And another one. Now that I’ve gotten my Worst Hit Singles of 2018 out of the way, it’s time to finally dwell more on the positive side of things. After all, there is a reason why I avidly follow each week of the Hot 100 so closely week after week – I genuinely enjoy pop music, and today’s pop music is no exception. Yet even though this past year was full of genuine groans and eye-rolls over what the American public had decided to make popular, not all of it was really all that terrible. In any case, I find that I generally enjoy writing more about the stuff I liked and loved than the music I despised – it’s always nice to look back and reflect on the music that helped me go on day after day, even during the darkest of times.
And yes, there was actually good music this year! Both within and away from the pop charts – although, today we’ll be talking about the former (the latter will come later). As I stated in my previous post, I want to put greater emphasis on the songs that stuck around the top 40 for at least two weeks. Also they must have not been qualified for the 2017 list, blah blah blah.
Okay, you already know the drill. These are my BEST HIT SINGLES FROM 2018!
15) “Barbie Tingz” by Nicki Minaj
Following similarly ranked picks on my Worst list, this single only spent a single week in the top 40, so I’ll put it at the bottom here. While I’ve always been a supporter of Nicki Minaj, I’ve had a love-hat relationship with her fairly recently. Still, there’s no denying that her two big solo singles this year, “Barbie Tingz” and “Chun-Li”, are total bangers. Generally speaking, this one rises slightly above the other and is the one I would bump more regularly. I love the old-school beat and Minaj sounds as confident as ever here. Sure, there are some weak lines here and there, but that’s basically par for the course when dealing with Nicki Minaj. What really matters is that this is a fun, upbeat bit of boastful hip-hop that proves that, even in her more wary times, Nicki can still put out one hell of a bop.
14) “Lemon” by N*E*R*D ft. Rihanna
Yeah, technically this would’ve been a late-2017 hit, but it really started to get a boost in the early parts of 2018. While I’m suspicious that the Drake remix is mainly responsible for this, the original mix is the one I love the most. Pharrell Williams’s production is as poppin’ as ever, with elements of New Orleans bounce thrown into the mix for added party textures. But really, the true star of the show here is Rihanna, who spits enough solid bars to make me convinced that she could put out one hell of a rap album. I still give it a spin from time to time and many of its lyrics have entered my daily lexicon, including, “Don’t drink the Kool-Aid, my friends” and “Count the muthafuckin’ digits”. In a better world, this would have been a top ten smash hit hit – nonetheless, it’s pretty nice seeing N*E*R*D in the Hot 100 in 2018.
13) “APESHIT” by The Carters
Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s collaborative album Everything is Love was released completely out of nowhere and, for me at least, remains one of the most replayable records to come out of the entire year. One of the highlights is, undoubtedly, “Apeshit”, a track pretty much dominated by the Queen Bey herself. Supported by some ominous trap production and backup from Quavo and Offset from Migos, she doesn’t exactly spit the most cutting-edge, unique bars, but boy does she have every right to brag as much as she does. Oh yeah, and there’s a Jay-Z verse in here too, and it’s pretty much what you’d expect from him as well. They’ve both got such great chemistry throughout the course of the album, and this is a good example of such. It may not be my favorite of the Everything is Love tracks, but I am glad it became as big of a hit as it was.
12) “Stir Fry” by Migos
And speaking of Migos. Although Culture II wasn’t nearly as solid of an album as its predecessor, there was still a good deal of solid tracks in the mix… at over an hour and forty minutes in length, I sure would hope so. “Stir Fry” was one of the most interesting, unique singles to come out of the album rollout, with glimmery production from Pharrell Williams (I swear, it was a total coincidence that I ranked three Williams tracks right next to each other). While the discography of Migos tends to consist of song after song that sound ridiculously identical from one another, “Stir Fry” gives us its own blend of shinier, bouncy beats alongside the trio’s typical trap sound. The personalities of the two are also positively vibrant, with their standard flows and ad-libs weaving around each other swiftly and energetically. There’s even a melody of sorts hiding around in here! Sure, this might be the most accessible song that the group have done up ’til this point, but the polished edge sure does wonders for them.
11) “One Kiss” by Calvin Harris and Dua Lipa
Calvin Harris has been on his A-game lately, particularly since the release of last year’s Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1, which garnered him a number of impressively catchy retro bangers. Since his “Promises” with Sam Smith didn’t make as much of a mark on the Hot 100 as I would’ve hoped (it would have definitely made top five for me!!), this will have to do. Don’t get me wrong, though – this song kicks ass. Taking influence from 90s house music, the nostalgic vibes are still on full force here with the mixing that incorporates piano chords, horns, and other groovy, summery sonic effects. Guest vocalist Dua Lipa has been killin’ it lately as well, and her involvement on this track is indispensable. The way she sings, “Something in you lit up heaven in me” is one of my favorite line deliveries of the year, and the end result is something of a toned-down version of Harris’s 2016 hit with Rihanna “This Is What You Came For”. In other words, it’s pure dance floor bliss.
10) “Nice For What” by Drake
I doubt anyone else had a bigger year in music than Drake – which is insane, considering I thought he was totally off the map after 2017’s More Life failed to impress much. While “God’s Plan” was admittedly a grower and had some strong qualities of its own, I never really cared too much about it, other than it coming off as just another song to add to Drake’s brag-rap repertoire. But then “Nice For What” rolled around, and I found myself actually kind of excited for what else he had to offer. The Lauryn Hill sample works better than it has any right to, and its affectionate shoulder-rubs with its bounce style sets it apart from anything else on air – certainly admirable in this age of pop radio.. Is this Female Empowerment™ for the sake of catering to Drake’s audience of young women in order to attempt a second number-one hit? Probably – it sure did succeed at this. Nonetheless, when he says lines like “Workin’ hard, girl, everything paid for” and “You know dark days, you know hard times”… I feel it deep inside. Try as I might to fight it, I can’t ignore when a song makes me feel this good.
9) “All the Stars” by Kendrick Lamar and SZA
When “All the Stars” was released right at the start of the year – alongside Kendrick Lamar’s announcement of his involvement in the Black Panther soundtrack – listeners reacted with discontent and anticipatory skepticism. I must admit, I was in that crowd as well. After all, this is far more polished and conservative than anything else that either of these two artists had put out up until this point. After a few listens, though (as well as the added context of the aforementioned film and my favorite music video of the year), I finally got it. It’s less of a display of the artists’ lyrical talents, but sets itself to be more of a mood setter, a stance typical of soundtrack tunes. But even if this is relatively toned-down, it’s still got the thumping rhythm of its production, the depth of its sonic textures, and the vocal soarings of SZA, who sounds so beautiful and seems to carry the entire song on her back. Lamar, moreover, works as ringleader to the project – it’s not as rough and raw as we’re used to from him, but it doesn’t need to be. Once the end credits of Black Panther rolled around, I finally felt this overwhelming wave of emotion that I knew this song had the potential to grant me – and it continues to do so with every play since.
8) “King’s Dead” by Jay Rock, Kendrick Lamar, Future, and James Blake
And now for another cut from the Black Panther soundtrack. When it comes to this song in particular, there seems to be two different camps of listeners: those who think that Future’s verse is unlistenable trash, and those who admire its ambition. If you’ve heard the song, you know exactly which part I’m referring to. Honestly, though, this song is on this list almost entirely due to the sheer magnitude and force of Lamar’s outro verse – it’s basically everything that critics complained wasn’t present in “All the Stars” and thus gave some hope for the remainder of the project. It demonstrates Lamar’s penchant for raw, unbridled bars that seem to go for miles and really helps the whole track end on a bang. But even outside of this section, this is just a really good posse record. I’ve gone out and listened to some more of Jay Rock’s stuff – maybe I’m wrong, but nothing else I’ve found seems to come even a little bit close to the confident, cool flow he spits here. I suspect that the chemistry between the performers plus the production might help heightened the performance in some way. And as for that Future verse? It’s some of the most fun I’ve had with any music all year round. “La-di-da-di-da”…
7) “Psycho” by Post Malone ft. Ty Dolla $ign
Yeah, I know what you’re thinking – but I think I get it now. Well, at least with this song anyway. It seems like the theme for pop music in 2018 concerns songs that gradually grow on me with multiple listens over a significant amount of time. For “Psycho” in particular, I never thought much of it until I listened to it during my walk home late at night when a lot of its nocturnal textures really came into view. “Psycho” might not be the best name for it, actually, since the song is pretty damn chill, barely straying from its casual melody from start to finish. There are some pretty subtle-but-strange quirks thrown in here and there, such as the background siren effect almost unnoticeable, but impossible to ignore once you do, and an allusion to Bozo the Clown in the chorus (does anyone in 2018 understand that reference?). Both Post and Ty Dolla emit their general style of boasting about how much money, jewelry, and cars they own, and its basically what one would expect from the rap scene of 2018. Something about this just seems a bit more humanly positive and affirming than other low-energy songs like “Sad!” or even Malone’s own “I Fall Apart” – it comes in lines like Malone’s, “My money thick, won’t ever fold” and Ty Dolla $ign’s sung, “Girl, you look beautiful tonight”. Overall, not too bad coming from the “White Iverson” guy.
6) “Powerglide” by Rae Sremmurd ft. Juicy J
I’ve been a Rae Sremmurd apologist for quite a while now – basically since I discovered both SremmLife and SremmLife 2 sometime in 2016. While I do agree that the duo have yet to make anything else quite as good as “Black Beatles”, I also don’t think they’re nearly as bad as so many make them out to be. Which is why it was so painful to watch the abysmal failure that was SR3MM, their third album that was basically doomed to fail from its trash pile of a marketing strategy alone. While I’m yet unsure if Rae Sremmurd will bounce back from this (at the very least, Swae Lee has got a bright future), “Powerglide” remains a bright spot in this episode. The production from Mike WiLL Made-It is immediately intense from the get-go and doesn’t let go for a second. And yes, it’s true that the beat and chorus heavily sample Three 6 Mafia’s “Side 2 Side”, but differences are absolutely crucial to making this more melodic and party-ready for a more modern age. Swae Lee’s hook is one of the most immediately catchiest of the entire year and I’ve been singing it from the very first listen. Typical of Rae Sremmurd tunes, there are a few pretty weak lines here – I still don’t know what “unintentional flexing” means. Additionally, I’m no big fan of the guest verse from Three 6’s Juicy J, which takes the carefree party vibes of the previous lines and make it explicitly misogynistic. Still, the good parts of this song make it one hell of a banger, so I’m all the more willing to tolerate its minor imperfections. These boys always know how to have a good time.
You know the drill now. Here are the honorable mentions that just missed the cut for this list.
- “Finesse (Remix)” by Bruno Mars ft. Cardi B: The first thirty seconds of this remix was one of my favorite musical moments of the first half of the year. The early 90s feel is awesome, sure, but it was also our first taste of Cardi’s terrific, playful personality on a major hit single. If we had more of that through the actual track, this would have probably made the list.
- “Marry Me” by Thomas Rhett: It’s kind of wild that this is from the same guy who gave us the atrocity of “Life Changes”. Sure, this reeks with a whole bunch of whinery about being friendzoned, but it’s also remarkably sincere for what it is. It’s just a nice bit of storytelling through song, which doesn’t come around these parts very often.
- “Ric Flair Drip” by Offset and Metro Boomin: Pretty typical trap rap, lyrically, but I also find the dense bass and the chorus quite a lot of fun. These bars are good, too. Like I said before, Offset is a great performer when he isn’t too busy being homophobic!
- “Mine” by Bazzi: Yeah, that “hit it from the back” line just about disqualifies it from the list. Everything else about it is pretty standard teenage lovey-dovey stuff that I actually find pretty sweet and endearing. The spacey, understated production is neat too, though I wish the whole thing were a little longer.
- “I Like It” by Cardi B, Bad Bunny, and J Balvin: That Pete Rodriguez sample is instantly legendary and Cardi sounds like she’s having a damn good time. I could do without the other two featured artists, but it’s a small price to pay for a totally solid party track.
- “Chun-Li” by Nicki Minaj: The second of Nicki’s two big solo hits this year. The beat punches a little hard here, but the lines are clumsier – also, I don’t completely buy the whole half-baked Chun-Li comparison. Still, I enjoy jamming out to it now and then.
- “Candy Paint” by Post Malone: Probably the most solid of Post Malone tracks I’ve heard thus far – it’s kept off the list by only barely making a blip on the pop charts. The production is sparkly and gorgeous and the melody is just so charming. I would best describe it as a sunnier-sounding “Psycho”. I really wish this were a bigger hit over a bunch of his other songs.
- “In My Feelings” by Drake: Okay, I admit, I fell hard for this track upon the release of Scorpion, all the way to the song’s multi-week run at number-one. While it doesn’t hold up quite as well to numerous plays as “Nice For What” and others, the bounce influence works surprisingly well… and yeah, that hook is one hell of an earworm.
- “High Hopes” by Panic! At the Disco: If only the production on this track weren’t so overblown and messy (especially at that dreadful final chorus), this would have surely made my top. Nonetheless, fourteen-year-old me is happy to see that Brendon Urie still has a place in the 2018 music scene – although this being P!ATD’s biggest hit ever is questionable.
- “Speechless” by Dan + Shay: This song dethroned “Meant To Be”‘s 50-week run at the top of the country charts and that alone earns it all of my respect. Besides this, though, it’s a lovely, simple little country song in days were ones like these seem few and far between.
- “Sunflower” by Post Malone and Swae Lee: Even before I watched the new Spider-Man film, I had this song on repeat for a little while. It’s just adorable and so damn sing-along-able. Gosh, I never thought I would have so many Post Malone songs in a Best list…
Okay, and now onward with my TOP FIVE HIT SINGLES OF THE YEAR.
5) “Never Be the Same” by Camila Cabello
Last year, I didn’t have any time at all to make my list of top hit singles for 2017 – but if I had, I assure you Camila Cabello’s “Havana” (featuring Young Thug) would have been quite near the top, if not the number-one choice. It’s a sensual combination of modern pop-R&B and Latin pop inflections, driven by a feisty piano and mild trap elements that give it a personable edge and make it one of the most enticing singles of its year. What impressed me the most, though, is the degree of agency it gave its lead performer. As a member of Fifth Harmony, Cabello hardly impressed me; moreover, her solo efforts (as featured artist on Shawn Mendes’s “I Know What You Did Last Summer” and Machine Gun Kelly’s “Bad Things”, as well as her first true solo effort “Crying in the Club”) reinforced my intuition as her being just another flash-in-the-pan pop performer. “Havana” gave me hope, though – this young woman has the potential to really do some truly incredible things, given the degree of space she has to really flex her skills.
I’ll admit that “Never Be the Same” isn’t exactly perfect. The lyrics are a tad iffy and Cabello’s voice on the chorus and especially her falsetto on the pre-chorus is… divisive. Nonetheless, the positive qualities of this song have a tendency to pile atop each other, resulting in a blissful bombast of pop goodness. Take the very beginning of the track – via production courtesy of Frank Dukes, we are treated to a dreamy toy-piano-like synth line straight out of Brian Eno’s playbook (no joke!). Camila continues in this deep, husky vocal delivery that perfectly complements its lyrics about love as a serotonin addiction (“Something must’ve gone wrong in my brain / Got your chemicals all in my veins / Feeling all the highs, feel all the pain”). The delivery of the “nicotine, heroin, morphine” line in the pre-chorus, has its haters, but I think it’s a perfect setup for what’s to come next: a chorus of full, unrestrained, helplessly hooked pleasure. In all ways that “Havana” was juvenile and playful, this song is earnest and sultry, which is probably the best logical step for Cabello to take in her career. This has be super stoked to see what else she has up her sleeve.
4) “Boo’d Up” by Ella Mai
Outside of the trap and the mumble rap scenes, there are very few new artists that broke into the top 40 this year – and of those, there are even fewer that seem all that promising, with the potential for interesting, cutting edge stuff in future years. Maybe I’ll be eating my words later, but I really don’t find myself particularly excited for whatever output Bazzi, Anne-Marie, Normani, or Lauv may give us in the next year or the year after that. Enter Ella Mai, an English R&B performer signed by DJ Mustard’s label who seemingly fell from the heavens to offer us the gift of actually interesting, lovely pop ballads! I really can’t tell you what 2000s-era dream cloud Ella Mai derived from, but I’m totally grateful they gave her to us.
This song is also produced by DJ Mustard, and if you know anything about the quality of Mustard’s songs, this should come nothing less than a shock to you. Just as a brief example, he also helped to give us “Freaky Friday” (read about that on my Worst Hit Singles of 2018 list!), which comes across as a super basic backing for any run-of-the-mill Chris Brown failure. A failure, though, this song is not. The backing instrumental is lush and lovely, with small accents of piano and pulsing R&B beats circulating throughout the swaying midtempo rhythm. Ella Mai herself also has a wonderful voice, reminiscent of the crisp cadences of R&B lady-crooners from the 90s and aughts, such as Aaliyah, Alicia Keys, and Ashanti. It’s a pretty little song about being in love and lyrically there’s not much else going on with it (“Feeling like I’m touching the ceiling / When I’m with you, I can’t breathe / Boy, you do something to me”). The highlight for me, though, comes with her iterations of the titular phrase in connection to her heartbeat: “Listen my to heart go ba-dum, boo’d up / Biddy-da-dum, boo’d up”. Clever bits of wordplay like these don’t find their way onto pop radio very often, and it makes for one hell of a hook. While even the best of pop music finds itself suffering from overplay, I’ve yet to grown even a little bit tired of this song – the delicate nature of its instrumental and vocalist seem to only grow better with time. It’s a rare bit of sophistication that is sorely needed in trying musical times like these.
3) “Pray For Me” by The Weeknd and Kendrick Lamar
And now for the final of the Black Panther soundtrack singles to find its way on the list. Upon the surprise release of “HUMBLE.” last year and its subsequent debut at number-one on the Hot 100, Kendrick Lamar seemed to instantly become the name of the hour and has continued to have a very prominent, successful year throughout 2018. Not too bad for someone who has been steadily rising from his underground reputation for the past few years. Similarly in the latter parts of 2015, The Weeknd found himself moving above the underground R&B scene and into the throws of superstardom after he accomplished back-to-back chart-topping singles with “Can’t Feel My Face” and “The Hills”. While he has made some questionable musical choices since then (see “Party Monster” on my Worst Hit Singles of 2016), his influence on the surround R&B culture is unmistakable. It’s only a matter of time that these two unstoppable forces would at least consider collaborating on the track that would combine their lyrical and stylistic abilities into something truly awesome.
The rhythm of “Pray For Me” could probably best be described as “tribal”, fitting in with the thematic nature of the film from whence this comes. Abel gets the first verse here, and boy does he sound terrific – making it all the more infuriating that he squanders his talents with inane shit like My Dear Melancholy,. It’s also just pretty incredible how a line like, “Who’s gon’ save me from myself when this life is all I know?” is something that is as fiercely connected to the content of Black Panther as it is to the cult of personality that is The Weeknd himself. While Lamar’s single verse is, like in “All the Stars”, a sort of watered-down version of what we get from him in his solo efforts, the intensity of his delivery is still ever-present, working incredibly well in this much more polished, radio-friendly production. Said production by Frank Dukes is punchy, driven, and impassioned without taking things too over the top. It’s just a very well-crafted, introspective little track; maybe it isn’t the conventional choice for a top-three pick in a list like this, but it certainly hasn’t overstayed its welcome for me.
2) “Be Careful” by Cardi B
Three out of the top five of my Best Hit Singles produced by Frank Dukes? Don’t mind if I do. Throughout 2018, Cardi B has proved that her potential for greatness extends far and beyond what she gave us in “Bodak Yellow”. From spunky party anthems like “I Like It” to more hard-hitting flex tracks like “Bartier Cardi”, her music alone gives listeners some sense of her palpable personality she freely displays on social media, earning her recognition in the first place. Yet even before the release of her acclaimed debut album Invasion of Privacy, Cardi released a song that would shine a light on some more vulnerable edges of her personality that had never before been revealed. This was further elevated with her performance of this song on SNL, which revealed her pregnancy to the world and further emphasized the weight and importance of the lyrics she vocalizes.
“Be Careful” was released after months of speculation and rumors regarding infidelity on the part of Offset, whom Cardi was engaged to at the time (they have since parted ways). Cardi herself has said that this song wasn’t aimed at Offset directly, but is rather a culmination of emotions she had felt from being wronged in the past. In any case, this song is one hell of a scathing indictment. Through two verses and a couple choruses, she absolutely pours her heart out in what could possibly be one of the most intimate diss tracks in recent years. For many who have ever been cheated on, lines like “You still stutter after certain questions / You still keep in contact with certain exes” are all too familiar. While the whole song remains pretty low-key yet terribly true in their sentiments, I mostly love the lines, “Between a rock and a hard place, the mud and the dirt / It’s gonna hurt me to hate you, but lovin’ you’s worse”. It probably best puts into words the struggle in trying to make it work with someone you love who also hurts you so fucking much. Keeping with the 2000s nostalgia that this year seems infatuated with, these hard-hitting lyrics are brilliantly balanced by a light, airy backing instrumental that also sounds oddly off-kilter, much like a beautiful relationship gone off the rails. Overall, this is probably my pick for the most matured and probably best song that Cardi B has given us so far. In general, we just need more songs where rap goddesses lay off one on their man who’d done them wrong.
1) “No Tears Left to Cry” by Ariana Grande
Nine of my top fifteen hit singles feature women vocalists. Four out of the top five are solo woman performers. This wasn’t exactly intentional, but would you have expected anything less from me? Anyway, I gleefully settled with Ariana Grande for the number-one spot this year. Previously, I named “Into You” as my second-favorite hit single of 2016 – although if I went by this year’s rules for that year, it would have easily topped that list. I still think “Into You” is one of her strongest songs ever, even over this song, yet there were so much fewer bright spots throughout 2018, making this song all the more important to brightening my day in the darkest of times. Grande herself wrote this song from her own place of darkness after a particularly difficult 2017 – though it’s no news that the months surrounding the release of her newest album Sweetener would be accompanied with its own share of stresses and tragedies. She succinctly referenced her particularly tough 2018 with a tweet later this year: “remember when i was like hey i have no tears left to cry and the universe was like HAAAAAAAAA bitch u thought”.
Anyway, I knew from the first listen that this would be somewhere up in the higher rungs of my Best of 2018 list. Producer Max Martin is an absolute master with creating wonderfully layered, fun pop masterpieces, and this is yet another example of his craft. The trance-like opener anticipates a moody, somewhat operatic tune – that is, until Grande guides the tempo into a double-time speed (“I’m pickin’ it up, pickin’ it up / I’m lovin’, I’m livin’, I’m pickin’ it up”), leading to a more upbeat dance-pop vibe that takes over the remainder of the track. Evidently, this seems to parallel the road from deep, dreary depression into happier times, a narrative seemingly told through this dense sonic energy alone. Grande, as always, sounds absolutely beautiful, with vocal tones that perfectly fit the uptempo, danceable qualities of this song, while carrying its own undertones of pain and growth.
Of course, the journey away from a densely depressive episode isn’t quite as easy as a “happy-sad” dichotomy, outlined by the way notes of sadness and despair are lightly peppered into some lines in the verses (“Comin’ out, even when it’s rainin’ down”). Overall, though, this song is mainly about the challenge it takes to overcome oppressive times of trauma and depression – sometimes, you simply just have to will yourself to believe that you haven’t got a single tear left and that it’s time to move on. In dark times like these when getting out of bed and leaving the house seems like a task in and of itself, this song feels like a perfect motivator to get up, leave all your troubles behind, and just dance. Throughout 2018, this has been the soundtrack to the days where dancing is within my realm of possibility – and then just like that, things suddenly don’t seem so insurmountable.