THE SONG OF THE YEAR:
Childish Gambino ‘This is America’
It’s hard to briefly encapsulate the brilliance of ‘This is America’, but remembering the weekend it was released helps. First there was surprise: that Donald Glover’s hitherto slightly jokey hip hop alias had birthed a profound statement on America’s fundamental race problem. Then there was the video, so carefully layered in references, symbolism, message and nuance that it sparked days and weeks of genuinely edifying social media discussion – a wave of insightful intellectualism that reminded people what they thought the internet would actually be like. Music fans studiously decoded the myriad allusions – from the panoply of underground dances, to racist depictions of the Jim Crow south, to gun crime and through to the final sequence of Glover running. Together, we listened and we learned. ‘This is America’ was not just the song of the year, it really was the cultural event of the year, bar none.
THE VERY BEST OF THE REST:
Peggy Gou ‘It Makes You Forget (Itgehane)’
Korean lyrics, slowly enveloping acid stabs and the most perfectly languid groove this side of Sade. It all added up to a super-subtle anthem for the star DJ and producer.
Lana Del Rey ‘Venice Bitch’
In the way ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ encapsulates everything great about The Beatles in one song, ‘Venice Bitch’ was kind of a perfect distillation of the Lana Del Rey project in nine romantic, complicated and utterly real minutes. A triumph.
Drake ‘In My Feelings’
This bounce pop was sleek, subdued and undeniably seductive – kind of like the man himself.
Iggy Pop & Underworld ‘Get Your Shirt’
Two pillars of the original Trainspotting soundtrack randomly combined to make a deliciously driving and discursive bit of tuneage.
Songs featuring men talking about being men are sorely needed right now, so major respect to Brit punks Idles for attempting to grapple with the toxic aspects of masculinity.
Krystal Klear ‘Neutron Dance’
Panagea ‘Bone Sucka’
Another massive banger.
Bicep ‘Opal’ (Four Tet mix)
OMG another absolutely massive banger.
A slow-burning, sensual gem, best listened to with the lights down low.
A$AP Rocky ‘A$AP Forever’
Only a madman in the midst of a fever dream would have predicted that the Rocksta would ever sample Moby. Freaking Moby! And yet, it worked all too deliciously well.
A huge moment on Sophie’s continuing journey to fabulousness in 2018, this brutal electro-pop masterpiece asked what’s real about simply showing your face to the world.
Hen Ogledd ‘Problem Child’
I mean, talk about ambitious: a psychedelic electro-rock band based around Newcastle guitar lord Richard Dawson and named after an ancient northern kingdom. Somehow, it all works really rather nicely.
Calvin Harris & Dua Lipa ‘One Kiss’
Propelled by Lipa’s smoky vocals, this deep-house banger became one of the songs of the summer.
Sophie Lloyd ‘Calling Out’ (feat Dames Brown)
Club music really went back to its roots in 2018, with gospel influences popping up everywhere. But nothing harnessed the power of the holy spirit like this disco moment, powered by the voices of Detroit trio Dames Brown.
Though technically from last year, 2018 was when this insanely talented hip hop boyband got noticed beyond their fanbase. ‘Boogie’ was simply a banger for the ages and became the young group’s calling card.
Khruangbin ‘Friday Morning’
A sublime, blissed-out guitar tune from the Texan evangelists of Thailand-inspired funk.
Parquet Courts ‘Wide Awake!’ (Danny Krivit Re-Edit)
A totally joyous punk-funk bomb, just like they used to make ’em in ’81.
Mahalia ‘Surprise Me’
The Birmingham-based singer-songwriter cemented her rising star status with this sultry old-school R&B gem. Watch out for her in 2019.
Jimothy Lacoste ‘Fashion’
Casting young Londoner JL as merely some jokes rapper is kinda missing the point. He’s a visionary, a young man of the times and the most fiercely tucked-in guy since Jerry Seinfeld. And yes, he is also a massively jokes rapper. BUT: his jams and videos are amazing and worth – to use his own phraseology – a million pounds.
DJ Koze ‘Pick Up’
Almost comically summery, this disco-loopin’ house wonder (laden with pathos, thanks to its Gladys Knight-sampled vocals) will forever be chemically etched onto our brain cells.
Helena Hauff ‘No Qualms’
Nobody quite owned the DJ world in 2018 like Hamburg’s titanic queen of thunderous electro, Helena Hauff. Her album on Ninja Tune was also quality, as evidenced by this brittle banger.
Unknown Mortal Orchestra ‘Hunnybee’
UMO went full-on yacht rock and the results were full-on gorgeous.
JPEGMAFIA ‘Baby I’m Bleeding’
Incendiary rap from one of the wildest and smartest men in the game.
Charli XCX & Troye Sivan ‘1999’
An impeccable slab of pop nostalgia – and given the absolute state of the world, who doesn’t want to go back to 1999?
Wolfram ‘Automatic Dub’
A big, muscly slice of modern Italo disco, with a dash of chant-along goodness like you heard in Todd Terje’s ‘Inspector Norse’.
Robyn ‘Missing U’
The super Swede’s comeback single was a glistening tribute to a friend who passed away. No, you’re bawling on the dance floor.
Novelist ‘Nov Wait Stop Wait’
A highlight from the Lewisham MC’s long-awaited debut album.
Kacey Musgraves ‘High Horse’
A highlight from the country-pop singer’s ‘Golden Hour’ album, this shimmering disco-flecked gem was kind of a ‘You’re So Vain’ for 2018.
Ariana Grande ‘Thank U, Next’
Break-up song? Nah, this was more of a moving-on song – and a gracious, generous and brilliant one at that.
The Carters ‘Apeshit’
The biggest banger from collaborative album ‘Everything is Love’, ‘Apeshit’ saw Beyoncé and Jay Z celebrate their incredible success over a grinding trap beat. The way Bey casually references buying her hubbie a private jet is iconic.
I mean, we’re Time Out. We’re kinda duty bound to love any song named after a London borough, no?
Janelle Monáe ‘Make Me Feel’
A lusty, funky celebration of queer sexuality that her mentor Prince would be proud of. Why isn’t Monáe a superstar yet?
Christine And The Queens ‘Girlfriend’ (feat Dâm-Funk)
Like Chris’s signature hit ‘Tilted’, this sleek G-funk groove slaps hard.
The 1975 ‘Love It If We Made It’
Who says pop stars shouldn’t get political? Matty Healy’s state-of-the-world lament was anthemic, affecting and very heartfelt.
Róisín Murphy ‘The Rumble’
One of four collabs between former Moloko singer Murphy and house pioneer Maurice Fulton, ‘The Rumble’ was the year’s most dazzlingly expansive dance banger.
Let’s Eat Grandma ‘Hot Pink’
The Norwich duo teamed up with restlessly inventive producer SOPHIE for this awesome avant-pop bop. ‘Hot Pink’ was both catchy and unpredictable, a tricky balance to pull off.
Cher ‘Dancing Queen’
Cher’s album of Abba covers offered pure pop joy, and her take on ‘Dancing Queen’ was possibly even spanglier than the original. A welcome reminder that she’s not just the queen of Twitter.
Unknown T ‘Homerton B’
Probably the definitive London street anthem of 2018, which countered the moral objections to drill music by actually charting in the Top 50, with no hype or PR.
Angélique Kidjo ‘Crosseyed and Painless’
A highlight from Kidjo’s brassy cover of the whole of Talking Heads’ ‘Remain in Light’ album.
Arctic Monkeys ‘Four Out of Five’
The lads took aim at critics and their annoying, pesky star ratings… leaving that aside, we still love you, gents.
Cardi B, Bad Bunny and J Balvin ‘I Like It’
Built around a sample from boogaloo classic ‘I Like It Like That’, this Latin brag track drips with swagger. Best line: Cardi’s ‘I like texts from my exes when they want a second chance.’ Don’t we all!
Thanks to Rhian Daly, Tracy Kawalik, Nick Levine, Kyle MacNeil, James Manning, Kate Solomon, Emily Watson, Chris Waywell and Lisa Wright.