10. Ariana Grande, “thank u, next”
Ariana Grande’s “thank u, next” is a sensation so ubiquitous, it’s at least five of your Instagram friends’ New Year’s Eve caption. It is an uncomplicated self-love anthem that piggybacks off of the very publicized nature of Grande’s relationship with ex-beau Pete Davidson. Cheekily teased as a diss track, Grande starts the song debriefing her relationship timeline with celebrities such as Big Sean and Mac Miller over a twinkling beat and plinking synths. She then quickly assures us that she is thankful for her experiences with these men and shifts attention onto her self growth, expressing, “I’ve got so much love / Got so much patience / I’ve learned from the pain / I turned out amazing.” “thank u, next” serves as a surprisingly eloquent subversion of the petty media narrative following Grande’s most recent breakup. Rather than reveling in bitterness and subtweets, Grande reminds us to maintain our generosity and self-esteem in difficult situations. Wrapped up in timeless bubblegum pop production, “thank u, next” glistens under Grande’s dynamic vocal range and saccharine message
— Diana Yassin, Daily Arts Writer
9. Kacey Musgraves, “Space Cowboy”
Unfortunately, Kacey Musgraves’s “Space Cowboy” from her 2018 album Golden Hour does not include actual cowboys in space. However, Musgraves makes up for this minor disappointment with a beautiful, honest song about letting go. Rather than the usual, fiery revenge songs or weepy breakup ballads common in country music, Musgraves presents a refreshingly mature take on falling out of love. Following the theme of “if you love someone, let them go,” Musgraves notes “Sunsets fade, and love does too,” accepting that love, like everything in life, undergoes change — however painful it might be. Singing “You can have your space, cowboy,” Musgraves poses a subtle reminder that, in a modern world of sometimes suffocating transparency, it’s important to understand when to let go.
— Madeleine Gannon, Daily Arts Writer
8. Charli XCX, “Focus”
Known for her in-your-face energy and explosive personality, Charli XCX shifts gears on one of her many singles of 2018 titled “Focus.” Production is minimal and precise, relying more on the bass to forefront her driving, urgent lyricism. For Charli, she’s going to need one hundred percent of your dedication and focus to impress. It’s a repetitious and alluring single; there’s absolutely no room for error here.
Her verses paint the intensity of the scene, with soft musings like “Bed sheets turn to a white dress / Look so good when I'm naked, yeah,” and “Pull me in, pull me closer / Give me that diagnosis / Blow my mind like explosions.” It’s an electric interaction that culminates in the chorus, which consists of a simple repetition of “I just want you to focus on my love / just focus on my love.” “Focus” is a sensual depiction of one-on-one intimacy, a tête-à-tête where Charli is always going to have the last word.
— Dominic Polsinelli, Daily Arts Writer
7. Yaeji, “One More”
Yaeji makes music of startling simplicity and perfection, like a carefully calibrated mechanism with all the moving parts visible. There is never a wayward vocal phrase or a sample out of place. It feels like this is less the result of digital quantization than simple scrupulousness, like a perfectly applied face of makeup.
She can leverage this control toward an uncanny coldness, as heard in “raingurl,” but she is also capable of warm, airy spaciousness. “One More” broadly lives in the same world as the earlier “noonside,” but is subtler, more elliptical. Parts are swapped in and out almost imperceptibly, and the listeners have the sense of being whisked from room to room before arriving back where we started. It’s a culmination of Yaeji’s projects and by far her most polished work.
— Emily Yang, Daily Arts Writer
6. Anderson .Paak, “Tints (feat. Kendrick Lamar)”
Sure, Oxnard as a whole didn’t necessarily live up to the hype surrounding Anderson .Paak following Malibu, but some of its tracks are as good as anything he’s done before. “Tints” is one of them, a woozy funk jam tailor-made for summer cruising. Synths that sound like sun-rays coast over a syncopated guitar and hyperactive bass as Anderson .Paak delivers catchy melody after melody. Usually Kendrick’s poppier verses leave a little to be desired, but here he manages to hold his own with a restrained yet confident performance. Oxnard is an album about Anderson .Paak adjusting to his newfound fame, and “Tints” is the perfect synthesis of his new message and his old style.
— Jonah Mendelson, Daily Arts Writer
5. Pusha T, “The Story of Adidon”
Without question, Pusha T’s no-holds-barred reveal of Drake’s illegitimate son was the biggest music story of the year. I still can’t believe it happened — the sound of Pusha’s seething “you are hiding a child” attack is seared into my memory.
The impact of such a chess move cannot be understated. 2018 was Drake’s year — with smash hits “God’s Plan” and “Nice For What,” Drake was on a tear. The requited disses between the artists began with “Infrared” on Pusha’s Daytona and continued with Drake’s “Duppy Freestyle” on SoundCloud. Typical accusations of ghostwriting against Drake were met with scathingly harsh and debilitating remarks about Pusha’s prowess as a rapper, and the spat only seemed to add fuel to Drake’s fire. Entertaining stuff, but nothing new or unexpected.
Suddenly, the grossly underrated gangster rapper released a jaw-dropping, earth-shattering BOMB in a second diss track by revealing that Drake, the current king of hip-hop deemed too big to fail, was harboring the identity of his son, Adonis, whom Drake conceived with French model Sophie Brussaux. As if that nugget weren’t enough, the backdrop to the single on SoundCloud also pictured Drake looking foolish in blackface minstrelsy makeup.
The hip-hop world exploded. The release of Drake’s Scorpion was marred and his reputation flipped from rap god to smarmy deadbeat in minutes. Unable to formulate an appropriate response, Drake accepted the chink in his armor — Pusha stepped to the king and won in a quasi-David and Goliath moment.
— Mike Watkins, Daily Music Editor
4. Mitski, “Nobody”
By now we should all know never to underestimate Mitski. Yet how can one do anything else? She is one of those rare artists who never fails to raise the bar of her own work, and who, perhaps more markedly, seems to understand her own art with an implicit superintelligence. It often takes a few listens for Mitski songs to really settle in and take root, and this was absolutely the case with “Nobody.” Coming on the heels of “Geyser,” “Nobody” took things in a completely different direction, trading out cinematic, slow-burning rock for vintage disco. It offered a preview of what we could expect from Be the Cowboy, both in terms of genre — in that it is of many genres and many time periods, constantly flipping and riffing off of each other — and in terms of emotion. “Nobody” is an embrace of being alone, or perhaps more aptly of selfhood. Being alone and being independent are never quite the same thing, as much as we might wish it, and songs like “Nobody” push and tug at the lines between these states of mind, forcing us to consider solitude without feeling the need for an explanation. In this way, “Nobody” stands for what Mitski herself so often stands for: tongue-in-cheek happiness, unabashed loneliness and unflawed confusion in the face of a ridiculous social world.
— Laura Dzubay, Daily Arts Writer
3. Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper, “Shallow”
Anyone who has seen the trailer for 2018’s box office hit “A Star is Born” knows the words to “Shallow” ― “I’m off the deep end / Watch as I dive in / I’ll never hit the ground!” Lady Gaga sings as her character Ally, immediately lodging the song’s chorus into every viewer’s heart for weeks and even months to come. The song served as the first single for “A Star is Born”’s incredible soundtrack, and set up the success and critical acclaim that both the album and movie received before and after its release. Even without the context of the movie, “Shallow” is a heart-wrenching ballad that fuses folk with rock and pop to form one memorable expression of freedom. It’s a song that taps into the universal desire to crash through the things that hold one down to find something else in the world, and will likely remain a classic for years to come because of this. The music is fantastic, but the song’s message is even stronger ― it tells the listener that they can go deeper anytime they choose, and find something beautiful within the risks they take to break free.
— Clara Scott, Senior Arts Editor
2. Travis Scott, “Sicko Mode (feat. Drake)”
It begins with a menacing advancement of synth. Wavering tantalizingly in the distance, the notes signal the approach of something. The specifics of what is approaching aren’t clear but Drake is mentioning something about Louis belts and the beat is spiraling, faster and faster — anticipation growing by the second — until, abruptly, the beat switches, the song splinters apart and hundreds of eager listeners collectively lose their shit.
“Sicko Mode” is instantly recognizable. Whether you’re a fan of Travis Scott or not, you’ve heard this song: the Swae Lee chorus “Some- Some- Some- Someone said” bouncing off house party walls, the brief Luke sample from “I Wanna Rock” bleeding out from Ricks’s dance floor. Its power comes through its unexpectedness. Within an album that swims through a muted psychedelic haze, its sharp twists — from Drake to Travis to B.I.G. to the constantly shifting beat — slap you in the face.
“Sicko Mode” embodies everything Travis Scott was working toward since Owl Pharaoh, when his music always contained a desperate note of desire to not just dream about fame but to be consumed by it. Now, nearly five years later, ASTROWORLD is certified platinum, “Sicko Mode” continues to top charts and Travis Scott is not just dreaming anymore.
— Shima Sadaghiyani, Daily Arts Writer
1. SOPHIE, “Immaterial”
It is not an overstatement to say that “Immaterial” does more in its just-under-four minutes than any other song released in 2018. On the surface, “Immaterial” is pure fun, a club-ready banger that leaves no stone unturned, sonically. The harsh synthetic pots-and-pans that characterize Sophie’s earlier work are almost constant throughout, if subdued, but the song is also sleek and atmospheric. “Immaterial” is a masterclass in maximalist pop: It builds from nothing, adding layer after layer, and allows us to bask in the whole organized mess for a full chorus before peeling back to let the progression repeat.
After the second chorus, the sound is filtered down to nearly nothing. From that nothing, guest vocalist Cecile Believe’s voice rises. “I was just a lonely girl / In the eyes of my inner child,” she sings, as the song rebuilds around her, before presenting the central revelation of OIL OF EVERY PEARL’S UN-INSIDES: “I could be anything I want.” The same declaration appears in the chorus, followed by “Anyhow, any place, anywhere, anyone / Any form, any shape, anyway / Anything, anything I want,” confidently and plainly divorcing identity from physical form.
Given that, alongside OIL’s release in June, SOPHIE publicly came out as a trans woman, “Immaterial” functions as the album’s central affirmation of her identity. But it feels reductive to point to SOPHIE’s coming out as the sole impetus of OIL, or to try to use it as a prop to convince you, the reader, to listen, because “Immaterial” is deserves your attention for so many more reasons than that. As a final note, SOPHIE claimed back in July that she had three more albums coming out before the end of 2018. Fingers crossed that we’ll get them soon.
— Sean Lang, Daily Arts Writer