2020 has been a difficult year for those working in music – never mind the fact that as fans, we're all really missing gigs.
Despite the live industry grinding to an abrupt halt, however, there have been some very impressive projects undertaken by musicians during lockdown – both on the big and small scales.
Below, we've chosen six of our favourites...
IRISH WOMEN IN HARMONY
Dublin-born songwriter Ruth-Anne Cunningham put both her musical know-how and her network of contacts to good use during lockdown by forming Irish Women in Harmony – a supergroup featuring tens of amazing female musicians, from newcomers like Fia Moon to established acts like Imelda May and Caroline Corr. They recorded a cover of The Cranberries' 'Dreams', with all profits going to SAFE Ireland, a charity that provides support to women and children suffering from domestic abuse and violence.
Each artist recorded their contributions at home and sent them to Cunningham – who then had the onerous task of slotting them all together in a manner that flowed. Luckily, it turned out beautifully. The good news is that there's more to come from IWIH: a Christmas single is already in the works.
TAYLOR SWIFT'S 'FOLKLORE'
It's been less than a year since Taylor Swift released her last album 'Lover', so no one expected new material this soon. In fact, you might have assumed that the perennially-busy Swift would enjoy some downtime during the pandemic, given the almost constant record-release-tour carousel that she's been on in recent years.
So that meant we were doubly surprised when she sprung 'Folklore' – a largely stripped-back album produced by The National's Aaron Dessner – on us in July. The inclusion of artists like Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) on the tracklist gave chinstroking indie schmindie musos permission to enjoy it, but for those of us unafraid of the word 'pop', Swift has always been a talented songwriter. This album just cemented that reputation (ha! See what we did there?)
CHARLI XCX'S 'HOW I'M FEELING NOW'
It's been a stellar year for pop music in general, but Charli XCX really ought to be a household name by now. Amongst discerning pop fans, she's already practically royalty, that's true: but she still hasn't quite attained the profile of acts like Beyonce, Rihanna or Britney. Never mind – as long as she keeps churning out quality albums like 'What I'm Feeling Now', that's what matters.
In a year where many record labels and artists ran scared and delayed the release of their albums (*cough Lady Gaga cough*) Charli wrote, recorded and released her fourth album – inspired by lockdown and made in isolation, in collaboration with her fans – in the space of six weeks. The fact that it's of such high quality (most acts would kill for a song like 'Forever' in their canon) is testament to her talent.
SOPHIE ELLIS BEXTOR'S KITCHEN DISCOS
In the midst of deepest, darkest lockdown, these weekly kitchen discos on Instagram were a little ray of sunshine. Okay, a big ray of sunshine. Not only did we enviously covet Sophie Ellis-Bextor's amazing house and everything in it, but her carefree attitude as she shimmied around her kitchen, dressed up to the nines, glitterball hanging from the ceiling and note-perfect on every tune despite several children literally hanging off her, was both amusing and uplifting. We could all take a leaf out of SEB's book. Her last Kitchen Disco was in July – but the good news is that there's an album and a tour on the way (the latter in 2021.)
PHOEBE BRIDGERS – 'KYOTO'
Okay, so it's just a music video – but you have to applaud Phoebe Bridgers' ingenuity for 'Kyoto' (we're also big fans of her music, which helps). Bridgers is one of many artists who released new music during lockdown, were faced with the prospect of having no accompanying promo video, and so employed the use of green screen (Irish band Sisterix did the same thing).
The American musician was actually due to film the video for 'Kyoto' in actual Kyoto, but her trip to Japan was cancelled for obvious reason. Instead, there's this (kind of grotesque, but nevetherless enjoyable) work of art to savour, which sees her superimposed over stock footage of the city. It somehow suits the song perfectly.
We've thoroughly enjoyed the Verzuz battles we've seen to date – particularly the Brandy and Monica one. In case you didn't know, Verzuz is an Instagram Live show that was conceived during lockdown by producers Timbaland and Swizz Beatz. Taking place over the course of ten rounds, two well-known artists (mostly r'n'b so far) go head-to-head with their back catalogues in a music battle, discussing each song and (in some cases) getting pretty competitive about them. The likes of Teddy Riley and Babyface, Jill Scott and Erykah Badu and Nelly and Ludacris have all participated. If you have the time to settle in and watch them over the course of an evening, it's a thoroughly enjoyable way to navigate an artist's back catalogue.