NME’s Songs Of The Year 2018

Killer collabs, outstanding debuts, returning heroes and the rise of the sadbanger – 2018 has been a hell of a year for tracks. Here’s our Top 50.

Words by: Tom Smith, Jordan Bassett, El Hunt, Hannah Mylrea, Gary Ryan, Tom Connick, Rhian Daly, Elizabeth Aubrey, Dan Stubbs.

50. Sigrid – ‘Sucker Punch’

She may have kept fans waiting for her debut album, now due early 2019, but Sigrid‘s kept up the hit rate with belting singles like this one. ‘Strangers’ came into its own in the opening months of this year, and the rousing ‘High Five’ kept things ticking over until ‘Sucker Punch’ hit the sweet spot in October. Perfect pop with a belting chorus. TS


49. The 1975 – ‘Give Yourself A Try’

Arriving on May 31 as the first taster of third album ‘A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships’, The 1975’s squealing return nabbed its riff from Joy Division’s ‘Disorder’ and its attitude from The Strokes. Musically a bit of a curveball for the album at large, it did set up a theme of introspection, with Matty Healy describing himself as “a millennial that baby-boomers like” and delivering the line “I found a grey hair in one of my suits/Like context in a modern debate I just took it out“. TS

48. Blood Orange – ‘Charcoal Baby’

A quietly profound look at racial identity, this laid back track assessed the personal impact of feeling displaced or different, as Dev Hynes confessed, “No one wants to be the odd one out at times”. Louche guitar licks give way to jazz saxophone, the atmosphere is wistful and – ultimately – self-accepting. JB

47. Purple Disco Machine – ‘Dished (Male Stripper)’

A formidable remixer in recent years (Gorillaz, Chromeo, Fatboy Slim), German DJ Tino Piontek steps out with a belter on his own terms with ‘Dished’. Built around a wilfully daft melody and samples of Ellis D’s 1987 track ‘My Loleatta’, the bouncing funk track acts as an cartoonish riposte to those on the scene taking themselves a bit too seriously. TS


46. Millie Turner – ‘The Shadow’

Despite being just a little over 18 years old, Millie Turner’s ‘The Shadow’ shows a knack for club chemistry that suggest she was sneaking into Ministry as a kid. Built from relentless beat, clipped vocals and a killer spoken word bit, it sounds like a club classic in waiting. TS

45. J Hus – ‘Dark Vader’

A jubilant mash-up of grime and dancehall, lifted from his triumphant ‘Big Spang’ EP, ‘Dark Vader’ is J Hus’ summer anthem, a buoyant and bright pop-rap track that bobs along on afrobeat rhythms and lilting xylophone. Yet this superficial reading overlooks its lyrical content, wherein Hus admits, If you saw what the skeng done to the man / You wouldn’t look at me, you’d go look your friend,” referring to knife crime. ‘Dark Vader’ was removed from the Radio 1 playlist when he was arrested for possession for a knife (he’s since been sentenced to eight months in prison), making the track even more poignant and confounding. JB

44. Charli XCX – ‘Girls Night Out’

With production from alt-pop titans PC Music and Stargate, this was an irony-plated party anthem about pre-drinking and heading out with your besties, Charli’s deadpan delivery offset by buoyant synths and a smattering of xylophone. It’s not a party if there isn’t a xylophone. JB

43. Kali Uchis – ‘After The Storm’

Produced by BADBADNOTGOOD and featuring the twin talents of Tyler, The Creator and funk legend Bootsy Collins – not to mention the other assembled mates helping out in the writing room – ‘After the Storm’ is a rich collaborative ship expertly steered by Kali, extending a hand to a friend who’s going through a particularly rough patch, its lyrics, “so if you need a hero, just look in the mirror,” chiming with 2018’s zeitgeist. EH

42. Mac Miller – ‘Ladders’

The standout track from what would be Miller’s final album ‘Swimming’, ‘Ladders’ sees the rapper juxtaposing optimism for the future (“Somehow we gotta find a way/No matter how many miles it takes“) with fear for it all falling apart (“I know it feels so good right now/But it all comes fallin’ down/When the night, meet the light/Turn to day”). On its release, this was the radio ready bop from the musician’s fifth record; looking back it’s a poignant reminder of the young star’s talent. HM

41. Rejjie Snow ft. Anna Of The North – ‘Charlie Brown’

No, it’s not a tribute to the wholesome comic book dweeb. Instead, the rapper teams up with folkie Anna Of The North for this toe-tapping take on Irish funk group Republic Of Loose’s NSFW 2008 song ‘The Steady Song’. Musically, it’s clean future-pop, all sci-fi lounge synths and the kind of languid guitar they’d play on a spaceship circulating the sun, though the lyrics are a total contrast: “I bought heroin to your school / I don’t know why I’m so unbelievably cool,” Anna croons. That’s just the start of it: ‘Charlie Brown’ is a gleeful joyride through life’s taboos. JB

40. Years & Years – ‘Sanctify’

Following in a firm tradition of pop songs which draw on religious iconography to explore sex and sin (shout out to Madonna’s ‘Like A Prayer’), ‘Sanctify’ gets stuck into a thorny affair Olly Alexander had with a straight man experimenting behind closed doors. The chorus particularly feels more like a plea: “Sanctify my body with pain/ sanctify the love that you crave”. It’s a Trojan Horse, smuggling guilt and confession into what also happens to be a whopping great pop song. EH

39. Lily Allen ft. Giggs – ‘Trigger Bang’

After 2014’s so-so album ‘Sheezus’, this Giggs-assisted comeback track saw Lily Allen rediscovering herself – and reminding the rest of us why we fell in love with her in the first place. Sounding like an ‘Alright, Still’ cut retooled for 2019, her candy-floss melodies are paired with gloomy synths and a star turn from grime star Giggs, as Allen candidly sings of putting the partying and drugs behind her. GR

38. Peggy Gou – ‘It Makes You Forget (Itgehane)’

People head to clubs to escape from the drudgery of everyday life, to forget the things that hurt them. Even if you’re bobbing nervously from side to side in a basement club, desperately trying to ignore the fact that your shoes are sticking to the floor, the right stone-cold classic can whiz you away to a cyan swimming pool lined with palm trees. ‘It Makes You Forget’ is just this variety of escapist gold. Nonchalantly speaking of loosening up and breaking free – in poetic terms that don’t really translate to English – South Korean DJ Peggy Gou has crafted one of the defining house records of the year. EH

37. Grimes – ‘We Appreciate Power’

In this stomping return, Grimes flips fears of the singularity on its head, repositioning herself as a singing AI bent on converting fleshy mortals to more robotic charms. There’s a musical repositioning too – this is a hulking electro-rock number that wouldn’t sound out of place at a Marilyn Manson show. TC

36. Kanye West – ‘Ghost Town’

2018 was a strange year for Kanye, even by his standards, and while his occasional depressing statements threatened to overshadow his previous achievements, this cut proved he still knows how to write a chest-thumping hip-hop behemoth. He’s always been a master collaborator, one skill that hasn’t deserted him over the years. It’s vulnerable – Kid Cudi croons “I’ve been tryin’ to make you love me /But everything I try just takes you further from me” over howling guitar – but ultimately defiant, with newcomer 070 Shake stealing the show as she belts out, “Nothing hurts any more / I feel kind of free”. JB

35. Post Malone – ‘Better Now’

He might be a divisive figure, but there’s little doubting Post Malone’s ability to craft a pop bop out of his marijuana haze. ‘Better Now’ is undoubtedly his best – a track that thrives off his wobbly vocal, turning adolescent heartbreak into a warbling victory lap. TC

34. Bodega – ‘How Did This Happen?!’

On their debut single, Bodega set out a stall as acerbic commentators on the modern world. Narrating a walk through New York past a pro-Hillary demonstration and retail chains, the Brooklyn band scrutinise “the guilt of the cultural consumer” while laying down a propulsive, anxious slab of post-punk brilliance. RD

33. King Princess – ‘Pussy is God’

Following her supreme ‘Make My Bed’ EP, King Princess continued to bring queer perspective to pop with ‘Pussy Is God’, a fun, soft, and incredibly romantic ode to the female anatomy and the woman in the New Yorker’s life. “Never been good at this nice shit/But I can try if you like it,” she croons gently, before breathily declaring in one of the catchiest choruses of the year: “She’s God and I’ve found her.” RD

32. Jay Rock, Kendrick Lamar + James Blake – ‘King’s Dead’

One of the highlights from this year’s ‘Black Panther’ soundtrack, ‘King’s Dead’ combined huge personalities – Kendrick Lamar, Jay Rock, Future and James Blake – alongside a Mike Will Made-It and Teddy Walton beat. The result is a furious rage of a song whose energy matched the pace and imagination of the film it accompanied. Shape-shifting beats and twisting genres throughout, ‘King’s Dead’ continually surprised, not least with Lamar’s provocative closing verse that resonated long after the track ended. EA

30. The 1975 – ‘It’s Not Living (It It’s Not With You)’

Perhaps the first great song to mention a petrol station in its lyrics, ‘It’s Not Living…’ married details of everyday mundanity and heaving despair into a wiry, melodic dream. Matty Healy’s sighs of “collapse my veins wearing beautiful shoes” should go down as one of the most stunning lyrics about drug consumption ever. RD

30. Arctic Monkeys – ‘Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino’

Setting the scene for t’Monkeys’ trip to the moon, the title track from their sixth album took us on a tour of their lunar resort, with Alex Turner as our guide through the sci-fi day spa, getting horny over “technological advances”, and amusing the internet by morphing into helpful switchboard operator Mark. If all that wasn’t weird enough, the rest of the band added their own oddities in a composition that would make for a great movie score; all unsettling atmospherics and metallic chinks and bleeps. RD

29. Ariana Grande – ‘thank u, next’

While the internet was still buzzing about her split from SNL comedian Pete Davidson, Ariana was already back to doing what she does best – turning pain into pop. Instead of being down in the dumps about her romantic luck, she rose above it all with class, grace, and one of the best (and most instantly meme-able) songs in recent memory. RD

28. Travis Scott – ‘Sicko Mode’

A highlight of an album that strained under the weight of great tracks, ‘Sicko Mode’ signalled Scott’s arrival in the really big leagues. A song in three parts, it pieced together creepy organs, lurching, squelchy bass, Drake outdoing most of ‘Scorpion’ with ease, and the Houston rapper shouting out Jamba Juice and US festival Bonnaroo. RD

27. Brockhampton – ‘1998 Truman’

Released ahead of their Abbey Road recorded album ‘iridescence’, this jostling experimental hip-hop track was proof that the collective could survive and prosper following founding member Ameer Vann’s expulsion due to sexual misconduct allegations. Filled with brilliantly candid lyrics (which reference the kids’ movie Madagascar and linguine) and blistering, frenzied delivery, it’s Brockhampton at their best, leaping from woozy, breakdowns to a pounding chorus. Their eclecticism is perhaps their greatest strength and here it’s on full, show-stopping display. JB

26. David Byrne – ‘Everybody’s Coming To My House’

One of the standout tracks on the universally acclaimed ‘American Utopia’ album, ‘Everybody’s Coming to My House’ is a song about isolation contrasted with a backdrop of joyful horns and dance-based orchestrals. “And I’m never going to be alone,” Bryne repeats continuously, the pre-party paranoia palpable. On the one hand, this is delightful alt-pop that bears the hallmarks of long-term collaborator Brian Eno. Yet it’s also a desperately emotive lament: “We’re only tourists in this life… and we’re never gonna go back home.” EA

25. Vince Staples – ‘Get The Fuck Off My Dick’

Few have mastered bravado quite like Vince Staples. ‘GTFOMD’ came following a hubristic joke Kickstarter campaign to fund his own retirement, offering to “shut the fuck up forever” in exchange for $2m. Instead, he shut it down and kicked back in brilliantly bratty style. ‘GTFOMD’ quickly became one of the year’s most defiant hip-hop releases (take note, Eminem). TC


24. Shame – ‘Friction’

Do you ever help the helpless?” asked Charlie Steen on the standout track from Shame’s debut album, the derision in his voice shining through mock-curiosity to reveal the answer was likely a big fat ‘no’. It was an impressively restrained moment that soon snapped off into frustration, his gravelly growls bouncing off shards of urgent guitar and loping, elastic bass. RD

23. A$AP Rocky ft. Skepta – ‘Praise The Lord (Da Shine)’

You know what? There just aren’t enough rap bangers that use flute. A$AP and Skepta arrived to right that wrong, turning in a bittersweet anthem that addresses the struggle to juggle spirituality and hustle: “I praise the Lord, then break the law”. Skepta explains “I listened to X – I peeped the bars”, before borrowing the flow from DMX’s 2001 track ‘Who We Be’, a tribute to emphasise that, even amid his current superstar status, he still respects his elders. JB

22. St Vincent – ‘Fast Slow Disco’

‘Fast Slow Disco’ came about in a pretty unusual way. Taylor Swift – who obviously knows a few things about writing pop bangers – suggested that Annie Clark turn one of her existing songs into a massive pop song. So this happened, and was it ever a good call. Reimagined, this beefed up version of ‘Slow Disco’ is miles away from the smoke-stained melancholy of the original. Instead, lines like “I’m so glad I came, but I can’t wait to leave?” take on a new hue of sadness, yearning for connection on the thrashing dancefloor. Another great sadbanger in the official Year Of The Sadbanger. EH

21. Matt Maltese – ‘Greatest Comedian’

Sarky smoocher Matt Maltese sashayed his way into 2018 with this schmaltzcore hit – a sideways look at young romance, which sees him comparing his love to “the highest quality hardwood door” and “the final wartime piece of bread”. As you do. As the bassline wobbles away behind him, Matt remains steadfast in his tragicomic flirting: “God must be the greatest comedian I know, to put you so far away,” he croons – a needlessly complicated method of confessing your affections that perfect encapsulates the awkwardness of young courtship. TC

20. Kids See Ghosts – ‘Freeee (Ghost Town Pt 2)’

Ty Dolla Sign joins Kids See Ghost – Kanye West and Kid Cudi – on this standout track from the Ye’s Wyoming collection, an empowering blast of booming vocals, thunderous drums and liberal shouts of “Scoop!”, the nice-to-say catchphrase coined in the rapper’s ‘Lift Yourself’ and is, arguably, Kanye’s most admirable contribution to 2018’s cultural melee. DS

19. Mitski – ‘Nobody’

Once known for lovelorn, delicate songs, Mitski‘s fifth studio album, ‘Be The Cowboy’, saw her shake off the doom and gloom – and no more so than on ‘Nobody’. Lyrically, it’s as miserable as Mitski’s ever been (“My God, I’m so lonely,” it starts, and things generally stay that side of positive), but the hop, skip and bounce of the chorus lends Mitski’s misery a spine of defiance. There might be “nobody”, as she repeatedly hammers home, but ‘Nobody’ is also proof there’s in strength to be found in solitude. TC

18. IDLES – ‘Danny Nedelko’

An essential pro-immigration anthem, Idles’ political bent has never been so pronounced as on ‘Danny Nedelko’. “My blood brother is an immigrant,” screams frontman Joe Talbot of Nedelko, singer of fellow Bristol punks Heavy Lungs. From there, he barrels through tales of other immigrants (or ‘aliens’, as he sarcastically quips at one point), before barking that oh-so-important calling card: “UNITY.” In a Western world increasingly plagued by anti-immigrant sentiment, this year saw Idles’ righteous fury push back in a big way. TC

17. Bring Me The Horizon – ‘MANTRA’

2018: the year when Siri got musical. Here, your computerised pal blarts out the song’s name in the brief pauses between the chainsaw guitars. Promising great things from next year’s album ‘Amo’, the Sheffield rockers’ comeback single opens with Oli Sykes singing, “Do you want to start a cult with me.” Sounds like fun – sign us up. DS

16. Pusha T – ‘If You Know You Know’

If there’s a single standout second of music from 2018, it might well be the moment at which the warped guitar line bowls in on Pusha T’s unapologetic drug anthem ‘If You Know You Know’. The rapper, who swaggers through a string of oblique drug references on the track, has explained: “I talk in cryptic code. Some people, it goes right over their heads… And then, to other people in the street, it’s like, ‘Oh my God, he’s speaking a language, he’s speaking directly to me!’” Whichever language you speak, this emboldened hip-hop behemoth proves that few can touch Push. JB

15. Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever – ‘Talking Straight’

These Australians make the kind of freewheelin’ rock that’s made unlikely arena stars of US group The War On Drugs,  and this track – the standout on an album of consistently excellent tunes – motors on like a ute ripping through the outback. DS

14. Anderson .Paak ft. Kendrick Lamar – ‘Tints’

Low slung in the extreme, the sheer swagger of putting both Anderson .Paak and Kendrick Lamar on a single track should come with a warning. What’s more, when they start barrelling their way through this ode to needing privacy due to just how fucking cool and famous they are, it’s enough to make even the smarmiest fashionista take a back seat. Buoyant and delivered with a wry smile, it proves that while Kendrick and Paak’s might be be essential when taking on the ills of the world, they’re also masters of a simple pop banger. TC

13. Kacey Musgraves – ‘High Horse’

One of the early singles released from Kacey Musgraves’ critically acclaimed ‘Golden Hour’, ‘High Horse’ fused two genres often seen at opposing poles – country and disco – to create one of the most infectious pop songs of 2018. Subtle country guitars combine with glam orchestral disco as Musgraves fully embraces her pop sensibilities. Added to her tongue-in-cheek lyrics, which come across like a modern-day ‘You’re So Vain’ (“Everyone knows someone who kills the buzz / Every time they open up their mouth”), ‘High Horse’ is joyously fun. EA

12. Cardi B – ‘I Like It’

What an absolute stonker this is – a Latin-themed, gold-crested banger was like a helium balloon pumped full of joy and positivity, as Cardi B (the breakout star of the year, surely) rode a delirious, whirling, colourful beat to rap, “‘Bout my coins like Mario / Yeah they call me Cardi B / I run this shit like cardio”. Anyone in earshot was immediately compelled to grab their Lycra, ’cause this one’s a proper workout. Remember: smiling burns more calories than frowning. JB

11. Janelle Monae – ‘Make Me Feel’

It’s like I’m powerful with a little bit of tender / An emotional, sexual bender”, Janelle Monae sings on this Prince-influenced future-pop gem, a super-crisp banger that blends tongue clicks into sleek disco guitar licks, before she exclaims, “Good God! I can’t help it!”, as though experiencing spiritual enlightenment. Monae is a pop polymath whose stellar career has spanned production and acting in addition to musicianship, but 2018 was arguably the year that she truly delivered on her promise as a pop star. She is mercurial, provocative and represents pure self-actualisation, qualities that are neatly embodied by this multi-faceted pop masterwork. JB

10. SOPHIE – ‘Immaterial’

Like Madonna’s ‘Material Girl’ beamed in from a parallel universe, the hyperactive pop of Sophie’s ‘Immaterial’ was the poppiest moment on an album that, otherwise, took the listener to some challenging places, a joyous rush of handclaps and staccato electronics, like standing in the centre of the Namco Gamestation and letting the sound wash over you. Sophie is a producer and artist whose music is to the pop charts what couture is to the high street; this, then, is the sound of the future today. DS

9. Christine and the Queens ft. Dâm-Funk – ‘Girlfriend’

Returning under her tougher new guise, Christine and The Queens’ comeback single ‘Girlfriend’ announces her rougher, rawer new era in the opening second: “Chrisssssss” husks a sultry voice, before the beat slaps into life. “Boys are loading their arms, girls gasp with envy!” she exclaims gleefully in the opening verse; yet here she’s toying with those same stereotypes around gender, and subverting them with a smirk. Stealing macho swagger for herself and presenting eroticism in a playful way, ‘Girlfriend’ is a slinking and hard-hitting spin on funk – as fluid and fearless as its creator. EH

8. Robyn – ‘Missing U’

“There’s this empty space that you left behind now you’re not here with me,” pines the returning pop demigoddess on ‘Missing U’, her first solo single in eight years. Hell, that’s how we’ve all felt without her for the best part of a decade, but we’re all the better for it. That period was one of growth for Robyn. The nuanced approach to love, loss and grief that runs throughout her pristine album ‘Honey’ is crystallised here on this pensive and devastating masterful pop. Not the banger you were expecting, but essential all the same. AT

7. IDLES – ‘Never Fight A Man With A Perm’

The Bristol punk’s stellar second album ‘Joy As An Act Of Resistance” made the dismantling of toxic masculinity its M.O., and this propulsive album track conveys that message with their trademark wit and verve. The lithe central guitar riff whirrs on as frontman Joe Talbot throws out laugh-out-loud lines such as “You’re not a man, you’re a gland / You’re one big neck with sausage hands”, taking aim at aggressive dudes who define themselves by their alpha maleness. In the end, though, he promises, “I’ll shut my mouth / Let’s hug it out”. As Idles say: all is love. JB

6. Sunflower Bean – ‘Twentytwo’

One of the things you forget, as you get older, is that you didn’t think 22 was young when you were 22 yourself. It was, at the time, the oldest you’d been. The sort-of title track to Sunflower Bean’s ‘Twentytwo In Blue’ saw the New York three-piece channel the premature ennui of Neil Young’s ‘Old Man’ and the floaty loveliness of ‘Rumours’-era Fleetwood Mac. “Independent that’s how you view yourself now you’re 22,” it goes, and this year they’ve proven themselves proper grown-up pop stars. DS

5. Childish Gambino – ‘This Is America’

Gambino’s politically-charged opus is full of dichotomies – between the cheerful gospel opening and the aggressive trap beat that leaps in and out later on, between the depictions of America as a place full of dancing and one ridden by police brutality and gun violence, between its explorations of black culture and black suffering. It did what great music should: start conversations, and force people to face up to uncomfortable truths about the world. RD

4. Arctic Monkeys – ‘Four Out Of Five’

The most commercial cut from ‘Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino‘, this was a space-age update on The Eagles’ ‘Hotel California’, as Alex Turner invited us to The Information Action-Ratio, a taqueria that he’s built on the moon. It’s the ‘Tranquility Base’ track that’s most palatable to old-school indie fans, the one that tribute band Antarctic Monkeys can safely roll out at their shows, with a catchy riff and singalong chorus. But it’s still light years from the scrappy guitar pop and observational lyrics that made Turner’s name. You can take the boy out of Sheffield… and he might never come back. JB

3. Parquet Courts – ‘Wide Awake’

One of those bands who simply get better and better the more they do their own thing, 2018 was the year Parquet Courts proved themselves the modern inheritors to Talking Heads’ art-pop crown. This track, which pops with percussion and goes heavy on the cowbell, is a modern indie-funk classic. DS

2. The 1975 – ‘Love It If We Made It’

A state-of-the-planet address, The 1975’s show-stopping, headline-shuffling take on millennial malaise was one of the year’s most shout-along singles. Atop a dreamlike smattering of synths and George Daniel’s insistent drumming, Matty Healy screams to the high heavens of rappers who’ve succumbed to drug abuse, immigrants cast aside by Western society, and disgusting Presidents at the head of it all, the sheer volume of in his words enough to crush even the strongest soul. The chorus consists solely of that title – yelped so loud it echoes around the mix, and accompanied by a gospel choir, it offers a brief respite from the incessant conveyor belt of horrible imagery, and is a simple, six-word testament to the power of hope. TC

1. Ariana Grande – ‘No Tears Left To Cry’

‘Thank U, Next’ might have become Ariana‘s calling card as the year winds down, but it’s ‘No Tears Left To Cry’ that really cemented her genius this year. Within the first minute we get a Fantasia-like opening, an operatic swoop and the vocal bounce device that the Floridian has stamped out as her calling card (see also: album title track ‘Sweetener’). When ‘No Tears…’ kicks in for real, it’s with a crisp beat, endless hooks and a sense of momentum that makes you click repeat as soon as it’s done. Following a 12 month period marred by impossible-to-comprehend personal tragedy, this defiant return was the year’s best pop song, proof of music’s oft-touted healing properties and of the empowerment of dusting yourself off and starting again. Modern pop at its very, very finest. NME

Listen to the full playlist on Spotify and Apple Music below.

You May Like