By: Emily Miller
2018 was the year that was too much. Our country experienced some of the worst natural disasters, mass shootings and tales of #metoo. But this was the year that artist’s responded. The going got tough, but so did these musicians. While the days get darker literally and figuratively, these are the songs that processed the turmoil we have all felt. The songs that provided hope, and more importantly inspired us to keep fighting.
Qualifications: All songs listed must have been released in 2018. Every genre had to be represented and only one song per artist.
40. Mac Miller, “Self Care”
“Self Care” intimately details the inner struggles of Mac Miller’s demons. The song was a standout off his latest album Swimming, and implied self growth as an artist and a human. However Mac Miller overdosed just a month after its release. After his tragic death, the song has transcended into a haunting nod to addiction and has become the pinnacle in his long but too short career.
39. Young Thug (feat. Elton John), “High”
The most unexpected yet delightful collaboration of 2018 is easily Young Thug and Sir Elton John. Young Thug centers an incredible new rap around Elton John’s classic, “Rocketman.” What should have been a disaster on paper, “High” is a testament to the brilliant artists behind it. It’s the perfect combination of two generations, who still know the joy behind belting “And I’m gonna be hiiiiiiiiiiiiiigh.”
38. Tune-Yards, “Colonizer”
Listen to the song Here.
“I use my white woman’s voice to tell stories of travels with African men.” This is how the song “Colonizer” begins. In the year of the white voice, Tune-Yards sings, she can hear the blood in her voice. A raucous anthem that’s equal parts self interrogation and reflection, “Colonizer” is an unforgettable, relevant cacophony of TUNES.
37. Empress Of, “When I’m With Him”
An emotionally honest pop song that soars, Empress Of details the longing for an ex when she’s with her new guy. The song gets so personal for her, she alternates singing between English and Spanish because she feels freer in her native tongue. It’s that authenticity that separates this mature song of longing from the rest of the pack.
36. Christine and the Queens (feat. Dam-Funk), “Girlfriend”
“Girlfriend” is one of the easiest songs of the year. It’s absolutely effortless in it’s ability to be slick, funky and insatiably cool. Not only does the song examine physical power beyond female sexuality, it’s also got a great beat to dance to. It’s an intoxicating combination.
35. Kacey Musgraves, “Lonely Weekend”
Arguably the best young country artist, Musgraves always knows how to take a country song trope and turn it into something wholly unique. While she laments that she’s alone with nothing to do on the weekend, it’s her incredible hook and retro, almost disco like sound that make this an unforgettable song.
34. Bradley Cooper, Lady Gaga, “Shallow”
Rarely does a song written exclusively for a film receive the praise and popularity like “Shallow” has. It has dominated Awards Season as well as the radio, a truly astonishing feat. Yes the song is essentially three hooks and a bridge, but oh my goodness, those three hooks are incredible. The song defies genres and expectations. Also, side-note, who knew Bradley Cooper could sing?
33. Cardi B (feat. SZA), “I Do”
In a post #MeToo world, Cardi B raps that she doesn’t need a man to make music or anything else, and she certainly doesn’t need to explain herself. She’s perfectly capable of doing everything on her own. And in case you were wondering the definition of everything, Cardi B leaves nothing to the imagination. “Pussy so good, I say my own name during sex.”
32. Sigrid, “Sucker Punch”
Besides Queen Ariana Grande, this is the greatest pure pop song of 2018. This infectious, irresistible tune is pure joy. Never has navigating the roller coaster of love been so much fun. This song will never leave your head.
31. Parquet Courts, “Wide Awake”
Introducing the funkiest song of 2018. This song forces you to be WIDE AWAAAAAKE.
30. Anderson .Paak, “Till It’s Over”
“Would you stay if your heart had the power?” This is the question Anderson Paak asks on his only song released in 2018, “‘Till It’s Over” though he seemingly knows the answer. While this song is an eclectic mix of electric dance, hip hop and R&B, the real standout is Paak’s raspy voice as he realizes the finality of his relationship.
29. Dirty Projectors, “Break-Thru”
Frontman David Longstreth went through a difficult breakup with ex girlfriend and bandmate Amber Coffman. He then wrote this song as a way to get “a restorative balance.” He clearly hit his mark. The song is a catchy fun romp, with an irresistible guitar and intricate harmonies. It’s definitely a Break-Thru for them.
28. Courtney Marie Andrews, “May Your Kindness Remain”
Regardless of whether or not Country-Soul is a real genre, Courtney Marie Andrews is the Queen of it. The heart of the song, “May Your Kindness Remain” is a simple message, however Andrews vocals are anything but. Just when you think she doesn’t have anymore energy left to go on, she lets loose to showcase the pure power and beauty her voice has. It’s life affirming.
27. Unknown Mortal Orchestra, “American Guilt”
In the “Land of the expensive,…even the Nazis are crying.” A sample of one of the eviscerating lyrics written by Rubin Nielson, this song tears apart America’s recent nationalist qualities and everything it has become in the last few years. The head banging music and melodies make this one of the best rock songs of the year. The lyrics make it one of the most important.
26. The 1975, “Love It If We Made It”
“Fucking in a car, shooting heroin,” are the opening lyrics to this absurdly wonderful song. While their lyrics and piano backbone may imply cynicism, it’s their swelling chorus that hits a genuine note. Their hook is simplicity at it’s finest, “I’d love it if we made it.” With their bursts of electric guitar, gorgeous backing vocals, and an atmospheric synth, I think it’s safe to say that they are going to make it.
25. Natalie Press, “Short Court Press”
Natalie Press will always have one of my favorite voices, which is usually on full display for all of her songs. However, on “Short Court Press” her exquisite vocals take more of a backseat. The heart of this song is the simple groovy melodies intertwined with an R&B sound. It’s wholly unique to Press, and easy listening at it’s finest.
24. Soccer Mommy, “Your Dog”
“I don’t wanna be your fucking dog, that you drag around.” Abusive relationships are hard, and even harder to write about. But Sophie Allison honestly captures the pain, terror and anger of being trapped in an abusive relationship beautifully.
23. Mitski, “Nobody”
This is Disco at its peak. Mitski is just looking for one good kiss to get her through the moment. As her loneliness and despair worsens, the song gets groovier, louder and more energetic. It’s a kaleidoscope of power, honesty and funk.
22. Snail Mail, “Heat Wave”
This song tells the story of unrequited love during a heat wave. It starts out with simple lyrics and guitar by Lindsey Jordan. Then it suddenly starts to shift. The guitar swells, and away we go for the next five minutes. Fasten your seat belts, it’s going to be a hell of a ride.
21. Elvis Costello, The Imposters, “Under Lime”
The best use of a full orchestra in 2018 goes to Elvis Costello. His latest song with The Imposters, is nothing short of pure magic. It’s almost as if you can feel it throughout your entire body. Featuring a frantic piano, exceptional drumming, a delightful flute, a trumpet with attitude, soaring background vocals and of course famous Costello’s voice, this song is stunning in every way imaginable.
20. Car Seat Headrest, “Bodys”
If Bloc Party and The Strokes had a lovechild it would be Car Seat Headrest’s “Bodys.” This epic seven minute masterpiece is simultaneously a classic/indie rock powerhouse with beautiful lyrics and melodies that run for days. “Don’t you realize our bodies could fall apart any second?” The song grows and grows until about the five minute mark, where it finally bursts into the greatest moments of the song.
19. Sunflower Bean, “Twentytwo”
Yo, Taylor, I’m really happy for you, I’ma let you finish, but Sunflower Beam had one of the best songs about being twenty two of all time!
But actually, this song is honest, riveting and seems to perfectly capture the essence of being twenty two better than any other musician.
18. Overland, “I’m With Her”
Though this may not be the flashiest song on this list, there is an innate strength to it that cannot be ignored. The blue grass twang combined with lovely harmonies, has a haunting quality that makes this song impossible to forget.
17. Lucy Dacus, “Night Shift”
“The first time I tasted somebody else’s spit, I had a coughing fit.” Thus begins Lucy Dacus’ epic breakup song. She takes us on her journey, beginning with the immediate aftermath, moving on to anger, acceptance and then hope. “In five years I hope the songs feel like covers.” It’s powerful, incredible and stunning.
16. Camp Cope, “The Opener”
What starts out as a punk rock break up anthem, ends up as a scathing critique of the music industry and its lack of inclusion of women. “Yeah, tell me again how there just aren’t that many girls in the music scene.” Lead singer Georgia “Maq” McDonald’s guttural raspy voice, puts the perfect amount of bite into every eviscerating lyric.
15. Noname, “Blaxploitation”
Not quite skat or rap, Noname practically purrs her opening line, “Penny proud, penny petty, pissing off Betty the Boop / Only date n****s that hoop, traded my life for cartoon.” From there she takes the broken politics of this country on, using quotes and sound clips from Dolemite and The Spook Who Sat by the Door. The looping drums and bass line back her powerful lyrics, that give a small glimpse of what it means to be Black today.
14. boygenius, “Bite the Hand”
“I can’t love you how you want me to.” sung over and over again in the most beautiful three part harmony. Just wait until about the three minute mark when the music fades and all that remains are those three perfect voices.
13. Courtney Barnett, “Nameless, Faceless”
The absolute best song to come out of the #MeToo movement, Courtney Barnett truly captures what it means to be a woman in 2018. The chorus is a simple wish we’ve all made before, “I wanna walk through the park in the dark,” and sings about a tactic we’ve all used to feel safe. “I hold my keys / Between my fingers.” This grungy rock song truly personifies the ugly truths about being a woman.
12. Hop Along, “Prior Things”
This song is almost otherworldly. It combines dazzling violins with Frances Quinlan’s off kilter, raspy, divine voice to create this ethereal song that is pure magic.
11. Rolling Blackout Coastal Fever, “Talking Straight”
The stuff that Indie rock dreams are made of. This effortless song is what I want to blast on repeat as I travel across the company. Part of the allure is that the song sounds like it could belong in any decade. It’s catchy easy chorus, paired with delightful hooks and incredible guitar riffs, make this song a breezy good time that you never want to end.
10. Morningsiders, “Don’t Let Me”
This is a song for the soul. I can’t quite explain all the emotions I feel when I listen to it, but I just know it makes me happy to be a human.
9. Arctic Monkeys, “The Ultracheese”
Every few years the Arctic Monkeys go to ground and eventually resurface with a new album and a completely different sound. 2018 was no exception. Complex, sleazy, raw and a dash of cheese are just a few words to describe this new masterpiece. And just as the last song on the album winds down, Alex Turner croons “But I haven’t stopped loving you once.” Suddenly, we are left with more questions and emotions, and a resounding silence for our answer.
8. Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, “You Worry Me”
Their first single and album could only be described as Honkytonk goodness. However, on their second album, they’ve grown up, and their music is all the better for it. Rateliff’s raspy vocals and The Night Sweats big band thrills are still there, but this time it’s paired with more soul than ever before. It’s mature, graceful and simply put, the best Americana has to offer.
7. Yo La Tengo, “For You Too”
“For you / whenever there’s hurt / and when things are uncertain / Maybe I could be that guy / I’d like to try,”
Enough said. ❤
6. Lizzo, “Boys”
A groovy bass line paired with an overt declaration of sexuality is what makes this song so fun. Lizzo sings “I like big boys, itty bitty boys / Mississippi boys, inner city boys.” There is something so empowering about just wanting to get a good hook up on without being particularly picky. A dazzling electric guitar and a sharp funky, Gospel like chorus make this song insanely catchy and extremely dance-able.
5. Janelle Monae, “Make Me Feel”
In case you didn’t know that Janelle Monae describes herself as a “free-ass motherfucker”, you could listen to you this song and jump to that conclusion yourself. Wild, cool, and absolutely insatiable, this a homage to all of the great 80 synth pop love songs. It’s sexy and sleek and catchy and brilliant. It’ll get you moving in ways you didn’t know you could dance.
4. Robyn, “Missing You”
The Great Robyn released the life changing “Dancing On My Own” in 2010 and then left us FOR EIGHT YEARS. At some points it was nearly impossible to carry on, but we all did so bravely. Until finally this year Robyn released a new album and proved that she was an angel sent by God to give us catchy music. “Missing You” in particular is pure magic. No other artist can make lyrics so sad, yet so dance-able. At one point she sings “I’ve turned all my sorrow into glass,” and I swear the orchestrations somehow sound like glass. Robyn we MISSED you.
3. Leon Bridges, “Bad Bad News”
Leon Bridges, king of the throwback vibes, knows how to transport everyone to a different time. Famous for his retro feel, Bridges out does himself with this modern classic. He dabbles in R&B, Jazz and Blues, and in this particular song creates a lounge, Big Band sound that thrills. I’m not sure what’s more impressive, the smooth guitar solo, Bridges’ rich voice, the Big Band shouts from behind, or that just when you think the song is over at the two minute and thirty second mark, it comes back stronger and groovier than before.
2. Ariana Grande, “thank u, next”
When Taylor Swift breaks up with her boyfriend, she proceeds to trash and humiliate them on all of her songs. It’s trite and petty. But along came the reigning queen of pop Ariana Grande, whose new song turned the break up genre on it’s head and showed T Swift how it’s done. After going through a devastating and public break up with her fiance Pete Davidson, she could have easily written a hate track. Instead she wrote a gracious song about being grateful for all of her past experiences, particularly Pete. Her gratitude is endearing and in doing so, has redefined the break up genre.
1. Childish Gambino, “This Is America”
No song better represents 2018 than Childish Gambino’s “This Is America.” With a folk happy melody and a trap beat that pulsates throughout the song, Donald Glover explains the complex racial issues in our country in 2018. It’s harrowing, and absolutely unshakable. The only thing better than this song, is the music video that accompanies it. Glover references the Charleston church shooting, race riots and Jim Crowe caricatures. It’s breathtaking in its horror.
A Spotify playlist has been created with every song in order for your convenience.
Did I leave a song out? Did I get the order horribly wrong? Or am I practically perfect in every way? As always thanks for reading and sound off in the comments section below.