The Best Songs of 2018 (So Far)

By

By now you’ve probably heard about all the problems with the music industry: It’s not what it was. No one spends meaningful amounts of time with any one song. There’s just too much music. It’s true that there’s a staggering amount of music out there in the world, and it’s also true that it’s easy to just keep moving through it without ever looking back, but what the songs below all have in common is that we spent real time with them. We’re only a little ways into 2018, but these are songs we’ve loved, lived with, and kept coming back to.

“Believe,” Amen Dunes
In a recent interview with GQ Style, the musician Damon McMahon said he didn’t listen to music, and then when on tour, he preferred to drive in silence. He says this after mentioning that he has made an active effort to avoid looking at his phone since Donald Trump got elected. McMahon is, of course, not saying that he never listens to music, but the underlying sentiment applies: In order to avoid being crushed under the weight of this thing I do, I need to extricate myself from it so it does not destroy me. So “Believe,” just one great song from his new album, Freedom, is appropriately fragile and world-weary — it’s music made by a guy who has survived multiple phases of New York’s music industry machine, and come out the other side with a song that stands out as an instant classic on an album full of more than a few other instant classics. —Sam Hockley-Smith

“Get Up 10,” Cardi B
Cardi B has a voice to wake up to. Just in case anyone hadn’t heard her story by the time her formidable debut LP Invasion of Privacy dropped, the Bronx genius laid down an introductory track to bring the stragglers up to speed. Modeled on Meek Mill’s iconic “Dreams and Nightmares” intro, “Get Up 10” is so pithy (“You gon’ run up on who and do what?”) and memorable that summary seems impossible: from food-stamped obscurity to nationwide glory, Cardi’s is an awe-inspiring trajectory, and only her delivery can match its truth. —Frank Guan

“Happy Without Me,” Chloe x Halle ft. Joey Badass
Sister act Chloe and Halle Bailey have provided the soundtrack to youth with their sublime debut album, The Kids Are Alright. “Happy Without Me” has all the sheen of high-school whimsy: Their love story unfolds over various scenes of after-school flirting, but it’s their reminiscing about the relationship’s unhappy ending where this song shows its unexpected maturity. They’re not above admitting that it doesn’t feel good to see the person you shared your heart with move on, and, for a moment, they consider rekindling those feelings when he comes back into the picture. But then, the glorious epiphany: “But I feel a little bit dumb, just a little bit sprung, just a little too late / Oh you call up those other chicks, I can’t stop thinking it’s lame missing you anyway.” Halle’s honeyed falsetto in that first line’s delivery (usually the register handled by her younger sister) is one of the best vocal moments of the year. Heartache be damned, these two kids are doing just fine. —Dee Lockett

“Hot Pink,” Let’s Eat Grandma
“Experimental pop” sums up the British duo Let’s Eat Grandma in more ways than one. The outfit, composed of childhood friends and current teens Rosa Walton and Jenny Hollingworth, specializes in cutting-edge conjunctions of genres and emotions that ordinarily would seem awkward next to each other. Though the tentative, clumsy emergence of new love saturates the lyrics of “Hot Pink,” the natural vocals and jarring digital sonics are executed with assurance. —FG

“King’s Dead,” Jay Rock ft. Kendrick Lamar, Future, James Blake
Most posse cuts end up feeling more like shuffling through a mediocre pack of baseball cards than the kind of event listening they’re meant to evoke, but “King’s Dead” is one of the good — potentially great — ones. You might be showing up for Kendrick, but the real draw here is Jay Rock (it makes sense, “King’s Dead” is also the single on his next album) who is having so much fun with his verse that you can virtually hear him smile through your speakers. —SHS

“Lemon Glow,” Beach House
Music’s always had a complicated relationship with consistency. Stay the same for too long and people stop caring, but change up your whole vibe too quickly, and everyone gets mad. Is there some imaginary sweet spot that signals the point when a band should change? Is it three albums in? Four? If you’re Beach House it’s a whopping seven albums deep into a career of some of the most enigmatically romantic music around. Most Beach House songs sound like explosions, fireworks, young love, etc., but “Lemon Glow” is all about hypnosis, like Beach House members Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally spent a bunch of time with shoegaze band Slowdive’s Pygmalion, which is built on beautiful loops and interior worlds, and then figured out how to take that sound and turn it outward. —SHS

“Okra,” Tyler, the Creator
Every once in a while Tyler Okonma remembers that rapping is something he likes to do, and does exceptionally well. The West Coast–style wizard has made a sharp pivot into melody in recent years, but even now there’s no rust on his hip-hop engine, and “OKRA” is the proof. Over a self-produced beat at once scuzzy, polished, and nimble, Tyler’s inventive boasts light up the ears. Who needs a hook when you’ve got a Grammy nomination, luggage costing 30 grand, and opportunities to access prime real estate and Timothée Chalamet? —FG

“Pynk,” Janelle Monae ft. Grimes
A good sexual innuendo is hard to come by, because they’re usually written by straight dudes. Janelle Monáe is neither straight nor a dude, a great fact that has allowed “PYNK” to exist and breathe freely, out in the open. It’s a jubilant devotional whose religion is female energy. But unlike so many girl-power anthems before it, “PYNK” doesn’t subscribe to gender or any other label that would stifle one’s humanity. Womanhood doesn’t look the same on everyone — it’s not the pussy that’s the power — and it’s the way we mold our female form to fit our identity that makes our individual inner hues of pink stand out on the surface. “PYNK” is a love song and about loving who you want to love, but committing to loving yourself the loudest. —DL

“Slow Burn,” Kacey Musgraves
Kacey Musgraves will compromise for no one — not her man, not country music, and certainly not her critics. “Slow Burn” takes that unburdened feeling and runs with it, coming in hot like a late-summer breeze, lingering for just a little while, then going along its way. Musgraves moves at her own pace, keeping her own time, which means the country industry is going to have to get used to whoever she wants to be, not the other around way. “Slow Burn” makes her ethos stunningly plain: “I’m gonna do it my way, it’ll be all right.” Just spark up a blunt and get comfortable — Kacey’s gonna be here for awhile. —DL

“Wasted Times,” the Weeknd
Sometimes turning over a new leaf involves revisiting the past: The centerpiece of Abel Tesfaye’s new EP My Dear Melancholy, finds the singer seeking solace from a recent breakup by hitting on a different ex. The confluence of sordid longing and vocal purity has always been a hallmark of the Weeknd’s artistry, and with a dark, crisp, futuristic beat courtesy of Frank Dukes and Skrillex behind him, Tesfaye sounds unstoppable — or, in other words, hopelessly moving. —FG

The Best Songs of 2018 (So Far)