Our favourite lyrics of 2019 (so far)
What made us feel most vulnerable? Tough? Full of swagger? We single out the lines that stuck
The right song lyric at the right time can keep you company for years.
Whether you're falling head over heels in love, reeling from a break-up, figuring out how to stand up for yourself or any of the myriad emotional states that affect us, there's something so perfect about an artist giving you the words to describe exactly what's on your mind and in your heart.
Normally we save our list of favourite things for the end of each year, but we're getting a little antsy — and summer's a great time to take stock of what we've loved, and what's yet to come. So below, we've settled on our favourite lyrics of 2019 (so far).
Song: "Harmony Hall"
Artist: Vampire Weekend
I don't wanna live like this
But I don't wanna die
This is a bit of a cheat as these lyrics originally appeared on Vampire Weekend's 2013 cut, "Finger Back." But whereas the previous iteration speaks to a Romeo and Juliet-style romance, this 2019 reprise rings louder in times of political distress. If we don't want to live in a world that's crumbling under corruption and environmental destruction, but we're not ready to throw in the towel just yet, what are we left to do? The answer may not necessarily be to listen to this Vampire Weekend song, but there's absolutely nothing wrong with singing along to this on a breezy summer evening, either.
— Melody Lau
Artist: Chris LaRocca
Yeah I feel a little worthless baby
When my shit's for sale out on your lawn
And no, I'm not afraid to put the torch down
I'm scared to pass it on
Posturing and swagger have their place in music, but when you want realness, vulnerability is the key to writing convincing lyrics. In this short stanza that opens "Yardsale," Chris LaRocca situates his raw heart, metaphorically, in that terrible purgatory between breaking up and actually moving on. Like the items on display in his ex's yard sale, his feelings are there for all too see: ruins from a relationship that's run its course, but still has him in its grip. Underscored by a string quartet and wordless vocals, these lyrics constitute one of the most arresting song intros of the year so far.
— Robert Rowat
Song: "My Whole Mood is Blown"
Even the world need a rest
Even the world get depressed
Snow ain't nothing but rain in the cold
But we dance in it like it's the best
Chika spits straight fire with a smooth-ass flow. Her wordplay is at once dynamic and economical. Not a word is wasted as she artfully describes the universal. Your young faves could never.
In conclusion: barz.
— Judith Lynch
Editor's note: strong language warning.
Artist: Maggie Rogers
And I walked off you
And I walked off an old me
"Alaska" may have gained fame in 2016 after Rogers, then an N.Y.U. student, played it for Pharrell and left him speechless, but hearing it as part of her smash debut album three years later, its timelessness shines bright. Written after Rogers hiked through Alaska one summer, the song is filled with gorgeous imagery of shedding old habits, memories and people; quite literally walking off what no longer serves her and cutting off hair that's tangled with bad energy. Set against the backdrop of Alaska's glacial plains and moving water, the song — that one lyric, particularly — is the perfect representation of salvation through nature. In tough times, I think we can all agree that Rogers has it right: escaping into trees, streams and vast land is almost guaranteed to cure what ails you.
— Jess Huddleston
Song: "One by One"
Artist: Dana Gavanski
So I rise up and fall back down
Called to the ground with sleep in my eyes
No one can hold this girl anymore
Gavanski's entrancing voice puts this shape-shifting poem of a song into motion. Ever since I first heard it this spring, watching her dance in the winter blue light on the shores of a frozen lake, I've been trying to put my finger on what it is that makes "One by One" so exceptional. The talent in the writing and the wisdom hidden in the lyrics make me eager to see what she brings next, and it's all made more remarkable seeing as this is one of only a handful of songs Gavanski has put out into the world. In the meantime, I'm pressing replay on her Bandcamp page.
— Julia Caron
Song: "Sad Femme Club"
Give me patience,
Tired of trying to explain.
I've got zero tolerance when they f--k with my sacred space.
Bar the trolls. Hit the corners for escape.
Build the platforms.Take up space.
Code the scripts to infiltrate, cause you're never not fighting.
A racist system that keeps powers in place and that fails to acknowledge the root of your pain.
Every line of this track is pure fire, but it's not just an inferno of rage. It's also an intense, consumptive blaze, an immolation of the frustration/pain/exhaustion of living with and experiencing marginalization in a colonial, patriarchal, racist, homophobic society. People of colour, artists of colour, are creating in celebration and joy, of course, but they're also creating in the extremes of vulnerability and resistance, and Kimmortal lays it all on the line in "Sad Femme Club." If this song doesn't immediately feel like it lives in your bones, just keep listening to it until you really hear it, and be grateful to bear witness to Kimmortal's genius.
— Andrea Warner
Song: "Hot Tears"
Artist: Leif Vollebekk
Is it a dream
Or some softer poison?
A lot sneaks up on you with repeat listens of Leif Vollebekk's "Hot Tears," from finger snaps to basslines to a caught breath here and there. It's an intimate recording that unfolds differently over time, but so far nothing has hit harder than these short, simple lines: "Is it a dream? Or some softer poison?" Normally nightmares are the harsher poison, but if a dream takes you to a place that once was and will never be again, where does that leave you? Nowhere healthy, that's for sure.
— Holly Gordon
I've got a list, it's been growing
Since I was 13 years old and you told me what your brother did
I've got a list it's got strangers and fathers
And guys from around our town
And every single name still hits me in the gut
"Bullets" is a story about the inevitability of violence and the impossibility of safety. Pair those heavy feelings with the overwhelming desire — but ultimate inability — to assure those you love that you can stop people from hurting them. "Bullets" is many stories, all with the same unfortunate similarity: being disappointed in men. It could be universal, yes, but the way songwriter Rachael Cardiello, a.k.a. Zinnia, builds the song (both lyrically and musically) from tender affection to gut-punch accentuates the vulnerability of survivors, victims and the people who love them.
This song fleshes out the reality of daily misogynistic violence, the awful ubiquity of abuse, even though the specifics go unnamed in this song. Not since 2014's masterful "The Body Electric" by Hurray for the Riff Raff have I heard a song that so powerfully puts into words the fear of violence that men can inflict, and the rage at feeling powerless about it. The way her voice cracks when she belts out "every" at 4:06 gives me chills every time. — JC
Song: "Free at Last"
Just 'cause you're sad again
It doesn't make you special at all
This may as well be hand-stitched on a pillow for me so every time I fall into a depressive state, I can look at it and be brought back to reality. It's a simple line that feels so incredibly great to shout at the top of your lungs at a Pup show. (Refer to the performance below.) It's no replacement for therapy, but it's pretty damn cathartic. — ML
Song: "Truth Hurts"
I just took a DNA test
Turns out I'm 100 per cent that bitch
Even when I'm crying crazy
Yeah, I got boy problems, that's the human in me
Bling bling, then I solve 'em, that's the goddess in me
Get out your notebooks and pencils because professor Lizzo is in to school you. Lizzo's "Truth Hurts" is a lesson in recognizing that you're strong, worthy and powerful. Whether she's "crying crazy" or solving her problems, she always knows she is "100 per cent that bitch." The track is an audacious declaration to love yourself — flaws and all — and be willing to put yourself first. From her mind-blowing BET performance to penning op-eds for NBC News, Lizzo is having a career year and we're just glad to be here to witness it. "Truth Hurts" proves that 2019 is the year when self-loathing is out, and self-loving is in.
— Natasha Ramoutar
Song: "I Guess I Just Feel Like"
Artist: John Mayer
I guess I just feel like
To make it on through
I guess I just feel like
I'm the same way, too
Feels very much of the moment. People are leading fake lives via social media, trying to keep up/stay ahead and at the same time judging everyone for doing it. And it's exhausting.
— Ben Aylsworth
Artist: Big Thief
Violet's eyes, Violet plays
Going back home to the Great Lakes
Where the cattail sways
With the lonesome loon
Riding that train in late June
Over the course of the band's three albums, Big Thief's members have proved themselves to be some of the best lyricists of our time. Pairing poetic imagery with mention of real people they've loved, Big Thief's serenades are those of guitar and campfire material: classic, leaving us wanting to know more. The folksy "Cattails," off the band's latest album, U.F.O.F., mentions two women, including Violet — lead singer Adrianne Lenker's late great-grandmother who picked up playing the bass in her 80s. Lenker sings wistfully of traveling home over plucked guitar, and, somehow, it just sounds like going home. Whether or not "home" looks like swaying cattails, lonesome loons or slight grief, there's something beautifully universal about this idea of taking the train home in June, yearning for what waits — or no longer waits — for you there. — JH
Artist: Charlotte Cornfield
Still you make me sad
Like an undergrad with a guitar
The Shape of Your Name is a strong contender for best Canadian album of 2019, and Cornfield's incredible talent as a storyteller is one of the reasons why. But man, the first time I heard that lyric? The perfect pause? The relatability of it all? My heart! I can't help but sing along every time. What a skill she has at describing the different kinds of heartsick, the degrees of crushes, the devastation of endings, all while managing to tease out the beauty in it all. Finding songs that remind you that feeling feelings does not make you weak is such a luxury. You hear Cornfield sing, and know that she, too, understands the complexity and hurt possible in love and friendship. Part of me wishes this song had existed when I was an undergrad, but I'm just grateful that Cornfield is part of our musical landscape today. — JC
There is a hole that's inside of my chest
In the place of a heart
In the shape of your fist
The thump of an electronic heartbeat is at the centre of Dizzy's newest song, "Twist," so when the crushing chorus comes through there's at least a steady rhythm to keep you grounded. Katie Munshaw is proving to be a gut-punch lyricist within the Oshawa, Ont., band, and as she gently sings, "There is a hole that's inside of my chest/ in the place of a heart/ in the shape of your fist," the blow at first feels soft, but lands deep. — HG
Artist: A R I Z O N A
Lying next to someone else, oh
But I'll always remember what you said and how it felt
OK, fine, maybe I'm just a little nostalgic
'Cause the memories are flooding my mind, baby I can't stop it
I know I said I wouldn't call, but I'm breaking my promise
'Cause the memories are flooding my mind, baby I can't stop it
The push and pull of nostalgia is incredible. Most of us have left untenable relationships knowing it's the smart/right decision. Yet as time passes, particularly during a down moment, you might find yourself making decisions against yourself and wanting to connect (read: sleep) with a past lover. Our advice: don't actualize on that. — BA
Artist: Jamila Woods
I may be small, I may speak soft
But you can see the change in the water
Eartha, Frida, Basquiat, Buddy, Miles — these are just a few of the legendary names that make up the song titles of Chicago artist Jamila Woods' second album, Legacy! Legacy! A soulful collection of social and political commentary, Woods' latest highlights the brave lives of iconic people of colour through rich instrumental textures and artful lyricism. On "Zora," which tells the story of author and anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston, Woods is impassioned by Hurston's perspective, delivering hopeful messages that are needed now more than ever with the lines, "Your words don't leave scars/ trust me I've heard them all/ I may be small, I may speak soft/ but you can see the change in the water." — JH
Artist: Sharon Van Etten
I know what you're gonna be
I know that you're gonna be
You'll crumble it up just to see
Afraid that you'll be just like me
Arguably one of the best songs of the year, "Seventeen" is emotionally wrought in the most cathartic sense. In it, Sharon Van Etten sings to her younger self — a self full of ambition, naive confidence and bravado — from a place of experience, realizing that Young Sharon would never believe what she has to say right now. "I know what you're gonna be/ I know that you're gonna be/ you'll crumble it up just to see/ afraid that you'll be just like me," she screams, the agony of that knowledge ripping out of her. Listening to the track is enough to feel that scream in your bones, but nothing compares to watching Van Etten perform it live on Jimmy Kimmel. — HG