Last week, social media was full of everyone’s Spotify year in review playlists. I love a good recap, so I made a list of my favorite songs of 2018. They may not be the best according to some music snob and they may not be your favorites, but these are my top songs of the year. Everyone has different musical tastes so if you would like to share some of your favorite songs released in 2018, tweet us at @tgatesociety!
The most basic reason I like all of these songs is because they make me dance or sing or yell “BIG MOOD” at random lyrics, but I have made an effort to parse it a little more eloquently than that for this list.
The 1975, “Love It If We Made It”
The first time I heard this song, I was driving, probably bobbing my head a little but otherwise distracted. Then the line “poison me, daddy” caught my ear. “Love It If We Made It” is nothing if not attention-getting.
Musically, the retro-sounding chorus feels like something I should hate but I don’t. The bouncy electro-pop of the song belies the actual content. Lyrically, The 1975 have absolutely skewered global current events. There are, frankly, too many references to break down and this article already did a great job of it.
After listing the myriad ways the world is probably irredeemably fucked and declaring “modernity has failed us,” the song concludes “I’d love it if we made it.” There’s something about that sense of humor in the face of so much awfulness – it would be super cool if we survive this, basically – that feels very relatable and amusing to me.
Drake, “Nice For What”
Pro tip for listening to this song: make sure your wireless headphones are turned on before you press Play because the opening line “I wanna know who motherfuckin’ representin’ in here tonight” is pretty awkward in the middle of a cube farm at 8:00 a.m. Or so I would imagine; I definitely don’t know this from personal experience.
This song reminds me a little of one of my all-time favorite Drake tracks, “Fancy.” The premise of “Nice For What” is that women don’t need to be kind to trash men when they’ve got a lot going for themselves. It celebrates enjoying time with your girls, living in the moment and confidently taking selfies. Single ladies, after a review of your last few relationships or dating app swipes, you’ve got to admit Drake’s got a point. Some of these dudes are out here expecting women to do it all – beauty, brains, emotional labor – while they don’t even have hand towels for their bathrooms.
I can’t speak for all women, but let me tell you something about writing lyrics that border on pandering to me as a female listener: it works. (But take it too far and you end up in Keith Urban “Female” territory and nobody wants that.) “I know shorty and she doesn’t want no slow song” is right. I wanted a song like “Nice For What.”
J Balvin featuring Wisin and Yandel, “Peligrosa”
You probably already know J Balvin’s music, even if he isn’t a household name to you, from “Mi Gente” and the third verse on Cardi B’s “I Like It.” He is committed to singing in Spanish, hoping that the mainstream music world will respect him and other Latinx artists as equals.
Spanish-language music is having a moment on American charts lately: Drake is on the new Bad Bunny single, “MIA.” Last year saw the rise of the ubiquitous “Despacito,” and Cardi has done several songs with Ozuna. I encourage everyone to explore it because you don’t have to be fluent to appreciate the music.
Halfway through writing this piece, I still hadn’t picked a song from the album “Vibras.” In the year of our lord 2018, J Balvin not only made me purchase an entire album, but also press Play and just let it go. “Ambiente” and “Machika” were two tracks I came back to when I didn’t have time for the whole thing. Ultimately, I settled on the first song I heard that got me to download them all: “Peligrosa.” An ode to the dangers of dirty dancing, “Peligrosa” features a club vibe, a good beat, and vocal cadences that will stick in your head even if you don’t know the words.
Ariana Grande, “Thank u, next”
I heard the title and I was into it. Thank you, next! We’re moving on! And then I heard her sing “I’m so fucking grateful for my ex.” Hold on now, Ariana. What you’re talking about is some next level inner peace that I have not graduated to yet. Sometimes I feel more like Beyoncé with a baseball bat or Carrie Underwood with the car keys. And you’re telling me now we’re being… grateful… for our exes?
You can try to throw Ari off her game all you want, and it only makes her stronger. The internet roasted her relationship and engagement all summer, and then it failed. Most of us would be mortified, but she responds with GRACE?! On top of that, she called her own shot on the track with the lyric “Least this song is a smash.” She nailed it: “Thank u, next” became her first Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 hit.
Ariana’s released a song whose savagery is only eclipsed by its sweetness. Imagine you have whatever falling out with someone and then they have the nerve to be the bigger person about it on top of that. Brutal. And the thing is, she’s totally right.
Another song I’ve been listening to lately, “Expectations” by Lauren Jauregui, laments the heartache of being with someone who doesn’t treat you well. In contrast to that, “Thank u, next” is freedom. It’s permission to leave a partner who’s not right for you, an anthem to play as you walk through cuffing season by yourself with your head held high. And that’s a pretty great gift, if you ask me.
Foster The People, “Sit Next to Me”
Confession time: this song was technically released in 2017, but it made significant gains in popularity and radio play this year. And I already had half of this written when I found out so I left it in. My list, my rules.
Sometimes you fall for a song because of the sound and sometimes because of when you first heard it. Musically, I like lead singer Mark Foster’s slurry snarl when he says “got your man outlined in chalk” and the hard emphasis on words like “catch” and “culture.” But more than anything I like this song because it reminds me of summer nights walking around downtown Des Moines. This might be a morbid way of looking at it, but we only get so many of those breezy, carefree evenings, and I like to remember them.
My favorite line of “Sit Next to Me” stands out for its pure honesty: “Feeling kinda tilted* and I’m pouring out the truth, just fading out these talkers ‘cause now all I want is you.” Maybe this is a moment where the bar is on the floor for me, but there’s something kind of sweet about that admission.
*The internet and I disagree over whether this word is “tempted” or “tilted,” but my expensive-ass headphones and I say it’s “tilted.” And it fits with the pouring out lyric, right?
I also appreciate the accessibility of the song. He’s not asking you to spend your life with him or talking about some grand relationship. He just wants to sit next to you and get to know you.
As the song fades out, I get a rollercoaster vibe, the feeling when you just met someone and you’re so nervous about how it’s going to go, but your gut tells you it just might be the start of something good. It’s like laying in bed thinking about a first date or chance encounter with a stupid, excited smile on your face. It’s kind of nice to just remember the early promise.
AJR, “Burn the House Down”
This song serves an important purpose on this list. At first glance, it seems like a song about turning up – it’s not, but we’ll get to that later – that doesn’t go hard enough to actually be used as a turn up song. It is, however, the perfect track for getting yourself through a dragging work day. Whether you’re wistfully thinking about plans after you leave or just trying not to be too aggressive when you tell someone PER MY LAST EMAIL, the upbeat pop of this song is like an IV for your boring day, dulling all your “fuck this shit” receptors and tricking your brain into thinking everything is great.
A glance at the lyrics reveal “Burn the House Down” is actually about the debate between going along to get along and choosing to make noise. The narrator used to “keep it light,” but now he sees it’s time to “burn the house down.” And then there’s the Twitter shoutout: “Should I hang my head low? Should I bite my tongue? Or should I march with every stranger from Twitter to get shit done?”
Twitter – the over-crowded room where everyone is yelling, full of actual Nazis, resistance grifters, joke stealers, and some of the most genuinely good and funny people you’ll ever meet – is my social medium of choice. It’s a hellsite, but it’s MY hellsite. And AJR’s signal that they are also part of this internet faction of weirdos makes me smile.
5 Seconds of Summer, “Youngblood”
“Youngblood” has several tenets of a good boy band song: dancy, catchy, love themes, some falsetto, and a dash of harmony. I like the anguished way the lead singer performs the chorus. And there are FLAMES coming off the lyric “When you’re looking at those strangers, hope to God you see my face.” Wow, I feel that.
If I can overthink things and ruin the simplistic fun for a minute (probably the name of my memoir, to be honest), the lyrics about going back and forth with your feelings about someone – often to the detriment of one or both of you – are extremely relatable. Most romantic experiences are never all good or all bad, and neither are the people we share them with.
Big Sean, “Savage Time”
On “Savage Time,” Big Sean seamlessly weaves societal critiques – the school-to-prison pipeline, police brutality, and the Flint water crisis, to name a few – in with typical rap bragging. Maybe the most maddening thing, though not surprising, is the realization that an entire year has passed since Big Sean’s album was released and not a damn thing has changed. “Savage Time” might as well have been written yesterday.
The lyrics that hit me the hardest are from the first verse: “Graveyards on some ‘Thriller’ shit, only zombies ‘round here; fiends. They need help and they had dreams, but don’t nobody give a shit.” A few lines later, Big Sean admits, “Everybody need direction, even if it’s to find they self.” Unanswered – although most of us know if we’re honest with ourselves – is the question of who receives that while others don’t, and why. If that doesn’t make you feel some type of empathy, I don’t know what to say.
The Interrupters, “She’s Kerosene”
I have a soft spot for genres like ska that are a little quirky. This song makes the part of me that is still a rEbElLiOuS 13-year-old begging her dad to go see the Warped Tour very happy. It is nearly impossible to stop me from belting the group-sing parts or air drumming the end of the bridge. I saw the song was released on Hellcat/Epitaph records and thought, “Of course it was.”
The subject of “She’s Kerosene” sounds like a terrible person and certainly not someone to act like in real life, but it’s fun to put on a song and pretend to be That Bitch. I also appreciate lead singer Aimee Interrupter’s voice, an androgynous growl that stands apart from most of the female vocalists I hear.
Cardi B featuring SZA, “I Do”
“I Like It” was my fast favorite off Cardi B’s album. Then I did a lot of dancing around my house spouting the words to “Bickenhead.” I went back to “Be Careful” and found that I felt it a little too much. Finally, I landed on “I Do.”
I really like the motto of “what I like, I do” and the implied converse “what I don’t like, I don’t do.” At the risk of sounding too much like a trite Coke commercial, there’s so much freedom in enjoying what you like without giving a thought to what other people will think of it.
“I Do” is full of fire lyrics, but none are more iconic than “I left a ***** on read ‘cause I felt like it.” Aspirational AF.