Back in 2018, the trio Avenue Beat shipped their single “Delight” to country radio. A frothy, pop-influenced production about a relationship gone sour, it came with the memorably repeated chorus line “I’m a freaking delight.” Country radio mostly ignored it, and Quincy, Illinois, natives Savana Santos, Sam Backoff, and Sami Bearden soon moved on to other singles like “I Don’t Really Like Your Boyfriend.”
“That feels like so long ago,” Santos says during a Zoom call with her bandmates in July.
“It’s like that was baby us,” Backoff agrees.
Then the ongoing disaster that is 2020 arrived, bringing with it devastation both national and closer to home. Something snapped, and Avenue Beat got to work writing an idea that everyone is feeling: “Fuck 2020.” They quietly uploaded a snippet of the song, titled “F2020,” to TikTok and captured the spirit of an exhausted, frustrated nation. With a chorus that declares, “Lowkey fuck 2020/Still sad, still ain’t got no money,” it has picked up nearly 13 million TikTok views since late June and is now starting to get spins on pop radio, though in a considerably toned-down, PG-13 form.
“We went from ‘freaking delight’ to ‘fuck 2020,’” Bearden says, laughing at the contrast between the songs and the sudden recognition that “F2020” has brought the Nashville group. Though not strictly a country act, Avenue Beat have shared stages with Mason Ramsey and were set to open shows on Rascal Flatts’ farewell tour this year.
Santos, who handles the group’s production, says writing “F2020” with Backoff and Bearden was a cathartic moment, following days of grim national news reports about the pandemic and racial violence.
“The catalyst for the whole song was that all these things had been building up in my week and it had been really shitty,” Santos says. “And then Sami’s cat died. And that was the final thing where I was like, ‘What is happening?’”
“It took off because literally everyone is feeling that right now.” —Maren Morris on the appeal of “F2020”
Singer Maren Morris, who got to spend some time with Avenue Beat when they shared a bill at a radio-station concert, loved the personal, plainspoken nature of “F2020” from the first time her husband, Ryan Hurd, played it for her.
“I was like, ‘Is this them? This is so awesome.’ And then just the raw nature of it, the lyrics about like her cat dying and putting out music that no one cared about,” Morris tells Rolling Stone. “We kind of all had that bottoming out. I love that they just plainly state it and don’t sugarcoat it. It took off because literally everyone is feeling that right now.”
Built around a woozy, off-kilter guitar sample that Santos found on the sound repository website Splice, “F2020” recounts the pileup of traumas after a hopeful start to the year. “Yo, my cat died/And a global pandemic took over my life/And I put out some music that nobody liked/So I got really sad and bored at the same time,” she sings. It’s straightforward, almost conversational, without sacrificing its melodic hooks.
“That’s just kind of always how we’ve written,” Backoff says. “‘What emotion are we feeling? What are you going through? Let’s just start talking.’ And then it usually just falls out.”
Avenue Beat added national images of unrest to the song’s TikTok video: Black Lives Matter protests in the wake of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery’s deaths; anti-Trump posters; and Australian wildfires. While they aren’t subjects specifically addressed in the song, they added to the anxiety the band felt while recording it.
“There’s personal stuff, and there’s big-scale stuff that’s been going on,” Backoff says, “and we thought that all of that was important to talk about, not just what we’ve been through, but what everybody has been through this year.”
“There are certain things that happen that are like, there’s nothing you can do about it,” Bearden says. “Then there are those things that we can be working and fighting towards. It was important for us to not just talk about the hopeless things, but talk about the things that we can change, that we can fight for.”
“F2020” hadn’t even been completed when it was first uploaded to TikTok, because Santos figured it would disappear into the ether with minimal impact.
“I’m like, ‘This is just going to live on here and it’ll get like seven thousand views. It’ll be fine and it’ll be cool,’” she says.
“No one would let us put this out with how many swear words are going on in it,” Bearden says.
Avenue Beat’s multiple uses of the word “fuck” did automatically render “F2020” too explicit for radio, but with a little ingenuity, they recorded a clean version that’s starting to see some rotation.
“We were like, ‘Oh my God, why did we put so many swear words in it?’” Bearden recalls of the re-writing. “Comparatively to other things that we’ve had to clean up before, it was a lot easier just because it was happening so fast.”
A byproduct of the song’s viral success: Avenue Beat’s record label, Big Machine Label Group, has reason to trust the group’s instincts when they want to test out a song, rather than forcing them to wait for a single to catch hold at radio.
“Before maybe we hadn’t really proven ourselves, but then we just fucking decided to go rogue,” Santos says.
Beyond that, it’s heartening to see a band turn this mess of a year into a win, even if that success hasn’t mitigated the anxiety of living in this moment.
“It just kind of validates the feeling of anxiety,” Santos says.
“The fact that other people also feel the way we feel,” says Bearden. “It’s just like, we’re all in this.”