Top 10 Best Hit Songs of 2018
Hi, welcome back. It’s time to talk about the Best Hit Songs of 2018, and boy did this year give me little to talk about. As I mentioned in the preamble to the worst list, most of 2018’s hit songs were middle of the road and gave very little to talk about, and this is possibly the boringest year I’ve looked at thus far. 2018 surpasses 2016 as the year with the least 5/5 songs (I.E. the songs that qualify for my best lists), having only an even 10 of them, which means there will be no honorable mentions. Here are a few of the songs that were right on the cut of being 5/5, but just missed out:
Perfect by Ed Sheeran
Back To You/Wolves by Selena Gomez
Say Something by Justin Timberlake ft. Chris Stapleton
Maybe it’s because I don’t have the same passion for reviewing that I did a year or so ago, but I’m not feeling as much passion about music as I once did, whether good or bad. This was also a list where I had no idea where any of these songs would land on my list before formulating the order of the list, and combine that with an increasingly intense work schedule and you get a list that took much longer than it should’ve. Ignoring all that, it’s time to dive into the best that this boring year had to offer, starting, of course, with #10!
#10: One Kiss by Calvin Harris and Dua Lipa (Peak: #26, Year-End: #68)
One thing the 2010s saw a lot more than other decades was producers taking the main credit in their songs, rather than the singer. This was mostly associated with the EDM scene that began to gain popularity around 2011 in the U.S., and one of the biggest names in that scene was Calvin Harris. While he’d been popular in his native Britain for a few years before that, his big American breakthrough was with Rihanna on the decade-defining megahit We Found Love, and he continued his streak of success right up until this very song, One Kiss.
Now, calling this an EDM song is kinda inaccurate, considering that it’s much more of a 90s House and Eurodance throwback. As someone who has listened to a few of the 90s Year-End lists (1992, 1995 and 1998), I can say that not only was the genre successful, even in the U.S., but it had its fair share of highlights, and One Kiss is definitely calling back to those highlights. The house beat that blends retro and modern elements makes me want to do the What Is Love head bob (that song is one of the best 90s House hits, FTR), and while Dua Lipa would go on to do better with the Future Nostalgia singles, she’s still one of the best new pop stars we’ve got, and she still does well here. Lyrically, it’s Dua Lipa wanting to get… intimate with an unnamed guy, and her inviting him to give it a try with her. I’ll be honest, I wouldn’t mind Dua Lipa wooing me, so maybe that’s why I like this song so much (aside from all the reasons I’ve brought up). Calvin hasn’t seen much success stateside since this song came out, while Dua Lipa is now one of the biggest artists in the world, so this was the end of one star and the birth of another. On the topic of 90s throwbacks…
#9: Finesse by Bruno Mars ft. Cardi B (Peak: #3, Year-End: #14)
Yes, take it in everyone, Cardi B made one of my BEST lists. This may be the only time this ever happens, but the stars aligned just right for Cardi to make a legit banger, and by the stars aligning I mean that she collaborated with one of my favorite artists, Bruno Mars. It turns out that when a bad artist (Cardi) collaborates with a good one (Bruno), the good wins out, and I’m glad for that.
As I mentioned leading into this segment, this is a 90s throwback. To be more specific, this is a throwback to the New Jack Swing sound that dominated the Pop scene of the Early 90s. This is clearly harkening back to songs like Remember The Time by Michael Jackson, which was the final cut from my Best of 1992 list (here’s a mashup of Finesse and Remember The Time for y’all). The groove is bumpin’ here, and in a year full of dull, lifeless music, this was a breath of fresh air.
Lyrically, it’s your typical 24k Magic-era Bruno Mars song, in that it’s pretty much meaningless but still awesome. Bruno’s bringing his girl out, and he’s dripping in Finesse, which even according to him don’t make no sense. However, the lack of lyrical substance between “you’re hot and I’m cool” doesn’t matter when you get to the performers.
Cardi B usually does a mix of self-aggrandizing lyrics and a standard, stale trap flow, but what if she kept the self-aggrandizement while combining it with a loose and bouncy flow reminiscent of the late Left Eye from TLC? Well, it works out a heck of a lot better if I do say so myself. Her flexing about her jewelry, backside and money actually works here because she’s not taking herself too seriously and is having fun, which makes me have fun too. As for Bruno, well, he’s Bruno Mars, of course he’s great. If I made a tier ranking of male pop stars just based on raw talent, Bruno Mars would be S Tier without question. Both Bruno and Cardi fit into the Early 90s Pop-Rap sound perfectly, and this song is a bop. Keep on dripping in finesse, Bruno and Cardi, it may make no sense but it sure is a good time!
#8: Whatever It Takes by Imagine Dragons (Peak: #12, Year-End: #37)
Imagine Dragons have had an interesting career arc. First becoming big in 2012 with the single It’s Time (which was #7 on that year’s best list), Imagine Dragons became massive successful off of the Night Visions album, producing not only It’s Time, but the top 10 single Demons and Radioactive, which still holds the record for the longest chart run on the Hot 100 (although a certain chart cockroach is rapidly catching up and may soon surpass it). However, their sophomore album Smoke + Mirrors was markedly less successful, only scoring one minor hit in I Bet My Life and selling far less than their debut. Now, this might be a death knell for some bands, but Imagine Dragons was able to catch a big second wind in 2017-2018, with their Evolve album scoring similar chart success to Night Visions. They scored three Top 20 hits off the album, and while Believer and Thunder are both mediocre, it’s their third one, Whatever It Takes, that really stands out in a good way.
Unlike the bloated, tryhard Believer and the car-commercial sellout Thunder, Whatever It Takes is an actual Rock song. I think one of the reasons Imagine Dragons gets so much crap is because they’re marketed as and listed as a Rock band, even though many of their biggest hits could barely be called Rock (and the band themselves don’t even call themselves a Rock band from what I’ve heard). However, Whatever It Takes is probably the most Rock of any of their hits (either that or the aforementioned It’s Time). The sing-rapped verses transition into a tension-building prechorus, which unleashes into a booming chorus, probably the biggest of 2018 (which isn’t hard to do). While the guitars take a backseat on many Imagine Dragons songs to either percussion (see Believer) or electronic elements (see Radioactive or Thunder), it’s right up front here, and while I think that it could’ve unleashed a bit more, I’ll take what I can get in the Rock-deprived musical landscape of the 2010s.
I’ve heard another music reviewer say that Dan Reynolds’ vocal performance is what makes or breaks an Imagine Dragons song (here’s the clip where I found it), and while I don’t entirely agree, I definitely see where he was coming from. Dan Reynolds naturally has a powerful, bombastic voice, and he has had a tendency to overdo it at times (see Believer or their new song Cutthroat for more on that). However, he hits the perfect balance of using his natural bombast while not going full Screamo like he does on the aforementioned songs. It’s one of his best vocal performances ever, at least when it comes to the singles.
One thing I haven’t touched on yet is the lyrical content. Lyrically, this is about the narrator pushing himself harder to improve, doing whatever it takes to achieve his goals, even (or especially) if it involves pain and struggle.
Whatever it takes
'Cause I love the adrenaline in my veins
I do whatever it takes
'Cause I love how it feels when I break the chains
Whatever it takes
Yeah, take me to the top I'm ready for
Whatever it takes
'Cause I love the adrenaline in my veins
I do what it takes
After this song came out, Imagine Dragons quickly rushed out a follow-up album, Origins, which like Smoke + Mirrors only produced one hit (Natural) and was largely a flop. The band’s overexposure in 2017 & 2018 led to a large, Nickelback-esque backlash, and the band has now become somewhat of a punchline. Their leadoff single for their next album, Follow You, had thus far failed to take off, while the aforementioned Cutthroat is… interesting to say the least. However, they at least gave us this song, and I’m glad for that.
#7: Happier by Marshmello and Bastille (Peak: #2, Year-End: #80)
I’ve already mentioned EDM in this list, but I might as well talk about it again. EDM was one of the biggest musical trends of the 2010s, spanning pretty much the entire length of the decade. However, by the end of the decade, it began to run out of steam, mostly disappearing from the charts in 2019 before vanishing by 2020, but that was not before giving us one final smash hit in Happier.
Marshmello emerged as one of the big new producers of the Late 2010s, in large part because of his image and marketing. Following in the footsteps of Daft Punk and Deadmau5, he decided to hide his face behind a mask before everyone had to do it. As for his actual production, well, it’s oftentimes much less interesting than his aesthetic. That’s not to say that it’s bad, just more middle of the road than anything. However, he does have his share of highlights, one of which is this song right here, Happier. The production combines not only Marshmello’s EDM style, but also featured artist Bastille’s Pop-Rock sound, including some harder guitars in the buildup before the final drop. Speaking of the drop, while this is far from the most impactful drop I’ve ever heard (I’ll be getting to some of those in the near future, spoiler alert), it still gets the job done very well.
With that said, the lyrics are really what put this song into best list territory. The song is written within the context of a failing relationship, where the fire that once burnt has now been reduced to mere embers. Rather than continue in this fruitless endeavour, the narrator decides that it would be best to cut it off, if only so his partner can have the chance for a fresh start.
Then only for a minute
I want to change my mind
'Cause this just don't feel right to me
I wanna raise your spirits
I want to see you smile but
Know that means I'll have to leave
Know that means I'll have to leave
Lately, I've been, I've been thinking
I want you to be happier, I want you to be happier
Combine that with Bastille frontman Dan Smith’s great and quite British vocals, and you get the perfect swan song to one of the biggest genres of the 2010s. Now, how about we transition from the swan song for a genre of music to a swan song for one’s relationship dreams.
#6: Marry Me by Thomas Rhett (Peak: #30, Year-End: #76)
I’ll be honest, I was expecting this to be a lot higher on the list. This was one of the most popular picks for Best of 2018 lists during that year’s list season, and even topped some of them (notably Diamond Axe Studios’ Best of 2018 list, although it wouldn’t be #1 if he did it today), and I expected it to at least make the podium, if not top my list, but alas, that’s not how it turned out. However, that doesn’t change that this is one of the most heartbreaking Country ballads in recent memory, as well as one of the oases of excellence in this musical desert of a year.
The song begins with Thomas laying out how this unnamed girl wants her upcoming wedding to be like, with an implication that he will be the groom standing by the altar as she walks down the aisle. Then comes the chorus, which blows that into a million pieces.
“I'll wear my black suit, black tie, hide out in the back
I'll do a strong shot of whiskey straight out the flask
I'll try to make it through without cryin' so nobody sees
Yeah, she wanna get married
But she don't wanna marry me”
You see, she is indeed getting married, but Thomas isn’t the groom, but rather just another guest. The second verse lays out his history with this girl, how he was interested in her, but was never able to make that move to get her. Now, he’s watching her tie the knot with another man, and thus seeing all of his high school dreams get dashed. Not to get too personal, but this resonates with me. After one more chorus, we reach the climactic bridge, where Thomas could either approach her and admit his true feelings, or sit back and let her have her moment in peace.
Bet she got on her dress now, welcomin' the guests now
I could try to find her, get it off of my chest now
But I ain't gonna mess it up, so I'll wish her the best now
I wish I was that mature.
After that, the song has one final chorus before winding down and fading away, thus concluding one of the most mature songs to have been a hit in a good while, as well as a song that might deserve more than #6… if my Top 5 weren’t in its way.
#5: Simple by Florida Georgia Line (Peak: #32, Year-End: #82)
Gosh, how many times am I going to put The Nickelback of Country on my best lists? Well, as many times as I need to, because I’ve found myself liking more FGL songs than I probably should, with Simple being the latest addition to that list.
When it comes to the instrumentation, it represents a much more acoustic and roots-y shift in FGL’s sound. With strong acoustic guitar, banjo and whistling straight out of the Indie Boom from earlier in the decade, and has definitely held up better than their more bro-y stuff. Vocally, while Tyler and Brian still have their signature drawls, they don’t sound like two idiots drooling over a hot girl as they do on a lot of their other songs.The down-home feel of the instrumentation and the vocals is reflected in the lyrical content, which is about the enjoyment that comes with slowing down and enjoying the smaller, simpler things life has to offer.
“It's like one, two, three
Just as easy as can be
Just the way you look at me
You make me smile
Ain't no need to complicate it
We both know that's overrated
We've been there, it's safe to say it ain't our style
It's just that simple, S-I-M-P-L-E
Simple as can be
It's just that simple, S-I-M-P-L-E
Simple as can be”
Yes, this is the third time that I’ve put Florida Georgia Line on one of my best lists, which is not something I expected to do coming into this endeavour, but hey, sometimes things you don’t expect to happen nonetheless do. I know you guys could very easily make fun of me, but I implore you guys to have mercy… oh wait.
#4: Mercy by Brett Young (Peak: #29, Year-End: #95)
Obvious segue aside, this is neither the first nor (spoiler alert) the last somber Country ballad that will be on my best list for this year. Brett Young first broke through the previous year as part of the new Boyfriend Country trend that came in to replace Bro Country, and he’s had a few hits thus far (most notably In Case You Didn’t Know), but this is far and away the best thing I’ve heard from him.
As I brought up a minute ago, this is a somber country ballad. The song begins as a simple piano ballad, before adding acoustic guitar and strings in the first chorus. It’s minimalistic, sure, but that’s often times better for this type of song than something more extravagant. This allows Brett Young’s voice to be front and center, and boy does it hit hard. Brett’s heartbroken pleading combined with the instrumentation gives me chills every time I hear it. As for what he’s pleading about, well, he’s basically saying “if you’re gonna break my heart, don’t waste your time”. He’s asking her not to drag it out, but to just be blunt and say what she needs to say. It’s a frickin’ gut punch of a song.
And yet I still think it could’ve been more.
The first two verses and choruses of this song would likely put this song at #1, but after that, it kinda loses the emotional impact. I don’t feel like it hits a proper climax, and it dies down too much before the final chorus. It’s kinda like 100 Years by Five For Fighting (the #9 song on my Best of 2004 list), where it has all the pieces of a true masterpiece, but falls short due to one key flaw, and thus ends up just being great instead of something exceptional. With that said, this is still one of the most heartbreaking songs of the decade, and is more than deserving of its spot on this list.
#3: In My Blood by Shawn Mendes (Peak: #11, Year-End: #46)
From now on, I am going to be coloring the titles of the Top 3 as if it were an olympic event, so #3 will be bronze, #2 will be silver and #1 will be gold. We start off the podium of this list with Shawn Mendes’ hit In My Blood, the lead single to his self-titled album and a song that resonates more than a little bit with me.
Instrumentally, this is a pretty typical Pop Rock song, with the percussion and acoustic guitar building up to a harder-hitting electric guitar on the drop/chorus. It’s by no means a shredding Hard Rock banger, but it’s about as hard of a Rock song as we could get in the Late 2010s, so I’ll take it. Shawn’s voice is more low and restrained on the verses, before building up to unleash on the chorus. As with There’s Nothing Holding Me Back, I like it when Shawn Mendes goes down a more Rock direction, and if the genre is in the beginnings of a revival (thanks, Posty, MGK and Paramore Olivia Rodrigo), I think Shawn could revive his dying career after his most recent album flopped.
Anyway, what exactly is this song about, and why does it resonate with me? Well, not to sulk or whine, but I’ve got a bit of baggage to spill right now. As with many people my age, I’ve struggled with mental health for the better part of the past decade, for a variety of reasons (isolation and boredom, constant negativity and outrage in media and politics, the general aimlessness and nihilism of modern life, etc). Don’t get me wrong, there are times where I’m fine or even happy, but there are other times where I’m just plain miserable (including much of the last pandemic-ridden year). However, I know that I can’t and won’t give up, since that would only mean devastating my loved ones (and the possibility of eternal suffering to come in the next life, assuming there is one). I know this is depressing, and may strike of a “woe is me” mentality, but I’ve got to be honest here. So, when a song comes along that says exactly what it is like to be mentally ill and yet carry on anyway through the storm, I’m gonna relate to it (WHO CAN RELATE? WOO!).
“Laying on the bathroom floor, feeling nothing
I'm overwhelmed and insecure, give me something
I could take to ease my mind slowly
Just take her home and you'll feel better
Keep telling me that it gets better
Does it ever?
Help me, it's like the walls are caving in
Sometimes I feel like giving up
No medicine is strong enough
Someone help me
Sometimes I feel like giving up
But I just can't
It isn't in my blood”
I apologize for this segment being so heavy and revealing, but sometimes I need to be personal like that. I promise you, the next segment will be less grim, because I get to talk about Luke Combs again.
#2: One Number Away by Luke Combs (Peak: #34, Year-End: #96)
If you know anything about my music taste, then you know that I am a huge Luke Combs fan. Heck, you could call me a stan and I wouldn’t argue too much (although I won’t dox you and send you death threats for disagreeing, don't worry). With this song right here, Luke has made the Top 3 of my best list every time he has made a Year-End list, and has never placed a song below my Top 5. Might as well get right into yet another great Luke Combs song, shall I?
I honestly don’t have a ton to say about this song, it’s pretty straightforward. Luke dumped his girlfriend, but now regrets it and misses her. He’s hoping that she’s still trying to get over him, and will take him back if he calls.
“I'm one number away from calling you
I said I was through, but I'm dying, inside
Got my head in a mess, girl I confess
I lied when I said, "I'm leaving and not coming back"
Might be the whiskey or the midnight rain
But everywhere I go I see your face
In my brain, dial it up, everything I want to say
But I'm still one number away”
Of course, there’s no guarantee that she’ll take him back, she could go the Gloria Gaynor/Dua Lipa route, but she might forgive him for breaking her heart and let him back into her life. As per usual, Luke delivers a superb performance behind the mic, and when you combine that with the lyrics and the typical Luke Combs Country-Rock production, you wind up with one of my favorite hits of the year. However, it was not my absolute favorite hit of the year, so what could that be?
As I mentioned heading into this list, I had no idea what would be my #1 when I was heading into this list. Unlike years like 2001 and 2008 where my #1 was pretty clear from the get go (being two of the best songs I’ve ever heard in my entire life), this was really up in the air. I felt as though anything from Happier on up had a shot at #1, and after listening to and ranking the songs, I finally got my answer. It turns out that, rather than something respectable, I instead put Country’s sappy boy band at the #1 spot.
#1: Tequila by Dan + Shay (Peak: #21, Year-End: #32)
Yes, this is in fact happening. In the tradition of my Best of 1998 list, I’ve put another embarrassing song at #1. Dan + Shay are pretty much a boy band that mainly appeals to teenage girls and 30-40 something wine moms, but I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do. Tequila by Dan + Shay is, by my current judgement, the best hit song of 2018, and here is why.
I might as well start with the composition, which is absolutely breathtaking. Starting with just a piano and acoustic guitar, it all opens up on the chorus into a full on symphony, only growing more and more grand as the song goes on. This is a pop-country ballad at its most beautiful, especially when it gets to the banjo plucking solo with the strings in the background. This is one of the most outright beautifully composed hit songs of the 2010s, and it hits me like a ton of bricks every time.
Okay, the production is great, but how about the lyrics? Well, let me ask you a question? Is there some taste or scent or sensation that inextricably reminds you of someone or something from your past? I can’t specifically point out one for myself, but I’ve had this sensation before. Well, this is what this song is about, whenever whoever the narrator of this song is drinks tequila, he can’t help but reminisce upon his ex-girlfriend from so long ago.
“But when I taste tequila, baby I still see ya
Cutting up the floor in a sorority t-shirt
The same one you wore when we were
Sky high in Colorado, your lips pressed against the bottle
Swearing on a Bible, baby, I'd never leave ya
I remember how bad I need ya,
When I taste tequila”
I know that Dan + Shay are basically a Country-fied Late 90s/Early 2000s boy band, but that does include having clean, crisp vocals, and boy do they use them to great effect here. While some of the backing vocals on the chorus do kinda get under my skin just a tiny bit, that’s tiny compared to how great Dan & Shay sound on the rest of the song. With all of this taken into account, I’ve made my choice. Tequila by Dan + Shay is The Best Hit Song of 2018, and as mildly embarrassing as it may be to say, that’s just how I feel about it.
Okay, before I go, I’ve got to announce my plans for this blog. When I began doing this blog, I was excited to dig into the history of pop music, and I was pumping out lists left and right. However, around September of last year, that passion began to fade away, and now it feels like more of a chore than anything. That’s why new lists have taken much longer as of late, I just don’t have the motivation to do these lists like I did a year ago. However, I don’t want to abruptly end this blog without at least completing something, so here’s what I’ve decided: I am going to do complete the 2010s and then go on indefinite hiatus. Now, I am not saying that I will never return, but I am saying that I will no longer be actively making new reviews after I complete the 2010s until I regain some sort of desire or passion for reviewing music (which is a big if). I’ll be getting lists out for 2013 and 2015 over the course of the summer, and then I’m done. I’m sorry if that is disappointing, I know I’ve seen other blogs do the same thing, but I’m just burnt out. Still, I will be doing lists for 2013, and they should be coming out in either late June or early July, so until then, have a good day.