The 50 Best Songs of 2018

2018, you were something. These are the songs that got us through the year.

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40. Lizzo, “Boys”
Why pick one summer crush when you can marvel at them all? That’s the question at stake on the wonderfully raunchy “Boys,” which finds Lizzo grasping and declaring her sexuality via a series of delicious male typecasts. She’s not picky, either, singing, “I like big boys, itty bitty boys / Mississippi boys, inner city boys.” An overtly groovy bass line flavored with high-pitched electric guitar carries the song through. A dance-y boasting of sexuality, “Boys” is a flirty summer jam. —Ellen Johnson

Listen to Lizzo’s 2016 Daytrotter session

39. Natalie Prass, “Short Court Style”
The “Short Court Style” video features a colorfully dressed Natalie Prass bringing jubilation to an otherwise-dreary park in her home state, Virginia. She spins on a merry-go-round, performs with ribbon dancers and generally delights. “Short Court Style,” from Prass’ sophomore LP The Future and the Past, itself is equally joyous: Prass offers figurative revolutions to match the video’s literal ones, singing, “Oh you spin me round / Round and round / Had ups and downs / No but I can’t be without / My love that I have found.” The song’s irresistible groove makes for a slick and spirited showcase of Prass’ exquisite vocals, emphasizing her R&B leanings in irresistible fashion. —Scott Russell

Read Paste’s 2018 interview with Natalie Prass

38. Dirty Projectors, “Break-Thru”
This single from Dirty Projectors’ Lamp Lit Prose maintains the band’s trademark indie/art rock fusion while continuing the electronic/R&B sound from last year’s self-titled record. The song and album mark “a recommitment to the sounds and ideals of Dirty Projectors, embracing the band’s trademarks while pushing forward the sonic envelope” with guitars and intricate harmonies returning to the fold, as evidenced by “Break-Thru.” The lyrical content is another shift for the group, as frontman Dave Longstreth seeks “a restorative balance” after his breakup with former Dirty Projectors bandmate and ex-girlfriend Amber Coffman. Longstreth sings, “She’s a break-thru / Under the sun, there’s nothing new / But she keeps it 100 in the shade, she’s a break-thru / It’s cold out here, that’s nothing new / But she keeps it 100, she’s a break-thru.” —Adreon Patterson

37. Superchunk, “Erasure”
For this song from their 2018 album What a Time to Be Alive—whose excellent title track did not meet the timeline criteria for this list—beloved North Carolinian rockers Superchunk rounded up a few of their Merge Records labelmates to collaborate on a resounding, thumping power track. Waxahatchee’s Katie Crutchfield and The Magnetic Fields’ Stephin Merritt, both Merge signees, offer backing vocals during the chorus, which leads to an immaculate melding (Merging?) of voices. “Erasure” is pure, driving power-pop, and that energy is in part due to Crutchfield’s and Merritt’s solid additions. It’s the stuff of indie supergroup lore. —Ellen Johnson

Read Paste’s ranking of every Superchunk album

36. Ought, “Disgraced in America”
“Disgraced in America,” from Montreal post-punk band Ought’s album Room Inside the World, is a song led by Tim Darcy’s melodramatic, at times Bowie-esque and other times Ian Curtis-esque, lead vocals, which are so painstaking, impactful and heart-wrenching, they would make an enthralling a cappella track. The track also includes robotic keyboards, jangly, melodic guitars, crying horns and chaotic, dense percussion worth getting lost in. —Lizzie Manno

35. Haley Heynderickx, “Untitled God Song”
There’s no chorus to speak of in this little gem from Haley Heynderickx’s brilliant debut album, nor any answers to the questions that this singer/songwriter is posing within it. This is a modern version of a talking blues, but a more poetic take on that well-worn style, because throughout, we’re never quite sure if she’s actually conjuring up new deities or if she’s commenting on how we tend to deify our lovers during the heat of a relationship. Maybe it’s both. Maybe we should just try and keep up with Heynderickx as she spins and spins. —Robert Ham

Watch Haley Heynderickx’s 2018 performance in the Paste studio

34. Noname, “Blaxpoitation”
There was the old Noname, the one who ducked and dodged around the fluttery rhythms and subdued melodies of her debut EP Telefone like a shy hummingbird, beautiful but weightless. But with “Blaxploitation,” from her new album Room 25, Noname is finally ready for all the limelight. She spits out lines like “Penny proud, penny petty, pissing off Betty the Boop / Only date n****s that hoop, traded my life for cartoon,” with a previously unheard vigor over a bass-line that pops. No one is safe from Noname’s polemic—not the artists that blow up and move to the yuppie Wicker Park neighborhood in Chicago, not those mammy-stereotype “Power of Pine-Sol” commercials, not even Noname herself for indulging in noted anti-LGBT restaurant Chick-Fil-A. It’s an unflinchingly powerful introduction to this new Noname, one who is ready, able and fully willing to become the next big thing. And yes, all without label support. —Justin Kamp

33. Wye Oak, “The Louder I Call, The Faster It Runs”
The phrase “dream pop banger” would be a contradiction in terms if not for this glorious song, the centerpiece of Wye Oak’s album of the same name. Jenn Wasner, who has spent a decade honing one of the greatest voices in indie-rock, sings about the inexorable urge to seek patterns in chaos, repeating the title with mantra-like fervor: “The louder I call, the faster it runs / The louder I call, the faster it runs.” And then the song seems to do precisely that, growing faster, louder, more joyously overwhelmed, as it spins around and around its central refrain. —Zach Schonfeld

Listen to Wye Oak’s 2012 Daytrotter session

32. Ariana Grande, “thank u, next”
Something strange happened in early November: Ariana Grande released a song about her four ex-boyfriends, and both critics and fans loved it. A refreshing take on a breakup ballad, “thank u, next” is Grande’s graceful (and supremely catchy) nod to her past loves: Big Sean, her former backup dancer Ricky Alvarez, the dearly departed Mac Miller and, most recently, Saturday Night Live’s Pete Davidson. Her brief relationship with (and engagement to) the latter spurred some serious speculation, but rather than chastise the media for hounding her, she used her platform to say “Thank you” to her ex-boyfriends in what’s perhaps the most endearing display of gratitude the pop charts have ever seen. Last year, Taylor Swift delivered unto us a petty revenge album, but this year’s reigning pop queen Ariana Grande—of all people—also happens to be its best moral compass. At song’s end, Grande even takes a moment to thank herself, admitting that even though she’s “loved” and “lost,” she “turned out amazing.” We think so too, Ari. —Ellen Johnson

31. Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, “You Worry Me”
Denver’s Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats broke through in 2015 with the polished honkytonk rock of their self-titled debut on the famed Stax Records label. Three years later, on their sophomore LP, the band, with Rateliff at the helm and the dearly departed Richard Swift behind the boards, have become one of the finest Americana acts in the nation, and “You Worry Me” is the best song Rateliff has ever written. Solitary keys play as the song opens, a now bold and signature indicator that Rateliff & The Night Sweats are about to embark on their crown jewel. Intensity builds through gracefully careening strings and Rateliff’s gravelly vocals ascending into a glorious explosion of horns. A superb saxophone bridge atop a kick drum raises Rateliff’s delivery to mountainous levels of soul and emotion, and you can’t help but just feel something powerful inside of you. There is the blissful sound that marries the Colorado frontier from which it came with the Stax legacy into a newfound apex of Roots and Americana music. —Adrian Spinelli

Listen to Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats’ 2015 Daytrotter session

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