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The best music moments and projects that came from grief

From Charli XCX and Fiona Apple to Run the Jewels and more, we are revisiting five of the best music moments that came from pandemic grief. And we’ll die on this hill.

The summer of 2020 came, and all across America, people were scratching concert dates off their calendars. Venues were shuttered, and as the country went into hibernation, musicians lost the ability to connect with their fans in live performances. 

This enforced hiatus, heavy with pandemic-era grief and loneliness, was the genesis of a distinct creative moment in the history of music. 

As all kinds of artists tend to do during the worst of times, musicians poured their energy into creation, an outpouring of work uniquely shaped by the ongoing crisis.

While some groups created songs to distract from the pandemic, others leaned into it for source material.

These five best music moments were formed during quarantine. The artists looked within for inspiration, but often nod to the turbulent social tides raging just outside the door.

Charli XCX: How I’m Feeling Now

Written in a creative blitz over the course of six weeks during quarantine, “How I’m Feeling Now” is a time capsule of Charli XCX’s shifting emotions during the pandemic.

Charli XCX and her songs range from a dark, stormy longing to ‘go hard’ in the club on “pink diamond”, quiet despair threatening to explode on “detonate”, and grasping at images of a future reunited with loved ones on “visions”. 

Best music moment:

The verse on “c2.0” where CharliXCX wistfully recollects golden days with her clique, reframing the brash confidence of the original “Click” with a touching fragility.

Sufjan Stevens: The Ascension

Laced with songs contemplating death and the impermanence of the body, this album was undoubtedly the product of an uncertain, isolated time with death lurking around the corner. Stevens is a self-confessed “pessimist”, and his worldview bleeds through into these hazy, anxious songs.

Best music moment:

The pulsing build of “Die Happy”, like the song has a heartbeat of its own, swelling to an emphatic, chest-bursting finale. 

Adrianne Lenker: songs

Feeling the weight of worldwide sickness and a recent breakup, Adrianne Lenker retreated to a small cabin in Pennsylvania during the pandemic to record an album.

Music has always acted like a relief valve for Lenker, who writes what she’s currently living through, resulting in music that is always pulsing with fresh emotion. 

Best music moment:

The airy sibilance on “anything”, lyrics like “shining with the sheen of a shotgun” or “shoulder of your shirt sleeve slipping”. The words glide over the guitar like a small bird darting through streams of wind. 

Run The Jewels: RTJ4

Instead of pushing back their albums for a post-pandemic release like many musicians, hip hop duo EI-P and Killer Mike pushed the release date forward upon the death of George Floyd and the surge of protests across America.

Stunningly witty and packed with both humor and adrenaline, Run The Jewels uses forceful but catchy beats to capture the pressing social concerns of 2020. 

Best music moment: 

The beat switch in “holy calamafuck”, and the absurd, hilarious detour where EI-P licks a psychedelic toad, hallucinates time elves living outside our reality and struggles to explain the pitfalls of our society to them. 

Fiona Apple: Fetch the Bolt Cutters

Fiona Apple returned after one of her customary periods of creative hibernation, pandemic grief aside, and gave us songs that both caress and bite.

The title track, “Fetch the Bolt Cutters”, captures Apple’s desire to break free from the cramped behavioral expectations of a woman in the spotlight, but it takes on an extra layer of meaning during quarantine.

Best music moment: 

In the round at the end of “Under the Table”, as Apple insists that begging disagrees with her, voices stack into a chanting, chaotic chorus.