Music

The 60 Best Songs of 2018

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 60 songs that spoke to us this year.

60. St. Vincent - "Fast Slow Disco"

Just because an album is available to purchase doesn't mean the songs are complete. While most acts will add different nuances to their hits in a live setting, Annie Clark is still very much obsessed with the tracks that made up her stellar 2017 effort Masseduction. She took her string-drenched highlight from that record "Slow Disco" and, while touring, turned it into an amped-up dance number, discovering that underneath all the opulence, it was a fist-pumping anthem all along, and we're all the better for hearing its glorious bathed-in-strobe lights rebirth. - Evan Sawdey

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59. Silk City and Dua Lipa - "Electricity"

For a brief but inescapable cultural moment, anything that Diplo touched turned to gold. As one half of Jack Ü, he co-wrote the international phenomenon "Where Are Ü Now", re-establishing Justin Bieber as a household name. "Lean On", which he produced with Jillionaire and Walshy Fire under their Major Lazer moniker, was, for a while, the most streamed song of all time. He even helped Usher mature from baby-faced sex symbol to acclaimed pop auteur; listen to "Climax", the best song of Usher's career, and you can hear his Midas touch at work. But no reign lasts forever. For some reason, his collaboration with British DJ-cum-superstar Mark Ronson, Silk City, failed to cause much of a stir — on the charts or off of them.

Nevertheless, the duo's much-hyped outing with rising starlet Dua Lipa, "Electricity", bears all of the hallmarks of a Diplo-helmed smash: warped vocals, house drums, and a chorus so big and propulsive that it seems to break out of the track's four walls and run free. "This love has no ceiling / I cannot deny," Lipa sings, and as she alights on "deny", the word ruptures into light and color —the same light and color all of us experience when we first fall for someone. It's not as captivating as "Where Are Ü Now", or as catchy as "Lean On", but it's near-flawless pop. Even for Diplo, that's hard to come by. - Pryor Stroud

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58. Denzel Curry – “Black Balloons”

"Black Balloons | 13lack 13alloonz" from Denzel Curry's July release TA13OO really slaps. Here, the 23-year-old Florida-born Angelino, ever-adamant about his worth, continues to bolster his leadership in today's fragmented rap game. Curry goes hard. The rapper's recipes call for equal parts cool and dark. "Black Balloons" is no exception, though it leans pop with its earworm of a hook. He captures the sound of Atlanta duo OutKast with the spirit of Kendrick Lamar—GoldLink's featured verse contains a distinctly K-Dot cadence. Curry's vivid aesthetic runs counter to the prevailing trend of lo-fi "Soundcloud" rap. His lyrics, less overtly political than much of his work, boast heady wordplay and ooze confidence. The collaged outro simulates a radio interview with the rapper, building up his air of mystique. "Black Balloons" proves one of the year's definitive bangers. - A Noah Harrison

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57. Ash - “Confessions in the Pool”

There is something about the instantly catchy, simple guitar-riff pleasures of Ash's seventh album, Islands, that is reminiscent in attitude of Weezer's Green Album. In that comparison, "Confessions in the Pool" would be Islands' "Island in the Sun": a shimmering pop single with a heavier heart than it first lets on. Bobbing along on a disco stomping beat and high arpeggiated synth line, singer/guitarist Tim Wheeler wonders, "What could we have done to deserve this misery / Drowning in these tears, drifting on the sea." The song takes on another dimension when the trio perform it in priest costumes, as they did for their encore at Mercury Lounge in New York this fall. - Ian King

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56. Young Thug - "High (feat. Elton John)"

It's the unlikeliest of stories: superstar balladeer of the '70s — writer of hit songs about ballerinas, crocodile rockers, and boys named Levon — becomes, by turns, muse, collaborator, and confidante for the biggest names in hip-hop. It's unlikely, but, in the case of Elton John, true. Circa 2001, he performed with Eminem at the Grammy's, helping to (briefly) rehabilitate the image of rap's most articulate homophobe. In 2007, his soaring falsetto was sampled on "Good Morning", the raucous opening salvo of Kanye West's Graduation. A few years later, he would step into the studio with Yeezus, contributing vocals and piano accompaniment to the colossal, rap-song-as-Homeric-epic "All of the Lights".

But all of this was just warmup. Sir Elton's best crossover collaboration to date — "High", from Young Thug's On the Rvn EP — arrived earlier this year. As soon as it was released, two fan bases collided: hip-hop heads started searching record stores for John's Honky Château, while baby boomers puzzled over Thug's acclaimed Jeffery mixtape. Whatever they thought about each artist's output, one thing was clear: "High" was something totally singular, something so odd and inspired — so intoxicated by its own euphoria — that it couldn't be written off as a mere trifle. Lifting its hook from John's iconic "Rocket Man", the song lets Thug riff on his favorite substances: drugs, girls, money, and power. It's infectious, it's absurd, and it fits perfectly into the discographies of the men who made it. - Pryor Stroud

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55. Charli XCX - "Focus"

As the mainstream link to hyper-pop phenomenon PC Music, Charli XCX has been a dominating force for the evolution of pop in the last few years, touting productive collaborative relationships with super-producers and major artists alike. For one of the most prolific stars of the last half of the decade, 2018 was a relatively calm year, but the high-energy "Focus" kept Charli large in the cultural conversation with one of the sugariest and most polished pop singles in memory. The hook goes through endless repetition, sharpening the infectious melodies, and the typically sex-fueled lyrics put distraction-free human contact into the spotlight. Absent the featured artists that saturated both of her 2017 mixtapes, "Focus" offered some of the purest modern pop flavors and one of the best examples of Charli's singular talents to date. - Colin Fitzgerald

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54. Tami Nelson - "Stay Outta My Business"

Tami Neilson takes a stand for gender equality in her June release SASSAFRASS! Her liner notes emphatically dedicate the rockabilly-infused album to "every woman and man, fighting the good fight for equality". If that wasn't clear enough, the opening track "Stay Outta My Business" is an unhindered anthem for the contemporary equal rights battle. The track celebrates badass women while confronting a toxic social climate. Neilson calls for the need to be unique and authentic but all the while relying on strength and confidence to inform one's identity. Neilson uses the track to castigate the double standards imposed onto women then assuredly demands the naysayers to "stay outta my business". She's confident in her power and models the fortitude for her listeners. Relying on her sly sass, Neilson challenges dominant forms of oppression but calls for progressive change. "Stay Outta My Business" brims with barb and mettle while charging towards collective empowerment. - Elisabeth Woronzoff

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53. Okzharp and Manthe Ribane - "Kubona"

The opening notes of single "Kubona" ring out like a digital handbell ensemble as producer Okzharp does some of his most delicate work. Manthe Ribane's vocals bring a grounded sense of peace to the mix as she enters the scene, processed through Okzharp's effects like light through a prism. The chorus is a recitation of simple affirmations: "I'm precious / I'm timeless / I'm priceless / I'm endless." For all its electronic artifice, "Kubona" has an almost spiritual feel to it, a clarity of intent and a purity of sound. In all their work together, Okzharp and Ribane tend to keep their aesthetics pared down, and here, the empty spaces amplify the beauty within "Kubona" on what feels like a truly cosmic scale. - Adriane Pontecorvo

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52. Natalie Prass - "Short Court Style"

How can you not smile listening to a ditty like this one? "Short Court Style," like many of the other songs which make up Prass' joyous sophomore record The Future and the Past, feels like it was written to serve as backing for a montage of happy people, all wide-mouthed grins and synchronized dance moves. For someone as magnetic as Prass, working with a bass groove like the one which anchors this song, "Short Court Style" could easily be an exercised in forced optimism, the kind designed to end up blaring over mall speakers until Amazon or some other terrible monopoly finally drives malls out of existence. But the joie de vivre of "Short Court Style" is far from fake, and as Prass' vocals soar over what sounds simultaneously like a modern-day chart-topper and a lost disco hit excavated from the late '70s, one can't help but catch happiness. - Brice Ezell

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51. Dessa - "5 Out of 6"

Rapper-singer-writer Dessa of Minneapolis-based hip-hop collective Doomtree wears both effortless confidence and human shortcomings on her sleeve on single "5 Out of 6". Dessa being Dessa, of course, this is no standard braggadocio, even if she does start the track off calling herself a "double-jointed triple threat". These are plain facts, not an ego trip; as Dessa says, "I don't need an agenda / I just tell the truth." Take that as you will, but there's no question that Dessa has a quick wit and a vocal strength that continue to come through in her clever, take-no-prisoners lyrics. Dessa never tries to be anyone else – she's "arms wide, hiding nothing", and it's that sincerity that makes her words land with grace and precision every time. - Adriane Pontecorvo

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