Top 50 Songs of 2018

These are the songs that punctuated our most meaningful moments of 2018


    Last week, we released our Top 50 Albums of 2018 list. That’s the biggie for most of our readers and others in the industry — our final, defining commentary as a publication on the year in music. By the time our top songs list rolls out a week later, some view it as an afterthought and have already turned to the new year. I understand that. I’ve always been an albums guy by nature — the type who got annoyed when a friend played Side-B first or skipped choice deep cuts to get to a hit single faster. Despite some of the bloating bullshit that goes on (and you know who you are), an album, to me, still ranks as a sacred thing — from the sequencing right down to the cover art and liner notes.

    [See Also: Top 50 Albums of 2018]

    But as I get older, the song has started to win me over more and more. While albums do, indeed, soundtrack our lives, songs capture and punctuate our most intimate moments. When reading through a list like this one, I try to think of songs as moments: a moment of celebration, of hope, of dread, of despair, of fun, of escape, of understanding, of empowerment, of self-acceptance, of love in its infinite forms… It goes on, and I’m forever amazed by the sheer generosity that goes into artists sharing these moments with others — whether that moment has blossomed into a protest song, a club banger, a song of personal devastation, or a song that helps us see ourselves and others for who we really are. It’s amazing what can be done with a couple minutes, an idea, and some air.

    That being said, below are the songs — and moments — from 2018 that we find as compelling and rewarding as any album.

    –Matt Melis
    Editorial Director


    50. Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks – “Shiggy”

    Sparkle Hard

    Sounds Like: A mid-life crisis that lasts as long as an episode of Seinfeld.

    Key Lyric: “I’d like to be your best friend/ Whenever forever”

    Why Song Matters: At 52 years old, Stephen Malkmus is hardly the young slacker anymore, and “Shiggy” carries the weight that comes with all those storied years. Yet while he’s feeling the times, he still hasn’t resolved the crisis of wanting the very things he hates and hating the very things he wants. Some things never change, which is both comforting and terrifying. –Michael Roffman

    Song in a GIF:

    49. Sunflower Bean – “Come for Me”

    King of Dudes EP

    Sounds Like: A threat that’s totally danceable and oddly arousing.

    Key Lyric: “I’m looking for some handsome destruction”

    Why It Matters: Sunflower Bean have found their pocket in the distillation of nostalgic sounds with a lyrical contemporariness that keeps their sound fresh. They’re perfectly poised to pen a rally cry for the modern sexual revolution, and the fact that the result is so damn catchy should come as no surprise. –Ben Kaye

    Song in a GIF:


    48. Yves Tumor – “Noid”

    Safe in the Hands of Love

    Sounds Like: “911 Is a Joke” if it had been written in 2018.

    Key Lyric: “Sister, mother, brother, father/ Have you, have you looked outside?/ I’m scared for my life/ They don’t trust us”


    Why It Matters: Sean Bowie, known by more and more these days as Yves Tumor, is a Knoxville, Tennessee-born, experimental artist now based in Italy. The Yves Tumor alias has allowed him to take his music to off-the-map places in the past, often cavernous compositions with unnerving loops and field noises. But never has Tumor been less murky and more direct in his work than on “Noid”, a driving, percussive jam that would be danceable if its message — one of stress, paranoia, and dread concerning how police treat people of color — wasn’t so urgent and potentially life-threatening. –Matt Melis

    Song in a GIF:

    joey badass

    47. Iceage – “Pain Killer” (ft. Sky Ferreira)


    Sounds Like: Walking home from a loud show at night hand-in-hand with your partner, ears still ringing and your heart still pumping fast in the quiet moonlight.

    Key Lyric: “Praying at the altar of your legs and feet/ Your saliva is a drug so bittersweet”


    Why It Matters: Although the cliche has been used over and over again in music, love is really like a drug. No one gets the frenzy and infatuation of true passion better than Iceage in “Pain Killer”, a swirling rock anthem that is just as tender as it is intense. With backup vocals from lead singer Elias Bender Rønnenfelt’s girlfriend, musician Sky Ferreira, the panic and pleasure of love comes through with every note. –Clara Scott

    Song in a GIF:


    46. Young Fathers – “In My View”

    Cocoa Sugar

    Sounds Like: That moment when, in the middle of a long hug between you and the person you love, you suddenly wonder if your whole relationship just might be a lie.

    Key Lyric: “I want to be king until I am”

    Why It Matters: There’s a certain terror at the heart of intimacy. It’s one that comes through in every cryptic step of “In My View”, which finds Scottish trio Young Fathers teasing at the edges of those fears of power, trust, and all-consuming love. It’s a message that matches the song’s sparse production, whose thumping beats are underpinned with a paranoid drone that’ll have you looking over your shoulder at every chorus. –Tyler Clark


    Song in a GIF:


    45. Tasha – “Lullaby”

    Alone at Last

    Sounds Like: A mother singing her daughter a lullaby she’ll return to thousands of times throughout her life.

    Key Lyric: “Black girl, I know how much it hurts/ To always prove your worth, they won’t make it easy/ But, baby, believe me/ Your life is precious, and you’ll be alright.”

    Why It Matters: Chicago songwriter Tasha released her short debut album this year, the seven-song Alone at Last. The sometimes poet describes the track as “bed songs” — that is, extremely gentle songs (lullabies is the right word) that help the listener escape from “stress, anxiety, stress, and fear.” On “Lullaby”, we picture a mother singing to her black daughter, warning of the harsh realities that await but also imparting the type of calm, quiet advice that has helped generations of strong women endure and overcome. With a restrained delivery and the precision of a poet, Tasha creates a lullaby that, above all, wants to reassure black girls of their worth and the need to find the balance between struggle and taking care of themselves. It’s incredibly lovely. –Matt Melis 


    Song in a GIF:


    44. The 1975 – “Love It if We Made It”

    A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships

    Sounds Like: If Billy Joel wrote “We Didn’t Start the Fire” in 2018 with a millennial’s social media feed as his only reference.

    Key Lyric: “Oh, fuck your feelings/ Truth is only hearsay/ We’re just left to decay/ Modernity has failed us.”

    Why It Matters: The 1975’s A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships has been polarizing for listeners despite critical acclaim, but if you want to understand what the band is doing over the course of the record, “Love It If We Made It” is the thesis. Writing about how completely twisted our world is right now can easily become pandering or trite, but Matty Healy sounds sincerely passionate here as he nails the cultural milieu. Youths can certainly empathize, but older folks need to pay attention, too. –Ben Kaye


    Song in a GIF:

    Fire hoola hoop

    43. Alessia Cara – “Trust My Lonely”

    The Pains of Growing

    Sounds Like: A reminder to give the person in the mirror a great, big hug sometimes.

    Key Lyric: “Go get your praise from someone else/ You did a number on my health/ My world is brighter by itself/ And I can do better, do better”

    Why It Matters: A line like “I gotta trust my lonely” might make some of us grammar Nazis cringe at first, but hopefully we soon get over Canadian singer-songwriter Alessia Cara’s odd phrasing and embrace her message about self-worth. In a popular music industry that has spent decades telling us we’re no good on our own, Cara, in as catchy a song as you heard in 2018, works through her own insecurities and lets us all know that none of us needs to put ourselves in painful, abusive situations to feel complete or find happiness. One may be the loneliest number, according to pop music, but that’s only because we haven’t learned to — yes, I’m going to say it — “trust our lonely.” –Matt Melis

    Song in a GIF:

    alessia cara - trust my lonely

    42. Car Seat Headrest – “Cute Thing”

    Twin Fantasy (Face to Face)

    Sounds Like: Wikipedia shacks up in a college dorm.

    Key Lyric: “I will be your rock, God, when you’re rolling the dice”

    Why It Matters: We’ve known for years now that Will Toledo is unconventional when it comes to songwriting. “Cute Thing” builds upon that legend, namely the way he subtly upgrades the song from its 2011 roots, but also proves he’s not just some idiosyncratic genius but a pop culture romantic at heart. His love for his references says everything about his love for this titular item of his, and that is pretty goddamn cute. –Michael Roffman


    Song in a GIF:

    41. Vince Staples – “Feels Like Summer”


    Sounds Like: A late summer afternoon with the radio playing, the top down, and head on a swivel.

    Key Lyric: “Summertime in the LB wild/ We gon’ party ’til the sun or guns come out.”

    Why It Matters: Like Ice Cube famously did on “It Was a Good Day”, Vince Staples drops a warm, breezy beat that feels like it could soundtrack any of our summers. Of course, the sound belies the peril that Staples still finds himself in when he goes out, never more than a poor decision or wrong turn from potentially meeting a violent end. As Staples cycles through his past and reflects on its tragedies, we’re reminded of just how different two experiences can be, even when both people are blasting the same summer jam to the same gorgeous weather with the top down. –Matt Melis


    Song in a GIF:

    Ice Cub GIF

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