Home Top songs The 50 Best Songs of 2018 (So Far): Critics’ Picks

The 50 Best Songs of 2018 (So Far): Critics’ Picks

by Assessor

When talking about 2018 so far at Billboard, it’s hard to avoid the fact that the 2018 chart year has only had 24 editions of the Hot 100, and Drake has been No. 1 for 17 of them. It’s the most that any one artist has dominated the listing’s top spot in a year’s first six months this decade — though shout-out to Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ combined 11 weeks on top in the first half of 2013 — and it essentially leaves the non-Drake part of the field wide open when it comes to discussing the year’s best and biggest singles.

But that’s fine. Beyond the Drakening, 2018 has been a year of pleasant surprises on the charts: All-Star teamups we didn’t see coming, previously unknown artists coming out with left-field hits, and a handful of big-name comebacks taking us to unexpected new places, all of which made the predictability at pop’s highest level forgivable. And besides, those two Drake songs are pretty great too: You’ll see them both below as we recount our 50 favorite songs of 2018 so far, with a Spotify playlist of all 50 at the bottom.

Will either be at No. 1 on this listing, too? Read on to find out.

50. Justin Timberlake feat. Chris Stapleton, “Say Something”

The moment fans have been waiting for since Timberlake and Stapleton collaborated at the 2015 CMA Awards finally came in 2018, and it’s as special as that instant-classic performance. “Say Something” is the perfect combination of Timberlake’s pop mastery and Stapleton’s old-world country, and it allows both of their voices to shine while still also complementing each other. Not only did the song take JT and Chris’ bromance to the next level, it made it very clear that their CMA team-up was no fluke. — TAYLOR WEATHERBY?

49. Jade Bird, “Lottery”

Singer-songwriter Jade Bird’s brilliance lies in her ability to mesh her British roots with Americana style to create a unique genre (Britana?) that we can’t get enough of. On her breakthrough acoustic track, Bird relays a conversation about love gone wrong and includes all the nitty-gritty details, from the address she lived at to actual dialogue from her and her ex’s conversation. Culminating with an electric chorus, it’s a delightful tune that leaves us hungry for her eventual debut LP. — XANDER ZELLNER

48. SAINt JHN, “I Heard You Got Too Litt Last Night”

Leading up to his debut album, Collection One, Brooklyn-based rapper-producer SAINt JHN dropped this eerie, hedonistic single. He woozily croons about a girl who got too turnt to remember much after midnight, then hints he’s in on the excess too (“One pill had her lookin’ like Naomi/ And 2 pills, had her lookin’ like my soulmate”). When the analog-siren synth line pierces through the foggy production like a bad-decisions bat signal, you’ll at least want to get moderately litt, too. — CHRIS PAYNE

47. Snail Mail, “Pristine”

Some indie anthems you know are gonna be special from the first chord, and “Pristine” — the early masterwork of 19-year-old singer-songwriter Lindsey Jordan — is undoubtedly on that list, stunning from its opening strums and its first lyric (the title, just so you immediately know she means business). It’s a love song, and a gorgeous one, but one just as much about Jordan as her subject as she she grapples with both her own self-worth (“Don’t you like me for me?”) and her own life’s malaise (“It just feels like the same party every weekend”) through the lens of her possibly unrequited feelings: When she repeats “I’ll never love anyone else!” on the song’s towering chorus, it feels particularly urgent because it certainly seems like she includes herself in that tally. — ANDREW UNTEBERGER

46. BlocBoy JB feat. Drake, “Look Alive”

BlocBoy JB is 21 years old, hails from Memphis, and the first time most people outside the orbit of his city’s hip-hop scene heard from him, it was on his top 10 hit single with Drake. Sometimes you nail it early: “Look Alive,” produced by frequent collaborator Tay Keith, sounds effortless in BlocBoy’s hands, much like his signature “Shoot” spazz-dance, which you see in the video. He described the origin of the move to The Fader, saying, “When I play my own music I just do anything. I was in the mirror looking at myself, and I got to winding that motherfucker up and hitting that motherfucker.” Bouncing through a line like, “I’ma spray him, just like Fuh-breze,” you can hear him winding it up and hitting it again, natural as the day is long. — ROSS SCARANO

?45. Jordan Davis, “Singles You Up”

No, that title’s not a question missing a comma after the first word, it’s an action phrase coined by Jordan Davis on his breakout hit: As in, if your man performs the title action and lets you go, Davis will be there to be the first one calling him crayyyy-zayyyy. A stretch, perhaps, but the power of country music has normalized stranger wordings, and the chorus to “Singles You Up” is an absolute rush, clever and rousing enough to get you singing along to it like the first time you fully grasped what “Friends in Low Places” was supposed to mean. You won’t be the only one, either: “Singles” was not only Davis’ debut on Billboard‘s Country Airplay chart, it topped the damn thing in April. — A.U.

44. Casper Magico, Nio Garcia, Darell, Nicky Jam, Ozuna & Bad Bunny, “Te Boté”

In this seven-minute-long all-star remix, lengthy enough to incorporate superstars Nicky Jam, Bad Bunny, and Ozuna (in addition to Casper Magico, Darell and Nio Garcia), men are the ones who are wronged and get even. “Te Boté” (I kicked you out), says one after the other, explaining with bravado and sometimes a touch of regret why they’ve gone looking for sex and love elsewhere. The hook and beat are hypnotic enough that seven minutes pass without a thought of reaching for the skip button. — LEILA COBO

43. Arctic Monkeys, “Four Out of Five”

Maybe Arctic Monkeys were never going to live up completely to the hype of 2013’s AM after a half-decade respite, but “Four Out of Five” remains a fine return to prominence for the Englishmen. A seedy stomp through taquerias on the moon and gentrifying lunar neighborhoods, the lead single from the band’s Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino is a travel brochure for the resort in question — and don’t worry, there are no dark desert highways or warm smells of colitas here. Hence the so-called “unheard-of” four-star rating, perhaps. — KEVIN RUTHERFORD

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42. The Weeknd, “Call Out My Name”

After conquering mainstream pop with hits like the Daft Punk-assisted “I Feel It Coming” and the strutting “Can’t Feel My Face,” the Toronto artist née Abel Tesfaye returns to his earlier — and much darker — R&B roots on this crushing, bleary breakup groove from his six-song mini-album, My Dear Melancholy. This time, over a typically woozy, drunken soundscape, Tesfaye opens his wounds deeper than ever: “I almost cut out a piece of myself for your life,” he wails in one of many personal lyrics, presumably referencing his ex Selena Gomez’s kidney transplant last year. If the confessional is tough to listen to, it’s only because Tesfaye nails the sickly misery of heartbreak so well. — TATIANA CIRISANO

41. A$AP Rocky feat. Moby, “A$AP Forever”

“A$AP Forever” should not work. A$AP Rocky? Great on his own, especially here, with some expert wordplay on his verses and an infectious, boastful flow. Moby’s “Porcelain”? 1999 it ain’t, but as Play’s most essential track on an album full of them, it’s ever-welcome. Mashing the two together seems absurd — and to an extent it is, particularly when the bottom drops out of the song about halfway through, with Rocky’s vocals giving away to “Porcelain” in its near entirety while Khloe Anna’s vocals tether it to the present. But somehow, some way, it ends up being one of Rocky’s most satisfying tracks yet. — K.R.

40. Khalid & Normani, “Love Lies”

The meeting of two of music’s most promising young voices is just as dynamic as their recent scorching BBMAs performance would suggest. Khalid, always the reliable role player, primes his co-lead for her solo breakout moment, coaxing her to uncover her true self over a hypnotic guitar melody and finishing with “you’ve got some s-t to say and I’m here to listen.” Normani answers the call with a vibrant delivery and punctuated flow, building to a harmonious duet that hits all the highs and lows of a sultry confessional. — BRYAN KRESS

39. Leon Bridges, “Bad Bad News”

After Leon Bridges’ unbelievable debut LP Coming Home in 2015, our expectations were reasonably high for his follow-up. But Bridges delivered some good news with “Bad Bad News,” the winning lead single from his sophomore effort, Good Thing. The jazzy, neo-soul jam reminds us why we all fell in love with Bridges in the first place, and its brilliant composition and tasty bass licks have helped drive the track to No. 1 on the Adult Alternative Songs chart. — XANDER ZELLNER

38. Florence + the Machine, “Hunger”

No single in 2018 will have a more arresting first line than “At seventeen, I started to starve myself/ I thought that love was a kind of emptiness,” especially as the jarring lyrics juxtapose against the bouncy musical opening and Florence Welch’s cooing. “Hunger” only gets more jaw-dropping from there, as the stunningly vulnerable song builds in urgency while Welch looks for love in drugs and on stage before realizing there’s no external solution to an internal craving. — MELINDA NEWMAN

37. Jessie Reyez, “Body Count”

Not every song can instantly grab a listener and pull them straight into an artist’s world, but Reyez’s latest single does just that. Opening with a simple, punchy acoustic guitar line that builds on top of itself as it marches along, “Body Count” is both light and casual and dripping with confidence and self-assurance as Reyez slyly smacks down the patriarchy one loping line at a time (“I dodge dick on the daily”). She’s got so much swagger that you can almost hear her mischievous smile beaming through the speakers. — DAN RYS

36. Hayley Kiyoko, “Curious”

Tension is the key element on Kiyoko’s should-have-been-bigger first single from her debut album, Expectations. Not just the sexual kind, though there’s plenty of that in this story of a girl trying to ignore the obvious spark she has with Kiyoko. Not just in in the spare, throbbing beat, which hums along in the verses before erupting during a trunk-rattling hook. No, the real tension is in Kiyoko’s own narration: confrontational but still playing it cool, petty with just enough plausible deniability, caring deeply while pretending you don’t care at all. Rarely does such a surefire banger — with strut-worthy lines about feeling like a supermodel on the dancefloor — pack such emotional nuance too. — NOLAN FEENEY

35. Nicki Minaj, “Chun-Li”

Released alongside “Barbie Tingz” in April, “Chun-Li” marked not only Nicki Minaj’s return to original solo music, but also a return to her early mixtape roots. “Chun-Li” encapsulates everything that is great about the queen of rap: bossed-up lyrics, thumping production, and miles of personality. And after all the headline drama the rapper experienced in 2017, “Chun-Li” is the perfectly timed return of Nicki the Ninja, who’s ready to assassinate her foes — even if that makes her the bad guy. — STEPHEN DAW

34. Ashley McBryde, “A Little Dive Bar in Dahlonega”

Remember the name Ashley McBryde, because she’ll soon be winning a Grammy, a Country Music Award, an Academy of Country Music Award, or maybe all three — whether it’s solo or as a songwriter. Start with the hit single “Dahlonega,” a wistful, whiskey-soaked ode to looking at the worst day ever with a glass-half-full perspective. Its most arresting attribute? McBryde sets the scene in Dahlonega, Ga., but despite its specifically denoted geography, this could be any dive bar in the world. — K.R.

33. Parquet Courts, “Wide Awake”

Easily the greatest song ever written about some combination of societal hyper-consciousness and nagging insomnia, “Wide Awake!” gets funky like no other song in Parquet Courts’ peerless indie-rock catalog, going past disco and all the way to Disco Not Disco. It sounds less like a mental breakthrough than a manic episode, but it’s still exhilarating enough in its jagged, zig-zagging jamminess that even Ellen DeGeneres had to get movin’-and-a-groovin’ to it on daytime television. — A.U.

32. Kendrick Lamar, Jay Rock, Future & James Blake, “King’s Dead”

“King’s Dead,” from the Kendrick Lamar-curated Black Panther soundtrack, boasts an impressive roster that serves as the rare example of corporate synergy meeting creative interests. Though it includes show-stopping moments like Jay Rock’s rapid-fire repetitions and Future’s call-outs to “La Di Da Di” and “Slob on My Knob,” the song kicks into action mode with a beat-switch only rivaled by last year’s Mike WiLL Made-It/Kendrick collab, as the Compton rapper adopts a villainous scorched-earth mentality complete with an “f-the-world” tirade. — B.K.

31. 6lack, Khalid & Ty Dolla $ign, “OTW”

Collab King Khalid has made some of the smoothest songs of the year, but none so slick as “OTW,” a sensuous booty call featuring 6LACK and Ty Dolla $ign. “I’m back in town for a minute if you with it/ Got a lot of time, I just need somewhere to spend it,” hints Khalid on the slow jam, whose low-end-focused production comes courtesy of “Hotline Bling” architect Nineteen85. The opening crooner’s friends are a little less subtle. “Come outside looking like a snack, hurry up, get in, hell yeah,” says Ty, while 6LACK brings it home: “You was in park but I put your shit in drive.” The approaches and success rates may vary, but no stress is ever betrayed on a song this chill. — CHRISTINE WERTHMAN

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30. Bazzi, “Mine”

A lot can be accomplished in only two minutes. Bazzi’s short-and-sweet breakout hit packs a lot of feels into its brief runtime, with the 20-year-old expressing his love in endearing ways (i.e. “Even when it’s rainy all you ever do is shine”) over an appropriately dreamy soul groove. The song may have gained traction after becoming a hilarious emoji-blasting meme, but Bazzi’s smooth voice and cleverly worded sentiments make “Mine” much more than a 2018 Internet sensation. And while it’s a brief tune, you could find yourself listening to it more than a few times in a row. — T.W.

29. Christine and the Queens feat. Dâm-Funk, “Girlfriend”

“Girlfriend,” the first new release from Christine and the Queens mastermind Héloïse Letissier since 2015, is a tight little package of funky freakpop that smartly explores lust and desire, identity and gender. The back half of the ’10s had been suffering without Chris thus far, but she more than came through with this DâM-FunK-assisted synth-pop shimmer, which makes you want to do a somersault on a summer rooftop at sunset. — GAB GINSBERG

28. Cardi B, “Be Careful”

Hip-hop blogs thought they stumbled upon a ghostwriting scandal when uncovering years-old footage of Pardison Fontaine rapping this song’s reference track, but the truth isn’t so juicy: Fontaine is officially credited on the track under his real name, Jordan Thorpe, just as he was on “Bodak Yellow.” And besides, Cardi doesn’t need to have penned a single word to make the song a feather in her cap: The third single from Invasion of Privacy is a pure feat of performance. The MC delivers a thoughtful scolding to an unfaithful partner with such actor-level focus that even though it is objectively, verifiably not about fiancé Offset, it’s impossible not to think about Offset every time you listen. Give her a Grammy just for the way she spits out the phrase “You make me sick.” — N.F.

27. John Mayer, “New Light”

We don’t even need to get into the wacky viral video; the prettiest Stratocaster-wielder in show business already outdid himself with this track, a sublimely silky pastel palette of keyboard twinkles and polished guitar licks that sounds like it was recorded in the clouds of John’s Paradise Valley LP cover. Lyrically, our protagonist tries to woo himself out of his love interest’s “friend zone,” but with a song this smooth, it’s hard to imagine how he got there in the first place. We don’t know if “New Light” is a sampling of a larger Mayer project, but we hope he’s booking more studio time with co-producer No I.D. regardless. — C.P.

26. Marshmello & Anne-Marie, “Friends”

The formula of established EDM stars partnering with up-and-coming pop singers is so proven that even big-name vocalists have been getting in on the action in recent years. But this collaboration elevates the art form beyond the usual fare climbing up Spotify playlists: Marshmello’s beat is full of twists and surprises, like when it launches into a full-on G-funk breakdown after the bridge. And Anne-Marie’s powerhouse voice and unmistakable bravado put her in class above the kind of interchangeable vocalists often recruited for these tracks — it’s no wonder Zedd wanted her to be the voice of “The Middle” before producer politics led him to Maren Morris. The world didn’t need any more songs that involve spelling out the title in the chorus, but this one earned it. — N.F.

25. Azealia Banks, “Anna Wintour”

Azealia Banks channels her inner CeCe Peniston on her house-music bop “Anna Wintour,” a song that marks her debut on both the Hot Dance/Electronic Songs and Dance/Electronic Digital Song Sales charts. The pulsing track, named after Vogue’s editor-in-chief by producer Junior Sanchez, is a celebration of self-empowerment and love — a surprising direction for Banks, who’s better known for takedowns than buildups. Banks originally floated the idea of including Mel B and Nicki Minaj on the song, but the 27-year-old proves once again that she’s chameleonic enough to hold every role, be it singer, rapper, or hook maker. — C.W.

24. Rae Sremmurd & Juicy J, “Powerglide”

Rae Sremmurd came into our lives by introducing the “No Flex Zone.” Now, on album three, the brothers espouse a new way of being: unintentional flexing. It’s a line Slim Jxmmi casually tosses off in the third verse of the near-six-minute long single, which started the SR3MM rollout in earnest. “Powerglide” updates Three 6 Mafia’s “Side 2 Side,” splashing it with unforgettable images — slime green paint and peanut butter guts inside a new Lamborghini — and a beautifully crooned hook from Swae Lee. Juicy J pays respects to the fallen Lil Peep while also making messy amateur pornography. It’s just another day in the life for the trio. Don’t try and keep up. — R.S.

23. Nicky Jam & J Balvin, “X”

Beyond the fact that we all want to hear what good buds Nicky Jam and J Balvin do together, “X” turned out to be an irresistible jam thanks to an insistent, squeaking electronic hook that served as a constant invitation to dance (and spawned literally thousands of home videos). A slow, sexy beat also served as the foundation for Nicky Jam and Balvin’s romantic raps. — L.C.

22. Shawn Mendes, “Lost in Japan”

In the vein of Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange, Shawn Mendes’ “Lost In Japan” finds the maturing singer-songwriter in a mood that’s simultaneously reflective and seductive. The song’s “Do you got plans tonight?” refrain resembles an admission of existential loneliness as much as it does a “u up?” text — albeit with prettier backup vocals and much funkier bass lines, in either case. — JOE LYNCH

21. BTS, “Fake Love”

The lead single from new album Love Yourself: Tear, “Fake Love” is BTS’ first top 10 hit in the States, debuting at No. 10 on the Hot 100. And it’s not just popular — it’s damn good. It combines emo, pop, and hip-hop in such a way that only K-pop can, and if you’re not bopping your head by the time you get to Jimin and Jin’s enunciation of “fake-uh looove” on the infectious English-language chorus, then are you sure you have two working ears? — G.G.

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20. James Bay, “Pink Lemonade”

It’s hard to wrap your head around the 180 that English singer James Bay made from the alt-radio pastiche of 2015’s Chaos and the Calm to his follow up, this year’s Electric Light. Gone was the brooding Johnny Depp look that made him teen crush-worthy, and in came the suave, handsome rocker look with more bite than initially led on. Though the album is sonically diverse and compelling for a musician clearly unafraid of pushing his own limits, “Pink Lemonade” is the clear standout from the bunch: a Strokes-indebted guitar blast with a wallop of a chorus, where Bay sheds the mystique and caterwauls about wanting to delight in the comfort of intimacy without having to rationalize it. — STEVEN J. HOROWITZ

19. Camila Cabello, “Never Be the Same”

As if we haven’t already been blown away by Cabello’s soaring vocal range and voice control since her X Factor days, the 21-year-old powerhouse effortlessly shifts from a throaty growl to an impossibly high near-whisper in this booming, euphoric proclamation of love. Goosebumps? Us, too. The track is also lyrically daring, with Cabello comparing love to being strung out on “nicotine, heroine, morphine,” a chorus that producer Frank Dukes has since revealed he and Cabello had to fight management to keep. Cabello’s potential for solo starpower is clear as ever here — and her passion has never been more palpable. — T.C.

18. Charlie Puth feat. Kehlani, “Done for Me”

This song puts a modern-day twist on Wham!’s 1985 smash “Everything She Wants,” but instead of George Michael harmonizing with Andrew Ridgley, it’s Charlie Puth and Kehlani trading verses about a seemingly one-sided love story. After this string of toxic relationships (starting with “Attention” and “How Long”), what’s it going to take for Puth to find love? As long as he keeps turning his heartbreak into bops, he might not be in a hurry. — KATIE ATKINSON

17. Kali Uchis feat. Tyler the Creator & Bootsy Collins, “After the Storm”

With her wispy ‘60s-inspired curls, razor-fine eyeliner, and honeyed voice, Kali Uchis had already established her vintage-soul persona in R&B. But with “After The Storm,” the third single from the Colombian-American singer’s debut album, Isolation, she sunk those perfectly manicured claws deeper into her niche. The surrealist vibes are heavy on this one, with Uchis seductively cooing about the importance of self-reliance. Funk icon Bootsy Collins provides the Afrofuturistic vibes, while Tyler, the Creator adds a dose of hard edge. Whether you’re going through a breakup, stuck in a journey of self-discovery, or just pissed off at Trump’s latest policy, this gauzy jam serves as a reminder to just hold on: The sun will shine eventually. — BIANCA GRACIE

16. Migos, “Stir Fry”

Twenty years after the Beastie Boys threatened to stir fry you in their wok, another iconic trio comes back with a banger to get you craving Panda Express. Of course, it’s not Chinese takeout the Migos are cooking up in their Hot 100 top 10 hit, but even what they’re mixing isn’t addictive as this beat: a classic Pharrell head-knocker, packing three days’ worth of All-Star Weekend joy and bluster into one two-measure loop of whistling keys and thumping bass drum. The beat was apparently a 2008 leftover, and it sounds a little like 1978 and 1998 too, but it’s still guaranteed to make the club go intergalactic in 2018. — A.U.

15. Drake, “God’s Plan”

Another year, another Hot 100 No. 1 for Drake. A couple, actually: “God’s Plan” was actually the first of two songs for him to land at the top of the coveted chart, the latter being “Nice For What,” which is still going strong at No. 3. “God’s Plan” dropped in the winter and became a spring hit with nearly 800 million streams on Spotify. But it’ll still be a go-to jam this summer, thanks to its instantly recognizable synth intro, its equally melancholy and triumphant beat, its cynic-baiting music video, and of course — sing it with us now — “She said, ‘Do you love me?’ I tell her only parrrtly…” — DAVID RISHTY

14. Ella Mai, “Boo’d Up”

This time last year, SZA was riding the breakthrough wave from R&B to pop. Now it’s British singer-songwriter Ella Mai, who’s scored her first top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 with “Boo’d Up.” Already No. 1 on Hot R&B Songs, the love song’s nostalgic feel and catchy chorus — paired with Mai’s arresting vocals — are the key reasons behind the song’s momentum. The singer-songwriter’s 2018 breakout is pretty intriguing, given that “Boo’d Up” was released a year ago on Mai’s third EP Ready. As she told Billboard in April, “None of us thought this song could possibly have a rebirth. It’s God’s time, and I can’t really question it.” — GAIL MITCHELL

13. Bruno Mars & Cardi B, “Finesse”

Bruno already had a banger with this upbeat, New Jack Swing-inspired jam, but recruiting Cardi B gave the 24K Magic track just the right amount of the titular stuff to make it an absolute smash. Cardi’s raw opening verse and swag-dripping “We got it goin’ on” closing shouts are the perfect complement to the song’s punchy beats and Bruno’s suave vocals, making them the ultimate dream-team of 2018. And on top if that, they nailed a pitch-perfect In Living Color tribute with the video. Yeah, we’re gonna need to see more from these two — maybe next time with Cardi’s soon-to-be-here baby, too. — T.W.

12. Kim Petras, “Heart to Break”

Bad decisions never sounded as habit-forming as they do on Kim Petras’s “Heart to Break.” “One look at you, I’m powerless/ I feel my body saying, ‘Yes’/ Where’s my self-control?” the German pop princess asks rhetorically. The gleeful self-sabotage is backed by candy-colored bloops and zapping synth lines that whiz around a punching beat, a concoction produced by Cirkut and Dr. Luke. (Yes, that Dr. Luke, a fact that all of us — including Kim herself, and the people who associate with her professionally — will have to do our own reckoning with.). “Don’t care if this is my worst mistake,” Petras belts on the sugar-rush refrain, “’Cause no one else could do it better.” Yes, tears may be on the horizon, but “Heart to Break” is here to celebrate the high and deal with the come-down later. — C.W.

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