2018 was a year filled with simpering R&B ballads, low-toned mumble rap, snap-your-fingers minimalist pop-country and melodramatic EDM… not exactly the best examples of their respective genres. But there were some highlights, and we’re going to be counting them down right here. Here’s to the songs that will stay unironically on our Spotify playlists and mp3 players… if anyone else still actually uses those.
And if you want to check out my year-end review from 2017, click here!
First, some honorable mentions:
Drake – In My Feelings
Also known as the Kiki song popularized by Snapchat, Instagram among other social media, the actual meat of the song beyond the 7 seconds memorized by a majority of today’s youth (God, I feel old typing that out) is a legitimate banger. Altogether overflow of everything Drake (Remember when his entire album went on the Billboard chart?) and oversaturation keep this off the main list, but not enough to at least get a mention here.
Dan + Shay – Speechless
I’ll be honest here: It’s that stretched note in the admittedly earwormy chorus that puts this in the mentions. Dan + Shay have found success this past year with “Tequila”, but “Speechless” edges it out as being their best track put out in 2018. However, it comes across a little more like a country-fried take of Jason Mraz than a bonafide country sound, which takes away a little of the authentic feel. However, if you want a good hit song for your wedding or vow renewal ceremony (do people still have those?), this is high on the recommended list.
Flight Facilities feat. NÏKA – Need You
From the creators of the global smash “Crave You” and its many, many remixes and versions comes this smooth, posh call for love and everything surrounding it by Flight Facilities, featuring some honey sweet vocals by NÏKA. Add in a totally 70s vibe with the official video featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger of all people (because when I think love ballads, oh yeah, I think of Mr. Govern-ator), and you got yourselves a new club smash. If this actually charted, it would have made the official list. Still worth checking out.
Still Feel – half•alive
If this was a list for best music videos of the year, this would be number one or near the top. Mix in a slick, polished production and a catchy chorus, and “Still Feel” hits that alternative sweet spot that finds a way to mix funk, pop and modern rock to create something more than just a glittery earworm.
Kane Brown – Heaven
From his self-titled album comes a standout, stripped-down modern classic. Brown’s silky smooth delivery is superb, but manages to just make it out of the list from the volume of music released this year. Also, technically from 2017, and charting at its peak in 2018 edges it out of the running for this year.
Nicki Minaj – Barbie Dreams
Before Minaj’s choice of sample, I never pictured Nicki have a similar flow as Biggie, but it definitely works in her biting delivery here in this track of her Queen EP. Listing and writing off a lion’s share of the rap game’s top talent and recognizable figures, Minaj pulls no punches and makes one message clear: She has some high standards that I can’t freely articulate without making this review NSFW. Needless to say, this remains one of her best songs and best diss track within the last few years, but was edged out by others in this particular Top 10.
And now, the top ten…
#10 – Nothing But Thieves – Forever and Ever More
From their newest EP “What Did You Think When You Made Me This Way?” released in September comes the tightest, rawest sound from the band behind “Broken Machine” and the smash hit “If I Get High”. While not as viral as many of the songs on the list, the lead single off the EP has managed to find a harder edge to their sound. If this would have charted anywhere aside from some stuff in the UK this may have been higher.
#9 – Lady Gaga & Bradley Cooper – Shallow (“A Star is Born” soundtrack)
It was a close call between this and Gaga’s heart-felt finale ballad “I’ll Never Love Again”— both performed within the fourth remake of “A Star Is Born”— for this list. I chose the lead single of the soundtrack and highlighted song within the film’s release as it more fully encapsulates the feel of the film, and the natural mutual emotion and chemistry between Gaga and Cooper makes for a powerful, genuine country fusion track. For a title like “Shallow”, the production, lyrics and lyricism have some surprising depth.
#8 – Taylor Swift – Delicate
The old Taylor might still be “dead”, but this sure feels like a revival. Having found a happy medium between her roots and her current sound, mixing in her self-aware reflection that has made her an influential songwriter and sprinkling in some well-rounded backup vocals for a rich sound mix just for good measure, Swift has captured her purest essence in “Delicate”.
#7 – Morgan Wallen – Whiskey Glasses
Alright, apparently I’m a sucker for classic-sounding country with references to drinking away sorrows, as evidence by this inclusion and Midland’s “Drinking Problem” last year. Like Midland, Wallen’s vocals harken back to a more old-fashioned twang, and his swaggery presence and delivery give the song a nice shot of adrenaline to a rather dour subject. Ironically a really good song while also servicing as a niche break-up song with Tim McGraw-eqsue pizzazz. Looking forward to more from Wallen in the future.
#6 – Bruno Mars feat. Cardi B – Finesse
Man, Bruno Mars is gonna kill in Vegas someday.
Seemingly the kind of throwback ever since “Unorthodox Jukebox” made its splash, Mars finds himself channeling the 90s hip-hop craze (with the greatest of timing), and included Cardi B on the remix, finding the formula once again and proves that he can make lightning striking… multiple times at this point. And with a year saturated in Cardi B, this is right dosage to make “Finesse” stick in our ears for the whole year.
#5 – John Meyer – New Light
So, speaking of throwbacks. It’s 2018, and John Meyer is on my best of list. I’m glad I didn’t bet the under of this one.
Meyer blends a chill vibe with his equally chill voice to create a very lush production and insanely catchy tune without Meyer’s often saccharin delivery. Oh yeah, and the music video— even visible on Spotify when played for some reason— is pretty dope, too.
#4 – N.E.R.D. & Rihanna – Lemon
Is it okay for me to uninronically use the word ‘banger’ twice in this year-end review? Because if you look up that word, you get this as a result. Pharrell and N.E.R.D. have found a bass-fueled beat with so much going on that I find something new in it with every listen. Pharrell adds his signature sound to a song otherwise dominated by Rihanna, who just lets loose on this track. Lyrically and in terms of vocal posture, Rihanna nails the vibe of this song exponentially better than previous works such as “Bitch Better Have My Money” and “Pour It Up” ever could. Everything about the song commands your attention, and demands your respect.
#3 – Ariana Grande – no tears left to cry
2018 has been a stellar year for Mrs. Grande. “sweetener”, “imagine” “R.E.M” and “God is a woman” to name a few, Ariana has released hit after hit, all with different moods and all with a posture and poise that proves Grande is currently one of the best things in pop music. Capitalization errors throughout “sweetener” aside, “no tears left to cry”— the album’s lead single— feels larger than life, delievers with each high and low note Grande belts out, for an experience that solidifies this on my best of list. All hail the Queen.
#2 – Sam Smith – One Last Song
One last song before the top pick, and it’s to someone who more than deserves a seat at the table. Smith never ceases to amaze me with his somber yet prolific and grandeur cadence and how he manages to give his all in every song. Though “Too Good At Goodbyes” was my unofficial #11 pick for last year, I was patiently waiting for this single off “The Thrill of It All” to make it on the charts in the early months of the year just to put it on this list. The most upbeat and arguably the best track off his 2017 release, the gospel overtones and classical undertones give this (supposedly) final breakup song created for the muse behind “In The Lonely Hour” give “One Last Song” a lyrical gut-punch equivalent of moving on. And of course, as mentioned earlier, Smith more than gives his all to create a wonderful song.
#1 – Zedd feat. Maren Morris and Grey – The Middle
If you’ve been following pop music for a little while and are familiar with Zedd (right now, it’s kind of hard not to be), you’ll realize that his collaboration with country star Maren Morris is very similar to his previous hit with Alessia Cara, “Stay”. But with the success of this song, it’s safe to say Zedd found lightning can indeed strike twice.
Complimented by Morris’ stronger vocals compared to Cara’s, “The Middle” delivers with a better sound, poppy 808s and a better hook. Zedd and collaborator Grey have created a light, breezy instrumental with some catchy synth. This song very well captures the sound of 2018 while also serving as the best hit song of the year.
And there we go. One year gone, another one beginning. Let’s hope for some good music in 2019. Whether good or bad, I’ll be back at year’s end to report on it. Take it easy, and stay tuned for the worst of list for 2018, coming very soon.