With an inspired nudge from our friends at the Center for Humanities and Arts, CAS has come up with a playlist of 12 songs that spoke to us about the challenges of 2020 and our hopes for a better 2021. Enjoy!


Tokyo Jihen (Tokyo Incidents): 遭難 (“Distress”). Tokyo Jihen was a popular Japanese rock band in the first decade of the 21st century. They reunited last January to release a new single and have been on tour this year, but we went back to one of their older songs to really capture the feeling of 2020.

Maiko Fujita: 素敵なことがあなたを待っている(“Nice things are waiting for you”). With lyrics like “You’ve kept smiling though the hard times, stayed calm when it seemed impossible, and had nights filled with anxiety, but you've lifted your head over and over,” we can all relate to this song these days.

Duan Sisi, Tan Xuan & Chen Kui: 汉伢 (“Wuhan kid”). An ode to Wuhan, this song was among the top ten “Pandemic Music” winners at the China Mobile Music Charity Award in December 2020.

BTS: Fly to my room. A quarantine anthem from their latest album BE: “It’s so frustrating, it’s driving me crazy/Feel like it’s still day one/Somebody turn back the clock/The entire year got stolen.” Time Magazine’s “Entertainers of the Year” pretty much sum up the year for all of us.

A Rong: 你的答案 (“Your answer”). Released just before the pandemic, “Your Answer” was a huge success; its themes of isolation and loneliness spoke to the experience of many in China.

Southern All Stars: 東京VICTORY (“Tokyo Victory”). With the 2020 Olympics postponed (until who knows when), Tokyo could use a little pick-me-up. Southern All Stars is one of Japan’s legendary rock bands, first formed in 1974 and still going strong with some of the same musicians. This song was released in 2015.

Kyu Sukamoto: 上を向いて歩こう ("I Look Up as I Walk"). More popularly known in English as “Sukiyaki” (despite the fact that the song has nothing to do with the Japanese hot-pot dish), this song was a huge hit in the early 1960s, becoming one of the world’s bestselling singles of all time. For us, staying at home in 2020 has made us nostalgic for simpler times! The last line of the song, translated into English, is “Lonesome nights . . .

Wu Fei & Abigail Washburn: Bu da da (三十里名山二十里水). Earning a degree in Chinese at Colorado College, studying classical Chinese here at CU Boulder, and as a former member of the Lyons-based band Uncle Earl, Abigail Washburn has some deep Colorado roots. This song from her recent album with Beijing guzhen virtuoso Wu Fei combines the lonely western landscapes of China and the US in a way that seems fitting for a pandemic year.

Malek Jandali: Echoes from Ugarit. Malek Jandali is a Syrian-American composer who gave a concert at CU Boulder in 2014. He uses his art to highlight the atrocities in the ongoing Syrian conflict, invoke the principles of human rights, and advocate for international aid: https://www.colorado.edu/cas/2014/09/22/cu-welcomes-malek-jandali-campus.

Mehmut Sulayman: Qara Deydu. Mehmut Sulayman died late in 2020 at the age of 52. The official cause of death was listed as complications of heart disease, but many are suspicious of this since he was reportedly taken to a camp or detention center over two years ago. CAS postdoc Darren Byler wrote about the song Qara Deydu here: https://livingotherwise.com/2013/12/26/uyghur-hip-hop-as-folk-music/. He tells us that “the key refrain of the song, which is a kind of ambiguous Sufi love song, is 'They say I’m dark/But there is no darkness in me/There is less guilt in me than a speck the size of a black peppercorn husk.' The hip hop group 6 City used it as an anthem to protest Uyghur denigration, or at least that is how Uyghur audiences interpreted it.”

Urna Chahar Tugchi: Hödöö. Urna Chahar Tugchi is from the grasslands of the Ordos Plateau in Inner Mongolia, currently based in Germany and Cairo. Her Mongolian songs make us think of the protests that have been going on this year in Inner Mongolia over China’s curriculum reforms replacing Mongolian as the primary language of instruction with standard Mandarin in several subjects taught in schools.

Denise Ho: 極夜後 (“Polar”). After performing this song for the first time in 2018, Canadian-Hong Kong Cantopop star Denise Ho posted this statement on Twitter: “The song ‘Polar’ was written in 2017, describing a group of ppl waiting for the first sunlight to shine after the dark period of the polar night. To all the activists out there.”