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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


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"



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


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


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)”



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


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.

Robyn, "Ever Again"

Heji Shin


Robyn, “Ever Again”

The finale of her warmest LP yet caps a virtual mixtape of ecstatic dance floor melancholy. Over a bubbling funk bass line, the Swedish godmother of modern pop vows she’s “never gonna be broken hearted ever again…. that shit’s out the door!” The steely zen-master determination in her voice is more important, of course, than the plausibility of the claim — a determination that was resonant in a moment where a sustained push towards change couldn’t be more urgent. It’s the feeling of dawn after a long, hard night of the soul.

Hayley Kiyoko, "Curious"

Hayley Kiyoko, "Curious"

Amanda Charchian


Hayley Kiyoko, “Curious”

During her post-teen-pop phase, Hayley Kiyoko has transformed herself into a queer-pop auteur, directing and starring in her own videos for pulsing anthems. “Curious,” from her first proper album, is exploratory and flirtatious, its bouncing-ball bass keeping up with Kiyoko’s charmingly neurotic lyrics about her place in a love triangle — and her sighed “I’m just curious, is it serious?” on the chorus makes it clear that she’s not above upending the whole structure (musical, romantic, social and otherwise) should things come to that point.

Lil Baby feat. Gunna, "Drip too Hard"

Lil Baby feat. Gunna, "Drip too Hard"

Tor Derricotte


Lil Baby feat. Gunna, “Drip Too Hard”

Lil Baby and Gunna are the princes who were promised. The Drip Harder duo was groomed under the tutelage of their Atlanta forefathers, Migos and Young Thug, toiling for years until they built a formidable roadmap to the mainstream. The Turbo produced song is a tumbling, Western that features Baby and Gunna rapping about dripping and drowning and waves. Stylistically, Baby and Gunna are no-nonsense workman and “Drip Too Hard” is the logical endpoint for this generation of trap stars. It taps into the monotonous rhythm of streaming’s playlist culture, while shaving away at some of the polarizing idiosyncrasies of their predecessors. It’s low stakes, high reward rap that went pop.

Lucy Dacus, "Night Shift"

Lucy Dacus, "Night Shift"

Dustin Condren


Lucy Dacus, “Night Shift”

“The first time I tasted somebody else’s spit/I had a coughing fit,” Dacus sings to kick off this six-and-half-minute breakup ballad. It doesn’t get any less vivid or visceral from there. By the time Dacus ups the emotional ante with a thick cloud of guitar fuzz and an awesome kiss-off — “I hope in five years the songs feel like covers/dedicated to new lovers” — it feels pretty damn transcendent, too.