“F2020” distills an unthinkable year for two key critics in different packages
When Sami Bearden, Savana Santos and Sam Backoff couldn’t take the cultural hostility, COVID-19 shutdown, Say Their Names injustice and general anxiety this year turned into, they did what they do best. Broke out their keyboards, whipped up some loops and started channeling their inner truths to create what felt like a slinky minimalist pop jam, but actually spoke massive truth of the moment – and launched a viral sensation.
The Big Machine Records trio’s “F2020” tops The New York Times prestigious Best Songs of 2020 list for lead critic Jon Pareles alongside a headline that said, “Powerful Statements, Memorable Hooks.” Landing at No. 1 on a list that included Busta Rhymes and Kendrick Lamar, Tame Impala, Dua Lipa, Bad Bunny, BTS, Phoebe Bridgers and the Strokes, their remix with Jessie Reyez, who’d been tapped to open Billie Eilish’s 2020 tour received special attention.
Writing “What the ‘F’ stands for sums up a simple, nigh-universal sentiment about this year, which helped this song easily explode on TikTok. It’s delivered with a droll, self-conscious shrug, airy harmonies and twitchy percussion; for the remix, Jessie Reyez adds some survivor’s guilt,” Pareles distills the essential lightning strike impact of the song in two sentences. What started as three girls sorting through their own discouragement, dysthymia and disgust turned into a lofi expression of an entire culture’s response to an unthinkable year.
“All we were trying to do was laugh at our problems,” Santos explains. “It was so major, so much bigger than any of us – and it’s stuff we didn’t create, but we were being flattened by. As theater kids, we’re always about ‘What action can we take?’ As songwriters and artists, we figured, ‘Let’s create a song…’”
“We didn’t tell anyone,” Bearden continues, “because we didn’t think it mattered, or would matter. That parts in the song, too.”
“Then all of a sudden, it blew up,” Backoff says. “Our record company didn’t know, our manager didn’t know… and it’s not like we got in trouble, but nobody saw it coming. Kinda like this year that needs to be over. WHAM! ‘F2020’ took off, and said what I guess a lot of people wanted to say or were feeling.”
“And we all say, ‘Hell, yeah!’,” Santos concludes. “If you feel bad, you freestyle your own verses, fill in your own stuff. That’s why Jessie joining us was so great: it says we’re not alone.”
Concurring with Pareles’ critical appraisal was NY Times critic Jon Caramanica. With a headline that proclaimed “New Rabble-Rousers, Old Reliables,” he placed “F2020” at No. 17 in a tie with Claire Rosinkranz and Tai Verdes. On a list that also contained Lil Baby, SaWeetie, Cardi B featuring Megan Thee Stallion Lil Mosey, the entry reads, “ ‘F2020’ is a tenderly sung soundtrack of the march to oblivion that this cruel, vicious, unsparing year has been.”
In a year seemingly without mercy, Avenue Beat’s channeling our frustration tapped more than a vein. As 2020 lurches to a close, it is a song that – evidently – speaks truth to power for even the most critical listeners at one of America’s most discerning newspapers.