Best of 2020 List
We can all agree that this year looked a lot different than previous years in all areas of our lives. For the music business, it changed the way business was done, how music was created, how musicians toured, and how the industry was forced to adapt to a new normal – a world where the fan was not at the center of everything. As we have done every year since Listen Here Reviews began back in 2012, we have compiled a list of this year’s best records, singles, and moments, in no particular order. Cheers to 2021 and Happy New Year!
Taylor Swift: Folklore and Evermore
First up on our list is Taylor Swift’s new albums, Folklore and Evermore. Released earlier this year, both albums were a surprise after formally dropping her 2019 album Lover. Dropped in the early morning hours of July 24th, Folklore was a complete change from previous albums. Getting her start as a teenager in Nashville back in 2008, Swift not only has roots in country music, but also experimented with pop and electronic music, with lukewarm results. While Swift has always written songs that always remained very consistent in subject matter (with their focus largely on her,) on both Folklore and Evermore Swift turns to others to write about, creating music that fits her voice and new stage in life as a thirty-something.
With tracks such as “Cardigan,” “The Last Great American Dynasty” and “Mirrorball,” Swift has truly created an album that stands a chance at making this horrible year bearable for so many, in addition to collaborating with surprise musicians including members of The National and Bon Ivor, to round out her new softer indie sound.
While Evermore was not nearly as exciting as Folklore, it kept up the pace of taking the focus off of Swift and writing about others. With gorgeous tracks such as “Marjorie”, Evermore demonstrates more clearly Swift’s depth and that she can appeal to more than just her teenage and young adult audience.
Music Travel Love: “Miss You Like Crazy (The Moffatts Cover)
Getting their start as young kids as half of the Canadian brother band The Moffatts, twin brothers Clint and Bob Moffatt formed Music Travel Love a few years back, originally known as Endless Summer, as a return to their country roots. While the duo has consistently released cool performance videos and an entire collection of different cover songs on various streaming platforms, it is songs like “Miss You Like Crazy,” that will make fans nostalgic. If you were living in Canada, certain parts of Europe, or Asia back in the 90’s, you may remember “Miss You Like Crazy” and how The Moffatts had their career skyrocket with the song. While the original is a bit cheesy these days, the memories come rushing back and if you were not aware of The Moffatts back then, listening to Music Travel Love today makes them into their own entity, not attached to anything too syrupy or sugary. Both brothers can both truly perform and “Miss You Crazy” presents this well and gives new fans a window into the brothers past career milestones.
Jonas Brothers: Chasing Happiness and Happiness Continues
Returning in 2019 after a six-year hiatus, the Jonas Brothers have not stopped the onslaught of new music releases and documentaries. With the release of Happiness Begins in 2019, the brothers have dropped a few movies with the happiness theme throughout, including a career spanning documentary, Chasing Happiness and a documentary taking fans through their comeback tour titled Happiness Continues. With both films being beautifully shot from start to finish, both movies will delight old fans and bring in some new ones. While at one point in time, it was not cool to call yourself a Jonas fan, with this new era, now it is. With an addictive setlist on Happiness Continues and a live show that makes you wish you there, you will not want to miss another Jonas Brothers tour again, and with Chasing Happiness, it will make you wish you had been there to experience the entire Jonas Brothers history.
Justin Bieber: Changes (album)
Over the course of his career, Justin Bieber has had plenty of highs and lows, and after the release of his flop album Journals in 2013, it was not clear whether Bieber could return to the spotlight in one piece. While 2017’s Purpose paved the way for this to happen, it was 2020’s Changes that cemented this into being. Perhaps Bieber’s best work to date, vocally and musically Bieber sounds like a mature man ready to right his wrongs and make music that he genuinely enjoys. While the lyrics are a bit lacking in subject matter as they are entirely based around his wife and model Hailey Baldwin, vocally Bieber shows off his talent without sounding like he is desperate to make a clean comeback. Working with producer Poo Bear, truly makes Changes a beautiful album to listen to and turns Bieber into the man that his close circle and fans always knew he could become.
Shawn Mendes: In Wonder and Shawn Mendes Live in Concert
Since coming onto the scene with Handwritten in 2015, Canadian artists Shawn Mendes has created a career where we see his talent grow with each album. To promote his new body of work, Wonder and give fans the live concert experience, Mendes has released a Netflix documentary (In Wonder) and a live show documentary (Shawn Mendes Live in Concert) featuring his sold-out show at the Rogers Center in his hometown of Toronto. Both documentaries give an in depth look at Mendes and his year on the road, as he moves through and navigates the confusing world of the music business as a young man in his early 20’s. While the documentaries offer nothing new in terms of revealing more about Mendes and his personality, he comes across as a personable, raw, and honest young man that is making music that sounds like artists twice his age.
Best Live Stream show: Niall Horan Live at Royal Albert Hall
With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, live music has come to a complete halt and as such the music industry has had to adapt to musicians taking their live shows into the virtual world, whether it is a stream on Instagram or a paid livestream. While there are hundreds of artists doing this over the course of the last year, it is Irishman Niall Horan who has done an excellent job at it. Wanting to put together a show that supports the crews that fuel live performances from behind the scenes, Horan put together a live show at Royal Albert Hall and streamed it for fans around the globe. While it was odd watching Horan perform without an audience, the visuals and expansiveness of this iconic venue brought a gorgeous vibe and spice to what has the potential to become a dull and lonely experience for a live streamed concert, since we cannot share the experience with those around us in a venue. Performing a slew of old and new hits, Horan hit the spot on this one, making it feel as if you were actually in the room with him and not watching through a screen. Next time around, hopefully Horan and his band can perform at Royal Albert Hall with an audience in front of them in a more traditional way.
Best nostalgia track: Good Charlotte – Last December
While Good Charlotte has not had much traction in their career since releasing The Young and The Hopeless in 2002, if you are longing for the days of black eyeliner and a band shirt, Good Charlotte never fail to bring back the nostalgia. While the group’s last few albums have been hit or miss in terms of hits, “Last December” reminds us why the band remains one group you will never quite forget. With the trademark harmonies from twin brothers Joel and Benji Madden, and the relatable storylines the twins weave throughout their songs, “Last December” remains an addictive track that makes us excited for what the band releases next.
While Good Charlotte may not be a band you expected to see on a year end list these days, the group still remains fresh, and while high school feels like a lifetime away for many of their fans, Good Charlotte remains the perfect act to listen to when revisiting this part of our lives.
Best viral story: Mat and Savanna Shaw (Picture This)
Perhaps the most surprising and heartwarming story of the year, is that of Mat and Savanna Shaw of Kaysville, Utah. The story begins with 15-year-old Savanna being in lockdown and wanting to stay in touch with her choir friends. Creating an Instagram account and YouTube account for this very purpose, Savanna set out to upload a video of herself singing “The Prayer” to YouTube. Though before uploading, she was feeling a bit nervous and asked her father Mat to sing with her. What resulted was a viral sensation and two albums later (a secular and Christmas album.) Uploading videos of the pair singing various songs from different artists, musicals, and movies to their YouTube channel, those who listen cannot get enough of this father-daughter duo. Appearing on Billboard’s Emerging Artists Chart several months ago, the unexpected fame was a surprise for the Shaw family as they are now looking to make music their full-time careers. Every song sounds perfect and their debut album Picture This, is something that needs to be listened to at least once a day. We cannot wait to see where 2021 takes Mat and Savanna.
Favorite Single Niall Horan – “Black and White”
On 2020’s Heartbreak Weather, Niall Horan went from folk to 80’s inspired pop, and while the album overall was good, it was the single “Black and White” that stood out as one of this year’s releases. Harkening back to 2018’s Flicker, Horan’s debut, the lyrics is what makes the song standout. Talking about having a long term relationship last into old age, the track is beautifully written and executed, with the song becoming a staple at weddings. The stripped-down acoustic version is a beautiful listen as well and shows not only how much Horan as grown as a songwriter, but where he is heading into the future. If he continues to write songs like this, he will be performing long after his current musical peers have expired in popularity.
Louis Tomlinson – Walls
Releasing his long-awaited solo debut this year, British singer Louis Tomlinson has finally come into his own with Walls. Releasing the solo EDM track “Just Hold On” featuring Steve Aoki in 2018, it felt like Tomlinson was struggling to find his footing after temporarily folding his band One Direction after they went on a hiatus. After releasing a few tunes that did not quite fit his desired taste, Tomlinson went back to the drawing board and came out with something that sounded more aligned with the sounds of Oasis and Arctic Monkeys, then the bubblegum sounds of One Direction. What resulted was a stunning album full of songs that not only fit with Tomlinson’s vocal style, but an album where you truly get lost in it. Highlighting many of Tomlinson’s ups and downs over the past few years, including the death of his mother and the birth of his son, Walls feels like a glimpse into Tomlinson’s life experiences, something we did not see from any of the One Direction boys throughout their five-year reign.
NeedtoBreathe – Out of Body
While NeedtoBreathe have made a name for themselves throughout the Christian music community, their jump to create music that feels more secular is solidified on Out of Body, the band’s most recent release. Delivering stunning albums such as Rivers in The Wasteland in years past, NeedtoBreathe have once again released a record that is constantly being streamed. With a big expansive sound and beautifully written songs, NeedtoBreathe is a band that deserves more recognition.
Chris Stapleton – Starting Over
From start to finish, Chris Stapleton’s latest LP Starting Over is a dynamic country album that feels authentic, raw, and gritty. From the opening title track to closing tune “Nashville, TN” it does not take much to see why Stapleton has become such a known and popular figure in the music business, no matter what genre you tend to listen to. Stapleton’s guitar skills are impeccable, and his vocals move us as only a good artist can. As we move though various emotions that span the album, Starting Over is a great way to end 2020 and bring in a fresh start.