During a agitated year abounding with claimed and political trauma, the best memorable songs pulled no punches in the following of pop. They additionally accustomed from all directions: arising from longtime partnerships and air-conditioned collaborations, from abundant bounded scenes and aloof experiments. In the case of abounding — including our No. 1 song — they were absolutely videos, tethered to images we’ve been clumsy to agitate since. These are the 100 best songs of 2018, as alleged by the agents of NPR Music and our accomplice stations. You can accept to the songs here, assay out the 50 best albums of the year or apprehend All Songs Considered’s podcast altercation of the year in music.
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Writing a pop aria is tricky: It’s all about grafting a claimed angle assimilate a common form. Too often, bromides booty over. In this majestic actuality throwdown, the adolescent Americana queen Courtney Marie Andrews overcomes action by acclimation accuracy of eyes with compassion: Witnessing the bareness of the pleasure-seekers she’s met on the road, she keeps her boring abiding until she sees the appropriateness in their hearts. By the time her aureate alto unfurls over the song’s organ-driven climax, Andrews has taken the adviser on the hymn’s accurate journey: central anniversary person’s amiss affection and aback out, extensive out against others. We charge these airy moments, now added than ever. —Ann Powers
♫ LISTEN: “May Your Kindness Remain”
Fun Drake is back. This song is a admonition that, for an artisan who is abundantly in his own feelings, Drake is additionally appreciably accomplished at borer into the angle of addition else. The accountable in this case: women aggravating to accept a acceptable time. “Nice for What” gives a nod to wokeness and tips its hat at empowerment — its burden is appealing abundant the song adaptation of flipping off bodies who acquaint women to smile more. But you don’t accept to accept abundant accomplished the aboriginal band to apperceive what the song is absolutely about: “Everybody get your motherf****** cycle on / I apperceive shorty and she doesn’t appetite no apathetic song.” “Nice for What” is the song you apperceive you will ball to, every one of the thousand times it’s played anniversary night, and you will accept a abominable smile bashed on your face the accomplished time. But it’s all right. This is your life. —Leah Donnella
♫ LISTEN: “Nice for What”
When John Prine’s Tree of Forgiveness, his aboriginal anthology of new songs in 13 years, was appear in April, “Summer’s End” was acutely one of the highlights (we got a assay of it at his Tiny Desk performance). A blue song about the acceptance of time, it’s archetypal Prine — abiding and open, one of those songs that you can acquisition yourself in no amount area you’re standing. Kerrin Sheldon and Elaine McMillion Sheldon, the admiral of Accretion Boys, created a music video that tugged on a blind cilia in the song, the again “come on home” of the chorus. The video depicts the accord amid a grandfathering and granddaughter, captivation fast to anniversary added in the deathwatch of their babe and mother’s death. A quick TV account clamber about the opioid crisis explains the loss. It’s a tender, crushing beheld narrative. In a columnist absolution for the video, Prine wrote, “The opioid crisis is disturbing American families apart. I adulation what Elaine and Kerrin accept done with my song.” The credits accommodate advice on accretion programs. It turns the song into a adoration for all those we’ve lost, and those we can still alarm aback home. —Lauren Onkey
♫ LISTEN: “Summer’s End”
Third Coast Percussion was adventurous in aperture its almanac Paddle to the Sea with “Madeira River,” a awning from Philip Glass’ 1993 assignment Águas da Amazônia. The allotment is admirable and addictive and overwhelmingly alive; it makes you as accustomed with its appearance as any anytime fleshed out by a novelist. By the time its optimistic, blue adventure abruptly ends, you can brainstorm what it’s accomplishing afterwards. It’s a alpine hurdle to bright on the way to an complete album, and one this ablaze four-piece from Chicago leaps like a pebble. —Andrew Flanagan
♫ LISTEN: “Madeira River”
The beat chopped-and-screwed address of DJ Screw. The abominable accuracy of the Geto Boys. The trendsetting adornment of Johnny Dang. It’s adamantine to absolutely account the cultural debt that hip-hop owes Houston. In an accomplishment to abbreviate all that acceptance into one track, Travis Scott knew he had to accord admirers three songs in one.
“SICKO MODE,” the chart-topping distinct off the Houston rapper’s latest album, Astroworld, is an aural Tilt-A-Whirl. Aloof aback you anticipate you’ve bent the accent of area it’s demography you, it changes directions. At bristles minutes, the song’s three characteristic beat switch-ups — address of producers Tay Keith, Oz, Rogét Chahayed, Cubeatz and Hit-Boy — carelessness all rules of acceptable song structure. Travis and Drake nonchalantly peacock in amid adverse organs and samples of Big Hawk, The Notorious B.I.G. and Uncle Luke. “SICKO MODE” provides a accustomed adrenaline blitz that La Flame admirers expect, but it’s the disorientation that keeps you captivation on. —Sidney Madden
♫ LISTEN: “SICKO MODE”
A bright colossal agitate lollipop fabricated in Willy Wonka’s factory, this weird, amusing song goes beeline to the attitude with its bathetic candied pop hooks, but some appealing sobering capacity lay aloof below the surface. It’s a bold assay of active (biological) clocks and the assured clearing into adulthood. Finding out that she is abundant leads to a moment of reckoning for the capital character: Now she’s in “real life” and starts activity that time is abandoned gonna canyon her by; a atramentous yet relatable sentiment. Thankfully, the weight of the affair is aerial by Rose’s balmy articulate delivery, which cleverly includes some cooing babyish allocution forth with affluence of acceptable humor, aback she sings about affairs a big abode and accepting the big beard to match. Cheerful synths and alluring beats bonbon covering this arbitrary little adventure and accomplish it artlessly alluring –Alisa Ali (WFUV)
♫ LISTEN: “Jeannie Becomes a Mom”
Beyoncé didn’t accept the Louvre to blur a music video for a adherent carol like “Halo” or an empowerment canticle like “Formation.” Instead, she went to the world’s best celebrated architecture to about-face up to “Apes***,” a raunchy, Migos-ad libbed allurement song that acclaim on her and her husband’s cultural ascendancy and wealth. The Carters took elements of rap ability that are advised “low brow” — affected boastful cachet symbols like Lamborghinis, aboveboard discussing the mechanics of sex — and abutting them with the Mona Lisa, signaling that atramentous cultural assembly doesn’t accept to be canonized by the white enactment to be advised art.
“Apes***” is the final affiliate in a the soap opera-like adventure Beyoncé and Jay-Z masterfully played out over three releases — Lemonade, 4:44 and this year’s collective anthology Everything is Adulation — at a time aback admirers accept an aberrant akin of acceptance to, and appetite for, the affectionate capacity of celebrities’ clandestine lives. Afterwards demography us through Beyoncé’s affliction and Jay’s amends on their corresponding abandoned albums, “Apes***” shows the brace advancing calm for their championship rings and celebratory champagne, reminding us that the Carters are in complete ascendancy of their anecdotal and will consistently accept the aftermost laugh. —Nastia Voynovskaya (KQED)
♫ LISTEN: “Apes***”
“I don’t apperceive a lot about you,” Courtney Barnett sings in the aboriginal band of “Need a Little Time,” the aching affection of her additional full-length, Acquaint Me How You Absolutely Feel. Advancing from her, the acceptance is about unthinkable. On her antecedent songs, ascertainment was her banal in trade; alike “Depreston,” this song’s abutting accessory in her discography, congenital acceptation from an accession of capacity that would be accessible for anyone abroad to overlook. The bearding accountable of “Need a Little Time” could be anybody — the easiest way to apprehend the song is as a bulletin to online acquaintances acquisitive to allotment their demands and disappointments. Barnett’s advocacy is the simplest anatomy of self-care: Apperceive your limits, and footfall abroad aback it gets to be too much. “I charge a little time out from me and you,” she sings in the chorus. But again there’s a bawl guitar solo, abrupt and controlled, followed by this line: “Shave your arch to see how it feels / Emotionally it’s not that altered / but to the duke it’s beautiful.” Barnett knows how the agony that can accomplish a actuality baste out on Twitter can additionally be focused inward; alike in a song about advancement distance, she pulls you closer. To the ear, and the heart, it’s beautiful. —Jacob Ganz
♫ LISTEN: “Need a Little Time”
“Me and My Dog,” by the newly-formed friendship-power leash of Phoebe Bridgers, Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus, opens with a bendable electric guitar and Bridgers’ calm articulation singing about actuality so in adulation that she and her accomplice neither eat nor sleep. However, at the choir things alpha falling afar in the relationship. The band area Bridgers is at aiguille affecting agitation is her declaring “I wanna be emaciated.” This could accredit aback to bigger times aback she was apathy to eat because she was so in love, so abundant so that she’s accommodating to suffer. But from the moment aback the choir hits until the end, Bridgers is captivated up by Julien Baker on the aerial accord and Lucy Dacus on the low and they complete spectacular. Aback she declares “I ambition I was on a spaceship / Aloof me and my dog and an air-conditioned view,” it’s accessible to relate, alike if you don’t accept a burst heart. —Cindy Howes (Folk Alley & WYEP)
♫ LISTEN: “Me & My Dog”
The appellation song from Hozier’s aboriginal absolution aback his 2014 admission celebrates his agreeable heroes, in accurate those who fabricated a aberration in the action for civilian rights. “Nina Cried Power” names not abandoned Nina Simone, addition Hozier has been bedeviled with aback he was a child, but additionally James Brown, Billie Holiday, Curtis Mayfield, Joni Mitchell, John Lennon, Woody Guthrie and others. As a accompanist whose assignment has consistently been afflicted by the musicians he admires, it’s agitative and adapted that Mavis Staples helped him sing this song. Mavis and her family, the Staple Singers, sang at Martin Luther King rallies, and like the others mentioned actuality cried out for amends and according rights — a action not abandoned waged actuality in America but aback home in Ireland area Hozier grew up. This is an anthemic cry of both adulation and angelic anger. —Bob Boilen
♫ LISTEN: “Nina Cried Power”
On her aboriginal two albums, Kacey Musgraves set abreast abounding time to acquaint us who she is: a chargeless spirit, a country babe at heart, a assistant of her own business, “a dime-store cowgirl.” On Aureate Hour, she focuses instead on assuming us who she’s become: a cogitating and absorbing chronicler of life’s blue turns, and a adept of a affectionate of glassy countrypolitan apathetic burn. In “Space Cowboy,” a bit of sly answer — “You can accept your space, cowboy / I ain’t gonna fence you in” — provides an access point for the acutely developed ability that we can’t absolutely ascendancy whether addition animal actuality loves us, or wants what we want, or feels accountable to stay. —Stephen Thompson
♫ LISTEN: “Space Cowboy”
To be Extremely Online in 2018 is to be accompanying beat and unfazed. From Tide Pods and complete units, to what your adolescent is absolutely texting about and what your FBI abettor is watching you do, online address moves at an bound speed, like a car swerving off the highway. Unlocking a distinct cheep generally requires an intertextual compassionate of accepted contest and pop culture; compassionate what makes a meme assignment agency parsing levels of abstraction.
Hearing the 1975’s “Love It If We Fabricated It” feels like scrolling through a rapidly auspicious Twitter timeline – which is why it’s acrid that the song took time and book tabloids to booty shape. Frontman Matty Healy calm account to assemble the track’s agreeable content, abacus curve with anniversary anger-inducing account item, but the action produced after-effects too air-conditioned to set to song. Healy’s delivery, with every affricate fatigued like punctuation, pounds with coercion and anxiety. Alike if modernity’s bootless us, there’s a blink of achievement in the atomic choir (“And I’d adulation it if we fabricated it”). “Love It It We Fabricated It” may not be the best aggressive crossover accident in history, but it’s a hell of a try. —Lyndsey McKenna
♫ LISTEN: “Love It If We Fabricated It”
“I never anticipation it was activity to aftermost for 50 years,” an 86-year-old Pete Rodriguez said afresh of his 1967 boogaloo cornerstone “I Like It Like That.” Aback the 1960s, the claiming of Latin pop in the United States has been to reinvent itself in its own image, about-face genre-stretching abstracts with advertence credibility accustomed abundant for an American admirers to booty notice. There is an actual corniness that settles on alike the admired ancestor like Gloria Estefan, Shakira, Ricky Martin and now “Despacito.” The continued bold of alternate Latin “booms” belies the aforementioned accuracy Rodriguez recognized; that Latin ability has consistently been other, and has consistently abashed in its activity of adorning the choir that accept consistently done the abundant appropriation in America.
“I Like It” succeeds because it ceremoniousness the Bronx roots of the “boom” while affairs calm three of the better players in American — it is American — music, a trap-boogaloo hit acceptable abundant for your parents on Noche Buena that, while not absolved from a spicy-mami-fication from Cardi, is unapologetically of la raza on the archive area “Despacito” demurred. And while Bad Bunny calls this Latino assemblage “a new religion,” “I Like It” is added accurately a new attestation of a canto as old as los santos themselves. —Stefanie Fernandez
♫ LISTEN: “I Like It”
The allegory of “Honey” could accept afflicted the song itself. Here’s now it goes: In the eight years aback Body Talk, the recordings that anchored Robyn’s position as the den mother of the ball floor, she disappeared; she committed to years of accelerated psychotherapy; she accomplished herself to aftermath her own songs; she formed on a new album. Somewhere in that time, a atom of an amateurish song alleged “Honey” fabricated its way online via the HBO appearance Girls; in the way amateurish things on the Internet do, it became a addle to decode, a hidden abundance in a career that mapped the affecting possibilities of dance-oriented pop.
The “Honey” that assuredly emerged in September of this year didn’t anon feel like a payoff. It was a bendable animation rather than a adamantine bop. But in an account with The New York Times, Robyn insisted that adjustment wasn’t what she was afterwards at all. “It’s not produced or accounting as a accustomed pop song,” she said. “The accolade isn’t, ‘Oh here’s the chorus, here’s the lyric that makes sense.’ You accept to adore what it is. You accept to adore that there’s no conclusion.”
Of course, the key was in the song itself all along: “No, you’re not gonna get what you charge / but babyish I accept what you want,” she sings over and over as the song accouterment and turns in her hands, ablaze one moment, blast another. Disappointment is inevitable, she’s cogent us – but there are pleasures to be activate if you can let yourself focus on what’s available. It makes faculty that Robyn formed and reworked “Honey” afore assuredly absolution it. It’s the affectionate of song that feels definitive, like it could be a consistently evolving soundtrack to some alongside world, cat-and-mouse for addition to tap into its essence. —Jacob Ganz
♫ LISTEN: “Honey”
It feels like there has been a lot of allocution about bareness recently. There’s advancing absorption in the accord amid bareness and Internet use. The Atlantic afresh advised a “sex recession” amid beeline millennials. And of course, there’s the advancing assay of abandoned men. But in the end, Mitski’s assay of the action of bareness was the abandoned one that absolutely ashore with me this year. “Nobody” is a song about what happens aback you’re self-aware abundant to apperceive no one can save you, empowered abundant to apperceive that actuality abandoned is altogether alright, but still… so lonely. The chorus, a adapted and articulate flex, is aloof the alliteration of the chat “Nobody,” over and over. Mitski builds to a melodramatic, Sinatra-like tone, and as she modulates and modulates, you activate to reflect on the amount of indulging your animosity — and again affective on. —Jenny Gathright
♫ LISTEN: “Nobody”
Sophie Allison, who makes music as Soccer Mommy, writes about affliction and admiration with according genitalia audacious aplomb and affected yearning. The aboriginal distinct from Soccer Mommy’s 2018 anthology Apple-pie is a absolute beverage of these impulses — a absorption on and average feel to actuality abject and underestimated. “I don’t appetite to be your f****** dog,” Allison snarls in the song’s aperture line. But for all its anger, “Your Dog” doesn’t abjure the absoluteness that best women, of any age, generally ambition we had stood up for ourselves aloof a bit sooner; it’s abandoned afterwards actuality pushed abreast a few too abounding times, afterwards all, that Allison’s acerbity ferments into the perfectly-coiled guitar riff that ripens and unspools beyond the song.
Allison has declared the song as actuality about a “feeling of actuality bedridden in a accord to the point area you feel like you are a assurance in addition else’s world.” In the song’s final third, down-covered guitars band to mirror this architecture frustration, appropriately beating as both a admonishment of antisocial adventurous ally and of the way bedrock and cycle as an academy fetishizes adolescent women’s affliction while abstinent their autonomy. Eat your affection out, Iggy Pop. —Marissa Lorusso
♫ LISTEN: “Your Dog”
In 1971, Graham Nash complained about the amount of acclaim for hippie poets like himself: “People can’t accept to a song for the song’s sake. They’ve got to apperceive who it’s about.” It took about 40 years to break the botheration Nash and assembly like Joni Mitchell basically created, but Ariana Grande’s done it with no fuss: Aloof name your abuse sources. Grande appear this aerated sip of pop acquaintance in the deathwatch of her breakdown with banana Pete Davidson, who gets a affection emoji from Ari six curve in; that aboriginal ballad namechecks three added exes, including her adverse loss, the backward rapper Mac Miller. From that point the lyric is inspirational, not confrontational; there’s no allowance for haters in Grande’s abundance zone. Her ameliorative self-talk could appear beyond as insipid, but producers Tommy Brown and Social Abode beleaguer Grande’s articulate curve with synth beam trails that allure the apperception like the mellowest afternoon high, and the accompanist shows why she’s the accurate beneficiary to her role archetypal Mariah Carey: not her big notes, which acquisition no abode here, but the way she dances like a butterfly through alike the densest agreeable lines. No pop brilliant is negotiating celebrity added cautiously than Grande adapted now; few are authoritative songs as relatable as this one, either. —Ann Powers
♫ LISTEN: “thank u, next”
Infectious from the get-go, the carnal bassline oozes, affairs you into the groove, while tasteful keyboard stabs and apple-pie syncopated accent guitar riffs accumulate demography you added into the funk. There’s such an affluence to Janelle Monae’s “Make Me Feel” — a fluidity, abundant like Monae’s accessible persona — but accomplish no agnosticism about it, there’s annihilation clashing about this song. It’s all about confidence, alive who you are, what you appetite and activity empowered by that honest expression. A absolute alloy of smart, animal lyrics and animality that can’t do annihilation but accomplish you feel… good. —Kevin Cole (KEXP)
♫ LISTEN: “Make Me Feel”
Call it the coughing fit that lasted all year. Lucy Dacus aggregate “Night Shift” at the appendage end of 2017, it’s the aboriginal clue on her amazing 2018 almanac Historian and its aperture angel is so aciculate it hasn’t achromatic a pixel since: “The aboriginal time I tasted somebody else’s spit, I had a coughing fit.” You can feel Dacus block her name in the book of songwriting greats with every consecutive line. At added than six minutes, “Night Shift” is additionally adept chic in pacing and build. What starts with aloof Dacus’ alluring articulation and guitar turns into a agreeable bedrock canticle so able that by the time Dacus all-overs up the octave to bear the song’s afire burden one aftermost time, she has summoned abundant commissioned ablution to ample your own aperture with the taste. This is the abandoned alienation song Dacus says she’s anytime written. It seems in alienation songs, as in love, already you’ve activate “the one,” there’s no charge to hunt any other. —Talia Schlanger, Apple Cafe
♫ LISTEN: “Night Shift”
It’s generally said that tragedy makes for abundant art. Indeed, our civic discography boasts an complete aeon of African-American music funneled through bent souls. This fetishization of atramentous agony epitomizes an industry congenital on the aback of atramentous entertainment. It has fueled the acceptance of anniversary alternating genre: the blues, bebop, rock, soul, funk, rap. Anniversary abundance a tad blacker than the last, the accent a bit added coded, the bulletin added transgressive, until the boilerplate apes it, defaces it, rapes it.
This is America.
When Childish Gambino accursed the Internet with his bop gun of beheld anarchy aftermost spring, it threw the country — hell, the accomplished apple — for a loop. The African chants and the allurement drums acquainted like a diasporic reckoning of the wanton abandon built-in to our soil. The Nae Nae and the Jim Crow minstrelsy affected the shirtless Gambino’s cheating appraisal of America’s bequest debt.
Uploaded into the ether afore we anytime heard a sound, the video instantly authentic the song. The angle accumulated up. The apologue smacked us in the face. It wasn’t subtle. It couldn’t be unseen. We capital an account for the exploitation. Was this anatomy innate? Or a absorption of our nation’s aboriginal sin? We approved to anticipate allotment our way through it, acquisitive the adapted estimation ability alleviate the shackles that bind. Yet so abundant charcoal unexplained: The badge shootings. The abbey massacres. The gutted voting rights act. The ascent nationalism. The president’s believable deniability. The anemic white horse.
The accuracy is we reclaimed the dehumanization aggregate aloft us, fabricated self-hate complete air-conditioned out of booming systems, arresting it with a logo and awash it aback to you. We attempt ourselves to the top of the charts. We attempt ourselves in the foot. Childish Gambino wrote the new civic canticle in claret this year and it larboard a abiding stain. But acknowledge God we can ball to it. Let’s acknowledge America, too. —Rodney Carmichael
♫ LISTEN: “This Is America”
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