The 20 Best Songs of 2018: Ariana Grande’s Breakup Anthem, Drake’s Flexing and More
Need a music mix to take you into the New Year? We’ve got some recommendations.
20. Billie Eilish – “come out and play”
Sure, it was made for an Apple advert of all things, but who doesn’t love a tender Christmas tune? This soothing lullaby, about a girl too nervous to share her talent with the world, comes courtesy of teen phenom Billie Eilish, who reached the billion-streams club this year.
19. Robyn – “Missing U”
According to the Swedish pop star, she spent more time crafting this song than on any other piece of music her whole life. And the effort clearly paid off, gifting us with an addictive anthem on the broken relationships that shape the person we’ve become.
18. Bruno Mars ft. Cardi B – “Finesse (Remix)”
Like Black Panther and Beyoncé’s masterful Coachella performance, I still can’t believe it happened in the year 2018. But in January, we were blessed with an absolute banger of a retro pop song, In Living Color-inspired music video and all.
17. Lana Del Rey – “Venice Bitch”
At 9 minutes and 36 seconds, it’s the longest song on the list—and of Lana’s career. But the Jack Antonoff-produced ballad, a series of melancholic vignettes of a boundless love, never loosens its grip on you.
16. Thom Yorke – “Suspirium”
The guitar stylings of Jonny Greenwood are noticeably absent on much of the Radiohead frontman’s solo oeuvre, but this “waltz… about our bodies [and] what they mean for our salvation,” created for Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria remake, is nothing short of hypnotic.
15. Courtney Barnett – “Nameless, Faceless”
The chorus to the Aussie rocker’s addictive tune paraphrases the famous Margaret Atwood quote, “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them; women are afraid that men will kill them.” And her jangly, toxic masculinity-skewering ditty couldn’t be timelier.
14. Sheck Wes – “Mo Bamba”
For a three-month period, there was no other song that got the club going like this ode to Wes’ fellow Harlem native/pal/ex-basketball teammate Mo Bamba, which captures the struggles of being a talented young Black man in high demand.
13. Brockhampton – “New Orleans”
2018 was the year Brockhampton, a Texas-born rap collective, began to live up to their “best boy band since One Direction” boast. And the first song off their major-label debut Iridescence—the first LP without jettisoned member Ameer Vann, following sexual-misconduct allegations—re-introduced them to the world in scintillating fashion, over a distorted, Dead Prez-esque beat. Dom’s never been better.
12. Mitski – “Nobody”
“Give me one good, honest kiss / And I’ll be alright,” croons Mitski, over a danceable disco beat, and the words cut deep here—an infectious tribute to the lonely, the isolated, the outsiders among us (and with some global warming alarmism to boot!).
11. Ariana Grande – “thank u, next”
With Sweetener, the pop diva rebounded from a horrifying terrorist attack to create her most fully-realized album yet, but this, the debut single from her next one—inspired by a tweet sent to ex-fiancé Pete Davidson—is Ari’s biggest earworm yet, and comes equipped with a nice message about learning and growing from past relationships.
10. Cardi B – “Get Up 10”
There are too many fun lines to mention on the first song off Cardi’s stunning debut album (“Cause I don’t wanna hear no sneak dissin’ / ‘Specially not from one you weak bitches!”), and here, she delivers an unapologetic mission statement, laying out her rags-to-riches tale and how there’s no turning back.
9. Lucy Dacus – “Night Shift”
The first time I tasted somebody else’s spit, I had a coughing fit… It’s the best opening line of any song this year, and the Virginia singer-songwriter doesn’t let up from there, as it proceeds to crescendo skyward.
8. Christine and the Queens – “Doesn’t Matter”
The French singer’s sophomore album, Chris, is one of the very best of 2018, and this self-described “cathedral” of a tune—filled with God-questioning and suicidal ideation, over a catchy disco beat—is remarkably raw, and was stuck in my head for the better part of a month.
7. Kanye West ft. 070 Shake, Kid Cudi & PARTYNEXTDOOR – “Ghost Town”
Kanye’s had one hell of a 2018—I know it, you know it, the American people know it—but still managed to create plenty of exciting music whilst shacked up in Wyoming, from Pusha T to Kids See Ghosts. And while Ye was a letdown compared to his previous album-length flashes of brilliance, no song he touched was more impressive than “Ghost Town,” whose 070 Shake outro (“I FEEL KINDA FREEEEE!”) soars to the stratosphere.
6. Sigrid – “Raw”
The 22-year-old Norwegian pop singer has yet to release her debut album (coming in early 2019), but god, “Raw”—about being unapologetically true to yourself, no matter the cost—is bursting with feeling. This young lady is going to be a very big deal.
5. Janelle Monáe – “Make Me Feel”
Monáe’s Dirty Computer received well-deserved critical raves upon its release, but subsequently found itself lost in the miasma that was Kanye’s political meltdown. And it’s a damn shame, because the album’s packed with aurally audacious tunes like “Make Me Feel,” which sounds like the late Prince in his prime.
4. Drake – “Mob Ties”
If ever his reign was in doubt, 2018 sealed it: Drake is the biggest rap star on the planet. And, while “Nice for What” topped the charts and “In My Feelings” sparked memes, his best song was “Mob Ties,” a paranoid track that sees the wordsmith at peak insecure, flexing his supposed criminal connections to ward off potential crown-snatchers. Plus, it’s the song LeBron James played to psych himself up before games.
3. Lady Gaga ft. Bradley Cooper – “Shallow”
The first time I saw A Star Is Born, at the Venice Film Festival in early September (with very low expectations), this song was stuck in my head for days. How the hell Lady Gaga went about not singing ballads for so long we’ll never know, but thank goodness she did. The chorus still gives me chills.
2. Childish Gambino – “This Is America”
No song encapsulated 2018, and the brutality of the Black experience stateside, quite like “This Is America”—a moody, schizophrenic track that devolves into a nightmare. Heck, you could write a whole college thesis on its accompanying music video, directed by Glover’s Atlanta collaborator Hiro Murai. No song was more urgent, and more necessary.
1. Travis Scott ft. Drake– “SICKO MODE”
With nods to Biggie and Uncle Luke, and more transitions than the Dubs, this 5-minute rap anthem sees Scott and Drake at the height of their powers, flexing and sneak-dissing with impunity. It’s the hip-hop “Stairway to Heaven.”