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Songs About Places 2019

Songs about dystopia and catastrophe are impossible to avoid this year, but "Old Town Road" could be the path to redemption. Managing Editor James Brasuell assembled a Spotify playlist on songs about places from 2019.
December 11, 2019, 9am PST | James Brasuell | @CasualBrasuell
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It didn't require very much research into the past year of songs about places to notice recurring references to environmental and social collapse. With so many songs about decay and collapse and apocalypse and death released this year, it raises questions about the possibility of an international conspiracy. I'm joking. The world clearly does not need another international conspiracy—as the anxiety and dread expressed in these songs clearly show.

But in all the years I have collected songs for a songs about places annual review, I have never encountered such a ready-made narrative—not even close. Unfortunately, this narrative of destruction and apocalypse is scary and sad.

Despite those dark themes, I promise to end this post on a hopeful note. If you decide to listen to this playlist straight through, you'll know it's time for a change of tone when you hear Cass McCombs literally begging for Armageddon.

I can't make this stuff up. These artists did. Were they working together? I think Congress should get to the bottom of it, and let nothing stand in their way to find the truth.

California wildfires are a common reference, for example, but without the glee common in certain segments of the population whenever the Golden State is threatened by environmental disaster. Fire sweeps across songs by a critically-acclaimed superstar, in Billie Eillish, and a critically-acclaimed, queer singer-songwriter, Meg Duffy (performing under the band name Hand Habits). L.A. burns in Pitchfork fav Lana Del Rey's "The greatest."

The ruin of California also figures into the song "Tastes Good With the Money" by crowd-favorite punk band Fat White Family. In evidence of the previously mentioned international conspiracy, "Tastes Good With Money" mentions a "tear-shaped pool." Strangely, a song by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, called "Hollywood," also mentions a tear-shaped pool. "Hollywood" also opens with the image of fires burning through the night near Malibu. Two mentions of tear-shaped pools in one year, both in songs about the destruction of California, are an odd coincidence. In gathering the songs for this playlist, I also heard multiple references to Forest Lawn, the chain of cemeteries covering huge swaths of Southern California.

It's all very suspicious. That's all I'm saying.

The existential dread in these songs is overwhelming, threatening to pervert my positive feelings about some nice places. Like the beach, for instance. In 2019, the beach offers a vantage point for the world's final moments in a song called "Terminal Beach," by Operators. Operators isn't the first to use the beach as a metaphor for a conclusion. I've also been thinking about Cormac McCarthy's The Road and the conclusion of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story while listening to "Terminal Beach." The lyrics on "Terminal Beach" imagine what it would be like to be "the last people/lying by the seaside."

In addition to mentioning fire, 2019's customary crop of songs about Los Angeles mostly name-checked Hollywood. These songs about Hollywood don't get a Hollywood ending, however. In "Hollywood Lawns" by Jenny Lewis, the protagonist leaves home. There are demons involved. Another song about a post-apocalyptic world, "Hollywood's Bleeding," by Post Malone, involves vampires. Hollywood's lack of good fortune does not result from other neighborhoods monopolizing the good times. In "It Never Rains in South L.A." it never rains in South L.A....unless it's the tears of God. Venice Beach is transformed for a crass play on words on multiple tracks from Lana Del Rey's album.

One of the year's ostensibly innocuous themes—returning home, calling a love one home, searching for a home—still seemed destined for a dark turn. Sanctuary and comfort are implied on songs like "Home to You," by Cate le Bon, "Home" by Caribou," and "New Apartment," by Ari Lennox. Disassociation and solitude define home on "Jogging," by Richard Dawson, "New House," by Toro y Moi, "Hurry on Home," by Sleater Kinney, and "New Apartment," by Ari Lennox. The idea of home as unaffordable and unattainable pops up multiple times, like in the songs already referenced by Toro y Moi and Fat White Family.

Thankfully, 2019 wasn't all existential dread and potential international conspiracy. Setting aside the sturm und drang, the obvious song of the year was "Old Town Road," by Lil Nas X (which is also a break up sone, but we're setting that aside). Lil Nas X technically released this enormously popular song in December 2018, before remixing and re-releasing the song in 2019 and catapulting into a different stratosphere of popularity, and then strolling into a large controversy with more than a little dose of of racism (like almost everything else in 2019).

Not only did this song break the charts in more ways than one, it also produced perhaps the year's most joyful moment. Feeling gloomy about the state of the world? Watch Lil Nas X surprise the kids of Lander Elementary in Ohio and revel in the sheer joy and exuberance of the young generation. This is the antidote to every bit of anxiety and depression expressed in all of these other songs.

I make no claim that anyone in their right mind could possibly like all of these songs, But hopefully a lot of people will find a lot to like from many genres, including some bands and sounds they weren't aware of. I mostly listen to music in English, so there are whole swaths of the world that go unrepresented and underrepresented in this playlist. I'd love for people to add ideas for additional songs from other genres, languages, and cultures in the comments, and I will update the playlist in Spotify intermittently for the foreseeable future. The player embedded here only shows 100 songs, but there are currently 118 songs on the playlist, including "Old Town Road" at the very end, so click through to Spotify for the whole thing.

On one final, critical note, many of these songs are NOT safe for work. You have been warned.

And as a final treat, here are the music videos that made the most use of real-life physical locations and other concepts of place to supplement songs with new meaning this year. Some of these songs are on the playlist, some are songs from artists with other songs on the playlist, and others are just placed-based videos worth a watch, and a listen. I wasn't as thorough with this search, but there are some real highlights here.

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