Kyle’s 2022 Still-A-Pandemic Playlist

If you could sum up 2022 in a mixtape…how would you make it sound different than the last one you made?

I mentioned last year that “2021 felt like a continuation of all the badness that was 2020,” and 2022 opened with those same feelings of selfishness and nihilism. No one seemed to care about anyone but themselves, and they either wanted to fiddle (or play a hand-clap loop) while the world burned or grab everything they could get for themselves regardless of who they stomped on in the process. There was a lot of cynicism, hopelessness, and fear for the future, and it wasn’t terribly pleasant.

However, something changed this year, if only a little bit. As things began to crumble, enough people reached their breaking points to stand up and say “Enough.” People spoke out, people turned out, and people finally decided to shape their own future instead of having it shaped for them. There are still problems, to be sure, and country music never seemed to escape its previous malaise, but I think a growing number of people are getting serious about tackling big problems and making things right, and given where we’ve been so far this decade, it’s at least a decent starting point.

The only rule for this list is that there are no other rules. Songs are not restricted by genre, artist, original year of release, or anything else (in fact, given how surreal and absurd this year felt sometimes, weirdness may actually strengthen a song’s case for inclusion). All that matters is whether or not a song can be tied back to 2022 in some shape or form.

For better or worse, this is the official Kyle’s Korner playlist for the year that was.

Cole Swindell, “She Had Me At Heads Carolina”

Let’s kick this off with a song that served as a microcosm of country music’s 2022 troubles. The overwhelming sense I got from this genre is that it had nothing to say and no ideas to push, and thus was reduced to peddling aimless emotion and recycled content (I suppose you could at least say the industry got greener). Cycling back through the hip trends of yesteryear is nothing new (and the 90s revival of this year seemed to kick off in earnest the moment I declared it dead), but there’s a line between inspiration and outright plagiarism, and Swindell rode the latter to one of the biggest country hits this year. To be clear, there is no reason to listen to this song: It’s a carbon copy of Jo Dee Messina’s 1996 hit, and the story is nothing more than a guy leering at a girl singing the original song at karaoke night. (If you’re going to copy the original to this degree, you might as well just toss the copy and re-release Messina’s song instead.)

While people were eager to recreate the sounds of a more-lucrative era, they unfortunately stuck with the same old buzzwords and placeholder storylines, and it made listening to the radio a frustrating experience if you wanted anything more than background noise. Let’s hope the meta changes at least a little in 2023.

Bailey Zimmerman, “Fall In Love”

…Okay, so country music did have one thing it wanted to say: “I’m as mad as hell!” Unfortunately, they never got to the second half of Howard Beale’s quote, and instead ranted about how much alcohol they had drank and how evil there ex was and how unfair life was in general. The Ex-Boyfriend trend had been bubbling up for the last couple of years, but it really went mainstream this year behind songs like Morgan Wallen’s awful “Wasted On You” and Zimmerman’s tire fire of a track (which topped my worst-song list for the year). Instead of reflecting on what went wrong and finding ways to move on, these singers lashed out blindly at the people they claimed to love before, never failing to paint themselves as the bad guy in a breakup no matter how many receipts they brought (and they generally didn’t bring many).

Unfortunately, such vitriol resonated in a world where anger and resentment have been festering for a while, which means this trend will likely continue into the new year as well. Zimmerman’s rant was the angriest of the bunch, which puts it on our playlist for 2022.

Edwin Starr, “War”

You can probably guess what this one’s here for. Vladimir Putin decided he wasn’t satisfied with just taking Crimea from Ukraine, and in February he moved to grab the whole darn country. He thought that the country would fall within a few days, and that the rest of the world would stand by and do nothing like they had all done before.

He was wrong on all counts.

Ukraine not only repelled Russia initial’s push towards Kyiv, but also halted its broader offensive on the country and slowly began taking back the territory it had lost. The invasion also galvanized the rest of the world in opposition to Russia, and outside support poured into Ukraine while unprecedented economic sanctions were leveled against Putin and his country. The courage, spirit, and perseverance shown by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and the people of Ukraine has been truly inspiring to witness, and together they have exposed Russia as a fraud, a declining power whose bark is worse than its bite.

All that being said, Russia has still inflicted a lot of damage on Ukraine, and continues to do so with their attacks on Ukraine’s critical infrastructure as winter sets in. This fight is far from over, and its outcome remains in doubt ten months after it started. Still, the strength of the Ukrainians and the resolve of America and its allies to support the defense efforts were genuine surprises at a time when we all appeared to be gripped by complacency, and it was the first sign that things were starting to change.

Tim McGraw, “Red Ragtop”

This one’s a pretty easy choice for the list as well (you could also make a case for Loretta Lynn’s “The Pill”). McGraw’s 2002 single generated controversy for the main characters’ decision to have an abortion, a decision that would illegal in at least thirteen states. In May, an unprecedented leak from the Supreme Court indicated that the court was prepared to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision and erase the constitutional right for women to get an abortion, and they followed through on the threat a month later. (Justice Thomas went so far as to suggest that other decisions, such as legalizing gay marriage, could be overturned using a similar argument as was used here.)

Several abortion bans went into effect immediately and several other states moved to severely restrict access to the procedure, but the moves seemed unwise given that over 60% percent of Americans felt that “abortion should be legal in all or most cases.” The pro-life movement took a beating at the polls for the rest of the year, starting with a failure to repeal abortion rights Kansas and ending with an 0-for-5 election night performance where it appeared to be a major reason why the projected November “red wave” never materialized. It became yet another instance where people finally decided that enough was enough, and stepped up to make sure their voices were heard and their wishes were heeded.

Earnest Jackson and Sugar Daddy and the Gumbo Roux, “Inflation”

I’m no economist, but I’ll admit that I was one of the people who wondered if the old rules of finance still applied after so many years of low inflation. This year, however, the old rules came roaring back, as a number of factors (increased demand, decreased supply, wage growth, corporate profiteering, geopolitical events, the return of the McRib, etc.) conspired to send the price of just about everything to the moon (except cryptocurrencies, that is). Inflation hit a 40-year high in 2022, and since the impact of the cost increases were limited to anyone who paid for food, housing, and energy, this issue became a major concern for anyone who represented these people, which makes this track another easy choice for the list.

The story behind this song, which involves a couple of NPR podcasters starting a record label to promote a long-forgotten track about a long-ignored subject to finally give a long-forgotten artist his due, helps make the song’s case as well. The language is a bit dated (no one talks about depressions these days), but the sentiment and examples make the track feel like it could have been written this year.

After dragging their feet initially, the Federal Reserve responded with the sort of interest rate increases that the country hadn’t seen in decades, and while the impact has been uneven so far (inflation is starting to ease, but certain sectors like the tech industry and the housing market have been impacted more heavily), the true outcome of these countermeasures remains unclear, so look for inflation (and the economy in general) to remain a major story in the year to come.

Kane Brown, “American Bad Dream”

Brown released this song back in 2018, after years of events like school shootings and the deaths of Black people at the hands of the police began pushing gun violence to the forefront of our national consciousness. The trend only accelerated in the years that followed, with high-profile incidents such as the El Paso Walmart shooting in 2019, the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor in 2020, and the shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde this year. Despite the overwhelming number of such incidents in the United States, for years the official response was nothing but “thoughts and prayers,” mourning the lives lost while doing nothing to change the course of the future.

However, even on an issue that seemed solidly frozen in the amber of this nation, this started to change. Congress passed the first major piece of gun legislation in nearly thirty years, and while its reach was minimal and painfully inadequate, it was finally something. It was an indication that people all across the political spectrum had started to realize just how bad the problem had gotten, and that something not only could be done, but had to be done.

Our relationship with firearms is a complicated one, and one we’ll be forced to address in the years to come. Still, this was another sign that people had grown tired of the broken status quo, and had decided to take action to make things better.

The Tractors, “Fallin’ Apart”

This song is here for two reasons:

  • The Tractors were a solid group that deserve to be known as more than “the boogie-woogie choo-choo train guys.”
  • I think the title captures the general feeling that a lot of people had at points during the year. In addition to all the things we’ve already talked about in this post (war, court reversals, inflation, gun violence, etc.), the specter of Donald Trump and January 6th loomed large over the country, as many election deniers, misinformation peddlers, and outright morons threatened to take power and disenfranchise various parts of the electorate. Democracy itself seemed to be on the ballot in 2022, and the midterm historical trends that favored the out-of-power party threatened to put a bunch of wannabe autocrats in charge of Congress.

Politicians like to claim that the fate of the nation is as stake every year, but after the 2020 election weaved through the courts and culminated in an insurrection, that claim felt all too real this year, and it had a lot of people wondering if “everything we got is fallin’ apart.”

Drake Milligan, “Sounds Like Something I’d Do”

Okay, we’ve done enough rehashing of the badness of 2022. It’s time to talk about what went right this year, and the best place to start is the best darn country song released in the last twelve months.

I know things have changed in the last twenty years, but I just can’t shake the feeling of déjà vu I get when I hear this song. It was 2003 when Dierks Bentley burst onto the scene with “What Was I Thinkin’,” and given that the man is still (relatively) relevant today, I don’t think Milligan would reject the comparison. “Sounds Like Something I’d Do” brings that same sort of drive and energy to the table, and with its classical instrumentation, it’s just a really fun song to listen to.

However, there’s a little something extra with his delivery, and while it’s an obvious attempt to imitate Elvis Presley, there’s a reason Milligan was chosen for that Sun Records drama back in 2017. When you watch him perform, he has that same sort of raw charisma and physicality on stage that draws people to him, which I think bodes well for his future in the genre. (Radio may not be a visual format, but its prominence is fading while visual formats like television and social media seem to be rising. There’s a reason he chose to go on America’s Got Talent before dropping an official radio single.)

But that’s all speculation for the future. Right now, Milligan is a darn good singer with the best darn song of the year, and he deserves a spot on our list.

Lizzo, “About Damn Time”

When I was looking outside country music for songs to include on my list, Lizzo’s big hit from last May stood out because she was trying to do the same thing that at least 75% of country music was trying to do (recapture a retro sound for a nihilistic party song), but she actually succeeded in her quest while Nashville failed over and over again. Why?

For one thing, the old-school funk sound of “About Damn Time” is a lot better at inspiring people to move than the in-your-face guitars-and-drums that country music relies on for everything. (Seriously, the groove of ADT’s bass line is absolutely sublime and just resonates with your soul; nothing in Nashville even comes close.) Not centering everything on booze helps as well (the only screen time is gets here is a line about “two shots in my cup”), and I think the use of her flute not only gives her a distinct sound, but a signature sound as well, along the lines of Willie Nelson’s Trigger or Brad Paisley’s electric axe. It doesn’t feature the raw energy of Milligan’s track, but what’s here seems more channeled and purposeful, and Lizzo’s confidence and I’ve-had-enough attitude shine through on both the lyrics and the vocals.

It’s a great song that puts country music’s repeated efforts to mimic its vibe to shame, and while Music City has made its share of great party music over the years, this track should make the town rethink its efforts to imitate other genres and try to find its own voice instead.

HARDY ft. Lainey Wilson, “Wait In The Truck”

So where should country music start in its quest to find its own voice? I’d argue that story songs are the place to begin, the three-minute three-act plays that have long been a calling card of the genre. We didn’t get a ton of them this year, and the ones we did came from unexpected places, and nothing was more unexpected than HARDY, the root of most everything evil in Nashville over the last few years, dropping a powerful, thought-provoking murder ballad. No other genre can match country music’s storytelling potential, and the tragic tale of an revenge murder that left no one’s hands clean really stood out in a sea of aimless drinking and rejection-fueled raging. The sound had surprising depth as it transformed from a sparse, dark tale to a full-blown spiritual, both HARDY and Lainey Wilson played their roles to the hilt (although admittedly Wilson’s lines didn’t add a ton to the track), and the lyrics told a clear-yet-complex story that invited the listener to think about the narrator’s choices and what they should or should not have done differently. It’s the kind of song that country music is known for (and they don’t have to be super dark either; see Michael Ray’s “Holy Water”), and I’d like to see a few more tracks and artists try this approach in the future.

Akira Senju ft. SARINA, REINA & MARU, “Song of Triangle Strategy”

Unlike country music, gaming (at least from Nintendo’s perspective) had a pretty good year, and while the MLB The Show 22‘s soundtrack was mostly relegated to the menus and not particularly memorable, Triangle Strategy had some great background tracks that set the perfect mood for each scene and character. I’m putting the main theme here because it has a dramatic rock-opera feel that fits well with the intrigue and machinations Serenoa and company have to deal with throughout the game, but you could probably put most any piece of the soundtrack here and I wouldn’t complain.

Triangle Strategy wasn’t the surprise that “wait in the truck” was, but I’ll admit that I didn’t think I would get sucked so completely into its cinematic universe that I would complete the game three separate times despite minimal changes on each route. The battle mechanics were fun and interesting, the characters were memorable and likeable, and Frederica showed off the best fireball I’d seen since Randy Johnson retired. Baseball may have triumphed in the Game of the Year debate, but tactical RPGs were the true breakout genre for me in 2022, and Triangle Strategy is the main reason why.

Schmoyoho, “Chug Jug With You (Joe Biden Edition)”

We can’t talk about this year without raising a glass to the 80-year-old leader of the free world who was already considered a lame duck by both supporters and detractors (and still is to some extent, with nearly 60% of Democratic-leaning voters declaring that someone else should run for office in 2024). He went all in on defending democracy in Ukraine and did a solid job holding his coalition of nations together, got some huge legislative wins in the form of bills such as the Inflation Reduction Act, the CHIPS and Science Act, and the Respect For Marriage Act, and he put an exclamation point on the year by defying the aforementioned historical trends and posting one of best midterm election results by a sitting president’s party in the last 100 years. (Only in politics can you win by not losing as bad as people expected.) He framed the choice in this year’s polls as a referendum on democracy itself, and the people responded to his call.

It wasn’t a perfect year, and things won’t get any easier for him with divided government looming for the next two years, but I think it’s fair to bestow a #1 Victory Royale on Joe Biden for what he pulled off in 2022. Whether he can repeat the feat in 2024, however…that’s an open question.

Brad Paisley, “Online”

So what is Paisley’s digital hit from 2007 doing here? Does it represents the growing presence of online activities in our lives, ranging from Zoom calls to full-blown remote-work opportunities? Is it marking the end of an era in which tech titans like Meta, Twitter, and every cryptocurrency ever invented printed money, or at least could raise piles of cash at the drop of a hat? Is it pouring one out for humanity one last time before AI takes over?

No, this track is here because honestly, I’m not sure what form my “Online” presence will take in the next year. The Pulse posts are scheduled to end, but truthfully they weren’t the problem—it was the flood of boring songs I had to review to feed it. Should I keep the Pulse going, or drop it as I originally intended? Should I rethink my review format to make it more compact, or dump solo reviews in favor of lightning posts? How can I work more gaming posts into the rotation, and it is worth doing at all? And what about YouTube? Is that the right place for my content, or would I be better form doing short-form content on another platform, or just streaming it on Twitch? Heck, what should my content even be? Should I expand my “content empire,” or think about contracting it?

I don’t have any real answers right now, but I think the first thing to do is answer a fundamental question: Is doing all this fun/interesting in the first place? And if not, how do I rebalance everything to flip the answer back to yes? Things have admittedly been a grind over the last year, and figuring out what I enjoy doing the most will go a long way towards bringing some of the joy back.

GAZILOG, Mejoo and Cats Theme Song

As you might expect, I’ve been spending a lot more time on YouTube over the past year as I work to kick-start my channel, which has led me down some unexpected rabbit holes and introduced me to some interesting creators. One niche I never expected to discover was the world of Korean cat YouTubers, where people with several-to-many felines post simple vlogs and other weird videos starring their cat companions. Claire Luvcat was the first one I stumbled across, but as she reduced her posting schedule to deal with other things, I branched out to channels like Bebe8Cats, Arirang, and the four cats that make up the Mejoo and Cats crew.

…Actually, there are five cats on the channel now, which is what prompted the musical group GAZILOG to put together a new theme song that included Audrey (cat #5) in its lyrics. The song has a solid beat with an 80s pop vibe, and while there isn’t much to the song besides “there are five cats now,” it’s a surprisingly catching tune (and Soo’s dancing in the video is absolutely worth the price of admission). “Anti-social media” may be facing a reckoning right now, but there’s still a lot of enjoyable stuff out there to find, and I can’t wait to see what I can find next year.

Rihanna, “Umbrella”

Now this might seem like a pick out of left field, but I’d like my close my list for this year by recognizing the two kinda-sorta viral moments from my blog this year…except that neither of them were actually from my blog! On the YouTube, my first official Splatoon 3 Splatfest highlight reel unexpectedly exploded (and while I was traveling and stuck on terrible Internet, no less), eventually reaching the 50,000 view milestone:

I’d absolutely love to tell you the secret to my success, but I have absolutely no idea how things turned out the way they did (especially after subsequent videos following the same formula couldn’t even reach the 500-view mark). Perhaps the title was a bit too “clickbaity”? Perhaps the success of a weapon considered to be the weakest in the game generated a spirited debate over its potential? Perhaps it was the “wholesome” content that several commenters pointed out (I sound pretty toxic tbh), or the incredible voiceover that several other commenters swooned over (I sound like Kermit the Frog with a pack-a-day habit)?

Whatever it was, the video turned me into “that umbrella guy” for a brief moment, and set the direction of my channel for the foreseeable future: I was going to talk Splatoon, and I was going to talk about the Undercover Brella, ‘ella, ‘ella in particular. Videos can be time-consuming to put together, but I’ve enjoyed what I’ve created thus far, and you can expect more such videos next year!

My second big moment this year was when I put together a comprehensive, exhaustive list of my favorite Randy Travis songs as part of The Musical Divide’s Fifteen Favorites series. Zack Kephart has written a few posts for the Korner this year (you should check them out, by the way), and I really wanted to return the favor to thank him for his contribution. I pitched the idea for a Travis-themed post, pored over Travis’s entire discography (and discovered just how copies of each album I’d accumulated over the years), and posted the finished piece, with (spoiler alert) “Out Of My Bones” at the top of the list.

What happened next shocked the heck out of me: Zack tagged Randy Travis in a tweet announcing the post…and the man himself responded:

Getting a seal of approval from the greatest country singer of all time? That was pretty freaking cool. The post blew up from there, and wound up as one of the most-popular at TMD for the year.

Blogging may be considered a million years behind the times, but that list of Travis favorites makes me think that there’s life in this medium yet. I may not be sure what form my content will take in 2023, but I think the blog will march on, foisting my random brain dumps onto an unsuspecting public. To paraphrase a wise man, I don’t know where we’re going, but we’re going to make great time getting there, and hopefully we’ll have a good time in the process.

Happy New Year, folks.

One thought on “Kyle’s 2022 Still-A-Pandemic Playlist

  1. Always one of my favorite posts of yours and something I look forward to every year … more because you’re insanely creative with your choices and not because of the years themselves (the roaring ’20s this most certainly has NOT been thus far).

    But I just want to say congrats on another year of writing, Kyle, and thanks for letting me contribute toward your gaming discussions this year! I’m very much hoping to be more active with that next year!

    But hey, regarding the state of Kyle’s Korner, I know you’re sort of testing the waters with where to take things next, but I have faith things will work out. No matter what, you’re a passionate writer through and through and more detailed with your thoughts than pretty much anyone out there, IMO. Even if the songs mostly stunk this year, you always cared enough to create interesting discussions and it showed.

    Oh yeah, Twitter might have … really gone down the drain in this final quarter of the year, but the Randy Travis shout still blows my mind! Thanks for contributing an excellent post, and happy New Year to what’s ahead!

    Liked by 2 people

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