1. Ariana Grande, “Thank U, Next”
All anybody expected — or wanted — from “ Thank U, Next ” was a small fiddling late-night celebrity shade. cipher was asking Ariana Grande to drop a grand personal argument, let alone a ballad this resonant. But it turned out to be Ariana ’ s Plastic Ono Band — what is John Lennon ’ s “ God ” but his “ Thank U, Next ” to the other Beatles ? ( Paul taught him love, George taught him solitaire, Ringo taught him pain. ) This bloody song has made me miss my G-train hold on more than once, over an eerie synth loop sampled from japanese composer Ryuichi Sakamoto. ( From his David Bowie movie soundtrack, no less. ) I don ’ metric ton in truth care about her celeb ex-husband, but I heard this and caught my breath : “ She met person else ? And her name is Ari ? She ’ south learning to love herself ? Which is the greatest love of all ? ” It could have — possibly should have — been superficial and brassy, but alternatively it ’ s a dad crush that tells me things I didn ’ metric ton already know about my messy adult liveliness. Which is the last thing I wanted from Ariana, but I guess that ’ s what makes pop stars dangerous. Thank U, Ari — following.
Reading: Rob Sheffield’s Top 25 Songs of 2018
2. Camila Cabello, “Never Be the Same”
The weirdest noise to hit the radio all year. Camila ’ s electro epic is the strait of an shy girlfriend caught up in the cyclone of her feelings, where every privy beat of her kernel gets amped up to the size of the “ Be My Baby ” drum crash. “ never Be the Same ” has the ambient prog synth-drone of Brian Eno ’ randomness Another Green World, dropped into the druggy mega-reverb haze of the Jesus and Mary Chain ’ s Psychocandy. When she gasps for breath over those drums, correctly before she zooms in for the final examination chorus, Camila sounds merely like honey .
3. Lucy Dacus, “Night Shift”
A folk-rock ballad that can hit you at a weak moment, read you in six or seven languages, and leave you for dead. “ Night Shift ” starts out as a a coffee date with your ex-wife. The singer asks, “ Why did I come here, to sit and watch you stare at your feet ? What was the plan ? Absolve your guilt and shake hands ? ” The song lifts off into an anthemic kiss-off. She stays out walking late at nox, waiting for the caffeine to wear off, wondering if she handled it wrong. She will replay this chocolate date in her head for years. so will I. An emotional exorcism of a song .
4. Cardi B with J Balvin and Bad Bunny, “I Like It”
Cardi throws a block party sampling the 1967 boogaloo hit by her 86-year-old Bronx elder Pete Rodriguez, along with colombian reggaeton asterisk J Balvin and Puerto Rican rapper Bad Bunny. A utopian celebration of hip-hop diversity, where the inaugural thing you do when you get over is pass the mic .
5. Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper, “Shallow”
“ Shallow ” does for Holy Diver Gaga what “ I Will Always Love You ” did for Whitney — a pop dowager roars back to life with a blockbuster movie belting a country ballad, climaxing with a Hollywood high note. Bradley Cooper fills the Kevin Costner nothingness, though he truly could have used his own bodyguard in the Grammy scene .
6. Camp Cope, “The Opener”
An australian punk team, with a bombshell from their brilliant How to Socialise and Make Friends. Georgia Maq starts out purging a regretful romance, then she revs up into a rant about casual misogyny, from the showman ( “ another man telling us we can ’ t fill up the board ” ) to the sound guy ( “ another man telling us we ’ rhenium missing a frequency ” ) to other bands, without pausing to tidy up her fury into verse/chorus/verse tidiness. It was cathartic to hear Camp Cope yell “ The Opener ” to a sold-out Bowery Ballroom in June. The punch line : “ See how far we ’ ve come not listening to you ! ” A monster song, from a giant band .
7. Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, “Middle America”
Malkmus is the Robyn of indie rock ‘n’ roll : an absurdly farseeing streak in a genre that prizes novelty ( both went pro in 1989 ) ; superhuman consistency ( neither has come close to making a weak or bogus read ) ; a cultish mystique ; a weird mix of emotionally opaque repose and unzip enthusiasm ; still rocking their 1994 haircut ; somehow always the grown-up in the board. Sparkle Hard might be his Honey, but it ’ sulfur besides his best Jicks record since Mirror Traffic ( which was his Body Talk ). “ Middle America ” is one of the 10 most beautiful songs he ’ south always written, a bittersweet ballad that takes the Pavement guitar hum to raw places. advice to the graduates : “ Men are trash, I won ’ t deny/May you be shitfaced the day you die. ”
8. Hayley Kiyoko, “Curious”
The 20GayTeen leading makes a bully detective, grilling her fickle x : “ Did you take him to the pier in Santa Monica ? Forget to bring a jacket ? Wrap up in him because you wanted to ? ” Hayley sing “ Curious ” live with Taylor Swift this summer on the Reputation enlistment, and they just teamed up for their acoustic “ Delicate ” duet a few weeks ago. What a might duet — they ’ re like the Joe Walsh and Ringo Starr of modern pop-queen bonding .
9. Drake, “Summer Games”
Drake spent over half the class at Number One on the start charts, but he stranded his genuine Scorpion peak on the B side. “ Summer Games ” is a tremble of New amatory sniffle-wave electro-gloss that evokes prime Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark. ( To feel the full impact of “ Summer Games, ” play it adjacent to O.M.D. ’ s “ Of All the Things We ’ ve Made, ” from Dazzle Ships. ) He mourns a June love story, overselling the seriousness in that Drakean way, precisely to set up the orgasm when his croon turns into a glitch-core freakout because the meter is brea-break-breaking his heart. Since Drake ’ sulfur on a quest to stress over literally every single lover in the past strain, I like to imagine his “ Summer Games ” muse is the lapp party female child snapping selfies in “ Nice for What. ”
10. King Princess, “1950”
barely out of her teens, however already helping to invent the thwart pop music future, Brooklyn sovereign King Princess sounds like a hung-over Julie London in this torch ballad about vintage homoerotic desire from decades past, whizz : “ I love it when we play 1950. ” King Princess international relations and security network ’ thyroxine afraid to think big — her excellent new individual is called “ Pussy Is God. ”
11. Travis Scott, “Sicko Mode”
Travis stitches three off-kilter fragments into a hip-hop suite, then watches it hit Number One, equitable in time to provide a real-life counterpart to the Mike Myers scene in Bohemian Rhapsody. Drake pitches in with a few Galileos, but Travis is the glue .
12. Anarctigo Vespucci, “Breathless on DVD”
“ Haven ’ t seen you in a farseeing time/Are you still 27 and harebrained at me ? /Watching Breathless on DVD in the dead of winter 2009 ? ” Ouch. Anarctigo Vespucci has the year ’ second finest band name, “ Breathless on DVD ” might double as the year ’ south fine song title, and Love in the Time of E-Mail is broad of romantic-dysfunction eye-rolls, like their earlier tapes Soulmate Stuff and Leavin’ La Vida Loca. P.S. I have Breathless on VHS, but only the Richard Gere version, which is an underestimate masterpiece, don ’ triiodothyronine @ me .
13. Kacey Musgraves, “Slow Burn”
Read more: The 20 best songs of 2021
“ Yee-haw is having a moment this class, ” as Kacey told the crowd this summer at Madison Square Garden, opening for Harry Styles. ( This double bill was basically a D-Day assault on the Normandy of my soul, right up to the consequence they sang a duet on Shania ’ s “ You ’ re even the One. ” still recovering. ) “ Slow Burn ” digs abstruse into the stone twang-drone of a space cowgirl, queerly evocative of David Gilmour in his arcadian psychedelic watching-cows manner. Since Kacey songs about Kacey are always better than Kacey songs about other people, she ’ s at her most consummate in “ Slow Burn ” : “ Texas is hot, I can be cold, Grandma cried when I pierced my nuzzle. ”
14. Mitski, “A Pearl”
What a heartbreaker, summing it up in 156 bright seconds : “ I fell in love with a war and cipher told me it ended. ” Mitski turns herself into both Morrissey and Johnny Marr to replicate the dizzy glam elegance of Strangeways, Here We Come, as she drops assorted metaphors like handkerchiefs and starts something she can ’ thyroxine finish .
15. Paul McCartney, “Dominoes”
Ain ’ t it hard keeping it so hard-core ?
16. Lil Baby and Gunna, “Drip Too Hard”
A duet of ATL rookies from the Young Thug scene, living that Young Stoner Life over Turbo ’ s trap beatnik. Lil Baby boasts about never running from the smoke and never reading the comments, while Gunna announces, “ Designer to the ground, I can barely spell the name. ” Drip excessively hard, charge it to the tease .
17. Lana Del Rey, “Mariners Apartment Complex”
You know the Leonard Cohen song where he whispers, “ You ’ re faithful to the better man/I ’ megabyte afraid that he left ” ? The Lana of this ballad is who he left with, and this apartment complex is where they ended up, God help them both. ( She probably hoped it would look like Gloria Grahame ’ s pad in In a Lonely Place, but it ’ second more like where she lives in Human Desire. ) A trailer from Lana ’ s approaching album Norman Fucking Rockwell .
18. Karol G, “Mi Cama”
final year we got Dua Lipa ’ second “ if you ’ re under him, you ain ’ t getting over him ” ; this year, we get Karol G drowning out the memory of her x with the sound of her bedsprings squeaking. immediately that ’ randomness getting over him. The colombian reggaeton star sighs and moans — “ Mi cama suena y suena ” — but her noisy go to bed is the substantial star of the song .
19. Craig Finn, “Galveston”
“ The wait keeps making it weird/I wish she wouldn ’ deoxythymidine monophosphate birdcall me ‘ boastfully brother. ’ ” The Hold Steady caparison spends this torment cowpunk narration kicking about in Texas, dragging a hoard of bad memories he can ’ metric ton outrun .
20. Carly Rae Jepsen, “Party for One”
She bop, you bop, we bop. Be-bop-a-loo, she bop .
21. Rosalía, “Pienso En Ti Mirá”
The flamenco Bowie sweeps in for her spotlight spin, whispering of sleep together and its torments over stuttering electro-handclaps .
22. Cher, “The Name of the Game”
Mamma mia, here she goes again. I love every second base of Cher ’ s ABBA protection, the clang of the 1970s divorce-anthem titans, but particularly her Bjorn-gasmic rendition of “ The mention of the Game. ” Wish list for 2019 : Cher dunks on Bohemian Rhapsody the way she dunked on Mamma Mia, with an album of Queen covers. I ’ megabyte beg for her “ person to Love, ” but I ’ ll settle for “ Bicycle Race. ”
23. Tove Styrke, “On the Low”
The most swedish of swedish pop stars — Tove was actually a dissenter on Swedish Idol, which might be overdoing it conceptually. “ On the Low ” was a single that flopped everywhere — even Sweden, where it missed the chart, which is fair mean — but it ’ s a huge stumble in my lead, a perfect storm of automaton sad-girl synth hiccups .
24. Bad Moves, “Spirit FM”
The year ’ south perkiest pop-punk song about realizing you ’ ra thwart at church camp because you can ’ t stop squash on the girl in your cabin. These D.C. kids turn this into an accidental epitaph for the Buzzcocks, with humor the belated, bang-up Pete Shelley would have appreciated .
25. The Beatles, “Good Night” (Take 5 & 10)
The White Album box set was decidedly one of the best things to happen to the universe in 2018. Just hearing John peep “ ’ ullo, Paul ” in the “ Julia ” demonstration forces me to re-evaluate my whole life up to now. ( Wait, John was will to sing this nakedest of confessions with Paul in the room ? ) But this “ Good Night ” hits hardest — an outtake cipher heard until nowadays. It ’ s all four Beatles singing together in 1968, deep in the chaotic White Album sessions at Abbey Road. Ringo ’ s trying to sing run, and the other lads join because they can see he needs a little serve from his friends. It ’ s rare at any phase to hear all four harmonize — but in these excellently agonistic sessions ? It happened. then it sat in a vault for 50 years .
The Beatles drove each other brainsick making the White Album, but “ good Night ” shows why they kept driving themselves through it, no count what — they were the Beatles, and they lived to impress each other. That ’ south why all four spent the respite of their lives showing off — in their different ways, they kept the White Album experiment rolling. That ’ s why Paul couldn ’ thymine resist dropping his raw album right on clear of this reissue. That ’ south besides why he ’ ll spend tonight onstage, wherever he is, playing dozens of songs for hours until everyone else collapses. There are easier ways to spend your late seventies, but Paul ’ s not concern. That ’ s the merely room this music could have ever happened in the first place — four drive friends who could not let this go. That ’ sulfur who Paul is and will constantly be. Showing off. But it ’ s all proper. It ’ s a short life. good nox .