If you felt overwhelmed by music this year, don’t worry, you’re not alone. With songs dropping every day and surprise albums every other week, it’s pretty much impossible to keep up with all the art that’s being put out into the world. Yet, there were some tunes that cut through the noise to become the biggest and best hits of 2018. Here are ten of them.
Ariana Grande, “No Tears Left to Cry”
When crafting the tribute song for the victims of the Manchester Arena attack, Ariana Grande wanted a track that was equal parts poignant and optimistic. Bearing the fingerprints of Swedish hitmakers Max Martin and Ilya Salmanzadeh, “No Tears Left to Cry” begins as an emotional power ballad before quickly turning on its head, the melancholic melody transforming into an upbeat dance pop gem inspired by UK garage and house.
And when paired with the lyrics, the beat switch is pretty apt: “Right now, I’m in a state of mind / I wanna be in like all the time / Ain’t got no tears left to cry / So I’m pickin’ it up, pickin’ it up/ I’m lovin’, I’m livin’, I’m pickin’ it up.” Grande takes her fans on an empowering journey, urging them to continue spreading the love because they’re just “way too fly to partake in all this hate.”
BLACKPINK, “Ddu-Du Ddu-Du”
To call 2018 a great year for K-pop is a total understatement. In the past 12 months, hallyu gave us the return of Girls Generation, a smashing summer hit from TWICE and, of course, BTS’ “Fake Love” (who could forget?). But nothing comes close to the viral phenomenon that is BLACKPINK’s “Ddu-Du Ddu-Du.” The song, which opens the group’s second EP Square Up, is a rowdy pop banger in the vein of 2NE1’s “I am the Best” and “Can’t Nobody.” On it, BLACKPINK assert themselves as a bunch of “pretty savages” and “foxy” ladies over a fiery trap-influenced production, courtesy of Teddy Park. And when the beat drop is this good, it’s easy to ignore all the corny English verses scattered in-between.
Calvin Harris, “One Kiss” featuring Dua Lipa
Calvin Harris has had a relatively quiet 2018, especially when you compare his work this year to the home run that was 2017’s Funk Wav Bounces Vol 1. But the Scottish producer struck gold again with “One Kiss,” a loved-up, club-ready ditty that makes a compelling case for the timelessness of house. Dua Lipa soars, over a melange of crystalline synths and warm horns, to yet another tier of pop stardom. When paired with the right singer, Harris can craft pure pop perfection (think his numerous chart-smashing collabs with Rihanna). Hopefully this duo unite again in the studio next year for more.
Cardi B, “I Like it” featuring J Balvin, Bad Bunny
Cardi B has had a banner year—for better or worse—and the song that best captures the Bronx rapper’s glo-up is unquestionably “I Like it.” It’s impossible to keep from smiling or grooving when this bop comes on, whether it’s because of Cardi’s irrepressible personality (“I like those Balenciagas, the ones that look like socks”; “He’s so handsome, what’s his name?”), the trap-salsa beat or the charismatic guest verses by J Balvin and Bad Bunny. “I Like it” was a strong contender for song of the summer 2018, but there’s no doubt this hit was built to last beyond a single season.
The Carters, “Apeshit”
“I can’t believe we made it,” Beyoncé proudly announces on “Apeshit.” More than a decade into their careers and there’s no denying that Beyoncé and Jay-Z (aka The Carters) are still a force in music. And as far as celebrity couples go, Beysus and Hov remain the industry’s golden couple, and their song “Apeshit” only reminds you of their god-like status.
Money? The Carters have got plenty. The Grammys? They don’t need them. Why? Because their global success and sold-out arena shows are validation enough, the pair claim. “Apeshit” also comes after Jay-Z’s remorseful 4:44, his response to Bey’s Lemonade, on which she grappled with the rapper’s infidelity. But after renewing their vows, it seems like the couple’s putting the past behind them and going where their (combined) powers will take them: to the top of the music game.
Drake, “In My Feelings”
“In My Feelings” confirms it: Drake, dancing and memes go hand in hand. Whether you cared about the bloated Scorpion or Drizzy himself, it was still difficult to avoid the carefree, fan-created dance challenge or the instant-memeing of the line “Kiki, do you love me?” (not to mention the speculation around Kiki’s identity). Despite its ubiquity earlier this year, there are still many things to love about “In My Feelings,” whether it’s its soft-focus approach to New Orleans bounce, Drake’s melodic rendering of TrapMoneyBenny’s producer tag, or City Girls’ loud, unapologetic cameos.
Jay Rock, Kendrick Lamar, Future, James Blake, “King’s Dead”
After all that happened this year, it’s hard to believe that Black Panther—and its accompanying album of original music, curated by Kendrick Lamar—entered our cultural consciousness in 2018.
Not only did Black Panther: The Album set a high bar for movie-music collaboration, it spawned many bangers, the standout clearly being “King’s Dead,” featuring Lamar, fellow Top Dawg Entertainment rapper Jay Rock and premier trappist Future. They all bring something different to James Blake’s ice-cold production, from Jay Rock’s psyched-up braggadocio—“It’s like that, li’l bitch”—to Kdot’s matter-of-fact swag to Future’s outrageous nod to a filthy Juicy J cut in his narcotized upper register. “Chitty chitty bang / Murder everythang,” he croaks. They sure as hell did.
Pusha T, “The Story of Adidon”
This year we saw some big feuds flare up (Nicki Minaj vs Cardi B; Kanye West vs Drake), while others were extinguished (Meek Mill vs Drake). But there was nothing quite like the showdown between Drake and Pusha T, which reached its apex with “The Story of Adidon.” His album Daytona was praised for being all killer, no filler, and on this ruthless diss track, Push kept his knives sharp.
The song’s scandalous bars were both revelatory—“You are hiding a child, let that boy come home!”—and unacceptably nasty—don’t forget the shot he took at Noah “40” Shebib and his multiple sclerosis diagnosis. The horrifying photo of Drake in blackface, repurposed as cover art, was just more proof that King Push doesn’t do things by halves.
No, Robyn’s “Honey” isn’t the “Dancing on My Own” 2.0 you’re looking for. But you won’t come away disappointed, either. Co-produced by longtime collaborator Klas Åhlund, the track features the hallmarks of Robyn’s greatest hits: glittery synths and disco-inflected pop hooks backed by a subtle house beat. This time, instead of filling the dancefloor with despair, the Swedish icon wants you to feel liberated. “Let go of your doubts, say yes / Let it soak up into the flesh / Never had this kind of nutrition,” she sings.
Sheck Wes, “Mo Bamba”
There’s a good chance this year that you probably vibed out to Sheck Wes’ “Mo Bamba” at a party, even if you didn’t know it. Named after Wes’ childhood friend and NBA player Mohamed Bamba, the song became a viral hit a year after it was uploaded onto SoundCloud, and has been co-signed by the likes of Travis Scott and Kanye West.
Lyrically speaking, “Mo Bamba” is kinda straightforward: Wes compares his life to Bamba’s, drawing similarities between the recruitment process of record labels and sports teams. Elsewhere, the 20-year-old rapper boasts his newfound wealth and slick flows. But the track’s real standout is its menacing beat, featuring lo-fi synths and skittering drums, that makes “Mo Bamba” the mob anthem of the year. Oh, and that hyper-profane “Fuck! Shit! Bitch!” interlude about halfway through? It’s actually Wes swearing at his producers’ laptop when it froze midway during the song’s one-take recording session.
Which songs did you have on repeat this year? What would you name the best song of 2018? Peep our list of honorable mentions below and let us know.