Alright, the fun one!
Like I said last time, I enjoyed 2018 a fair bit more than most other music critics. Ironically enough, I don’t think anybody hated 2017 as much as I did, so while everyone was calling 2018 a letdown, I considered it an improvement. As I was going through the worst list, I started to wonder why I even felt that way. But now that I’ve moved on to the best, I can say that while this year’s best might not be better than my favorites of 2017, there are certainly more high points this time around. So let’s get into it!
HM. I Fall Apart- Post Malone
YE Position: 39
Oh wow, a hot take already. This is not good.
While I’ll admit Better Now was a more emotionally complex look into a breakup, it can’t compare to the raw emotion Post displays here. The production is shrill and hollow, a perfect backup to Post Malone’s wailing, filled with enough passion to make this feel genuine. And it’s this that makes a melodramatic line like “devil in the form of a whore” work. And yes it does go into flexing, but I see that more as Post Malone trying to cope with getting dumped. Hell, he pretty much says as much on the bridge. He’s doing this stuff to try to brush it off, but he can’t. I can see how this song might turn people off, but for me, it was one of the most emotionally powerful songs of the year.
HM. Stir Fry- Migos
YE Position: 48
Despite the absolutely terrible 2018 Migos had, at least they also put out what is most likely their best single to date. The production stands out especially, actually being produced 10 years ago by Pharrell. The percussion takes the spotlight, being fast paced and aggressive, and being backed by thick bass what sounds like crickets. It’s kind of a miracle this beat wasn’t a complete disaster. And for once, all three Migos pull their weight. Quavo’s usually my least favorite, put here he might actually be the best part as he handles the first verse and all three hooks with solid flows and a lot more charisma than I’ve come to expect from him. Offset and Takeoff also sound great, and all three have their share of genuinely funny punchlines.
HM. Ric Flair Drip- Offset & Metro Boomin
YE Position: 38
But Offset’s solo hit was better than any song he put out as a part of Migos this year. The crisp, icy beat provides a great backup for Offset’s energetic flow. Yeah, the lyrics are kind of basic, but with how smooth and catchy the song is, I really can’t care about that. Not much more to say, just a really solid trap rap song.
HM. Perfect- Ed Sheeran
YE Position: 2
I’m not even sure if this song is that good. It’s a very basic love song with a good vocal performance some pretty nice production, but there’s really nothing too special about it. But somehow, through all the massive overplay this song got this year, I did not get sick of it. I like Perfect now exactly as much as I did when I first heard it, and that’s gotta count for something.
HM. Finesse- Bruno Mars ft. Cardi B
YE Position: 14
On the flip side, here’s a song that burned out on me really fuckin quickly. And now I like it again. The production is a nice throwback to 90’s swing, and Bruno sounds fine, but the real star here is Cardi B. She sounds like she’s having a blast here, and she’s able to transfer that feeling to the listener as well. Great song, and I hope Bruno goes back to making retro throwbacks instead of… whatever the hell Wake Up In The Sky is.
HM. Sky Walker- Miguel ft. Travis Scott
YE Position: 75
One of the few notable trends we got in 2018 was really bizarre comebacks, most of them being really good! For example, take Miguel. He had some success from 2011 to 2013 before completely falling off, only to get this hit out of nowhere early this year. And good thing two, because this song is pretty great. The hazy and spacious production complements Miguel’s smooth vocals amazingly with its light trap percussion and bouncy synths, while also working well with Travis’s verse. And yeah, the lyrics are pretty cheesy, especially with some of the references, but Miguel knows that. He’s just having fun here, and it shows. Not a song I return to often, but one that I always enjoy listening to.
HM. Nonstop- Drake
YE Position: 52
This is my favorite Drake song of the year. Yes, even more than Nice For What. The beat is effectively menacing, with grimy, lo-fi bass and rapid percussion. It works especially well on the “drop”, with the “my head is spinning” vocal sample. Drake is great here too with his deadpan delivery, to the point where I can almost buy him as a threatening hard-edge rapper. But not completely. Give this song to someone like 21 Savage and it would’ve worked a lot better. Still, great job Drake, I wish the rest of Scorpion was more on this level of quality.
HM. Nice For What- Drake
YE Position: 11
With that said, however, Nice For What deserves a mention too. The Lauryn Hill sample sets such a triumphant atmosphere, and Drake rides it surprisingly well. And by the way, Maroon 5, this is how to do a female empowerment anthem. Instead of being emotionally manipulative or pandering, the message here is just “go out and live your life”. Then halfway through, we get the breakdown. It’s loose and fun while still staying musically coherent, which really isn’t that hard to do, what the fuck, In My Feelings? Deserved to be the defining Drake song of the year over God’s Plan and In My Feelings, definitely.
HM. The Middle- Zedd, Maren Morris & Grey
YE Position: 8
So, here’s another overplayed song I never got sick of. Only this time, the song actually grew on me over time. Instead of feeling like a retread of Stay, The Middle is more like the final product with Stay being a beta version. Maren Morris is a country singer, but she’s able to lean into this type of pop-edm pretty effectively. The production, meanwhile, is sharp and precise, combining its synthetic elements with some organic percussion and guitar. And yes, I am aware that this song was made for Target commercials, but when the end product is this great, I can’t really complain.
HM. Tequila- Dan + Shay
YE Position: 32
Ah yes, the biggest country song of the year, an emotional ballad about all the memories that can come flooding back from one small thing, accompanied by beautiful guitar and piano-lead production. Meant To Be? What’s that? Never heard of it. Anyways, great song, but not quite the best of its genre this year. As I’ve said before, 2018 was an amazing year for country music. But more on that later.
HM. Eastside- Benny Blanco, Halsey & Khalid
YE Position: 77
I’m honestly a little surprised this song gained enough traction to make the year-end list. Hell, it might even make next year’s also with how well it’s doing on the radio. And it’s not hard to see why, with the calming production and surprisingly great chemistry between Khalid and Halsey. But what got it a mention on this list are the lyrics, which tell the story of two people- played by Halsey and Khalid- who fell in love when they were young, now struggling with the pressures of adult life and wanting to go back to the days when they could get away from their problems and be together. Great song, always look forward to hearing it on the radio, and Benny Blanco does not deserve to be credited as the lead artist. He’s not even the main producer. What the fuck?
HM. Powerglide- Rae Sremmurd ft. Juicy J
YE Position: 97
Oh my god, how are these the same guys that made Swang just one year ago?!
But don’t think this song is only here due to lowered expectations, no, this is awesome. The production and hook make you feel like you’re going through a wind tunnel, and as for the rappers- they all do great! Swae Lee’s a naturally good singer, but he tends not to use his voice in the best way (see Swang). Here he does, though, with some great energy and a couple good ad-libs on the second verse. Slim Jxmmi isn’t the best, but he certainly is trying, and he only gets one verse anyway. Juicy J closes up the song, and he sounds a lot better than usual, even with the “chinny-chin-chin” line. Rae Sremmurd’s careers are probably dead, but at least their last hit was their best song.
HM. Say Something- Justin Timberlake ft. Chris Stapleton
YE Position: 85
If this song didn’t feel dragged out near the end and the verses weren’t so underdeveloped, it would’ve made the list. The production is absolutely gorgeous, with its lush acoustic guitars and subtle latin influences in the percussion. Justin sounds good, but he’s overshadowed by Chris Stapleton’s rougher, deeper voice despite him only providing backing vocals. But what really sells me are the lyrics and message. It can be tempting to throw yourself into every controversy, but sometimes you need to take a step back and think “is it worth it”? In 2018 especially, this is a message more people need to hear. Again, it’s a shame that its structure holds it back, but it’s still a song worthy of this honorable mention. Glad Justin was able to score at least one hit despite all the backlash he got this year.
Also Filthy was good too. No I’m not going to apologize for that take.
So, with all that out of the way, what actually made the list? Well-
You remember me talking about I Fall Apart, right? Well, what if we got a song this year from a performer with more experience with the subject of heartbreak and misery, with added real life context, and an epic climax? Oh that’s right, we did! …and people hate this one too. Shit.
#10. Call Out My Name- The Weeknd
YE Position: 78
Alright, this song is about Abel’s relationship with Selena Gomez. That “I almost cut a piece of myself” line, that’s not some metaphor, that’s a reference to how the Weeknd offered to donate his kidney to help her with surgery that ended up saving her life. Some people accuse this song of guilt-tripping, and-
Maybe it’s guilt tripping a little bit, and this does sort of hold the song back from being even higher, but that’s kind of unavoidable when you’re describing a breakup you didn’t want to happen. Abel even admits that he wants her to stay with him, before adding that he knows she doesn’t want him. He’s less trying to win her back, and more frustrated with himself for not being able to let go while Selena moved on quickly. He’s not used to feeling this way, if his past music is any indication, and he sounds absolutely destroyed.
Sounds? Oh right, this is a song. Let’s talk about the actual music here, shall we? The song starts off ominous and quiet, with light piano and bells. As the song goes on, heavy drums and eerie synths are added, as Abel’s voice gradually builds, until the terrifying climax right before the final chorus, where he screams “Call out my name” at the top of his lungs while being swamped in speaker-distorting bass. Then everything calms down after that chorus, with ghostly backing vocals and light touches of violin as the song fades out. Not The Weeknd’s best work, but the easy standout on that EP that no one remembers, and I’m glad it managed to make the year-end list.
Shit, that was kind of a heavy way to start off a best list, huh? Good thing this song isn’t.
#9. No Limit- G-Eazy ft. Cardi B, A$AP Rocky
YE Position: 30
I’d like to clarify that the version of the song that made this list is the original, not the remix. The remix feels dragged out and none of the additional verses are all that good.
So, um… the lyrics really aren’t anything special. I like the dynamic between G-Eazy and Cardi, with Cardi playing the role of the stripper who’s taking all of G-Eazy’s money, and the Jared reference is… something, I guess, but no this song is only here because of how it sounds.
The beat is fast-paced and intense, with the piano in the back of the mix adding a slight ominous tone that sets a great party vibe while also keeping you on your toes. And all three rappers ride this production perfectly. A$AP Rocky’s deeper voice sounds great on the hook, and as for G-Eazy, I’ve heard people call him the weak link of the song, and… they’d be right, but it’s not like he’s doing badly or anything. He projects this “I’m too cool to care” vibe, and then Cardi comes in and just runs away with the rest of the song. Like I said before, she plays the role of one of the strippers G-Eazy is fucking, and she sounds like she’s having a great time as G-Eazy gives her all his money. It’s a nice twist that adds another perspective to a pretty basic concept. Awesome song, an easy standout in the rap scene this year. So why is it only at #9?
“Damn Daniel, back again with the, hah, Saint Laurent”
Referencing Damn Daniel is inexcusable and the writers should be ashamed of themselves.
And now for some sad country!
#8. Mercy- Brett Young
YE Position: 95
Brett Young was one of the newer country singers last year that was able to maintain success into 2018, and while I liked In Case You Didn’t Know, it can’t compare to the pure sadness that is Mercy.
This song is pretty barren instrumentally, with only a sparse piano melody and the occasional strum of acoustic guitar. But it works. Then there’s Brett’s singing, and his soft, vulnerable voice was pretty much made for a song like this. He sounds absolutely crushed.
But where the song truly shines is in the songwriting. It starts with Brett Young asking why his girlfriend wants to keep the relationship going despite not loving him anymore. Good setup, but how does Brett feel about the relationship? Is he going to try to convince her to stay, because as he puts it “his flame’s still burning”?
“If you’re gonna break my heart, just break it”
“If you ever loved me, have mercy”
Oh wow. He wants her to just end it to keep the both of them from suffering any longer. That’s actually a really mature approach. In the second verse, we get a couple more details, like how at this point she’s only calling him when she’s drunk and alone, and how while he wants to be with her, he’d rather not keep this cycle going and just end things for good. Emotionally complex, mature, and heartbreaking, and I can’t stand to hear this song on the radio. Yeah, a few months ago, this song could’ve made the top three, but now I realize it’s not really a song I’d choose to listen to unless I’m in a specific mood. With that said, fantastic job Brett, I hope your career doesn’t die anytime soon.
It’s insane how much this guy’s quality has changed over the past two years. In 2016 he released one of the worst, most insufferable “nice guy” anthems I’ve ever heard, but then in the summer 2017 he put out a fun, catchy pop song I ended up listening to a lot in a pretty dark time for music. What I didn’t expect, however, was for him to get even better.
#7. In My Blood- Shawn Mendes
YE Position: 46
For a while, I didn’t really like this song. Then one day, a couple months ago, I was feeling horribly stressed and depressed, and this song came on. And I connected with it. I got the appeal.
This is here just for the lyrics, but I’m not gonna say this sounds bad. In fact, the pounding drums and the swell of the guitar is very potent, and Mendes is clearly putting his all into this song, which makes sense, the struggle portrayed in the lyrics iis very personal for him. This song illustrates Mendes’s mental health issues, primarily anxiety, as he tries to plug the holes in his life with drinking and girls just to get rid of his loneliness and insecurities. And then you could also look at this song through the point of view of the co-writer, Teddy Geiger, who happens to be trans. Now I’m not gonna claim I know a lot about the trans community, but I do know that they have very high depression and suicide rates. So no matter which angle you view this song from- whether that be from Mendes, Geiger, or your own- you’ll still be able to get a lot out of it. I wasn’t expecting to be praising Shawn Mendes again, especially not two years in a row, but he earned it. Amazing work.
But on the subject of continued major improvement from artists I’d never thought I’d be putting on a best list two years ago-
#6. How Long- Charlie Puth
YE Position: 65
Alright, how did we get here? Sure, I liked See You Again back in 2015, but ever since then I’ve liked nothing Charlie Puth put out. Hell, I wasn’t even a big fan of Attention, which seemed to be his “turning point” in the eyes of most critics. The bassline was good, but it wasn’t enough, and Charlie Puth came off pissy and unlikeable, even if it was sort of justified. But then this happened and fixed all the problems I had with that song. The funk groove is more fleshed out and punchy, with quick snappy percussion complementing the insanely catchy bassline. And then there’s Charlie himself, and unlike with his older stuff like One Call Away, here he’s taking advantage of his lower register, which is actually pretty great. The transition between the prechorus and the chorus is especially awesome, with how it suddenly drops into that fantastic bassline.
But then we get to the lyrics, and… this is something special. The idea here is that Charlie Puth is admitting to cheating, and taking full responsibility without glorifying it. He sounds sincere and I genuinely believe he feels bad about his actions. The hook, meanwhile, switches to the girl’s perspective, who’s, needless to say, pretty upset. Which is also understandable. It would’ve been so easy to make either Charlie or the girl the “bad guy”, but that doesn’t happen. Both sides still come out likeable, and that’s honestly really impressive. Never thought you had this in you, Charlie, but now that I know you’re capable of this-
(skip to 0:14)
Oh. So this was all a part of your plan. Well shit, nevermind I guess.
Imagine Dragons. This band has been the target of quite a bit of hate recently, ever since the release of Believer in early 2017. And for the most part it’s been undeserved. Yes, I did hate Believer, but since then, I’ve liked everything they’ve put out. Thunder grew on me a lot since last year, and Natural is basically Believer done right. And then there was that other one… what was it? Oh, that’s right, my fifth favorite hit song of 2018.
#5. Whatever It Takes- Imagine Dragons
YE Position: 37
I do have a few issues with this song, namely the clunky percussion on the chorus. Seriously, what the hell is that? Is it a cowbell? Either way, it sticks out way too much. Fortunately everything else makes up for it. The production has epic swell with the backing vocals, but it stays controlled, creating a relaxing vibe while still having just enough to keep you on edge and invested. Dan Reynolds also tones back, letting his vocals build steadily rather than just going all out with no hesitation.
The lyrics and narrative also manage to work, detailing how Reynolds feels trapped by the music industry, but at the same time, he enjoys it. He’s become addicted to the struggle to stay relevant while also trying to maintain his creative vision, and he won’t stop until he’s dead, and when he does die, he’ll be satisfied with everything he’s accomplished. It’s kind of a dark sentiment, but the writing is able to make it sound epic, like a great adventure or battle. …which explains why this got used in so many trailers. I honestly don’t care about that.
Not Imagine Dragons’ best, I’d take about half of their debut album over this, but still a fantastic song that even this band’s harshest critics don’t have much animosity for. Good job guys, you should go in this direction instead of what you decided to do on Origins. Yeah, don’t do that ever again.
In February, Black Panther was released, and it went on to become the highest grossing solo superhero film. Its original soundtrack, produced by Kendrick Lamar, also experienced massive success, with three songs off it making the year-end. And while All The Stars was good without being great and King’s Dead was just hilarious, neither could measure up to the soundtrack’s biggest hit, Pray For Me.
By the way, the video might cause seizures. Watch out for that. If you get a seizure, that’s now your fault for not listening to me.
#4. Pray For Me- The Weeknd & Kendrick Lamar
YE Position: 40
This is just the perfect song for a superhero movie, it’s a shame it was wasted in the movie, but whatever. The production is the perfect combination of dark and epic, the cold and mechanical bass anchoring the shadowy, looming swell on the chorus. The Weeknd was a perfect choice for this song, as his voice conveys all the desperation and sense of struggle needed. Kendrick’s verse is nowhere near his best work, but his somewhat monotone delivery creates a good contrast between him and The Weeknd, as while the Weeknd was struggling emotionally, Kendrick sounds completely resolved in facing this enemy and doing whatever it takes to defeat them. The tone and lyrics end up working both within the context of the movie, and as a standalone piece with characterization, story, and even a hint of political commentary. And I could go on, but I think I’ve made my point clear. Best song off the black panther soundtrack, and if Shallow and Sunflower are any indication, it looks like the trend of great soundtrack hits will continue into 2019.
So, I never hated Thomas Rhett. He’s a decent singer with some charisma, and I even liked a couple of his songs. Yeah, he’s released some of the worst country songs of the decade, like Crash And Burn and Vacation, but I always felt he had potential.
And fortunately, I was right.
#3. Marry Me- Thomas Rhett
YE Position: 76
This is one of the best-written songs in recent memory. It starts off with Thomas describing this girl planning her wedding, and then the chorus switches over to himself and what he’ll be doing at the wedding, you’re set up into believing that this’ll just be a standard wedding song where Thomas is getting married, nothing special, nothing new, kind of sweet, but that’s it. And then-
“Yeah she wanna get married”
But she don’t wanna marry me”
Goddamn, that’s a plot twist. It catches you off guard, hits you hard emotionally, and immediately gets you invested in the song’s narrative.
The second verse then fleshes out the background between Thomas and this girl, how they’d been friends since childhood, and there was one moment where they almost came together, but it just didn’t happen. He’d loved her for a long time, always wondering if she felt the same way, but then he gets the wedding invitation. The second chorus resonates a lot more now that you know the context of why he’s going to hide in back, take a shot of whiskey to help him get through it and try not to cry.
The emotion peaks on the bridge, however, where Thomas, on the wedding, has the sudden impulse to go find her and confess his love, and you think this song might go downhill, follow the path of Wait by Maroon 5. But he stops himself, realizing how happy she is and decides to put her happiness and well-being above his own, a massive step up in maturity coming from the guy who made “Crash And Burn” just three years prior. And so, he just wishes her the best and does exactly what he said he would- sit in back and try not to cry as she gets married. What a masterpiece of songwriting.
…What helps is that the song sounds beautiful, with its steel guitar and piano sounding like the typical backdrop to a wedding track, which only adds to the heartbreak, and Thomas singing with more passion than he’s ever had before, passion that I didn’t know he had in him. Amazing song, deserved every bit of critical acclaim it received, and yet I liked two songs even more this year. Let’s see what they are.
For the longest time, I thought this was a lock for the #1 spot. When I realized the song that did top this list actually had a shot of making the year-end, this got pushed down, but it was still a difficult choice to make because…
Holy fuck this really is something special.
#2. Let You Down- NF
YE Position: 29
“Oh haha, look at this guy, he likes a Jesus song lol hahahahaha” no shut up. Yes, NF’s a Christian Rapper, but that doesn’t mean all his songs are Jesus-related. Hell, this song didn’t even touch the Christian Charts. It’s not about Jesus, it’s about NF’s father, ok, got it? Now it’s time to actually, y’know, talk about the song.
Well, where to begin. How about the narrative? This song explores NF’s complicated feelings towards his father. On the one hand, he’s resentful. Nothing he ever did could be enough, he was constantly guilt-tripped and told he was wrong by a neglectful, alcoholic father. He’s essentially given up and is trying to cut his father, this toxic presence, out of his life, and yet-
“Feels like we’re on the edge right now
I wish that I could say I’m proud
I’m sorry that I let you down”
He still feels like a failure. And that’s the thing about that kind of psychological abuse, it lingers. You can be aware that you’re being manipulated, while still succumbing to said manipulation. It’s almost like stockholm syndrome. And the whole song is set in that single moment where NF tells his dad everything, puts all his feelings out there. He even says he would’ve liked to work things out, but his dad is still unwilling to have that conversation, instead attempting to sweep it under the rug and make everything seem ok. And the song ends on a note of tired defeat as NF reaches the conclusion that his father will never change and just leaves.
And the emotion is there in a lot of the vocals and production choices as well, with the pitched-up vocals on the first hook acting as the voice of a child, and the final chorus combining both normal vocals and pitched-up vocals bringing a certain sense of closure. There’s also how each verse is slightly more stripped back, like each one is revealing deeper layers of NF’s feelings. Now if only the percussion wasn’t so formulaic and NF didn’t start each verse with a “yeah”, this could’ve been #1, as well as one of the best songs of the entire decade. But even with those minor flaws, I still love this song and I’m glad it took off in the way that it did. But it’s not #1.
Well, here it is. My favorite hit song of 2018, and one that, sadly, I feel will get largely overlooked by most critics, as just one of those “filler” country songs that take up slots near the bottom of the year-end. But I’m going to give it all the credit it deserves. Luke Combs, this one’s for you.
#1. One Number Away- Luke Combs
YE Position: 96
From the first opening second, this song is absolutely perfect and stunning, with that bleak, spacious guitar, which maintains a dark, jagged tone in the first verse, as Luke wonders to himself what his ex is doing, almost confrontationally, while giving some appreciated details about her character. But then on the chorus he drops all of that and breaks down, admitting that he’s still not over her, despite everything he said, he goes to call her, all being reflected in the instrumental shift to smoother electric guitars, but at the last moment he stops himself, one number away, because he knows he broke up with her for a reason, and he can’t take everything back now.
The second verse is even more aggressive, as he begins to ask his ex if the “smoke in her mirror is clearer” without him, and if she’s “replaced their favorite song”, which can work both literally and as metaphors, you can interpret that however you want. He’s upset by the very possibility, and yet again he goes to call her, and despite stopping himself again, he’s still desperate to even hear her voice, and all this frustration builds and builds into Luke Combs screaming the song title and a guitar solo that feels powerful and cathartic as hell, before calming down, and ending perfectly with a repeat of the guitar line in the opening. What a masterpiece.
This really is the best country hit since either Blown Away or Colder Weather, more than six years ago. Honestly I’m surprised country radio actually played something with this much raw intensity and power alongside fucking Get Along and Meant To Be this year. It may have only just scraped onto the year-end, but the fact that it made it here at all is good enough for me. One Number Away by Luke Combs- the best hit song of a pretty mediocre year.
And that’s the end! Sorry this one was a lot shorter than the worst list, I guess it’s easier to rip something apart than praise it. 2018 felt like kind of a chore to get through. Which is why my next worst and best lists will be for my favorite year for popular music ever- 2013. Also coming up soon will be a top 20 ranking sometime in February. And as a bonus, here’s the hot 100 for 2018 ranked:
- One Number Away
- Let You Down
- Marry Me
- Pray For Me
- Whatever It Takes
- How Long
- In My Blood
- No Limit
- Call Out My Name
- Say Something
- The Middle
- I Fall Apart
- Ric Flair Drip
- Nice For What
- Stir Fry
- Sky Walker
- King’s Dead
- Him And I
- Back To You
- All The Stars
- Love Lies
- Lucid Dreams
- Better Now
- Feel It Still*
- Plain Jane
- Bartier Cardi
- No Tears Left To Cry
- Look Alive
- Too Good At Goodbyes*
- Boo’d Up
- I Like Me Better
- God Is A Woman
- One Kiss
- Young Dumb & Broke
- Freaky Friday
- Plug Walk
- Sicko Mode
- This Is America
- Big Bank
- Meant To Be
- God’s Plan
- New Rules
- Shape Of You*
- I Like It
- Be Careful
- Get Along
- Bodak Yellow
- Never Be The Same
- Girls Like You
- Lights Down Low
- You Make It Easy
- I Get The Bag*
- Gucci Gang
- I’m Upset
- In My Feelings
- Outside Today
- No Brainer
- What Lovers Do*
- Walk It Talk It
- Yes Indeed
- Sorry Not Sorry*
- Bad At Love
- Mi Gente*
- Te Bote