What an amazing year for pop music! We say that every year, right? It's almost as if pop music is always amazing. Month in, month out, year after year. A solid, endless cavalcade of amazingness.
This year's Top 45 is all over the place, in a quite brilliant way. There are guitars, there are synths. There are happy songs and there are sad songs. There are smashes and flops, bangers and bops. Some songs have over half a billion Spotify streams, one has just 89,000.
First off, and clicking the green button below will obviously lead to spoilers for anyone who revels in the artificially engineered suspense of a countdown from 45 to one, there's a playlist.
The playlist works like this:
- Best at the top
- Then the other 44 in order
- Then a load of other songs too brilliant not to be included somewhere in an end-of-year singles roundup, and which at one point or another were considered for the Top 45, alphabetically.
Now 'without furtho ado', here's the countdown.
Dean Lewis — Be Alright
What a way to start the countdown! There's a bit in the Popjustice about page about how you shouldn't ever have to apologise for liking the pop you like but, well… Look. This song is objectively terrible in many ways. You are going to absolutely hit the roof when you realise which songs haven't made the list. But Be Alright is also amazing. And the Number 45 slot was going to be this or Pitbull's version of Toto's Africa, so let's just accept the majesty of Dean Lewis and his autumnal bop, and move on.
WE ARE…by Noah Cyrus and MØ
In one sense it feels as if it's perhaps time for the crazy Noah Cyrus experiment to be knocked on the head. In another sense, she has as many monthly Spotify listeners as The 1975, so carry on? IN ANY CASE the Max Martin-'helmed' We Are…, which after a slew of teaser tracks felt like Noah's first full-on attempt to have a hit record, was a super-smart song about self-loathing, celebrity, social media, the environment and consumerism. (If you think parts sound a bit like Lorde it's probably because an uncredited co-writer on this song is… Lorde.)
HEART TO BREAK
by Kim Petras
You spend most of Heart To Break expecting the song, at any moment, to burst into Michael Jackson's Thriller. It's still hard to figure out how (or if) to cover The Recorded Output Of Kim Petras, but Popjustice's year end singles should kind of reflect the year's best singles, and Kim made one of them, so here we are.
SANCTIFYby Years & Years
A luxurious sexballad in which Olly Alexander discusses the ins and outs — quite literally!! — of straight men entering into Relations with gay popstars.
by Tommy Cash
Pop is all about context and it's impossible to comprehend the true power of this Danny L Harle-produced thumper until you've experienced it in the context of 25 six-year-olds smashing the living shit out of a unicorn piñata at a south London soft play centre.
RUIN MY LIFEby Zara Larsson
The ideal subtlebanger to kick off Zara's new era. Zara had some interesting and thoughtful things to say about the song when Popjustice interviewed her earlier this year. The song comes in at an efficient three minutes and ten seconds.
by Hayley Kiyoko
"I date a lot of women who are into it," Hayley told Billboard this year, "but they’re uncomfortable with society’s pressures. They’re uncomfortable with liking girls even though they do." A strong and nimble companion piece to Years & Years' Sanctify.
1999by Charli XCX and Troye Sivan
For the last few years it's seemed like Charli's plan has been to gradually bring together the two extremes of her output — the PC Music, mixtapey side, and the side that propelled her into the charts. And it felt like when she did so, the XCX Singularity would be achieved. Is that what 1999 is? No idea.
Takes a while to get going but that chorus could blast a hole in the side of a mountain.
by Céline Dion
Céline's appearance on the Deadpool 2 soundtrack wasn't without a sense of irony but between Ashes, the Black Panther soundtrack and Dua Lipa's Swan Song it feels like we're entering a new golden age of amazing songs off Hollywood blockbusters.
by George Ezra
Still 2018's most congable song. This time last year George's big comeback seemed dead in the water; all it took was to pretend Don't Matter Now — a Top 66 non-smash — hadn't happened, and to wait until 2018 to unveil this corker. This is not a time to rest on laurels, however: only time will tell how post-Brexit freedom of travel within the EU will impact the writing of George's next album.
FAST SLOW DISCO
by St Vincent
Strong Goldilocks & The Three BPMs vibes with this song's rollout: the first version was too slow, the third was too slow slow but this, the second, was just fast slow enough.
WORD OF MOUTH
by Metroplane and Bree Runway
An impressive lineup of talent on this song: along with Metroplane's Alex Metric and Aeroplane you've also got Bree Runway (will 2019 be her year? Yes it will) and writing and production credits from Becky Hill, MNEK, Ryan Ashley and Mark Ralph.
by Tracey Thorn
A big moment from Record, one of the year's best albums, and a reminder that you never grow out of getting pissed up and dancing to epic bangers. Dancefloor references various other songs — Good Times, Shame, Golden Years and Let The Music Play — all of which are on the great Inspirations playlist Tracey put together as a companion piece for her album.
by Christine and the Queens and Dâm-Funk
We've included the Palms Trax remix on the playlist because why not. The proper version's opening "CHRIS" remains one of 2018's best pop moments.
Properly kicks off at precisely the halfway point, which does support the theory that Tongue could be expanded into a two-act play, a bit like they did with Barry Manilow's Copacabana, except with more kissing.
SWEET BUT PSYCHOby Ava Max
The "run don't walk away" bit is 11/10. There seems to be some resistance to Ava Max, doesn't there? DO NOT FEAR THE MAX. You don't have to move in with her, enjoying the music is fine.
FALLING INTO ME
by Let's Eat Grandma
One of several Twenty Quid Music Prize shortlisted songs on this year's countdown, Falling Into Me is the longest song on this year's Top 45 but, in its defence, it does contain an entire album's worth of sonic, melodic and lyrical ideas.
She came, she saw, she managed to cobble nine songs together and finally finished fiddling about with that one from the Girls finale. Hard to know at this point in pop history whether points should be added or knocked off for the cowbell, really.
DIAMOND HEARTby Alan Walker and Sophia Somajo
In which one of Sweden's sharpest pop talents collaborates with a producer whose name conjures the image of a man named and shamed in the local newspaper for a regrettable incident at the town's second-largest garden centre. One of the best post-choruses all year, but how about this for an opening verse:
Hello, sweet grief
I know you'll be the death of me
Feel like the morning after ecstasy
I am drowning in an endless sea
Hello, old friend
Here's the misery that knows no end
So I'm doing everything I can
To make sure I never love again
BLOODY HELL. Here's a nice interview Popjustice did with Sophia just before the song came out.
BABYby Clean Bandit, Marina and Luis Fonsi
Young love, missed opportunities, regret, and a shout of "C'MON!". Totally Bandit.
THIS IS AMERICA
by Childish Gambino
As an audiovisual experience This Is America exists in its own space and sort of stands apart from how you'd usually judge a pop single, a point hammered home here by the ridiculousness of the year's most important single being sandwiched between Clean Bandit and 5 Seconds Of Summer.
by 5 Seconds Of Summer
5SOS returned at the start of the year with Want You Back — a not-great attempt to reposition the band's sound somewhere between Maroon 5 and the planet's dominant Spotpop sound. It didn't do very well. The band's fortunes were revived with Youngblood, which hit both its predecessor's targets while also sounding like 5SOS. (It was also 10x better, which is reflected in the song getting ten times as many streams.)
Would have secured a place on the shortlist for the sleeve alone. Also: "Laying that pipe down, neighbours saying 'pipe down'".
by Panic! At The Disco
If All About That Bass taught us anything it's that as pop consumers, one of the most important skills we can develop is the ability to reflexively skip, bin, delete or ignore any songs containing reported advice from parents. Fortunately this melodramatic party piece slipped through the net in 2018. (If you're in the mood for a frankly awful but slightly amazing arms-aloft remix, try this.)
I LIKE IT
by Cardi B, Bad Bunny and J Balvin
Hard to say exactly when the global arts journalism community decided to weaponise the idea of 'Song Of The Summer' but this was 2018's, right?
It took ages to realise this, but the magic of this song lies in the fact that it sounds like a ramped-up reimagining of about three different songs by The Sound Of Arrows. Poor uncredited Conor Maynard. :(
ALL OR NOTHING
by Naughty Boy, RAY BLK and Wyclef Jean
A song so inexplicably slept on that there have been times this year when the song's entire existence felt like a strange dream, or a pop version of the film Shazaam. Please get in touch if you too remember the time Naughty Boy, RAY BLK and Wyclef Jean absolutely smashed it.
MY MY MY!by Troye Sivan
17th best song of 2018! 17th best song of 2018! 17th best song of 2018!
THE MIDDLEby Zedd, Maren Morris and Grey
You probably saw it at the time but the New York Times did a great song diary on how this song came about. In a nutshell: 8000 different singers attempted to nail it, the whole thing took fucking ages, Zedd didn't do as much as you might think. The unlikely upshot is that one of 2018's best choruses is little more than Maren Morris bellowing over a clock. More timepiececore in 2019, please.
thank u, next
by Ariana Grande
Nathan Sykes' darkest hour. Amazing how the ability to reclaim narratives is now literally part of the Ariana narrative. What if in 2019 she decides not to, and people object? How can she respond? What a predicament!
ALL THE STARS by Kendrick Lamar and SZA
Four Grammy nominations feels about right.
Anne-Marie and Marshmello had one of the year's biggest spelling-based hits, but are banned from this list due to the bit in Friends where Anne-Marie claims the title is spelt "F‑R-I-N-D‑S". Tragic scenes. Anyway "B! (That's a fucking body) O! (That's a fucking body) D! (And I really wanna get to know you) Y!" is incredible, as is the rest of this song and as, for that matter, is the whole Glowie 'thing'.
ELECTRICITYby Silk City and Dua Lipa
The best bit is when Dua's pitched down in the chorus and it sounds like she's duetting WITH HERSELF, thus turning Electricity into a song about self love.
TOOTIMETOOTIMETOOTIMEby The 1975
Glowie's Body taught us the joy of letters, but what about numbers? Dua Lipa claimed 2017's counting crown and in 2018 the honour falls to Matty off The 1975.
A good lyric:
I swear that I only called her one time
Maybe it was two times?
I don't think it was three times
It can't be more than four times
I think we need to rewind
You text that boy sometimes
Must be more than three times
I didn't mean to two-time you
We have counting, we have relationship woes, we have some two times/two-timing wordplay. We have the whole lot.
NEEDING YOUby Lilly Ahlberg
Swedish pop person Lilly started the year with low-key slinker Bad Boys but hit total pop gold with this triumphant pensive masterpiece.
MONSTERSby Saara Aalto
If you wish to glimpse the awfulness of the British public and don't feel like turning on the news or looking out of your window, look no further than the fact that on Eurovision night their votes didn't give this dramatic banger a single point.
CHERRYby Rina Sawayama
no tears left to cryby Ariana Grande
As Wikipedia so eloquently puts it: "It is composed in the key of A minor using 4/4 time and a tempo of 122 beats per minute. The refrain is based on an Am–G–F–Am–G–F–C–Dm–Am–C chord progression, while the verses follow an A(add2)–F(add2)–G(add2) sequence. Grande's vocal range spans from G3 to G5. " Wise words.
The best song on ZAYN's Icarus Falls album? Hard to say — we started playing it last week and there are still three days' worth of songs to go.
IT'S NOT LIVING (IF IT'S NOT WITH YOU)by The 1975
"(Selling petrol)." Is there a better two-word pop moment anywhere else in this list? NO THERE IS NOT.
DISHED (MALE STRIPPER)
by Purple Disco Machine
Of all the songs on this year's Top 45 list Dished (Male Stripper) is the one most crying out for a Christmas remix with sleigh bells. So far: nothing.
NOTHING BREAKS LIKE A HEARTby Mark Ronson and Miley Cyrus
In the wild, terrible world of online pop content the good thing about leaving your end of year list 'quite late' is that songs can sneak in during the year's final moments and totally steal the show. Admittedly this doesn't usually happen, and you end up sensing that you might as well have just compiled the list mid-August like everyone else, but the arrival of this song at the end of November feels like strong vindication. Seriously, though: "This world can hurt you, it cuts you deep and leaves a scar, things falls apart but nothing breaks like a heart." What a line! This world really can hurt you, can't it? So true. The world is rubbish! But it's better with songs like this in it. Bordering on bearable, you might even say. Let's not get carried away, obviously. But maybe? Maybe pop music is the only thing that never truly lets you down?
And there we have it! It's safe to look at the playlist now.
Fancy meeting up at the same place twelve months from now to find out where Rihanna, Madonna, Marina, Carly, Selena AND FUCKING ABBA end up on the list? Great, see you then.