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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50. Billie Eilish – “You Should See Me in a Crown”

After releasing a pair of viral pop singles, teenager Billie Eilish sent listeners' jaws straight to the floor with the minimalist "You Should See Me in a Crown". Equal parts hip-hop and avant-garde electronic, the track is dominated by producer (and Eilish's brother) Finneas O'Connell's roaring synth line and skittering hi-hat beats, but the brooding presence of Eilish packs a huge wallop. It's a rare modern pop song that demands menace from the singer rather than vocal histrionics, and Eilish delivers that in spades, snarling, "You should see me in a crown / I'm gonna run this nothing town / Watch me make 'em bow / One by one by one." - Adrien Begrand

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49. Arctic Monkeys - "Four Out of Five"

The lead single for the Arctic Monkeys first album in five years, Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino, "Four Out of Five" explores the albums themes singly with a reference to quality ratings and feedback about services offered by advertising and entertainment. Influenced by glam rock and cultural criticism, "Four Out of Five" hinted at Arctic Monkeys' wildly popular album AM (2013), while stylistically maturing the sound of the band and lead singer/songwriter Alex Turner. The single featured a video with Turner strolling around a mansion, performing with the band, and toying with depictions of the hotel and themes of modern advertising and entertainment. It was a singular video and signaled the Arctic Monkeys confident return. - Richard Driver

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48. The Poster Children - "Grand Bargain!"

Even during the relatively good times of Poster Children's '90s heyday, the band had a habit of writing songs about social injustice. So it's no surprise that the lead single for their first record in 14 years finds them upset about the results of the 2016 Presidential election. "Grand Bargain" is a furious, sardonic screed against the Trump Administration. A slashing guitar riff cuts with punk energy over a galloping, irregular drumbeat. Vocalist Rick Valentin shout-speaks his way through the darkly comic lyrics, at one point just reciting the definition of "kleptocracy". As the song blisters towards its end, Jim Valentin's guitar leads get intentionally sloppier as Rick eventually ends up just shouting "Grand bargain!" repeatedly while the rhythm section holds it all together. It's a hell of a return for a band that never quite got their due back in the day. - Chris Conaton

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47. The Accidentals - "Heavy Flag"

With "Heavy Flag", "orc dorks" Savannah Buist, Katie Larson, and Michael Dause of the Accidentals successfully rebranded themselves from a breezy, anecdotal indie folk trio to an orchestral indie rock band with just as much of a heart, but with a bolder edge. Like a more encompassing take on Willie Nelson's call to arms in "Vote 'Em Out", "Heavy Flag" is a hefty reminder of the sheer importance of voting - not only for the difference it can make today, but for the history behind minorities fighting and sometimes even dying just for the right to do so.

There are some Accidentals trademarks here, from Buist's penchant for pitching multiple colorful narratives in her songwriting to recall comparisons between them and the situation at hand, to the band's affinity for fiddle and cello to lead the way. That path that they carve, though, is notably different than in past releases despite instrumental similarities, ushering in something notably more urgent and intense. It's not often that the band writes songs deliberately for people to relate to—Buist and Larson alike often excel at not-too-obvious self-reflection—but in this case, "Heavy Flag" is a direct appeal to every listener to commit to exercise an inalienable right of democracy. The Accidentals have no problem being forward about it and stating their case, making for a song with a universal message that will always be as integral and pertinent as when it was first dropped. - Jonathan Frahm

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46. Wild Nothing - “Letting Go”

Before its release, the Internet buzz around Indigo, the fourth album from Jack Tatum's Wild Nothing, was that it was a "return to form". The issue with that kind of claim is that it suggests Tatum had ever really left his form in the first place, or, worse, that such a move could be a kind of creative regression. But Wild Nothing's previous album, Life of Pause, was as much a natural step from Nocturne as that album was from Gemini, and Indigo is not a retreat to the familiar. Tatum finds subtle ways to tweak and reshape his signature elements throughout the album, and with lead track "Letting Go" he succeeds in crafting a new signature Wild Nothing tune; an expertly contoured, shimmering indie pop rush. - Ian King

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45. Jenny Hval – “Spells”

Pretty. So. Damn. Pretty. Ahhh, a soothing, luscious, fragrant creation. Smooth sax, sumptuous strings, and the clear and gentle lilt of a woman who knows she knows. Holter has long dominated the stage with her visceral songwriting. So soft on the ears compared to her earlier work, "Spells" cuddles us like never before, which is oh so fine. She's opening up, the way Kate Bush did 35 years ago. The line, "You will not be awake for long" will long ring in your head—melodic as an angel in the shower. Never has spiritual jazz prog pop sounded so effortless. - A Noah Harrison

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44. Jade Bird - "Lottery"

Jade Bird understands that what begins as a sweet romance can turn into boredom. One can only have so many deep soulful conversations until both talkers only repeat themselves. So one begins to look elsewhere for something different. After all, if love is just a numbers game, the chances of finding the one are nowhere as good as stumbling upon all the others who could provide thrills. Bird sings this in a voice that suggests there is more to life than just settling for first love. It's a big old goofy world out there full of discoveries. The repeated guitar licks and chorus gains force each time around. She's not going to calm down and challenges her lover to accept it her as she is or move on. - Steve Horowitz

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43. Christine & the Queens - "Girlfriend"

In one audacious three and a half-minute track Héloïse Letissier, as her alterego Chris, obliterates any and all gender norms on the stupendous "Girlfriend". Atop an ebullient arrangement that's equal parts New Jack, Michael Jackson, and Janet Jackson, Chris is the sexual aggressor, full of desire but hilariously baffled by the heteronormativity around them ("Boys are loading their arms, girls gasp with envy / For whom are they mimicking endlessly?"). Chris might not feel like a girlfriend, as the song's silky smooth chorus goes, but she doesn't have to: she's going to have as much lusty fun as possible, regardless. This track is an audacious, life-affirming, non-binary stunner. - Adrien Begrand

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42. Mary Gauthier - "Brothers"

Mary Gauthier's poignant Rifles & Rosary Beads finds her collaborating with a group of combat veterans through the SongwritingWith:Soldiers organization. Each of the personal-as-political songs on the record is an exercise in spiritual healing through art and a testament to the bravery and sacrifice of our armed forces. "Brothers" (co-written with army veterans Meghan Counihan and Britney Pfad) offers the poignant experiences of women soldiers at the front, facing their challenges as equals while not necessarily being given equal credit. Addressing a veteran's day service honoring "the men at arms" the narrator, who has learned to cry without tears in order to fit in, asks "I was just like you when the bullets flew / I had your back, you had mine too / Brothers in arms your sisters covered you / Don't that make us your brothers too?" - Ed Whitelock

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41. Amnesia Scanner – “AS Too Wrong”

"Who cares if I don't fit into the k-hole?" That's our best guess at the line preceding the devastating bass drop. No matter how you decode the work of this Finland-born, Berlin-based duo, you know they're seeking pieces in the existential puzzle. They make ample use of ambiguity, cruelly dangling signifiers just out of our reach, calling on us to construct meaning. The lyrics speak of the most outmoded machinery of our age—ourselves. "Too Wrong" validates this new "post-club" identity going around, pooling electronic and industrial music with the lot of British micro-genres that have cropped up over the last decade and change. Digitized vocals and trap beats truly are sent through the dissociation engine. With this crusty future-relic of a pop song, Amnesia Scanner seems to arrive at something both foreign and familiar. It's a top-40 tune from a universe not too distant from our own. - A Noah Harrison

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40. Ghost - "Dance Macabre"

Lurking sneakily on side two of Ghost's revelatory fourth album, "Dance Macabre" is not only a raucous depiction of dancing the night away in the face of impeding doom, but a pitch-perfect celebration of classic pop metal from the 1980s. Fitting somewhere between Also Nova's "Fantasy" and Blue Öyster Cult's "Dancing in the Ruins", singer/songwriter/mastermind Tobias Forge builds the track around the most incessant rock hook on the year, dynamically building to the ingeniously punny payoff: "I just wanna be, I wanna bewitch you in the moonlight." If Trump and his coterie of bigots are going to send us all spiraling to our doom, we might as well enjoy ourselves one last time, and this is the perfect soundtrack. - Adrien Begrand

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39. Low Cut Connie - "Beverly"

Low Cut Connie may be best known for their high energy live shows, but the band also understands how to create a great single. Just like the way the group's performances begin with a slow rocking beat before building to a climax "Beverly" begins languidly before swelling into something like a fist pump. The song tells the story of a young woman on the bottom of the economic ladder struggling to get ahead in Trump's America. She may get frustrated, but she holds on to her self-esteem and keeps on keeping on. The music captures her unaffected enthusiasms. Leader singer/vocalist/songwriter Adam Weiner doesn't romanticize Beverley or her situation. He simply shows compassion for those too frequently ignored in the larger culture. - Steve Horowitz

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38. Leon Bridges - "Beyond"

When retro soul is your thing, why not go all the way in with it. Here, the Fort Worth, Texas-based singer examines the possibility that "the love is real" in a soulfully innocent way. In the span of the song's three-and-a-half minutes, Bridges takes listeners through all the nervous moments of anticipation and the freeing feelings that accompany giving oneself up to the powerful potential of true love. Written like either a candid conversation with a friend or a journal of an inner monologue, Bridges brings to life the agony and the ecstasy of falling in love. With the lilting and modern Motown-esque arrangement, these tribulations have never sounded better. - Jeff Strowe

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37. LSD feat. Sia, Diplo, Labrinth - "Thunderclouds"

"Thunderclouds" was perhaps the most delightful track to make a run on pop radio this year, one of those songs that feels like a simple nostalgia throwback, but one with a chorus that'll stick in your head for days. Sia and Labrinth are utterly perfect as complementary voices -- their teamup on the Catching Fire soundtrack version of Sia's "Elastic Heart" was a fantastic preview of collaborations to come -- but it's actually the little touches from Diplo that give the track its signature sound. Diplo's manipulation of Sia and Labrinth's voices into instruments behind the actual singing is not subtle, but it is effective, and the message of perseverance through tough times is just vague enough to resonate on both a personal and social level. Most importantly: "Thunderclouds" just makes you feel happy. We could have used a bit more of that this year. - Mike Schiller

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36. How to Dress Well - "Hunger"

On 2016's Care, Tom Krell made a sharp detour into full-fledged pop. His previous three LPs — the good Love Remains, the great Total Loss, and the stunning What Is This Heart? — leaned on a distinctive indie R&B sound, one defined by gossamer, disappearing-into-thin-air vocals and icy atmospherics. With Care, he re-engineered this sound into something that, while still too idiosyncratic for the Top 40, wouldn't have seemed entirely out of place on the far edges of the Hot 100. The songs were effusively performed and immaculately produced; they told simple stories about love, loss, and redemption — tall tales about sex on the floor ("Can't You Tell") and life after heartbreak ("Lost Youth/ Lost You").

But Krell couldn't stay away from his intellectual roots for long (after all, he holds a graduate degree in philosophy). This year, he released The Anteroom, a record with opaque track titles like "False Skull 7" and "Nonkilling 13 | Ceiling for the Sky", elliptical lyrics, and a thoroughgoing penchant for sonic experimentation. But, on "Hunger", one of the LP's standout cuts, you can hear the Krell from Care return, albeit only for small bursts of pure-pop melody. It's the perfect medium between Krell's two aesthetics — moody R&B melodrama and anthemic indie pop — and it sounds like nothing that he, or anyone else, has ever done before. - Pryor Stroud

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35. Manic Street Preachers - “International Blue”

Manic Street Preachers must be on their third or fourth "comeback" by now. That is, unless you're one of many Americans who mostly just know of their harrowing The Holy Bible and the subsequent disappearance of lyricist/guitarist Richey Edwards. Either way, those glam rock 'n' roll destroyers who long ago were supposed to make one album and burn out in a blaze of glory are now on their 13th, and resistance to Resistance Is Futile is futile. "International Blue" is a vigorous single from their most vigorous effort in some time, and does something else they said they wouldn't do again: write a song about a European painter. The title refers to French artist Yves Klein and the "International Klein Blue" color he developed, though it is not hard to also feel the absence of someone much closer to the Manics in lines such as, "You painted with fire / Only the ashes now remain / The monochrome desire / You left us too young to explain." - Ian King

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34. Jon Hopkins - "Emerald Rush"

"Emerald Rush" begins like one of Jon Hopkins' reflective piano instrumentals (a la "Abandon Window" on 2013's Immunity, or "Autumn Hill" on 2009's Insides), with gentle, player-piano notes tracing out a loose melody. Before any such melody can appear, however, "Emerald Rush" takes off, driven by a sputtery and propulsive riff that ranks with Hopkins' best. On an album like Singularity, which ebbs and flows between groove-driven tracks like this one and hushed piano sections, the highs need to be as high as possible in order to maximize the dynamic shifts which give the whole composition its structure. "Emerald Rush" both serves as an important early peak in Singularity's vast emotional range and an excellent standalone tune, perfect for a thrilling night out in the city or a sci-fi action sequence. - Brice Ezell

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33. SOPHIE - "Immaterial"

In an album overflowing with belligerent industrial beats and luxurious pop statements, the uplifting penultimate track "Immaterial" was SOPHIE's most pristine and authentic assertion of independence. Featuring peppy vocals from Cecile Believe and a satisfying lyrical twist on the Madonna classic "Material Girl", the song is not just a cutting-edge blueprint for bubblegum future pop, but also a potent proclamation of hope in the heart of the transgender experience. The hook — "Immaterial boys, immaterial girls / I can be anything I want" — gives us the sweeping, unconditional embrace of humanity that escapes even the most daring of market-tested corporate pop today (and even doubles as coyly metaphysical inquiry). With a buoyant groove from one of the decade's greatest producers and a critical message of liberation, "Immaterial" is nothing less than a salve for the cruelty of our day. - Colin Fitzgerald

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32. Neneh Cherry - "Kong"

Neneh Cherry's new album was, unsurprisingly, her most political yet. However, being Neneh Cherry, the wider socio-political lyrics are woven into more personal, reflective ones meaning that, in a sense, the album felt like delving into her very personal thoughts on the world. On the spellbinding, "Kong", Cherry sounds genuinely hurt and betrayed by the unfulfilled political promises of the past as she describes being caught in a cycle of hope and despair. As heavy as that sounds, "Kong" also manages to be one her catchiest songs to date. Riding a thick, dub bassline like the roll of distant thunder courtesy of Massive Attack's 3D, it's a song that crawled under the skin and stayed there. - Paul Carr

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31. Lotic - "Hunted"

Lotic's Power is the first work to include vocals from producer J'Kerian Morgan, which unveil a very different facade. That adds emotion and more energy to the dark background, providing uplifting moments, as is the case in "Hunted", where the repetitive mantras radiate a sense of hypnosis. The tribal element that this brings to the fold is also illustrated with the progression of the track, and it is that notion of ritualism that also acts as a point of reference. It's something archetypical that speaks to all that listen. - Spyros Stasis

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30. CHVRCHES - "Get Out"

If there's one thing CHVRCHES know how to utilize, it's some electronic hand claps, and "Get Out", the lead single off the group's third (and best) record Love Is Dead, has the band using them with more vigor than ever before. Even so, it's the synth line that will sink its hooks into your conscience before that hook forces you to the ocean floor for good. The best part? Check the bridge, when the proceedings get to drum overload, both live and electronic, the results proving to be beautiful chaos. Plus, hey: If you can't see that "You are a kaleidescope" is the new "Are we human or are we dancer" then you need to turn in your glow sticks yesterday. - Colin McGuire

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29. Idles - "Samaritans"

On their second album, Joy As an Act of Resistance, Bristol band Idles exchanges the bitterness and anger of debut album Brutalism for compassion, tolerance, and inclusivity. In doing so they tapped into the modern zeitgeist, focusing on the core issues dominating the conversation in 2018. One of the best examples of this is the monumental "Samaritans", a concise, fluent dissection of toxic masculinity. With bassist Dev's steely, basslines anchoring the song, frontman Joe Talbot quickly and succinctly gets to the nub of toxic masculinity. More specifically he dissects the way in which successive generations have unquestioningly adhered to an outdated notion of what it means to be a man. In doing so, the band asks the listener to deconstruct gender roles, address how they affect their relationships and set about changing the script. Songs like "Samaritans" start revolutions, however small they may be. - Paul Carr

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28. Django Django - "Marble Skies"

Marble Skies takes no time in outlining what Django Django is all about as they fire up the boosters on opener "Marble Skies". A perfect summation of what can be loosely described as the band's signature sound. Featuring a naggingly catchy harpsichord riff backed by '80s indie guitars it quickly launches into a typically giddy chorus that shows off Neff's flat-lined, lilting singing style and keen ear for a hook. It's a song meant for maximum gratification in the shortest time possible, playing to the bands strengths from the off. - Paul Carr

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27. Deafheaven - "Canary Yellow"

Yes, it's hard to call "Canary Yellow" a "single" given its 12-minute length, but with Deafheaven one can't typically hope for brevity, or a song conducive to a radio edit. Any attempt to truncate a piece like "Canary Yellow", the highlight of Deafheaven's triumphant Ordinary Corrupt Human Love album, would interrupt the song's flow, and risk excising moments which expertly build momentum. Beginning with a sunny, major key post-rock instrumental section, "Canary Yellow" then erupts with one of guitarist Kerry McCoy's best riffs to date, which is joined in brutal tandem by the screams of frontman George Clarke. From there the track moves as many of Deafheaven's great epics do: from light to darkness, from bare emotion to muted introspection. Ordinary Corrupt Human Love is a catalogue of all the things that make Deafheaven the unique and exciting band that it is, and no song more than "Canary Yellow" exemplifies this group's compositional prowess. - Brice Ezell

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26. Ariana Grande - "No Tears Left to Cry"

More than a fun pop record, Ariana Grande's "No Tears Left to Cry" is an act of defiance. The pop superstar has finally found her voice. This isn't to say, of course, that Grande hasn't been good before. It's just to suggest that this is the first time she's been important. After the terrorist attack at her concert in Manchester, the whole world was waiting to see what she'd do next. She must have know the significance, because her first single since that tragedy is the most upbeat pop track of her career. Grande presents a message that celebrates the path to peace, despite pain, and it's one that we all need in these troubling times. - Jon Lisi

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25. James Blake - "If the Car Beside You Moves Ahead"

James Blake experienced a meteoric rise as one of the defining artists of the decade early on, and quickly became a key figure in shaping the broad creative and cultural exchange between the once-distant realms of electronic, indie, R&B, and hip-hop that characterized the 2010s. But even now, as ever, Blake is looking forward. "If the Car Beside You Moves Ahead" is contemporary pop futurized for an era of digital isolation, and as such, it finds Blake in a colder and more fragmented mode. Vocals are chopped and pitched to near incomprehensibility, synths are dark and wispy, and the stark beat is haunting. If the song served as a stylistic progenitor for the next decade of music in either form or mood, it wouldn't be much of a surprise; it's a bleak preview of humanity's impending fate, one that's vaguely menacing in its uncertainty. - Colin Fitzgerald

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24. Neko Case — “Last Lion of Albion”

One could hear "Last Lion of Albion" as a thematic sequel to Neko Case's 2009 song "People Got a Lotta Nerve". Both serve as defiant elegies for the natural world and homo sapiens' history of debasing, pillaging, and exploiting the animal kingdom, bemoaning this trend as humans' natural inclination. Here, Case uses the long-extinct British lions as a sympathetic vessel for addressing the absurdity of cultures paying tribute to and monetizing species we had a hand in culling from the world, then further appropriating said species' likeness as a symbol for further despoiling.

With verses carried on shuffling, rattling percussion, the refrain arrives like a wave breaking and parting on the rocky coast, giving space for Case's impassioned harmonies. Like a portrait whose subject can convey different expressions depending on how the light hits it, Case's vocal delivery somehow manages to be resigned, mournful, and righteously indignant. Her lyrical exactness has scarcely been more cutting, employing her pillars of marrying natural imagery with surface-level universality and elliptical, emotional precision. Toward the end, when Case alters the chorus to depict a litany of humanity's depredations, she conjures goosebumps to pop up on your skin. - Cole Waterman

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23. Troye Syvan - "My! My! My!"

"I die every night with you" is a hell of a lyric, and one the captures the imagined fatalism and extreme passions that comes with true love -- or at least deep late-night lust. Troye Sivan broke out in 2018 for crafting a sublime album about modern queer culture, but it was anchored by this seductive, smirking, and downright compelling slice of dance-floor euphoria that demands to be shouted along to, begs you to keep gyrating and insists that it soundtracks your next blossoming club romance. - Evan Sawdey

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22. Cat Power - "Woman"

Cat Power aka Chan Mitchell's October release, Wanderer, reflects on identity and change as experienced by the artist across her career. The single, "Woman", featuring Lana Del Rey, is a penetrating investigation of gender and identity construction while balancing the encircling societal demands. The track contends with misrepresentation, especially after others lay claim on defining one's identity. Both artists use the lyrics to warn of the harm resulting from fallacy then urge the listeners to remain authentic. Together, Mitchell and Del Rey reflect the multi-generational need for women to support women while challenging gender expectations. "Woman" is likely influenced by Mitchell's own experience with the industry's rampant sexism or the split with her previous label who tried to control her sound. As such, "Woman" forges a musical space where both artists, and women in general, can define their style based-on their standpoints. - Elisabeth Woronzoff

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21. Lana Del Rey - “Venice Bitch”

When you want to be put in a trance, just listen to a Lana Del Rey record. Without fail, you'll be transported. A trippy ode to the psychedelic sounds of the 1960s, an era in which Del Rey would have shined, "Venice Bitch" is a track to get lost in. There are the usual Del Rey motifs, like the sultry vocals and the sad girl lyrics, but at nearly 10 minutes, it's almost as if Del Rey is taking her sound and expanding it as far as possible to see what she can get away with. Almost anything, it turns out. - Jon Lisi

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20. serpentwithfeet - "bless ur heart"

The climactic final track on serpentwithfeet's soil is the poignant culmination of lovelorn anguish, unrequited emotion, and romantic devotion that Josiah Wise sings about throughout the album. "bless ur heart" highlights the cosmic scope buried deep in the soul of the album, its intimate confessionals shaped by the eternal human cycle of love and loss. It's not only about learning how to love in a hate-filled world, but about the interchange of that knowledge, and the mutual gratification of human connection at every level. "Whoever reads about how much I adore you," Wise croons with the gentle touch of an unconditional lover, "I hope my words bring them something new." "bless ur heart" is a benediction for those still unearthing the power in themselves to find joy among oppressive sadness. A piano ballad both melodramatic and elegant, "bless ur heart" is an expression of hope for the hopeless. - Colin Fitzgerald

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19. David Byrne - "Everybody's Coming to My House"

For a long time David Byrne has resembled that cool, impeccably dressed, older uncle who always seems to be coming back from holiday. The one who seems to go to the cool bars with the overpriced drinks but still be able to pull off pastel. On "Everybody's Coming to My House" Uncle David turns out an LCD Soundsystem-esque, disco freak out that, in a parallel universe, could be the theme of the trippiest Bond film ever. It's batshit crazy. It's uber cool. It's brilliant. - Paul Carr

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18. Kendrick Lamar feat. SZA - "All the Stars"

Perhaps it is no surprise given the twin bill that headlines "All the Stars" that it is a brilliant song; Kendrick Lamar is a known quantity at this point, and SZA's album was one of last year's most delightful surprises. Of its own accord, "All the Stars" is a strong pop song, featuring the most radio-ready refrain of SZA's career so far, and a typically intense and verbose verse from Lamar. It is catchy and it feels big. What pushes it over the edge, however, is the way it sounds over the credits of Ryan Coogler's Black Panther, after two hours of tension, action, and triumph. Once you see the movie -- once you associate the song with the feeling you had when you had just finished the film for the first time -- it becomes an anthem, defiant and unforgettable. - Mike Schiller

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17. Parquet Courts - "Freebird II"

Parquet Courts singer Andrew Savage described this song as being personal. Not as an homage to Lynyrd Skynyrd or a paean to those who shout out requests for their best know classic rock jam, but rather in an autobiographical manner. "Addiction, turmoil, incarceration and mental instability were themes of my childhood. Anyway, it's about me and the way I was raised, coming from dysfunction while not letting dysfunction define you" is what he specifically said in a discussion with NPR. Delving into the lyrics reveals a protagonist who has grown older and wiser in his evaluation of how things were and how he came to be. He acknowledges a challenging upbringing and appreciates all that it has taught him while also not letting himself off the hook for decisions currently being made. It's a master class in self-reflection that, with its' killer mid-tempo groove and slinky organ lines, also finds a way to rock. - Jeff Strowe

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16. The 1975 - "TOOTIMETOOTIMETOOTIME"

Call it what you want — bubblegum confection, Balearic sugar rush, electropop earworm — the 1975's "TOOTIMETOOTIMETOOTIME" is a blast. It's fun, plain and simple, like cotton candy or a cannonball into a pool. Issued as the third single from the band's recent album, A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships, it's arguably Matt Healy and company's most brazen attempt at chart success. Yet, while it has several prominent Top 40 tropes, think trop-house pulses and a subtle devotion to dancehall, it's still unmistakably by the boys behind "Sex", "Girls", and "Chocolate". Sophisti-pop polish, ambient flourishes, a retro-minded yet decidedly hip sensibility — all of the ingredients of a 1975 smash are here, but what sets the song apart is its sheer, implacable momentum. It builds and builds, then builds even more, culminating in a climax that is the closest the band has come to pure pop perfection. - Pryor Stroud

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15. Robyn - “Missing U”

"Can't make sense of all of the pieces of my own delusions," Robyn sings on her masterful comeback single, "Can't take all these memories / Don't know how to use 'em." In one sense, it's the classic Robyn narrative that permeated such classic singles as "Dancing on My Own" and "Call Your Girlfriend", in which she achieves a sort of transcendence by wallowing in her own misery. However there's a sense of maturity, and even liberation that ultimately makes "Missing U" so special. Bolstered by a gorgeous, sparkling arrangement by Klas Åhlund and Joseph Mount, Robyn brings her trademark sincerity to the track, but this time around there's the prevailing feeling that although she might be sad, there's the acceptance that the sadness is okay. "All the love you gave, it still defines me," she concludes, the song ending on a surprising, subtly positive note. Robyn has never sounded stronger. - Adrien Begrand

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14. Mitski - "Nobody"

If Mitski once lacked a single fit for mainstream radio and the streaming playlist age, she no longer does. Her 2016 breakout album Puberty 2 established Mitski as a rare and crucial talent in the indie world, but it was no doubt a challenging entry-point for an era neglectful of full album statements. With the charming and uncompromising "Nobody", though, Mitski has produced a bite-sized commercial crossover that doesn't flinch on her independent sensibilities. Full of the same shape-shifting chord progressions and beat switches that speckle her visionary 2018 record Be the Cowboy, "Nobody" is a heartsick disco-rock jam for tearful catharsis and uninhibited dancing alike that is musically slant, lyrically wistful, and performed with profound enthusiasm. If nothing else in her expansive discography, "Nobody" certainly confirms Mitski as one of the brightest songwriting minds of her generation. - Colin Fitzgerald

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13. Aphex Twin - "T69 Collapse"

Possibly for the first time, Aphex Twin returned with a track that didn't sound like he was trying to redraw any musical boundaries. Remarkably, on the first taster of his Collapse EP, Richard D James made a classic Aphex Twin track that simultaneously reinvented the music of Aphex Twin while sounding like nothing he'd done before. That may not make any sense, but then James has spent his career not making sense. Musically, "T69 Collapse" manages to fit in a hummable synth line amongst the hurtling sonic depth charges as it contradictorily builds to a thrilling, total collapse. It's his most immediate and accessible single since "Windowlicker". The man's still a genius. - Paul Carr

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12. Brandi Carlile - "The Joke"

The first single from Brandi Carlile's sixth album, By the Way, I Forgive You, "The Joke" calibrated her vocal range with a message of hope and a sweeping string and piano arrangement. It's a song that predicts overcoming struggles and turning "the joke" onto those that otherwise oppress, lie, and mistreat. "The Joke" carried a timely and confident message when it was released in late 2017 and represented Carlile's strength and inspiration as a songwriter and musician. The single featured a video with Carlile singing amidst a chorus of downtrodden but resilient characters, and the message of hope intensified through representations of everyday struggles, diversity, and individualism.

Carlile worked with arranger Paul Buckmaster to produce the intense strings in the song, and it was one of his last projects before his death a year ago. The song further represented a shift in direction for Carlile's music and By the Way, I Forgive You: away from louder and faster rock-oriented material back toward the vocal and acoustic style of her early albums. Altogether, the single and the video for "The Joke" deliver a soaring and resonant message of confidence and uplift. - Richard Driver

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11. St. Paul & The Broken Bones - "Apollo"

Listen to "Apollo", Young Sick Camellia's lead single, and you can hear St. Paul & The Broken Bones' preternatural commitment to tradition in just two words. "Lookin' down from my orbit / Captain, can you get her to call me?" Janeway sings, his voice still the powerhouse wail that put his band on the map, that drew comparisons to blues legend Bobby Bland and that filled reviews of the group's live performances with rapturous adjectives like "electrifying", "breathtaking", and "transcendent". He throws these final words -- "call me" -- into a higher register, stretching them out until it seems like he's hesitant to release them into the open air. But then he does, and they echo out into the pitch-black space around him.

It's impossible to hear these words as anything but an oblique reference to the band's breakthrough single "Call Me", a stunning showcase for Janeway's lungs that sounds like a forgotten '60s classic. And it's impossible to hear "Call Me" without hearing the song that inspired it: raw-soul shouter Wilson Pickett's "634-5789" from 1966's aptly-titled The Exciting Wilson Pickett. "All you have to do is pick up your telephone / And dial my number," Pickett sings, a nameless girl group rattling off this number behind him, turning it into an incantation, something far greater than just a set of digits that could be scrawled onto a piece of paper.

In Janeway's words, you can also hear the title track from Al Green's 1973 masterpiece Call Me. More than this, you can hear the light of the late Aretha Franklin and the first chords of her own "Call Me", a song so rich and expansive in scope, so arresting in the way that it stages the agony of not being called, that it's highly unlikely that soul devotees like the Broken Bones would not have heard it. "Call me": it's an injunction that spans across the history of soul, and the image it conjures -- a lonely figure trembling by a phone in a dark room -- is emblematic of the genre as a whole.

All of this history is in "Apollo", both in Janeway's lyrics and the way he sings them. - Pryor Stroud

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10. Lonnie Holley - "I Woke Up in a Fucked Up America"

"And I dreamed that I woke up, that I woke up in a fucked-up America." No doubt in Lonnie Holley's surging mind, this has to be a dream. I think most of us feel that way about this age. "Cell-phone abuse, computer misuse, over-datifying," he cries between building layers of ominous horn blasts and percussive gunfire. A jazz number, a blues tune, a mantra, noise? Hell if I know. All I know is his 68-year-old voice whips like a hurricane and his lyrics tear like a wildfire. There's no challenging his message. He speaks to things as he sees them, and he sees with eyes full of electricity. - A Noah Harrison

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9. Tom Misch - "Water Baby" (feat. Loyle Carner)

Musically, it's hard to feel too stressed listening to Tom Misch and Loyle Carner's "Water Baby", and that's by design. Key to the chill vibes that radiate from the track is a philosophy somewhere between "Hakuna Matata" and full-on nihilism, a sense that worrying is for nothing, that in the big scheme of things, today doesn't really matter much anyway. Misch's softly soulful voice and Carner's mid-tempo flow, in combination with a lilting melody and solid beats, make that an honestly appealing perspective. This is a song that brings with it a reminder that today's inconveniences are tomorrow's distant memories, and that a catchy pop tune can bring you joy for a little longer. In the end, isn't that what we all need a little more of right now? - Adriane Pontecorvo

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8. Kacey Musgraves - "High Horse" 

"Oh I bet you think you're John Wayne / Showin' up and shootin' down everybody," Kacey Musgraves teases at the start of "High Horse", a glorious disco-friendly country song about having to deal with that one guy who thinks they're so great but annoys everyone without shouting distance. It's a cheeky little takedown, but when married to such a propulsive disco ball strut, it's a dynamite force that shows you no matter what subgenre you put it in, everyone can relate to a good ol' helping of country sass. - Evan Sawdey

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7. Maribou State - "Nervous Tics" (feat. Holly Walker)

Taking inspiration from the music scenes and heritage of the places Maribou State have toured in, Kingdoms in Colour is an album without borders. An album that straddles the globe from Delhi through to Lisbon, and pays little attention to where one genre starts and another ends. The warm, pacifying "Nervous Tics", comes across like a remix of a long forgotten, soul tune. It sees the band's smooth, soulful vibe beautifully complimented by Holly Walker as she urges us to remember the joys of simply being rather than losing ourselves further in the isolating labyrinth of the digital world. - Paul Carr

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6. Ella Mai - "Boo'd Up"

Before "Boo'd Up" became the earworm of 2018, it followed quite a path. Written in 2014 by California-born songwriter Joelle James (after Chris Brown signed her); recorded in 2016 by British singer Ella Mai when she was recording with LA hip-hop maestro/producer DJ Mustard; and first released on Ella Mai's February 2017 EP Ready. That extended timeline for a 2018 hit seems analogous to the power of the song itself. It just doesn't quit. It's an expression of infatuation, not just with another person but with the feeling of infatuation itself. It's about how unshakable that feeling can be, and the song itself is unshakeable. It follows you around; it buries itself into your consciousness. It represents the epitome of simple pleasures, and thankfully in 2018, it was everywhere.

Simple, the song is, and simple it's not – the timeline is only the beginning of the maze represented within the song. Some night do yourself a favor and go down the "Boo'd Up" rabbit hole: follow all of the songs from the past that people on the Internet (including the songwriters/producers themselves) say the song resembles or was inspired by. By the end of the night you'll have found yourself immersed in the last few decades of R&B, and you won't be sick of "Boo'd Up" by any means. This little song is undefeatable and all-consuming. - Dave Heaton

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5. Young Fathers - "In My View"

Scottish art-pop group Young Fathers released their best album this year, the staggeringly inventive Cocoa Sugar. The group set out to make their most accessible record, but this is no pop-by-numbers. Never expect that from Young Fathers. Like the Clash before them, the group infuses their music with timely and important messages about racial, economic, and gender inequality, and this aspect lives across the whole album. Meanwhile, the band's experimental approach drives the music as they draw from pop, hip-hop, African music, electronic, rock and mash them all up to create jarring incongruities that lend the music its originality and power. "In My View" is Cocoa Sugar's standout single as it achieves Young Fathers' goal of creating a perfect pop song, all the while sounding like nothing else you've ever heard. Meanwhile, the lines that linger behind - "In my view, nothing's ever given away / I believe to advance that you must pay" - seem achingly true in an ever harsher world. - Sarah Zupko

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4. George FitzGerald - "Roll Back"

British producer George FitzGerald is known for his warm electronic sound shot through with melancholy. His single "Roll Back" from Best Electronic Album All That Must Be, channels the powerful emotion of regret tinged with, yes, melancholy. In a truly terrible political year, "Roll Back" feels even more powerful, as it's easy to move from deeply feeling those personal regrets and the wish to "roll back" time to true existential angst and the longing for better times as an entire society or nation. "Roll Back" may as well be the soundtrack for our many failings and longings as it draws us deep into its emotional center with music that perfectly soundtracks the feelings displayed in the song. Subtle and gently gorgeous, "Roll Back" is a sophisticated song with an undeniable hook. - Sarah Zupko

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3. Ray BLK - "Run Run"

Ray BLK didn't spend a lot of time on social commentary on Empress, the album that put her on the map this year, but opening her album with "Run Run" was a statement that didn't need an awful lot of expanding on. Sensitive and urgent, the verses of "Run Run" feature petty crimes, while the choruses paint a more sympathetic picture of the criminal, as the quickness with which police pursuit can turn into a gunshot becomes the subject. In less capable hands, an approach like this could reek of "both sides" posturing, but the two sides of the story actually work together as a single warning; namely, that even the most petty crimes can end with death. It is a complex and nuanced take on a few different issues, particularly for such a young artist. As such, the great beat and utterly perfect vocal performance are almost beside the point. - Mike Schiller

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2. Janelle Monae - "Make Me Feel"

"Make Me Feel" became a classic the moment it dropped. There is not a single thing in this song that shouldn't be there: the hip-shaking beat, the stabs of crystalline synth notes, the Nile Rodgers-esque guitar, and the incredible accidental in the chorus ("a li-ttle bit of tender") come together in a pop song that tells the listener everything they need to know about Janelle Monáe as a musician. Much has been made of the Prince vibes exuded by the song, and Monáe did confirm that he had some involvement in the song and the album that houses it, Dirty Computer, before his untimely passing. Invoking a legend like Prince does not here signify that Monáe merely cribs from his playbook, nor does it suggest that she is in his debt. Rather, it is a recognition that, like Prince before her, Monáe strikes a balance between innovation and pop art that few other others have successfully managed. Pop is rarely so perfect. - Brice Ezell

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1. Childish Gambino - "This Is America"

It's a rare feat to take a song so dense with social commentaries and literary devices all the way to number one on the Billboard charts. But Childish Gambino did the impossible on "This Is America", reminding us of his previous hit's message to "stay woke". It's the song that sparked a plethora of think pieces in 2018 and even more dialogue as Americans try to make sense of a sharply divided country. "This Is America" and its impressive music video became one of 2018's most important conversation starters, especially on topics of racism past and present, gun care, violence, and music's place in all of it. - Chris Thiessen

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