I fell out of love with music a little bit this year. You know that feeling where “I love you, but I don’t like you right now”? That’s where I was with music. I stopped writing about it because I was sick of either complaining about the worst songs or having to force positivity about songs I was apathetic about at best. I had a good break though. I feel more ambivalent tbh, but crucially, more forgiving. I’m comfortable in the ambivalence. Just because there is more music than ever doesn’t mean the quantity of excellent music will increase – I think there is only ever so much excellence in the world at one time. I really thought this year was a bad year, but it wasn’t, it was as good a year as ever, there was just so much else that wasn’t great that was throwing me off, is all. I’m back in love basically, and here with an absolute behemoth of a rundown of the songs I loved most this year. Seriously, it’s like… almost 10,000 words. I won’t be mad if you just skip through to the top 10, though I do think there’s some good writing and some even better songs on this list. Another thing I have done is compile The A-Z of 2018 in a playlist which has even more songs I liked on it. A more definitive look at what I’ve been listening to this year, which you can follow if you’re interested.
Do feel free to @me at any time about these Opinions, you know I love to chat about this shit. My best albums of the year are shortlisted, and I will post something up about them tomorrow – don’t worry, it won’t be nearly as long and involved as this is. Happy reading!
85. DJDS – ‘NO PAIN’ ft. KHALID, CHARLIE WILSON & CHARLOTTE DAY WILSON
As much as I hate to kick off this countdown with a trigger warning, something about this song has always given me a sad sense of a suicide story – lyrically the references to “feeling no pain”, being unable to stay, a last call… it paints a sad picture to me at least. I’m not really sure whether I think it’s uplifting or depressing, but either way, it still comforts me to listen to in an odd way? The vocals of Khalid, Charlie Wilson and Charlotte Day Wilson (no relation!) run seamlessly into one another, layered over a spartan beat to build up a gospel sound without being too churchy about it.
84. SUPERORGANISM – ‘EVERYBODY WANTS TO BE FAMOUS’
The title is an eye-rollingly boring take in 2018, especially since no one seemed to want to be famous more so than Superorganism themselves, with their overworked press bio and cooler-than-thou’s-fave-artist origin story, but that was no barrier to them releasing an undeniably brilliant pop song. The light touch, half-spoken female vocals, sweet melody, squidgy synths and odd little sound effect flourishes reminded me of the 2006-2008 wonky pop era that never really got the credit it deserved for being interesting and fun.
83. EO – ‘GERMAN’
I don’t believe in the idea of “guilty pleasures” but if you absolutely twisted my arm, I would probably hold this track up as an example of one. It’s almost defiantly dumb and aggressively catchy, pure radio sugar. Originally written over the beat for ‘Barking’ by Ramz – the first new #1 of the year – the updated version is the superior track to my ears, but it finished 12 places lower in the charts. Injustice.
82. LIAM PAYNE & J BALVIN – ‘FAMILIAR’
The musical output of Liam Payne – despite A-list writing and production credits – has always had the bottom rung feel of an Austin Mahone cut. On ‘Familiar’ this actually works in his favour, sounding like more of a traditional boyband single than anything he released with One Direction – it reminds me strongly of Blue’s second album, something JC Chasez might have released as a solo artist or a heterosexual-era Ricky Martin hit. The early-00s production and the on trend J Balvin feature had me replaying this as much as I did ‘What About Love?’ back in the day. I love a TRL jam.
81. FRIENDLY FIRES – ‘LOVE LIKE WAVES’
The time between Friendly Fires’ last album Pala and their latest releases was a long seven years where I did not miss them, but equally was delighted to hear they were returning. Pala is a brilliant pop record, and though the band claimed they would never write something as pop as that again, how else can you describe ‘Love Like Waves’ other than as brilliant pop? If anything, ‘Love Like Waves’ is more pop than anything on Pala – the melodies softer, the beats more floor-filling, a little tropical touch that should be passé now, but the completely organic feeling behind it doesn’t date the track at all. I’m not a festival person at all, but I feel like this is the type of song I would enjoy in that kind of environment.
80. TINASHE – ‘NO DRAMA’ ft. OFFSET
My favourite of the Tinashe releases this year, ‘No Drama’ is a fatigued eye roll at the narrative surrounding her, an attempt to start afresh. Despite a driving beat and a coveted feature from (the now out-of-favour) Offset, not this nor anything else from the campaign was able to stick. The infuriating story of Tinashe’s career will haunt me for the rest of my days – her failure to really launch is now a punchline at best, and a pontification on the quality of her musical output at worst, as though artists with lacklustre material have never succeeded (thrived even!) before now. Though I will concede the point that her identity has indeed been messy, and perhaps her songs haven’t always hit the mark, major label mishandling is the biggest culprit here, and it is such a shame.
79. PARDISON FONTAINE – ‘BACKIN’ IT UP’ ft. CARDI B
The best way to describe this track is as a harder companion to Drake’s ‘Nice For What’ (which will also feature in this countdown). Pardison, a longtime friend of Cardi’s, punctuates this trap beat perfectly with his lyrics addressing a woman who “don’t need a n—-a for nothin”. Of everything Cardi put out over the past 12 months – and there was a lot of material to consider – I think this is actually my favourite of her verses. The punchlines land, the flow pops and her delivery is so confident and sneering there’s no denying she earned her Queen of Rap title this year.
78. SAWEETIE – ‘ICY GRL’ BAE MIX ft. KEHLANI
Saweetie came good on a classic beat – ‘My Neck, My Back’ by Khia – but did we know Kehlani has bars like this, tho??? From the Aaliyah and 2Pac brag she opens with to her laughing statement that she’s “not even a fucking rapper” as she closes out her verse, Miss Parrish really hopped on this feature and stole the whole track.
77. THE WEEKND – ‘PRAY FOR ME’ w/ KENDRICK LAMAR
‘All The Stars’ was the Black Panther soundtrack hit, nominated for several Grammys, but something about it left me stone cold. ‘Pray For Me’, on the other hand, prowling and menacing in the verses, The Weeknd characteristically martyring himself on the chorus, hit the exact spot I wanted it too. I understand why ‘All The Stars’ got the shine, but ‘Pray For Me’, for my money, is the more enduring song.
76. PANIC! AT THE DISCO – ‘SAY AMEN (SATURDAY NIGHT)’
Once again I am at odds with public opinion – this track barely made an impression on the Billboard 100, while follow up ‘High Hopes’ hit #5 – but the religious theatrics of ‘Say Amen…’ are just more fulfilling to my spirit. It sounds more than a little bit like a Fall Out Boy song, and in a year where I felt FOB weren’t much cop, I was grateful to Brendon Urie for stepping up and filling that gap for me.
75. NORMANI x CALVIN HARRIS – ‘CHECKLIST’ ft. WIZKID
Not quite the explosive start to her solo career I would have hoped for Normani – though I suspect if she was given an opportunity to present herself on her own terms without [insert any on-trend male celebrity here] “featuring”, perhaps she may fare a little better. Regardless, the songs have been quality if uninspired, and of the two Calvin Harris productions ‘Checklist’ is by far the more interesting song, as bears out by the huge streaming gap between them. A halfway point between dancehall and afrobeats with a crisp Calvin production touch, what this track mostly proves is that Calvin’s Funk Wav sound is far superior to the by-numbers-dance he churns out.
74. CHERYL – ‘LOVE MADE ME DO IT’
Cheryl reunited with Girls Aloud collaborators on a song that also boasts credits from Kylie Minogue and Natasha Bedingfield for the kind of self-aware lyrical conceit that Taylor Swift would proudly slow clap for. Wink-nudging at her disastrous romantic reputation, ‘Love Made Me Do It’ relies mostly on context, the sound a little safe, although the chorus is super sticky. This was a perfectly acceptable comeback from one of the UK’s better popstars, after a long absence.
73. MADISON BEER – ‘FOOLS’
Madison does a very good trade in mid-tier pop with an “if you can’t handle me at my worst…” kind of edge. ‘Fools’ is my favourite from the EP, a takedown of a relationship in progress, mocking and over it, but the whole thing is worth listening to if you like your pop music antagonistic.
72. SMALLPOOLS & THE ACES – ‘STUMBLIN’ HOME’
Smallpools are one of my favourite “hotly tipped” acts that never really seemed to get going and if you haven’t heard me banging on about The Aces for the best part of two years you must be in a coma, so imagine my delight when they came together on this track! Smallpools lost me a while back when they seemed to be trying to become The Chainsmokers, but this track with a little more heart and a better melody landed in my Release Radar and hooked me back in. The version with The Aces dropped a little later and while it doesn’t work perfectly as a duet, it’s still more than good enough.
71. TOM ASPAUL – ‘GOING DOWN’
Musically this track is so female-led 90s guitar band – a tiny bit of The Cardigans, a dash of Texas, maybe even a small smidge of Garbage – with a folksy/country twist. A happy-sounding sad song, I still haven’t quite put my finger on what memory this is trying so hard to unlock in my subconscious – I just know that it’s a pleasant, comforting childhood one, perhaps from out in the garden on a sunny day…
70. RITA ORA – ‘GIRLS’ ft. CHARLI XCX, BEBE REXHA & CARDI B
Let me not get into the furore surrounding this track, because honestly, we been knew that Rita Ora is an easy target and the internet’s collective punching bag for some time, but the way she was bullied here still rankles. Unpleasantness notwithstanding, if you let yourself enjoy this basic bop for what it is – a breezy, flirtatious summer tune with a rare-for-the-times “arms in the air” chorus with an ill-communicated but sincere message about fluid sexuality – you’ll have a good time.
69. SABRINA CARPENTER – ‘ALMOST LOVE’
‘Almost Love’ is a Stargate production with just enough trap essence to keep it relevant without being boring (is no one else bored of the exact same drum patterns?) and a chorus that won’t leave your brain no matter what you do. Once upon a time, being a Disney Channel star was the nearest thing to a guarantee of success a female popstar could get. If you played your cards right, your built in Disney audience would graduate with you and propel you to a Miley, Selena or Demi level of success. Unfortunately for Sabrina Carpenter those halcyon days are gone, which is a shame mainly because three bodies of work into her music career, she’s producing far more interesting and mature material than her precursors were at the same point.
68. MAGGIE ROGERS – ‘LIGHT ON’
I still haven’t shucked my habit of checking the credits to this every single time it plays because I’m convinced it was written by MUNA – one of my fave new bands of last year – and if you listen to ‘I Know A Place’, or really anything on their About U album, you’ll understand why. Still, sounding like a MUNA track is honestly the highest compliment I can give – if you’re gonna rip something off, it better be something exceptional.
67. TROYE SIVAN – ‘BLOOM’
For me, ‘Bloom’ has far more enduring melodies and production than ‘My! My! My!’ which is why it made the list and the apparently more popular lead single from this campaign did not. In hindsight I think far too much of the “discourse” around this song revolved around the fact that it’s about BOTTOMING!!! and not enough around the fact it’s a really well-crafted almost classic pop song, with a little neon 80s tint and a chorus that… well, blooms out of the bed of the verses into something more effervescent.
66. CHVRCHES – ‘GET OUT’
The best Avril Lavigne song she never released, I’ve never really been a CHVRCHES fan, but the twinkly and atmospheric ‘Get Out’, with its pretty pop-punk chorus is kind of irresistible. The “you are a kaleidoscope” refrain in the back half of the track puts it in the running for best middle 8 of the year.
65. EMILY BURNS – ‘BITCH’
Will I ever recover from the shame of accidentally “gal-pal”-ing Emily Burns for months? I honest to god thought this song was about falling out with your best mate. It’s not, it’s about an ex-girlfriend, but you know what, I stand by the fact that the lyrics are ambiguous enough to be looked at through both lenses. Regardless, it’s a fresh, acerbic look at the feelings you feel for someone you used to care for before things went to shit. Catchy af.
64. MØ – ‘NOSTALGIA’
“I remember the first time I was in love” is such a great way to open up a pop song. The chatty, reminiscent verses of ‘Nostalgia’ give way to a wistfully sung bridge which then breaks into a more chanting, yearning chorus which honestly fills my chest up with emotions every time I listen to it.
63. THE 1975 – ‘GIVE YOURSELF A TRY’
Brace yourself now, because this is the first of many entries for the second best band in the world at this time (respectable runners up to Brockhampton of course). The lead single from The 1975’s third studio album is a cacophony of not always pleasant noise – the screeching guitar riff throughout made this a very “Marmite” single choice – but that is thematic of the entire record at times. You have to cut through that unpleasant noise to find the serenity of the song’s message, sage advice being handed down from the almost-30-year-old front man to a generation of younger fans, the most of which can be summed up in the song’s title – “give yourself a try”. Metaphorically speaking, cutting through the distracting buzz to find a place where you can be more forgiving and nurturing of yourself, this song is executed perfectly.
62. VANJESS – ‘ADDICTED’
Surface level, ‘Addicted’ is just another entry in the over-stuffed encyclopaedia of Soundcloud R&B – the first time I heard it I almost skipped over it for that reason. The split-second of hesitation paid off for me, however, because the melodic stylings of VanJess owe far more to 90s soul than they do to their whisper-toned contemporaries. The track outstays its welcome by a good minute and a half, but the meat of it is gold-standard R&B by the exciting sibling duo.
61. ZAYN – ‘LET ME’
An odd year for Zayn, one that left me befuddled as a fan because… well, what is going on with his career? There have been 27 new Zayn songs in 2018, but only one of them for me warranted repeated listens, and that is the sublime ‘Let Me’. The same dreamy, 80s prom night vibe that permeates many of my current favourite songs is present here, off-setting lyrics that would be far too schmaltzy if played on an acoustic guitar (no shade!) The dodgy opening line ruined this songs chances at soundtracking every viral public proposal for the next five years, but it will always soundtrack the public proposal in my heart.
60. YXNG BANE – ‘VROOM’
Borrowing from Sneakbo, Beenie Man and Sean Paul, it’s not hard to work out why this Frankenstein’s Monster of a tune is such a straight up monster banger. ‘Vroom’ dropped in March and was still making me “like the first time” excited to hear it well into the summer. It’s very casually arrogant with a two week beach holiday punch drunk vibe and also Yxng Bane is fine as hell, please consider this my official Thirst Entry for this year’s EOY list.
59. MNEK – ‘TONGUE’
A song of two halves, the opening minute and a half is flat and meandering compared to the explosive ending, but when it properly gets going there’s no denying that it takes the roof off. ‘Tongue’ was the climax of the very good MNEK live show a couple months ago and being in a room full of people singing “licky-you-licky-me-licky-lalala” in euphoric unison is very good treatment for what ails you, I’ll tell you that much.
58. ALICE CHATER – ‘HEARTBREAK HOTEL’
Human Riverdale episode Alice Chater is making an impressive bid for the title of pop princess-in-waiting – the three singles she’s released this year are unabashedly old-school with their embrace of power vocals, dramatic costumery and full, unrelenting choreo. ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ is my favourite of the trio – interpolating Anita Ward’s ‘Ring My Bell’ is a little bit of a cheat since it’s obviously such an irresistible hook, but the end result is so infectious I have to give it a pass.
57. TOVE STYRKE – ‘VIBE’
Lowkey one of the best artists of the year, this loose cut dropped just a couple of months ago and hasn’t had the time to really bed in like I have no doubt it will. Musically in the same vein as the exceptional ‘Sway’ – laidback and dreamy – the subject matter is less casual, addressing a potential lover who, it turns out, wasn’t on the same wavelength. “We was like, we was like a movie / My bad I was just assuming…” goes the bridge, and honestly? Very extremely relatable. Aside from being an excellent pop song, ‘Vibe’ has also cured me of my tendency to project my own feelings onto my interpretations of others. Or, well, at least try to stop anyway.
56. ANAÏS – ‘NINA’
There is just no arguing with this vocal. It’s textured, but also smooth, rich and also at times feather light, and it transitions between all its facets seamlessly, sometimes mid phrase. This is the bar for modern soul: the chorus is soaring and inspirational, there’s a political undertone to the lyrics and it’s current as fuck without compromising the genre. I’m not sure if Anaïs is flying under the radar right now or if people are talking about her and I’m missing it, but if there’s one new artist on this list I recommend you immerse yourself in immediately, it’s this one.
55. KHALID, 6LACK & TY DOLLA $IGN – ‘OTW’
The seemingly limitless success of Khalid is due in no small part to how prolific he is. In two years he has gone from relative unknown to the sixth most listened to artist in the world on Spotify, despite having released only one album. His ubiquity this year, featuring on just about song he has been invited to, has at times felt overwhelming, even to someone who would consider themselves a diehard fan of his distinct tone – I have to confess I think his own personal identity as an artist has gotten lost somewhere in the shuffle. However, on ‘OTW’ it is Khalid who leads the charge, with 6LACK and Ty Dolla $ign offering up two complimentary verses to supplement his cruise control chorus. A night drive R&B ballad for bobbing your head to.
54. DJ SNAKE – ‘TAKI TAKI’ ft. SELENA GOMEZ, OZUNA & CARDI B
The explosion of latin-influenced pop music on the charts has bisected perfectly with the rise of Cardi B – her hispanic heritage giving her an unprecedented advantage over her competitors. Ozuna leads into her featured verse on this DJ Snake track which segues easily between English and Spanish before handing off to fellow Latina, the whisper-toned chanteuse Selena Gomez. The result is a frenetic and fun rollick that makes no sense to me at all, but I thoroughly enjoy it.
53. DRAKE – ‘IN MY FEELINGS’
I don’t believe anyone is immune from one of the most contagious songs of the year. If you didn’t spend all of July and most of August involuntarily singing “Kiki, do you love me? Are you riding?” every time your brain went into power saving mode, did you even live in 2018? This is the side of Drake that makes him a serious contender for best male popstar of our times – this song is an angsty distant cousin of ‘Mambo No. 5’ and no I won’t be taking @s about this opinion.
52. NICKI MINAJ – ‘CHUN-LI’
Adopting another identity for herself on the second of two releases to kickstart her… let’s say contentious new era, on ‘Chun-Li’, Nicki sort of embraces her role as the villain, the rap game antagonist, a sort of “greater good” bad guy, while simultaneously also playing the victim? What (or who) exactly she is the victim of isn’t clear, and as many memes have established, Street Fighter icon Chun-Li isn’t actually a nemesis character, but that’s besides the point. This is Nicki on her A-game, elastic on the beat, generous with her punchlines, and, crucially in 2018, highly meme-able.
51. KACEY MUSGRAVES – ‘SPACE COWBOY’
This achingly sad and beautiful country ballad about loving someone enough to let them go only ever gets better on repeated listens. Kacey is not a powerful singer in the technical sense in which powerful singers are recognised, but I really do defy anyone of your more quote-unquote competent faves to extract every single prism shade of emotion from a melody the way that she can. ‘Space Cowboy’ is at once resigned, resentful, forgiving, worldly, weary, defiant, understanding, gentle, fiery and a million other things besides.
50. TYLER, THE CREATOR – ‘OKRA’
‘OKRA’ is composed of a bass heavy beat, cut through with a delicate piano riff, which is cut through again with strings to build up tension before dropping right back into the droning bass. It mixes up Tyler’s styles perfectly, and his pop culture reference laden lyrics skitter over the top with zero pause for breath. Somehow, this one-take throwaway ended up being one of my favourite songs he’s ever released, and it seems others agree with me – this is only the second of his single releases to ever hit the Billboard 100.
49. RITA ORA – ‘LET YOU LOVE ME’
Rita’s lament on her commitment issues reaches deep into me from one Sagittarius soul to another, her increased desperation as the song progresses is truly the most relatable pop music moment of the year. Rita at times struggles to project any kind of identity, either sonically or visually, which is perhaps why she suffers from a weird semi-anonymity where the general public maintains they don’t know who she is despite her arguably A-list status and considerable chart success. Between ‘Let You Love Me’ and 2017’s ‘Anywhere’ however, it feels like she’s getting to a point where you might hear a slightly exasperated and impatient, mid-tempo dance pop song in future and say “that’s Rita”.
48. LANY – ‘IF YOU SEE HER’
Frontman Paul Klein split from Dua Lipa at the beginning of the year (or the end of last, I can’t quite remember and I’m too lazy to check) and ploughed all his emotions about it into the latest LANY album, Malibu Nights. ‘If You See Her’ is my favourite cut, a minimalist beat that layers up vocals and instruments until the final minute is bursting with neon coloured 80s sounds. The outside influence of songwriter Emily Warren and producer Malay boost the pop value and elevate this track beyond the “1975wave” lane this band can sometimes find themselves in.
47. CARLY RAE JEPSEN – ‘PARTY FOR ONE’
If you surrender to the music only, of course this is a delightful pop tune, sugary and lightweight, the kind that Carly Rae is exceptionally good at, but then you listen closely and there’s lyrics like “once upon a time I thought you wanted me / was there no one else to kiss?” and they’re kind of gutting? You can’t stay single this long without wholeheartedly appreciating a good wank bop, but ‘Party For One’ has a deeply sad undercurrent that sub-categorises it into the “cry wank” genre, and quite frankly, kills any good time for me personally.
46. HAYLEY KIYOKO – ‘WHAT I NEED’ ft. KEHLANI
I genuinely don’t think Kehlani means to absolutely body artists on their own tracks, but as she did with Saweetie before and will do with Charlie Puth later, she also did with Hayley Kiyoko on this duet about uncertain relationships. Kehlani really is the anchor, the glue and the cherry on top of this song, her vocals just shine. Honestly I think 90% of my appreciation for this is just what Kehlani’s voice is doing on it, she made a reasonably serviceable pop song sound incredible.
45. KHALID & NORMANI – ‘LOVE LIES’
Perhaps the longest slowburn chart success of the year, which is fitting for this smoulder of an R&B duet. This track is taken from the Love, Simon soundtrack and was the first look at Normani outside of her old girlband Fifth Harmony. The general consensus was that She Did That, the live performances massively elevated by her undeniable stage presence. Personally I was impressed by how nice her voice sounds in a comfortable range – the girls of Fifth Harmony, ironically, were never all that in harmony, the pressure to stand out often leading them all to stretch their voices into places it wasn’t always nice to go – proof that you really don’t have to be a belter to get results.
44. NINA NESBITT – ‘LOYAL TO ME’
The brief for this song was definitely: “imagine you’re Ed Sheeran rewriting Dua Lipa’s ‘New Rules’ but over the beat for ‘Case Of The Ex’ and get it to us by next New Music Friday” but look… I can’t really be mad about it when it goes off like this. For a start off ‘Case Of The Ex’ is a great song and more writers should be inspired by it and for a second ‘New Rules’ had a really clever lyrical concept.
43. ARIANA GRANDE – ‘GOD IS A WOMAN’
This song doesn’t get as big as I want it to as early as it should – by the halfway mark at least – but holy shit, that final 30 seconds? With all the layered vocals? Where Ariana becomes a one-woman heavenly fucking choir? Majestic. A moment. More pop songs need that kind of ostentatiousness.
42. EMILY BURNS – ‘TEST DRIVE’
‘Test Drive’ is a bouncing and breezy slice of pure pop that sounds sort of like a softer, more mellow cousin of ‘Lush Life’ by Zara Larsson. It labours it’s point a little, but “I’m looking for just a little more than a joyride in the evening” is probably the best of the vehicle related puns in the chorus, and honestly that’s a nitpick rather than a real criticism – I love an extended metaphor! I don’t mean to disparage Emily Burns when I say she should have given this song to someone else, but it’s just that she has very little star power or recognition right now, but in the hands of someone with more profile I could easily see this being at least a Top 20 hit.
41. THE 1975 – ‘IT’S NOT LIVING (IF IT’S NOT WITH YOU)’
Matty Healy has got this friend, yeah, and his name is um… Danny and he’s well, like, he’s addicted to heroin, sort of, like, bad enough he can’t even go on holiday without trying to score, and he says the most craziest things, the friend does, and actually, maybe, Matty and Danny have a lot in common, it turns out? Even though it’s literally about addiction, ‘It’s Not Living…’ is still somehow a compelling love song that sparkles with synth and gospel backing vocals. It is also the track from the album that sounds most like their previous work with one foot in self-titled and the other in I Like It When You Sleep… territory. If that was on purpose, it’s just another layer of brilliance.
40. ROBINSON – ‘NOTHING TO REGRET’
If I was young enough to still be nihilistic and carefree, instead of just one or the other (I’ll let you decide which way I lean), this song would be my absolute anthem. It’s still kind of my anthem regardless – the chorus is such a brilliant hands up, give-a-shit, shout-a-long moment – but I like it in more in a fond memory than a relatable way I think. If I was seventeen, however, I would probably build my life philosophy around this song. “Why we always gotta fret about it? / There’s nothing to regret about it” is a mood we could all stand to invest in.
39. TROYE SIVAN – ‘DANCE TO THIS’ ft. ARIANA GRANDE
Anybody who ever talks about this song can’t help but mention Ariana’s arrival in the second verse and her delivery of the line “Dear beloved, bring those 501s a bit closer, bit closer…” but that’s because it is undoubtedly the absolute pinnacle of this track. There’s something very soft and romantic, maybe a little bit wintery about ‘Dance To This’ – perhaps it’s the way both Troye and Ariana whisper and murmur which intensifies the cosy intimacy of it… Regardless of the reasoning, it’s very luxurious and supremely listenable.
38. YOUNG T & BUGSEY – ‘GREENLIGHT’
At the beginning of this year, this was like, the only song I cared about, I was so obsessed with it. I still think “Straight face, no banter” is one of the greatest opening lines ever written. I can’t tell you how many commutes have been livened up by sticking this on repeat. Can we still say “swaggy” in 2018? You know what, fuck you, I don’t care what we can or can’t say – this song is swaggy. I wish it had taken off a bit more, this sound is far more dynamic than whatever it is Not3s is doing.
37. THE CARTERS – ‘APESHIT’
Have you ever seen two tourists go into full on panic mode when the fabled Beyoncé and Jay Z collaborative record drops and no one has a Tidal account? Many words have been written about the significance of ‘Apeshit’ and its accompanying epic visual and all of them were far more insightful than anything I could attempt to offer here. So on a personal note, ‘Apeshit’ hit when I was NYC over the summer and so I shall forever associate it with that trip. It reminds me of heat and over-eating and living my best life. Also I fucking love rap!Beyoncé.
36. DJ KHALED – ‘NO BRAINER’ ft. JUSTIN BIEBER, CHANCE THE RAPPER & QUAVO
Another one! This is my favourite thing Justin Bieber has been a part of since ‘Confident’, if I’m honest, but it seemed to have very little impact. Although it charted really well, I heard nothing about it from anyone, it’s like people listened to it without caring? Well I cared a lot, I love Justin’s hook – allegedly a dig at sweet Shawn Mendes over Justin’s now wife, Hailey Baldwin – it’s got such “song of the summer” energy, it sounds like a pool party. Can other stans of this song make themselves known to me, please, I feel so alone on this.
35. CHER LLOYD – ‘NONE OF MY BUSINESS’
This song sounds like a creepy nursery rhyme, the kind of melody that would haunt you after you threw away a perfectly good relationship for an inferior imitation. I actually cackle a little bit when I listen to it, because it’s so softly savage. Opening the chorus with “Damn, I heard that you and her been having problems” and ending it with hands-up shrug of “but baby, this is none of my business”, in this like… calm, mildly surprised, butter-wouldn’t-melt tone after you’ve just run down a laundry list of fuckery your ex is going through with his new girlfriend is just… oh god, it’s so delicious. I have previously been Cher Lloyd agnostic, but this track has convinced me that she’s completely under-rated and deserves better.
34. BROCKHAMPTON – ‘1997 DIANA’
It’s hard to describe Brockhampton, the all-american boyband (and best band in the world), because they are so frenetically genreless, not just from song to song, but literally within the songs too. They’re the perfect act for these stunted attention span times – I know personally that half their appeal to me is that they’re always serving up something new and unexpected in my ears – but it can perhaps be cacophonous and confusing for an entry level listener. Of the three singles they released this year in the run up to iridesence (then titled PUPPY, none of which made the final tracklisting!) ‘1997 DIANA’ is, to my ears, the most poppy and least frenetic, very hooky and energetic, just lots of fun. If you haven’t got into Brockhampton yet, make it your new year’s resolution for 2019.
33. KALI UCHIS – ‘AFTER THE STORM’ ft. TYLER, THE CREATOR & BOOTSY COLLINS
I wasn’t introduced to Kali Uchis until her absolutely gorgeous turn on Tyler, The Creator’s ‘See You Again’ and admittedly, it’s Tyler that brought me to this too. I love his verse, but even without it, I would hope that I would have discovered this song regardless, because its lazy, hazy dream production and classic funk flavour is a delight.
32. CHILDISH GAMBINO – ‘THIS IS AMERICA’
The brilliance of this song is contained mostly in its context and visual, Gambino holding up a mirror to America and forcing you to look at it as it is, not as it wants to be seen, but taken just on its musical merits, it’s a triumph too. The feeling of joyful (but sarcastic) camaraderie in the gospel sections are cut off abruptly and harshly by the more serious, heavy-toned verses, but the momentum never slows. As a politicised piece of work, I can accept that it has its flaws, but as a mainstream chart hit? It’s nigh on perfect.
31. THE 1975 – ‘SINCERITY IS SCARY’
An ode to being more genuine and honest in our feelings, instead of deflecting with humour or just straight up not dealing with things, and in the interest of being genuine and honest: this song really fucking feels like a call out. I think it’s a call out I needed, personally, and I’m not saying I have any intention of changing because disguising cries for help as memes has been very cathartic for me, and well, I made it to 30 didn’t I? It works!, but like, I do like to be more aware of myself nowadays, like, my motivations and things and I find this song a simultaneously comforting and uncomfortable listen. Comforting because it’s so gorgeously orchestrated, like, the instrumental alone is such excellence, but uncomfortable because it niggles at something in the back of my mind that says “it’s true, though” even when I don’t want to believe it.
30. CHARLIE PUTH – ‘DONE FOR ME’ ft. KEHLANI
I am of course, furious that I enjoyed a Charlie Puth song so much in 2018, but the truth is… he really fucking knocked it out of the park with this track. It reminds me so much of Michael Jackson – ‘P.Y.T’ (one of my favourite ever MJ songs) without being a complete rip off, and as mentioned, Kehlani casually stole the whole song out from under him. If Liam Payne had even a drop of sauce, this would be the music he’d be making.
29. THE CHAINSMOKERS – ‘SIDE EFFECTS’ ft. EMILY WARREN
Whatever collective psychosis people were under the influence of when they made all those Chainsmokers releases hits had obviously worn off by the time they returned for their second album campaign, and people were so embarrassed by it all it was like they now suffered from collective amnesia. Unfortunately, this coincided with absolute hubris on the part of The Chainsmokers, and their first 3 or 4 new singles featured one or other of them singing – badly – instead of passing that responsibility on to someone more competent. Needless to say that comparatively, they’re not doing quite so well as they were before. Which is a shame, because I think if they had kicked everything off with this song, we’d be looking at things differently. It’s so fucking good! Pro-tip: it sits very nicely on a playlist just after Deee-lite’s ‘Groove Is In The Heart’. A disco smash.
28. NO ROME – ‘NARCISSIST’ ft. THE 1975
An interesting new signing to the Dirty Hit stable, No Rome is making screwy, exciting pop songs that don’t quite fit the charts but have been enriching my playlists all year. ‘Narcissist’ is one of the more “mainstream” offerings due to the fact that it features “The 1975” (ie. Matty Healy) on one of his best ever choruses.
27. RINA SAWAYAMA – ‘CHERRY’
Any fan of mid-00s pop music (or TRL jams, as I like to call them) needs to immediately get into Rina Sawayama, who is the closest it gets to Oops! era Britney Spears right now – choreo included. I love Rina so much that even though I was falling down, shaking tired, and had already seen Years & Years this year, I dragged myself to The O2 for their concert because I wasn’t in the country when Rina played her headline show and I couldn’t leave 2018 without experiencing her live. ‘Cherry’ was a coming out moment for Rina, who identifies as pansexual, and much was made of it at the time, but it feels important to highlight that this is a fantastic song (as well as a great message about living openly). Easily as good as any Max Martin classic.
26. JAX JONES & YEARS & YEARS – ‘PLAY’
I like Jax Jones, generally, I have enjoyed several of his songs, although I find them a bit… V Festival, do you know what I mean? And there’s nothing wrong with that, other than perhaps a feeling that they’re a bit disposable and of the moment. I can’t see myself listening to ‘You Don’t Know Me’ or even ‘Instruction’ (which I L-O-V-E) in ten years time. ‘Play’ is different though. It has longevity, dare I say, even depth? There’s just a little more substance to it, one of those songs that highlights an emotion I know I feel but don’t really have a name for. They really turned this house song into something that makes me want to cry for some reason. Incredible.
25. JANELLE MONAÉ – ‘PYNK’ ft. GRIMES
I gotta hand it to Janelle Monaé – she really did not half-arse her coming out process. ‘Pynk’ is a celebration of Janelle’s female energy, and mine, and yours but it’s also like, not to put too fine a point on it, also a song about eating out. Grimes is not someone I fuck with, though I have tried, but I like what she’s done on this, adding a little grit and steel to the delicateness of it all, some metal studs on a pink leather jacket kinda thing. The verses sound like a poem, the chorus sounds like a rebellion, and this is another song I could imagine Avril Lavigne releasing (can you tell I was disappointed by the Avril comeback?)
24. CARDI B, BAD BUNNY & J BALVIN – ‘I LIKE IT’
This absolute fiesta was the jewel in the crown of Cardi’s very good album. It’s brimming with carnival energy and Cardi’s unmistakeable personality (“I like those Balenciagas, the ones that look like socks”) and it was a completely deserved second #1. I was harsh on Latin-inspired pop last year, and I honestly was sick to fucking death of all the ‘Despacito’ cash-ins, but songs like ‘I Like It’ really showcase how good the genre can be when it’s genuine. I’m less resistant nowadays.
23. PALE WAVES – ‘THE TIDE’
I realise now that Pale Waves are capable of writing only one song – but what a song it is! ‘The Tide’ is maybe now my favourite version of The Song they write, which is funny because I initially dismissed it as “the same song again” and now I cannot tell you how much I love it. I think it is probably the shiniest version of The Song, the most upbeat version of The Song, the catchiest version of The Song and thought I’m not sure they can top it, I am excited to see what The Song sounds like next year.
22. HAYLEY KIYOKO – ‘CURIOUS’
I think this is the pop chorus of the year…? Isn’t it? Like, the chorus, plus the last line of the bridge where Hayley sings “don’t you worry I can handle it” is definitely up there for consideration, right? Listen, I don’t even have a man, let alone a secret girl, and rarely do I ever leave home without appropriate attire because i get cold very easily but I still feel so attacked whenever I hear that run on accusation “did-you-take-him-to-the-pier-in-santa-monica-forget-to-bring-a-jacket-wrap-up-in-him-‘cause-you-wanted-to”. It’s just so acutely and viscerally pass-agg. It guilts me and I didn’t even do anything!!!!!
21. BILLIE EILISH – ‘YOU SHOULD SEE ME IN A CROWN’
The most exciting 16-year-old Billie since Ms Piper released ‘Because We Want To’ and inspired a generation of back-chatting miscreants. ‘you should see me in a crown’ is all dark and brooding threat as Billie outlines, I guess, her plans for complete dominance? I, for one, welcome our new teen queen… even if she is sinister af.
20. YEARS & YEARS – ‘SANCTIFY’
Never will I ever forgive any of you for sleeping on ‘Sanctify’ and paying it dust. All that atmosphere, all that ceremony, all that unsettling religious gothic-ry, and what happened? Y’all got scared by it. ‘Sanctify’ sounds like O-Town’s ‘Liquid Dreams’ crossed with ‘Outrageous’ by Britney Spears. It’s slick, and it’s sexy and when the beat drops out under the “when I pray” line at the exact same time as you open a door or step off a train, it’s the irl equivalent to Mario eating a mushroom and powering up to double size.
19. LIAM PAYNE & RITA ORA – ‘FOR YOU’
This is the only decent thing the 50 Shades franchise has ever produced. An absolute stormer of a pop song, steadily building up from gentle verses into a ginormous chorus. I just love how big and cinematic it sounds. I also love that during the promotional period, Liam Payne was still “with” Cheryl and would perform as though he was wearing a shock collar that would electrocute him if he got within 3 feet of Rita. Seriously, watch the BRITs. It’s like there’s a force field. Anyway, I saw the pair of them do it again a month or so ago (Liam now a single man) and he was sticking to Rita like a clam! Celebrities are so silly.
18. ZARA LARSSON – ‘RUIN MY LIFE’
As an emotional state, “missing” is a branch of the grief tree. It is a companion of loss. I love it when people tell me they miss me and I hate it when I, myself, am doing the missing. You can love things you will never miss, but you can never miss something you didn’t love. I think sometimes people say “I miss you” as a substitute for “I love you”. People think “I miss you” is casual, but I think it’s revealing. “I miss you” may, and often is, received casually, but it is never truly meant as such. All of this to say, this song opens with the words “I miss you” and wow, yeah, first off ruin my life right there. Secondly, not only is this song about missing someone, but it is about missing someone who is objectively bad for you – the most potent of all the types of “missing”. Thirdly, this song admits out loud the secret we never confess about missing people who are bad for us – we even miss the bullshit. Imagine packing all these multitudes up into just over 3 minutes and setting them to a suitably wistful melody? You don’t have to imagine, that’s exactly what ‘Ruin My Life’ does for you. Wreck me!
17. ROBYN – ‘MISSING U’
From one song about missing someone to another. ‘Missing U’ has a different heart-aching quality to it than ‘Ruin My Life’ – it’s a softer song, but more intense, the missing is more desperate and final. Where ‘Ruin My Life’ is a discussion of what exactly is missing, ‘Missing U’ ruminates on what the missing actually feels like. “There’s this empty space you left behind now you’re not here with me” is just so keenly evocative, and all the little fervent “I miss you”s punctuating the end of the choruses. Ugh, it’s just so sad and lovely. I didn’t care much for the Honey album, to be perfectly honest, but I could listen to this on repeat all day.
16. SIGRID – ‘SUCKER PUNCH’
I love this song that Sigrid released directly after she had a massive smash with ‘Strangers’! The Raw EP? I don’t know her. On a serious note, I really like Sigrid. I don’t think she’s a fluke. ‘Don’t Kill My Vibe’ and ‘Plot Twist’ and ‘Strangers’ are all amazing pop songs, and ‘Sucker Punch’ follows that lineage. The verses are so boing-y and then the hook explodes in your face (kinda like the titular sucker punch) and I just think she’s so fresh and exciting, so why the fuck would you derail the whole campaign by releasing all those acoustic ballads? Madness. This song deserved to surf the back of ‘Strangers’ to greater heights, but instead barely anyone heard it. I’m vexed.
15. MAROON 5 – ‘GIRLS LIKE YOU’ ft. CARDI B
There was a lot of chatter about what the “song of the summer” 2018 was, and even though not one tastemaker list considered it, the tea is it was ‘Girls Like You’. The first time I heard about this song I described it as a “cool slurp of light summer funk” and “an ice cream soda float” – it literally sounds like summer! If that wasn’t evidence enough, it also spent 16 weeks at #1 in the US. Cardi replaced herself at #1. The credentials can’t be argued with. ‘Girls Like You’ – song of the summer 2018.
14. THE 1975 – ‘TOOTIMETOOTIMETOOTIME’
The 1975 go pop pop. The self-styled “musos” of The 1975 fanbase hate this song because it’s not deep enough (for real, I have read these takes) but firstly I would disagree that it isn’t deep – it’s about navigating the weird politics of what we do within the private realms of our phones when we’re in a romantic relationship (is it unfaithful to like an attractive person’s instagram photo? exchange text messages but keep them secret?) and secondly I like that it showcases versatility in the band’s style, and the fact that they have enough knowledge to know that sometimes a song can be very simple and still be effective. Thirdly, it’s just fucking great. Very slightly trop-pop, extremely danceable and ultimately just dead catchy. Musos can bore off.
13. BRUNO MARS – ‘FINESSE’ REMIX ft. CARDI B
In January, I really thought this was the best song of the year. I honestly thought music could not get better than this, this absolutely euphoric eruption of colour and swagger. It turns out music can get better – which is amazing – but that doesn’t erase the fact that for a good month or two, this song was my pinnacle, the peak of enjoyment. Yes, I admit, it is so retro it verges on pastiche. I don’t know how Bruno Mars made new jack swing songs of the actual new jack swing era sound like copies of ‘Finesse’ but somehow he did.
12. DRAKE – ‘NICE FOR WHAT’
What an irresistible jam. Spinning Lauryn Hill’s ‘Ex-Factor’ into a bounce song about female empowerment compèred by Big Freedia is inspired, truly. I haven’t taken to a Drake song so instantly since ‘Fancy’ back in 2010. “You gotta be nice for what?” is a mood not just for 2018, but for life.
11. ARIANA GRANDE – ‘THANK U, NEXT’
I don’t know if I could ever be as forgiving as Ariana Grande, though she sure makes me want to try. ‘thank u, next’, is a kiss off with heart, as Ariana seeks to salvage some good from the bad. You have to be familiar with Ariana’s story, in particular the breakdown of her whirlwind engagement to Pete Davidson and the death of her ex-boyfriend Mac Miller, to understand why this song (and its video) was one of the biggest pop culture events of the year. You don’t need to engage that far to enjoy the melodic R&B or the instant catchphrase of the hook. ‘thank u, next’ isn’t exactly Ariana at her most interesting artistically, but it’s definitely her most authentic direction yet.
10. THE ACES – ‘LOVIN’ IS BIBLE’
I don’t know what to tell you about this song that will convince you to listen if you haven’t already – I’ve been banging on about The Aces for two years now, if you don’t care yet, you never will. If you’re a fan of sun-drenched, sparkling, lightly flirtatious love songs with double choruses and layered harmonies, this will be right up your street. It sounds absolutely perfect when you have nowhere to go and nothing to do but soak up heat.
9. MARK RONSON – ‘NOTHING BREAKS LIKE A HEART’ ft. MILEY CYRUS
If this song had been released earlier in the year it may have ended up even higher in this ranking than a very respectable #9. The fact that it snuck in just a couple weeks ago and still landed in the top 10 is a testament to just how thoroughly excellent it is. Country-disco was a word for 2018, and this is the second best example of how good it can be – Miley’s twang over Mark Ronson’s luxurious production singing simple but beautiful lyrics. It sounds so expensive. Just glorious.
8. KEIYNAN LONSDALE – ‘KISS THE BOY’
From an objective standpoint I’m not sure this song deserves to be ranked so highly, but subjectively I just love it so much? It’s absolutely adorable. Keiynan Lonsdale played the anonymous love interest in Love, Simon this year, and this song holds many of the same wholesome qualities of the movie, though its release was completely unrelated. A simple percussive beat, a little bit of nervous, rambling energy and a buoyant chorus – you know what, I take it back, it is objectively good enough to be here! “Love is a game we deserve to play out loud” is one of my favourite lyrics of the year, FYI.
7. ZEDD, MAREN MORRIS & GREY – ‘THE MIDDLE’
There seems to be some sort of low level embarrassment involving appreciation for this song. Like, a “lord forgive me for enjoying this basic bop”, kinda vibe. Well, I will tell you right now: I am not even close to being embarrassed about loving ‘The Middle’, even if it was written for a Target commercial and passed around to just about every single pop girl under the age of 25 indiscriminately. I think it’s fucking great. That tick-tock clock beat that’s been reused for like three straight years now. The distorted synth chords. Maren Morris bringing it some power, vocally. It’s such a good pop song – embrace it and do not be ashamed.
6. KACEY MUSGRAVES – ‘HIGH HORSE’
‘High Horse’ ties all my favourite facets of Kacey Musgrave – knack for a catchy melody, wry observation, a clever metaphor – into one of the best songs of the year. It’s so rhinestoned, it’s ridiculous. I also love that despite the fact Kacey has been an advocate for equal rights since forever and literally wrote a song called ‘Follow Your Arrow’ which was dubbed an attack on Christians because it was pro-homosexuality, it took this particularly disco number for the gays to pay proper attention. Anyway, welcome to icon status, Kacey.
5. TOVE STYRKE – ‘SWAY’
I love it when songs are sort of onomatopoeic, as ‘Sway’ is. It floats from side to side, looping around you and engulfing you in its mellow, romantic vibe. I repeat, Tove Styrke is perhaps the most under-rated popstar around right now. This song doesn’t so much hit you in the face with how wonderful it is, but just sort of slowly creeps inside your bones until one day you realise you can’t listen to it without playing it maybe two or three or forty times in a row.
4. 5 SECONDS OF SUMMER – ‘YOUNGBLOOD’
I want to make it clear that the fact 5SOS released a song as good as ‘Youngblood’ is of absolutely no surprise to me – I’ve been advocating for these boys and their ability to whip up a 10/10 chorus since they launched with ‘She Looks So Perfect’ in 2014. It’s nice for their mainstream success to catch back up with their talent though. ‘Youngblood’ was enough of a force that the album of the same name that it was taken from kept The Carters off the #1 spot on Billboard earlier this year. It’s a relentless, rolling gallop of a song, written in collaboration with the A-list talent behind other incredible songs on this very list. Their transformation from grubby pop punk boys to slick pop heavyweights is complete.
3. ARIANA GRANDE – ‘NO TEARS LEFT TO CRY’
I listened to this for the first time in a couple of weeks to refresh myself while writing about it, and I still get absolute chills when I hear those opening notes. It’s just a perfectly balanced pop song, a delicious parfait, a sensory deprivation tank where you just float on top of the precision produced sound waves and let Ariana’s vocals heal all that ails you. I am still shook at how Ariana managed to offset despair and hope in such perfect balance without ever once being cloying or trite. A perfect song not just for its composition, but for the occasion it was written for.
2. JANELLE MONAÉ – ‘MAKE ME FEEL’
I am just so delighted that the spirit of Prince is alive and well and residing in Janelle Monaé’s body. Rumour has it that Prince contributed to the writing of this song, but he is uncredited and Janelle herself sort of dispelled it, but he was her mentor and it stands to reason that his influence would be all over it. Funky, sexy and passionate, this was Janelle’s first track outside of the Metropolis concept series, her first bid for proper mainstream stardom, and her first release as a woman living more openly. No wonder it sounds so free.
1. THE 1975 – ‘LOVE IT IF WE MADE IT’
The lyrics of this song are like… depressing. You can’t tell me you hear the verses, listing off just a surface skim of the world’s fuckery and the fact that you can’t play this song on the radio in part because it includes a direct, and obscene, quote from the American President, and not think “time to blast off into the sun and die!” Modernity has failed us indeed. But then… the chorus. An optimistic cry of hope. “I’d love it if we made it”. My favourite chorus of the year, maybe of the last five years. Just that one line repeated, in this tone that makes me believe it. “I’d love it if we made it.” I’d love it if we made it, too.