Karol G, "Mi Cama" - Rolling Stone
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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.  

Karol G, “Mi Cama”

Karol G, “Mi Cama”

John Parra/Getty Images

22

Karol G, “Mi Cama”

All the single ladies: Colombian reggaeton princess Karol G gets one over on a philandering ex in her campy pop missive, “Mi Cama.” Here the Latin Grammy-winning singer lets her inner rude girl out —”My bed creaks,” she brags in Spanish, “And your memory leaves” — offering an empowered woman’s point-of-view amid a genre full of womanizers. As for the unsung star of the song? That would be its slinky, bedspring squeak-turned-beat, which needs no translation.

Kurt Vile, "Bassackwards"

Kurt Vile, "Bassackwards"

Marina Chavez

21

Kurt Vile, “Bassackwards”

Vile proved himself a king of super-chill longhaired rock poetry on this year’s sublime double album Bottle It In, and this 10-minute guitar meditation was its slow spiraling centerpiece. Vile noodles around with a frayed sense of wonderment as his band the Violators settle into the pocket, and he turns Meat Puppets-style stoner pastoralism into an epic journey – from sun up to sunset, from the bay to the beach, from the grass to the sky above the grass. You wish it could go on for ten minutes more.

The 1975, "Love It If We Made It"

The 1975, "Love It If We Made It"

UMG

20

The 1975, “Love It If We Made It”

“We’re fucking in a car, shooting heroin/Saying controversial things just for the hell of it” is how the U.K. pop group opens this hopping mad state-of-the-universe address. Don’t say they didn’t warn you. Things only get more twisted from there: Lead singer Matty Healy eye-rolls the sexist crook in the Oval Office, sighs about the lies that modernity sold us, pours one out for Lil Peep and reminds us of the single worst tweet of the year (“Thank you Kanye, very cool!”). It’s as unnerving as an endless news scroll, with a surprising little ripple of optimism to balance things out.

J Balvin and Nicky Jam, “X”

J Balvin and Nicky Jam, “X”

Courtesy of Rogers and Cowan

19

J Balvin and Nicky Jam, “X”

Do you believe in love at first sight? Nicky Jam and J Balvin do — and they have a super sensuous, bordering-on-salacious way of saying it. The Latin pop titans combine their lovers rock with dancehall swagger, marked by a head-spinning, synth-horn doodle. Offering “kisses on your neck to quench the thirst,” Jam’s silver-tongued come-ons complement Balvin’s effortless cool.

Shawn Mendes, "Nervous"

Shawn Mendes, "Nervous"

Griffin Lotz

18

Shawn Mendes, “Nervous”

Canadian idol Shawn Mendes’ anxieties have made jittery singles like “Treat You Better” and “There’s Nothin’ Holding Me Back” scream-along smashes. But on this slinky, lyrically detailed standout from his self-titled third album, he turns up the groove and turns on his falsetto — and lets his romantic target know that he’s interested in a sweetly self-deprecating way, “Nervous” is a slice of slick soul-pop that turns dropping the cool-guy guise into the suavest move a guy can make.

Eric Church, "Desperate Man"

Eric Church, "Desperate Man"

John Peets

17

Eric Church, “Desperate Man”

With hand drums, roadhouse piano and scorpion-sting guitar licks, this conjures the Stones’ “Gimme Shelter,” an end-of-the-rope anthem also written in the shadow of global chaos. But it’s bubblegum-soul vocal fills also echo the Jackson 5. The lead single and title track from Church’s LP, it was an unlikely but perfect formula for a nominal country artist. It was also a position paper from a survivor who’s dodged some bullets, but knows there’ll be more to come.

Ariana Grande, “Thank U, Next”

Ariana Grande, “Thank U, Next”

Stefan Kohli

16

Ariana Grande, “Thank U, Next”

Ari had an eventful year, to say the least, snagging one hit after another — “God Is A Woman” taught us love, “No Tears Left to Cry” taught us patience, but “Thank U, Next” taught us pain. Right after her Pete Davidson engagement crashed, she celebrated with a Number One smash with kind words for her exes, including the late Mac Miller. Who else but Ari could turn the whole audience into bridesmaids at her own personal I Turned Out Amazing ceremony? If you don’t get a little verklempt in the final verse when she walks down the aisle holding hands with her mama, you are quite possibly a horrible human. Thank U, Ariana.

Kacey Musgraves, "High Horse"

Kacey Musgraves, "High Horse"

Jamie Nelson

15

Kacey Musgraves, “High Horse”

The sound of heroically, gloriously definitively telling off some toxic-masculine asshat as a disco song rumbles through the bar. Musgraves broke out of country’s confines this year with a mirror-ball anthem full of withering one-liners, feminist toughness and good happy-hour vibes. She perfectly balances sweetness and sass, and in the America of 2018 a line like “everyone knows someone who kills the buzz every time they open up their mouth” echoed straight to the White House. Dicks beware, she’s coming for ya.

Sheck Wes, "Mo Bamba"

Sheck Wes, "Mo Bamba"

UMG

14

Sheck Wes, “Mo Bamba”

A 180-proof shot of rumbling bass and grumbling melody, this was the street-rap anthem you couldn’t get out of your head in 2018 if you tried. Sheck Wes raps (and ad-libs) with the adrenaline-rush glee of someone who knows they’ve just struck gold in the booth: “Fuck! Shit! Bitch! Young Sheck Wes, and I’m getting really rich!” The title is a nod to Orlando Magic center Mohammed Bamba, an old friend of the Harlem MC; the song is nothing but net.

Snail Mail, "Pristine"

Snail Mail, "Pristine"

Carl Timpone/BFA/Shutterstock

13

Snail Mail, “Pristine”

“Pristine” is the sterling indie-rock anthem that kicked off one of the year’s most striking debut LPs, opening with the kind of curt, cutting anticipatory riff that you know is going to become something big, and so it does: “is there any better feeling than coming clean,” Lindsay Jordan sings, as her guitar swirls and shimmers. Her lyrics map out the after effects of a hard breakup (“I’ll never love anyone else”) in a boring world (““It just feels like the same party every weekend, doesn’t it?”), but she hardly sounds hopeless, turning angst into energy as the music itself keeps gaining power and strength. Pretty soon own sliver of teenage wasteland starts feeling like the center of the universe.

Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift

Premium PR

12

Taylor Swift, “Delicate”

Taylor turns her late-night booty-call whispers into an obsessive synth-pop gem — the kind of masterpiece that just gets more and more resonant in heavy rotation. All year long, you couldn’t walk into a deli, a taxi cab or a pizza place without hearing her pillow-talk questions: “Is it cool that I said all that? Is it chill that you’re in my head?” “Delicate” keeps building up to the big moment when she lets her mask slip and speaks from the heart, then spends the rest of the song trying to talk herself out of it. The whole Taylor aesthetic, summed up in one perfect song.

Nio García, Casper Mágico, Darell, Bad Bunny, Ozuna and Nicky Jam, “Te Boté (Remix)”

Nio García, Casper Mágico, Darell, Bad Bunny, Ozuna and Nicky Jam, “Te Boté (Remix)”

John Parra/Getty Images

11

Nio García, Casper Mágico, Darell, Bad Bunny, Ozuna and Nicky Jam, “Te Boté (Remix)”

Puerto Rican MCs Nio García, Casper Mágico and Darell dominated the island airwaves with their no-frills kiss-off track, “Te Boté” (or, “I Dumped You”). And their seven-minute reggaeton jaunt upgraded to an international smash success thanks to this remix, featuring Latin pop heavyweight champs Ozuna, Bad Bunny and Nicky Jam. The urbano playboys take turns distilling wounded comebacks to their exes (and boasts of their next encounters). Most notable line: “Baby, life is a cycle,” sings Bunny; “If it doesn’t work, I recycle.”

Travis Scott, “Sicko Mode”

Travis Scott, “Sicko Mode”

David LaChapelle

10

Travis Scott, “Sicko Mode”

Travis Scott invites everybody to the Astroworld theme park inside his head, with a cameo from Drake — it’s a typically eccentric track that skips from beat to beat, while the Houston MC riffs on Clueless, Jamba Juice, Biggie, Bonnaroo and 2 Live Crew. Scott’s voice holds all the different pieces in line — like he says, “Who put this shit together? I’m the glue.”

Janelle Monae “Make Me Feel”

Janelle Monae “Make Me Feel”

JUCO

9

Janelle Monae, “Make Me Feel”

Lots of artists cite Prince as an influence, but no one channels his radiant purple truth quite like Janelle Monae. Her sexiest song ever is crackling with electric energy — she’s so tuned-up and turned-on that she makes even an old line like “No one does it better” feel like a shocking new thrill. And as much as it sounds like the gorgeous love child of “Kiss” and Kraftwerk, this song also marks the moment when Monae truly claimed her own power as an original visionary. Forget the past and the future: This is pop’s right-the-fuck-now, in all its glory.

Paul McCartney, "Come on to Me"

Paul McCartney, "Come on to Me"

Mary McCartney

8

Paul McCartney, “Come on to Me”

Co-produced with hitmaker Greg Kurstin, this stomping Wings-style rocker was cut part at Abbey Road Studios: swaggering brass, hammering piano, and hollering that tilts towards “Helter Skelter” territory. It’s is a cruising anthem that makes consent both a priority and a chorus, ‘cause Sir Paul is a gentleman. And it’s great not ‘cause he’s a legend, but ‘cause he’s a working musician who still knows how to write a pop song better than nearly anyone.

Courtney Barnett, “Charity”

Courtney Barnett, “Charity”

Mia Mala McDonald

7

Courtney Barnett, “Charity”

After making the jump from Australian indie up-and-comer to international rock & roll semi-star, Courtney Barnett decides she’d rather sleep late and let the world pass her by. “Meditation just makes you more strung out,” she drawls in “Charity,” the pick hit from her sophomore album Tell Me How You Really Feel. She’s got no urge to be anyone’s next big thing, yet she has a blast playing this crunchy guitar riff, snickering, “You must be having so much fun!”

Lana Del Rey, “Mariners Apartment Complex”

Lana Del Rey, “Mariners Apartment Complex”

UMG

6

Lana Del Rey, “Mariners Apartment Complex”

The ghost of Leonard Cohen lives in the strong whisper of Lana Del Rey’s “I’m your man” on what was the first taste of her forthcoming LP Norman Fucking Rockwell. “Mariners Apartment Complex” is the strongest representation of Del Rey’s songwriting and nostalgi-pop style; she tells an engagingly wistful story about a conversation outside said mariners apartment complex while asserting that how who she is negates exactly who he thinks she is. A metaphor for Del Rey’s own image and career, languidly complementing one of Jack Antonoff’s finest pieces of production work.

Drake, “Nice For What”

Drake, “Nice For What”

Caitlin Cronenberg

5

Drake, “Nice For What”

Drake gets his roll on, somewhere along the Toronto/Louisiana border. “Nice For What” is his first great tribute to New Orleans bounce, complete with an invocation from Big Freedia. He speeds up a Lauryn Hill hip-hop soul sample (“Ex-Factor”) as he salutes all the hard-working party girls snapping selfies on the dance floor, even if they’re wearing less and going out more. “Nice For What” hit Number One for 8 weeks — by his 2018 standards, that merely made it a medium-size Drake blockbuster.

Camila Cabello, “Never Be The Same”

Camila Cabello, “Never Be The Same”

Dennis Leupold

4

Camila Cabello, “Never Be the Same”

After the slow-burning piano grind of “Havana,” Camila switches gears for a gigantic electro ballad that proves this girl can handle any kind of song. In “Never Be The Same,” she’s an infatuation junkie who can’t stop going back to the wrong lover, because she just can’t get enough. For the big climax, Camila gasps for breath over the classic “Be My Baby” drum hook — somewhere, Ronnie Spector must be proud.

Cardi B, “I Like It”

Cardi B, “I Like It”

Jorda Frantzis

3

Cardi B, “I Like It”

What makes Cardi regal isn’t just her smart mouth — it’s her appetite for every style of pop music. “I Like It” is where she really gives it up to her Latin heritage, with Puerto Rican rapper Bad Bunny and Colombian reggaeton star J Balvin, over a trapped-out sample of Pete Rodriguez’s 1967 boogaloo classic “I Like It Like That.” While Cardi hits the timbale beat like a pinata, she gives the guests room to shine — this has to be the first Number One hit in history to namecheck Celia Cruz, Jimmy Snuka and Lady Gaga in the same verse.

Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper, “Shallow”

Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper, “Shallow”

Warner Bros. Pictures

2

Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper, “Shallow”

“Shallow” is the comeback hit where Gaga basically says, “Hey, pop stardom? I just wanted to take another look at you!” After nearly capsizing her career with Joanne, she gets it right here. Oscar contenders Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper team up for an edge-of-glory power ballad, holding the spotlight with just acoustic guitar and their voices. (Mostly hers, but he holds his own.) Like the rest of A Star Is Born, “Shallow” is a classic-rock fantasy where the Nineties never ended, yet somehow that’s why it fits so perfectly into 2018.

Drake

Drake

Caitlin Cronenberg

1

Drake, “In My Feelings”

The ultimate summer hit, right after the music world decided we had entered a post-summer-hit era. With typical smoothitude, Aubrey Graham breezed into the Number One spot in July and parked there for two damn months — his second hit of the year to spend ten weeks on top. “In My Feelings” continues his fascination with New Orleans bounce, with an assist from City Girls along with 40, Blaqnmild and TrapMoneyBenny. Drizzy shares his feelings for a very special girl who thank-u-nexted her way out of his life, sampling Lil Wayne and Atlanta, inspiring a viral dance craze along with a few colorful conspiracy theories about the identity of his mystery muse “KiKi.” But as always, Drake gets everybody all up in his feelings, the way only he can.

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