The 50 Greatest Songs of 2018, Compiled by Martin CanineIn 2018, I heard more music than ever before - I finally got myself a Spotify account after years of struggles. But the desire to immediately listen to new stuff, in combination with the possibility to get to know more albums without having to buy them ultimately won. Call me oldschool. Naturally, I used this shiny new opportunity to hear lots of music releases - more than I reviewed. Many more. Many, many more.
And with all that material I got the chance to browse through, I gotta say that 2018 was pretty lit. Although it was quite the opposite of last year. 2017 was German hip hop’s peak - 2018 was quite uninteresting in that regard (although individual releases were pretty damn amazing, as you will see soon). Instead, pop music, English language hip hop and some yet to become big indie artists had some pretty fresh tunes. It was a music year which was aesthetically awesome - there were catchy bangers, experimental hip hop tunes and nostalgic throwbacks - and also had something to say lyrically. Introspective and personal poetry, female empowerment anthems and critical comments on society and politics became more present in mainstream music than in the previous years.
At least in the USA. The extreme departure of the American and Central European markets reached a new peak, to an extent that barely anyone over here knows the songs that everyone knows across the ocean. Raf Camora and Capital Bra dominated the Austrian radio stations with far over 10 top ten hits each, and Dynoro & Gigi D’Agostino had the biggest hit of the year with “In My Mind”. I can already give away it helped none of them for my list - only one of them is featured on here, only once and as a guest artist only (not that I have anything against them, but there were others that delivered better music). To be included on my list, sales, popularity and public image of the tunes are not important. They can be multi-platinum certified chart toppers or have no significance at all, being non-singles from poor selling albums by unknown artists - and I can tell you that you will find both on here - what ultimately matters is the song, and only the song itself - whether musically, lyrically or both.
If you take a look at the various best of 2018 lists by magazines and websites, there appeared to be little to no general consensus. Tunes that topped one ranking didn’t even appear at all on another, and so on. Or in other words: there were no songs like “Rolling in the Deep” or “Formation” that won about everyone’s heart. Some will say that there were less amazing songs, but a possible explanation is that there were too many different approaches in which songs were great, while no one combined them all at once.
A year ago, I declared “unendlichkeit” by German singer-rapper-producer Cro the greatest song of 2017. 365 days later, it still stands valid as an outstanding track of the decade. Who will be the heiress or heir to their throne in 2018? We’ll see.
Here is my full list in reverse order for more thrills (accompanying texts will only be available in the main list though):
50. Teyana Taylor - Never Would Have Made It
49. Within Temptation feat. Anders Fridén - Raise Your Banner
48. Pistol Annies - Sugar Daddy
47. Jean-Michel Jarre - ROBOTS DON’T CRY (movement 3)
46. Dat Adam - Wach (OST)
45. DXDDY MXCK feat. Treetime - Marge Simpson
44. Mariah Carey - Caution
43. Herbert Grönemeyer feat. BRKN - Doppelherz / Iki Gönlüm
42. Poppy - Am I A Girl?
41. Malinda - Surrender
40. Ufo361 feat. Capital Bra - Power
39. Sting & Shaggy - Waiting For The Break of Day
38. Kim Wilde - Cyber.Nation.War
37. Vanessa Mai feat. Olexesh - Wir 2 immer 1
36. Conchita & Wiener Symphoniker - Colors of the Wind
35. Kollegah & Farid Bang feat. 18 Karat, Jigzaw, Summer Cem & King Khalil - Sturmmaske auf [Gold war gestern RMX]
34. Denzel Curry - BLACK METAL TERRORIST | 13 M T
33. Cardi B feat. Kontra K & AK Ausserkontrolle - I Like It
32. Elina Nechayeva - La Forza
31. Eko Fresh - Aber
30. Nicki Minaj feat. Eminem & Labrinth - Majesty
29. XXXTentacion - SAD!
28. Pusha T - Santeria
27. Inner Tongue - Next Life
26. Christina Aguilera feat. Demi Lovato - Fall in Line
25. Barbra Streisand - Don’t Lie To Me
24. Genetikk - Marlene
23. Post Malone - Over Now
22. Lana Del Rey - Mariners Apartment Complex
21. Billie Eilish - you should see me in a crown
20. Black Eyed Peas - Yes or No
19. Beyond the Black - Breeze
18. Jaden Smith - Distant
17. XXXTentacion - train food
16. Cardi B - Be Careful
15. Rick Astley - The Good Old Days
14. Franz Ferdinand - Glimpse of Love
13. Samra - Cataleya
12. Travis Scott feat. Drake, Swae Lee & Big Hawk - Sicko Mode
11. XXXTentacion - Numb
10. Kanye West feat. 070 Shake, PARTYNEXTDOOR & Kid Cudi - Ghost Town
9. Lana Del Rey - Venice Bitch
8. Anna von Hausswolff - The Mysterious Vanishing of Electra
7. Bushido - Mephisto
6. Janelle Monáe - So Afraid
5. Kim Wilde - Kandy Krush
4. Christina Aguilera - Twice
3. Lady Gaga & Bradley Cooper - Shallow
2. Childish Gambino - This is America
1. Charlotte Gainsbourg - Lost Lenore
This list was released on January 1st of 2019, and solely reflects my knowledge up to this day. I am not an encyclopaedia that knows every song released in 2018.
Album: Take 2
The year’s most majestic music moment comes from a French woman who got most of her international recognition as an actress. After starring in the artful Lars von Trier masterpieces “Antichrist”, “Melancholia” and “Nymphomaniac”, Charlotte Gainsbourg made herself a name in European film circles as an ideal cast for complex, philosophical roles, but just like her famous father Serge - one of the biggest music geniuses himself - she is also a respectable songwriter. While most of the attention and praise of her 5 track EP “Take 2” was dedicated to an almost unrecognizable cover of Kanye West’s “Runaway”, it’s “Lost Lenore” that marks 2018’s most enchanting 5 minutes of song. From the sinister strings to the triumphant brass, the mysterious harpsichords and of course, Gainsbourg’s dreamy delicate vocals, the tune is just one gigantic trip into a mix of glory, darkness, intimate tenderness, and ultimately sheer epicness. The instrumental is heavy and cinematic, the vocals are soft and delicate - which gives the song a sound so enchanting, so fantastique, that you can’t escape the twisted, elegant fairy tale Gainsbourg puts you in.
Album: (upcoming 2019 album)
The radical switch from upbeat, cheerful choirs to the extreme darkness of the tribal beats heard makes the morbid nature of the topic audible. Several parts of the song may be the perfect fuel for a dance party to get your body moving - that is until the sinister tone violently rips your of it. And this is exactly the point: Childish Gambino baits you into territory you feel comfortable in just to confront you with the issue of racially motivated brutality and systematic discrimination, a problem often heard and that has rarely ever done anything against it. The chorus represents what we want to hear, the verses what we need to. Sure, you can take a look at how beautiful paintings on the walls are while the elephant in the room tramples everyone in the room to death, and then heads straight for you and your family.
Album: A Star Is Born
If “Shallow”, one of the year’s biggest pop songs and part of the soundtrack of “A Star is Born”, doesn’t get the Oscar for Best Original Song in 2019, the Academy is out of their minds. A few years ago, Lady Gaga first departed from the job as Madonna’s heiress of the pop empire and instead became the female American Elton John of today - a role which suits her equally fine. “Shallow”, a song about overcoming times when you feel horrible and everything seems lost, is the year’s most inspirational music moment, and - like “Rolling in the Deep” and “Take Me To Church” before it - a reminder that in order to have a song blockbuster in the 2010s, you don’t necessarily need to be danceable. For the most part, “Shallow” consists of an acoustic guitar, piano and the voices of Gaga and Cooper, who star as a singer-songwriter and a country star in the film - before it all climaxes in an explosion of emotions.
She is back. She really is. The arguably best female pop singer alive comes back with music that compliments her vocal talent, unlike her previous dance pop lacklusters of the 2010s. “Twice” stands out as a minimalistic yet still epic piano ballad that sounds epic solely through her huge singing voice that flawlessly masters to present the expressive melody and lyrics. And for a moment, just a very brief moment in the beginning, you can hear a bit of “is this the real life? ” spirit hidden between the lines. It’s almost operatic, despite it having an outstandingly little orchestration: only a piano.
Album: Here Come The Aliens
Kim Wilde brings the new wave of the 1980s back into our modern times as if not a single day passed. The powerful synth punk chorus and vivid guitar solo of “Kandy Krush” warp us back to her heydays, right along her great hits such as “Kids in America”, “Chequered Love” or “You Keep Me Hangin’ On”. The same youthful energy, the same sense for earworms. Its greatest achievement is NOT sounding like an intentional nostalgic throwback, but so natural as if she found lost tapes that would have the follow up to her “Select” album.
Album: Dirty Computer
There’s a bit of progressive rock hidden in Janelle Monáe’s impressive vision of RnB and funk. Just a bit. But the amount of it is enough to make “So Afraid” feel rich and spheric, and at the same time fragile like glass. Guitars and keyboards intertwine with Monáe’s soulful vocals as she sings about her fear to give in to love with everything that could possibly go wrong, and makes the song feel alive with her often depressing descriptions of her surroundings, feeding her angst. She sings how she’s “fine in her shell”, but… is she? This is one of the song where the melody tells just as much as the lyrics.
For years, Bushido’s astounding career that ultimately lead to him becoming the most successful German rapper of all time was dominated by ties to the criminal Abou Chaker Clan, especially Arafat Abou Chaker who always portrayed himself as his best friend. In early 2018, Bushido and the clan parted ways, and the rapper presented his side of the story. In his 10 minute epic, he tells the story of a young aspiring artist in need and Mephisto, the devil figure of the Dr. Faustus tale. He helped him become insanely successful, but claimed his share of wealth and fame, and forced his control and influence upon him. When the artist meets a girl and becomes more interested in raising a family, Mephisto showed his true face by spreading lies and misery. It is the story of greed, of rise to stardom, of a false debt and of a complicated love relationship. Many called it a diss track, but it's a personal, autobiographical epic poem.
Album: Dead Magic
Out of the Swedish singer-songwriter’s newest album, “The Mysterious Vanishing of Electra” is the most approachable song (which isn’t too hard to be honest: there are only 4 others, but two of them last 12 and 16 minutes, respectively). A sinister, eerie epic, the tune lives from a mix of the gloomy, low pitched folk instrumental and von Hausswolff’s extremely expressive, haunting, tormented vocal delivery. “Who is she? Who is she, who is she, who is she? To say goodbye? ”, she desperately yells at us, and we feel empathy.
Album: Norman F--king Rockwell (upcoming 2019 album)
Lana Del Rey never was a pop star. She always was an indie rock songwriter, a late flower power queen, a brilliant psychedelic artist, that just happened to somehow enter the territory of mainstream success. And with her 2018 single “Venice B---h”, an early preview of her forthcoming album, she fully departed from any form of crowd pleasers - not that she ever purposely made those. Clocking in at over 9 and a half minutes, the epic ballad is reminiscent of the greatest of works by the greatest of 60s music artists. If it was released next to songs by The Beatles or The Doors, we would now widely consider this to be one of the all time classic songs ever made. Atmospheric, trippy, and of a welcome old fashioned sense of experimentalism, the sheer hypnotic nature of the highly aesthetic piece makes you sink into the dreamy world of music Del Rey invites you to, making you completely forget your sense of time.
Kanye West throws all of his signature aesthetics, most obviously autotune and rapping, overboard and unleashes a rough, edgy epic on us, full of hammond organs, percussion, electric guitars and a singing that’s pleasantly flawed and natural sounding. While West masters the art of digital music like little other people, the insane rawness of “Ghost Town” feels all the more gripping, and actually adds several layers of quality instead of destroying it. Sometimes it’s better to leave a take in that’s not 100% perfect than to kill the personality.
While the posthumous “Skins” was a blatant cash grab featuring a bunch of sketches in the earliest of stages that barely even counted as a full album, “train food” was the one yet unreleased pearl hidden in the legacy of XXXTentacion. Retrospectively eerily prophetic, the minimalist storytelling song that’s supported mainly by few dark piano tones and background noise, but no drums, deals with the protagonist’s encounter with death personified and his attempts to escape him.
Album: Masters of the Sun, Vol. 1
After 8 years, the Black Eyed Peas are back - without Fergie, but an anonymous new singer, with lyrics as good as in their beginnings and production as awesome as on “Elephunk” and ”Monkey Business”. “Yes or No”, based around a tense score-like loop of a piano and occasionally a flute reminds you that your role in life is ultimately your decision, whether you choose to be left or right, whether you decide to take a stand or pick something in the middle, whether you heal or kill, whether you take something or make it yourself - and of course, whether and when you say Yes or No.
After Cro who dropped “tru.” in 2017, the rapper and producer duo Genetikk were the second big names in German hip hop that actually dared to explore the more experimental soundscapes that Kanye West already established in the US at the beginning of the decade. Based around a sample of the legendary singer and actress Marlene Dietrich, “Marlene” merges crude and graphix sex and nightmarish imagery to a somehow still extremely poetic and almost sentimental number about a toxic love. With all its talk of bitten off heads with intact lower body parts… it’s still an ultimately melancholic and emotional tune.