when traveling through the toughest times. — LL
“Better Than We Found It”
“Better Than We Found It” calls for action: to take responsibility for affecting change in the world and leaving it better than it was when we arrived in it. Morris calls it a protest song, co-written with Jessie Jo Dillon, Jimmy Robbins and Laura Veltz, and produced by Greg Kurstin.
“It’s the most American thing to protest, and protest songs have been so embedded in American culture,” Morris reflects. “I think the world right now is sort of in a perpetual mourning period, and I wanted to have a song that had weight but also had hope.” — AS
Shires’ “The Problem,” featuring her husband and fellow musician Isbell, is notable for its lyrical depiction of a couple supporting each other through an abortion, but its chorus is also a beautiful show of unwavering and unconditional love, no matter the situation: “It’s gonna be alright / I’m on your side,” they sing.
“We can’t really make any changes in the world or stand by people going through tough decisions if we don’t have friends on our side,” Shires tells The Boot, “… and, you know, a lot of men do believe we should have our own rights to our bodies.” — AS
“South Gotta Change”
Executive produced by T Bone Burnett, “South Gotta Change” is, Victoria says in a press release, “a prayer, an affirmation and a battle cry all at once.” She examines the southern United States’ troubled history and calls for improvements, as tambourine and electric guitar underscore her timely message.
“If you’re tired of walkin’, let the children lead the way / ‘Cause I love you, I won’t leave you, won’t let you slip away / Come what may, we’re gonna find a way / The South gotta change …” Victoria sings in the chorus. On Twitter, she adds, “The South is the land I grew up in and grew up on. It troubles me, it inspires. It pushes me to ask more for myself and for my people. I’m a southern girl, through and through. and because I love it, I fight for the South [to] change.” — AS