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Best Pop Hits of 2018: Taylor Swift, 5SOS, Khalid & Normani, Gaga & Cooper, Ariana Grande Make Top 10

“Delicate,” “Youngblood,” “Love Lies,” “Shallow,” and “God is a woman” make the year-end countdown.

Taylor Swift in Delicate | Republic/Big Machine

The new year is officially underway, but the exploration of the previous year’s best pop hits is still ongoing.

Headline Planet is proud to share the third part of its “Best Pop Hits of 2018” countdown.

The previous edition revealed that “Eastside,” “Lucid Dreams,” “Consequences,” “The Middle,” and “Whatever It Takes” earned Top 15 positions on the year-end countdown. The inaugural chapter confirmed “This Feeling,” “Girls Like You,” “In My Blood,” “Psycho,” and “Breathin” as Top 20 hits.

Today’s iteration identifies the songs that occupy positions #6-#10. The new wave includes singles from two of the year’s most popular albums, two excellent collaborations, and a popular band’s best release ever.

As a reminder, songs must have debuted on the pop radio airplay chart — and ultimately reached the Top 20 — in order to qualify.

10) Ariana Grande – God is a woman

Thanks to her exceptional voice, great ear, clear musical identity and proclivity to collaborate with strong writers and producers, Ariana Grande simply does not make bad music.

Some songs do, however, stand far taller than the rest. Those songs generally find Ariana Grande exuding confidence, swagger and attitude. They find her telling a story or communicating a message rather than merely singing a song.

“God is a woman” is one such example.

The hit, Grammy-nominated single does not simply project Ariana Grande’s talent. It presents her as an undeniable global force. It confirms her status as a legitimate superstar.

As gorgeous as it is sonically, the real beauty of the vocal performance is the extent to which it is packed with personality. This is not merely Ariana Grande paying homage to the idea of “female empowerment” — this is Grande epitomizing the idea of a strong, confident, powerful woman.

While the dynamic, attitude-rich vocal showcase is both a breath of fresh air and the key to the song’s success, the songwriting and production do their part to keep “God is a woman” hot. This is a song that resonates.

To adapt to the streaming age (which gives fans instant access to songs, thereby “aging” them more quickly), Grande’s team has begun releasing her music to radio at an unusually fast pace. “God is a woman” launched before previous single “no tears left to cry” had completed its run, and follow-up singles “breathin” and “thank u, next” hit radio before “God is a woman” had concluded its own journey. As a consequence, “God is a woman” did not receive an enormous amount of time in the spotlight.

It nonetheless hit #1 at pop radio, earned a Grammy nomination, and established itself as one of the year’s best pop hits.

9) Lady Gaga & Bradley Cooper – Shallow

If not for its role in the hit film “A Star Is Born,” Lady Gaga & Bradley Cooper’s “Shallow” probably would have never hit pop radio. What a travesty that would have been!

“Shallow” is mainstream music at its finest. Individually, Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga deliver raw, powerful, emotionally meaningful performances. They leave no doubt that they feel and care about what they are singing.

Collectively, they demonstrate an incredible amount of chemistry. In an era with so many “strategic” (yet ultimately ill-fitting and disjointed) collaborations, it is wonderful to experience one that feels real. They may be playing roles in the movie, but the two entertainers demonstrate a clear, organic connection on the record. They deliver the right version of a duet — one in which the sum is greater than the parts.

Due to an unfortunate stigma about the pop viability of raw, stripped ballads, “A Star Is Born” did not fare as well at pop as it did at hot adult contemporary. It nonetheless cracked the format’s Top 20 — and proved to be a big hit from a consumption standpoint.

It also unquestionably represented one of the year’s best pop hits.

8) Khalid & Normani – Love Lies

Despite technically being a “soundtrack single” (from the film “Love, Simon”), “Love Lies” was immensely important to the career trajectories of both Khalid and Normani.

For Khalid, it was his chance to demonstrate resonance with mainstream pop fans. Khalid had already scored solid overall hits in “Location” and “Young, Dumb & Broke,” but neither fared exceptionally well at pop radio.

For Normani, it was her chance to establish herself as a star outside of Fifth Harmony.

Given the undeniable quality of the song and the unquestionable strength of each artist’s performance, “Love Lies” proved to be the pop hit both artists needed.

As an overall record, “Love Lies” possesses the perfect sound for the modern music climate. Fairly low-key and “vibey,” the production fits into the relaxed, “cool,” rhythmic-driven sound that has become so popular with music fans.

Thanks to its intoxicating riff and dynamic composition, it nonetheless represents an exceedingly striking and memorable tune. It may not be over-the-top, but it is rich with energy and excitement. It is a song that instantly — and lastingly — grabs listeners.

Performance-wise, Khalid offers his smoothest, most alluring, most refreshing vocal showing yet. Self-assured yet vulnerable and unique yet familiar, Khalid quickly welcomes listeners into the song’s world.

Normani meanwhile justifies all the hype (and hope) about her viability as an independent superstar. The artist receives a bigger chance to “own” a verse than she ever received in Fifth Harmony, and she completely makes the most of it. With her slightly raspy, rather smooth, incredibly engaging, and wholly confident vocal delivery, Normani takes the song — and her career prospects — to the next level.

Together, the artists demonstrate legitimate spiritual chemistry. They do not simply sound good together; they “vibe” together. The end result is one of 2018’s best pop hits.

7) 5 Seconds Of Summer – Youngblood

For those who grew up listening to “Warped Tour”-esque pop-punk, 5 Seconds Of Summer’s decision to release and record a pure pop song like “Youngblood” may have been disappointing.

Those who actually listened to “Youngblood” are definitely celebrating the band’s decision. “Youngblood” is by far the most organic, most interesting, and most enjoyable 5 Seconds Of Summer single to date.

“Youngblood” is a near-perfect pop song. The lyrics are relatable. The vocal is engaging. The instrumental production is superb.

The chorus, meanwhile, absolutely embodies the notion of “catchy.” Whether bopping along to the beat or screaming along to the lyrical hook, pop fans from around the world surely found themselves connecting to the infectious chorus.

Over the past few years, music analysts have engaged in a debate regarding 5 Seconds Of Summer’s ideal niche. Do they appeal to power-pop/pop-punk fans? Are they more of a pop-rock band in the vein of early Maroon 5? Are they simply a “boy band” with instruments?

With “Youngblood,” the band proved that line of thinking irrelevant. This type of song — and the type of band that can make this type of song — should not be relegated to or defined by a niche. This is simply a great, universally enjoyable hit song. Those who like music have to at least appreciate (if not love) what 5 Seconds Of Summer put together.

What the band put together, by the way, was one of 2018’s best pop hits.

6) Taylor Swift – Delicate

Taylor Swift is nothing if not sincere. Everything she releases communicates her real, honest voice. Everything she releases utterly screams “Taylor Swift.”

That unwavering, unequivocal authenticity prompted an interesting discussion around her “reputation” singles “Look What You Made Me Do,” “Ready For It,” and “End Game.”

On the one hand, they did not sufficiently capture her strengths as a performer or storyteller. They did not thoroughly reflect what the marketplace truly wants from the artist.

On the other hand, they were still authentically and undeniably “her.” Criticizing the songs, therefore, felt like an exercise in telling Swift not to communicate what she truly needed to communicate. It felt like a requirement that Swift only be true to herself if her “truth” adheres to a specific, rigid template.

Fairly or not, the former perspective seemed to win out. The aforementioned three songs were all reasonably successful in a broad sense, but they underperformed (in terms of commercial longevity, lasting ubiquity and audience reception) by the standard Swift established with her previous “pure pop” hits.

Fourth single “Delicate” avoided the debate — and bucked the album’s commercial trend. It simultaneously offered a vivid, honest portrayal of Taylor Swift and aligned with marketplace sensibility. Unsurprisingly, it became the standout performer of the “reputation” album era.

Sonically and spiritually, “Delicate” completely represented the newest iteration of Taylor Swift’s emotional state and musical identity. It aligns with the previous “reputation” singles to a better extent than it does any of her past hits. It, in no way, represents a regressive “return to her roots.”

It simply does a better, less polarizing job of communicating Swift’s truth. The lyrics are Swiftian songwriting at its finest: sharp, clever, accessible and conversational. The melody is gorgeous and inviting, and the production is modern and immersive.

In short, it pairs everything that makes Swift’s music timeless with everything that makes modern smash hits timely.

“Delicate” ultimately served as the final radio single from the Grammy-nominated “reputation.” In addition to ending the album’s promotional campaign on a high note, that Swift’s ability to connect with listeners undoubtedly persists. As long as Swift provides the right musical vessel, listeners will eagerly transport into her emotional universe.

“Delicate” offered that ideal vessel. It was one of 2018’s best pop hits.

Written by Brian Cantor

Brian Cantor is the editor-in-chief for Headline Planet. He has been a leading reporter in the music, movie, television and sporting spaces since 2002.

Brian's reporting has been cited by major websites like BuzzFeed, Billboard, the New Yorker and The Fader -- and shared by celebrities like Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber and Nicki Minaj.

Contact Brian at brian.cantor[at]headlineplanet.com.

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