Song of the year (2020)

Since I started this blog, I’ve always had my personal “song of the year”. For some reason I couldn’t find last year’s (probably it was sitting in drafts and got purged). For the record, my favourite song from 2019 was “LALALAY” by South Korean pop star, SUNMI. Why? In previous years, the songs were usually moody. LALALAY is a dance song. With a traditional Korean horn instrument as a signature sound in the background. Plus, as SUNMI frolics across the video, punching the air, thrusting her thighs… I thought that’s a fair representation of my 2019 (sans the thighs). It was a year about trying to do my best and having fun.

Of course 2020 was geared to be the opposite. One of collective trauma… shared by billions of people due to the pandemic. And guess what, if it isn’t obvious yet with some recent posts. I have not one, but THREE songs I’d like to remember 2020 by. And… all three are K-pop. With such depressing news of volcanoes, basketball stars, royal families, elections, typhoons, pandemic, government response to the pandemic… I stayed afloat and upbeat with these three songs. This is the first time I’m assigning more than one song to a year.

No. 3 – Play – by CHUNG HA

The official MV is fabulous… but here’s a “one take” version recorded in a gym. You can see the different types of dance that are in the song.

There are so many types of dance in the MV. There are numerous layers that this song is so enjoyable to listen to and watch. Yes, upbeat. Tropical. Feminine. Drops of masculinity. It’s a fun mix. I’ve seen countless versions of the MV. The official MV, the performance or dance version, numerous versions for TV/streaming programmes, and of course dance covers as far away as Vietnam. I’ve also studied the steps to the pre-chorus and chorus via Steezy. For making me dance, Play is one of my three title songs for 2020.

No. 2 – Stay Tonight – also, by CHUNG HA

This one is the official MV for the song.

I was wrestling with my thoughts if I’d give a spot to Hwa Sa’s “Maria” or songs from Mamamoo (“Aya” and “Dingga” rounding up one of my most-played in December 2020). I was also thinking if a non-Kpop song would be worth adding. Think Lady Gaga or Dua Lipa. But no, there was one other CHUNG HA song I was obsessed with right in those first four months of the pandemic. It’s what elevated CHUNG HA from “just another solo female artist” (I only knew her song “Snapping” from 2019). Stay Tonight was like a Kylie Minogue MV. With Madonna’s dancers. It had voguing and waacking. Prior to this song and MV, I hadn’t seen such a blast of gay energy (the song isn’t a gay anthem, but… it’s fun). Like “Play”, this song will always remind me of those stay-at-home sunsets in Tampines East. I had just moved in with PJ and our living room window had a view of Singapore’s skyline at sunset. Deliveries of Arnold’s Fried Chicken or Amigo’s (a hawker stall).

No. 1 – “On” by BTS

This is the “Kinetic Manifesto” version of the MV, featuring The Lab Dance Crew and choreographer Sienna Lalau (that first zoom-in). I spot so many Asian Americans in it.

It was in 2020 that I started to understand why millions of people worldwide love BTS. In 2020, they released music with that sounded like an anthem of inspiration or motivation. Like this song, they sing about their journeys and hardships through the years… and how to rise above and continue “on and on”. Accompanied by dancers from The Lab (Southern California), a lot of this song has some American influences. You should see the making of the album and the production put behind the music. The song has had numerous versions. Official MV. A short film (shared above). Performances from NY’s Grand Central Station for Jimmy Fallon to one at an Olympic Stadium in Seoul.

“On” will remind me of sunny afternoons in Tampines East during Singapore’s circuit breaker. It’ll remind me that I had BTS playing while jogging around Bedok Reservoir… the only type of “outdoors” one would get at the time. “On” is a great song for 2020. And it’s where I fell in love with BTS. They dance so good.

Three songs to remember the year vs the pandemic.

George’s (Pop) Song of the Year – 2020 (3-way tie)

  • Play – CHUNG HA
  • Stay Tonight – CHUNG HA
  • On – BTS

George’s (Pop) Song of the Year – Previous years

  • 2019 – LALALAY – SUNMI
  • 2018 – All the Stars – Kendrick Lamar ft. SZA
  • 2017 – Flame – Tinashe
  • 2016 – The Life – Fifth Harmony
  • 2015 – Talking Body – Tove Lo

Songs of this year: No Time To Die – Billie Eilish

Author’s note: This post is part of a mini-series about songs I enjoyed listening to this year. Music has played a very special part in keeping sane during this pandemic. Let me know in the comments what music helped you get through.

I remember exactly where I was when I first listened to the newest Bond theme. I was on a small boat that was speeding back to Bali island from Nusa Penida. It was in February. It was the only “holiday trip” I managed to squeeze in before the world went on lockdown.

On this boat I was wearing a surgical mask. Beneath my mask, I remember it smelled like ocean breeze and diesel. The skies were sunny that early afternoon. But the mood felt cautious. The pandemic hadn’t “struck” Bali yet. Or, it wasn’t being detected at the time. It’s likely it was already silently spreading – as Bali was a top tourist destination for many of our friends from China. At the time, the virus was still hyped as from Wuhan.

Back to Billie. I think only a few people appreciate music from the Bond films. The lyrics can come off as overdramatic if not cheesy. But I enjoy the Bond themes because it’s become a sort of cinematic tradition. As a visual content creator, music has been an inspiration when I wrote and edited promos for television.

With Adele and Sam Smith being awarded for their Bond themes in Skyfall and Spectre (“The Writing’s On The Wall”), I guess it made sense to give this opportunity to one of the youngest, most multi-awarded artists of today… Billie Eilish.

NO TIME TO DIE is the 25th film in the Bond film franchise. Aptly titled, the movie couldn’t have come at a better time: a volcano erupts near Manila, a basketball legend dies in tragic helicopter crash, a pandemic sweeps the world… one for our generation. The movie itself was to premiere in 2020 (months after the release of the song in February). But like the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics, it gets pushed to next year.

But we get performances from Billie through the year. I’ll share her performance on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.

I couldn’t help but think that there are similarities in it with Adele’s Skyfall. I also think Sam Smith could give No Time To Die a good version. But Eilish owns this song, not because of her signature hums, but her vulnerability.

You’ll never see me cry, there’s just no time to die.

I can’t wait for the theatrical Bond 25 opening credits when the movie premieres in 2021. And if you think these opening credits are still like the hyper-sexualised ones of the past, try watching some of the recent ones. You’ll be surprised that Bond can evolve with the times.