40 pop songs from 2018 you need to hear

Rob blog_2018 best songs_large

Click here for the Spotify playlist

40. Years & Years – All For You

Olly Alexander does his diva idols proud on this glow-in-the-dark floorfiller.

Read my Palo Santo review

39. Taylor Swift – Delicate

Bubbling emotions. Dainty vocals. A sprinkle of experimentation. The old Taylor is alive and well.

38. Jesse Saint John – Move

Songwriter to the stars steps into the limelight with this sweat-drenched pop-punk curio.

37. 5 Seconds of Summer – Youngblood

No one was expecting the Australian One Direction to stay relevant in 2018, but this well-deserved hit has a chorus that could wake the dead.

36. Bipolar Sunshine – Pedestal

The Manchester singer’s lazy pronunciation somehow stays one step ahead of the lush cocktail lounge beat.

35. Tove Lo  (featuring Charli XCX, Icona Pop, Elliphant and ALMA) – Bitches (remix)

For fans left blue-balled by the all-too brief album version, this all-star remix was a wet dream come true.

34. Confidence Man – Out the Window

Imagine Deee-lite doing big beat.

33. Cupcakke – Duck Duck Goose

An R-rated grab bag of classic Cupcakke-isms – ‘I thought I came but I peed on the dick’ etc. – and EDM house beats.

32. Rae Sremmurd, Swan Lee & Slim Jxmmi – Powerglide

Who doesn’t want to hear three buzzy hip-hop acts go mano o mano over a churning trap beat? 

31. Planningtorock – Much to Touch

Non-binary electronic musician Jam Rostron knows immersion is key to overcoming one’s prejudices. For all its sass and braggadocio, ‘Much to Touch’ doesn’t berate its antagonists, but instead cordially invites them to get up close and personal.

30. Little Mix – Wasabi

More than a sassy hair-flip to the haters, this inventive number splices slick 00s urban-house pop with snatches of garage rock.

29. Lizzo – Fitness

Nobody is more qualified to coach a sweat-drenched class in female agency than the formidable Lizzo.

28. Jessie Ware – Overtime

The London-born singer returns to her dance roots with this after-hours banger. For Jessie, house is where the heart is.

27. All Saints – After All

All Saints and William Orbit relive their early 00s glory days with this transcendent ballad.

Read my Testament review

26. Yaeji – One More

Sublimely mellow house pop from the Korean-American whizzkid.

25. The 1975 – TOOTIMETOOTIMETOOTIME

‘TOOTIME…’ deftly adapts tropipop rhythms to the band’s indie sound, with Matt Healy reining his booming voice into a reedy purr.

24. Let’s Eat Grandma – Hot Pink

Producer SOPHIE dangles sickly-sweet synthwork like a lure, all before a crunching bassline takes the patriarchy in its jaws.

Read my I’m All Ears review

23. The Carters – Apeshit

A flex of absolute power from two pop titans.

22. SOPHIE – Immaterial

A bizarre burst of electro-catharsis. Trivia: its parent album is up for a 2019 Grammy, making SOPHIE (alongside songwriter Teddy Geiger) the first ever transgender woman ever to be nominated.

tenor

21. Christine and the Queens – Doesn’t Matter

We all love a good sadbanger – ‘Dancing On My Own’ anyone? – but only this French maverick could bring a full-blown existential crisis to the dance floor and still make you bop.

20. Charli XCX (featuring Troye Sivan) – 1999

Anne Marie’s horrible tribute to the year 2002 should have put any artist off getting nostalgic about years their target audience barely remembers. Leave it to Charli XCX – pop’s savviest curator – to celebrate her early bubblegum influences in such an affectionate manner.

19. Post Malone – Better Now

This undeniable pop crossover was the cherry on top of a huge year for the famously dishevelled rapper.

18. Mariah Carey (featuring Ty Dolla Sign) – The Distance

An unexpectedly smooth production from dubstep icon Skrillex, bookended by an infectious cheerleader chat.

17. Denzel Curry (featuring Nyyjerra) – CASH MANIAC

Come for the charismatic boasting – stay for the funky alt hop-hop production.

16. Courtney Barnett – Nameless, Faceless

The alt-rock sensation taunts chauvinist keyboard warriors and paraphrases Margaret Atwood on this scuzzy banger.

15. Amber Mark – All the Work

An intoxicating fusion of bossa nova and house music.

14. Rosalía – Malamente

‘Malamente’ is Catalan for ‘badly’. The sparse new flamenco soundscapes have a delicious ebb and flow, but lyrically, Rosalía’s superstitions loom large.

13. Daphne & Celeste – Alarms

From my Daphne & Celeste Save the World review:

“If you can’t hear an inexplicable beauty in the acid-trance gem ‘Alarms’, then maybe you don’t deserve to be saved.”

12. Kendrick Lamar & SZA – All The Stars

Film soundtracks devoured the charts this year, but knockout performances and a chorus that’s staggering in its simplicity made this the promo single to beat.

11. Kali Uchis – Just A Stranger

The indelible, OutKast-aping hook may belong to The Internet’s Steve Lacy, but Ms. Uchis is our Mistress of Ceremonies, feeling every inch of herself with humour and pageantry.

10. Parliament – I’m Gon Make U Sick ‘O Me

One-part takedown of US pharmaceutical giants, two-parts doctor-patient roleplay. Grandaddy of psychedelic hip-hop George Clinton prescribes a tasty pill that’s hard to swallow.

9. Calvin Harris – One Kiss

I dug 2018 Calvin – a handsome, mustachioed hipster with a lucrative knack for 90s diva house.

8. Cardi B – I Like It

Vain, obnoxious, and shamelessly self-serving. In other words, everything I love about Cardi B.

7. Robyn – Honey

Painstakingly built synthpop that’s a sweet and viscous as its titular substance.

6. Drake – Nice For What

Masterfully sampling Lauryn Hill and legendary bounce artist Big Freedia, ‘Nice For What’ is a rump-shaker from start to finish.

5. Troye Sivan – My My My!

From my Bloom review:

‘It’s like Phil Collins sharing drugs with M83 in the bathroom of a Berlin gay club.’

4. Tirzah – Holding On

Using wheezy, accordion-style synths and bursts of white noise as percussion, the London singer sets her nagging issues with intimacy to an awkwardly danceable beat.

3. Rina Sawayama – Cherry

In her ascent to the upper echelons of pop, Rina is fighting two battles. The politically savvy English-Japanese singer has already baked concerns over the underrepresentation of Asian acts into her music. This year, she bravely used this suitably fragrant electropop ditty to come out as pansexual.

The execution is stunning. Taken on its own, ‘Even though I’m satisfied, I live my life within a lie’ is a maudlin lyric. But you’ll struggle to name a song more liberating either in sound or in message – from the twinkly percussion, to the stomping Y2K beat, to a lead vocal that caresses the track like a beam of sunlight.  

2. Childish Gambino – This Is America

Renaissance man Donald Glover turned his frustrations with police brutality into an unmissable audiovisual event. The track’s trap-afrobeat experiment is uniquely danceable, but it doesn’t dilute the message – the production is foreboding when it wants to be, and joyous when it needs to be.

Yet it’s the words Glover doesn’t say that makes ‘This Is America’ so important. Repeat viewings alone aren’t enough. It’s that special beast that compels you discuss it with a friend, a colleague, or your Saturday night Uber driver, if only to make sense of it all. As Glover himself sings: ‘You go tell somebody…’

1. Ariana Grande – No Tears Left to Cry / thank u, next

Where do I even begin with Ariana Grande’s stranglehold on 2018?

‘No Tears Left to Cry’ had a horrible task. It was the singer’s first release since the tragic terrorist attack at her concert at Manchester Arena last May. The single was obligated to live to up to that emotional gravitas and pay tribute to the 23 victims – while also making commercial sense for a young artist yet to hit their peak.

But with a little help from the Max Martin hit factory, Ariana kicked off a new chapter in her career with daring piece of theatrical dance-pop, as laden with UK garage as it is with heavenly wails. The lyrics are relentlessly optimistic, but sung with a pain that’s yet to fully heal.

‘thank u, next’ shares a similar attitude, but represents a calmer, more patient R&B side to her repertoire. Sadly, it was another single released under tragic circumstances. Rapper Mac Miller, who Ariana split from earlier this year, had passed away in September. But once again, she read the room perfectly and honours him with a reverent lyric.

The other exes lucky enough to be documented don’t exactly escape unscathed, but the song is more an ode to practicing self-care than a revenge anthem. Listeners identified with this chill acceptance of life’s disappointments, and more importantly, the successes that come when you finally learn to love yourself.

Read my Sweetener review

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