This year has been, well, long for many reasons — but, 2018 has also provided fodder for some of the best songwriting in recent years — even after the losses of artists like Mac Miller. The year that saw the #MeToo movement’s rise brought important, relevant music from women, queer people and people of color. From Janelle Monae to Ariana Grande to Mitski to Taylor Swift, women dominated year-end lists across the board.
Here’s Emerald Associate Podcast Editor Sararosa Davies’ best songs of 2018:
5. Haley Heyndrickx - “Untitled God Song”
2018 saw the release of not one but two songs about God being a woman. Portland’s own Haley Heynderickx released the softer one (compared to Ariana Grande’s take on the concept) on her debut album “I Need to Start a Garden.” Heynderickx’s intricate guitar playing and sly lyrics made her one of the Pacific Northwest’s best emerging artists of the year. “Maybe my God has big hips and big lips / a button she’s pressing / she speaks every language,” she sings, her voice swelling. “Untitled God Song” builds itself musically with the perfect amount of comfort and dissonance. For this song and many more, Oregon should be proud to claim Heyndrickx as its own.
4. Maggie Rogers - “Fallingwater”
Maggie Rogers has claimed a place for herself amid the top music releases of the year, and she hasn’t even released her debut album yet. The recent New York University graduate charmed Pharrell during a masterclass at school and has been releasing a unique brand of folk-tinged pop ever since. Rogers mixes folk music, almost house music-esque beats and soulful, emotional vocals on the track “Fallingwater.” Her powerful voice rises like mountains and falls like valleys, and her SNL performance of the song generates goosebumps every damn time I watch it. “Hold on, I thought I could take it from here. I thought that I was coming clear,” she sings with a full and raspy voice. “Now it’s getting harder / I’m like fallingwater.” Coming out of listening to her songs feels like shedding a skin, or even coming back to your body again.
3. Janelle Monae - “Make Me Feel”
In a year of amazing music made by queer musicians, Janelle Monae’s album “Dirty Computer” rose to the top — especially with the tightly crafted “Make Me Feel.” Using layered synth and a catchy song structure, “Make Me Feel” goes beyond just being an anthem for queer women. The song sounds uncannily like a Prince track with its beats and guitar riffs, and Monae’s yowls throughout the song are reminiscent of his vocals. (Monae worked with Prince closely, so this makes sense.) The song grows and climaxes — leaving the listener wanting more of it — as the best things in life do.
2. Boygenius - “Souvenir”
Two out of three artists in Boygenius released some of the best music of 2017 individually — so it’s especially amazing that the end of 2018 brought them together to release by far the best small collection of songs of the year. Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers and Lucy Dacus are all talented, sad and funny songwriters in their own right. But the songs they wrote together have an eeriness in their harmonies that seems altogether fleeting and long lasting. “Souvenir” is a trickling folk song that features each of the women’s strong suits: Bridgers’ devastating and somehow still humorous lyrics; Dacus’ warm voice and straightforward guitar playing; Baker’s piercing singing and presence. As their voices come together at the end of the song, a wave of calm washes over . Even if “Souvenir” ends, the feeling it generates lasts long past those last notes.
1. Mitski - “Nobody”
“Venus planet of love was destroyed by global warming / did its people want too much, too? Did its people want too much,” Mitski Miyawaki pleads on the second verse of “Nobody,” the first single from her stunning album “Be The Cowboy.” “And I don’t want your pity / I just want somebody near me.” The indie-rock artist has been bending and shaping her sound — and subsequently, the rest of the indie-music world — with her music for the last half of the decade. “Nobody” sees her extending that role even more. Over danceable beats and jiving guitars, Mitski sings about being lonely. It’s a track that seems to understand the tug and pull of the last year — from desperation to happiness to calm, and back again. This song is so truthful in its pain — you’d think Mitski was combing lyrics from your own heart, too. So go ahead, dance like nobody's watching. ‘Cause they aren’t.