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.”)