I can’t imagine anyone will look back on the pandemic as a positive time in their lives.
Sure, there have been sparks of joy and silver linings amid the fear and loss — but conversely, there have been moments where optimism felt like an unreachable goal.
For me, one of the roughest patches came toward the beginning of everything — last April, when lockdowns were our new life, with no end in sight. I remember one especially late night when I allowed the fear and isolation to consume me. So much of what I’ve enjoyed about life — laughing with loved ones, harmonizing with others, long walks outdoors — had been ripped away. It was now forbidden, and dangerous. I didn’t know how to make peace with that loss, or with any of the loss we were experiencing.
With my family asleep in bed, I found myself having a cry while shuffling through the entirety of my music library, in search of solace and distraction. For a long while, I tapped “next” repeatedly — until something soft and simple broke through: a tune called “Old Familiar Song” by a thoughtful, lovely singer-songwriter named Dan Mills. I didn’t realize, until it came on, that what I was actually looking for was a reminder that all of those things I love, that felt so far away … I’d have them once again. This sweet little song and its mellow, flirty happiness grounded me in a way nothing else could.
After that point, of course, I’d find those aforementioned flashes of light. I’d adjust to our new reality as best I could, the way we all did. I’d figure out how to find connection through distance. I’d work — with renewed purpose, and sing, and play the ukulele, and play with my son, and cook more than I ever have in my life. The time would pass, as it continues to now.
But I’d also listen to “Old Familiar Song,” as well as the EP it came from, until it became, well, old and familiar to me, the way genuinely comforting things do.
All of this to say, music can pull us away from everything that’s going on and into a brighter, lighter space — and we wanted to offer that to you. So below are 10 songs that feel, at least to me, as though they were engineered in a lab to provoke big smiles and hip wiggles. And yes, some are what one could call “guilty pleasures.” (I’m formally petitioning for the eradication of that phrase from our shared lexicon, however — no one should feel shame over anything that brings them harmless happiness in these times.)
This playlist should make you feel a little better, at least for a little while. And who doesn’t want that?
1. “The Remedy” – Jason Mraz
“I won’t worry my life away!” Okay, the chorus of this song is perhaps a pipe dream, at this point. But it’s impossible to resist grinning while listening to this early 2000s jam — especially during its steadily building bridge.
2. “Walking on Sunshine” – Katrina and the Waves
When it comes to mood-boosting music, the 1980s might be an unrivaled resource, as proven by this little bop. Fun fact: this uptempo new-love song was originally written as a ballad — which is pretty hard to imagine when you’re dancing around to it.
3. “September” – Earth, Wind and Fire
Sadly, coming together for a dance party isn’t advisable right now. But if ever a song embodied the feeling that comes with gathering to groove, this one’s it. Almost everyone has fond memories of enjoying this hit with people they love — allow yourself to dive back into those fun times now, at least in your heart.
4. “Finesse (Remix)” – Bruno Mars (feat. Cardi B)
Who says you can’t strut at home? Pop this one on whenever you’re feeling yourself — or trying to, at least — and work the runway (aka your hall or kitchen) like you never have before.
5. “Happy” – Pharrell Williams
This song first came out in 2013 as a single from the “Despicable Me 2” soundtrack. To be sure, the movie franchise is extremely popular — but this song was positively inescapable. When you press “play” on it now, you’ll remember why.
6. “You Can Call Me Al” – Paul Simon
The downright masterful use of brass here makes this song instantly recognizable from note one. Despite it’s peppy feel, Simon’s song is actually a meandering contemplation of life at its middle. So if you’re looking for something to think and tap your foot to simultaneously, look no further.
7. “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” – Whitney Houston
Houston’s voice is an effervescent delight all its own — it’s impossible to feel nothing when she sings. But this, another 1980s hit, combines her soaring vocals with an infectious beat that makes laying down and listening an impossibility.
8. “We Found Love” – Rihanna (feat. Calvin Harris)
Speaking of pop princesses, this Rihanna hit will have you jumping — especially when the beat drops at last. Fun and satisfying from start to finish, this one’s perfect for your morning distanced run.
9. “Your Smiling Face” – James Taylor
And now, for something completely different. Whether this tune reminds you of someone with an especially great grin or not, its optimism, paired with Taylor’s lilting voice, make it a joy to dive into.
10. “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” – The Beatles
Try not to clap along to this peppy Beatles tune. We dare you. Yes, it’s one of the Fab Four’s earlier hits — making it nearly 60 years old — but its fun vibe and simple-yet-sweet lyrics make it a great listen decades after its debut.