The Year in Rock Charts: Imagine Dragons Triumph Again, lovelytheband & Bad Wolves Break Through

Eliot Lee Hazel
Imagine Dragons

Let’s run down a list of accolades for Imagine Dragons on Billboard’s 2018 year-end rock charts.

Top Rock Artist. Top song on the Alternative Digital Song Sales, Hot Rock Songs, Rock Digital Song Sales and Rock Streaming Songs charts. Top artist on the Alternative Albums Artists, Hot Rock Songs Artists, Alternative Songs Artists, Top Rock Albums Artists, Rock Airplay Artists, Rock Digital Song Sales Artists and Rock Streaming Songs Artists charts. Top album on the Alternative Albums and Top Rock Albums charts.

Other rock acts existed in 2018. Hell, some of them -- lovelytheband, Portugal. The Man, Panic! at the Disco, Foster the People among them -- had a pretty good year. But none of them could even come close to competing with the dominance brought by Las Vegas’ Imagine Dragons on Billboard’s rock charts in 2018.

Billboard’s year-end music recaps are based on chart performance during the charts dated Dec. 2, 2017, to Nov. 17, 2018. Data registered before or after a title’s chart run is not considered in these standings. That methodology detail, and the December-to-November time period, account for some of the differences between these lists and the calendar-year recaps that are independently compiled by Nielsen Music.

Explore All of Billboard's 2018 Year-End Charts

And the only thing that might be somewhat surprising about Imagine Dragons’ triumph is that much of the four-piece’s successes came with music released in 2017.

“Thunder,” the song that leads the year-end Hot Rock Songs, Rock Digital Song Sales and Alternative Digital Song Sales charts, was initially released as the second single from 2017’s Evolve; in fact, it first made the former list in May 2017. “Believer,” which rules the year-end Rock Streaming Songs list, first reached that chart in February 2017. Evolve, the top set on the Top Rock Albums and Alternative Albums rankings, came out at the end of June 2017.

But Imagine Dragons persisted. Oh, did they persist. In fact, had it not been for a two-week run at No. 1 on Hot Rock Songs by Panic! at the Disco’s “High Hopes” at the end of the chart year (which began with the Dec. 2, 2017-dated list and ran through Nov. 17, 2018), Imagine Dragons would have ruled Hot Rock Songs for the entirety of 2018, with three different songs. “Thunder” eventually relented to third Evolve single “Whatever It Takes” in April 2018, and that song led for 17 weeks before “Thunder” returned atop the tally for three additional weeks. Then came “Natural,” the lead single from 2018’s Origins, which took over for “Thunder” and reigned for 11 more frames.

Yeah, that’s right, lead single. From a new album. While much of Imagine Dragons’ 2018 success came from music originally released in 2017, some credit has to be given to “Natural,” released in July. Initially premiered as the anthem for ESPN’s college football coverage, the song eventually became the first song released from a brand-new album. Origins’ impact is long from being fully felt, though; the album came out one week after the close of the 2018 year-end charts, meaning much of its impact will be realized in 2019.

All of which is to say that if you’re tired of Imagine Dragons dominating the year-end rock charts, you probably shouldn’t check out this space a year from now.

Newcomers Have Quite the Year: At the beginning of 2018, it’s likely many weren’t familiar with lovelytheband or Bad Wolves. The former had just one EP, Everything I Could Never Say…, to its credit, and the latter had yet to release a single collection of songs. The band was mostly known for its frontman, Tommy Vext, who’d filled in for Five Finger Death Punch’s Ivan Moody on the band’s 2017 European tour.

Funny the difference a year can make. Not only is lovelytheband the Top New Rock Artist for 2018 and Bad Wolves a close No. 2, both acts are also within the top 10 of the year-end Top Rock Artists list at Nos. 8 and 9, respectively.

The last time two new artists reached the year-end top 10? 2015, when George Ezra and Elle King reached Nos. 9 and 10, respectively. More impressively, lovelytheband is the highest-ranking new artist on the all-band ranking since Bastille came in at No. 3 on the 2014 list.

And that’s not even mentioning Greta Van Fleet, who comes in at No. 3 on the Top New Rock Artists ranking. The Frankenmuth, Mich., band’s Top Rock Artists placement? No. 11, just outside the top 10.

Together, this trio of new-ish acts was all over the Billboard rock charts in 2018. Lovelytheband’s breakthrough single “Broken” ends up the No. 1 song on the year-end Alternative Songs and Rock Airplay tallies, ruling each list for nine weeks. The song also became one of the genre’s handful of crossover hits in 2018, ascending to No. 1 on the Adult Pop Songs airplay chart at the tail end of the chart year (Nov. 17) and moving into the top 20 on Pop Songs.

And then there was Bad Wolves and Greta Van Fleet, who we’ll group together here due to an interesting feat all their own: they’re hard rock bands. No act categorized within the hard rock genre had made the Top New Rock Artists list since 2011, when My Darkest Days and Pop Evil came in at Nos. 3 and 5, respectively.

Bad Wolves’ ascension came out of tragedy. The band had been set to record a cover of The Cranberries’ “Zombie” with Dolores O’Riordan when the singer died unexpectedly on Jan. 15. Four days later, Bad Wolves released their version, sans O’Riordan, as a tribute, eventually donating proceeds from the song’s sale to her children.

The story could have ended there, but radio had other plans. “Zombie” eventually rose to No. 1 on the Mainstream Rock Songs airplay chart, ruling for three weeks beginning in May 2018, slotting in at No. 4 on the year-end ranking. The song was also a presence on Hot Rock Songs, where it ranks at No. 8 on the year-end tally, peaking at No. 5 in March.

Greta Van Fleet took a slightly more conventional path to the top. A band of three brothers and a friend, none older than their early 20s, the rockers rode a wave of classic rock nostalgia that actually started in 2017, when debut single “Highway Tune” led Mainstream Rock Songs for five weeks beginning in September 2017. The band has since added two more leaders on the chart, premiered an eight-song EP From the Fires at the start of the chart year and eventually dropped their debut full-length album Anthem of the Peaceful Army in October.

Don’t Sweat It: Sure, Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats were bound to have a substantial year on the Adult Alternative Songs airplay chart; they were all over the list in 2015 and 2016 with their debut self-titled album, reaching No. 2 on the year-end Adult Alternative Songs list in 2016 behind format heavy-hitters The Lumineers.

But this? This is something.

Not only is Rateliff and co. No. 1 on the year-end Adult Alternative Songs Artists tally – the band also has the top two songs on 2018’s year-end Adult Alternative Songs chart, a feat that’s been accomplished, well, never. At least, not until now.

“You Worry Me,” the lead single from the group’s sophomore effort Tearing at the Seams, came first, leading Adult Alternative Songs for nine weeks beginning in February 2018; it’s the year-end No. 1. Then there’s “A Little Honey,” the No. 2 year-end track, which actually only peaked at No. 2 on the weekly chart but remained there for five weeks along with spending 12 weeks in the chart’s top five -- plus 26 weeks on the list total, more than any other song in 2018.

And as if that wasn’t enough, the Night Sweats capped off the year with a third single, “Hey Mama,” which had already ascended into the chart’s top 20 by the end of the chart year in just three weeks on the list.