At long last 2020 has drawn to a close, meaning we can look forward to what 2021 may have in store. And thankfully, there are reasons to be hopeful. The now-approved vaccine has started to be administrated, and although it’s a way off, we can start to dream about a vague sense of normalcy over the next 12 months.
So at the start of a new year, here NME writers recommend their favourite songs about change. From Sam Cooke‘s iconic ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’, to Ariana Grande‘s uplifting ‘Be Alright’, here are some hopeful songs, for a more hopeful new year.
‘Head Rolls Off’ (2008)
The song that has become a mantra to live by for Frightened Rabbit fans in memory of late, great frontman Scott Hutchison (as well featuring lyrics that lent themselves to a mental health charity set up in his honour), ‘Heads Roll Off’ is heartening anthem to picking yourself up, moving with the times, and doing what you can to make the world a better place: “And while I’m alive, I’ll make tiny changes to Earth”.
‘A Change Is Gonna Come’ (1964)
When Sam Cooke released ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’ in 1964, he delivered a vital message of hope for the Civil Rights Movement, inspired by his own experiences of being rejected from a whites only motel. While the death of George Floyd earlier this year may have proved that the battle is far from over, Cooke’s powerful message of resilience tells us that we’ve got every right to remain hopeful in the future. After the darkest of years, let’s take that optimism into 2021.
Released in the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic, and with proceeds from the track being donated to humanitarian aid organisation Direct Relief (who provide support to health care workers and staff), the lyrics of Bon Iver‘s meaningful lockdown release hit a nerve and helped brighten the days of those struggling with self-isolation. Despite sounding melancholy and near-defeat on first listen, the titular lyrics – “please don’t live in fear” – were a rallying cry to keep our chins up and stay positive despite the world falling apart around us. A subtly uplifting message of hope and courage that we’ve all undoubtedly needed in 2020, Justin Vernon’s hug-like affirmation that “there will be a better day” acted as a guide towards finding the light at the end of a seemingly never-ending tunnel.
This was the sound of a freshly post-Beatles John Lennon in retreat from the headfuck that was Beatlemania, which he once described as “a freak show”. Vowing to forge ahead and reconnect with himself, he insists over a bright, clean piano refrain and unfussy production: “I was the walrus / But now I’m John.” Co-produced by Yoko Ono, the 1970 song is a heartfelt ode to inner steel and contentment in the face of change, and still aches with a sense of urgency some 50 years since its release. A gazillionaire pop star waxing lyrical about life beyond the biggest rock band of all time – is ‘God’ a relatable song? On the surface, perhaps it’s not, but songs mean different things to us at different times – such is the strange magic of music – and as 2021 approaches, one line buzzes with a kind of weird prescience far removed from its intended meaning: “I just believe in me – Yoko and me.” All we have is ourselves and each other, you know?
‘Float On’ (2004)
“I backed my car into a cop car the other day / Well he just drove off, sometimes life’s okay,” opens Modest Mouse‘s ‘Float On’, a song about finding little victories and silver linings when it feels like the very fabric of your world is falling apart. Over invigorating stabs of guitar and a drum beat bouncy enough to force you from your slumber and show you the bright side of things, ‘Float On’ a tonic like no other for convincing you that a better way forwards is possible. “Even if things end up a bit too heavy, we’ll all float on, alright,” the chorus goes. Alright indeed.
RM & Nell
After a relentlessly brutal year of doom and gloom, it’s easy to feel like the mere changing of the calendar isn’t going to do much to alter our global situation. That may be so, but time will eventually bring us a better day. That’s the message of BTS leader RM’s soothing ‘everythingoes’ – a meditational mantra featuring Korean alt-rock band Nell that gently blooms from something soft and still to a bright piece of light euphoria. “Everyday I stay/ Because all humans and all pain eventually die,” RM notes at one point and, while part of that sentiment is less encouraging than the other, it’s a truthful nod to life’s transient nature that we often forget when bogged down in our struggles.
‘Be Alright’ (2016)
Not so much about change itself as learning to live through it, Ariana Grande’s summery bop has taken on new anthemic resonance over the years, not least because of its defiant performance to open her set at the Manchester One Love concerts. On a personal note, that bedroom-choreography-inducing chorus never fails to remind you that great pop music is so often about escape; you might not be able to change your circumstances, but you can certainly dance your way towards hope. If you’re looking for a peppy start to 2021, Ariana is it.
Lana Del Rey
‘Get Free’ (2017)
The central refrain of the grand, sweeping closing track from 2017’s trap-leaning ‘Lust For Life’ translates as a perfect moment to exhale. “I wanna move/Out of the black/Into the blue”, repeats Lana Del Rey atop a swooning orchestral arrangement. This hopeful line evokes clear eyes and a radiant smile, a weight being lifted off the shoulders. It’s a simple, yet affecting commitment to bettering yourself, and one to turn to in the face of change.
Here Comes the Sun
‘The Beatles’ (1969)
New Year’s Eve this year looked slightly different. For the first time in forever I wasn’t surrounded by my closest friends, glugging leftover Christmas fizz from the bottle and cheering as the clock struck midnight. But it was no less celebratory. After a total shitter of year, I instead rung in 2021 listening to this slice of pure joy from The Beatles. It may have been a long, cold, lonely winter, but as I leave 2020 in the past, it does feel like better days filled with sunshine might be coming.