“Unprecedented.” “Quarantine.” “Pandemic.”
2020 has been awful for just about everything except buzzwords. This year was full of new ones most of us didn’t really use before March but that now hover over our lives as unrelentingly as the world-altering virus they spawned from. Heck, the third one I listed was Merriam-Webster’s word of the year.
Unless you’re a SARS-CoV-2 virus, the past two hundred months have left much to be desired. (That’s how long the pandemic has been going on, yeah?) We’d all have been justified in doing little else in 2020 beyond yearning for large crowds, Thanksgiving dinners with outspoken and politically oppositional family members, and other things we never wanted to deal with again not that long ago.
It’s fair to want to look back at how things used to be, but at least a handful of musicians peered slightly further into the past than 2019. Artists like Dua Lipa, Jessie Ware, and Kylie Minogue had visions of the mid-’70s dancing in their heads as they resurrected a buzzword that on one fateful 1979 evening sent folks at Comiskey Park into a historic fit of rage: “disco.”
For a year without discotheques, clubs, dancehalls, bars, dives, hangouts, hotspots, cantinas, pool halls, and other places where people gather and get sweaty via movement, there sure was a lot of disco music. Many of the year’s biggest singles — Dua Lipa’s “Don’t Start Now,” Doja Cat’s “Say So,” Lady Gaga’s “Stupid Love,” BTS’ “Dynamite” — are at the very least disco-inspired, and the trio of artists mentioned earlier made albums (three of my personal favorites this year) that are totally indebted to the genre.
I’m hardly the first person to notice the 2020 disco revival, I’m sure. The question, though, is how did it happen?
It’s not like it was as inevitable as it seems now. In a Rolling Stone interview from this summer, Dua Lipa’s collaborators described her disco pivot as risky, especially since pop radio was skewing more “urban” at the time the material was being written. Ian Kirkpatrick admitted he “de-discoed” some elements of “Don’t Start Now” and said, “I was just so scared. You just don’t know what’s gonna catch and what’s not gonna catch.”
Of course, though, that gamble paid off and disco ended up soundtracking the year, because the formerly antiquated genre ended up being perfect for the times.
Young people get off on (future) nostalgia, even for things they weren’t actually around for. On top of that, people needed an escape from the burning, insect-infested, mask-covered world around them. What better way to achieve that than doing one of the out-of-house activities that can actually be re-created at home: dancing.
Dance therapy is a real thing, and people the world over self-medicated this year with disco, music made explicitly for dancing, as their score. Moving around in our living rooms — or in my case, making a delighted stank face and nodding my head while busting out Cardi B news posts — to music that’s comfortingly familiar, kinetically stimulating, and endorphin-generating was maybe the most effective temporary escape from reality that we had access to this year.
That said, there’s such thing as too much of a good thing, as anybody who has ever had a salt shaker cap fall off on them can tell you. Over-saturation was a major factor in the build-up to the previously alluded-to Disco Demolition Night, after all. Thankfully, not all 2020 disco was created equal.
Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia merged the style with contemporary pop and dance music, Jessie Ware’s What’s Your Pleasure? paid more attention to the genre’s orchestral elements, and Kylie Minogue’s DISCO — as the shouty, caps-lock-indebted title suggests — is a direct tribute to disco’s most pleasingly identifiable elements. There was a ton of disco, but a lot of it arrived to the club in its own uniquely over-the-top John Travolta suit and kept the room from filling up with repetitive, grating caricatures.
When Dua Lipa pushed the release of Future Nostalgia forward in March, she made the announcement with a video in which she said of the album, “I hope it brings you some happiness, and I hope it makes you smile, and I hope it makes you dance. I hope I make you proud.”
“Happiness.” “Smile.” “Dance.” There’s a better set of buzzwords that Lipa and her partners in disco helped bring to life this year. Even if it was only for as long as the runtime of a song, any sort of escape is a valuable public service. So yes, Dua, you made us proud.
Some artists covered here are Warner Music artists. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.