Let’s all move on: 60 minutes of songs about looking ahead to brighter days

Someday, we’re going to be telling our grandchildren working the moon farms about this legendarily bad year—the needless and preventable deaths, the isolation, the hundred-plus other little daily nightmares and difficulties that made it so singularly awful. But with any luck, we’ll end our rambling recollections on a positive note: “And then, we all got vaccinated, life returned to some semblance of normalcy, and the most dangerously unstable man ever to hold the presidency was put behind bars, where he so richly belonged.” (We may be indulging in some wish fulfillment on that last bit.) In other words, the end is hopefully in sight.

We here at The A.V. Club are just as excited as everyone else to put this past year behind us. So we decided to create a Power Hour playlist in celebration: 60 minutes of music that says good riddance to the past, and looks to a brighter future. Given that roughly half of all music ever created is about this theme in some way or another, we imposed a few restrictions: This was a very modern shitshow of a year, so the music had to be modern as well: 21st-century tunes only. And given the funny-if-it-wasn’t-so-tragic nature of the president we’re simultaneously leaving behind, we figured women’s voices should soundtrack this feature. (With one very deserving exception.) Lastly, we loosely stuck to the realm of pop, albeit with R&B and rock flourishes laced throughout. After all, it was a very mainstream nightmare, experienced by everyone, so the tunnel of light will echo with the sounds of more mainstream music. Without further ado, please enjoy A.V. Club’s Movin’ On: Music To Cast Off How Bad Our Relationship With 2020 Was, And Look To Better Days Ahead.

[You’ll find all the songs gathered on a Spotify playlist at the end of this piece.]


Amy Winehouse, “Tears Dry On Their Own”

“I don’t understand, why do I stress the man? When there’s so many bigger things at hand,” she laments. But—as with many things in Amy Winehouse’s short, tragic life—the affair that’s killing her is also what’s keeping her going in “Tears Dry On Their Own,” the fourth single off of her blockbuster 2006 album Back To Black. Obsessed with it, lost in it, consumed by it, love was Winehouse’s reason for being, and when it went wrong, the intensity of her anguish could be alarming. Even as she screws her beehive on tight and puts on a brave face in this rousing, horn-driven belter, there’s still raw pain and fatalism in her lyrics, sure as she is that “I’ll be some other man’s other woman soon.” [Katie Rife]

No Thank You, “Saturn Return”

“It’s time to stop wasting time hating yourself.” With that one line in the more than minute-long coda of “Saturn Return,” No Thank You singer Kaytee Della Monica takes the inner self-doubt and turmoil that usually accompanies a tempestuous relationship and sweeps it off the metaphorical desk, right into the trash. “Saturn Return” is the kind of larger than life anthem whose emotions are as massive as its sound—thundering drums, thick guitars, and a let’s-fucking-do-this thematic core that makes it an ideal song to play at top volume while you get the hell out of Dodge. You can practically picture yourself setting fire to the worst parts of the past as it plays. [Alex McLevy]

Daisy The Great, “IDKW”

There’s no love lost in “IDKW” by Daisy The Great; “Why are you leaving? I’m not offended,” it begins, as impartial a farewell as could be imagined. But then, the gentle ukulele stops, and the feelings really come out: “I don’t know why I loved you at all,” goes the three-part harmony, accompanied by hand claps, start-stop rhythm section, and a raucous sense of joyous release. That’s when the ebullient, “Hand Jive”-esque bop starts, with acid observations about the size of the spoon needed to “feed your hungry ego.” And it’s all over in under two minutes—short, sweet, and proudly marching down the road from where the narrator was before. [Alex McLevy]

Kesha, “Praying”

Taking the high road after a break-up isn’t the easiest thing to do, especially when all you really want to say is “fuck you.” But Kesha nails it with “Praying,” her first single after an intense legal battle with her former producer. The ballad preaches empathy while harnessing the power of moving on—an oddly restrained way of addressing the abuse and hardships she endured. As a way of making peace with her past, Kesha screams, “When I’m finished, they won’t even know your name.” Every chord builds up to an impassioned crescendo while she sings over a choir as if to break the dam of pent-up emotional trauma. Kesha’s sigh of relief as she plays the final note on her piano is the sort of conclusion every person hopes for when they overcome an emotionally consuming break-up. [Angelica Cataldo]

Dua Lipa, “New Rules”

Breakups are messy, and sometimes it takes a little self-discipline to leave the past in the past. Enter: Dua Lipa, whose breakthrough hit “New Rules” provides a three-step plan to get over the ex for good. The steps are simple and blunt—don’t pick up the phone, don’t let him in, don’t be his friend—clearly coming from a place of experience; Dua’s happy to impart her wisdom to any girlfriend in need. By design, “New Rules” breaks the rules of pop-song structure, its lack of a traditional chorus making way for a syncopated hook, which serves as another reminder to not fall back into old patterns. It might not be easy, but Dua Lipa’s here to help you push through the pain. [Cameron Scheetz]

Lizzo, “Truth Hurts”

Lizzo launched the most obsessive investigation into an ambiguous song lyric since “You’re So Vain” with “Truth Hurts,” the song that left ESPN anchors and NFL wide receivers alike asking, “Who is Lizzo’s new man on the Minnesota Vikings?” But what makes this reggae-inflected ode to rising above some loser’s bullshit truly special is its longevity: Originally released in 2017, the song shot up the charts in 2019 following the release of Lizzo’s debut full-length Cuz I Love You, as new fans discovered a back catalog full of infectious empowerment anthems that became instantly memified. To have an ode to a disappointing ex continue to pay dividends years after the heartbreak and hurt feelings have passed? Now that’s a power move. [Katie Rife]

Rilo Kiley, “Silver Lining”

Even die-hard Rilo Kiley fans can admit that Under The Blacklight is the band’s only lackluster album, but two of the best songs off it are uplifting breakup tracks: “Breakin’ Up” and “Silver Lining.” Let’s talk about “Silver Lining” in particular, though. It’s the more solemn of the two, packing an emotional gut punch. But as the title suggests, it looks at the bright side of leaving a relationship behind. Singer Jenny Lewis is making the important decision of breaking free from a relationship that’s no longer making her happy. She’s done playing into the self-pity she sings about in previous tracks like “Portions For Foxes” and “Glendora.” She’s stronger, more independent, and way past being her former partner’s silver lining—she’s gold now, thank you very much. [Tatiana Tenreyro]

Beyoncé, “Irreplaceable”

Given that Beyoncé’s entire oeuvre can already be best summed up by the expression “fuck you, I’m awesome,” it’s only natural that she has an excellent kiss-off for moving on. “Irreplaceable” earns its place here for somehow being both an incredibly easygoing jam and a total banger at the same time, no easy feat but an incredibly accurate assessment of the emotional state contained in the cathartic aftermath of an unpleasant encounter. The gentle strums of the guitar tell your brain, “relax,” but the lyrics come with long knives drawn, eviscerating its subject with the kind of ease to which we should all aspire. [Alex McLevy]

The Ting Tings, “Shut Up And Let Me Go” 

The only thing more kick-ass than the funky bassline in The Ting Tings’ 2008 banger “Shut Up And Let Me Go” is the finality in frontwoman Katie White’s voice when she gives the directive. The indie-pop duo’s debut studio album had no shortage of quality bops, but the unrepentant send-off stood above the rest. When a caustic relationship absolutely refuses to die (or when a persistent lover simply tries to cling for dear life), direct language is best. If it happens to be accompanied by up-tempo drums and an irresistible dance groove, then hey—all the better to help make the tough news that much more resonant. [Shannon Miller]

Taylor Swift, “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”

Is there a more jubilant moving-on track than Taylor Swift’s “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”? Reportedly inspired by a friend of her ex’s who stopped by the studio to report a reconciliation rumor (Gyllenhaal? Styles? Who knows), Swift put an end to the vicious toxic relationship cycle by crafting an emphatic pop declaration to close that particular relationship door for good. The digs are delicious, as she chides her ex for sulking by listening to “some indie record that’s much cooler than mine,” a line delivered dripping with sarcasm. The song turned out to be one of Swift’s most successful ever (like, ever), helping her shake off her country roots into straight-up pop, and becoming her very first No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart. Revenge is sweetest when served with a killer hook. [Gwen Ihnat]

Ariana Grande, “thank u, next”

You can have your moving-on songs, but in Ariana Grande’s “thank u, next,” she’s already moved on. The singer straight-up lists her exes in the first verse of “thank u, next,” released around the time of her breakup with Pete Davidson. But this mega-hit (it debuted at the top of the U.S. Billboard Hot 100, becoming Grande’s first No. 1 single) is no revenge-filled drama. Instead, Grande is writing from a more enlightened place, grateful for the lessons learned, garnering knowledge about patience and pain, while still looking forward to the eventual love that will hopefully last forever. Meanwhile, she’s got herself to hang out with until the time is right (“Cause her name is Ari / And I’m so good with that”). “thank u, next” is the perfect post-breakup soundtrack for when you’re ready to scrape yourself off the floor and squint unto the daylight again, knowing that whoever is “next,” they’ll be damn lucky to have you. [Gwen Ihnat]

Kelly Clarkson, “Since U Been Gone”  

The breakout track from 2004’s Breakaway, “Since U Been Gone” bounces with revelation and exultation in the aftermath of a breakup. Kelly Clarkson’s powerful voice is more restrained during the verses that relate the history of this doomed relationship, from friends to lovers and now exes. She’s found greater freedom and joy in the final stage—“Since u been gone / I can breathe for the first time”—which is why she lets loose in the chorus. Clarkson deftly handles the musical progression, hitting ever-higher notes without losing any of the fullness of her tone. That control captures the song’s “so over it” message better than even the lyrics do. [Danette Chavez]

Carly Rae Jepsen, “Party For One” 

The most well-known songs in Carly Rae Jepsen’s oeuvre exist in the woozy headspace between the meet-cute and falling head over heels in love, but true fans know she’s proven herself to be a maestro of all e•mo•tions, including the post-breakup bop. “Party For One” is just that, a jubilant celebration of self-love, that builds from a playful marimba beat to a typically cathartic chorus, one that Jepsen basically dares you to not sing along with. Sure, there’s hesitance in the verses, confessing she’s “not over this,” but that quickly dissipates when the drums kick in, reminding us it can be just as fun to cut to the feeling solo. And if you sensed some masturbation innuendo there, well, that’s by design. [Cameron Scheetz]

Margo Price, “Letting Me Down”

There are countless songs about restless romantics hitting the road, but what about those who stayed behind? Good riddance, says Margo Price. She still thinks about the starry-eyed deadbeat who ditched her for the big city—he still owes her money, for one—but there’s nothing wistful about “Letting Me Down,” off of Price’s 2020 album That’s How Rumors Get Started. The song’s energetic, Tom Petty-esque guitars belie the bitterness of its lyrics: “Everybody’s lonely,” Price sings in the soaring chorus, “babe, just look around.” In other words, quit feeling sorry for yourself and think about how your actions affect other people—something many of us have longed to spit at a tornado of an ex who left us with unpaid bills and unresolved emotions. [Katie Rife]

Tayla Parx, “System” 

If there are two things that can yank anyone from abiding melancholy, it’s superproducer Dem Jointz’s galvanizing signature call (“Incomiiiiiing!”) at the top of a killer beat and singer-songwriter Tayla Parx’s determined lyricism. “System” is a two-toned party anthem dedicated solely to expelling the last remnants of a former lover. Parx sings of transitioning from one kind of intoxication to another, informing the recently ousted that they “used to be [her] drug” until undergoing this very transcendent, bass-thumping “detox.” When the beat changes from warped hip-hop to house, it extends the party just a little longer while speaking to Parx’s musical malleability. Even if it’s just a momentary distraction, it’s an undeniably fun one. [Shannon Miller]

The Blow, “True Affection”

The mellow, almost laconic bounce of the synth melody that kicks off “True Affection,” the last song on The Blow’s 2006 album Paper Television, tells you this isn’t an angry song, or a massively uplifting one. Appropriately to its placement on that record, it’s the sound of ending—the conclusion of something, for good and ill. There’s the admission that it wasn’t all just nonsense (“I wanted you nearer”), but more importantly, there’s an acid understanding of the ocean between where you are and where the other person is, and that such unevenness is never going to work out. Or, to put it in the song’s more direct terms: “I was out of your league.” [Alex McLevy]

Blood Orange, “You’re Not Good Enough”

Blood Orange’s Devonté Hynes is our one exception to the women-only rule, and this is all the evidence necessary as to why. It’s right there in the title—“You’re Not Good Enough” isn’t here to mince words. But what makes the track truly great is the funk-meets-disco groove of the rhythm section undergirding the entire affair, a jam that manages to make telling someone they sucked—even when they thought they were doing fine—downright seductive. It’s the reverse of rose-tinted glasses, a song that uses its three minutes of pop majesty to insist that things can be, and often are, wrong, so don’t worry about hindsight; just embrace the not-right-ness of it all and move on. Preferably with a slinky beat as addictive as this one. [Alex McLevy]

Swearin’, “Kenosha”

Pretty much everyone who’s had a bad ex fantasizes about them moving somewhere else and not having to see them ever again. Swearin’s Allison Crutchfield captures that feeling perfectly with a catchy-as-hell pop-punk song about wanting her ex to move to Kenosha so she won’t have to deal with them. Kenosha’s really just a metaphor for any place far away, a middle-of-nowhere town that you’ll never have to visit, so you’ll avoid crossing paths. The song is petty in the best way, pointing out that maybe they could keep in touch if her former partner had any redeemable qualities—but sadly, they don’t. That’s what’s so deeply relatable about “Kenosha”: It captures those angsty early-20s feelings, when relationships are messy and you don’t want to be reminded of past mistakes. [Tatiana Tenreyro]

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