Top 40 was a strange place in 2018 — a place where the year’s longest-running Billboard No. 1 hit had two chords and zero choruses or obvious hooks, and other No. 1s included a three-movement psych-rap odyssey, an Afrobeat-trap protest song and an R&B celebrity Burn Book ballad. The definition of pop music is always changing, but the last 12 months in particular felt like a transition year, a portent of a future where the music mainstream is close to unrecognizable from the perspective of where we were a decade ago.
Luckily, that also made this one of the most exciting years for singles on the charts and in our own personal playlists in recent memory — one in which the biggest hits were also some of the most challenging and rewarding, and in which the more conventional pop songs that did break through on a massive scale felt fresher than they have in a long time. And of course, below the surface, plenty of fringier artists were creating lesser-heard jams that called back to the since-forgotten past — or predicted an even more fascinating future.
From the “Shallow” to “The Middle” to the highest of “High Hopes,” music was captivating at all levels in 2018. Here are the Billboard staff’s 100 favorite songs of the year.
100. Maroon 5 feat. Cardi B, “Girls Like You”
What does a plucky guitar riff plus Adam Levine’s smooth tones plus a Cardi B verse equal? An obvious Hot 100 chart topper and delightful fixture on 2018 pop radio. After recent attempts at a crossover smash with Kendrick Lamar (“Don’t Want a Know”) and Future (“Cold”) found mixed results, Maroon 5 found an equation with a rapper that totally worked. Yes, it’s a tamer Cardi B than we’re used to from the Invasion of Privacy star, but her addition elevates “Girls” from standard Maroon 5 issue to a jam that girls (and guys) of all likes can get behind. — DENISE WARNER
99. Jessie Reyez, “Body Count”
Reyez got us from the first line of this statement of romantic independence: “You don’t have to tell me ’bout your body count/ I don’t need to know your exes’ names.” Born in Canada to Colombian parents, Reyez explores all levels of emotion on her piercing acoustic jam. She posses a voice that can be defiant and caressing; a style that traverses rap, pop and R&B; and enough cross-over appeal to snag a coveted performance slot at this year’s MTV Video Music Awards. — LEILA COBO
98. Young Fathers, “In My View”
U.K. trio Young Fathers have been chipping away at genre restrictions since their 2013 debut, and on this advance single from their third LP, Cocoa Sugar, they blend pop, gospel, hip hop and rock until it all folds into an undefinable-but-all-consuming three minutes and 15 seconds. The song’s multi-layered identity is matched by the scale of its lyrics: the story of a man grappling with ego and materialism, weaving between visions of his funeral, biblical references and a romantic power struggle. — ERIC FRANKENBERG
97. Avril Lavigne, “Head Above Water”
“Here’s to never growing up,” Lavigne sang five years ago on her last studio album. “Here’s to just trying to stay alive,” she basically sings on this year’s comeback single, which details a low moment in her struggle with Lyme disease when she had “accepted death.” Lavigne is not quite the same artist we left back in 2013: She’s trading Hot Topic for flowing Galadriel gowns, spiky guitars for pianos and strings — could she make it any more obvious? Yet her dispatch from a dark spot is as just arresting as her drunk-on-whatever misadventures, and her lyrics about turning to God in a time of crisis have made “Head Above Water” the unlikely center of the Sk8er-girlz-and-Christian-radio Venn diagram. — NOLAN FEENEY
96. Death Cab for Cutie, “Gold Rush”
When the Singularity occurs, don’t be surprised if the robots adopt Ben Gibbard’s emotionally detached voice. What they won’t be able to replicate is his talent for writing songs that make loss sound so goddamned irresistible. Set to a circular tambourine-stomp sample of Yoko Ono’s 1971 groover “Mind Train,” “Gold Rush” sounds like it’s arriving from another era as Gibbard laments the perpetually changing skyline of his Seattle hometown and the feelings of dispossession that they inspire. “It seems I never stopped losing you/ As every dive becomes something new/ And all our ghosts get swept away/ It didn’t used to be this way,” he sings amid piano flourishes and Beatle-esque harmonies of “Stay… Stay the same.” Of course, he’s not just singing about buildings. — FRANK DIGIACOMO
95. Nicki Minaj, “Barbie Dreams”
“Barbie Dreams,” the viciously funny third track on Nicki Minaj’s fourth album, Queen, was the one that got everyone talking. The song was inspired by the Notorious B.I.G.’s raunchy “Just Playing (Dreams),” from his debut album, 1994’s Ready to Die. Nicki’s song features the same hook and James Brown “Blues and Pants” sample, but while Biggie’s ran through all of the R&B females he wanted to sleep with, Nicki uses her verses to roast some famous rappers (and one football player). “Drake worth a hundred milli, always buying me shit/ But I don’t know if the pussy wet or if he crying and shit,” she spits, before going after Meek Mill, Lil Uzi Vert and many other collaborators and contemporaries. Diss track? No, sayeth the queen, though whether or not that lessened the sting of the slaps she delivered is still up for debate. — CHRISTINE WERTHMAN
94. Mallrat, “Groceries”
Thousands of songs have been written about the thrill of having a crush. But what about the annoyance? Aussie alt-pop newcomer Mallrat bottles up battling feelings (“I think we’re supposed to be,” “I’m Miss Independent”) in this sticky, finger-snapping acoustic highlight from debut EP, In the Sky, about the silly things we tell ourselves when we like someone — but wish we didn’t. There’s something endearing about the way she trills “if you wanna get groceries” (what could be more mundane, or more personal?), dancing around her emotions with both sweetness and swagger. Something like a conversation is unfolding between the notes — blissful guitar strums hint at budding love; Mallrat responds with a shrug. — TATIANA CIRISANO
93. Low, “Disarray”
It may or may not be the end of the world as we know it, but it definitely starts with an earthquake: From the first bass tremor and Geiger counter synth-scratch of Low’s “Disarray,” you can tell the Earth is shaking beneath you and might never be stable again. Few would’ve turned to these Northwest slowcore veterans of a quarter century to provide the year’s most spellbinding sonic encapsulation of 2018 tumult, but no sound this year was either more comforting or more frightening than the group declaring in ghostly three-part harmony: “Before it falls into total disarray/ You’ll have to learn to live a different way.” In other words: It might be time for even Lenny Bruce to start getting a little bit afraid. — ANDREW UNTERBERGER
92. Becky G & Natti Natasha, “Sin Pajama”
The notion of two girls doing naughty things has been virtually non-existent in Latin music. “Sin Pijama” (“No Pajamas”) upends the image of the nice girl, with stars Becky G and Natti Natasha unapologetically swapping lines like “I’ve always been a lady, but I’m a tramp in bed.” The fact that “Sin pajama” is an eminently catchy pop-reggaetón track only helps its cause. — L.C.
91. serpentwithfeet, “Bless Ur Heart”
Little in 2018 sounded like serpentwithfeet: theatrical, textured with vibrato, literary, willing to forego structure to get at deeper and scarier emotions. “Bless ur heart” closes the 2018 album soil, and the experience of the song is perpetually surprising. Josiah White has one of those voices that is more intoxicating for its idiosyncrasies and imperfections than for its smooth patches, and it’s hard to imagine anyone else delivering his lyrics. The first verse is soil in miniature, soaring from highfalutin ideas and language into a straight dive to the heart of the matter, where he makes it plain: “Boy, whoever reads about how much I adore you/ I hope my words bring them something new, something new.” — ROSS SCARANO
90. Valee feat. Jeremih, “Womp Womp”
In a year when many rap newcomers were defined by reckless buffoonery and sad-eyed earnestness, none arrived with the type of wallop that Valee delivered with “Womp Womp,” his slinky collab with fellow Chicagoan Jeremih. The G.O.O.D Music signee, whose rap style his label boss Kanye West called “the most popular in rap,” finds a way to twist and bend words into his flow to fit the beat, (“T-shirt VLONE, leave the coupe runnin’ won’t be long/ Chinese food, wonton, I might as well try that one time”) while Jeremih sets the tone with his malleable vocals. A low burner that went off in the summer months. — DAN RYS
89. Ezra Furman, “Suck the Blood From My Wound”
The lead track from indie singer-songwriter Ezra Furman’s Transangelic Exodus launches right into the album’s brilliantly bizarre backstory: A man and his queer, outlaw angel lover get behind the wheel and go on the lam in a dystopian future. Furman’s vocals on the cinematic, Springsteenian rocker are tremulous yet urgent, as if they’re fully aware the fight against The Man is as hopeless as it is necessary. — JOE LYNCH
88. Marshmello & Bastille, “Happier”
Ignore the title and the production: “Happier” may resemble an upbeat jam with its bouncy beat drop, but Marshmello and Bastille’s collaborative effort tells a sad story about letting go of a relationship before one party is ready for it to end (“The image of you being with someone else, well it’s eating me up inside,” sings frontman Dan Smith). The tear-jerking music video fully embraces the pain that comes with loss, and it helped propel the song to a peak of No. 3 on the Hot 100 — the best mark yet for either artist. — ALEXA BIANCHI
87. IU, “BBIBBI”
If BTS proved that conscious K-pop can cross over, IU makes the case for deeply personal K-pop. Korea’s chart-topping songbird IU delivers a warning shot to haters and critics with this deceptively sweet and bouncy R&B cut, which finds her giving a “yellow C-A-R-D” to those who disrespect and infringe on someone’s privacy. The single not only comments on IU’s experiences in the public life, but it doubles as a universal empowerment anthem, knowing and acknowledging one’s worth and personal rights. — JEFF BENJAMIN
86. Rina Sawayama, “Cherry”
In a year when the cultural conversation around gender and sexual fluidity became more nuanced than ever, Japan-born, U.K.-bred Rina Sawayama’s breakout disco-pop single “Cherry” feels simultaneously revelatory and casual, avoiding the gimmicky trappings of past sexual-experimentation pop anthems. As she sings, “Holding onto feelings/ I’m not used to feeling / ‘Cause, oh, they make me feel alive,” Sawayama’s voice shoots skyward, pairing perfectly with her newly discovered freedom and acceptance of herself as a pansexual woman. — ERIC FRANKENBERG
85. Bebe Rexha, “I’m a Mess”
“I’m a Mess” is a welcome reminder that Bebe Rexha is capable of striking gold outside of collaborations, too. The track is simultaneously self-deprecating and optimistic, built around Rexha’s self-assurances on the chorus that everything will turn out all right — after all, her therapist said so. Rexha scored her first solo top 40 hit with the clever cut, thanks in part to a well-choreographed music video (which transported fans into an insane asylum), an elaborate performance of the track at the 2018 MTV EMAs and an even more buzzworthy one at the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. She’s since been lighting up the Jingle Ball circuit, with “Mess” providing her best opportunity yet to shine all on her own. — GAB GINSBERG
84. FISHER, “Losing It”
One of dance music’s most exciting acts of 2018 can be found Down Under: Fisher, the pro-surfer-turned-pro-DJ-producer who’s lit up festivals and countless clubs with “Losing It.” The intoxicating house single has been played out by hundreds of touring acts, including Skrillex and Tiësto, in addition to BBC Radio 1 curators like Annie Nightingale and MistaJam. The song has also spent a whopping 15 weeks and counting on Billboard‘s Hot Dance/Electronic Songs chart and continues to rise through the ranks, so we’re likely going to be losing it to this one well into 2019. — DAVID RISHTY
83. Khalid, 6LACK & Ty Dolla $ign, “OTW”
From the perspective of jealous freelancers everywhere, 2018 was the year of Ty Dolla $ign, who lent his pen, voice and penchant for nasty quotables to your favorite artists. Produced by R&B-Drake’s secret weapon Nineteen85, “OTW” is the sound of Khalid getting on Ty’s level, roughing up his image just a bit but stopping short of true R&B lothario behavior, like picking out lingerie. (Ty’s got that covered.) Atlanta’s 6lack contributes, too — providing a strength in numbers that restores, if only briefly, the glorious feeling of ’90s R&B groups. — R.S.
82. Lauv, “I Like Me Better”
In a time when hip-hop dominates the Hot 100 chart, it’s rare to see a sweet and innocent pop-rock love song shine. But Lauv crafted a charming ditty that resonated with more than just fans of To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before thanks to a bouncy, instantly recognizable riff, the singer’s bright croon and swoon-worthy compliments like “I like me better when I’m with you.” The song helped Lauv snag the No. 1 spot on the Emerging Artists Chart and crack the top 40 of the Year-End Hot 100 chart, but perhaps more importantly, it also proved that chivalry isn’t totally dead in 2018. — TAYLOR WEATHERBY
81. The Interrupters, “She’s Kerosene”
A ska song going top five in 2018? We weren’t expecting it, and frankly, the Interrupters weren’t, either: “It’s like we have a seat at the table we didn’t even know was there for us,” guitarist Kevin Bivona told Billboard, calling in from a Warped Tour parking lot back in July. Since that interview, the L.A. punks’ incendiary single rose to No. 4 on the Alternative Songs chart, making them the first female-fronted ska band since No Doubt almost two decades ago to soar so high. On the surprise hit, frontwoman Aimee “Interrupter” Allen — who’d been through the major label ringer as a solo artist some 15 years earlier — fights her way out of an abusive relationship among snake-charmer-succinct guitar grooves and group-vocal fireworks. — CHRIS PAYNE
80. BlocBoy JB feat. Drake, “Look Alive”
Though Drake is the world’s biggest hip-hop star, he still spends considerable time in the trenches scouting for up-and-coming talent. For his first 2018 co-sign, he teamed with Memphis’ BlocBoy JB on “Look Alive.” BlocBoy’s verse almost merits an NRA endorsement with repeated warnings that if you cross this pair, he’ll “spray ‘em just like Febreze” and “got rounds like Sugar Ray Robinson.” Drizzy doesn’t lay in as hard, but he returned with more sting (“’Cause I told them that we put that shit behind us, but I lied”) for those who think he’s veered too soft lately. His best bar — “I’ve been gone since, like, July, n—as actin’ like I died” — was at once a clever flex about his importance to the hip-hop game and perhaps a hint about the month that his Scorpion album would later set the streaming world ablaze. — TREVOR ANDERSON
79. Sakima feat. RoboKid, “Apps”
“If I’m the only bitch on your map/ You gotta delete all those other apps,” starts English singer-songwriter Sakima on this throbbing grunge-pop team-up with L.A.-based producer Robokid. The cold, metallic scraping of the track transforms the most millennial of conversations — deciding it’s time to delete OkCupid, Grindr, Tinder and the like before moving onto a deeper courtship — into a commanding sex-dungeon manifesto. — PATRICK CROWLEY
78. Sharon Van Etten, “Comeback Kid”
Sharon Van Etten’s first single off her forthcoming album, 2019’s Remind Me Tomorrow, is an eager return for a rocker who lived a whole lot of life — and started a family, and launched an acting career — in the four years since 2014’s pensive and wry Are We There. “Comeback Kid” sees Van Etten favoring synths, driving percussion and a vintage feel over the guitar-led indie-rock she previously perfected. She grabs the microphone and holds tight to it while making a play for a place in the same screaming pantheon of punk spirit as Patti Smith and Joan Jett — and, unsurprisingly, she nails it. — HILARY HUGHES
77. Casper Magico, Nio Garcia, Darell, Nicky Jam, Bad Bunny & Ozuna, “Te Bote” (Remix)
“Te Bote” was born while Hurricane Maria was passing through Puerto Rico. Perhaps that’s why Casper Magico and Nio Garcia’s song is so full of righteous anger at a cheating lover: “I kicked you out,” they sing plaintively, less than a minute in. On the song’s seven-minute remix, the refrain gets repeated by a parade of guest artists — including superstars Nicky Jam, Bad Bunny and Ozuna — which understandably turned the song into a massive hit. — SUZETTE FERNANDEZ
76. Demi Lovato, “Sober”
The year’s most brutal encapsulation — not counting fictional onstage Grammy incidents, anyway — of the way addiction drives you to moments you could never even imagine being at the center of otherwise. Not attached to any upcoming project or given any major promotional push, the piano ballad feels like an authentic musical apology, Lovato’s voice sounding as fragile as her resolve as she explicitly tells her parents, fans and future romantic partner the last thing they want to hear. Moments like her trembling “I wanna be a role model/ But I’m only human” admission didn’t need any real-life brushes with tragedy for added heft or resonance, but sadly and all too poetically, the world got one anyway. — A.U.
75. Metro Boomin feat. 21 Savage, “Don’t Come Out the House”
For the first 25 seconds or so, it seems straightforward enough: A cinematic, slightly creepy Metro Boomin beat made all the more ominous by the looming presence of a 21 Savage verse on the horizon. But in a year in which mid-song beat changes have come roaring back into fashion, Metro and Savage combine for one of the most jarring: The beat drops off a cliff to support an ASMR-esque verse, in which Savage delivers the only thing that could make his presence even more like a horror movie — him whispering about killing you, and how, precisely, he’s going to do it. I almost don’t need to tell you, but yes, this song did come out the week of Halloween this year. — D.R.
74. Justin Timberlake feat. Chris Stapleton, “Say Something”
Ever since Justin Timberlake appeared with Chris Stapleton at the 2015 CMAs to perform a medley of “Drink You Away” and “Tennessee Whiskey,” fans have been clamoring for more collaboration from the duo. Timberlake delivered on his Man of the Woods album with “Say Something,” and it’s everything a Timberton stan could want: Stapleton’s gritty vocals contrasting with Timberlake’s boy-band-honed croon, plenty of twangy guitar and a stellar sing-along chorus. Hopefully next time, we’ll get an entire album. — D.W.
73. Pusha T, “If You Know You Know”
DAYTONA opener “If You Know You Know” begins like gas stove about to ignite as Pusha T prepares to set the hip-hop landscape ablaze. What follows the instantly iconic drop is the Virginia Beach hustler in elder statesman mode, crafting whole rhyme schemes to repeatedly address his younger competition as “boys” and enjoying the spoils of his hard-fought battles over the years. Consider it another nugget of wisdom from the trapper-turned-rapper and get “busy earning stripes like a tiger’s skin.” — BRYAN KRESS
72. Empress Of, “When I’m With Him”
L.A.’s Lorely Rodriguez wrote and produced her entire first album by herself but brought in collaborators for her second album of dreamy electro-pop, this year’s Us. Against a backdrop of warm synthesizers, a funky guitar sample and a drum loop created by producers Jim-E Stack and Dan Nigro, Rodriguez mixed English and Spanish lyrics to create a wistful pop song about falling out of love. “I don’t know how to love now, I pretend/ When I’m with him,” she sings, sweeping through the words with a sigh. It should sound sad, considering the subject matter, but her voice is too bright and the music too rhythmic to give the sorrow somewhere to stick. — C.W.
71. Parquet Courts, “Wide Awake”
Parquet Courts have a fever, and the only cure is more timbales! If punk and disco had a baby and fed it a steady diet of Adderall, it would sound like “Wide Awake,” the New York rockers’ joyous, unflagging homage to the late ‘70s and early ’80s. With its funky bassline, Dollar Store guitar licks and hyper-caffeinated Latin percussion, it’s a song that could inspire sharp-elbowed crazy dancing even in the staunchest of wallflowers. No cocaine required. — F.D.
70. Post Malone, “Better Now”
From the insta-chorus that kicks off Post’s most addictive hit to date to the skittery Frank Dukes beat that’s 90 percent of the crossover smash’s musical bed, “Better Now” is an uncut dose of the singer-rapper’s rare gifts. The MC who swears he’s not one is in full campfire mode here, blending his innate pop sensibilities and love for singer-songwriter vibes with the perfect dose of hip-hop swagger. Hell, Taylor Swift said she was “so jealous of that song, that hook.” Plus, “I promise/ I swear to you I’ll be okay/ You’re only the love of my life,” is one of the most baller confessions of heartbreak in rap (or pop) history. — GIL KAUFMAN
69. Pentagon, “Shine”
Beginning with a playful piano melody and co-writer E’Dawn clearing his throat, “Shine” is a tentative love confession delivered with a sense of campiness. Driven by quirky brass and onomatopoeic chants, the South Korean boy band’s 10 members alternate between charming verses and rambunctious raps. The song not only became Pentagon’s first Top 10 entry on the World Digital Song Sales chart in April, but it also became Pentagon’s final single with E’Dawn; he left the act later in the year after his publicized relationship with HyunA caused strife with former label Cube Entertainment. — TAMAR HERMAN
68. Kali Uchis feat. Jorja Smith, “Tyrant”
Kali Uchis and Jorja Smith each dropped notable R&B full-length debuts this year with Isolation and Lost & Found, respectively. By joining forces on “Tyrant”, the two emerging stars showed just how well they complement one another — and how much their presence is a boon for the genre. The song’s consistent backbeat helps carry the weight of the song, while Jorja’s velvety verse elevates the track instead of feeling like an afterthought. “Don’t lose this/ We have it all,” Smith sings, and at least in the moment, she’s not wrong. — LYNDSEY HAVENS
67. Kane Brown, “Lose It”
With two Country Airplay No. 1s in his pocket (2017’s “What Ifs” and “Heaven”), Kane Brown solidified his place as a Nashville hitmaker with this lead single from his sophomore LP. The banjo-tinged rocker “Lose It” is equal parts windows-down jam and flirty love letter, with verses that show off Brown’s impressive range. And while it wasn’t his first chart topper, “Lose It” ended Florida Georgia Line and Bebe Rexha’s record-setting 50-week run atop the Hot Country Songs tally, proving that Billboard’s November cover star is no one-album wonder. — T.W.
66. Nicky Jam & J Balvin, “X”
Nicky Jam and J Balvin’s “X” fuses dancehall and reggae, resulting in a fresh new Caribbean sound. Originally written by J Balvin for his buddy Nicky Jam — who in turned asked Balvin to appear on the song — the track’s now-instantly recognizable hook and signature dance move inspired legions of fans to take on “X” challenges, propelling the track to No 1 on Billboard’s Latin Airplay chart. — S.F.
65. Arctic Monkeys, “Four Out of Five”
As the purveyors of the fictional Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino on the band’s album of the same name, shape-shifting rock vagabonds Arctic Monkeys don’t seem particularly keen on over-booking the joint. At a deliberately humdrum pace, Alex Turner serves as the haughty tour guide to the futuristic venue on lead single “Four Out of Five,” throwing out buzz phrases like “it’s the place to go” with a detachment that reads like a “I went to the lunar resort and all I got was this t-shirt” souvenir. It’s a melancholic commentary on our Yelp-dependent society that would predictably lead many to get nitpicky at a marvel of human progress. — B.K.
64. J. Cole, “K.O.D.”
This is what you call flipping fan expectation: J. Cole, modern paragon of the conscious rapper, beginning the title track and opener-in-earnest to fifth LP KOD with a King Push-like boast of his drug-game prowess (“Ten keys from a quarter brick/ Bentley from his mama’s whip”). Of course, it’s not that straightforward: The brain-sticking refrain is quickly revealed to be somewhere between sarcastic and self-effacing, as Cole spends the verses bragging about his status and smacking down his critics, before switching the subject to the chest-puffed drug dealers he grew up around, with the prideful parallels speaking for themselves. No flip needed for the beat, though: a stripped-down but insistent knocker that gives the lyric both the glitz and the gravity it all calls for. — A.U.
63. Hayley Kiyoko, “Curious”
“I’m just curious, is it serious?” taunts Hayley Kiyoko on this rubbery, polished pop jam. But don’t be fooled by her faux-chill: Hayley wants answers. To the tune of euphoric, icy synths and tumbling verses that leave the bare minimum of space to catch your breath, the California singer-songwriter (and fan-appointed Lesbian Jesus) equally mocks and flirts with the girl in question, flipping the script with a single line: “You say you wanted me, but you’re sleeping with him.” The standout of her debut album Expectations, “Curious” excels by daring to be specific — from its pointed references (“did you take him to the pier in Santa Monica?”) to its same-sex pronouns — while its overall tongue-in-cheek vibe keeps the discussion on the dance floor. — T.C.
62. Kanye West, “Ghost Town”
Leave it to his artistic soulmate Kid Cudi to accidentally articulate the prevailing narrative of mentor Kanye West’s 2018: “I’ve been trying to make you love me/ But everything I do just takes you further from me.” Kanye spent the year losing the plot as he felt like he was figuring it all out, and Ye climax “Ghost Town” mirrors that fracture all too brilliantly. With its swirling organs, growling guitars and classic Kanye brand of scumbag gospel, the song almost feels like “Runaway,” but sadder, older, realer — this isn’t the sound of Yeezus battling his demons, it’s the sound of him announcing his surrender with a smile. “Nothing hurts anymore, I feel kinda free!” yells the song’s breakout star 070 Shake from the other side, and it’s both the most triumphant and most terrifying thing you’ll hear all year. — A.U.
61. Christine and the Queens, “Doesn’t Matter”
Christine and the Queens, one of France’s finest exports, released the lauded sophomore album Chris this year. The singer born Héloïse Letissier has called standout track “Doesn’t Matter” her “crisis” song, explaining that it is “a cathedral, with a rhythm as unalterable as white stone.” Atop a hypnotic “Mickey”-esque beat, Chris — the evolution of Letissier’s Christine stage character — questions whether a higher power exists (“If I believe in God, and if God does exist”) and hints at unbridled pain (“’Cause the suicidal thoughts that are still in my head/Give her that awful side-smile when I lay in bed”). Things get even more interesting on the bridge, when she introduces a complex character known as a “sun stealer.” As she explained on the Song Exploder podcast, Chris wants that creature, who represents hope, to run away with the sun and never come back, because she’d like to wallow alone in her despair for just one moment, please. — G.G.
60. Marshmello & Anne-Marie, “Friends”
Want us to spell it out for you? This sassy song is a blast. British pop star Anne-Marie brings the attitude, bluntly telling her wannabe paramour that they are nothing more than buds, while ooey-gooey dance producer Marshmello brings the playful snare-forward beat, tricking you into thinking the friend-zone dweller is getting let down easy (he’s not). In addition to being such a fun listen that radio overplay couldn’t ruin it, this bop might just be the best top 40 spelling lesson since Gwen Stefani taught us how many Ns are in bananas. — KATIE ATKINSON
59. Chris Stapleton, “Broken Halos”
In 2018, Chris Stapleton finally got the No. 1 country radio hit he probably should’ve snagged ages ago. And why not “Broken Halos”? The centerpiece of a delectable pair of back-to-basics country records from the past year-and-a-half, From A Room Vols. 1 and 2, “Broken Halos” stands as a potent reminder to take heart amid tragedy and the loss of loved ones (“Don’t go looking for the reasons… we’re not meant to know the answers”). It’s a sentiment applicable across the globe — including the Nashville scene, in the wake of last year’s Route 91 Harvest festival shooting. — KEVIN RUTHERFORD
58. Carly Rae Jepsen, “Party For One”
Carly Rae Jepsen has standards, damn it, and she won’t settle for anything less than the kind of love she fought for in last year’s “Cut to the Feeling” or the butterflies that made 2012’s “Call Me Maybe” such a relatable smash. With “Party For One,” the first taste of her highly anticipated Emotion follow-up, Jepsen is all about literal and figurative self-love: She’d rather dance alone and make love to herself than waste another minute with a person who isn’t interested on getting on her beat. It’s their loss, but definitely our gain. — H.H.
57. Boygenius, “Me and My Dog”
One of the sweetest gifts of 2018 was the foundation of boygenius, the all-too-perfect supergroup of indie singer-songwriters Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers and Lucy Dacus. Their self-titled, six-track EP’s magnum opus is its second track, “Me & My Dog,” which plays magically into each member’s strengths while never failing to lose track of its imagery or its feeling. Bridgers runs point, opening with two verses about being so in love with her partner that she forgets to eat and sleep, building to the penultimate line they all sing, “I wanna be emaciated” — a declaration that the relationship in question may not have been perfect, but it’s better than the alternative. And what about the dog? The final line finds the trio wishing they could escape on a spaceship, with nothing but their pup “and an impossible view.” — XANDER ZELLNER
56. Backstreet Boys, “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart”
The Backstreet Boys’ 2018 chart comeback is one of the year’s most unexpected — and welcome — surprises. And while this midtempo plea to a lover is a throwback, it’s not to the ’90s: It goes back even further to draw on the atmospheric fist-pumpers of the ’80s, with twinkling synths and an insistent, thudding beat that complements their still-immaculate harmonies and that delicious, impossible-to-sing-along-to falsetto. — J. Lynch
55. Cardi B, “Be Careful”
Back in January, a YouTube concert video of Cardi B surfaced in which the Bronx rapper paraphrased lyrics from Beyonce’s “Don’t Hurt Yourself” (‘You do that shit again, you gon’ lose your wife”) that were interpreted as a warning to superstar husband Offset that she would not put up with a cheating spouse. Just a few months later, she released her own dressing-down to those who would fuck with her heart. But where Bey’s warning to Jay-Z was a blast of unfiltered fury and distorted Jack White guitar, Cardi’s “Be Careful” is a musically cooler, emotionally more complex affair — and (at the risk of offending the Beyhive) a more honest one, too. Yeah, Cardi’s spitting anger — “You make me sick” is a repeated refrain — but not hiding the hurt: “My heart is like a package with a fragile label on it/ Be careful with me,” she sings to the man she admits she still adores. In the wake of her and Offset’s recent break-up, perhaps someone wasn’t listening. — F.D.
54. Foster the People, “Sit Next to Me”
Some songs you hear on the radio sound like such natural fits that the artist behind them seems to have cracked the code for all pop music. But if the formula for a hit were as simple as that — and this song’s narrative: “Hey! Hey you! Just come sit here. Let’s see what happens after you just like, sit here” — Foster the People would likely have had a laid-back, head-boppable smash once a week instead of once every eight years. However they found it, and whether or not they can repeat it, the recipe for “Sit Next to Me” proved a winner in 2018: “It’s a feel good song that everybody just feels good about,” said no less an authority than my 60-year-old dad when I asked him to explain why he loves this song so much. — JAYME KLOCK
53. James Bay, “Pink Lemonade”
What do you do when you craft a pair of hits, “Hold Back the River” and “Let It Go,” that seemingly chart you a rigid course to singer-songwriter superstardom, perhaps as the next Ed Sheeran? If you’re James Bay, you cut your hair, toss the acoustic in the closet and write the best Strokes song since “Under Cover of Darkness,” complete with a chugging, garage rock-y guitar riff, a memorable bassline and smoldering vocals. Bay may very well morph again come album three, so enjoy his newly bedazzled, groovy look and sound while you can. — K.R.
52. Florence + The Machine, “Hunger”
Florence + the Machine’s specialty is chest-thumping, seratonin-spiking motivational anthems for the new millennium — and “Hunger” is no exception to the tradition established by “Dog Days Are Over,” “Shake It Off” and “You’ve Got the Love” before it. The lead single off 2018’s High As Hopes has Florence Welch soaring over gritty revelations — this time about looking for love in the wrong places and settling for what one finds instead — and dressing them up in with euphoric, string-laden instrumentation and a simple chorus perfect for arena sing-alongs. — H.H.
51. Mitski, “Nobody”
In 193 seconds, indie-rock powerhouse Mitski sings the word “Nobody” 34 times. It’s this repetition, despite the track’s glistening disco beat, that makes the outsider’s anthem feel so isolating (and, when paired with its surreal music video, disorienting). And it’s not just the song’s titular mantra that proves so disquieting — Mitski’s calm yet yearning delivery throughout the track eases the listener into a captive trance of loneliness alongside her. — E.F.
50. Billie Eilish, “You Should See Me in a Crown”
In the few years since 16-year-old Billie Eilish started releasing music, she’s armed herself with an arsenal of tender ballads, edgy bangers and ukulele-plucked spoken-word stories. But on the ominous “You Should See Me In A Crown,” she creates a hybrid of her softer and harder selves as the explosive track seesaws between a bare-bones beat and bass blitz. With four simultaneous Hot 100 hits as the year draws to a close, this teen queen needs no other crown — she already has the alt-pop throne. — L.H.
49. Charlie Puth feat. Kehlani, “Done For Me”
Puth channels mid-’80s Wham! on this Voicenotes strutter, from to the opening keyboard riff down to his gentle slide into falsetto and the petulant attitude. He’s walking away, but Kehlani has her own fierce thoughts on the matter, making it clear that she’s fed up with trying to allay his unfounded jealousy (though the video pairs Kehlani with a woman in a separate story line). Puth and Kehlani’s chemistry, even stronger here than on their 2015 cover of Drake’s “Hotline Bling,” lifts the bouncy track into something much more than a merely nostalgic throwback. — MELINDA NEWMAN
48. Silk City feat. Dua Lipa, “Electricity”
It’s no surprise that super-producers Diplo and Mark Ronson make a great team, nor is it surprising that the newly formed duo ended up breaking into the Hot 100 within their first few singles. “Electricity” is a supercharged groover that features one of 2018’s unwavering hitmakers: Dua Lipa, who turns listeners into dancers with her standout vocals and thundering hooks. The song’s steamy music video may take place in the dark, but bumping this hit at any house party is guaranteed to light up the room. — D.R.
47. Ariana Grande, “Breathin”
A frightening terrorist attack. A tearful break-up. A whirlwind engagement. The passing of a loved one. Endless criticism on social media. This would all be enough to send anyone into a frantic spiral, but Ariana Grande (who conquered all of this and much more in 2018) created an anthem to help get herself and others through grievous times. Just when you’re think you’re reaching a breaking point, this euphoric-yet-meditative dance-pop mantra reminds us that we already have a lifeline: Just keep breathin’ and breathin’ and breathin’… and breathin’. — BIANCA GRACIE
46. Lana Del Rey, “Mariners Apartment Complex”
Lana Del Rey’s voice has always had a bewitching effect, but on “Mariners Apartment Complex,” the pop siren actively wants to lull her subject into a contented state: “You lose your way, just take my hand/ You’re lost at sea, then I’ll command your boat to me again,” she asserts. For a song about placing unconditional faith in another, Del Rey entrusted alt-pop favorite Jack Antonoff, who arranges a luscious tapestry of guitar strums and piano melodies to complement the spell she casts, resulting in one of the most fully developed singles of her career. — JASON LIPSHUTZ
45. Rae Sremmurd feat. Juicy J, “Powerglide”
As Swae Lee and Slim Jxmmi told Billboard this spring, Rae Sremmurd’s ominous banger “Powerglide,” from the duo’s triple album SR3MM, all started with a sample. Producer Mally Mall, a.k.a. Jamal Rashid, played the brothers an instrumental track based around Three 6 Mafia’s “Side 2 Side” at his Encino Hills studio. Swae threw on some sing-rap verses and a chorus that celebrates cars, girls, money — and the powerglide. No, not the automatic transmission. As Swae said, powerglide was “just like a dope-ass word … It seems like you’re fucking floating or flying or something.” Jxmmi also busted in with a quickly composed, aggressively delivered verse, though it was only fitting that they brought in Juicy J, whom the two met at a party, to offer a rhyming masterclass and even an “RIP Lil Peep” shoutout. — C.W.
44. Old Dominion, “Hotel Key”
From the opening slinky guitar riff to the repeated piano chords of the chorus, this jaunty country-pop jam tells a vivid story thanks to the tiny lyrical details — her “half-drunk smile,” his “half an ounce” — sprinkled throughout. The girl in the feel-good country smash might have thought the hotel key was the best souvenir she got out of her carefree one-night stand, but it turns out it’s this slyly sexy song instead. — K.A.
43. Red Velvet, “Bad Boy”
Femme fatales and bad boys go hand in hand — at least, that’s the end point of this tainted game of cat and mouse. This K-pop girl group, known for their cute yet mature duality, immerses you straight away in their moody soundscapes, filling this R&B jam with intricate details such a a siren onomatopoeia, clacking high heels and harmonies to spare. It’s the latest proof that, in pop music, it’s not contradictory to be badass and soft at once. — CAITLIN KELLEY
42. Drake, “In My Feelings”
Thank Yeezus. Sure, it wasn’t Ye’s annus mirabilis — musically or culturally — but his tiff with frenemy Drake partly inspired social media’s top tune of the year, “In My Feelings.” Across the board, it has all the ingredients of a Drake smash: half-sung, half-rapped vocals; a well-timed cameo from a newcomer (in this case, the uncredited City Girls); lyrics that authored countless Instagram captions; and dear God, that title. Even cynics who lamented the nod to New Orleans bounce music as just another stamp in Aubrey “culture vulture” Graham’s passport were no doubt sucked into the song’s inescapable summer dance challenge crafted by comedian Shiggy. If you didn’t master it this year, don’t fret: The dance ensured that “Feelings” will be a staple at wedding receptions and family reunions for years to come. — T.A.
41. Teyana Taylor, “WTP”
The year that saw Pose bring ball culture realness to TV also gave us “WTP,” Teyana Taylor’s irresistible salute to the quietly influential queer scene. Taylor silkily croons over a rubbery bass line and a delicious sample of Ellis D and Boom Boom’s 1989 house track “Work This Pussy,” while iconoclastic rapper Mykki Blanco assumes the role of tart-tongued ballroom commentator, assuring us that Taylor is a “mo-ther fu-cking DIVA.” An audio snippet from Octavia St. Laurent from the 1990 documentary Paris Is Burning serves as a coda, paying tribute to one of Harlem ball culture’s late icons. — J. Lynch
40. Mac Miller, “Self Care”
It’s difficult to separate the intended message behind “Self Care” from the reality of the Pittsburgh rapper’s untimely passing in September. From eerily prescient bars that would play out in headlines to the image of Miller carving “Momento Mori” into his casket lid in the music video, every aspect of the song now seems to hint at tragedy. “Self Care” was always a cautionary tale of falling too deep in the search for inner peace, but it’s the loss of Miller that gives an unshakeable urgency to the message about finding salvation beyond your vices. — B.K.
39. Khalid & Normani, “Love Lies”
The best kind of seduction is often the subtlest — something Khalid and Normani know well on “Love Lies.” The Love, Simon soundtrack standout depicts the early stages of a lustful tug o’ war as both partners put aside their hesitations about jumping into a new relationship. The singers play the roles well, with Normani’s husky come-hither vocals billowing like smoke as Khalid asks “Are you down for the ride?” in his signature grainy tone. Clearly everyone was — the song peaked at No. 9 on the Hot 100. — B.G.
38. Juice WRLD, “Lucid Dreams”
The formula for “Lucid Dreams” isn’t anything new — it pairs hazy production underlined by an acoustic guitar (borrowed from Sting’s “Shape of My Heart”) with dark lyrics about coping with a broken heart. What is new, though, is that a SoundCloud rapper found his way to top 40 radio (and hit No. 7 on Billboard’s Pop Songs chart) thanks to the song’s crossover appeal via its unusually melodic backbone and undeniably catchy chorus. Whether blaring through the speakers at a club or on headphones in your bedroom, “Lucid Dreams” is a speak-your-truth soundtrack for anyone’s half-conscious reality. — L.H.
37. The 1975, “Give Yourself a Try”
Sincerity is scary to The 1975, but going outside is fucking petrifying, so frontman Matty Healy’s just fine dipping into the former to confront the latter. A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships lead single “Give Yourself a Try” is a call to recognize one’s self-worth and become a part of the world, and its emotional directness is nearly as shocking as the sound of its distorted, piercing guitar riff crackling out of the speakers. It’s about Healy’s own isolation, of course, but also about his fans, and also about everyone, which is why his free-associative lyrics about whiskey and baby boomers and the absence of context in modern Internet dialogue always drop out in time to not disturb the simple plea of the chorus. “If you’re so clever, then why are you on your own tonight?” a different Manchester rock icon famously asked back in 1986. Three decades later, Healy might not quite have the answer, but damn if he isn’t at least trying. — A.U.
36. 5 Seconds of Summer, “Youngblood”
5OS delivered the goods with the title track of their glossiest, most radio-friendly album to date. With its shouty hook and galloping pop-punk bassline, “Youngblood” was an anomaly among the trap-infused hip-hop and breathy-voiced chill vibes that prevailed at the top of the charts this year. Yet the song was massive and modern enough to fit in on radio alongside those other sounds — and become the Australian four-piece’s biggest Hot 100 hit to date, peaking at No. 7. — P.C.
35. Taylor Swift, “Delicate”
Of the many instances where Swift referenced her public image on 2017’s blockbuster reputation LP, it was her declaration that “My reputation’s never been worse,” from fourth single “Delicate,” that was the most affecting. While some of the album’s other hits, including comeback smash “Look What You Made Me Do,” came off as a challenge to her haters, “Delicate” presented the humanity hidden behind her defensiveness, while the song’s vocoder-drenched vocals and lightly bouncing beat — courtesy of co-producers Max Martin and Shellback — made Swift’s latest electro-pop experiment feel like her bread and butter. It wasn’t her biggest Hot 100 hit, peaking at No. 12, but “Delicate” slowly became a pop radio mainstay in 2018, because it’s such a breezy listen and such a relatable sentiment. Isn’t it, isn’t it, isn’t it? — BECKY KAMINSKY
34. Migos, “Stir Fry”
The hypnotic circus throb on this insta-classic Migos smash was inescapable in a year when the trio had fresh product almost every week. The busy, polyrhythmic bed — one beat ringmaster Pharrell Williams sat on for almost a decade — whips in deep-vein bass, whistles, jazzy hi-hats and a chopped and screwed interpolation of the snare from the Mowhawks’ 1968 funk classic “Champ.” The hearty meal is nothing, though, without the group’s signature triplet flow, including standout lines like Offset’s twisty, arty boast, “I gotta keep watching out through my bird eye/ No casket, drop dead fresh and I got dead guys.” Some songs inspire you to move, “Stir Fry” defies you to sit still. — G.K.
33. Panic! At the Disco, “High Hopes”
It took almost a dozen people to write and produce the ornate, relentlessly triumphant “High Hopes,” a fact that might inspire some hand-wringing about the state of creativity today. But on his first top 10 hit in over a decade, Panic! mastermind Brendon Urie and his unlikely band of collaborators — which include folksy singer-songwriter Jenny Owen Youngs (Ingrid Michaelson, Pitbull) and rising hitmaker Tayla Parx (Ariana Grande, Janelle Monáe) — managed to make a song that doesn’t just sound seamless, it also explicitly celebrates the weirdos and oddballs whose approach to the music industry is anything but business as usual. — N.F.
32. Lil Baby & Gunna, “Drip Too Hard”
The first time you hear “Drip Too Hard,” Lil Baby’s words are so effortless, his ability to move up, down and stutter-step around the beat — a quickly picked guitar loop produced by Turbo — so confident, the entire verse sounds like it should be the chorus. Then Gunna drops in to provide one of the more vivid and idiosyncratic watch-related similes of the year: “I feel like a child, I got boogers in the face.” Less than two minutes and thirty seconds in, you’re reaching for the repeat button to feel the rush again. — R.S.
31. Halsey, “Without Me”
It’s almost Shakespearean how a year that started with G-Eazy and Halsey’s ride-or-die “Him & I” scaling the charts ends with the latter’s scathing “Without Me,” which is also her best Hot 100 solo showing to date. Producer Louis Bell, best known for his work with Post Malone, sets the scene with an appropriately glum, pop&B loop, but as with most payback tracks, it’s the lyrics that do the most damage. Halsey plays both kind and cruel (“Tell me how’s it feel sitting up there/ Feeling so high but too far away to hold me”) before landing a haymaker with the hook: “Does it ever get lonely/ Thinking you could live without me?” What inspired such a slow slice? The answer comes in the brief but symbolic sprinkle of Justin Timberlake’s “Cry Me a River” in the bridge. Like that 2002 classic, “Without Me” should go down as one of this era’s best cutting-but-classy revenge tunes. — T.A.
30. Jay Rock, Kendrick Lamar, Future & James Blake, “King’s Dead”
As was true of virtually the entire Black Panther album, it didn’t have to be this good. But this four-man crew decided to dig in both on the All-Star cut and its imminently .gif-able video, elevating what could’ve been star-power-driven OST filler to one of the year’s most jaw-dropping rap singles. Jay Rock is the anchor, Future is the scene stealer, James Blake is… available… but the real star unquestionably remains Lamar, dodging traffic with his impossibly limber spitting, ending the marquee cut on a soundtrack to a billion-dollar film franchise sounding like an undiscovered prodigy still hoping to make an impression at open-mic night. King’s dead, long live King Kendrick. — A.U.
29. Kim Petras, “Heart to Break”
“Heart To Break” is a song about the strongest type of emotion — the feeling of being so hopelessly devoted to someone else that even if the whole things cataclysmically, it would still be worth it — and Kim Petras, a German singer whose Scandinavian-influenced electro-pop sounds cryogenically frozen from 2010, possesses the type of ecstatic vocal approach needed to properly convey that commitment. Simply put, Petras sings the crap out of the “Heart To Break” hook, shooting to the top of her register and drawing out her syllables (“I tried to fiiiiiiight, but I can’t hellllllllp it”) with a lung-deflating fervor. No other chorus this year has been more fun to sing along with in a high-as-helium falsetto, and because of it, Petras became one of underground pop’s best breakthrough stories this year. — J. Lipshutz
28. Lil Wayne feat. Swizz Beatz, “Uproar”
What better way to announce the reintroduction of Weezy F. Baby than by flipping a lift from G Dep’s turn-of-the-century Bad Boy classic “Special Delivery”? From the first staccato piano punches, Swizz sets up this head-nodder for Wayne, and the Young Money MC is much too experienced to miss his chance to finish the alley-oop. His delivery starts off casual and offhand but only grows in intensity as the song picks up momentum, and he still finds time to slip in lines amid the madness that belie the deeper narrative that consumes and propels Tha Carter V: “Then the sun die, the night is young though/ The diamonds still shine in the rough, yo.” — D.R.
27. The Carters, “Apeshit”
In 2017, when Jay-Z became the first rapper inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, he tweeted out a list of the MCs who inspired him, including his wife: “B a rapper too!” On this rambunctious highlight from the duo’s collaborative album, Everything Is Love, Beyoncé fulfills that destiny — that is, if you’re not already counting the tongue-twisting verses of her early group days. Over a beat that sounds like a space station alarm system melting down, she adopts the jackhammer flows of what was originally a Migos track, and demonstrates an easy proficiency in hip-hop’s reigning styles (something even her husband doesn’t always pull off). It’s a more delightful surprise than a whole album dropping out of nowhere on a Saturday night. — N.F.
26. Robyn, “Missing U”
Robyn’s ability to turn heart-sinking tragedy into fist-pumping triumph can’t be overstated, and eight years after Body Talk made her a cult pop icon, she returned in full effect with 2018’s “Missing U.” Her comeback hit was written soon after the loss of longtime friend and collaborator Christian Falk, but it also doubles as a love letter to her fans who missed her so much between projects. This bittersweet marriage of tragedy and unshakeable love makes for a sublime re-introduction for pop’s indestructible queen of sad. — E.F.
25. Rosalía, “Malamente”
Bursting with poetic lyrical imagery, “Malamente” is an unlikely combination of forceful handclaps, traditional flamenco sounds and contemporary R&B production. The first single from the Spanish star’s breakthrough second album, El Mal Querer, the song was written by Rosalía along with producer El Guincho and her ex, C. Tangana. The stylistic collision makes the 25-year-old a trailblazer of a genre that leans more on the senses than on an exact formula that can be grasped, and “Malamente” with its international assembly of sounds, is a dive into uncharted waters. — PAMELA BUSTIOS
24. Shawn Mendes, “Lost in Japan”
Would you fly across the globe for the apple of your eye? If so, let Shawn Mendes’ heartwarming “Lost in Japan” soundtrack your journey to paradise. Dripping in R&B swagger, Mendes pilots his way across the map to prove it’s more than just a friendship that he can’t get off his mind: “I’m a couple hundred miles from Japan, and I/ I was thinking I could fly to your hotel tonight.” After winning the hearts of fans with the original, Mendes then enlisted Zedd for a frosty remix, sending the song flying back into the stratosphere — and up the Hot 100. — CARL LAMARRE
23. Camila Cabello, “Never Be the Same”
The former Fifth Harmony singer’s “Havana” follow-up found pop success but didn’t match its predecessor’s Hot 100 showing, stalling at No. 6 — possibly because it’s so wonderfully weird. Cabello switches from her lowest singing register to her falsetto throughout, while a spaced-out electro thrum runs through the mesmerizing mid-tempo. Cabello, who co-wrote the track, is chemically altered after a hit of her man’s love in a performance that is as intoxicating as the “nicotine, heroin, morphine” to which she compares her emotions. A remix featuring Kane Brown as her duet partner amps up the romance. — M.N.
22. BTS, “Fake Love”
The group’s Love Yourself album series can be seen as a traditional narrative arc, and this historic smash is the part in the story where the band mines the depths of despair, loneliness and heartbreak. So it felt natural that the K-pop superstars sonically pushed themselves to new places as well, wallowing in the angst of this track’s emo-rap vibes and its wailing chorus. It’s not enough for BTS to pen another breakup song — the real tragedy, they say, is the sense of self lost in the wreckage of a failed love. — C.K.
21. Drake, “God’s Plan”
The success of “God’s Plan,” Drake’s gloriously pompous single — and one of Scorpion’s shiniest gems — can’t be overstated. Released just 19 days into 2018, the feel-(mostly)-good hip-hop jam went on to become Drake’s longest-leading Hot 100 No. 1 at 11 weeks, helping Toronto’s music king break chart records previously held by Michael Jackson and The Beatles. So what makes “God’s Plan” so special? Simply that it’s all just so Drake — from the track’s endlessly quotables lines and PG-rated references (“don’t pull up at 6 AM to cuddle with me”) to its groan-worthy shout-outs to “the broskis” and his mom. Of course, all this was helped along by a viral (and instantly meme-able) music video directed by fellow Canadian Karena Evans, in which a chummy, grinning Drake gives away nearly $1 million to people on the streets of Miami. But let’s be honest: The fact that Drake can credit his lifestyle to divine intervention without anyone batting an eye says more about his undeniable superstardom than any chart record or award ever could. — T.C.
20. Tyga feat. Offset, “Taste”
Just as the ink was drying on critics’ claims that his career was done, Tyga stampeded his way back into the forefront of hip-hop with summer anthem “Taste.” With producer D.A. Doman crafting the song’s crisp, unshakeable beat, Tyga provided the same confident flair that once made him the life of the party (“Three million cash, call me Rain Man/ Money like a shower, that’s my rain dance”). To complete his comeback, the rapper recruited Offset for a blistering verse that helped the song peak at No. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100, proving that this Tyga indeed has nine lives. — C.L
19. Bruno Mars & Cardi B, “Finesse” (Remix)
This new-jack-swinging Bruno Mars & Cardi B hit is best described by its one-word title. The original track was on Mars’ 2017 24K Magic album, and Cardi helped take the remix to bouncy new heights (including the Hot 100 top five) with her can’t-tell-me-nothin’ intro verse and closing “got it goin’ on” ad libs. After the latter’s brash musical introduction on the No. 1 hit “Bodak Yellow,” this was the first crossover hit to put the more playful side of her sense of humor on display. The combination of Mars’ nostalgic R&B paired with Cardi’s Rosie Perez-channeling swagger — all set against a pitch-perfect In Living Color music-video backdrop — was undeniable. — K.A.
18. Janelle Monáe, “Make Me Feel”
With this light, frothy funk jam about being an “emotional sexual bender,” Janelle Monáe evokes Prince’s “Kiss” — with a stamp of approval from the Purple One himself, who she says worked on what became her Dirty Computer LP before his 2016 death — and refracts it through Little Dragon-esque warped synth-pop. (Think the Minneapolis sound taking a vacation in Sweden.) When it climaxes in a burst of frenetic, brittle riffing, Monae elicits a James Brown-worthy “Good God!” before the song comes to an all-too-sudden end, which leaves you reaching for repeat almost immediately. — J. Lynch
17. Bad Bunny feat. Drake, “MIA”
This year sparked some of the most interesting collaborations in Latin music history, including hip-hop superstar Drake linking up with Bad Bunny for the sultry “MIA.” The two artists surprised fans when the single dropped, with Drake flaunting his Spanish-speaking skills as he did in Romeo Santos’ “Odio” a couple years earlier. The infectious reggaetón track, with romantic-meets-kinky lyrics jumped 9-1 on the Hot Latin Songs chart in late October, becoming both Bad Bunny and Drake’s second No. 1 on the chart. — JESSICA ROIZ
16. King Princess, “1950”
Annotating her own now-signature chorus on Genius, King Princess expressed retrospective incredulity at her own doe-eyed sentiments. “It’s so funny it was just a moment in time but it feels like forever,” she explained of the feeling behind it. “It was just a moment in time but I feel like that’s when the best songs come out.” True, and “1950” is about as good an example as you could ask for: It’s a song whose lyrics lead with emotion and let logic catch up if and when it feels like it — and is all the more incisive for it. It shouldn’t make sense for a queer ballad to idealize a year when a public and unguarded expression of same-sex lovelike this would’ve been unthinkable, but it ends up making sense as a tribute to the hard-earned evolution of gay romance in art — and also an homage to the song itself, whose slow alt-pop sway sounds at home in 2018 but could’ve come from nearly any time in music history. “It wasn’t forever,” the singer-songwriter wrote in that same annotation. “I don’t think anythings forever.” The song’s bad evidence of that one. — A.U.
15. Kendrick Lamar & SZA, “All the Stars”
Last year was arguably Kendrick Lamar’s best year ever — he scored his first solo No. 1 on the Hot 100 with “Humble”, its parent album DAMN. had one of the biggest debuts ever and Billboard‘s staff even voted the LP as our favorite album of the year. But he nearly matched his 2017 success this year without even releasing a solo album of his own, thanks to his work curating the Black Panther soundtrack. Though the album featured an eclectic array of Afrobeat- and dancehall-inspired tracks for the film, the constellations really aligned for the set’s standout lead single, “All the Stars” with SZA. The contemporary R&B-pop hit combines Kendrick’s slick verses with SZA front and center on the chorus, resulting in the year’s most panoramic radio hits. Luckily, the track got a music video to match — a stunning visual that nods to Black Panther‘s themes while also paying homage to African culture. — X.Z.
14. Ariana Grande, “No Tears Left to Cry”
One of the most thrilling moments in pop this year occurs 15 seconds into Ariana Grande’s “No Tears Left To Cry,” the superstar’s first release to follow the deadly bombing outside of her Manchester concert in May 2017. Grande begins by keeping her voice suspended high above a cozy bed of synthesizers, declaring in her most delicate tone, that she’s all cried out. She sounds exhausted, and for a few seconds, we’re in store for a downtempo return. But then Grande hunkers down, the pace quickens — she’s pickin’ it up, she’s pickin’ it up, literally — and “No Tears Left To Cry” unfurls as a much-needed moment of uplift. The production from Max Martin and Ilya subtly crackles as Grande vibes out to the tongue-popping percussion and coos “shut… your… mouth” to her naysayers. As a reintroduction in the wake of tragedy, “No Tears Left To Cry” was designed to celebrate the healing power of music, and it does so thoughtfully and efficiently. After a quarter-minute exhalation, it was time for Grande to let the light back in. — J. Lipshutz
13. John Mayer, “New Light”
Is “New Light” the most un-John Mayer single John Mayer has ever created, or is this just John Mayer going full Mayer? Lest we forget in the era of Mayer wailing on Frank Ocean tracks or touring with the Dead, he was first a crowned prince of adult contemporary, meaning the breezy yacht rock he adopted in 2018 is merely a bouncier sidestep from his “Your Body Is a Wonderland” origins. What is different about “New Light,” aside from the fact that it was produced by Jay-Z’s go-to guy No I.D., is that Mayer is leaning harder into his dweebish musical persona and seeing the humor in it. “Pushing 40 in the friend zone/ We talk and then you walk away every day,” he frowns in his best rejected-nice-guy voice. “New Light” isn’t really giving us a brand-new Mayer: It’s just delightfully amplifying the Mayer he’s been all along. — C.W.
12. Calvin Harris & Dua Lipa, “One Kiss”
Here’s a new rule: Chase the hard-earned success of your full-length project with a sun-kissed loosie alongside Calvin Harris. Khalid and Frank Ocean were already believers, and once her 2017 self-titled debut made her a worldwide star, Dua Lipa raised the stakes with this steamy, Harris-assisted Euro-house banger. “One Kiss” was a bona fide Song of the Summer contender in the U.K., topping the Singles Chart for eight consecutive weeks; in America, it became a sturdy Top 40 staple, proving that one big-time dance producer could still channel Ibiza at 3 a.m. on pop radio played in L.A. traffic jams. — C.P.
11. Sheck Wes, “Mo Bamba”
Who would ever guess that a song dedicated to an Orlando Magic backup center would end up becoming one of 2018’s wildest bangers? Sheck Wes dropped “Mo Bamba” last June, but the rowdy sleeper hit (it peaked at No. 6 on the Hot 100 and is still hanging in the top 10) didn’t pick up speed until this year, when it unmercifully barged into every single house party, music festival and bougie club imaginable. As soon as those jingly synths burst through the speakers like your neighborhood ice cream truck, everyone has no choice but to lose their fucking minds and crash into the dance floor while shouting for Ali to hurry up and bring the mothafuckin’ dope. — B.G.
10. Zedd, Maren Morris & Grey, “The Middle”
As Florida Georgia Line and Bebe Rexha ruled the Hot Country Songs chart with their 2017 country-pop collab “Meant to Be,” Zedd, Grey and Maren Morris dropped a more dance-leaning cross-genre grenade that became 2018’s second such ubiquitous crossover smash. Though Morris had already made waves in the country world, her powerhouse vocals on the ridiculously hooky track introduced her to a whole new audience in the pop and EDM spheres as “The Middle” rocketed to No. 5 on the Hot 100. While Zedd is no stranger to the charts’ top tier, “The Middle” is arguably his most unforgettable hit to date, thanks to its belt-out chorus and brilliant axe-chop beat drop. And the Recording Academy agrees: The song earned all three performers their first record of the year and song of the year nominations at next year’s Grammys. — T.W.
9. Kacey Musgraves, “High Horse”
Kacey Musgraves has always colored outside the lines of the country music establishment, from her critical portraits of small-town life (“Merry Go ‘Round”) to her you-do-you embrace of the LGBTQ community and recreational drugs (“Follow Your Arrow”). On her third LP, Golden Hour, she’s as vivid with her sounds as she’s been with her lyrics. Here, she gallops out of Nashville and heads straight for the discotheque, giving listeners a glittery, hair-flipping workout that feels as comfortably worn-in as her stripped-down acoustic work. In a year with no shortage of attempts to capture a “Dolly on the dancefloor” vibe, Musgraves rolls through new sonic territory with the ease of a tumbleweed. — N.F.
8. Troye Sivan, “My My My!”
Dance-pop might not have been a dominant force in 2018, but Troye Sivan turned out one of the genre’s most ebullient delights with lead Bloom single “My My My!” Sivan is tentative, sweet and flirtatious on the bubbling verses, but when he hits the chorus, it’s an exhilarating rush of airy synths and sensual joy that provides a little bit of electro heaven on earth. Coupled with the bold, unapologetic depiction of same sex eroticism in the music video, “My My My!” is a potent dose of queer liberation. — J. Lynch
7. Lady Gaga & Bradley Cooper, “Shallow”
From the minute Lady Gaga launched into her “ahhhhhahhhhaaaahhhhhohhhhhahhhhhahhhhhhhh” in the first A Star Is Born trailer, the world knew that this song would be huge — we just didn’t know what it actually was quite yet. That primal scream turned out to be from the movie’s emotional high point: the Gaga-Bradley Cooper duet “Shallow.” When Jackson Maine (Cooper) invites Ally (Gaga) on stage to perform the song she’d timidly previewed for him the night before, both real and fictional audiences feel the electricity and excitement of the music and the moment. “Shallow” works on several levels — as a narrative thread in the film (from its parking lot beginnings, to the big debut and the foreshadowing of Ally’s solo career) and as just a damn good, Grammy-nominated hit regardless of its film origin. Gaga effortlessly flexes both her deeper alto and her upper register, while Cooper proves to be a sturdy partner, with his country-rock sound pairing nicely with hers on their harmonies. But it’s the way the song flawlessly builds to to the zenith of Gaga’s scream that makes it truly show-stopping. Once you hear it, you’ll never stop faaall-ling for it along with them. — D.W.
6. Childish Gambino, “This Is America”
Donald Glover dropped this heady single the same weekend he hosted SNL and five days before he starred as intergalactic rogue Lando Calrissian in the highly anticipated, then totally dissed Solo: A Star Wars Story. And yet all anybody could talk about was this bracing mash-up of hollers and dark, grinding rhythms, which pokes a finger into the open wound of racial violence in America. A hip-hop update to Marvin Gaye’s iconic ’70s protest anthem “What’s Going On,” Gambino’s bracing single (and its bucket-of-ice-water-to-the-face video) juxtaposes the fight to “party just for free” with the grim reality of a police state (“You just a black man in this world/ You just a barcode”) in a funky broth that feeds both body and soul. — G.K.
5. Drake, “Nice For What”
Drake can usually get the floor moving on his own, but for party-starter “Nice for What,” he called in reinforcements. The song starts with a sample of the queen of New Orleans bounce, Big Freedia, asking “who mothafuckin’ representin’ in here tonight.” Then Drake slides in with a call to “get your mothafuckin’ roll on,” another New Orleans hat-tip — this one to the Big Tymers and their 2000 classic “Get Your Roll On.” Producer Murda Beatz had already blessed the song with a pitched-up flip of the bridge of Lauryn Hill’s “Ex-Factor,” but Drake’s team then invited New Orleans producer BlaqNmilD to chop up the song even more and add in that heavier bounce beat, which makes the whole thing go crazy. Meanwhile, Drake does his usual Drake stuff, giving props to women who pay their bills, don’t need men to succeed and just want to go out with their girls to the club (“And you showin’ off, but it’s all right/It’s a short life”). But in a surprising turn, neither dance craze nor quotable lyric made “Nice for What” such an enduring hit: The secret is all in that beat, which bounced it to a No. 1 debut on the Hot 100 and kept it up there for eight weeks. — C.W.
4. Ariana Grande, “Thank U, Next”
“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened” is a tired, tight-lipped sentiment — unless you’re Ariana Grande and you flip the script. With “thank u, next,” Grande put an empowering spin on the old adage: Within days of the end of her engagement to Pete Davidson, the pop star hit the studio to record the cathartic single. She laid out what she learned from all her celebrity exes in its verses, including how to love, how to be patient and how to process (and heal from) pain. Over a syrupy progression indebted to ‘90s R&B, she gives credit where it’s due, boldly name-checking Big Sean, Ricky Alvarez, Mac Miller and Davidson, for whom she’s especially “thankful.” Grande took the high road all the way to the top of the Hot 100, as “thank u, next” became her first track to hit No. 1 on the chart. — H.H.
3. Ella Mai, “Boo’d Up”
In a world of viral campaigns and wall-to-wall marketing, few songs bubble up from Internet limbo to hit status simply because, well, people actually like it. That’s the trick, if you can even call it that, behind British breakout Ella Mai and “Boo’d Up,” which dropped in February 2017 but languished for over a year, until a domino effect of nightclub and radio requests triggered a slow but steady march to No. 5 on the Hot 100. Most R&B successes today belong to one of two camps: the trap-leaning, AutoTune-saturated style of contemporary hip-hop or the wavy, ethereal vibe of quiet storm. “Boo’d” — inspired by Johnny Gill’s Babyface-penned 1992 hit “There U Go” — captures the breezy nostalgia of decades past, anchored by Mai’s smooth and silky vocals. Plus, that nonsensical chorus (“Ba-do, boo’d up / Biddy-da-do, boo’d up”) cleverly plays off a heartbeat sound and is just too fun not to sing along with. Add it all up, and you’ve got cross-generational smash that’s an ideal backdrop for first kisses and 25th anniversaries alike. — T.A.
2. Travis Scott, “Sicko Mode”
“Sicko Mode,” because the part you think is the drop is barely even halfway up the rollercoaster. “Sicko Mode,” because the only album that outdid Astroworld?’s first-week numbers in 2018 is by the guy who contributes a hook and a verse here and still can’t get a feature credit. “Sicko Mode,” because the best hook singer in hip-hop only gets a two-word stutter. “Sicko Mode,” because they’re trumpeting the arrival of winter in the middle of August, like they were the producers of Game of Thrones. “Sicko Mode,” because DON’T STOP POP THAT. “Sicko Mode,” because the music video is brain-warping enough for you to accept a lyric like “She thought it was the ocean/ It’s just the pool” at face value. “Sicko Mode,” because not even James Harden and Clint Capela go on you with the pick-and-roll this hard. “Sicko Mode,” because the only other guy who can stitch together a five-minute, three-part collision course like this and still have it go to No. 1 used to be in The Beatles. “Sicko Mode,” because nobody likes Jamba Juice that much. “Sicko Mode,” because they tried to show us. — A.U.
1. Cardi B, J Balvin & Bad Bunny, “I Like It”
There’s a moment at the very start of Cardi B, Bad Bunny and J Balvin’s bilingual song-of-the-summer contender — six-and-a-half seconds in, to be exact — where the beat snaps, the bass kicks down the door, and you just know that you’re in for a hit. It only gets better: Enter a revved-up Cardi, listing out her favorite things (Diamonds! Blinged-out watches! Halal!) in a throaty half-yell like a Bronx-bred Julie Andrews, followed by two of Latin trap’s biggest stars filling in the gaps in thick, slurring Spanish. There are lyrical gems (“They call me Cardi B/ I run this shit like cardio!”), ad-libs galore (Balvin: ¡Wooh! Bunny: ¡Rrrah!), and enough shakes of timbales to leave you dizzy. The results have been predictably historic: The track became Cardi’s second No. 1 on the Hot 100, making her the first female rapper ever to hit the top slot twice. (With “Girls Like You,” she’s now done it three times.)
With her storied fairytale come-up, Cardi would be the one to inject new thrill into flexing wealth, a hip-hop tradition as time-honored as the genre itself. In the year and a half since “Bodak Yellow” debuted, watching Cardi relish in her newfound celebrity status somehow still hasn’t gotten old — if what she wants are Balenciagas, the ones that look like socks, who are we to deny her? And there’s something world-shifting about seeing the Afro-Caribbean Cardi and her reggaetón co-stars revive Peter Rodriguez’s half-a-century-old boogaloo hit, a genre that was born in Cardi’s native New York. “I never thought it was going to last for 50 years,” the now 86-year-old Rodriguez told Billboard, and his awe at the carnivorous, unifying, ever-surprising landscape of music in 2018 speaks for everyone — who would have foreseen the Latin trap explosion currently overtaking the world, or that a “regular degular shmegular girl from the Bronx” would become one of hip-hop’s biggest superstars? The world is Cardi’s for the taking in “I Like It,” and it’s all of ours too. Cha-ching! — T.C.