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20 Best Songs of 2018

Best Songs 2018
Paradigm

Santa’s sleigh bells can fall on deaf ears, as far as we’re concerned — in December 2018, the reindeer should take to the skies to the sounds of the year’s best pop music.

Since January, and between releases from enduring pop idols and newcomers alike, we’ve amassed a playlist that rivals any Christmas hymnal or caroler’s croon. With country slow-builds like Carrie Underwood’s “Low,” the enduringly popular tell-off “thank u, next” by Ariana Grande and huge K-pop affairs from Twice and GOT7, 2018’s playlist is certainly no silent night (especially when Years & Years can’t help but “Howl.”)

It’s no doubt 2019 has got some serious pop greatness in store, but let’s take a minute to celebrate all that’s come before the New Year’s ball drops.

Check out PopCrush’s favorite songs of 2018 and get to streaming, below! Didn’t see a track you loved on our list this year? Let us know in the comments or hit us up on Twitter!


1

“Baby,” Clean Bandit ft. Marina & the Diamonds and Luis Fonsi

 
 

We didn’t realize how badly we missed the satin voice of Marina until we heard her dazzling vocal acrobatics alongside Luis Fonsi’s charming Spanish croon on Clean Bandit’s humid, house-tinged “Baby.” The Latin-pop/EDM fusion is a swirling ode to long-lost love that offers all the delicious romantic drama of a telenovela, but on the dance floor instead. It’s also a captivating, catchy-as-hell single with global crossover appeal, packing an unrelenting melody that—much like the what-if fantasies of a paramour past—refuses to unlatch from neither the brain nor heart. (Erica Russell)

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2

“Over My Skin,” Tiffany Young

 
 

Tiffany Young (of Girls’ Generation fame) shed her pristine K-pop gloss with her English language debut this year, the sultry, bouncy “Over Me Skin.” A glittery manifesto on confidence and empowerment, the singer truly came into her own on the instantly infectious single which dazzled both new fans and old. (Erica Russell)

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3

“After the Storm,” Kali Uchis (feat. Tyler, The Creator and Bootsy Collins)

 
 

The message of “After the Storm,” which sounds like modern take on a vintage soul hit from the ‘60s or ‘70s, is so universal: Things might be tough now, but just push on because the sun will come out eventually and you’ll be better in the long run for making it through the struggle. It may seem cliché, but everyone needs to hear that sometimes. The song’s soulful, funky production — thanks to the world of collaborative instrumental group BadBadNotGood — makes the song stand out. Meanwhile, the influence of Bootsy Collins, whose bass playing and vocals are featured on the track, can definitely be felt, while Tyler, The Creator’s laidback verse is a perfect switch up. (Mark Sundstrom)

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4

“Django Jane,” Janelle Monae

 
 

We all know Janelle Monáe can sing like an angel from the future, but you know what else she’s great at? Rapping. My earliest memory of Janelle rapping is on “Many Moons” off her 2007 Metropolis: Suite I (The Chase) EP, but it was a verse on her 2013 single “Q.U.E.E.N.” feat. Erykah Badu that really made me want a full Janelle rap album. While this year’s stellar Dirty Computer isn’t necessarily that, it did give us “Django Jane,” a powerful, no-holds-barred sonic assault on the patriarchy, sexism, racism, white supremacy and putting people in boxes. Janelle doesn’t take her foot off our necks; the first time I heard “Django Jane” I immediately got chills, then listened to it on repeat for another ten times. (Mark Sundstrom)

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5

“Low,” Carrie Underwood

 
 

Forgive us, but “Low”’s a high point for Carrie Underwood, who had heretofore failed to match anything off of 2007’s Carnival Ride. Finally, though, 11 years and four LPs later, the American Idol winner has rediscovered her sweet spot, and the David Garcia- produced ballad soars in a way Carrie hasn’t hasn’t since “So Small.” Pairing her strengths — simple Willie Nelson-grade melodies with enough belts to put a local tannery out of business — she delivers perhaps her most impressive studio vocal to date, and proves she’s much more than the banal “Cry Pretty.” (Matt Donnelly)

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6

“Howl,” Years & Years

 
 

In an act as despicable as hiding your fine china in the basement, Years & Years tucked the best song off of their exceptional Palo Santo in bonus track-territory. The Mark Ralph-produced “Howl” is as satisfying as Thanksgiving at Ina Garten’s, employing trusted pop totems and, somehow, still landing on something unique. It’s the punch of the prechorus, it’s the swirling, heavenly melodies delivered as only Olly Alexander can, it’s the ambient hum that builds into bass-bolstered pop rocketry. Master Class would be wise to consider this as its newest addition. (Matt Donnelly)

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7

“Dance the Night Away,” TWICE

 
 

If you wanna have some fun, look no further than TWICE’s first-ever summer single, “Dance the Night Away.” With lyrics about enjoying a nighttime summer festival with a special someone, “Dance the Night Away” is the kind of idyllic, feel-good pop song that instantly transports the listener to a tropical vacation. The song’s use of brass band in the chorus juxtaposes perfectly with TWICE’s sweet, airy voices to create an undeniably addictive hook that gets stuck in your head for days. Add in adorable choreography that even includes a swimming move, and “Dance the Night Away” becomes an instant splash hit that could be played on airwaves around the world. (Emlyn Travis)

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8

“Lullaby,” GOT7

 
 

GOT7 took a unique approach to their autumnal comeback single “Lullaby” by releasing the track in four different languages: English, Korean, Chinese and Spanish. Performing the track in a variety of languages was the group’s way to thank fans from around the world. The song’s lyrics describe the group’s literal dream girl, comparing her voice to a sweet lullaby that lulls them to sleep each night. Vocalists JB, Jinyoung, Yugyeom and Youngjae ace every high note with incredible ease, while BamBam, Mark and Jackson’s rapping bounces along to the song’s catchy urban-house melody. Despite its title, “Lullaby” proves GOT7 is not to be slept on. (Emlyn Travis)

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9

“Electricity,” Dua Lipa and Silk City (feat. Diplo and Mark Ronson)

 
 

Dua Lipa has made some waves on American soil with her hit single “New Rules,” as well as “Blow Your Mind (Mwah),” which Revlon picked up in a promo. But her collab with Silk City (aka Diplo and Mark Ronson) has kept that summer feeling alive long into the winter months. With both producers’ signature sounds on the track, it was up to Dua to deliver some strong vocals — and boy, does she. Unlike other tracks that bring down a significant other, this one expresses how much she wants to keep the one she’s got by her side. No matter where you are or what mood you’re in, “Electricity” is the song to get you charged up. (Emily Tan)

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10

“thank u, next,” Ariana Grande

 
 

Ariana Grande is a hitmaker, full stop. But her latest smash, “thank u, next,” is just a little bit more special. Not only does she pour her heart out on this one, but Ariana also makes sure to address specific men who’ve impacted her life. Hardly do we — singers and fans alike — ever really show our gratitude for how our exes impacted us, for better or worse, after the breakup. And just when we thought her graceful breakup anthem would stop there, Ariana aims straight for the heartstrings and uplifts the power of self-love and growth. It’s a message that everyone should try to live out each day. Thank you, Ari. (Emily Tan)

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11

“For You,” Rita Ora and Liam Payne

 
 

Rita Ora and Liam Payne’s duet for the third Fifty Shades of Grey film, Fifty Shades Freed, “For You” offered one of 2018’s most surprising and promising singles back in January. A lush, sweeping pop anthem, “For You” shucks the brooding alt-pop trend for something more earnest and glitzy. Twinkling synths crash around Ora’s full-bodied belting, while Payne’s low-key croon provides a nice contrast, creating a vocal chemistry that lends to the track’s romanticism. (Erica Russell)

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12

“No Tears Left to Cry,” Ariana Grande

 
 

Ariana Grande had an impossible task to take on when deciding which track to release as her comeback single following the tragic 2017 Manchester concert attack. Fortunately, the resilient pop star chose “No Tears Left to Cry,” offering listeners a single as emotionally and sonically complex as the singer herself. Featuring jazzy, shimmey production that teeters between full ‘90s diva pop, early 2000s dance anthem and lush, soulful electro-ballad, “No Tears Left to Cry” is at once sad and joyful, tender and powerful, sparse and bursting with emotion. (Erica Russell)

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13

“Chun-Li,” Nicki Minaj

 
 

We haven’t heard much from Queens-bred rapper Nicki Minaj since she released 2014’s The Pinkprint, but if her comeback single “Chun-Li” is any indication, we’ve got a lot to be excited for when she drops Queen this summer. The track—named after the Street Fighter heroine—shows Minaj going back to her roots as she aggressively raps about her haters: “They need rappers like me / So they can get on their f—-ng keyboards and make me the bad guy,” she declares atop heavy hitting production. The world will always need rappers like you, Nicki. (Katrina Nattress)

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14

“YES,” Louisa

 
 

In the era of sonic-chill and breezy trop-house, the loudest and most talented X Factor winner yet has supplied radio with a much-needed exclamation point. Featuring 2 Chainz, “YES” is a modern adaptation of Christina Aguilera’s “Dirrty,” and finds its storyteller knocking down the party’s door more forcefully than the big bad wolf’s huffing and puffing. “We getting wild, yeah, we getting raw / No one can breathe, still want some more / If you’re a freak like me one time, lemme hear you say yes,” Louisa roars with a boom that could cause seismic shifts. (Matt Donnelly)

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15

“Taste,” Betty Who

 
 

Sugar, sour, salty, sweet: it’s Betty Who, herself, who describes her latest track best — “Taste” is an amuse-bouche of varied pop star talents. Spilling over with metronome-precise snaps, a naughty collection of background ahhh-ing and truly menacing guitar licks, the track builds like a wink wrapped in a nudge sprinkled with a knowing grin. “All my cravings come at me / This ain’t love, it’s sacrifice / Oh my God, I can’t behave / The worse they are, the better they taste,” Betty hums in what will henceforth be known as pop’s benchmark of cheeky. (Matt Donnelly)

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16

“Heaven’s Only Wishful,” MorMor

 
 

A languid, brooding rumination on the afterlife full of unexpected turns, this somber synth-pop gem serves as a tantalizing introduction to rising Canadian export MorMor. (Dana Getz)

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17

“Youth,” Shawn Mendes ft. Khalid

 
 

It’s rare that a song like “Youth” — especially from two artists still finding their footing within the industry — can evolve past its Very Special Message and become a track that is both well-executed and purposeful. (See: Charlie Puth’s similarly themed yet schmaltzy James Taylor team-up, “Change”). But Shawn Mendes’ Khalid-aided gun control anthem does just that, focusing less on a feel-good plea for everyone to get along and more on the simple resilience in being a kid at time when national tragedy seems hellbent on forcing them to grow up. It’s a message that will undoubtedly resonate — and hopefully inspire — his young fan base, many of whom are facing school shootings at an alarming rate. It’s also one delivered among defiant, thumping production and some truly beautiful harmonies to boot. (Dana Getz)

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18

“I Like It,” Cardi B feat. Bad Bunny and J Balvin

 
 

Cardi B’s Invasion of Privacy is a melting pot of hip-hop, and “I Like It” makes the cauldron bubble. Heavily influenced by Latin hip-hop, the trap/salsa track features verses from Puerto Rico’s Bad Bunny and Colombia’s J Balvin, set over samples of Pete Rodriguez’s 1967 boogaloo hit, “I Like It Like That.” (Fun fact: Rodriguez’s song benefitted from a 2,520% streaming increase when “I Like It” dropped.) The track is vibrant, catchy and nearly impossible not to dance to, making it a serious contender for Song of Summer. (Katrina Nattress)

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19

“Lately,” WET

 
 

Glossed in smooth symphonies, “Lately,” the third single from the Brooklyn trio’s forthcoming album Still Run, is a cool call-to-arms that’s equal parts ego-check and ultimatum. “What have you done for me lately?” lead vocalist Kelly Zutrau coos repeatedly on the cloudy chorus, emanating her nuisances above the track’s ’90s-inspired groove. An exhilarating affirmation of pursuing one’s own happiness, let this melody be a friendly warning to self-absorbed sweethearts everywhere: no one is going to catch you when you fall. (Paris Close)

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20

“Don’t Go Breaking My Heart,” Backstreet Boys

 
 

No, this is not an Elton John and Kiki Dee cover, and no, it’s not a joke: boy band legends the Backstreet Boys climbed back onto the charts in 2018 with a seriously addictive new pop single, “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart.” The pulsing dance track is the group’s first entry on the Billboard Pop Songs chart since 2007, and it bleeds with nostalgia—you didn’t know how badly you needed Nick Carter and AJ McLean trading verses again. The blaring synth and drum claps in the chorus work well, the high harmonies are sharp and, if you want to bet on the darkest of dark horses for Song of the Summer, Backstreet’s back, alright. (Bobby Olivier)

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