Twenty Reasons Why We Love the Sound of 2020

New tunes! Cool venues! Fun podcasts! Great record stores! This year, we're all ears.

Artists We’ll Have on Repeat All Year

Tank and the Bangas

In a year when genre seems deader than ever, it’s fitting that a band this uncategorizable was nominated for the Grammy Award for Best New Artist. The group borrows from soul, funk, hip-hop, spoken word poetry, rock, and Disney musicals to build a multilayered sound too big and joyful to fit in any tidy boxes. Only problem is these best “new” artists have been lighting up stages, from their hometown of New Orleans to the offices of NPR (do yourself a favor and look up their 2017 Tiny Desk performance), since way back in 2011. Many great musicians are ahead of their time. Fortunately for the world, the times are catching up to Tank and the Bangas.

Listen: “Ants,” off the 2019 album Green Balloon

Brittany Howard

With her band Alabama Shakes, Howard made music so rich,
emotional, and warm you could practically feel it wrap you in a hug as it came out of the speakers. Last year’s solo debut, Jaime, was both more personal and more expansive, its psychedelic soul and searching lyrics proving her ambitions go far beyond Southern comfort.

Listen: “Stay High,” off the 2019 album Jaime

Natalia Lafourcade

The 2010s were the decade American listeners fell for Latin music, a love affair that seems likely to continue in the 2020s. Lafourcade’s vivid Spanish-language pop is more traditional than the reggaeton-inflected hits that have dominated U.S. charts, but in mining the folk history of Latin music, the Mexican singer shows us how the classics never go out of style—they only get reinvented.

Listen: “Nunca Es Suficiente,” off the 2015 album Hasta la Raíz

Katie Pruitt

The Georgia native was probably always destined to move to Nashville, where her frank and evocative storytelling, yearning voice, and expressive guitar playing place her in a lineage of artists who made it big in Music City. If you haven’t heard much of Pruitt yet, 2020 is likely to be the year that changes. Pruitt’s highly anticipated, unflinching debut album, Expectations, dropped on Feb. 21, and she’ll follow up her spring solo tour by supporting City and Colour at 10 shows around the country. 

Listen: “Loving Her,” off this year’s Expectations

Music Cities to Tune In to

Kansas City, MO

Expansive and well-stocked, Josey Records has multiple listening stations to test out whatever record catches your eye.

Launching this spring, KWJC is a campus radio station for William Jewell College that’s dedicated to playing classical music full time. 


Local staple Sonic Boom Records has an impressive selection of records and hosts in-store performances from up-and-coming bands. 

Alternative and indie rock radio station KEXP’s award-winning website contains a treasure trove of in-studio live performances, playlists, and podcasts. 

New York City

A1 Records, though small, is a cozy and well-organized spot in the East Village, perfect for audiophiles looking for vintage vinyl.

Known as Hot 97 to listeners and rap fans who’ve heard it in countless verses over the years, WQHT is the country’s most influential hip-hop station.

Places to Find Awesome Live Music

Icon Music Center

It’s never too early to start planning where you’ll see your next show, and this new Cincinnati venue should top your list. Set to open in the fall, the Andrew J. Brady Icon Music Center will feature an indoor and outdoor stage and is named for a beloved local teacher, the late Brady, who worked at the elementary and high school level for decades.

Jazz TX

San Antonio might not be the first place that comes to mind when thinking of jazz hotbeds, but this intimate venue in the city’s Pearl district has an unbeatable atmosphere. Along with its eponymous tunes, Jazz TX’s calendar also regularly features swing and salsa music.

High Water Festival

In 2017, folk duo Shovels & Rope launched a music festival in North Charleston, South Carolina, as “a celebration of music, food, and libations.” Husband-and-wife team Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst curate the offerings and are among the headliners. At this year’s fest, held April 18–19, attendees can also jam to artists like Wilco and Mavis Staples. 

Merriweather Post Pavilion

Nestled in Symphony Woods in Columbia, Maryland, this Frank Gehry–designed amphitheater is all about beauty: a stunning surrounding landscape of trees paired with equally impressive acoustics. Oh, did we mention the backstage pool for performing artists?

Music Podcasts to Press Play on

Musicians from Metallica to Meek Mill break down their songs in the popular podcast Song Exploder.

I Only Listen to the Mountain Goats, co-hosted by the band’s own John Darnielle, is about much more than one group’s music.

Dissecting the scandals of famous musicians, Disgraceland is perfect for anyone who loves true crime and music. 

Originally Published March 2020