Feature: Best Songs of 2020 (Excerpt)

14. The Chicks: “Gaslighter” [Sony Music]

Election years breed proselytizing – and, yes, a fair bit of preaching to the choir. And 2020, in terms of its reelection High Noon-ery, mirrored 2004, that once-quagmired cycle in which The Chicks, nee Dixie, offered some side-handed shade about George W. Bush and his “coalition of the willing” waging war in Iraq. (In hindsight, the comments seem pretty tame; at the time, many on the righteous right shouted “treason!”)

It’s only appropriate that The Chicks return in ‘20 after a 14-year hiatus with a furious little single that seemed minted for the current moment. The catch: it ain’t about Trump. While Natalie Maines, the trio’s blonde-buzzed frontwoman, might be taking jabs at El Presidente, a.k.a. The Lamest Duck, with the video’s flashy imagery (faux Nazi regalia) and the occasional lyric (“Gaslighter, denier/ Doin’ anything to get your ass farther/ Gaslighter, big timer/ Repeating all of the mistakes of your father”), the song is really a classic breakup tune in a long tradition – and it is a particularly vicious one at that.

Maines lashes out at her ex-husband, Adrian Pasdar, and their tumultuous divorce (“You’re sorry, but where’s my apology?” is one little jab at the chin) while the song’s bizarrely chirpy chorus loops earworms in your head, courtesy of the band and producer/hit-maker Jack Antonoff (Taylor Swift, Lorde). The Chicks rolled out this little joint with all sorts of Election Year noise and do an incredible job at building faux-political narratives out of the shrieks of personal demons. Leave it to The Chicks to come up with an anthem for a broken year – a piece about a union, connotations intended, utterly dissolved and broken beyond repair. Justin Vellucci, Spectrum Culture, Dec. 15, 2020


About the author

Justin Vellucci is a staff writer for PopMatters, Spectrum Culture, and MusicTAP, a contributor to Pittsburgh Current, and a former staffer for Popdose, Punk Planet and Delusions of Adequacy. His music writing has appeared in national magazines such as American Songwriter, alt-pubs like The Brooklyn Rail, Pittsburgh CityPaper and San Diego CityBeat, blogs Swordfish, Punksburgh and Linoleum, and the Gannett magazine Jetty. He lives in Pittsburgh.