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From Troye Sivan’s impending pop takeover to Ariana Grande’s definitive Sweetener anthem, these were the songs that moved the EW staff all year long.
Oh, what a difference an invisible comma makes. Though the title of Golden Hour’s gorgeously sparse ballad evokes the Steve Miller Band’s deathless yacht-rock boogie “The Joker,” it’s no midnight toker she’s talking about. “You can have
your space, cowboy/I ain’t gonna fence you in,” the singer promises a recalcitrant lover over soaring piano lines and mournful slide guitar. “Go on, ride away in your
Silverado, guess I’ll see you ’round again/I know my place, and it ain’t with you/Sunsets fade and love does too.” It might have been true romance, but her cowboy’s got too much wanderlust to stay in one area code long enough to know—and Kacey’s far too smart to believe she can make him change. —LG
The friends and neighbors in Tennessee crafted the perfect pairing of salty and sweet on this pleading, pulsating jam off Timberlake’s Man of the Woods. Marrying the pop star’s insistent melodic sensibility to Stapleton’s grounding grit takes them to a place that remarkably suits each artist. That it simultaneously functions as both feathery light and deeply introspective is an impressive feat. It’s true that sometimes the greatest way to say something is to say nothing at all, but we’re glad someone decided to say, “Let’s do this.” —Sarah Rodman
When all is said and done, you’ll believe Ariana Grande is an artist to reckon with — and one who’s gotten far less credit than she’s deserved in her still-budding career. Exuding a cool maturity, Grande came into her own this summer, in part thanks to the definitive anthem off Sweetener. This slow jam infused feminine empowerment and raw sexuality into the perfect button-pushing pop ballad for 2018, at times feeling like a sweltering stiletto piercing your chest as it drives its message home. Long after its release, it lingers. —Marc Snetiker
The first rule of Wakanda Fight Club is: Tell everyone about Wakanda Fight Club. As capo of the Black Panther sound- track, Lamar made it his prerogative to bring on top-level talent. But few tracks reached the team-swagger levels of “Dead,” an all-star banger with so much Alpine-rattling bass it should have its own curfew. Still, no cameo could match his own wild end run channeling the movie’s ultravillain. All hail King Killmonger; now bow down to Kendrick, too. —LG
Rising artist Ella Mai struck platinum with this insatiable onomatopoeic slice of ’90s-inspired R&B. Over breathy synths and clean piano chords, the British singer coos about her significant other (read: boo) by cleverly incorporating the sound a beating heart makes — “Biddy-da-do, boo’d up” — into the chorus. “It just won’t stop,” Mai says about the feelings she’s having. Same goes for the amount of times “Boo’d Up” has been played this year. —AS
Cardi B likes dollars, diamonds, shining, and exes begging for a second chance on this year’s fiery Song of Summer winner. Over the riff from boogaloo musician Pete Rodriguez’s legendary 1967 song “I Like It Like That,” Cardi (joined here by J Balvin and Bad Bunny) is in pure aspirational mode, rapping about Balenciagas and securing bags. A song so hot it comes with its own stoop party, “I Like It” will be on summer rotation long past 2018. —AS
Leave it to Drake to turn a melancholy Lauryn Hill sample (1998’s “Ex Factor”) about relationship battle scars into one of the year’s best club-ready hits. This bounce-inflected track — shout out to Big Freedia, who makes an appearance here — is Drizzy at his most fun and flirtatious. “With your phone out, snappin’ like you Fabo/And you showin’ off, but it’s all right,” he raps. Drake, as always, is here to reassure you that doing it for the ’Gram is A-OK. —AS
In a year that saw a rush of movies about the realities of young gay life — including one Sivan himself costarred in, Boy Erased — and an emerging class of trans pop stars led by SOPHIE and Kim Petras, the 23-year-old South African-born singer’s fizzy, shimmering celebration of same-sex love and desire still somehow felt revolutionary. And as he performed the song’s joyful refrain everywhere from the soundstage of Saturday Night Live to a surprise duet with Taylor Swift on the Rose Bowl stop of her Reputation tour, it started to feel like something even better: totally, unremarkably mainstream. —LG