The ballots are in (all two of them), and the year’s best singles are officially in the books. 25 songs that represent this past year, as judged by me and Robert Levy. Our annual Best Of list is a tradition that started in 2001, a banner year for pop music (“Bootylicious,” “Get Ur Freak On,” “Family Affair,” “I’m a Slave 4 U,” “Get the Party Started,” and “Can’t Get You Out of My Head,” just to name a few). And with each subsequent year, Robert and I have carefully compiled a playlist of contenders and winnowed them down every December — this year from a batch of 180 worthy singles down to the preeminent 25 you see here.
Much has been said about #20GayTeen, starting last December with Hayley Kiyoko’s christening of 2018 as a break-out year for out-and-proud queer artists. Lesbian Jesus was right. The number of openly queer artists on our list far outpaces any previous year. We’ve always looked to champion openly gay artists on our “Best Ofs” — George Michael, Beth Ditto, Frank Ocean, La Roux, the Scissor Sisters — as well as others like Elkland and Lady Gaga who occupied the “I’m-kinda-queer” nether-zone. But the music industry has been notably unsupportive of artists who openly talk about their sexuality, despite the culture shifting a couple decades ago. It started in mass media with “the gay ‘90s.” And with the rise of YouTube and social media stardom in the ‘00s, we saw queer personalities who made no apologies for their affect, their obsessions, or their point of view.
This year, the music industry caught up. By my count, 10 artists on the 2018 list proudly don the #20GayTeen mantle. Azealia Banks, Héloïse Letissier (Christine and the Queens), Janelle Monáe, Brandi Carlile, Kim Petras, Troye Sivan, Tove Lo (a self-proclaimed “hobby lesbian”), Tyler the Creator (ok, maybe he’s in the nether-zone), ALMA, and Kevin Abstract of BROCKHAMPTON. (It also seems to be a banner year for ALL CAPS artists.)
Other notable trends: our first ballot for the year’s best resulted in 15 songs/artists, and only one of them (Troye Sivan) was male. There’s usually a female skew to our Best of list, but this year, the moment and the music belonged to women — defiant, unapologetic, angry, and assured. Janelle Monae said it best: “move back, take a seat, you were not involved / And hit the mute button / Let the vagina have a monologue.”
A couple of the best-of worthy tracks that got away: Charlotte Gainsbourg, “Sylvia Says”; Kendrick Lamar and SZA, “All the Stars”; Sia/Diplo/Labrinth, “Thunderclouds”; Anna Calvi, “Hunter”; Snail Mail “Heat Wave”; Lion Babe “The Wave”; Ryan Beatty, “Camo.” They’re all on the extended “Contenders” playlist.
Best track for walking around the city with headphones on: Robyn, “Honey”
Best of the many singles this year that sounded like a Haim cover: Maggie Rogers, “Light On”
Best cover of a “Best of” track: Miley Cyrus and Mark Ronson “No Tears Left to Cry” on BBC Radio 1
Best song that I wish Sophie Ellis Bextor would cover: Kacey Musgraves, “High Horse”
Best song that I never would have heard if not for Spotify Discover: Kississippi, “Cut Yr Teeth”
Greatest disparity in brilliance of a music video to a song that’s just aiiight: Childish Gambino, “This is America”
Favorite lyric of 2018: “Whatever goes around eventually comes back to you / So you gotta be careful, baby / And look both ways before you cross my mind” — Bootsy Collins on Kali Uchis’ “After the Storm”
So there you have it. Nominations for Best Of 2019 are officially open. Will Sky Ferreira finally release that long-rumored album? Will Rihanna follow through on her Insta announcement of new music dropping soon? I peg both with 50-50 chances, but we’re definitely saving a space for them on next year’s Best Of. See you here next December.