“Can we just get to 2021?” ask Avenue Beat on their new viral hit. Other artists are ready for this nightmarish year to be over, too.
Avenue Beat’s Sami Bearden was already having a rough year when her beloved cat, Gumbo, died on June 24. “A bunch of stuff had been leading up to that,” she tells Billboard. “But this was a day where it all came…”
Bearden voice trails off, and bandmate Savana Santos, sitting next to her at a Nashville coffee shop, quickly jumps in on the Zoom call. “Sami’s cat died,” she says dramatically. “And that really was the final straw.”
The rising country-adjacent pop trio of Bearden, Santos and Sam Backoff were supposed to have a big 2020. After releasing their self-titled debut EP and touring with Mason Ramsey last year, the group was gearing up to open for Rascal Flatts on select dates of their summer farewell tour, and working toward a proper debut album.
The coronavirus pandemic scrapped their live dates, of course. And while Avenue Beat has kept busy releasing “quarantine covers” of songs like Doja Cat’s “Say So” and John Mayer’s “New Light,” as well as the song “I Don’t Really Like Your Boyfriend,” they also admit that seeing their big 2020 plans evaporate was naturally frustrating.
With Gumbo’s death, however, that frustration boiled over. Santos started writing a song titled “F2020.” “The way that I get out my emotions is through writing,” she says, “so the first verse and chorus just fell out.” The opening verse pairs Bearden’s personal pain with the universal problems that this year has presented: “Yo, my cat died, and a global pandemic took over my life,” she sings, “And I put out some music that nobody liked/ So, I got really sad and bored at the same time.” The chorus, meanwhile, does not mince words — it opens with the line “Lowkey f–k 2020.”
Avenue Beat posted the unfinished song on TikTok, “not thinking anything was going to happen, really,” says Backoff. “And then we woke up the next morning and it had, like, 4.5 million views.”
“F2020” has become an unexpected viral hit for Avenue Beat, who quickly recorded the rest of the song upon its TikTok explosion — the original post is up to 12.4 million views — and released a full version of the song to streaming services on July 10. It’s also not the only recent song with “2020” in the title, focused on a wild calendar year that has included a global pandemic, economic downturn and multiple instances of police brutality resulting in nationwide protests.
“We’re not repeating history, just the parts that sucked / 2020, what the actual f–k?” Ben Folds sings on “2020,” a new track released on June 26 that has logged 84,000 on-demand U.S. streams, according to Nielsen Music/MRC Data. The veteran singer-songwriter uses the stripped-down track to reflect upon the historical events that have somehow been compressed into a six-month period, referencing the 1918 Spanish Flu, beginning of the Great Depression in 1930 and the Civil Rights movement of 1968. (“There’s the sense that time is accelerating by the day,” Folds says of the song in a press statement. “It’s personally disorienting, and also artistically disorienting.”)
Meanwhile, Trey Songz’s new track “2020 Riots: How Many Times” (2.7 million on-demand streams) translates the theme of history repeating itself to the fight against racial injustice, expressing incredulity that unprovoked violence against Black people is still such a prevalent issue in 2020. Other recent protest songs have also remarked on the Black Lives Matter movement going global, at the same time as a pandemic that disproportionately affects communities of color ravaged the United States. As Lil Baby puts it in the chorus of “The Bigger Picture,” which peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, “We done had a hell of a year.”
Oddly enough, 2020 began with a slight influx of songs about how great this year was going to be: songs like synth-pop duo Great Good Fine OK’s “2020” and Brooklyn rapper Smoove’L’s “2020” extolled the fresh start of a new calendar earlier this year, while Young M.A declared her intent to “level up” on her January track “2020 Vision.” Meanwhile, Lil Uzi Vert’s “Futsal Shuffle 2020,” released in mid-December, made us think that this year was going to be a big dance party with TikTok-friendly choreography.
Since then, however, popular music has drawn upon the tumultuous events that have come to define this year. The coronavirus pandemic has caused both lyrical references — “Would you be my little quarantine?,” Twenty One Pilots ask on their single “Level of Concern” — as well as popular anthems about our new, social distanced reality (“Stuck With U” by Ariana Grande and Justin Bieber debuted atop the Hot 100 upon its release). And the enormous demonstrations following the police killing of George Floyd on May 25 coincided with a tidal wave of protest anthems from artists like H.E.R., T.I., Leon Bridges and DaBaby, the lattermost releasing a “Black Lives Matter remix” to his No. 1 smash “Rockstar,” featuring Roddy Ricch.
A streaming-based music industry has made it easier than ever for artists to comment upon the shifting world around them and immediately share those comments with listeners — be it on a pandemic, social injustice, or generally hating how this year has played out so far. Avenue Beat, for instance, say that they didn’t check with their team before posting the first half of “F2020” on TikTok, viewing the song sketch as a chance to blow off steam instead of a new artistic statement.
“In our brains, we were like, ‘We just wrote a song that says the f-word 3,000 times — nobody’s gonna let us put this out,’” says the group’s Santos. “We were just like, ‘Let’s throw it up there and see what happens, and suffer the consequences later.’”
Less than a week after its official release, “F2020” is already clearing some impressive hurdles for Avenue Beat, who are signed to Big Machine Label Group. The song was featured prominently on Spotify’s New Music Friday playlist, ahead of new tracks by Kid Cudi & Eminem and Katy Perry, and has nearly 2 million plays on the platform; it also has nearly 175 plays to date at top 40 radio, according to Nielsen Music/MRC Data.
With nearly the entire second half of the year still left undiscovered — including what will surely be one of the most bitterly fought presidential elections in U.S. history — the members of Avenue Beat aren’t sure how many more anti-2020 songs we can expect, or how far the trend will extend. But they say that they’re glad to be simply promoting their music again, even if it’s by far their most disaffected song to date, after previously shrugging off all 2020 plans. Bearden is also totally okay if the group’s biggest-ever song was inspired by the passing of her beloved Gumbo.
“Listen,” she says, “if this is our one hit, and we immediately stagger off into obscurity? I will still just be so happy. People may still stop me and be like, ‘Hey, you’re that “F2020” girl, right?’ Or just shout ‘F–k 2020’ at me! That sounds very fun.”