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The Annual Proof Countdown of Political Hits (and Misses): 2020 Pandemic Edition

December 22, 2020

With files from the Proof Strategies Government Relations team.

Remember when we all used to do things? For a year defined by isolation and NOT making things happen, 2020 sure was overflowing with world-altering events. And the political scene most certainly carried its share of the weight.

Once again, Proof Strategies is looking back on the year that was through the prism of some of the charts’ biggest hits. It’s an annual tradition, but with any luck next year’s lens will have a rosier tint (and fewer gob-smackers).

Friends, welcome to your 2020 countdown of the year’s top political hits (and misses):

“Good As Hell” by Lizzo

It’s been a year of double-takes and curveballs. One where Liberal Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland called Ontario’s Progressive Conservative Premier Doug Ford “my therapist” to the Toronto Star. Since the public bonding came only a few months after Ford was a regular punching bag for Liberals on the 2019 election trail, we at Proof were as surprised as anyone. But friendships often form in the crucible of a crisis, and there was an abundant supply of touch-and-go moments shared by provincial and federal leaders in 2020, which makes Lizzo’s anthem for a friend under siege — which finally became a Hot 100 hit this past year — the perfect tune to mark this budding political friendship.

“r u ok” by Tate McRae

The 17-year old Calgarian — who made her initial splash as the first Canadian finalist on TV’s So You Think You Can Dance — has had an incredible year. Her debut EP has generated international attention. She filmed a music video for a new song by strapping her phone to her mother’s car and performing in front of the Calgary Tower — the clip now has 52 million views. In her new single, McRae reveals heartbreak — and despite the pain, compassionately reaches out to the boy who did her wrong. We know a few folks on Canada’s political scene who’ve had some big highs and lows of their own in 2020. Conservative MP Erin O’Toole ultimately came out on top as the party’s new leader after an unexpectedly prolonged race — and then promptly contracted COVID-19 (from which he’s recovered, thankfully). The Green Party’s Annamie Paul took over the helm of her party but missed a chance to join her caucus in Parliament when she lost a Toronto byelection. So, in McRae’s spirit of compassion: Erin and Annamie, are you okay…?

“I’m Ready” by Sam Smith and Demi Lovato 

This year, with citizens across the country on tenterhooks and tensions rising in provincial legislatures, a handful of Premiers rolled the dice, went to the polls — and came out on top. British Columbia’s NDP premier John Horgan and New Brunswick’s PC premier Blaine Higgs both converted their precarious, pre-pandemic minority mandates into full majorities — while the Saskatchewan Party’s Scott Moe stuck by the province’s fixed election date and earned his party an impressive fourth term (a first under his leadership). Now comes the hard part: delivering. Coming off their big wins, we’re sure these three feel Sam Smith and Demi Lovato’s “I’m Ready” sounds just right.

“Shame Shame” by Foo Fighters

The first single from their new album may have only just rocketed up the charts in November, but Foo Fighters’ “Shame Shame” summed up so many of the feels politicos felt when the WE Charity scandal dominated headlines last summer. Proroguing Parliament, exiting Bill Morneau, and the winding down of WE Charity’s operations in Canada are only a handful of the head shakers created in the wake of this infamous “billion-dollar sole-source contract.” Threaded into an angsty verse, the Foos’ Dave Grohl croons a few key lines about self-inflicted wounds: “I’ll be the war at your door / come and let me in.” For their sake, let’s hope Liberal MPs don’t make this one a familiar tune in 2021.

“Ablaze” by Alanis Morissette

Is there a contest for *the statement* that hands-down summed up 2020 for the work-from-home crowd? ‘Cause if there is, we’d like to submit: “You’re on mute.” Navigating video meeting etiquette has been an adjustment for many — from parents to pet owners and beyond. For the work-from-homers here at Proof, seeing Ottawa-born Alanis Morissette perform on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon in July was a flash of inspiration. Cradling her toddler, Morissette belted out her new song “Ablaze” via a remote performance, gracefully whispering with her little girl in between verses. For that special group of MPs who hadn’t read the memo on video call etiquette (exhibit A: if you aren’t careful, you might accidentally reveal you’ve hired a family member for your constituency office) hopefully, Alanis has offered up an example of grace to look up to.

“Options Open” by Kathleen Edwards

After an eight-year break from the music scene, Canadian alt-country star Kathleen Edwards launched her new set of tunes mid-pandemic — earning a spot on Rolling Stone’s best country and Americana albums of the year in the process. In her lyrics for “Options Open,” Edwards describes meeting a significant other for the first time in the parking lot of, well… — a familiar term for a Canadian hardware store. While the pandemic led many provincial governments to introduce a retail pivot to “curbside pick-up,” this was probably not the type to which Edwards referred here.

Sweeter” by Leon Bridges featuring Terrace Martin

Released in the wake of George Floyd’s killing in Minneapolis and the worldwide protests it sparked, Texas singer Leon Bridges’ “Sweeter” is a sober, melodic, and poignant song about longing for a better future, sadness over racial profiling, and disappointment that history keeps repeating. 2020 marked a step towards addressing systemic racism and highlighted the huge amount of work that still needs to be done. If there’s one item that citizens and political leaders alike must carry forward from a 2020 all would otherwise prefer to forget, this is it.

“The Steps” by HAIM

The pandemic’s been a rollercoaster for every political leader, but there’s no question that the one sliding to the bottom of the curve right now is Alberta’s Jason Kenney. In a double-whammy of December polls, Kenney’s personal approval rating was the second-lowest of the country’s premiers, while support for his United Conservative Party slipped behind the province’s NDP. After a wild ride over the last couple of years that saw Kenney unite Alberta’s right, win the leadership of the merged party, and unseat the NDP’s Rachel Notley, one would think he’d have been able to enjoy a victory lap for returning the province to its conservative political roots. And yet. In a catchy ode to a relationship that’s gone off the rails, one of HAIM’s three sisters sings, “If you go left, and I go right, hey baby, that’s just life sometimes.” With the next provincial election scheduled for 2023, at least there’s plenty of time to kiss and make up.

“Watermelon Sugar” by Harry Styles

After four years of looking south agape, incredulous and cringing (see: NAFTA renegotiation, steel and aluminum tariffs, the Four Seasons Total Landscaping press conference), the outcome of November’s U.S. presidential election finally gave Canadians a chance to unclench, shake off the tension and breathe a sigh of relief. For what it’s worth, critical views of President Trump have been far from uncommon on this side of the 49th parallel — our 2017 Proof Strategies CanTrust Index survey showed that a paltry 13% of Canadians trust the now outgoing commander in chief / returning real estate mogul. With the Biden inauguration just around the corner, we’re confident that Harry Styles’ summer-y blast of fresh air “Watermelon Sugar” will be at the top of oh-so-many virtual party playlists curated to mark the changing of the guard in the U.S. capitol.

“Ascension” by Sam Roberts

As the year ended, things did look bleak in terms of Canada’s access to vaccines. Then in early December, news broke that Canada would have a delivery before Christmas. While a long way to go yet to have all Canadians vaccinated (wash your hands, social distance!), it was the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. The feeling of relief was palpable. That the Sam Roberts Band put out a hopeful song during the pandemic shouldn’t be a surprise. Roberts has a reputation as one of the ‘nice guys’ in music (we at Proof can confirm), and his “We’re All In This Together” got a lot of airplay this year, reminding us of the early pandemic catchphrase. In a nice touch, Roberts did an “Isolation Jubilation Sensation Edition” cut of the song, bringing in his kids on violins and piano. So using the positivity of “Ascension” (“It’s never too late to turn around / You’re never too old to try”), we want to thank politicians of all stripes for their work to get us through to the other side — and wish you and yours a very SAFE and happy 2021. And may this next year be better than the last.