The 65 Best Songs of 2018

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One-off collaborations, movie soundtracks and internet upstarts provided some of the most exciting music this year.


Jon Pareles

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The 1975 capture the challenges of the social-media age on “Love It if We Made It.”CreditMagdalena Wosinska for The New York Times

In a swirl of harplike arpeggios over a stubborn beat, Matty Healy rails at hypocrisy and disinformation, complaining “Modernity has failed us,” and admits to individual ambition despite it all: a millennial’s plight.

Desolate lost love haunts the verses before determined self-preservation lifts the choruses, all at a tempo so slow only a singer like Sade would dare it.

Roots rock goes noir, with tolling piano and reverbed guitar, in a ballad about a lasting trauma, unnamed but inescapable.

Over mournful electric-piano chords, Jorja Smith warns that in a rough neighborhood, panic can be deadly, counseling, “Don’t you run when you hear the sirens coming.”

Post-breakup revenge is served cold, unforgiving and viscous in “Look What U Started,” from its skulking bass line and squishy rhythm guitar to the chilling whisper of Syd’s vocal.

A perfectly calibrated power ballad, with the Lady Gaga chorus trademark of repeated syllables, does movie-musical triple duty as love song, vocal showcase and plot pivot.

Kendrick Lamar provided “Black Panther” with a weighty soundtrack.CreditLarry Busacca/Getty Images

Far more ambitious than a movie theme has to be, and far more abrasive, “Black Panther” celebrates a broad African heritage over a track that broods, stomps and bristles.

Fatouma Diawara, a Paris-based singer who grew up in Mali, sings about love for an emigrant who may never return, lacing Malian rhythms with tendrils of guitar.

Over a Bo Diddley beat, Richard Thompson longs for a cleansing apocalypse, and summons it with a wailing, clawing guitar solo.

With guests from Puerto Rico and Colombia over a sample of Pete Rodriguez’s 1966 boogaloo “I Like It Like That,” Cardi B flaunts Latin roots while making designer-label materialism sound like self-realization.

Loops of plucked violin and layers of vocals add up to a statement of no-nonsense, matter-of-fact individualism from Brittney Parks, who records as the one-woman electronic band Sudan Archives.

The vamp is insistently jaunty, the rhymes are delivered with a jokey cadence and there are melodic interludes, but the recurring subject is serious: gun violence.

The indie-rock songwriters Lucy Dacus, Julien Baker and Phoebe Bridgers, collaborating as boygenius, share a not-exactly-love song that passionately questions itself.

As her production taps out cross-rhythms like a flock of woodpeckers, Marie Davidson’s spoken words demand nonstop work: a gig-economy ultimatum.

Loneliness and moderate depression find a tambourine-tapping equilibrium, with distant hints of the Beach Boys.

Oneohtrix Point Never performed songs from his new album, “Age Of,” in New York.CreditNina Westervelt for The New York Times

[See the critics’ lists of the best albums of 2018.]


Jon Caramanica

Bad Bunny made a huge impact this year without putting out an album of his own.CreditEthan Miller/Getty Images

With no album or even a mixtape to speak of, Bad Bunny made himself indispensable this year by way of strategic collaborations and scene-stealing, rug-pulling moments. These songs represent only a fraction of his high points, but capture the range of his influence — from the definitive Spanish-language song of the summer to getting Drake to rap in Spanish to topping the Billboard Hot 100. In a year in which Spanish-speaking artists teamed with English-speaking artists in droves hoping to make an aftermarket “Despacito,” Bad Bunny stayed his course, and the world came to him.

Cutting, spare, wide-eyed, seismic.

The return of 1994 R&B.

Head-stomp koans for runways and back alleys alike.

The sweet spot where vocalists blur into each other, and words blur into raw feeling.

From “A Star Is Born,” the place where misery meets triumph.

An unhinged loosie from two unbothered buddies.

A stripped-bare evocation of street-corner grief.

Not a plea, but an insistent statement of purpose.

Spooky and unflustered tough talk.

Carrie Underwood’s latest album, also called “Cry Pretty,” opened at No. 1.CreditKevin Winter/Getty Images

Howitzer vocals applied to the realization that not everything can be solved with Howitzer vocals.

The sound of blood rushing through arteries and sweat forming at the brow.

Proof that tremendous sweetness can be extracted from deep angst.

Internal Nashville critique that’s both comedic and laser precise.

What a soothing, worrisome, hopeful whisper.

The K-pop group BTS showcased its close relationship with its fans at Citi Field.CreditNina Westervelt for The New York Times
The Best of 2018

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