Headline Planet began its “Best Pop Hits of 2018” countdown by revealing that “breathin,” “Psycho,” “In My Blood,” “Girls Like You,” and “This Feeling” earned spots in the Top 20.
Today, it continues by exploring songs #11-15. Featuring songs by Imagine Dragons, Zedd, Camila Cabello, Juice WRLD and Benny Blanco, chapter two addresses the importance of songcraft, creativity, honesty, vocal prowess, and energy in mainstream music.
As a reminder, eligible songs must have first charted at pop radio — and ultimately hit the Top 20 — at pop radio in 2018.
15) Imagine Dragons – Whatever It Takes
In recent years, the music market has developed an unfortunate aversion to fun, intense music. It views “intensity” as “uncool.”
Thankfully, Imagine Dragons “EVOLVE” album offered a counter to that absurd notion.
By combining catchy pop melodies, soaring instrumentals and frontman Dan Reynolds’ relentless vocals, the album yielded music that restored “life” and “spirit” to an often lifeless mainstream music landscape.
“Whatever It Takes,” the final proper single from the album, perfectly encapsulates that energy and intensity. It is pump-up music (a modern day “Jock Jam,” if you will) that does not feel too corny for mainstream radio.
The key to that balance is the band’s organic approach to music. The band (and Reynolds’ vocal delivery) can certainly get loud and over-the-top, but it always knows when to flip the switch. It accordingly makes music that is dynamic, compelling, and inviting. It means something, and thus connects.
Rich with that impressive quality, “Whatever It Takes” was one of 2018’s best pop hits.
14) Zedd, Maren Morris & Grey – The Middle
As “The Middle” began to conquer the music market, media outlets published features about its genesis.
“The Middle,” it turns out, went through a lengthy development process. Numerous high-profile women recorded demos. A few were actually selected as the official vocalist, only for various issues to ultimately prevent the song’s release.
In short, “The Middle” endured a long road before the final version hit the market.
A disillusioning window into “how the sausage is made,” the story offered a reminder that the music industry is one of strategy, calculation, politics and business decisions. It is not always about “art” in the purest, most idealistic of forms.
And yet, the music industry should be so utterly thankful that “The Middle” went through such a lengthy development cycle. The final product — featuring Maren Morris as the vocalist — is an absolutely excellent record.
Morris delivers the epitome of a powerhouse performance, demonstrating confidence, swagger, emotion and resonance in her vocals. Many amazing vocalists – some with far more “pop” experience – have recorded dance-pop hits, but few have ever sounded this commanding and sincere. She completely owns the song, and had the stories not emerged, no one would have ever doubted that Morris was the original vocalist.
The vocals, when combined with strong production, an endearing melody, the crescendo-minded composition and the “repeatable” lyrics, make for an absolutely fantastic musical experience. They make for one of the best pop hits of 2018.
13) Camila Cabello – Consequences
For many reasons, it is nearly impossible to believe mainstream pop artists who claim that they do not care about charts or commercial success. They pretty obviously do.
It is easy, however, to believe that Camila Cabello wants to achieve success the right way. Crushing the stigma associated with mainstream pop artists, Camila has demonstrated an unwavering passion for communicating her honest feelings, authentic personality, and unique vocal style in her music. Her Grammy-nominated debut album “Camila” may feature big-name producers and cowriters, but it is not an anonymous collection of radio fodder. Every song bears the unmistakable signature of Camila Cabello.
Both as a song and as an official single selection, “Consequences” reflects that same commitment to truthful, soul-bearing artistry.
Commercially, “Consequences” was far from an obvious single choice. The stripped ballad is not conventionally radio-friendly. And insofar as it only received a modest iTunes gain after a performance on “Good Morning America,” there was legitimate reason to believe it wouldn’t connect with the masses.
But while it may not have been an obvious radio hit, it was unabashedly communicative of Camila’s credibility as an artist and talent as a performer. Every lyric and every note offer an unfiltered window into her heartbreak.
Like the best musicians, Camila does not tell us how to feel. Rather, she incites feelings by letting us see a mirror of our own pain and yearning in her story.
Barring a miraculous development in early 2019, “Consequences” will not go down as a major “smash.” It did, however, find a passionate, supportive audience — in large part because it filled a need for real, powerful, emotionally vulnerable pop music. It also gave us a more vivid understanding of — and respect for — Camila Cabello.
As a consequence, it ranks as one of 2018’s best pop hits.
12) Juice WRLD – Lucid Dreams
In recent years, many artists, fans and critics have begun to notice (and discuss) the blurring of genre lines.
This notion of a “monogenre” or “unigenre” typically carries a negative connotation. It refers to how artists are releasing mediocre, uninspired pop songs to country or modern rock radio, in the process neutering what makes those formats unique and special.
There are, however, some positive examples of the concept. There are instances of artists drawing from various genres to create something totally fresh, unique, and compelling. Juice WRLD’s “Lucid Dreams” is one such example.
“Lucid Dreams” does not neatly fit into any single genre — or any conventional conception of music. The artist, at times, sounds like both Post Malone and Tom DeLonge. The production layers the riff from Sting’s 90s adult contemporary tune “Shape Of My Heart” over a hip-hop beat. The melody and beat are that of an accessible, broad, fun pop song, but the lyrics foray into rather dark and “emo” territory. Indeed, “Lucid Dreams” is riddled with superficial contradictions and diverse inspirations.
The end result, however, is an absolutely fantastic song. It makes listeners feel and care, while simultaneously making them want to bop their head or even dance. It instantly positions Juice WRLD as a special, memorable artist capable of making special, memorable music.
“Lucid Dreams” offered proof that there is an upside to the “monogenre.” It was also one of the best pop hits of 2018.
11) Benny Blanco, Halsey & Khalid – Eastside
For his debut radio single as a named artist, successful songwriter and producer Benny Blanco could have attempted a big, risky move. He could have tried to loudly communicate that Benny Blanco, the credited artist, is remarkably different from Benny Blanco, the behind-the-scenes hitmaker.
Instead, he did what he has done for many years: he made a great, catchy, memorable pop song.
Co-written with Ed Sheeran and Happy Perez, co-produced with watt and Cashmere Cat, and sung by Halsey and Khalid (who are also credited as writers), “Eastside” fits the template of a typical Benny Blanco record. Rather than attempting to make a “bold” statement, it makes an important one: Benny Blanco makes fantastic music.
Featuring gorgeous production, an endearing melody, meaningful lyrics and stunning vocals, “Eastside” is a straightforward – yet excellent – pop song. As real, honest and relatable as it is sonically engaging, “Eastside” is proof that great music stands on its own. It does not need the support of gimmicks or theatrics.
“Eastside” was certainly one of 2018’s best pop hits.