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50 Best Songs of 2018

Highlights from a year full of heart-rending pop smashes, trunk-rattling hip-hop hits and unforgettable moments in reggaeton, country, singer-songwriter indie-rock and woke post-punk

year end list singles

It was an excellent year for women with a sense of humor and ingenious ideas about how to remake classic styles in their own radiant image (Cardi B, Pistol Annies, Courtney Barnett), and a fine one for pop songs that questioned worn out sexual and social identities (Janelle Monae’s “Make Me Feel,” Hayley Kiyoko’s “Curious,” Christine and the Queens’ “Doesn’t Matter”); artists from Latin America (Karol G), continental Europe (Rosalía) and Asia (BTS) made the music scene feel like a global conversation; Sheck Wes fuck-shit-bitched his way into our heart; Carly Rae Jepsen kicked ecstatic self-care; and everyone from Lucy Dacus to Ariana Grande to Troye Sivan had us catching feelings we couldn’t shake.  

Childish Gambino, "This Is America”

Childish Gambino, "This Is America”

Ibra Ake

39

Childish Gambino, “This Is America”

Childish Gambino is a translator and “This Is America” is his dead sea scrolls. It’s a crystallization of a world that’s completely foreign to the millions of people who know Glover best from Atlanta or “Redbone.” “This Is America” deftly mines popular music’s most innovative export of the past 15 years, trap, characterized by the frequent adlibs of BlocBoy JB, 21 Savage, Slim Jxmmi and Quavo that exist beneath the surface to Young Thug’s otherworldly outro. Discussion of the iconic video’s Jim Crow imagery and commentary on brutality against black bodies ruled the summer, but it’s the various moving parts from the Deep South that holds the song together and makes it compelling.

BTS, "Fake Love"

BTS, "Fake Love"

BigHit/UMG

38

BTS, “Fake Love”

This single from K-Pop’s biggest ambassadors is an impressive fusion, simultaneously bruised and bruising. Guitars sulk and kick like Eighties Def Leppard, while the blocky bass lines are tenacious enough to compete with Atlanta hip-hop; brusque rapping tugs against intricate, swooping singing. “Fake Love” is sung almost entirely in Korean, but it crashed through the U.S. pop market’s language barrier anyway, reaching Number Ten on the Hot 100 and setting a new record for a K-Pop group.

Low Cut Connie, "Beverly"

Low Cut Connie, "Beverly"

Marcus Junius Laws

37

Low Cut Connie, “Beverly”

America’s finest pure rock and roll bar band tap into their Philadelphia musical roots with a begging, pleading soul stirrer that suggests the Spinners or Teddy Pendergrass by way of the New York Dolls. Singer-piano man Adam Weiner opens up to a heartbreaker who’d rather watch the game than talk to him and winds up with the catchiest chorus of a career that’s produced more than a few and a song that could’ve been on the radio in the era it honors.

Suffo Monclea

36

Christine and the Queens, “Doesn’t Matter”

The standout from the bi-lingual, gender-bending double-LP Chris — a triumph of big-box Eighties electropop disco — is existential dance floor bubblegum. Lyrically, it conjures both Harold and the Purple Crayon and Sartre’s No Exit, standing at the brink of despair and looking at a dirty world while dancing itself clean. And alongside Robyn, it was more proof that American pop acts can learn a lot about emotional depth from their EU peers.

Rosalía, “Pienso En Tu Mirá (Cap. 3: Celos)”

Rosalía, “Pienso En Tu Mirá (Cap. 3: Celos)”

Mariscal/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

35

Rosalía, “Pienso En Tu Mirá (Cap. 3: Celos)”

A long-time scholar of flamenco, Spanish singer-producer Rosalía broke away from folk tradition to interpolate facets of American pop and hip-hop into her praxis. As a result her sophomore album, El Mal Querer, resonated like a shock wave across both Anglo- and Hispanophone worlds. The supple tremble of her voice adopts a dusky tenor in “Pienso En Tu Mirá” — a striking electro-R&B fusion that poses a chilling, 360-degree look at a romance envenomed by jealousy.

Hop Along, “How Simple”

Hop Along, “How Simple”

Tonje Thilesen

34

Hop Along, “How Simple”

This song, which mirrors the sort of mood-swings familiar to many of us in 2018, is an outburst of chiming joy modulated by unshakable clouds. The Philly band’s indie-rock sound is of the moment, which is to say totally Nineties (Bettie Serveert’s Palomine comes to mind), and in precise synch with singer/guitarist Frances Quinlan as she lurches gracefully, parsing a fraught, doomed relationship. It’s a perfect emotional snapshot, from the hilariously curveball image of a couple “covered in each other’s snot/In my childhood bed” to the final blip of feedback.