I’m not really sure how I’d sum up 2018 when it comes to music. There’s been some really incredible releases from exciting new talent that makes me optimistic that the future of pop is in safe hands. But then again, I gave up listening to Spotify’s New Music Friday playlist somewhere between May and June, which is probably why a hefty chunk of the songs on this list are from the first half of the year. I don’t know, there’s just too much new music out there and very little of it is any good. I feel suffocated by the endless amount of tuneless songs released by even duller people. I know streaming has made it easier for singers to put out content as and when they want, but there needs to be some sort of strict criteria that they have to meet before they can hit upload because a lot of shit songs are clogging up prime spots on playlists that end up having a lot of sway where official chart placings are concerned. It sounds like I’m whining, and to be honest I am. But I just want better music! That’s all!!!! My list was initially 50 tracks long, and then I scaled it back to 40 and then mid-way through writing I culled a further 10 songs at random and decided to make it a list of 30 songs Why? Because I was really struggling to write anything about some of the songs and I got bored.
Providing you haven’t already closed this browser and gone elsewhere, below you’ll find what I thought were the 30 best songs of 2018 – enjoy!
30. Charli XCX & Troye Sivan – 1999
I appear to have developed a bit of a reputation as a loud and proud hater of Miss XCX, but I’d like to clear this up and state that it’s not that I don’t like Charli XCX, I just don’t think she’s as good as people [read: white twinks] claim she is. Ya’ll can write as many think-pieces on why she’s apparently the future of pop, but I will not be reading them. However, I do believe on occasion she can deliver, case in point. ‘1999’ is just a straight up pop banger with the production sounding like it’s been lifted direct from an early 90’s console game – quite fitting huh?
29. Bruno Mars – Finesse (Remix) (Feat. Cardi B)
Released so early in the year (January 4th!) I almost forgot it belonged to the class of 2018. Initially, I was puzzled by the decision to release a ‘Finesse’, especially as it comes from an album that already came out 14 months prior. But I’m sure Bruno knew exactly what he was doing when he enlisted the help of Cardi B to give this song a new lease on life, make it sound more fun than the original and introduce her to the wider pop market. A brilliant and unexpected collaboration.
28. Shawn Mendes – Lost in Japan
I have a lot of time for Shawn Mendes, I really do. While it may look like he spent most of 2018 addressing rumours of him being gay and being the subject of elaborate Gay Twitter conspiracy theories (FYI, to those of you who are still doing that, it’s still gross – do better!), he did manage to crack out a few solid tunes. ‘Lost in Japan’ saw Shawn dip his toes into something a little more RnB, which I personally think his voice is better suited to. The song itself? Perfectly delightful and the hazy, almost minimalist, production makes me feel he should almost definitely dabble with this sound a lot more in the future.
27. Childish Gambino – This Is America
Best enjoyed as an audiovisual experience, ‘This Is America’ was a sobering snapshot of the black experience in modern America. I mean, unless you’re choosing to ignore the very serious issues of gun violence, police brutality and everyday casual racism that impact black people in America, none of what Donald Glover showed you in ‘This Is America’ should surprise you – but it should most definitely wake you up and encourage you to start asking questions. There are countless think pieces and reviews of the song that explain better than I ever could why this song and video are brilliant and important, read those at some point. But best believe ‘This Is America’ wins the title of best music video of 2018.
26. Khalid & Normani – Love Lies
In recent years it’s become easy to clock when two artists getting together is the result of some rushed A&R strategy in a desperate attempt to cash in on trends or bolster streaming numbers. Which is why in the case of Khalid and Normani it was refreshing to see two acts who genuinely like and appreciate each other’s art join forces because when the chemistry isn’t forced, the results speak for themselves. I’m surprised this song took so long to really gain momentum on the charts as for me my interest was pretty much instant. But with her husky delivery against a crisp, moody R&B production, I can’t think of a better song our superstar in waiting Normani could have picked as she stepped out into the pop arena, finally emancipated from the shackles of Fifth Harmony.
25. Drake – Nice For What
I’m not sure what to make of Drake in 2018, which is strange because years ago I had a lot to say about him and was even a borderline stan for Drizzy. I don’t know, I think I’ve just grown bored with him. The point of no return was the Aaliyah tattoo on the back. Anyways, you can imagine my absolute delight when he dropped ‘Nice For What’, with its brilliantly placed Lauryn Hill sample, that for the first time in years Drake released a song I actually liked and would happily replay until someone physically stopped me. There’s something so unapologetically braggadocious about ‘Nice For What’, which, if you know me well enough, is my absolute favourite genre of song because Lord knows we need more toot-your-own-fucking-horn-because-you-are-that-bitch bangers in this world.
24. Khalid – OTW (Feat. 6LACK, Ty Dolla $ign)
I’m honestly surprised this song hasn’t been on anyone else’s End of Year lists because I can’t think of any other song that captured the carefree and youthful feeling of eternal summer quite like ‘OTW’ did. Major props to Nineteen85 on production because he really did THAT! 6LACK and Ty Dolla $ign provide perfectly fine verses and Khalid’s effortless approach on the hook is the cherry on top and already outstanding cake. A FUCKING VIBE.
23. Cheryl – Love Made Me Do It
Truth be told, I’ve always been ambivalent when it came to Cheryl’s solo career. Her eras always felt so front loaded and I need my popstars to give me more than one or two solid songs and an album stuffed with faceless filler tracks. But ‘Love Made Me Do It’ feels different. It manages to sound both on trend and out of left field without trying too hard. The quirky ‘Ah! Ah! Ah!’ on the chorus is a personal favourite of mine.Whether it’s the sign of an artist finally carving a lane for herself after years of jumping on trends – sometimes when they’re well past their peak – awaits to be seen. But for now, I’m intrigued.
22. The Carters – APESHIT
The night of Beyonce and Jay Z’s final London date for OTR 2 I told this delightful lady at the merch stand that I had a feeling the couple were going to release something at the end of the show. Don’t ask me why, I just had a feeling. So you can imagine my shock when I hop on Instagram later that same night and see they released a joint album together – HELLO! IT ME. A POP CULTURE SOOTHSAYER!! ‘APESHIT’ was the first time (and hopefully not the last time) we heard Beyonce rap, like properly spit bars hard enough to run circles around her own husband and it was glorious. Her flow is flawless and her delivery rolls of the tongue with razor sharp precision. THE OTHER RAPPERS ARE SHAKING!!!
21. Years & Years – Sanctify
Of course I could have copped out and chosen ‘If You’re Over Me’ as it was technically the breakout hit for Olly and his pals, but then that would mean denying the sheer pop brilliance of ‘Sanctify’. Initial reaction to the song was tepid because people moaned it wasn’t quote unquote “a bop”. My advice? Just appreciate the moody undercurrent that carries a song like ‘Sanctify’, let it wash over you and enjoy the almost Britney style delivery of Olly’s vocals as he calls for his lover to have his wicked way with him. It’s absolute beast of a tune that quietly creeps up on you and I can’t believe ya’ll let it flop.
20. Kendrick Lamar & SZA – All The Stars
I appear to be the minority when I say I really enjoyed this song? Sure, it probably wasn’t the strongest song on the Black Panther OST, but Kendrick’s delivery is perfectly fine and SZA lends her vocals to provide a dreamy, anthemic chorus over a cocktail of synths and drums. Gorgeous.
19. Rita Ora & Liam Payne – For You
Taken from the god knows what number instalment of the Fifty Shades series, ‘For You’ saw Rita Ora warble and belt to her heart’s content, while Liam Payne kindly took time out from his never-ending Kevin Federline cosplay to put in a solid performance. An unlikely pairing, but strangely perfect. Especially as my Spotify was concerned as it ended up in my Top 10 most played tracks of the year.
18. Tinashe – Faded Love
I’ve always enjoyed Tinashe’s downtempo R&B tracks more than her bigger pop numbers because it’s a sound she does so effortlessly well. Somewhere at the intersection of ‘Feels Like Vegas’ and ‘Company’, ‘Faded Love’ hones in on Tinashe’s seductive delivery against Stargate’s brilliantly woozy production to make something almost so perfect it’s one of the best songs she’s released of her career so far.
17. Christina Aguilera – Accelerate (Feat. 2 Chainz & Ty Dolla $ign)
Yes, I know after a 6-year wait, you’d expect Christina to come back with a big pop banger, stuffed with big notes and the needlessly long harmonising of two-syllable words. Or maybe even a polished power ballad that has a proper moment where the key changes and Christina full on belts. But instead we got something different and so intent on not pandering to Top 40 radio that it even sounds a bit discombobulated as there’s really no hook or obvious chorus. Christina did something no one really expected her to because at this point in her career she really has no fucks left to give. ‘Accelerate’ is weird, brash and subtly brilliant song. Personal highlight is the slick beat switch-up in time for Ty’s verse. BANGER.
16. BLACKPINK – DDU-DU DDU-DU
Have you ever been to an all you can eat buffet with all the intention of only having what you can manage, but everything you see is so appetising that you consume more than you can physically handle, but you don’t feel any guilt about it because you know you deserved it? That is exactly how I felt when I first listened to BLACKPINK this summer. K-Pop has always been in my peripheral, but only this year did I really dive deep into the genre and BLACKPINK are my clear frontrunners. ‘DDU-DU DDU-DU’ has the most kitchen sink production I’ve heard in years and makes me nostalgic for songs that give you a complete sensory overload from start to finish. Proving what I’ve always believed that you don’t have to understand the language a song is sung in for it to be good – or in this case incredible.
15. Clean Bandit – Solo (Feat. Demi Lovato)
Two things you need to know before I say anything else about this song. A, I’m indifferent when it comes to Clean Bandit and their place in the pop world and B, only the other week did I learn that this song was about masturbation. Anyways, Demi continued her streak of making excellent career choices by teaming up with one of the UK’s biggest groups and the stars definitely aligned as ‘Solo’ gave her her first UK #1. It’s a shame she wasn’t properly able to enjoy the moment because of things happening in her personal life, but this this song and its success was a clear win for her this year and she more than deserved it.
14. Janelle Monáe – PYNK
A gorgeously crafted song about the beauty and power of the female form that only an artist like Janelle Monáe could really pull off. NO NOTES.
13. Mark Ronson & Miley Cyrus – Nothing Breaks Like A Heart
A testament to just how good thing song is considering it was released just two weeks ago or something new and shiny that’s just got my full attention at the moment? I dunno! There isn’t much I can say about ‘Nothing Breaks Like A Heart’ because it’s still so fresh that I haven’t quite let it sit with me properly. I do know that I absolutely adore the fusion of disco and country that Mark Ronson has created here. Side note, but Mark Ronson doesn’t get enough credit as a producer, does he? As for Miley, this feels like a suitable mix of both the danceability of Bangerz combined the charm of Younger Now. I am obsessed!
12. Lady Gaga & Bradley Cooper – Shallow
Perhaps the most pleasant surprise of the year was Lady Gaga’s career renaissance off the back of A Star Is Born. Proving not only that she can act her ass off, but also letting those who didn’t already know (let’s just call them what they are: LOCALS) that Miss Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta can really fucking sing. The part where she’s just growling as she builds up to the crescendo moment and then unleashes “I’M OFF THE DEEP EDGE, WATCH AS A DIVE IN!!!” is just spectacular.
11. Calvin Harris & Dua Lipa – One Kiss
Okay, so Calvin’s foray into R&B and funk was short lived, huh? The producer decided to tread familiar ground running back the his dancey, EDM-esq sound everyone knows him for. However, I do feel like ‘One Kiss’ was a slight update on an already his tried and tested sound. I don’t plan on going to Ibiza in the near future, but this song sure made me feel like I was there sipping my vodka cranberry (with an umbrella!) poolside with my fave people.
10. Hayley Kiyoko – Curious
WHAT A CHORUS.
09. The Aces – Volcanic Love
I very nearly put ‘Lovin’ Is Bible’ here, but after seeing The Aces perform last month in Camden and hearing them say ‘Volcanic Love’ is THE song that defines their whole sound and aesthetic, I couldn’t help but agree. Breezy, retro sounding indie pop with bags of charm. God, I love this group so fucking much!
08. Janelle Monáe – Make Me Feel
The type of song that any popstar would kill to have in their back catalogue, Janelle captured perfectly the overwhelming feeling of lust that surges through you when you see someone so offensively hot and it starts making you act a damn fool. Perhaps the most accessible song Janelle has ever released, but nowhere is it stripped of her signature quirks and soul.
07. Ariana Grande – God is a woman
Someone said to me while ago that ‘God is a woman’ feels like the sum of all of Ariana’s parts. In the same way ‘Born This Way’ was for Lady Gaga, ‘God is a woman’ feels and sounds like everything Ariana stands for as an artist as as a woman. It’s true because this really felt like the moment Ariana Grande had truly arrived.
06. Ariana Grande – thank you, next
I have always said Ariana excels when she fully leans into R&B and ‘thank you, next’ is a prime example of just how suited to the genre she really is. Beyond that, Ariana regaining control over the narrative around her former relationships and flipping the script on the classic break-up song, while paying tribute to Mean Girls, 13 Going on 30, Legally Blonde and Bring It On was a stroke of genius.
05. Rina Sawayama – Cherry
I have championed Rina Sawayama for much of 2018 and with good reason. ‘Cherry’ is a slice of literal pop perfection, sprinkled with glittery synths and a featherweight vocal delivery, Rina captures the sugary high of infatuation in the most painfully pretty way possible. I LOVE HER! I LOVE HER! I LOVE HER!
04. Kacey Musgraves – High Horse
Kacey has been a complete revelation to me in 2018. Sure, I knew of her, but ‘High Horse’ was the first time she really made me stop what I was doing and really pay attention. Combining her country music way of storytelling and adding a sprinkle of disco into the mix, ‘High Horse’ is a deliciously bitchy 2018 revamp on Shania Twain’s ‘That Don’t Impress Me Much.’ No easy task, but Kacey made it look effortless.
03. MNEK – Tongue
The thing I love most about this song is how it goes from initially being an ASMR-ish talk-singing affair and then somewhere in the middle the song just explodes and cranks everything up to 11. It may not have been the big hit is so rightly deserved to be, but it remains the real crowning moment of #20GAYTEEN.
02. Ariana Grande – no tears left to cry
Truth be told, Ariana could have released just about anything as the first single after the Manchester bombings and people would have supported it. There was, and still is, so much good will towards here and she could have given us anything and we would’ve eaten it up. But it’s always great when a popstar goes above and beyond your expectations, especially when the whole world is watching. I don’t think there’s any need to go into detail what makes ‘no tears left to cry’ such a satisfying and triumphant pop song, it’s the circumstances in which the song was born out of and the underlying message of perseverance that really set it apart. Between this song, ‘God is a woman’, ‘breathin’’ and ‘thank you next’, 2018 has been a complete banner year for Ariana Grande. A year that’s seen her reach the upper echelons of the pop hierarchy and graduate to Big Pop Girl status. My only wonder is how she isn’t completely fatigued from single-handedly carrying pop music on her shoulders for the last 12 months.
01. Kacey Musgraves – Space Cowboy
This song was initially going to rank #3 on my list, and Ariana was going to take the top spot which is why her write up may sound so definitive. But at the eleventh hour I decided to switch things up and go with a song that has consistently made me feel some type of way since I first heard it in March. I find the real beauty and pull of ‘Space Cowboy’ is just how simple it is. A song about the accepting a relationship has reached its natural end and being actually quite okay with it technically shouldn’t be so straightforward, but Kacey nails it in one line: “‘Cause I know my place, and it ain’t with you / sunsets fade, and love does too.” In a year that’s seen pretty much everyone do away with toxic friends, partners and habits for the sake of bettering themselves, ‘Space Cowboy’ really was the highest act of self-care.