The New Year is afoot and List Season has begun. Here are the twenty singles released this year which I enjoyed the most. Note I have attempted to gear this towards pop hits and songs people actually might know: we have enough hipster stroke-fests on the Internet, thanks.
There are a few honourable mentions: ‘Blue Monday’ may be a sacred cow but HEALTH‘s cover is pretty great (except the middle), Katy Perry had excellent singles this year and both ‘Bon Appétit ‘and ‘Chained To The Rhythm’ could have made it onto the list, as could have Lorde’s ‘Green Light’ and DJ Khaled’s ‘Wild Thoughts’. Finally ‘On My Mind’ by Disciples was belter.
So, without further ado…
20. Lady Gaga – The Cure
Unexpectedly glorious comeback from former-big-deal Lady Gaga. Joyful to listen to, crackling with passion and produced with a fine point brush. ‘The Cure’ is genuinely soulful, something even Gaga’s finest tunes have failed to embody. Candid feel-good pop.
19. Indiana – Bad Luck
Indiana toys with clueless men over stuttering, nihilistic electronic bass. Lacking the polish of her debut, ‘Bad Luck’ nevertheless showcases Indiana’s growth as a vocalist. Packed with contemptuous put-downs and electronic burr – this is a welcome return.
18. Luis Fonsi – Despacito ft. Daddy Yankee
Overplayed to death it may be, but there’s no denying the return of reggaeton in the charts has been fun. ‘Despacito’ (translated as ‘slowly’: as in ‘to pleasure a woman slowly’, or ‘to boil an egg slowly’) is a gratifyingly authentic track (before Bieber got involved anyway) that didn’t pander to Western audiences, but rather spelt it out for them plain: we do pop better than you.
On this evidence I’m inclined to agree, and given the abundance of trumpets, cuatros and Latin beats on the charts, seems I’m not the only one.
17. Camila Cabello – Havana ft. Young Thug
Speaking of which – Camilla embraced her Cuban roots with this club-born swooner. ‘Havana’ is about falling in love with a Man of Mystery from that most romantic of locales: Atlanta, Georgia.
Young Thug’s bizarre & fuddled guest verse may sound like a pensioner arguing in a post office queue, but the sultry swing and raspy trumpet solo ensured this was the worldwide smash it deserved to be.
16. Anoraak – Skyline
Anoraak’s entire discography is certainly worthy of attention. ‘Skyline’ is a joy to listen to – smooth and spirited with a new-age sheen. So zen, clean, lo-fi and loveable – this is synthwave at its purest: loungewave, if you will. While there’s little in way of escalation, this simple & upbeat tune proved an instant favourite.
15. Calvin Harris – Feels ft. Pharrell Williams, Katy Perry, Big Sean
Calvin Harris has been on an upward slant for years – peaking with this summer essential and future classic for any self-respecting party boat. The amazingly camp and ramshackle bassline recalls the thrills of late ’70s boogie; before shifting into ’90s G-Funk in the third verse. More like this please Calvin.
14. Katy Perry – Swish Swish ft. Nicki Minaj
A total mess in every conceivable way, Swish Swish gets by on the strength of its core elements. The synthetic bass, House beat and melody are so damn tight that even Katy Perry’s bizarre lyrics about talking shellfish and logging expenses with Lady Karma cannot thoroughly spoil them. Nicki Minaj once again proves why she is the master of the third-verse collab.
13. Charlie Puth – Attention
Charlie Puth may still be the AOL of people, but I was forced to leave my reservations about his trembling man-child voice to one side and accept that ‘Attention’, a song that he co-wrote and produced, is a fucking banger. The moment the thunking bassline arrives it’s pure gold, with funky guitar and danceable beat that arrive in a flourish. A hugely enjoyable track that recalls the salad days of ’80s Yacht Rock.
12. Parcels – Overnight
It speaks to the impact of Random Access Memories that its influence is still felt today. Daft Punk also produce this whip-smart cut from Australia-by-Berlin band Parcels. A relatively muted party-jam, but fantastically produced and glossed to perfection. The B-Side to ‘Get Lucky’ you always wanted.
11. The Killers – The Man
A welcome throwback to the days before the Killers went full Springsteen. Catwalk strutting informs the infectious beat whilst the swaggering lyrics are both memorable and genuinely funny. Their capacity for camp has gotten the better of them of late (see also: Muse) but this is a return to form.
10. Kygo – It Ain’t Me
Kygo’s strong feel for melody lends this simple song a resonance which his contemporaries lack. A gorgeous piano hook (the sort of thing Eric Prydz once did so well) and a swelling chorus make for arena-sized thrills that don’t feel impersonal. Selena Gomez is used sparingly but the way in which her voice is truncated and mixed into distorted vocal chops, proves a dazzling appeal to the heart.
9. Stormzy – Big For Your Boots
Grime has its fair share of heroes, but Stormzy is a trailblazer. He is one of the first to understand that grime will never fill the shoes of American rap, and instead, has its own unique character and strengths. ‘Big For Your Boots’ is a perfect example of that, a cheeky, winking put-down that has more to do with weird lyricisms than genuine menace.
8. Dua Lipa – New Rules
The slow burner that made a star, ‘New Rules’ is ‘You’re So Vain’ for the iPad generation. Tropical synths & bangra beat may be terribly on-trend, but Dua’s skewering of the archetypical Fuckboy, her vengeful spirit and the #newrules phenomenon are truly unique. Few songs can leave an imprint on the social psyche like ‘New Rules’, and she’s just getting started.
7. Kendrick Lamar – HUMBLE.
Using the word B**** in this day and age always feels cheap, but that can’t dull the raw power of Kendrick Lamar’s opus. ‘HUMBLE’ is truly peak Kendrick; squawking piano hook, sub-aquatic bass, huge beat – and prophetic flow, in keeping with the song’s predilection with faith & worship.
6. Jax Jones – You Don’t Know Me ft. RAYE
British House music is in the throws of a new renaissance that began proper with ‘Need U (100%)’ by Duke Dumont. Alliterative cohort Jax Jones announces himself this year with several hits – and this is by far the best. Genius synthetic bass loop, stuttering & escalating beat – along with a virtuoso vocal turn from RAYE. ‘You Don’t Know Me’ is littered with playful lines and ensures Jax Jones stands at the forefront of British dance music.
5. The Old Pink House – Cruel
The North East’s biggest contribution to culture since Johnny Decker. TOPH combine elements of pop-rock on this imaginative indie anthem. Smooth rhythm and cherubic synths underplay a spiky riff and raw vocals.
The scratchy vox (presumably performed via tin can) only add to the urgency of the chorus and its timeless message: bitches be trippin’. Both a wonderful embodiment and re-interpretation of the classic elements of brit rock.
4. Paramore – Hard Times
After cribbing sounds from The Cars and Cyndi Lauper, Paramore confirm their role as new-wave revivalists with ‘Hard Times’. From head to toe, marimba intro to vocoder outro, there isn’t an inch of fat on this lean pop banger. Built around a spindly guitar and ascending synth hook, Hayley Williams is playful and lyrical. Paramore’s best single, period.
3. Rae Morris – Do It
Tasteful cod-Caribbean R&B jam – with the best chorus of the year to boot. Rae Morris side-steps the limitations of sensitive singer-songwriterdom to reach new pop heights, with a shamelessly honest and simplistic message. Destined to soundtrack Nike adverts and Democratic Primaries. Go and hit play now: do it, do it, do it.
2. Fickle Friends – Hello Hello
Buoyant Brightonians reach the pinnacle of their euphoric sort-of-throwback-sort-of-not pop sound with the sugary ‘Hello Hello’. With indelibly tight and shiny grooves (production courtesy of indie tastemaker Mike Crossey) and a twinkling euphoria all of their own, FF are set to become the biggest indie-pop breakout of 2018.
1. Portugal. The Man – Feel It Still
Funkadelic 60s throwback that became a huge hit Stateside due to a Vitamin Water ad. There’s little left to say about it: every element of the track works exceedingly well, and click into one another seamlessly. A throwback not just to a time and place, but also to an age where short, snappy pop singles were in abundance. Quite simply: sensational.