Top 25 Pop Songs of 2018
What a treat. 2018 saw literally everyone and their mother release new material.
If you’re like me, and you’re selfish, your three favorite artists all released new music this year: John Mayer, Muse and Mumford & Sons.
Also, if you’re like me, you’re a Leo. And Leos shamelessly listen to top 40 pop music (I filled out a horoscope bingo sheet and that’s what it told me and boy do I agree WHOLEHEARTEDLY with that).
As I was putting together the lists for this year, and, in particular, this list, I found myself assembling them without a front runner for the top spot. There were some heavy hitters that dropped new music, but not many singles rose to the height of “obvious number one selection for song of the year.”
But to be fair, that’s how it was last year.
So, with no front runner, let’s do some talking.
This was the list that started it all. Here are my top 25 songs of 2018.
Justin Timberlake feat. Chris Stapleton
Does anyone else feel like Chris Stapleton is being used as the token “indie/country star thrown in to a pop song for crossover appeal” artist here?
That could be just me.
I like “Say Something,” I do. It’s got just enough of both artists, while blurring the line to make me say “wait, this isn’t something Justin Timberlake normally does,” or “wait, this isn’t something Chris Stapleton normally associates himself with.” I listen to this song, and I know both artists, but it’s like I’m hearing two people I’ve never heard before. It’s crunchy, it’s got some groove, some acoustic guitar, some slick harmonies, and a catchy hook to boot. This is a combo that should not work by any means, but it does to great effect. Sometimes the greatest way of saying something is by doing a collab that nobody expects.
I included “Dig Down,” on my Best of 2017 list, which was the first single from Muse’s Simulation Theory album. I hoped for more and boy, did I get it. “Thought Contagion” is on par for what we’ve come to expect from Muse- futuristic, mystifying, smooth, and gritty. When you realize that Simulation Theory is all about a robot and his struggle to break free from his wires, you realize that “Thought Contagion” fits right in with the theme. With a simple guitar lick and Matt Bellamy’s futuristic lyrics and high-flying falsetto, the song is as infectious as the title suggests.
Bitch, we’re all cows. This song started as a meme but is a BOP. Silly lyrics, mooing, a Kelis sample, and all the mooing. Also, the video is adorable. What’s not to like about this song?
Got milk, bitch? Got beef? Got steak, ho? Got cheese?
These are legendary lyrics and Doja Cat deserves your respect.
"In My Blood"
Okay, be honest, how many times have you wanted to punch a wall every time you heard one of Shawn Mendes’ intros or high vocals?
I’m right there with you. I think he’s a YouTube singer who managed to sneak his way into mainstream society and the throngs of screaming girls decided they liked him too much not to let him go.
But I really like “In My Blood.” It sounds very Kings of Leon, and his songwriting feels a lot more vulnerable and damaged than much of his other work. Props to Mendes on this one. Hopefully, as he gets older, we see more of that maturity come up in his songwriting.
I missed Charli XCX. We don’t get enough of her in our lives and I believe we should. And so, we got “Focus” and “No Angel,” which released together as part of a series of single and EP releases for Charli. The message of the song is simple- maybe she’s not perfect, but (and I’ve said it before) she deserves your attention… and maybe you’re into a little bit into “bad.” Also, “No Angel” is a bop. Something about the synth-heavy beat really butters my bread.
Cardi B is helping the death of capitalism and I think we’re all here for it. Okay, so maybe that’s not entirely what the song is about. It’s pretty much what we’ve come to expect from Cardi, following along the same lines as “Bodak Yellow”: a hard beat paired with intense lyrics; not to mention the timbre of Cardi’s voice, which I think works well in her favor during her stratospheric ascent to the top of the pop music genre.
Mumford & Sons
In their newest release, Delta, Mumford & Sons built on their alternative rock sound from Wilder Mind. How did they do that? By incorporating instruments used in Sigh No More and Babel. We hear a lot of banjo in “Beloved,” which is blended finely with electric guitar. While much of the album has a lot of alt-rock, and even electronic-based sound on it, it’s nice to hear that the Gentlemen of the Road haven’t completely lost their roots. The hook is so pleasant to listen to, in contrast with the verses and pre-chorus filled with tension, resulting in an explosion of Marcus Mumford’s vocal lines soaring above the rest of the music. I close my eyes and see sun over a mountain. Could just be me. Whatever. A+ effort from the boys on this one.
Edit: They were commissioned by National Geographic to have their music featured on some animal footage. Yay bears!
The Top 25:
25. "Ahead of Myself"
X Ambassadors always seem to find themselves on my lists. “Ahead of Myself” is the next in a long line of solid hits for the Ithaca-based band. Much like some of their other songs like “Renegade,” “Ahead of Myself” begins with an acoustic guitar, then morphs into a cool synth-based track with pulsating drums and a dynamic chorus. Lyrically, it’s personal and internally revealing, giving us a glimpse into the emotional life of a man going through a lot of relationship issues. “Ahead of Myself” notched spot #8 on the U.S. Adult Contemporary charts.
When Demi Lovato was hospitalized earlier this year for a drug overdose, the world was watching, desperately pleading for the singer to pull through. She has, but this song about relapsing cuts deep, and will make even the most hardened music listeners shed a tear. With nothing but a simple piano, Lovato’s lyrics are hard to listen to; the illustrations she paints of drinks on the floor, losing potential lovers, disappointing and worrying her parents, and even thanking her close friends who have stuck with her from one episode to another; it’s heartbreaking.
The masters of unpromoted chart toppers are at it again with this release off their
Everything is Love collaboration album. Beyonce and Jay-Z are at it again with this slow jam, proving to everyone why they are in fact, bosses. When you’re at the top of the music game, you can drop albums unannounced and still sell hundreds of thousands of albums. Hence, this incredible track. Shoutout to Rumi and Sir, love Blue.
22. "Girls Like You"
Maroon 5 feat. Cardi B
Since Maroon 5 is playing the Super Bowl halftime show, this means we’ll probably see Cardi there at some point, right? Maroon 5 throws it back (at least, at the beginning) to its rock band roots, as the track begins with a cool acoustic guitar lick before adding in some keyboards. Truth be told, “Girls Like You” is less spectacular than some of Maroon 5’s other songs, but the chorus of the song still manages to worm its way into your brain and get itself stuck there. Cardi B’s verse is what makes this song, though. It’s a pleasant combination of two artists I never thought would work well together. This is also one of the better music videos of the year.
21. "Something Human"
We’re seeing a more tender side from Muse with “Something Human,” harkening back to hits like “Starlight” from almost 10 years ago. This synth-heavy track seems to be about the robot (that I mentioned in the entry for “Thought Contagion”) wanting a little something more from his life- Matthew Bellamy’s lyrics include the phrase “I need something human” so many times, and they’re sung so smoothly that by the end, you get this really warm and fuzzy feeling inside by the time he says “I need your love” right at the end.
20. "God is a Woman"
This is the first of four Ariana songs on this list, which is probably the most for one artist ever in the history of this list. On the surface, “God is a Woman” is a title that looks fairly inflammatory to anyone not familiar with Ariana’s music. But the song is much more complex than that. It’s about the pleasures of sex, not to mention the overarching themes of female liberation and domination. This song is both intimidating and super hot at the same time. Listen to this and you’ll believe God is a woman. Damn.
Bruno Mars feat. Cardi B
Truthfully, Cardi B also makes a number of appearances on this list too. This cover of “Finesse” is actually a remix of the original version appearing on Bruno Mars’ 24K Magic album. The song features all kinds of ‘90s flair, beats, synth and all, and also has that trademark Bruno swagger to it, with its lyrics dropping all kinds of brags referring to why Bruno (and Cardi) are the two flyest people in the game. Let’s be honest, this is the collaboration everyone wanted to see. And it’s no surprise it works to great effect.
18. "In My Feelings"
After hearing the phrase “Kiki, do you love me?” so many times, I gave in and listened to this Drake earworm. Everyone’s favorite emotional rapper released Scorpion this year, and I feel like we got more of a glimpse into the dude’s psyche more than ever. The song is all over the place to the point of being schizophrenic, but I think that’s what Drake is going for with “In My Feelings.” I also love that even though the song was initially not released as a single, it’s probably the most recognizable hook out of anyone this year based on melody alone.
17. "Guiding Light"
Mumford & Sons
Marcus and the boys are back, and their sound continues to progress in their newest album, Delta. Like “Beloved,” this one features more of an upbeat light, similar to the tracks in Babel. At the same time, though, we hear a lot of the alternative and electronic instrumentation in Wilder Mind. It’s not one or the other, however. It’s purely its own. The great thing about this song is that it’s constantly exploding, imploding, rebuilding, and exploding again, with each payoff just as good as the last. I feel like hooks have always been Mumford & Sons’ strong suits, whether musically or lyrically. “Guiding Light” is no different.
16. "Ring the Bells"
Johnnyswim and Drew Holcomb & the Neighbors
Johnnyswim and Drew Holcomb & the Neighbors collaborated for an EP this year, and “Ring the Bells” was the album’s lead track. With a name like “Ring the Bells,” there are a great many musical calls to bell tones in the song, which is what I’m most impressed with. Amanda’s line “if all is fair in love and war” features this stunning descending piano line which is so simple but so incredibly effective. Johnnyswim says that every concert for them is like family gathering around a living room in a big log cabin to sing songs. I think “Ring the Bells” fits the bill just perfectly.
15. "Whatever it Takes"
“Believer” is the best the Evolve album had to offer for Imagine Dragons. “Whatever It Takes” had to beat me over the head with its fast-moving verses and catchy hook, but it made it. I’m a fan of the band and I suppose it’s their futuristic vibe that hasn’t annoyed me yet that pretty much locks them onto my best of the year list. Like much of their music, the song is a description of being different and achieving your dreams despite your differences and any obstacle in front of you. It’s peak Imagine Dragons. I’d love to see something maybe a little more stripped down in the years to come, but this will do for now.
Sweetener is the album of the year. There’s no doubt about that. It has its own feel and musical style that is certainly a career milestone for Ariana Grande. But “Breathin” has a vibe to it that calls back to Dangerous Woman with its jumpy, synth heavy beat. It’s very reminiscent of “Into You,” which is probably my favorite Ariana Grande song. Ariana explained that the song is about anxiety, but is it strange that this song relaxes me?
13. "Missing U"
Robyn has returned to the land of the living with her first album in eight years. From the opening keyboard lick which explodes into this foggy, strobe-filled, 80s-club beat, to Robyn’s light and airy vocals, everything about this song is the explosion of pent up emotion that we’ve (and I’m sure Robyn) has felt over the last eight years of being away. The title also possesses a bit of mystery- on the surface (and in the chorus), Robyn sings about a person she’s missing- maybe a lover. But it could also be herself, as she’s been away from music for so long that she thought she’d lost herself. Well, we certainly missed you, Robyn, and we’re glad you’re back.
I can’t help but love upbeat Muse songs. “Pressure” is just that. The claps. The horns. The opening riff. Bellamy’s jumping of octaves. This one has it all. “Pressure” makes me think of “Panic Station,” with its disco-like beat and it’s heavy reliance on both a simple guitar lick and keyboard synth. You can’t help it but to clap your hands at this one and whisper “Pressure building” every time it comes along in the song, and sing backup vocals during the chorus. Mark my words, this one will go down as one of Muse’s best.
11. "Thank U, Next"
Ariana is one more hit away from getting women to never speak to men again. “Thank u, next” dropped shortly after Ariana’s breakup with Pete Davidson (I’m gonna call it the bonus track to Sweetener), and, surprisingly, Ari took it very well. It’s a song about growth through heartache. If anyone needs a therapist, I feel like this song is a good place to start. When she categorizes her lessons in to “love,” “patience,” and “pain,” and then turns it on herself as she helps herself deal with life is genius. For those of you who don’t consider Ariana to be a generational talent, I urge you to listen to her Sweetener album. Her lyrical content is so mature beyond her years. Also she can sing the doors off anyone in her realm. Also, this music video is awesome.
10. "Nice For What"
I didn’t appreciate this song until I heard it for the first time in a club setting, thumping bass, dancing people and all. It deserved a second chance, like most Drake songs I’ve listened to, for me to really appreciate it. “Nice for What” was a number one hit on the Billboard Hot 100 for quite some time this year, although ordinary people like me thought it got lost behind “In My Feelings.” Truthfully, this song is a lot deeper than the former, examining female empowerment in the age of the internet and social media. With a strong sample from Lauryn Hill’s song “Ex-Factor,” Drake raps about what it means to garner a social following online, all while being met with resistance and hate because of gender. It’s a really great homage to those strong women out there hustling every single day.
Ed calls “Perfect” the greatest song he’s ever written. I don’t know about that, but it is cute as hell for sure. There are two or three duet versions of this song, one featuring Beyonce, the other featuring Andrea Bocelli, but we’re focusing on the original for this entry. Similar to “Thinking Out Loud,” Sheeran sings about finding his love and all the ways in which she is strong, beautiful, and everything to him. It’s got this sweet 6/8 slow-dance rhythm that I anticipate will be played at many weddings from now until the end of time, and also has this catchy chorus that Ed has become known for, as he cascades down magnificently from the top of his range, letting all of the emotion pour out of his soul as we’re told what love really is like.
8. "New Light"
John Mayer is a dad. I mean, he’s not, but he is 40, so that’s pretty dad-like, right? How lucky are we to have gotten Muse, Mumford and Mayer music all in the same year? “New Light” goes along the same track as “Love on the Weekend” from The Search for Everything album, as a mellow love song with some flairs on a synth keyboard. Where it differs is when it explodes into a funk bridge- the shuffling of the guitar is iconic, and gives it that 2010s John Mayer flair while not devolving into a song like “Your Body is a Wonderland.”
Also, the music video is INCREDIBLE. Well done, John. I hope you become a star soon. The dude is now a meme and I’m here for it.
7. "No Excuses"
I know, I know, I know. There’s a Meghan Trainor song in- not just the top 25, but the top 10 section of a list that I wrong. Ever since “All About That Bass,” I’ve had this vendetta against Meghan and her songwriting style. But something changed in “No Excuses.” I appreciate that Trainor has embraced the all-out pop style instead of a more R&B feel. Harmonies on her songs have always been her strong points, and I think having a full range of them in “No Excuses” works well to her advantage, as the beat of the song will make you tap your feet from the very first moment the guitar hits.
It’s Jay-Z and Beyonce’s world- we’re all just living in it. From the outset, the song takes a few simple synth chords and builds into a full-out attack of bass and sick verses about the Carters’ lifestyle, and the way the world views black musical talent. Jay-Z and Beyonce know they’re the best. “Apeshit” is the anthem we all knew was coming from these two. Everything is Love is much like Jay-Z and Kanye’s collaboration album, where we get two megastars taking the music world by storm.
This cover is that good and Weezer deserves this spot on this list. What’s there to say about this one? Well, if you look at the cover for the single version of the song, it all started with a tweet last year telling Weezer that it was “time to bless the rains down in Africa.” And what did Weezer do? They covered “Rosanna,” another Toto song, just to mess with their fans. Finally, in May, we got a long awaited version of “Africa,” and it was amazing. The cover keeps everything we know and love about the song in it, while also adding those juicy Weezer power chords to truly bring back to life an old classic.
4. "The Middle"
Zedd, Maren Morris and Grey
Some more personal preference here: this song is a bop and just makes me happy. Before country singer Maren Morris was selected for the recording, there were more than a few names in talks to headline the track, among them Demi Lovato, Carly Rae Jepsen, Tove Lo, Camila Cabello, Bebe Rexha, Bishop Briggs, and Charli XCX. That’s some pretty good company to rise above if you’re Maren Morris. Similar to Zedd’s previous hit song “Stay,” the chorus is an unexpected mix of EDM, pop, and country, where the aesthetically pleasing chord progression and melody reach all kinds of great heights.
3. "This is America"
At the start, “This is America,” is jaunty and fun- a small chorus of singers paired with an acoustic guitar and Caribbean drums sing about wanting to “party just for you.”
But when the beat drops, this song gets really scary really quickly. And it only escalates when Gambino comes in on the verse, rapping about what it means to be a black man living in America, juxtaposed with world’s perception of it on social media. The beat during the verses is dark and sinister, a rumbling of bass and synth, with some spooky overtones on top as the song progresses. But Gambino doesn’t address the issue outright- at least not at first. Lyrics like “I’m so dope like yeah,” and “I’m on Gucci, I’m so pretty,” while the next lines for some of the happier ones include: “Guns in my area, I got a strap, I gotta carry em,” and “I got the plug in Oaxaca, they gonna find you like ‘blocka.’” Also, watch the music video. You’ll see what I’m getting at here with how creepy and powerful this song is.
2. "I Like It"
Cardi B, Bad Bunny and J Balvin
Leave it to Cardi B to take a great song and only make it better. Using “I Like It Like That” by Pete Rodriguez, Cardi simply explains to us what she likes. It’s peak Cardi. “I run this shit like cardio” is incredibly clever. The song is also a great nod to Cardi’s latin heritage, as further exemplified by verses from Bad Bunny and J Balvin. Following in the footsteps of “Bodak Yellow,” “I Like It” peaked at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 back in July.
1. "No Tears Left to Cry"
2018 was the year of Ariana Grande- there is no further debate on that. With her album Sweetener dropping in the early fall, along with a steady stream of singles following afterward, Ariana continues her dominance of the mainstream music scene. Her first single from Sweetener is this one, “No Tears Left To Cry,” which, despite not reaching the top of the Hot 100, is a wonderful mix of 90s R&B and vocal prowess we’ve come to expect from Ariana Grande. Ever since a terrorist bombing took the lives of 22 people at one of her concerts in Manchester, England, we’ve seen a massive change in Ariana. But “No Tears” is not overtly about that- it’s about living life lushly an joyously. With this song and even Sweetener as a whole, Ariana has thrust herself into the upper echelon of generational talents in the 2010s. She’s matured so much since her last album was released, and it’s no surprise why Sweetener was such a massive success, and why “No Tears Left To Cry,” tops my list for 2018.
What songs from 2018 were your favorite? Leave a comment down below, and be sure to check out more of According to Andrew's Best of 2018 spread by clicking HERE.