If we’re just looking at the charts, 2018’s story could be told through just a couple handfuls of inescapable songs that dominated the listening world. But music is more than its biggest successes and the last year spent tirelessly covering the worlds of hip-hop, pop, and indie has revealed a remarkably deep class of essential new songs whose artistic excellence could be matched by its creative vision and pure listenability.
It’s as varied as the tastes of most young people today, where Post Malone and Cardi B can live comfortably next to Kacey Musgraves and Travis Scott. Sometimes it’s political, sometimes it’s emotional, and sometimes it can just be summed up with just the phrase “esskeetit.” But it’s all what we as a culture experienced together in this messy and unforgettable year.
50. Ariana Grande, “Thank U, Next”
All the way from that glistening, glinting music-box keyboard riff bookending the track, through to the gracious, loving words about Mac and Pete, and into the female empowerment that frames men as merely steps in a woman’s life and not vice versa, “Thank U, Next” is a perfect pop song. It snuck up at the end of 2018 to cement Ariana’s place in the year once and for all, and to yet again reveal her as one of the wisest young women in business. God, how many women listening to this track wanted to denounce their own pettiness toward an ex in favor of this sweetly dismissive kiss-off? Even though one of Ari’s other Sweetener singles felt like more of an anthem for the year as a whole, “Thank U, Next” is a masterclass in the way pop music isn’t shallow at all, but can wrap some of the deepest, most important lessons about life in a bright, shiny bow. That shit’s amazing.–Caitlin White
49. Ryley Walker, “Spoil With The Rest”
As the funniest man in indie rock, Ryley Walker also writes genuinely beautiful and quietly gut-wrenching songs. This highlight from Deafman Glance is the lament of a perpetual screw-up who nonetheless hopes for another shot at redemption, even if he suspects that he doesn’t deserve it. “Passed out bad decision / Dreams look great with no vision / Whenever I feel blessed / Too much guilt to confess,” he sings, over descending guitar lines that flirt lackadaisically with free jazz and noise rock. (“I’ve never had much luck with relationships going far, or being honest or meaningful,” he said of the song’s origin. “So, I think a lot of trying and failing has been my whole life.”)
Fans of A Ghost Is Born-era Wilco will instantly recognize Walker’s Midwestern fatalism and brainy, prog-accented Americana. (He has cited the first Loose Fur album as an inspiration.) But Walker also has his own distinctive voice, a hungover purr that contrasts comfortably with the restless inventiveness of his guitar playing.–Steven Hyden
48. Maren Morris, Zedd, Grey, “The Middle”
Between 2005 and 2011, Maren Morris released three studio albums on smaller labels, which were enough to get her noticed by the country music community. She co-wrote a song on Tim McGraw’s 2014 album Sundown Heaven Town, then she released a self-titled EP in 2015 via Columbia Nashville, which she followed up the next year with Hero, her debut major label album. That record established her as a country star: It peaked at the top of the country charts, and went all the way to No. 5 on the Billboard 200.
That said, you wouldn’t have guessed any of that by listening to her single with Zedd and Grey, “The Middle.” It’s an unabashed pop banger that’s become ubiquitous this year — look at its more than half a billion plays on Spotify for proof of that. This isn’t entirely unprecedented, however, as Morris has stepped foot in the pop world before this. She’s written for Kelly Clarkson, and last year, she joined Niall Horan on his song “Seeing Blind.” While not much of Morris’ country influence found its way into “The Middle,” her spot-on vocal performance is the highlight of the track, and proof that country musicians don’t deserve the boxes that non-fans tend to put them in.–Derrick Rossignol
47. Idles, “Colossus”
First impressions mean everything. You never get a second chance to make one. For Idles, the Bristol post-punk prodigies that sound like they were raised on a diet of nails, beer, and leather, they don’t waste the opportunity of their great sophomore record, Joy As An Act Of Resistance. Just look at that title, “Colossus,” a word meant to swallow its reader whole, whose grandeur is so great that it can hardly be recognized from the ground. Perspective is indeed everything.
Bands like Savages, Liars, and Protomartyr come to mind at various points in the song, but none has a song quite like this in their repertoire. The slow-build of its first several minutes is anxiety-inducing, with frontman Joe Talbot slurring his way through lines like “Forgive me father, I have sinned / I’ve drained my body full of pins / I’ve danced til dawn with splintered shins” with enough conviction that you can practically hear his bones grinding. But once the fever reaches a boil, the song pauses and completely shifts into a raised-fists, chant-along, lager-spilling rager. “I put homophobes in coffins,” Talbot yells, not mincing words about what his band is about. It adds up to a blistering epic of rare proportions, ensuring that the album to come stays turned up loud for its duration.–Philip Cosores
46. Saba, “Logout” feat. Chance The Rapper
We’re all a little too invested in social media these days. The algorithms probably have more control over our tastes and our bank accounts than we do, and if it’s art’s job to hold a mirror up to society, thank goodness the mirror in question is being held by Saba and Chance The Rapper.
On the standout from Saba’s Care For Me, the two thoughtful Chicago rappers critique Extremely Online culture while avoiding the pitfall of “get off my lawn”-ism. Maybe that’s because they’re both right in that target demographic for Instagram and Snapchat, or maybe it’s because they’re both so witty and deft with their respective pen games. Rather than deriding the youth for their obsession with likes and follows, they empathize with the desire to feel validated by notifications and digital props from strangers, all while acknowledging the positive effects social media has had on their own lives and careers. Sometimes, we all still need a reminder to “LogOut,” at least a little bit.–Aaron Williams
45. Nicki Minaj, “Chun-Li”
Say what you want about Nicki Minaj’s driving, catchy comeback single; she may have gotten the iconic Street Fighter star‘s good guy/bad guy designation wildly wrong, but it was a mistake that repositioned the Queen‘s standing — both in rap music as a whole and in her myriad beef with other entertainers, including Cardi B. Almost overnight, “Chun-Li” turned Nicki into more of an M. Bison (or Vega, if you prefer the Japanese name of the game’s true villain): The looming final boss character that had to be defeated in order to solidify any of 2018’s burgeoning rap heroes’ legends in fans’ minds. That both Cardi B and Travis Scott did so doesn’t diminish her sinister appeal at all.
From its “choose-your-own-adventure” style release alongside “Barbie Tingz,” to its kung-fu movie-referencing video, “Chun-Li” was basically inescapable, at least until its status as the most important song of Queen‘s promotional cycle was bumped by “Barbie Dreams.” It’s the Queens rapper as good as we’ve heard her for some time; she’s energized, hungry, and lyrical again, without the dizzying array of pop music accouterments that have often competed for with her hardcore credibility. She sounds like she could back up at least some of her harshest lyrical threats, and honestly, that’s all anyone can hope for from a good villain — even one that just wants to be loved as much as Nicki does.–A.W.
44. Migos, “BBO” Feat. 21 Savage
Migos’ Culture II wasn’t quite the phenomenon that the first Culture album was, but it had its moments. When three of the hottest rappers in the world take 24 chances to put some fire together, you’re going to see the flames eventually. Such is the case on “BBO,” a song that was often mistaken as “BBQ” the night the song dropped — until you heard 21 Savage let you know his vibe was “bad b*tches only” over an elegant sample. His chorus set off the track in grand fashion, taking advantage of one of the rare occasions that Migos let a guest appearance set the stage for the rest of the group.
After 21 Savage attempts to steal the show, the three carry on with their own verses, showcasing why the Migos formula just works. Quavo slides through with auto-tuned finesse, Offset lets us know “we in the field with sticks like this Arcadia,” and unsung hero Takeoff closes everything out. The decadent song is a marker of Atlanta’s dominance, with two of the city — and game’s — biggest acts at their best. Years from now, we’ll hear this and think about this era, where both Migos and 21 Savage were young, fly, and getting the party started.–Andre Gee
43. Wet, “There’s A Reason”
Upon first listen, Wet’s “There’s A Reason” is light as air, a sunny synth-pop tune best listened to with the windows down. It’s skillful in that way, as it reels you in without a second thought; however, the track lacks none of Wet’s distinguished depth.
Still, the track does diverge a bit in comparison to Wet’s previous releases — while 2016’s Don’t You rang mostly of melancholy and longing, “There’s A Reason” provides the break in the clouds. “I’ll wait for the rest of our lives / With the answer just out of sight / There’s a reason you’re by my side,” sings Kelly Zutrau, with a confident optimism. It’s a sure sign of the paradoxical yet sturdy carefreeness that comes with growth and maturity. “There’s A Reason” is refreshing, a picture of earnestness, resilience, and buoyancy where it seems to belong less and less.–Leah Lu
42. MorMor, “Heaven’s Only Wishful”
There’s something about the young musicians that can do it all. In a world populated by singers, by instrumentalists, by producers, and by directors, people able to see their own project through from beginning to end have a magnetic quality. It makes the art ring true with a singular vision, where success and failure can come at no one’s hand but their own. And when it works, it makes it all the more impressive.
For MorMor and his exquisite “Heaven’s Only Wishful,” the idea of artistic vision comes through in technicolor. He sings, he plays the instruments, he recorded the song himself and even lent a hand in directing its video. The result is something that purely expresses just who this rising Canadian artist is. But even with one mind at the center of the piece, the song stands out for how untethered and fully-realized it is, finding new treasures to unveil around every curve of its more-than-five-minute runtime. It’s a deceptively complex construction, masking itself as simplicity even when it’s quite intricate. And the song’s titular conceit, that paradise might be nothing but a hope and prayer, is fortified by the ballast of personal experience. There’s no sugarcoating here, just the honest observations from one of music’s brightest rising stars.–P.C.
41. Chvrches, “Miracle”
Although Love Is Dead is still firmly rooted in Chvrches’ synthpop tradition, it feels different than the band’s two previous records thanks to an aura of experimentation. On an album that’ has more boundary-breaking for the Scottish group than ever before, “Miracle” is still unlike other songs on Love Is Dead. Lauren Mayberry has credited that to the influence of producer Steve Mac, who co-wrote only this song on the record. “He makes space for everyone in the room and really pushes people to try things and go outside of their comfort zone, in a good way,” she said.
Chvrches have never shied away from a big chorus, but they go about it differently here, resulting in a hook that stands out as particularly resounding even on a record that’s full of them. The verses are tranquil before mood-changing synths that create a sense of anticipation are introduced. When the chorus hits, it’s direct and powerful, with “oh oh-oh” backing vocals that are made to be blasted out and repeated back by gigantic crowds. For a band whose reputation is built on festival anthems, they might have crafted their best one here.–D.R.
40. Lil Pump, “Esskeetit”
Lil Pump made his initial mark on the rap game with 2017’s “Gucci Gang” smash, a track so devoted to hammering home its title over thumping 808s that it became a cultural phenomenon — for better or worse. This year, Lil Pump went back to the catchphrase well, though not as overtly, with “Esskeetit.” If you’re not familiar, the phrase is a rapid-fire utterance of the phrase “let’s get it.” It’s an irresistible mantra with many functions. It’s a challenge, a proclamation, and in Pump’s case, a way of life. It’s also the hook to one of the most fun songs of the year.
Riding a zany, bouncy synth melody, Pump delves into some of his usual topics: “Running up a check with no limit,” “smashin’ on your b*tch,” “hoppin’ out the Wraith,” and “poppin’ on X.” Pump’s lyrical depth may never be the subject of a symposium at his pretend alma mater, Harvard, but “Eskeetit” could surely ring off in any college house party, club, or recreational event in the country. The song’s quaking 808 alone commands attention.
The 18-year-old had an up and down 2018, with legal woes affecting his full viability, but it was still a strong year, the likes of which most young rappers would dream. The polarizing artist, who still owes us that Lil Yachty project, furthered his upward trajectory toward rap stardom and staying power. Most importantly, he had us screaming “Esskeetit” all 2018.–A.G.
39. Wild Pink, “There Is A Ledger”
“I just really wanted to make something bigger in scope,” Wild Pink leader John Ross told Uproxx’s Steven Hyden earlier this year about the band’s breakthrough album, Yolk In The Fur. On it, the New York group evokes comparisons to contemporaries like The War On Drugs with songwriting-first compositions, gentle vocals, and fleshed-out arrangements that evoke ’70s and ’80s classic rockers’ most pop-leaning moments. But on the album, “There Is A Ledger” stands out from the rest, more intimate and restrained in its verses to offer up a higher contrast between where the song begins and where the song ends. It’s a quick journey, but one whose emotional heft feels like it traverses miles.
Though Ross claims to be putting less of an emphasis on lyrics these days, this song is still highly nostalgic through the way he lays down details and lamentations. Imagery like blowing on hot coffee and an unexpected panic attack are placed side-by-side with longing, wistful statements like “I don’t know what happens next” and “I hope we find peace.” But ultimately, it’s another line that really sticks, the repeated idea of “trying not to take it so bad.” Be it seeking the peace that he hopes, for certainty in the future, or for eventual healing, the song is as much about the moment of pain as it is about the recovery. In terms of a bigger scope, emotionally, this one goes for broke.–P.C.
38. The Blaze, “Heaven”
As electronic music becomes something that isn’t just relegated to the dark dance floors of underground clubs, The Blaze are a French duo hellbent on bringing it out into the light of day. Their huge, soaring compositions take the skeletons of jittery, glittery house tracks and blow them up into gigantic, sky-high songs like “Heaven,” off their debut album, the impeccably titled Dancehall. Layering on a looped, wordless vocal, the song comes to a head with throaty, unexpected singing, and moony lyrics, racing alongside the production of the track, which builds into a sharp, contrasting climax of percussion and strings. It’s the kind of song that reminds you what a sunrise feels like, whether you’re waking up early to face the dawn, or heading home after dancing your ass off in the club. After all, heaven belongs to either side of the daylight, and here, The Blaze manage to capture both.–C.W.
37. Rostam, “In A River”
Following the release of his solo debut Half-Light last year, former Vampire Weekend member Rostam Batmanglij has kept very busy, but mostly in the writing and producing world. He’s on the new Lykke Li album, worked with rising pop force Maggie Rogers, and has production credits on the excellent new Wet album. But as for his own music, 2018 has seen him mostly focusing on his live shows and not releasing a whole lot.
Yet, towards the end of the year, the song “In A River” appeared with little fanfare; a wistful and elegant look at what his own vision is when he isn’t contributing to indie pop icons. The song harkens back to the halcyon indie rock days of a decade earlier, when a melody-first, airy acoustic number could land in the closing scene of House, where a fiddle solo was par for the course among bands with more than eight members. That isn’t to say that Rostam sounds out of touch with the present, but, rather, it sounds like he’s crafting music on his own island, unconcerned with the latest trends and more interested in developing the worldview that he finds interesting. “We are swimming with no clothes on / In a river in the dark,” he sings, so evocative that you can feel the cool water against your skin and see the moon’s reflection bending with each new ripple. Rostam has always been ahead of the indie curve, and this feels like a dream-like vision of where that world could be headed, with everything old becoming new again.–P.C.
36. Post Malone, “Better Now”
Post Malone has had one of the most up-and-down years of anyone in hip-hop not named Tekashi 69. Fortunately for Posty, though, he’s fully embraced the lovable, scruffy, stoner vibe that made him such a star in the first place — albeit, slightly less scruffy after going in for a radical haircut late in the year. So, when he ran into a patch of bad luck toward the end of summer, it was easier to root for his bounce back, even after he made disparaging comments about the genre that launched him into celebrity.
Because ultimately, it’s time for us all to accept that hip-hop is pop now, and Post Malone is one of the poster boys for how deep that relationship can go. “Better Now” is the perfect encapsulation of Post Malone as a musician. It’s a “young love” song and young love always feels way more meaningful when you’re in it than when you look back through the jaded eyes of experience. Rather than seeing it as an impending apocalypse for the boom-bap rap of old, I see it as a win; rap can be muzak now — who thought that hip-hop could take it this far?–A.W.
35. Jay Rock, “King’s Dead” Feat. Kendrick Lamar, Future, James Blake
“Slob On My Knob,” the seminal 1999 Juicy J anthem, is experiencing a sort of rap renaissance of late, receiving a slew of lyrical salutes throughout the past 12 months, which has included a cadence-borrowing reference on ASAP Ferg’s monstrous “Plain Jane,” among others. However, none is as head-turning as Future’s bewildering, falsetto callback on Jay Rock’s standout from the Black Panther soundtrack. The bridge, which somehow also encompasses Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick’s “La Di Da Di” and the movie Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, became a wild, instant hit online, skyrocketing the original “Slob On My Knob” to a number one trend on Apple Music. Somehow, it’s still only maybe the third best thing about “King’s Dead” — and that says a lot.
First of all, “King’s Dead” is the first song featuring both Jay Rock and Kendrick Lamar that actually feels like an equal pairing between the two TDE rappers. They both turn in stellar verses, ripping off rapid-fire rhymes over the thundering Mike Will Made-It beat (the clear second best thing about the track), offering up a yin-and-yang dynamic that the duo hasn’t had since their earliest days on the upstart South Los Angeles label. It’s so good, it landed on Jay Rock’s own album, Redemption, six months later, and still sounds as fresh as Killmonger’s introductory fit in Black Panther.–A.W.
34. Amen Dunes, “Believe”
If you listened to any of the Amen Dunes albums before this year’s Freedom, you never would’ve guessed that Damon McMahon could come up with a song that sounds like U2. And yet that’s what he achieves with “Believe,” a rousing hymn that harks back to the desert-bound arena-rock of The Joshua Tree.
In the lyrics, McMahon relates a story about a person’s journey from youth to adulthood, and the struggle to accept the inevitable setbacks that occur along the way. (The song was inspired, in part, by McMahon’s grappling with his mother’s terminal cancer diagnosis.) But the music doesn’t dwell on tragedy or sadness; the insistent drive of McMahon’s vocal suggests that the best and worst part of being alive is that existence keeps moving forward, no matter what. The other essential contributor to “Believe” is Delicate Steve, whose subtle guitar work shades McMahon’s lyrics until it flowers beautifully during the outro.–S.H.
33. Anderson .Paak, “Bubblin’”
“Bubblin’” may not have taken off the way Anderson .Paak or his label, Aftermath, wanted — even getting left off the final tracklist for Oxnard — but that doesn’t knock it down one single peg as one of the most bonkers and fun unconventional rap tracks of the year. It’s the audio equivalent of the scene in I’m Gonna Git You Sucka where Bernie Casey’s John Slade declares that “every good hero should have some (theme music).”
Anderson embraces the chaotic, jittery, James Bond-ish beat, adopting a vocal delivery a hairsbreadth away from manic but somehow maintaining the graphite smoothness of his usual demeanor, bragging and boasting his way through the swanky strings and heart-racing snares. Even the video gives off the shifty air of a successful heist, finding .Paak carting a malfunctioning ATM with him through a variety of daily activities and enjoying all the mundane grandeur the spoils can grant him. It’s hilarious and relatable. Even if it wasn’t a hit, “Bubblin'” showed that Anderson .Paak is the hero we all need, deserve, and can 100% believe in.–A.W.
32. Ella Mai, “Boo’d Up”
Seemingly out of nowhere, Ella Mai grew into R&B prominence thanks to her breakthrough hit single “Boo’d Up,” helping the UK-born singer fill her 2018 with major accomplishments since the song’s peak. Within a year of the DJ Mustard-produced track being released from her third EP Ready in 2017, “Boo’d Up” took the industry by storm and peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot R&B Songs chart and at No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. In September, “Boo’d Up” was certified three times platinum.
“Boo’d Up,” produced by Mai’s 10 Summers boss DJ Mustard, is a song that has nostalgic ’90s R&B elements and deals with the plight of being so deep in love that looking for it elsewhere is moot. It’s a song that bridges generational divides and resulted in a host of remixes, including by the likes of T-Pain and Plies. Even the official remix featuring Nicki Minaj and Migos’ Quavo also happened to make its way to the Billboard charts upon its release. All this points toward Ella Mai showing zero signs of slowing down, as she’s just getting started.–Cherise Johnson
31. Cardi B, “I Like It” Feat. Bad Bunny, J Balvin
“Bodak Yellow” may have been her calling card, but for my money, “I Like It,” is the song on Cardi B’s star-making debut, Invasion Of Privacy, that best encompasses who she is and what she can do when she taps into all of her street smarts and pop potential. I wrote in my review of the album that “I Like It” is Cardi B at her most free and fun, embracing and updating her heritage with a poppy, modern sound — and that holds true even more now than it did in April.
Hispanic households and communities in South LA in have long crackled with the sounds of boogaloo hits like Pete Rodríguez’s well-known original, “I Like It Like That,” and I imagine it was similar in the Bronx neighborhoods where Cardi grew up. By marrying the culture and unique flavor of her hometown and heritage to the bombastic flair of trap, then recruiting two of Latin trap’s most well-known personalities in Bad Bunny and J. Balvin, she not only ensured the crossover appeal to the massive market which US artists have begun to tap into, but she did so in a way that highlighted her authenticity within the genre. That it sounds like all three artists are having a ball is just icing on the cake.–A.W.
30. Foxing, “Nearer My God”
“Right off the bat, a very conscious effort was made to make something that was sort of over our heads,” Foxing guitarist Eric Hudson said upon the release of his band’s third album, Nearer My God. You can hear that ambition in the album’s stylistic range, which goes well beyond the boisterous emo-punk that Foxing are known for into pop, R&B, and electronic sounds. At other times, however, the verve of Nearer My God is expressed via the sheer scale of the album’s bigness. This is especially true of the title track, on which Foxing dares to create a positively ginormous indie-pop song that’s more fitting for arenas and stadiums than the clubs and bars the band normally plays. Not surprisingly, the band drew comparisons to TV On The Radio in the wake of Nearer My God, and you can detect some similarities to that band’s Dear Science era in this song.–S.H.
29. Mitski, “Geyser”
The first blaring, distorted organ note and ensuing bouts of static sound bites in Mitski’s “Geyser” are so recognizable yet still jarring enough that I’m alarmed every time it comes on shuffle. Immediately, it commands your full attention, thus making it a suitable first track for Be The Cowboy, an album that deserves to hold it until the end.
It would be easy to pin “Geyser” as a sultry, staunch lament over love; after all, its opening lines read: “You’re my number one / You’re the one I want / And I’ve turned down every hand that has beckoned me to come.” But Mitski’s said that the track, as vague as it is, is primarily an ode to her musical career. The song reaches an intense, bubbling zenith, one that reveals the all-consuming, sacrificial pull that passion can have on a person — “Hear the harmony only when it’s harming me / It’s not real, it’s not real, it’s not real enough / But I will be the one you need / The way I can’t be without you,” she wails over fluttering strings. “Geyser” is powerful like Mitski is powerful, but not without being masterfully and painstakingly real.–L.L.
28. Tyler, The Creator, “Okra”
In case you forgot, Tyler Okonma, aka Tyler, The Creator, is barred up. Yes, he’s a fashion-obsessed, Fairfax skater kid. Yes, his excellent 2017 album, Flower Boy, delved further than he ever had into melody and sensitive, introspective lyrics and creative collaboration. And yes, his mischievous, punk rock-influenced rebel aesthetic annoyed grumpy old heads as he terrorized film sets and label offices alike during his early rise to stardom. But none of that changes one simple fact: Dude can rap his Black ass off and in case you forgot, here’s “Okra” to remind you.
“Okra” isn’t the Tyler song we always wanted; it’s the Tyler song we never knew he had in him. Over a blown-out, bass-laden beat — which, come to think of it, might actually be 90 percent bass, 10 percent beat — the Odd Future upstart takes a deep breath and unleashes a measured flurry of rhymes dripping with his signature wit and barrel-chested baritone drawl. And while hardcore rap heads will find plenty to approve of in his confident onslaught of punchlines, his younger fans were entranced by his casual flirtation with actor Timothée Chalamet, proving that Tyler’s sensitivity and brash recklessness can exist hand-in-hand and still sound harder than the most gangsta of gangsta rappers from a few blocks south of his Ladera Heights stomping grounds.–A.W.
27. Haley Heynderickx, “The Bug Collector”
Haley Heynderickx has a voice like a centipede, shiny and quick when it needs to be, then soft and worn, wound up in small places, shivering across your skin like a beautiful, uncanny thing. On “The Bug Collector,” Heynderickx writes a love song, not only to her finnicky beloved, but to the bugs that weave in and out of his house, stealing her attention away for a second, acting as stand-ins for the minutia that mark our most important moments. Her stunning debut record I Need To Start A Garden is full of nods to the way the physical world impacts our hearts, but this almost mournful, skeletal story-song is the clear standout, weaving a finger-picked guitar melody in and out of horns, strings and, above it all, her clear, tender voice. Only a voice like hers could make these creepy crawlies — the “fuckers — seem as lovable as the beloved, too.–C.W.
26. Lil Baby, Gunna, “Drip Too Hard”
So, how hard is “Drip Too Hard,” the made-in-trap-heaven collaboration between rising Atlanta rap stars Gunna and Lil Baby? Well, “Drip Too Hard” is so hard, that it accelerated each rapper’s respective accent seemingly overnight. It’s so hard, that fans wouldn’t stop pestering the two budding blog rap idols for a full project, which they made in Drip Harder, and it was so good, it overshadowed Sheck Wes’ Mudboy released on the same day, despite that project’s ridiculous advantage with “Mo Bamba.” “Drip Too Hard” basically lives up to its title — and possibly even surpasses it.
Between the electrical chemistry displayed by the pair, with Baby’s bouncy, nasal whine and Gunna’s warmer, tenor drone, and the flashy performance they offered up at the 2018 BET Hip-Hop Awards, it’s almost shocking that the song didn’t end its run higher up the Hot 100, although No. 4 isn’t exactly anything to shake a stick at. Then there’s the video, in which Baby and Gunna throw their own Hollywood Hills fashion week party stocked with an inclusive cast of all body shapes and colors, showing that they understand exactly what their audience wants to see and hear. The duo, together, have all the makings of the next top-level talents from their city, which is already stacked with stars. Hopefully, there’s more where that came from.–A.W.
25. Camila Cabello, “Never Be The Same”
“Havana” was her breakout, but “Never Be The Same” is Camila Cabello‘s best song. “Never Be The Same” is melodramatic in the best way, a massive, bring-the-house-down tune with pounding drums and breathy vocals. She’s certainly not the first pop singer to compare love to a drug, but Cabello uses her propensity for high drama to capture the dual ecstasy and pain of falling in love. She starts the song out singing “Something must have gone wrong in my brain” — who starts a gooey, romantic song by singing about how incapacitated they are by love?
“Never Be The Same” is a monument to the kind of love that changes you, dangerous and exhilarating like the biggest hit. Cabello has said it’s her favorite song she’s ever written. It’s a killer opening track for Camila, a microcosm of every theme she explores on the project. It’s infatuation, it’s hurting, it’s acutely observed and beautifully rendered feeling. “Havana” was the moneymaker, but “Never Be The Same” proved that she’s up there with the most iconic of pop girls.–Chloe Gilke
24. Empress Of, “When I’m With Him”
When Empress Of (real name: Lorely Rodriguez) announced her sophomore album Us, she made it clear that the record was going to be diverse. And that’s instantly clear on the record’s standout single, “When I’m With Him,” with bilingual lyrics alternating between English and Spanish in a way that’s fluid and natural. The song begins with a midtempo drum beat and piano chords accented by some synths before a guitar comes in to announce it unexpectedly funkiness. On the track, Rodriguez combines a lot of things that might not make the most sense on paper. Here’s the thing, though: Music doesn’t live on paper. It lives in ears, and what this sounds like is a rising star expressing herself in a way that’s as natural as her talent.–D.R.
23. Arctic Monkeys, “Four Out Of Five”
Did Alex Turner anticipate that Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino would be a polarizing album among music critics? “Four Out Of Five” seems to almost mock its detractors ahead of time. “It was well reviewed,” Turner drawls in a hilarious, mock-pretentious croon. “Four stars out of five / And that’s unheard of.” Of course, Turner isn’t referring to an album — he’s talking about a hip new taco stand on the moon, the product of interstellar gentrification and widespread, tech-addled boredom back on earth.
Regardless of whether Turner was actually prescient, “Four Out Of Five” stands out as Tranquility Base’s most immediate and catchiest song, the one track that even those who found the rest of the album oppressively slow and devoid of rock and roll could embrace. Turner, though, resolutely refuses to back away from the weirdness that pervades the rest of the record. Just try to find another banger this year that rhymes “I’m Mr. Bridge and Tunnel on the Starlight Express” with “okey cokey with the opposite sex.”–S.H.
22. Soccer Mommy, “Cool”
“Cool” is an unrequited love song, albeit a nontraditional one. Sophie Allison sings her admiration for Mary, a heartbreaker “stoner girl” who catches everyone’s attention with her intense, off-putting demeanor. Allison is infatuated with her, or more accurately, everything she represents. She wishes to “be that cool,” possess the kind of toughness that crushes boys and stomps through the world in Doc Martens and a frown. The song is bright with the kind of youthful optimism that comes with seeing the future you want for the first time.
But coolness is a fantasy, and whatever Sophie Allison is, it’s a thousand times better than cool. Backed by fuzzy guitar and a slick bass line, Allison finds the middle ground between melodic pop and DIY indie rock, Taylor Swift and Liz Phair. As she sings about wishing she were someone else, Allison sounds self-confident and assured, fearless with her guitar. Allison is only 21-years-old, and Clean is her major label debut, but she writes and plays like a true rock god. I wanna be that cool.—C.G.
21. Rae Sremmurd, “Powerglide” Feat. Juicy J
Rae Sremmurd, like Migos, have been dogged by fans and critics alike speculating on what things would be like if the platinum group went solo. Swae Lee, the group’s vocalist and R&B-sensibility, was deemed by fans as a potential breakout star after his work with Beyonce and French Montana, whereas Slim Jxmmi’s exhilarating mic presence and raunchy lyrics had fans curious about his solo potential as well. The Mike Will Made-It-affiliated duo compromised with all of us on SR3MM, an ambitious three-part album that gave us the best of all three worlds. They both did their thing on solo albums, but they also presented the Rae Sremmurd experience that vaulted them to stardom.
Ultimately, the consensus verdict was that the two are probably at their best together, as their SR3MM album showed. “Powerglide,” which ironically features breakout star Juicy J of Three Six Mafia, is arguably the best example of their yin and yang at work, as the two play to their strengths over a surging, 808-dominated track. Jxmmi powers through his braggadocios verse, while Rae glides over the composition with lithe, carefree vocals. Juicy J chimes in with a characteristically fun verse in which he shouts out the late Lil Peep and reflects “gotta slow down on them Xans.” We agree, as he’ll be in the best possible shape to keep contributing to bangers like “Powerglide.”–A.G.
20. Lucy Dacus, “Night Shift”
“It’s the first breakup song I’ve written,” Dacus says of “Night Shift,” the most powerful track from her great sophomore release, Historian. “Writing it felt like a release, and singing it every night feels like a release as well.” It’s not just cathartic for the person who wrote it — “Night Shift” offers an immediate sign right at the start of Historian that Dacus has already grown beyond her affecting and yet largely introspective 2016 debut, No Burden.
Whereas her first record sometimes sounded inhabited musically, “Night Shift” opens up to a new kind of sprawl, building toward a noisy, rampaging climax that is easily the hardest rocking music Dacus has yet committed to tape. But as ravaged as “Night Shift” sounds, it can’t quite compare to Dacus’ unsparing account of post-break up lust and jealousy: “I’m doing fine / Trying to derail my one-track mind / Regaining my self-worth in record time / But I can’t help but think / Of your other in the bed that was mine.” After writing that, Dacus earns the right to scream.–S.H.
19. Drake, “In My Feelings”
You’re probably already singing the rest, you didn’t even have to think about it — it just happened. In some ways, that’s the story of Drake’s monstrously successful, ridiculously catchy single from his otherwise somber, paranoid, double album, Scorpion.
It was almost an afterthought, as Drake strove for his “serious artist” credentials on the album. It’s like he forgot, or maybe resented, that his biggest singles to date have all been the ones, where he loses the scowl, embraces the joyous, loose-limbed energy of the regional sounds he often mines for inspiration, and has fun being Drake, the world’s biggest hip-hop star.
Fortunately, an Instagram star named Shiggy understood the potential of “In My Feelings,” even before Drake or his team. Then Odell Beckham Jr. caught on. Then Ciara. Then Will Smith. Because it’s just one of those songs you can’t get away from — and you never really want to.–A.W.
18. Sheck Wes, “Mo Bamba”
Oof. Were this two weeks ago, it’d have been easy to celebrate Sheck Wes‘ “Mo Bamba” as the year’s breakout hit. After all, the song buzzed and rumbled its way from underground fan favorite to bonafide meme material over the course of the past 18 months with its devastating, apocalyptic beat and unconfined, brawling energy. But in the wake of recent revelations made by Roc Nation singer Justine Skye, it’s much more difficult to muster as much enthusiasm to yell along with his unbridled “B*tch!” ad-lib.
But before the news hit this weekend, I observed repeatedly throughout the year at live shows, at basketball games, at music festivals, and in the streets how “Mo Bamba” vibrates the earth and air with sinister aggression and cathartic release. At the Palladium for Kyle’s Lightspeed Tour? The floor boiled. At Adult Swim Fest waiting for Kamaiyah to take the stage? My companion was overtaken by the single’s manic energy and rushed off to join the mosh pit in front of the stage. And at every single basketball game I attended, from NBA arenas to high school gymnasiums, little kids danced as spastically and adorably as only they can, holding zero reservations about whether a song is “cool” enough or “smart” enough or respectable enough to display such enthused appreciation. “Mo Bamba” should have been forever. Now? There will forever be a hint of reticence, of guilt, of disappointment.–A.W.
17. Juice Wrld, “Lucid Dreams”
19-year-old Juice Wrld came seemingly out of nowhere this year with “Lucid Dreams,” a Billboard smash that unmistakably changed the Chicago native’s life. Without the sullen earworm of a track, he wouldn’t have been in a position to create his Wrld On Drugs collaboration project with Future, wouldn’t have dropped a gold album with Goodbye And Good Riddance, and wouldn’t have been able to rile up so many hip-hop traditionalists with his aspirations.
Juice Wrld caught flack for saying he wanted to be “more of a musician,” but “Lucid Dreams” shows off hip-hop’s newfound, unabashed flirtations with emo music. Whereas many of his young peers belt out cryptic musings in between gruff ad-libs, or exhort their nihilism in barely coherent slurs, Juice Wrld isn’t doing either. He lucidly culls through his doom and gloom over a melancholy Sting sample, crooning in straightforward terms about a teenage heartbreak that has him fixated on the dark recesses of his room.
Who knows what 2019 holds for Juice Wrld, but if “Lucid Dreams” is any indication of his songwriting prowess and hit-making ability, then he’s on the road to seeing more than heartrending hallucinations in his room — he should make room for plaques and trophies too.–A.G.
16. Janelle Monae, “Screwed” Feat. Zoe Kravitz
Janelle Monae‘s “Screwed” featuring Zoe Kravitz is sonically, one of the loveliest things to come out of 2018, absolutely brimming with major feel-good vibes. It’s one of fourteen pulsating songs on Monae’s third studio album Dirty Computer.
The guitar at the beginning of “Screwed” is very reminiscent of the late Purple One, who was mentoring Monae on this very project before he died, and its lyrics are just as raw, honest, and powerful as any Prince song. Janelle and Zoe go back in forth about being “screwed” just about anywhere you can think and while they may seem hyper-sexual, but it’s way deeper than sex — as most Monae songs are. “You f*cked the world up now, we’ll f*ck it all back down,” Monae and Kravitz simultaneously sing about the state of America. “Let’s get, let’s get screwed / I don’t care / We’ll put water in your guns / We’ll do it all for fun.” Though Janelle laments of the current state of America as not being such a merry place right now, at least with “Screwed” you can dance and sing to about it instead of dwelling in the sadness.–C.J.
15. Kacey Musgraves, “Slow Burn”
For many people, Kacey Musgraves was an anomaly in the face of a previously-declared distaste for country music (“Welcome to the yee yee club, b*tch,” she tweeted at a new fan back in July). “Slow Burn,” the Neil Young-esque introductory track off Golden Hour, is smooth and sweet, serving also as an introduction to Musgraves herself.
It’s the most autobiographical song on the record – “Born in a hurry, always late / Haven’t been early since ‘88,” is how she opens the track, referring to her own premature arrival to the world. “Slow Burn” sets the tone for and eases us into the rest of the album, fully encouraging you to sit back, slow down, and bask in that golden feeling for a while. “I’m alright with a slow burn / Taking my time, let the world burn,” she confesses, with total untroubled sincerity. “I’m gonna do it my way, it’ll be alright / If we burn it down and it takes all night / It’s a slow burn.”–L.L.
14. Cardi B, “Bickenhead”
“Guap, guap, get some chicken / Guap, guap, get some bread!”
Only Cardi B could use such a rallying cry to transform what was once a derogatory term into a mantra of empowerment — on her debut album, no less. First of all, she’s imitating a chicken clucking, which by all conventional rules of rap “coolness” shouldn’t be allowed. But that’s Cardi B, giving not the foggiest, faintest damn about convention or propriety. She’s going to do her thing, and you will either accept it and get on board or you simply not exist at all.
Cardi uses the verses to list all the things she wants, which rapidly turn into all the things she gets, mainly because she won’t let a paltry little thing like male moral judgment deter her from getting them, by whatever means she finds suitable. The “alright, alright” sample that repeats throughout the menacing Keyzbaby and Ayo-produced song works like an affirming chant, cosigning all the freewheeling activities she encourages in her unabashed lyrics, like popping that p*ssy any and everywhere. Shame never figures into the words in any concrete sense, but “Bickenhead” is the ultimate anti-slut-shaming anthem in a year when women’s rights were at the center of many major cultural discussion. Cardi shows you don’t need a lot of women’s studies terminology and book learning to say exactly the right things, reaffirming exactly why women run the world.–A.W.
13. Robyn, “Because It’s In The Music”
Robyn’s “Because It’s In The Music” is a sparkly, spinning disco dream, a visceral throwback both in sound and sentiment. “Because it’s in the music / Yeah, we were dancing to it / I’m right back in that moment / And it makes me want to cry,” she sings, recalling a romance that’s evidently already met its expiration date.
It’s old news that certain songs can unfailingly double as sensory triggers, filling our bodies with memories and feelings we thought we’d buried long ago. Sometimes we use that knowledge to our demise, though, and spin those tracks regardless, fully aware that we’re reopening the wound. “Nothing lasts forever / Not the sweet, not the bitter / It’s a tired old record / I still play it anyway,” Robyn shrugs, over a bassline that winks subtly at Blondie’s “Heart Of Glass.” It’s a prime example of the way that Robyn expertly extracts sweetness from sadness on Honey, and that’s enough to keep us dancing.–L.L.
12. Kendrick Lamar, SZA, “All The Stars”
Kendrick Lamar and SZA make complete magic on “All The Stars” off the Black Panther: The Album. Kendrick was handpicked by the Marvel films director Ryan Coogler to executive produce the soundtrack, and upon the debut of the song in January, it entered into the Billboard Hot 100 charts at No. 43 before quickly breaking into the chart’s top 10. By summer, the Kendrick and SZA duet was certified double platinum.
It’s easy to hear why; combining the elements of Afro-beat melded into colorful drops of melodic intonations, “All The Stars” is not only an American bop, but an international bop that peaked on charts all across the globe. The video, directed by Dave Meyers and The Little Homies in Africa, reflects everything “All The Stars” breathes out: Bright hues of color blocking, brilliant fashion looks, and symbiotic dance motions that appear as art. And of course, Kendrick and SZA shine individually. Lamar offers an aggressive verse with a lax tone as well as bits of harmonization and SZA belts out so much emotion through her magnetic voice that’s easy to get lost in it.–C.J.
11. Lana Del Rey, “Venice B*tch”
Since Lana Del Rey took the blogosphere by storm in 2011 on her millennial take on classic Hollywood with “Video Games,” she’s spent the next seven years honing her aesthetic and perspective. (Also, remember the blogosphere?) We’ve seen her collaborate with rappers, evoke everything from A Clockwork Orange to Iggy Pop, and grow her audience to festival-headliner levels all without much help from the radio world. But her next album, which is expected in 2019, looks like it will be something entirely different, where Del Rey has established her own voice to such a point that now she can really toy with the form she’s curated. Everyone knows what a Lana Del Rey song sounds like, so now it’s time to break that all down.
“Venice B*tch” does just that in glorious form. Livestreams and Norman Rockwell can live side by side in a Lana Del Rey song, and iconography like California, blue jeans, and summer still have a home, but the song takes a sledgehammer to the expectations she’s built up. A spare, intimate production gives way to minutes of guitar noodling while her voice fades in and out, repeating some of the song’s lines out of context. Rather than just following a straight line, Lana gives us something to live inside of, to get lost in, and to discover anew with repeat listens. It’s the most ambitious thing she’s ever created, an exciting revelation to those that have always claimed there’s more to her than meets the eye, and cements her as an essential musical presence, into 2019 and beyond.–P.C.
10. Unknown Mortal Orchestra, “Hunnybee”
Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s first album of 2018 is titled Sex & Food, and that’s appropriate because sonically the album covers pretty much everything between those topics. And ased on where UMO mastermind Ruban Nielson recorded the album, it makes sense that there’s a ton going on here. The record is the result of recording sessions held in Iceland, Portland, Mexico, South Korea, and New Zealand, and the album features everything from psychedelic rock to folk to disco. Listening to the record straight through might be a bit of a sensory overload initially, but on repeated listens, it becomes clear that in the individual worlds each track inhabits, the group has an authoritative place.
Perhaps the finest example of this is “Hunnybee.” They set out to make a sweet, funky, jazzy little track, and they pulled it off masterfully. “Hunnybee” isn’t a song that slaps you in the face, but it’s most notable for its sturdiness and its repeatability, melding jazz and funk that sounds much like Rhye at moments. It’s a testament to the fact that Unknown Mortal Orchestra have supreme chameleonic abilities on the new album, with “Hunnybee” serving as one of the finest examples of all the hats the group can wear.–D.R.
9. Father John Misty, “Hangout At The Gallows”
When I saw Father John Misty in North Carolina early this year, the first half of the set was a fairly tame affair. The Los Angeles-based songwriter delivered his biting, satirical numbers with lush backing, gorgeous lighting, and pristine vocals, pretty much exactly what you’d hope for if you’d listen to his albums. But when “Hangout At The Gallows” began, Misty turned into a madman, channeling Nick Cave with his uncaged animal ferocity. It felt symbolic, too, of the song’s standing in his catalog, where some of the lyrical persona had softened and been replaced by straightforward, almost anthemic songwriting. Father John Misty, even dating back to his work under his own name as Josh Tillman, has constantly evolved and pushed forward, but if this is his final form, it wouldn’t be a bad peak.
Chosen as the lead track to his masterful 2018 record God’s Favorite Customer, the song sets the tone for a less pedantic affair, while still every bit as biting, wise, and insightful as his previous endeavor, Pure Comedy. “If you want an answer, it’s anybody’s guess,” he sings, realizing he’s every bit the student rather than the teacher he’s usually portrayed as, adding, “I’m treading water as I bleed to death.” Subjects like politics, religion, and entertainment swirl around with equal meaninglessness, hardly providing the raison d’etre that most people assume they do. It’s still all just a joke to Father John Misty, but this time the punchline doesn’t need to be explained.–P.C.
8. Ariana Grande, “No Tears Left To Cry”
Right in the middle of the darkest, early months of this year, a thundering, technicolored beam of light came shooting through the clouds: A tiny, trauma-surviving pop star refusing to dwell in the grief of the past, reclaiming joy for herself, putting aside the pain she’d endured and pursuing happiness with all her might. “No Tears Left To Cry” is the song that introduced us to Ariana’s sturnning Sweetener era, and it functioned like a twitchy torch ballad with a mind of its own, always acknowledging the salty, hard-fought tears of the past, but never losing sight of what beautiful light might be just beyond here, hovering on the horizon. Strangely, there would be plenty more tears for Ariana — and for us — throughout the rest of 2018, with the loss of Mac Miller (a true “angel,” as she and countless others would tell us later), among other things. Yet, the song’s resounding ethos still feels relevant, and probably will for years to come. Pain, mistakes, hurt — that’s all inevitable. But suffering? That’s a choice. Decide against it, write a different ending. Sing in the rain, look for your light, pick it back up. Nothing lasts forever, not even the worst stuff on earth. When the tears stop, there are still so many songs left to be sung.–C.W.
7. Travis Scott, “Sicko Mode” Feat. Drake
“Who put this sh*t together? I’m the glue,” Travis Scott proclaims in the midst of “Sicko Mode,” one of the biggest singles from his mammoth Astroworld album. Indeed, La Flame may have earned his place as a foundational figure of today’s modern iteration of trap with Astroworld, and “Sicko Mode” exemplifies why. The track starts out with a glorious synth composition that sounds like the perfect canvas for Drake to float on for however many bars he’d like, but Travis was so confident in his artistry that he used the main event soundscape as a mere intro to “Sicko Mode.’
The track subsists on a snarling bass and an ominous key pluck for Travis’ verse — then an even more dramatic upsurge for Drake, who offers up bars about his superiority and throws errant shots at Travis’ onetime mentor Kanye West. The production alone shows off the painstaking effort Travis put into Astroworld, with three first-single worthy beats crammed into one track. Drake was in “Sicko Mode” in his “checks over stripes” Kanye bullying, whereas Travis put his foot on other trap producer’s neck and grinded it with this production alone. Together, the two stars have an instant classic that will likely give concertgoers the same raucous reaction every time they perform it as they have multiple times already.–A.G.
6. Lady Gaga, Bradley Cooper, “Shallow”
If you were to list out all the lyrics of “Shallow,” a good third of them would just be the word “shallow,” sung repeatedly by Academy Award-nominated actor Bradley Cooper and accompanied by a variety of wah-ha-ha-ha-ha vocalization sounds from Lady Gaga. But somehow, “Shallow” is absolutely enchanting.
Part of it is the way it’s used in the movie. No matter your thoughts on A Star Is Born as a whole, there’s no denying that the scene where the grizzled, Eddie Vedder-type Jackson Maine first sings with Ally, the stunning young ingenue everyone roots for, is absolute fairytale magic. Jackson does the bare minimum we can expect from a man — he just listens to Ally, but he listens with empathy, and he recognizes talent when he hears it. Cooper and Gaga sound incredible together, with the pop star toning down her powerhouse voice to sound like an inexperienced (but naturally talented) singer, Cooper impressing with shockingly great rock voice.
Gaga has said that she thinks so many people are moved by “Shallow” because of how unusual that kind of empathy is. As a woman, it’s maddeningly rare to feel like you’re being heard, that other people are truly recognizing you for your talent. Hearing these two unlikely partners come together to sing, even if they’re mostly just saying the word “shallow” over and over again, is pure magic.–C.G.
5. The 1975, “Love It If We Made It”
There are many songs on this list that capture what it was like to be a music listener in 2018, be it in sonic aesthetics or just through the pure muscle memory caused by ubiquity. But maybe no song better encapsulates what it was like to live through 2018 than The 1975’s “Love It If We Made It.” That title alone wreaks with uncertainty, the same feeling that strikes anyone watching California burn down on the news, witnessing an American president who taunts other world leaders with reckless abandon, hearing about another black civilian killed by a white cop for no reason, or reading the latest study further pushing forward doomsday scenarios caused by humanity’s own cavalier presence.
But it’s one thing to merely observe the world’s issues — The 1975 imbue their commentary with hope. Matt Healy’s vocal delivery has such conviction it might as well be coming through a megaphone, delivered from a pulpit, broadcast on national TV. It’s one thing to merely quote Trump slogans and soundbites in song, but it’s another to do so and juxtapose them with a message of survival and endurance. Still, maybe the best thing about the song is how it relishes the messiness of it all, not trying to offer much in the way of answers other than the fact that we’re all in this together, and together is the only way we’ll survive.–P.C.
4. Drake, “Nice For What”
Were it not for 2018 becoming the year that women took over rap in the biggest way since the 1980s, Drake’s “Nice For What” may have been the female empowerment anthem of the year. In typical Drake fashion, the Boy takes it upon himself to sing words of affirmation for every woman hustling toward a goal: “Workin’ hard, girl, everything paid for / First-last, phone bill, car note, cable.”
Drake insisted that Murda Beatz incorporate a female vocal into the beat, resulting in the classic Lauryn Hill sample that makes even the intro and outro singalong worthy. He hired rising director Karena Evans to shoot the video, leading to a stunning visual that celebrated women without objectifying them as some of his previous songs had. And he borrowed a sample of a Big Freedia performance which extolled Freedia’s own unconventional commemoration of womanhood, validating an artist who has otherwise remained on the fringes, opening the door for mainstream representation in hip-hop wider than its ever been.–A.W.
3. Jeff Rosenstock, “Let Them Win”
The last song on Jeff Rosenstock’s excellent album Post- is an act of both political and musical defiance. On the political side, “Let Them Win” is a rallying cry for all of us who feel besieged by terrible ideas and harmful policies currently propagated by the very worst this country has to offer. “We’re not going to let them win,” Rosenstock hollers repeatedly, like a mantra.
As a genuine hero of modern underground punk, Rosenstock’s signature flourish is the cry of joy motivated by terror, in which anxiety about political malfeasance and dehumanizing technology is combatted with spirited, two-fisted anthems that relentlessly lift the spirit. But Rosenstock isn’t strictly beholden to punk’s musical rules, which this 11-minute track demonstrates during an extended, spooky, synth-powered coda. The final message is clear — you have to constantly strive to maintain your individuality, in thought, word, and deed. On “Let Them Win,” Rosenstock shows he’s still the champ at being himself.–S.H.
2. Childish Gambino, “This Is America”
“This Is America” is a sobering glimpse of where we are as a country, where “get your money Black man” is a solitary, fleeting solace for Black people while evading getting caught “slippin’” by police and other mass murderers. Quavo, Young Thug, 21 Savage, Slim Jxmmi, and Blocboy JB lent vocals to the churning, tribal-influenced record which was a centerpiece of 2018’s amplification of Afrocentric art conceits.
But the biggest assist goes to video director Hiro Murai, whose masterful conception of the music video transformed “This Is America” into a veritable art exhibit. The three-minute visual is at once charming, captivating and a bit brutish. Childish Gambino preened, posed, and danced throughout an apocalyptic backdrop, embodying visual symbolism of slavery and other facets of America’s systemic racism, demonstrating that we’ve been fighting the same struggle since America’s inception.
Gambino and Murai brought the scourge of gun violence to the forefront with two jarring, possibly triggering scenes. Some people appreciated them as morbid satire, while critics thought the optics of Glover shooting Black people was traumatic shock value. No matter where people stood on the video, they were certainly talking about it.
We can gush over the multi-talented Glover’s appearances on Saturday Night Live or in Star Wars all day, but what we all should be doing first is talking about how to stop state-sanctioned violence. “This Is America” was a sonic jolt that implored people who weren’t talking about gun violence to pay attention.–A.G.
1. Boygenius, “Me & My Dog”
It’s important to spend time listening to music that makes you cry. It’s important to recognize the things that live so deep in us that only the fragments of thoughts, images coaxed from poetry, can explain what we feel at our molten center. “Me & My Dog” is a song that makes me cry every single time I listen to it, from the first listen, to the thousandth one, finishing up now as I write this.
There’s a certain kind of frisson that erupts when artists who individually achieve success decide to join forces, and the song is a product of the instantly beloved supergroup compromised of Phoebe Bridgers, Lucy Dacus and Julien Baker, AKA Boygenius. And while the excitement of getting a song from all three of these young, powerful decidedly female voices is a huge part of this song’s appeal, that’s far from the only element at play here.
Because “Me & My Dog” is a song that could make anyone cry, anyone who has felt utterly desolate or overwhelmed by love, anyone who has finally seen the glow of their long-dreamed future in someone else’s eyes, and anyone who knows that feeling, of getting what you’ve wanted most, also sometimes sparks the urge to run, the urge to sabotage it. “Me & My Dog” isn’t a love song, but it’s about the impact of love on your life, your personality, your priorities. It captures the heady, undeniable force of caring about someone else as much as yourself (or more) for the first time — or the last time, as the case may be.
But it doesn’t stop there, it pushes past to the confusing, puzzling truth that even this complicated, crushing force of love can’t halt outside forces like depression and despair from rearing their ugly heads. On the track, Bridgers isn’t writing about a daydream of falling in love, but the fantasy of fleeing earth all together, with only a trusty, reliable pet for company. There’s no people in this part of the dream, no one with the potential to hurt her, just a view from space, the freedom to get away from the messy, painful push and pull of human relationships.
It’s funny to make any sort of sweeping statements about what women experienced in 2018, because in many ways, this year wasn’t different from any other. Women are routinely treated as second-class citizens: Bullied with more frequency and intensity online, paid lower wages, assaulted with no hope of justice, beaten in their own homes and told to keep quiet about it. Movements like #MeToo and #TimesUp may be spotlighting the plight that women have been quietly shouldering all along, but there’s no way you can say 2018 was a “bad” year for women. Not really. It was just another year of the same.
“Me & My Dog” gives voice to the unrelenting desire to escape this. Maybe the emphasis on highlighting this trio for giving voice to women can feel like a frustrating, obvious narrative to some. But the fact is, women experience the world in a different, harder way, and and a song like this one feels like it actually captures that, when so few cultural artifacts do. When so many of other “female-focused” projects feel obvious, this one doesn’t. It speaks of all the unspeakable, the want to be “emaciated,” the want to Eternal Sunshine our brains clear of the people we loved who have left us, but remain forever, tied to the songs.
It’s a dream, and it’s a balm, and then it’s over. You wake up falling. But at least, within the world of this song, you can play it again. And again. As many times as you want, until you can finally breathe. And if you need to cry at the show, no one here is going to judge you. Instead, they’ll see your tears for the genius they are.–C.W.
Some songs on this list are by Warner Music artists. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music.