I was like basically pretty much sorta almost ready to go with this before the NY kicked in. Then my holiday companions gave me a straight up grilling for wanting to post these songs in no particular order.
So revisit, I have. Ranked them, I did. Torturous, it certainly was.
It did give me a chance to rigorously re-test this playlist end to end – in order and on shuffle – about 20 more times, so I can definitely 100% guarantee these are 21 of my favourite songs of the year. Or your money back.
So, what sort of year was 2018 in music?
Looking back, it was a year when hip hop continued to dominate the charts further reinforcing its (mostly) deserved relevance. It’s a time to be alive and a hip-hop fan, let me tell you.
Pop music took us in even newer and exciting directions, often blurring the lines between it and alternative music even further.
Also, my longest held life dream came true – old school R&B was not only rebirthed but baptised in front a whole new generation of kidlets. The lesson here is to tell everyone your dreams as many times as possible and for as long as it takes people, the universe will eventually relent and reward your passion and earnest annoyingness.
It was also a year I finally burst my lingual bubble. I enjoyed non-English music more than ever before despite not being able to accurately sing along. Non-English speaking people are like “welcome to our world, dude”. And I feel that.
It was also a year where some of my favourites released albums that I’ve sadly all but forgotten: Lykke Li, Noname, KANYE FREAKING WEST’s Ye, y’all. Ye and me always had the music but is our golden run over? Not exactly (see below).
After much deliberation and streaming service spiralling, here are the songs that I listened to most, loved most immensely for a short time or that bubbled away under my soul for a long time. Whichever bill they fit, they earned it and I still love them now.
Of course, there 1000 others but these are the ones I want most to share. I have been a little brutal on those that will feature on my top 10 albums list.
They’re in order. Feel free to put them on shuffle and turn that nozzle up loud for maximum musical whiplash. I would most love for you to find something new, anything that tickles your musical fancy. I’ll be checking back in soon to hear how you went.
#1. Honey – Robyn
Starting from the top cos we here. Robyn may have only just missed the coveted spot of being my #1 album but ohhh this song, like honey, is rich, sweet and heavy. It’s also a deliciously nourishing beauty and is hands down my favourite song of the year. Honey may also be the greatest metaphor ever used in a pop song (big call Sunday doesn’t stop while on holiday).
“Let it soak up into the flesh/ Never had this kind of nutrition” she sings about an organic connection with an impending returned love. Meanwhile, I sing along to that about what this song does to my soul. What an unbelievable force of life this woman is. Robyn is a gift from the musical gods and it’s been worth the 7 year wait to experience this meticulously crafted album.
I am not sure what the weather will be like in New York in March, probably cold. I do know there’s a 100% chance of tears when I see her perform this live at Madison Square Garden then.
#2. Girlfriend – Christine and the Queens (feat. Dâm-Funk)
Just when you think the chaleur humaine of the artist now known as Chris couldn’t get any smoother, this slice of slyly persistent funk landed. After months upon months of frequent rotation I love this more with every single listen. A deceptive jam that is actually about how Chris’ non-conformist gender/sexual/general image ‘fits’ in a more conventional (macho) culture. It’s a stroke of genius in sound and theme. When she sings “F-f-fuck is me, fuck is you, f-f-fuck is you now” you can hear the urgently stuttering frustration. I still hear more than a little of Haim’s Days Are Gone on this album (only ever a good thing) but being deliberately and defiantly self written and produced, it’s 100% Chris, which is exactly the right proportion. The world needs more of it.
#3. My My My! – Troye Sivan
I was house sitting in the lush British countryside of Kent a few months ago. When I wasn’t making cats go through a makeshift security process that consisted of couch cushions and a two stage door opening process while they were distantly inspected for muling mice inside, I was lavishing up some of my favourite songs over the volume of speakers you can only get away with outside the city.
Music is always better loud and My My My! sounds even better than most. It’s high end (b)romance made to lose yourself in. That he makes a line like “Spark up, buzz cut/ I got my tongue between your teeth” sound intimate is testament to his delivery and musical penmanship. Just like “I die every night with you” is exactly the sort of extreme sentiment that pop music does best. Love this song so much.
#4. 4th Dimension – Kids See Ghosts
While Ye was my least favourite Kanye solo album ever, his production work on Pusha T’s Daytona and Teyana Taylor’s K.T.S.E. this year reminded me of his original brilliance. Above all, it was his reunion and reconciliation with Kid Cudi, aka Kids See Ghosts, that was the masterpiece. What they did with all those sounds and genres along with some of their best rhyming in years blew my freakin’ tiny little mind over here.
4th Dimension is the epitome of all that. When that old swing sample intro crashes into that miliary beat my whole body feels it – Kanye even finds his sense of humour again. Then that horror movie chuckle leads into Cudi’s verse and it all happens with such delicacy that you don’t even realise it’s at least four songs carefully constructed in one.
So my long standing relationship with Kanye the producer remains as strong as ever. The performer one is hanging by a thread (subject to Yandhi) and the person one … well, if we were in a Facebook relationship our status would be ‘it’s complicated’.
#5. Slow Burn – Kacey Musgraves
What more to say about my favourite song from my favourite album of 2018 that I didn’t already say here. This song is the sort of literal autobiography that country music excels in more than any other genre, save for rap. And Kacey Musgraves shares just enough snippets of herself and her life that you know who she is and what she’s about. When she sings “born in a hurry, always late, haven’t been early since ‘88” I FEEL THAT (and a few years on top even).
An expose like “Good on a glass/ good on green/ good when you’re putting your hands all over me” might be breaking conventions in country music’s ultra-conservative universe but when it’s delivered as part of a package this beautiful who could take beef with it, honestly.
I mean it, listen to Golden Hour if you haven’t. If you like country music, or if you don’t. I’m convinced it’s an album for the masses. As is the artist.
#6. Be Careful – Cardi B
Whether Cardi B was the person of 2018 or not, 2018 was definitely the year of Cardi B. What an incredible and refreshing debut album Invasion of Privacy was. Impressively diverse in sound and even more impressively consistent in quality. Be Careful is the glue that holds it all together from somewhere in the middle.
“Be Careful with me/ it’s not a threat, it’s a warning” may be harder to believe after Cardi threw a shoe at Nicki Minaj’s head at a fancy gala dinner this year but whatever she says in this song, you know the underlying tone is that she’s not be messed with.
This is the one track from the album that gives me something new, something more the more I listen. Especially in the aftermath of her break up with Offset (for his cheating), Be Careful – a song that also masterfully interpolates Lauryn Hill’s aptly named Ex-Factor – now feels less like a warning than a foretold prophecy.
#7. Pick Up – DJ Koze
The best dance music does so much with seemingly so little. In only about 16 unique words on repeat, this song captures the reluctant end of a relationship with such precision it needs no more. “It’s sad to think/ neither one of us/ wants to the first to say/ wants to be the first to say goodbye”.
Pick Up blends two songs from the 70s – Melba Moore’s disco soul Pick Me Up I’ll Dance and the motown of Gladys Knight and the Pips’ Neither One of Us. Just like those songs and genres, it let’s the lyrics and mood be your transportation to that emotional place, rather than bashing you across the ears until you feel it (I’m looking at you chart-topping EDM). The beat drips all over you from inside. DJ Koze has a midas touch on the decks and on the soul. It’s pure bliss on and off the dancefloor.
#8. Boo’d Up – Ella Mai
I was in a cab recently and Enrique Iglesias’ Hero came on. I thought “you’d never hear a ballad like this top the charts nowadays”. Now, we could argue about whether that’s a good thing because of that song, or a bad thing because of all the other amazing earnest ballads that have sound tracked a certain age bracket’s youth.
There was also a time I might hear early Mariah Carey or SWV and think the same thing. But in 2018, then came along Ella Mai. I cannot tell you how much it meant to me that this song exists and was embraced by the living in 2018. You can hear inspired tinges of 90s R&B all over today’s music, but Boo’d Up straight up delorean’d that shizzle from the mid 90s R&Bizzle. You can go deep with me and read more about the R&B perfection of Boo’d Up here.
#9. Love Me Right – Amber Mark
How do these early 20 somethings write and sing with such maturity and poise (see also Jorja Smith)? How can we also be so blessed with so much high-quality no-frills R&B this year (see also Boo’d Up). This song gracefully balances a line between that sound and the subtle sensuality of Sade on a detour through South America.
Love me right, she pleads, sick, tired and confused by all the lip service with no delivery on it. “Cos you talk love but you never act on it”. You feel it in all the gentle pleading yet deep defiance in her voice.
Amber covers Sade’s Love is Stronger than Pride on her Conexao EP and it is exquisite. Seriously though, where does one get a voice like this from? Asking for a friend who has been told all week that he can’t sing …
#10. Done For Me – Charlie Puth (feat. Kehlani)
He says/she says duets mostly exist in those phases from pre-love to in-love. All the good bits. This song? Oh no, these guys have been there, done that. This is a battle for who was right and who was wrong. While I’m a sucker for unbridled romance in music, this is a hot refreshing take with swooping beat that only adds gusto to the kiss off.
Both Charlie Puth and Kehlani’s voices bring just the right level of I told you so swag. Yes, I did just say Charlie Puth has swag. Moving along then …
#11. Focus – Charli XCX
Charli XCX is such a gifted and canny pop force that the moment I first heard the bubble tea rhythm of Focus at her live show this year I was like ‘Um, what’s this and where can I listen to it again immediately?’
So, on arrival home I scoured the internet to watch poorly filmed mobile footage uploaded by one of those people I hate at gigs (but forgive once I’m home, obvs). She officially released it a week or two later and I was convinced it was going to land – in the charts, in the place unsuspecting people save solely for surprise pop hits. It wasn’t to be, but that’s just another reason to pay it the respect it deserves. I swear to you, Charli XCX is the future of pop music so you best get on board immediately.
#12. Bubblin – Anderson .Paak
Andy, my man. One of two singles he released that cannot be found on his new album, Oxnard. Despite writing about the other one (also excellent, but mostly because it was first) this song bubbles and it snap-crackle-and-pops. Sheesh, I love this one. Not only the coolest, but one of the most talented and interesting figures in music today.
Like a blaxploitation soundtrack it’s giving me jazzy hints of the Pink Panther theme all with Anderson’s raspy sing-song flow blowing it all open with his usual gusto. I didn’t love Oxnard as much as Malibu, but this song just reaffirms everything I already felt.
#13. Make Me Feel – Janelle Monae
After making two brilliantly eccentric concept albums before this – the Archandriod and Electric Lady – Janelle Monae went full pop this year. Well, as much pop as a one in a trillion artist can go. It was co-written with Julia Michaels and Justin Tranter who are making some amazing pop music of the now.
Make Me Feel really is the sonic pinnacle Dirty Computer (although it was hard to choose this over Pynk – especially after seeing her live).
There’s no denying the explosive electricity of this song. An homage in sound and sexual energy to her friend and inspiration Prince, who helped to craft the sound for this album. It would be hard to find a more worthy or appropriate gesture. I also added this immediately to my ‘best house party playlist ever’ as soon as I heard it. I can’t think of a more worthy or appropriate gesture from me, either.
#14. Cool – Soccer Mommy
My wannabe-grunge phase only lasted a few years in my early teens (probably for the best) but definitely left its mark on the future versions of me. So when I hear lush and angsty understated rock that’s executed as well as this song, I get deeply nostalgic and remember that chubby kidult in tartan pants and one star cons very fondly. Likewise, I think that L7/Hole/Veruca Salt/Luscious Jackson-loving boy would be proud that I’m carrying his legacy forward, even if only sporadically. He also loved Clueless, so that ref is for him. Maybe we’re no so different after all. I can definitely see us rocking out together over some Soccer Mommy: “Mary has a heart of coal/ She’ll break you down and eat your soul/ I saw her do it after school/ She’s an animal”. I wanna be that cool, indeed.
#15. Fine Line – Mabel featuring Not3s
Fun fact: Mabel is Neneh Cherry’s daughter. Fun opinion: I really think this song is the coolest. I must have listened to this song as much as any other this year. From the hand-clap xylophonic intro to Mabel’s uncertain confidence and uber-millennial vibin’. The best part is where she finds a fine line with a boy “somewhere between a minute and a lifetime”. It’s the sort of fantastical reality our young irrational hearts have all taken us to before. Mabel let’s us relive it from a distance, and it’s a joy to watch.
#16. I Am – Jorja Smith
Jorja Smith’s storytelling and beyond her 21 year old soul was an epic revelation this year. Her album Lost & Found was an impeccable display of both those things. Yet it was this beautifully bruising standout from the otherwise perfectly hectic Black Panther soundtrack that commanded your attention most.
Beyond its unique role on the album, there is something extra special about this song that I just can’t put my finger on. Jorja Smith’s vocal style is undoubtedly indebted to Amy Winehouse – Amy was her idol after all. Maybe it’s that this song, not just in voice but in feeling, is closest to the rawness of Back to Black. And y’all know how I feel about Amy and that album.
#17. Nice for What – Drake
I literally thought there was no chance anything would beat this for my song of the year at one point. I was OBSESSED with it. I really wanted the Drake album to be amazing but, like his other label mates Nicki and Weezy, it was bordering on morbidly obese and basically suffocating. God damn, I loved this song though. I would probably put Travis Scott and Drake’s Sicko Mode over it right now (Drake’s verse is SO GOOD), but i think that’s only because I literally exhausted myself on this by playing it on repeat for weeks in a row. That’s not Drake’s fault. Or is it? Either way, it’s here because of the massive impact it had on me this year.
#18. Boys – Lizzo
Lizzo has been bumpin’ and grindin’ on the verge of something this good for yonks. With Boys, she blasts through. Disco with a filthy bassline? Yes please, I’ll have more thank you. Like CupcakKe, Lizzo is a body positive, sex positive liberated young black woman who makes no apologies. She’s a positive breath of fresh air. So is her music. Boys is her simply celebrating the things she likes most about the opposite sex and making a jam while she’s at it. I think her upcoming album is going to be a full bop.
#19. All Those Stars – Grand Salvo
This is a very late addition, having only been released a few weeks ago. It’s an Australian artist whose album is absolutely bloody beautiful, you little ripper #vegemite.
There is a certain sound from Australia – not just the accent – but the simplicity of some of the music from home. It’s a trait of Courtney Barnett, even Josh Pike. Grand Salvo has that same certain something.
I came across this album on Twitter, proving it’s not just for wannabe wordsmiths to hurl adjectives at each other while attempting to destroy the world. It’s can also be used for productive things, like finding otherwise hidden gems like this.
#20. Just a Stranger – Kali Uchis (feat. Steve Lacy)
At the end of the Internet’s Come Over, Steve Lacy chants “these bitches want diamond rings, Birk bags and other things” and on Kali Uchis’ Just a Stranger (which I’ll call an unofficial sequel) he choruses “she wants my hundred dollar bills, she don’t want love”. Sounds like someone’s been rolled a few times, lol. Seriously though, he is one of the most exciting producers and voices in music right now. I adore him and his work.
Despite not being at the front of the chorus, it’s Kali Uchis who owns this. A song about a woman on the hustle who wants what she needs and gets what she wants. She also doesn’t give one single F what anyone thinks, which coincidentally (or not) is one of the most refreshing things about Kali Uchis and her music.
#21. Like I Used To – Tinashe
There hasn’t been a recent year where a Tinashe track hasn’t been in my favourites. She’s as prolific as she is talented. Still, her audience is shockingly disproportionate to that talent. Tinashe is at heart a DIY (maybe even alternative) artist trying to make it in a commercial world. I could have cried when I saw she was on Dancing With The Stars this year. Still, as I reconciled then, a girl’s gotta eat.
While her second official album disappointed overall, save for some great songs, she did give us this musical press release about 48 hours after her basketballin’ ex was out with Kendall Jenner and dissing Tinashe.
“This shit too easy like a free throw, yeah” she sings. End to end basketball break up puns is an excellent way to share your side of the story. To quote Katy Perry – swish, swish bitch.
So, that’s it. Whether you read it all, or skimmed, that’s cool. Check out the playlists, which have a few others favourites (I had to draw the written line somewhere). Please, let me know what you think.
Happy new year to ye’s. May 2019 bring on even more favourite music.
Link to Spotify playlist
Link to Apple Music playlist