Wow. It’s hard to believe 2018 is in the books. This year has been a trying one for many, but the music certainly rose to the challenge. Legends were made, legacies were cemented, and, most importantly, the future of music is beginning to look bright.
Here are the 100 best songs 2018 had to offer…
100. “I Love It” Kanye West and Lil Pump
It’s inherently not a song that can be taken seriously, but the beat is just too infectious to give it a hard pass.
99. “MOOO!” Doja Cat
“MOOO!” could be anything from an outrageous joke to farm-tastic social commentary. She gets props for ~clever interpolations of “Old McDonald Had A Farm,” Ludacris’ “Move Bitch,” and Kelis’ “Milkshake,” and making just about every cow-related reference humanly possible. (I mean…A1 sauce?!)
98. “Babe” Sugarland featuring Taylor Swift
If for no other reason than it’s nice to see T. Swift dabble in country again, “Babe” managed to be a worthwhile moment.
97. “Thunderclouds” LSD
For a supergroup consisting of Sia, Diplo, and Labrinth, the material probably should have been a little more exciting. Still, “Thunderclouds” is a great pop tune.
96. “Merrie Land” The Good The Bad & The Queen
It can sometimes be a challenge keeping up with all of Damon Albarn’s various projects, but the surprise return of his supergroup The Good The Bad & The Queen (which also features Paul Simonon, Pete Tong, and Tony Allen,) particularly lead single/title track “Merrie Land,” was worth paying attention to.
95. “Powerglide” Rae Sremmurd featuring Juicy J
Rae Sremmurd is often very “take it or leave it,” but “Powerglide,” and its textbook Mike Will Made It beat, is worth taking.
94. “Narcos” Migos
It’s entirely possible that Migos’ influence may end up being bigger than their own material amounts to in hindsight. Their single “Narcos” unapologetically sticks to their formula, but its sparse hint of flamenco guitar is an effective touch.
93. “Nothing Breaks Like A Heart” Mark Ronson featuring Miley Cyrus
Just making the cutoff for being a proper 2018 track, “Nothing Breaks Like A Heart” brings out the best in both artists. No doubt, the track probably is better than its placing, but it’s hard to say with limited time to make an impact.
92. “PARAD(w/m)E” Sylvan Esso
Sylvan Esso is one of the best acts in the world today, but they’ve yet to experience the commercial recognition they deserve. Stand-alone single “PARAD(w/m)E” could have been their moment based on catchiness alone.
91. “Yikes” Kanye West
“Yikes” about sums up Kanye’s 2018. The hit came as quickly as it went, and unfortunately so, because it stands up to much of his best recent output. Sadly, the hit’s menacing aura wasn’t the only nightmare he gave us this year.
90. “Say Something” Justin Timberlake featuring Chris Stapleton
I’ll say it: JT dropped the ball this year. His Super Bowl performance was a snooze-fest, his comeback album was lackluster, and he couldn’t find a hit to rise to the heights of the cloying sweet, family-friendly “Can’t Stop The Feeling,” but the Chris Stapleton-assisted “Say Something” does hold its own.
89. “Drew Barrymore” Bryce Vine
Boy, Drew Barrymore has certainly been a popular name-check recently. SZA’s track was a soaring success last year, and maybe it’s because he got his in second, but Bryce Vine’s is respectably just alright. Even despite the forced pun in the hook, it’s an earworm.
88. “Wish” Diplo featuring Trippie Redd
Diplo had another quite prolific year, although it largely flew under the radar. His collaboration with Trippie Redd, “Wish,” should have been a huge hit. Trippie’s intensity juxtaposes surprisingly well with the laidback beat.
87. “Finesse (Remix)” Bruno Mars featuring Cardi B
On paper, the “Finesse” remix is little more than a slight update, but there’s nothing slight about adding Cardi B to anything. Although the original dates back to 2016, this was one of this year’s best pop hits.
86. “Barbie Dreams” Nicki Minaj
Nicki audaciously puts her spin on Biggie’s “Just Playing (Dreams)” …and boy did she go for it. I’m not sure there’s any male rapper she didn’t come for, but she certainly owns it.
85. “Cry Pretty” Carrie Underwood
Country music is nothing without emotional connection, but it’s at its best when it connects as profoundly as “Cry Pretty.” Carrie Underwood nailed it with this one.
84. “God’s Plan” Drake
“God’s Plan” was only one of Drake’s unfathomably huge hits this year, which counts for something. Drake-doing-Drake is always going to be hook-driven and addictive, but this one doesn’t feel like it should have had as long of a shelf life as it did.
83. “The Big Unknown” Sade
Sade only becomes more and more elusive as time goes on. The fact that they put out the climactic “The Big Unknown” was nothing short of a gift.
82. “Miracle” CHVRCHES
Thinking back to the boundless potential exhibited with their debut, it’s hard not feel a little impatient with CHVRCHES. “Miracle” steps only slightly into new territory, but it does come off a little Imagine Dragons-y.
81. “Psycho” Post Malone featuring Ty Dolla $ign
Post Malone knows how to make hits in this current musical landscape, one he’s contributed to creating first-hand. The earworm that is “Psycho” gets the job done, but it doesn’t particularly advance him.
80. “Moon River” Frank Ocean
Only Frank Ocean could take a fading classic like “Moon River” and give it a new life beyond its conceivable potential. He carries the melody as if it were a sine wave ebbing through the abyss, hitting the lowest lows and highest highs with sheer precision.
79. “X” Nicky Jam and J Balvin
Nicky Jam and J Balvin’s “X” wasn’t quite able to pull off a “Despacito”-like coup of the pop charts, but it is arguably the better final product. That hypnotic horn hook is a herald.
78. “Humility” Gorillaz featuring George Benson
Gorillaz quickly followed up their packed-to-the-brim Humanz with the starkly contrasted The Now Now – uncharacteristically pared down to just 11 tracks and 3 guests. “Humility,” featuring legendary guitarist George Benson, doesn’t cover new ground for Damon Albarn, but it does make a welcomed addition to his diverse catalog.
77. “Dancing” Kylie Minogue
The beauty of Kylie is that she’s always up for anything. Fusing country and dance pop was a bit of a trend in ’18, and “Dancing” really got the formula right.
76. “When The Curtain Falls” Greta Van Fleet
You could go back and forth all day trying to classify Greta Van Fleet as blues rock revivalists or a reductive Led Zeppelin tribute, but “When The Curtain Falls” is a glorious anthem either way.
75. “Lucid Dreams” Juice WRLD
For better or worse, emo rap is now a benchmark for the genre, and Juice WLRD’s megahit “Lucid Dreams” will likely go down as one of its most prominent anthems.
74. “Shotgun” George Ezra
For his long anticipated second album, George Ezra more or less stuck to the formula that earned him attention in the first place. This go around though, his confidence comes off as noticeably natural. “Shotgun” is a pretty great song.
73. “Hunger” Florence + The Machine
“Hunger” is Florence doing Florence, but that doesn’t stand in the way of it feeling fresh and exciting.
72. “FRIENDS” Marshmello featuring Anne-Marie
I’m not sure how Marshmello quite got here, but we can all be thankful he did. With English pop star-on-the-rise Anne-Marie handling vocals, and a touch of acoustic guitar to drive the beat, “FRIENDS” is one hell of a pop song.
71. “Self Care” Mac Miller
Mac Miller’s passing was one of the hardest hits hip hop took this year. To say he was on the verge of greatness would be a lie, he was already there. “Self Care” is a particularly difficult track to listen to in hindsight, but it acts as powerful reminder of why his presence was important.
70. “Colour” MNEK featuring Haliee Steinfeld
He’s had soaring success as a songwriter, but it’s time that MNEK gets his due as an artist in his own right. The aptly titled “Colour” is pure bliss, and as infectious as anything he’s done to date.
69. “God is a woman” Ariana Grande
“God is a woman” is the perfect modern pop song. The track is a liberating fusion of pop, trap, and gospel elements that all come together with Ariana’s silky vocals and seductive lyrics.
68. “Heat Wave” Snail Mail
Snail Mail’s debut album is truly magnificent on the whole, but single “Heat Wave” really captures just why Lindsey Jordan and company are ripe for indie darling status. The track is so perfectly full of vigor without giving in to too much energy.
67. “Love Lies” Khalid featuring Normani
Take one of the most exciting new acts on the planet, add in the next 1/5th Harmony to branch out, and pair them up for a sparse, sensual slow jam – you’ve got an easy winner.
66. “Call Out My Name” The Weeknd
The Weeknd is an unlikely success story, when you consider his elusive, critically lauded beginnings. Tracks like “Call Out My Name” are comfortable to the public now, but only because of the legwork he put in to get to this point.
65. “Youngblood” 5 Seconds Of Summer
It’s hard to determine if 5 Seconds of Summer is a boy band fronting as a rock band, or vice versa, but “Youngblood” proves they just might be able to compete in either arena.
64. “Heart To Break” Kim Petras
If by this time next year Kim Petras isn’t one of the biggest pop stars in the world, we’re doing it wrong. “Heart To Break” ups the ante on the Pet Shop Boys’ “West End Girls” bass formula, and pairs it with the most euphoric chorus she could conjure. File it under “pop perfection,” please.
63. “Your Dog” Soccer Mommy
Nashville singer-songwriter Soccer Mommy attracted incredible critical attention with her proper debut LP, Clean. Highlight “Your Dog” is a classic metaphor delivered in a fresh way via truly great songwriting.
62. “Four Out Of Five” Arctic Monkeys
Arctic Monkeys have long since proven themselves to be living legends, but their Tranquility Hotel Base & Casino LP will probably sound better in hindsight then it comes off in the present. Lead single “Four Out Of Five,” which sees Alex Turner put on his best Bowie impression, gets the job done.
61. “Girlfriend” Christine and the Queens featuring Dâm-Funk
Christine and the Queens is one of the most important artists in the world, as exemplified by growing attention in English-speaking markets. “Girlfriend,” the lead single from her sophomore effort, Chris, is so brilliantly self-assured, but as confusingly memorable as we’ve come to expect.
60. “J’OUVERT” BROCKHAMPTON
Despite their short tenure, BROCKHAMPTON has been highly prolific. “J’OUVERT,” a clear standout from their 4th LP in 2 years, iridescence, has an addictive presence that arguably disproves “less is more.”
59. “STARGAZING” Travis Scott
ASTROWORLD’s brilliant opener features two very distinct sections of hazy psychedelic trap. It may be the most laidback controlled chaos ever recorded, but it will hypnotize you into comprehension.
58. “Crayons” cupcakKe
Chicago rapper cupcakKe really, really, goes there. For every vulgar line she spits, she backs it up with empowering messages of equality and celebrations of diversity. “Crayons” is the kind of song the phrase “bop” was designed to describe.
57. “Party For One” Carly Rae Jepsen
Carly Rae Jepsen is doing magical things for pop music, and sadly she’s still downgraded to cult-favorite and critical darling. “Party For One” just further solidifies how much great pop the masses are passing by.
56. “Moonlight” XXXTentacion
“Moonlight” doesn’t sound fully realized, but maybe that’s for the best. With a beat seemingly plucked out of some etherial video game score, its XXXTentacion’s barely-present, paradoxically timid and aggressive, vocals that hold it all together.
55. “I Was A Fool” Sunflower Bean
Indie rockers-on-the-rise Sunflower Bean may never find themselves a seat at the big kid’s table – by sheer design of their genre, mind you – but they are already showing signs of being a major critical favorite. “I Was A Fool” is as timeless as it is modern, exhibiting nothing but potential.
54. “Drip Too Hard” Lil Baby and Gunna
Lil Baby and Gunna’s “Drip Too Hard” sounds relieving. You could say that hip hop’s been having some growing pains as of late, but when a track this relevant comes around without any polarizing excess, it’s hard not to call it a success.
53. “TOOTIMETOOTIMETOOTIME” The 1975
The 1975 continuously approach the brink of saturation, and so far they’ve gotten away with it. “TOOTIMETOOTIMETOOTIME” almost…almost… doesn’t, but what could have just as easily been a Drake or Bieber hit probably remained in the right hands at the end of the day.
52. “Sanctify” Years & Years
Directionally, “Sanctify” gives necessary depth to Years & Years’ candy-coated catalog. The unapologetically sleazy track is as memorable as any of their biggest hits, but it didn’t even really need a good hook to be a success; it’s just the cherry on top.
51. “Missing U” Robyn
Robyn’s first solo single in eight years leans heavily into what she does best: disco beats, authoritative synthesizers, and aching melodies. “Missing U” acts as a reminder why pop music needs her so desperately.
50. “SAD!” XXXTentacion
XXXTentacion’s posthumous number one hit “SAD!” isn’t subtle; it’s saturated with poignancy and despair, which is nothing but haunting in retrospect. This wasn’t an artist on the cusp of full realization… he was already there.
49. “Feels Like Summer” Childish Gambino
With another stunning video stealing focus from the track itself, Childish Gambino’s “Feels Like Summer” is a musical achievement on its own. The laidback jam is nothing short of R&B perfection.
48. “FAKE LOVE” BTS
The US has been desperately trying to break K-pop megastars BTS for some time now, and they finally got there with the glorious “FAKE LOVE.” Whether or not we’ve even fully comprehended it yet, this is a landmark moment.
47. “Need A Little Time” Courtney Barnett
Courtney Barnett is an undeniable master lyricist. Her intelligence, wit, and melodic counter-intuitiveness often hold the focus, but it’s really her ability to wrap it around a rejuvenating spectrum of indie rock that makes her so noteworthy. “Need A Little Time” is transcendent.
46. “Anna Wintour” Azealia Banks
Listen, we’re all sick of both her antics and her inability to pull the tigger on her second album, but Azealia Banks has been impeccable in her ability to drop little reminders about why we keep her around along the way. “Anna Wintour” is her best track since “212.”
45. “Bad Bad News” Leon Bridges
The jury is still out on whether or not Leon Bridges has the ability to take these classic sounds to a widespread modern audience, but damn is the music good. The funky, jazzy “Bad Bad News” would no doubt make James Brown proud to see just how far his legacy has evolved.
44. “Ghost Town” Kanye West featuring PARTYNEXTDOOR
Boy oh boy did Kanye desperately try to make this his year, but the spark just never fully ignited – maybe “poopidy-scoop” had something to do with it? “Ghost Town,” lifted from Ye, is a testament to his unrelenting creativity that luckily controls him all those times he should not be controlling it.
43. “Nice For What” Drake
On one hand, Drake’s “Nice For What” relies heavily on its uninspired Lauryn Hill sample. On the other, he finds that perfect intersection of hip hop’s most commercial capabilities, and absolutely knocks it out of the park.
42. “Lost In Japan” Shawn Mendes
Although big pop hits can be as much of a curse as they can be a blessing, Shawn Mendes really stepped into his own this year. The sleek, funky “Lost In Japan” is a complete knock out, proving the need to take him seriously.
41. “Night Shift” Lucy Dacus
Breakup songs are a dime a dozen (and that’s pretty conservative pricing at that,) but Lucy Dacus’ soul-bearing epic “Night Shift” feels authentic …uncomfortably so… in a way most singer-songwriters would never be so bold to attempt.
40. “Short Court Style” Natalie Prass
Natalie Prass’ funky “Short Court Style” is a little too pop to be alternative, yet too alternative to be pop. It’s not an uncommon conundrum by any means, but it certainly adds to the track’s infectious allure.
39. “We Appreciate Power” Grimes featuring HANA
Grimes is the kind of artist you either get or you don’t, but you’ll never really figure out either way. “We Appreciate Power” features an industrial thump and a hazy melody, but damn is it catchy at the same time. She’s a genius.
38. “One Kiss” Calvin Harris and Dua Lipa
Calvin Harris and Dua Lip only make too much sense for a collaboration, but they definitely delivered. They tap into a bit of trendy ’90s nostalgia with modern house anthem “One Kiss.” It’s pretty much got everything the perfect dance pop song should have.
37. “Immaterial” Sophie
Sophie is one of the most original artists on the planet today, and if you haven’t started paying attention to her yet, now is the time. “Immaterial,” a standout cut from her debut LP, feels so comfortably saccharine, yet no one can reasonably say they’ve heard anything truly like it before.
36. “Pink Lemonade” James Bay
For his sophomore album, James Bay took a stab at dance rock, and actually kinda pulled it off. “Pink Lemonade” is desperate to be crowned an anthem, but it doesn’t quite come together that way. Instead, it’s a pretty interesting listen.
35. “Me & My Dog” boygenius
This brilliant supergroup, consisting of three of indie rock’s most exciting female artists, understandably caught the attention of critics this year. “Me & My Dog” is one of the most gut-wrenching things you’ll ever listen to.
34. “Chun-Li” Nicki Minaj
Nicki Minaj is as invigorated as she’s ever been. In reality, she’s a seasoned veteran who has experienced unprecedented success, but it’s clear she feels like she’s just getting started. “Chun-Li” perfectly escapes the pop pretense of hits like “Anaconda” and “Starships,” which is a bit of a power move.
33. “Charcoal Baby” Blood Orange
Dev Hynes is a mad scientist. Released on his acclaimed Blood Orange LP Negro Swan, “Charcoal Baby” feels more like an art piece than a song at times. It’s gloriously out of tune.
32. “King’s Dead” Jay Rock, Kendrick Lamar, Future, and James Blake
The Kendrick-curated Black Panther soundtrack is simply incredible. One of its most collaborative moments, “King’s Dead” is so full of swag and charisma, and all of its players really bring their best to the table.
31. “Mariners Apartment Complex” Lana Del Rey
It’s a testament to Lana Del Rey’s alluring talent how she’s been able to sustain a career like she has. “Mariners Apartment Complex” may just be the artist as fully realized as she’ll ever be. It’s hypnotic in delivery, yet cognizant in melody, further proving we’re all under her spell.
30. “Pynk” Janelle Monáe featuring Grimes
It’s become clear that any time Janelle Monáe and Grimes get together, we’re going to get something special. The first offering from Monáe’s Dirty Computer is a bluntly empowering synthpop anthem that erupts into euphoria so brilliantly.
29. “OTW” Khalid featuring Ty Dolla $ign and 6LACK
Khalid is one of the most promising young acts in the world today. He’s certainly found space in the commercial realm, but it’s tracks like the deliriously smooth “OTW” that is keeping the critics in his corner.
28. “ATM” J. Cole
For as big as J. Cole is, it always feels like he could, and should, be much bigger. “ATM” is perplexingly trendy – is he being serious? …is he schooling the younglings? Either way, it proves why he’s so important to hip hop today.
27. “Mona Lisa” Lil Wayne featuring Kendrick Lamar
Lil Wayne’s highly anticipated comeback did not disappoint. The Carter V had plenty of highlights, but the Kendrick-featuring “Mona Lisa” is a invigorating. Both artists are in rare form.
26. “My My My!” Troye Sivan
Troye Sivan is currently one of pop’s most important figures inching his way towards bonafide superstardom. “My My My!” is as sleazy as it is celebratory, and as confident as it is restrained. Clearly, this is an artist acutely aware of which direction they want to go.
25. “1950” King Princess
King Princess’ debut single, “1950” is an instant alternative queer anthem, but most importantly it introduced the world to one of its most exciting new acts.
24. “SAN MARCOS” BROCKHAMPTON
BROCKHAMPTON is helping to keep hip hop interesting. It’s impossible not to pause for reflection by the time you get to “SAN MARCOS” on iridescence. It relies on some tried-and-true tricks – acoustic guitar, big gospel climax – but damn does it work.
23. “Charity” Courtney Barnett
The near-anthemic “Charity” doesn’t resist going for the big chorus, but it stays focused on Courtney Barnett’s unparalleled wit. She will undoubtedly go down as one of this generation’s premiere songwriters.
22. “The Middle” Zedd featuring Maren Morris and Grey
Ironically, there’s little middle-ground found between Zedd and Maren Morris’ diverse musical perspectives, but 2018’s biggest earworm proves the former can crank out one hell of a pop tune and the latter can sing the pants off of pretty much anything.
21. “Space Cowboy” Kacey Musgraves
“Space Cowboy” is as atmospheric as the first half of the tile would suggest, and remains as country as the second. Not only is the melody beautiful, but Kacey’s lyrics are as imaginative as they are gut-wrenching.
20. “Wide Awake” Parquet Courts
The prolific Parquet Courts have packed quite a bit into a relatively short period of time, and they have continued to keep it interesting. The funky-disco of “Wide Awake” would surely put a smile on David Byrne’s face. It should have been a huge hit.
19. “Honey” Robyn
Robyn is such a beautifully unique artist that has been making pop-that-matters for almost 25 years. “Honey,” the title track from her first solo album in 8 years, is strikingly persistent; it’s impossible to decipher if the song never climaxes, or if it’s just one giant climax.
18. “After The Storm” Kali Uchis featuring Tyler, The Creator and Bootsy Collins
Truthfully, this is a dream trio. With the legendary Bootsy Collins holding down the bottom, and a feature from Tyler, The Creator, Kali Uchis has been officially verified for superstardom. “After The Storm” is decadent.
17. “Curious” Hayley Kiyoko
She’s been dubbed “Lesbian Jesus,” but Haley Kiyoko is just a pop star living her truth and the music is rising to the occasion. “Curious” is a sleek, bouncy jam that never falls into an excess trap; it’s pop perfection.
16. “thank u, next” Ariana Grande
There is no way Ariana Grande had much time to pull “thank u, next” together following her breakup with finance Pete Davidson, but somehow it’s gone on to become her biggest hit yet. It’s worth noting that, although the fearlessly specific lyrics and viral video have attracted much of the attention, the track itself is a winner in its own right.
15. “Nobody” Mitski
On the whole, it’s vindicating to see disco getting so much recognition this year; thankfully, Mitski got her hands on it. With musical nods to the likes of ABBA and Nile Rodgers, it’s her hypnotic melody and perfect lyrics that bring it to life.
14. “APESHIT” The Carters
One could say that “APESHIT” and its parent album EVERYTHING IS LOVE read like a victory lap for The Carters who spent the past two years in a public therapy session about their relationship. It’s the couple’s most invigorated collaboration ever.
13. “Never Be The Same” Camila Cabello
Plenty of artists jump ship from a successful group to pursue a solo career, but Camila Cabello eclipsed Fifth Harmony in record time. “Havana” accomplished that on its own, but the stellar “Never Be The Same” – with that luscious chorus – proved she’s going to be around for a bit.
12. “Doesn’t matter” Christine and the Queens
Héloïse Letissier, under her plural moniker Christine and the Queens, is slowly, but profoundly taking the world by storm. It’s rare that a French pop star, even a bilingual one, breaks into the English-speaking market… just give a listen her ’80s-inspired synths and slyly catchy “Doesn’t matter” and it’s easy to see why she’s the exception.
11. “All The Stars” Kendrick Lamar and SZA
By either of their standards, the track is uncharacteristically vanilla, and in the wrong hands, it would have been a hit, but a forgettable one. Because there’s no denying the talent and creativity of its creators, Kendrick and SZA have earned the right to crank out a pop hit like this. Similarly, there’s no shame in us indulging in it.
10. “Boo’d Up” Ella Mai
It is far too early to predict how much of a career Ella Mai has ahead of her, but her smash hit “Boo’d Up” is truly one of the most exciting things to happen to R&B in years. Clearly 90s nostalgia is en vogue at the moment, and this is no exception. However, it does it the right way and makes it feel like a fresh update instead of a beat-for-beat carbon copy. Not to mention, the hook is so wildly creative and melodic, it’s hard not to be in awe. In a perfect world, this is one of many incredible hits we’ll get from Ella Mai; worst case scenario, she left her mark with a remarkable song.
09. “Love It If We Made It” The 1975
There are countless indie/alternative/etc. bands that wish they could have transitioned to a brand of pop as perfectly as this. The thing is, though, this is where The 1975 started… and they’ve only been elaborating on it ever since. Needless to say, they’re one of the best bands in the world today, if not the best. “Love It If We Made It” begins with the same paradox that makes the band so great – heralding pop beats and melodies paired with punk-like rebellion. Literally the phrases “fucking in a car” and “shooting heroin” appear in the first line. The track is infectious, catchy, memorable, and so on, but lyrically it’s a jarring reality check as to the state of the world. References to Lil Peep’s death (a victim of the opioid epidemic) and the Kanye/Trump love affair provide uncomfortable perspective, but this is what artists are supposed to do in trying times like this. Songs like this have the ability to change the world.
08. “In My Feelings” Drake
To cut right to the chase, Drake is a living legend of this generation. He may not elicit the same kind of critical obsession one would expect from an artist of his caliber, but he somehow is getting bigger and bigger with everything he does… and he has been enormous for some time. “In My Feelings,” was not only one of the year’s biggest hits, but one of it’s biggest viral moments; it’s textbook Drake, and you can’t hate him for it anymore. There’s something just that much more convincing, almost validating, about this unapologetically legendary earworm.
07. “no tears left to cry” Ariana Grande
If there was any doubt that Ariana Grande’s name belongs alongside pop’s upper-echelon, “no tears left to cry,” the juggernaut lead single from her fourth studio offering, all but wipes it away. The track creates energy without any of the usual tricks, and never falls into the predictable (albeit tried-and-true) euphoria associated with dance pop. Yet somehow, it manages not to skimp on the catchiness. This is an anthem that will be carried through the ages, and will most likely go down as the greatest thing she’s ever done, if not the most important. 2018 belonged to Ariana.
06. “SICKO MODE” Travis Scott featuring Drake
Travis Scott undeniably made his proper leap into superstardom this year. His megahit “SICKO MODE” sonically conforms to ASTROWORLD’s amusement park theme, moving through a series of ideas strung together by a self-assured artist desperate to brand his name into the hip hop history books forever. And he did it. The track is as fun as it is thought-provoking, and for sounding like it was dropped from outer space, a killer, loosely-credited Drake feature (outdoing anything he did on his own this year) and commanding trap beats keep it accessible. It’s easy to make the optimistic decree that the future of hip hop is in good hands, but with Travis Scott putting out works like this, it’s safe to talk about the genre in such a way in present tense.
05. “Make Me Feel” Janelle Monáe
Even to this day – despite her increasing prominence – Janelle Monáe’s talent far exceeds her recognition. Critics have been smitten by her progressive approach to classic sounds since she emerged, but it’s become clearer than ever that she is easily one of the most all-around talented artists in the world today. “Make Me Feel,” the funky first single lifted from the immaculate Dirty Computer, leaves no doubt how deep Prince’s influence runs, but it remains undeniably her sound coming from her soul. Not to mention, the track’s bi-positive message is not only personal to the artist, it’s an important one on a grander scale.
04. “I Like It” Cardi B featuring Bad Bunny and J Balvin
Cardi B could have been a fad. She could have been a one hit wonder. She could have been a meme. When she dropped “I Like It,” it was abundantly apparent that she is none of those things. With Bad Bunny and J Balvin authenticating its Latin flair, paired with a smart sample and an instantly infectious hook, the track is intricate, progressive hip hop at its finest. More importantly, it solidifies the fact that we need an artist like Cardi B more than ever. Very likely, she is going to be the queen for a generation of hip hop, and this will easily go down as a milestone. It isn’t often a track this intensely popular gets this level of critical backing, but that’s nothing more than a testament to the artist herself.
03. “Shallow” Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper
The art of reinvention requires an immense amount of skill and tact, but it a necessary quality in sustaining a successful career. Lady Gaga embraced reinvention from day one; it was kind of her thing. Her rapid-fire image changes, intoxicating pop formula, and audacious live performances positioned her as both a critical and commercial juggernaut from the jump, but she was astutely cognizant of the need to really go elsewhere. Unfortunately, her recent projects received lukewarm reactions from fans and critics alike. Make no mistake, Bradley Cooper’s limited, but impactful, presence in A Star Is Born‘s “Shallow” is incredible, but the moment belongs to Lady Gaga. In the film, the track represents the birth of her character’s career; in real life, it represents the rebirth of her actual one. It is officially no longer acceptable to argue against her being one of the greatest pop acts of all time.
02. “This Is America” Childish Gambino
Donald Glover, under his nom de plume Childish Gambino, has delivered some of the most creative, exciting, and thought provoking R&B and hip hop this century. His viral “This Is America” checked all the right boxes with its stunningly poignant music video, almost eclipsing the track itself. However, if you choose not to be distracted by the visuals, Childish has truly crafted a masterpiece, the kind not often embraced by the masses. It ebbs and flows seamlessly between uplifting afrobeat and pulsating trap, all tied together with fluid melodies and pointed hooks. Importantly – not dissimilarly from its accompanying video – Glover hides his anti-gun message in plain sight. If you’re not careful, the lyrics occur to be a nonsensical stream of consciousness, but it’s all a tactful distraction. There is little doubt that this artist is a genius, and tracks like “This Is America” leaves open the possibility that we don’t even know the full scope of his abilities.
01. “High Horse” Kacey Musgraves
To say that “High Horse” is obviously the best song of 2018 would be misleading. In all fairness, nothing Kacey Musgraves does is particularly obvious, but that’s what makes her not only one of this generation’s most important country artists, but artists period. Without intentionally slighting anyone, you’d have to admit she’s one of the only acts in her genre actually trying to take it somewhere exciting… and boy did she ever with her immaculate Golden Hour album. “High Horse” is the proper highlight. Right from the jump, it’s disco thump and candy-coated melody feel exciting and rejuvenating, but what really sells the song is exactly what sells Musgraves as an artist in general: the songwriting. True to form, she takes an obvious metaphor and delivers it in the least obvious way possible. Her wit is unparalleled, and with confidence oozing out of every scathing word, “High Horse” is about as perfect as any country crossover has ever been, and then some.