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Ken Tucker

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This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF PHOEBE BRIDGERS SONG, "CHRISTMAS SONG")

This year that was like no other ended up making me respond to its music in a way I never had before. The pandemic, along with unprecedented political and social upheaval, made the notion of pleasure both more intense and more open to question.

There was a general feeling among almost everyone I know that we didn't just want to be transported by new music — we needed to be transported: The escapism of art was one of the few things we had control over.

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From rap to rock to singer-songwriter pop, 2019 was a bountiful year for all kinds of music. Lil Nas X's hit "Old Town Road" defined the year with its massive, genre-crossing popularity and sheer catchiness. But when it came to the best albums of 2019, female artists reigned.

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Ken Burns is our great explainer, television's finest illustrator. He's a filmmaker who gives us what we know from fresh angles, so that we can learn more and appreciate topics on a deeper level. Whether his subject is the Civil War or baseball, Burns has made an art of divining what most Americans know about a subject and then putting an arm around our collective shoulder and murmuring, "Yes, but have you seen this?"

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