Before moving into next year, Headline Planet invites you to revisit this year’s strongest hit singles. Welcome to the “Best Pop Hits of 2018” countdown.
Now in its fourth year, Headline Planet’s “Best Pop Hits” countdown works to avoid the issues that plague so many year-end lists. To avoid questions about whether a song was popular enough (or, alternatively, too popular) for consideration, we specifically focus on hits.
By focusing on success stories within the world of pop, we also avoid the impossible task of comparing songs from dramatically different genres.
To qualify for this countdown, songs must have first charted at US pop radio in 2018. They must have also reached at least the Top 20 on an official Mediabase pop airplay chart.
We then evaluated eligible songs based on quality.
20) The Chainsmokers – This Feeling ft. Kelsea Ballerini
After dominating the pop world with “Roses,” “Don’t Let Me Down,” “Closer,” “Paris,” and “Something Just Like This,” The Chainsmokers encountered marketplace resistance in late 2017 and early 2018.
Granted, some of that involved song quality. Songs like “Honest,” “Sick Boy,” and “Everybody Hates Me” are simply not as good as the aforementioned smash hits.
There was also another issue at play: identity.
Across its various releases, members Drew Taggart and Alex Pall seemed to be wrestling with a variety of questions about their positioning within the market: Should they still incorporate heavy EDM elements in their singles? Should Drew regularly sing? Should they aim more for the soft rock or rhythmic side of the pop spectrum? Should they change their lyrical voice?
In fairness, the duo did not firmly answer those questions in 2018. Its releases feature an array of sounds — and do not necessarily possess a clear, singular “voice.”
The duo did, however, rediscover how it fits into the pop music landscape. The first piece of proof came via the enjoyable “Side Effects (featuring Emily Warren).” Follow-up single “This Feeling (featuring Kelsea Ballerini)” provided a second, stronger exhibit.
Like The Chainsmoker’s biggest hits, “This Feeling” boasts an effective combination of conversational lyrics, expert pop composition, infectious (yet low-key) dance elements, inviting vocals and an interesting compositional progression. Whereas so many of The Chainsmokers’ recent songs find the band struggling with how to evolve, “This Feeling” finds the duo owning — and effortlessly communicating — who it already is.
Kelsea Ballerini’s strong vocal performance adds to the resonance. Instead of wholly relying on the “country crossover” gimmick, Ballerini delivers an energetic, charismatic performance that needs no handicap. It is a great pop vocal showing that helps make “This Feeling” one of 2018’s best pop hits.
19) Maroon 5 – Girls Like You ft. Cardi B
A song released during an era of honoring powerful women features the title “Girls Like You.” A song released in 2018 features a rap verse from breakout hip-hop sensation Cardi B.
Indeed, Maroon 5’s “Girls Like You” is a beneficiary of timing.
It is also a great song. Featuring an infectious (yet low-key) riff, an incredibly catchy chorus, accessible and memorable lyrics, and a very engaging Cardi B verse, “Girls Like You” fires on just about every cylinder.
It may not change the game. It may not meaningfully change anyone’s minds about Maroon 5’s “coolness.” It did, however, provide music fans with an enjoyable, engaging song. It did unquestionably represent one of the year’s best pop hits.
18) Shawn Mendes – In My Blood
Two strange narratives dominate the discussion about Shawn Mendes’ “In My Blood.”
One concerns its supposed similarity to the music of Kings Of Leon. Beyond being a greatly exaggerated comparison (the likeness is minimal at best), it is also a baffling one: what exactly is the goal of trying to convince people that a 2018 single sounds like Kings of Leon?
The other concerns its supposed depiction of Shawn Mendes’ maturation as a songwriter. The claim also represents a significant exaggeration (as well as an unfair condemnation of his past work); the lyrics would not feel out of place on a previous release.
Of course, the biggest issue with these narratives is not the inaccuracy. It is the fact that they divert attention from the real story of “In My Blood” — it is an excellent song.
Whereas some artists are letting “indifference” become the default emotion and “linear” become the default compositional style, Mendes and his co-writers demonstrate a laser focus on the real goal of music: storytelling.
Mendes sings with an undeniable degree of passion, honesty, vulnerability and feeling. Instead of masking emotion, Mendes embraces it. More importantly, he communicates it. Everyone listening to this song understands Mendes’ situation. Everyone listening to this song can connect.
The composition, meanwhile, features the rises and falls that truly make for a great song. From stripped verses to powerful, guitar-backed choruses, the composition does not simply provide a tune. It provides a gateway into Shawn Mendes’ world.
Collectively, the forces establish “In My Blood” as one of the year’s best pop hits.
17) Post Malone – Psycho ft. Ty Dolla $ign
“Rockstar” did not represent a dramatic departure from Post Malone’s previous releases. It did, however, dramatically alter his positioning within the marketplace. It turned Post Malone into a pop star, and thus created a significant challenge for the follow-up single.
How could the artist build on his pop momentum without alienating his rhythmic/hip-hop base?
The answer proved to be quite simple: release a song like “Psycho.”
On the surface, “Psycho” is actually less mainstream than “Rockstar.” From the lyrical references, to the production, to the melodic structure, to the Ty Dolla $ign feature, “Psycho” unquestionably feels like a native rhythmic radio hit. It may not be the edgiest hip-hop release in the world, but it certainly does not come across as a broad, soulless “sell-out” track.
And yet, there is still a pop song — and a rather great one — at the core of the record. The accessible vocals, the compositional structure, and the infectious chorus all possess clear pop sensibility. Pop radio had to play this song not because of the streaming numbers or Post Malone’s cultural ubiquity but because it is truly is what pop listeners want to hear.
It truly was one of the best pop hits of 2018.
16) Ariana Grande – breathin
Some critics and fans refer to “breathin” as the “Into You” of Grande’s 2018 album “sweetener.”
Like the “Dangerous Woman” standout, “breathin” features all the sonic qualities of a superb pop song. It features tremendous production, an absurdly catchy melody, and absolutely stunning vocals.
And while it may not be quite as well-crafted as “Into You,” it features a more commanding, confident performance from Grande. It is not as rich with “attitude” and “swagger” of some of her better 2018 releases (still to come on this countdown), but it unquestionably underscores Grande’s honest passion and legitimate superstar quality. Grande believes what she is singing, and that clear conviction makes us unflinchingly interested in hearing what she is saying.
All-at-once capable of appeasing pop fans who want straightforward, enjoyable music and critics who want a high-caliber musical performance, “breathin” is simply an excellent record. It was easily one of 2018’s best pop hits.