These are my picks for the ten best songs of 2018:
10. Silk City & Dua Lipa – Electricity
Dance music may not be as dominate as it was at the start of the decade, but there are clear frontrunners at nearly any given time and in 2018, those frontrunners involved Dua Lipa. She provided vocals on a pair of house tracks that kept 4-on-the-floor in style. One Kiss with Calvin Harris dominated the summer airwaves, even breaking records in the UK, while this song, with its backing piano and groovy finish produced by Diplo and Mark Ronson (collectively calling themselves Silk City), electrified the fall.
9. Ray LaMontagne – Such A Simple Thing
Sometimes simplicity is the most effective and Ray LaMontagne went there with the lead single from his seventh record Part Of The Light. Most of Ray’s last couple albums ranged from grungy to psychedelic whereas this one is most reminiscent of his 2010 folk record God Willin’ & the Creek Won’t Rise. Such A Simple Thing is a bare recording with minimal instruments as Ray’s vocals sit central, laying the hurt around the refrain “my heart is like paper/yours is like a flame.”
8. Betty Who – Just Thought You Should Know
The first chorus of Just Thought You Should Know sounds like Wilson Phillips-light with a synth and finger snaps. When the beat kicks in and she goes full force for the second chorus, the evolution is complete and reward is real. Betty Who pulls from 80s-into-90s nostalgia with a killer melody that would give Carly Rae Jepsen‘s Emotion era a run for its money.
7. Troye Sivan – Seventeen
There’s a new generation of LGBTQ+ artists breaking into music’s mainstream with topics that have mostly been kept hush. Artists like Troye Sivan are helping add representation for gay youth to pop culture with songs like Seventeen, essentially a a three-and-a-half-minute coming-of-age story that gay youth in particular can relate to in today’s digital world of social networking and gay apps.
6. Maggie Rogers – Light On
Maggie Rogers was the new it-girl of 2016 thanks to her song Alaska and Pharrell Williams‘ stamp of approval. In the new year, she’ll finally release her first full length album Heard It In A Past Life and if Light On is any indication, it’ll be an early contender for best of 2019. The song channels the early 2000s singer/songwriter pop sound from artists like Chantal Kreviazuk and Michelle Branch with its driving chorus, while the minor synth support helps keep it modern in the age of acts like HAIM and CHVRCHES. Authentically melodic pop hasn’t sounded this good in over a decade.
5. Kendrick Lamar & The Weeknd – Pray For Me
A year with new music from Kendrick Lamar means yearend lists with Kendrick Lamar. This year he stepped into the cinema, curating the soundtrack for the box office smash Black Panther, further showing his versatility. Pray For Me, the soundtrack’s closing song, combines The Weeknd‘s poppier sound from Starboy with Kendrick’s socially-conscious lyrics, resulting in a song that showcases the strengths of both over a memorable melody and slick production.
4. Lady Gaga & Bradley Cooper – Shallow
Lady Gaga has been in resurgence mode for the last fourish years, carefully remodeling her image from the unpredictable Mother Monster to a more relatable artist with an air of class and elegance. Some may have said her 2016 record Joanne, which heavily leaned toward country, was a misstep for her, but if anything, it helped lead the way to what may be her biggest achievement yet. A Star Is Born puts Gaga front and centre on the big screen both as an actor and a singer, and both elements double up on the soundtrack she recorded with co-star Bradley Cooper. Together, they provide one of the film’s most memorable moments when Gaga’s character Ally joins Cooper’s Jackson Maine on stage for the first time to perform Shallow, killing it vocally. The duet is a shining moment for both and has become the movie’s signature track, earning a Golden Globe nomination, four Grammy nominations, and is a frontrunner in the nominations for Best Original Song at the Academy Awards.
3. Lori McKenna – People Get Old
Leave it up to Lori McKenna to take something so obvious, put it into a song and blow us away with a realization we’ve never actually put into words before. People Get Old is about just that. The fact of aging but where nostalgia forever holds you in a time where your parents are the same age they were when you were 8. She wrote the song specifically about her father, now in his 80s, but who “still think he’s 45, and he still thinks that you’re a kid.” She takes those everyday moments that flew by each and every time as a kid and immortalizes them into something to treasure. She sums it up in a line, “that’s just how it goes.”
2. William Fitzsimmons – Second Hand Smoke
When I first heard the music of William Fitzsimmons a few years back, I was instantly struck by the melodies and atmosphere that often accompanied his lyrics of despair and grief. On Second Hand Smoke, the first release from his latest record Mission Bell, he’s once again reflective and in mourning over heartbreak as he sings with urgency about how to move on. His voice remains gentle and hopeful as he sings over a cycling guitar and drum that carries through to the end.
1. Brandi Carlile – Party Of One
Few songs can take you deep into emotional depths only to pull you up at the last minute and sit you on a pedestal the way Brandi Carlile does on Party Of One. The song, consisting of Brandi and a piano, depicts a relationship on the verge of collapse, capturing those empty moments and deafening silences that can follow that last argument. In the song, Brandi expresses her need to hold on the relationship, not only out of love, but also because of its significance. Party Of One serves as an LGBTQ+ anthem as it directly acknowledges the struggles gays and lesbians went through in order to win the right to marry in America. In the lines “Don’t even think about your freedom/Or taking that flight/Or going back upon your promise after fighting for the right,” she expresses the need for respect, not just for their marriage, but for the fact they earned that right to do so and that it was a purposeful conscious decision not to take for granted or give up on
When she sings “I am tired/I don’t wanna go home anymore/I don’t wanna throw stones anymore/I don’t wanna take part in the war,” her voice is strained and full of fatigue. The moment of truth comes when the tone suddenly shifts and you can almost feel ice melt as she repeats “I am yours” over an assuring string section that carries the rest of the nearly six-minute song.
Not all stories have to have a happy endings to be effective but this is one that needed it, for the sake of everyone listening.