It took me until the first week of March 2019, but I’ve finally written down my thoughts on my favorite albums from 2018. I’m not a big believer in ranking art in the classic “top ten” style lists, although perhaps that stems from my chronic indecisiveness. Here are some of the albums I loved in 2018, listed in no particular order. (And check out my Spotify playlist featuring 100 of my favorite songs of the year).
A STAR IS BORN SOUNDTRACK by Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper
When I look back on 2018 ten years from now, I will think of “Shallow”. A STAR IS BORN and its corresponding soundtrack were released in October, but “Shallow” absolutely CONSUMED MY ENTIRE BEING for those final three months of the year. We’re just over two months into 2019, and the entire soundtrack has now earned squatters rights in my brain forever. I simply cannot stop singing “Shallow”. In fact, my #ShallowCult and I recently sang “Shallow” TEN TIMES during an all-you-can-sing karaoke session. But that’s not the only song that slaps on this album! “Alibi” is the ultimate fuck you, bad boy rocker anthem. Bradley Cooper’s grisly Jackson Maine voice is enchantingly sexy. He’s doing Eddie Vedder better than Eddie could dream of doing it! Lady Gaga delivers an unforgettable performance to close out the film (and soundtrack) with “Never Love Again”, a Whitney-level ballad that strikes you with emotion at every turn. However, it’s “Is That Alright?” that may well be the best ballad on the soundtrack. Initially not in the final cut of the film (tgod for that encore edition!), it shone through after just one listen of the full soundtrack. The ASIB SOUNDTRACK makes me weep. In the best way.
BE THE COWBOY by Mitski
On BE THE COWBOY, Mitski delivers a master class on love, longing, and vulnerability. On her fifth and best studio album, Mitski has fully realized her storytelling ability, creating a series of vignettes that capture a world of emotion. On “Nobody” she croons of loneliness over an upbeat tempo. She’s sad and lonely, but she doesn’t ask for pity – she’d rather “one good movie kiss”. Maybe it’s not a permanent cure, but it’ll do the job. What girl growing up in 21st century America can’t relate to this feeling? I like to think of “Nobody” as a sequel to “Lonesome Love”, which appears earlier on the album. On “Lonesome Love”, she wonders why she is “lonely for lonesome love” – pining for a man who by her own acknowledgement cannot satisfy her. The lyrics “nobody butters me up like you, nobody fucks me like me” are my favorite two lines of the year. Mitski made feeling lonely empowering! We stan a sad queen!
BE THE COWBOY has the most clarity of any of Mitski’s previous albums. The fuzziness and multi-layered vocals are noticeably lacking. Everything feels precise, purposeful. Mitski fans rely on her to express our emotions for us. Looking back on this album with a 2019 lens, I can’t help but wonder if she related to Jake Gylenhaal’s character in VELVET BUZZSAW when he exclaims, “I am not your mouthpiece!” Whether she feels that pressure or not, I don’t know – what is clear, however, is that Mitski remains ahead of her peers as an indie songwriter.
DIRTY COMPUTER by Janelle Monáe
2018 marks the year Janelle Monáe finally let us see (and hear) Janelle Monáe. All of her studio albums prior to 2018’s DIRTY COMPUTER were concept albums told from the POV of her alter-ego Cindi Mayweather, an android messiah for the city of Metropolis. On DIRTY COMPUTER, Monáe finally gives fans a glimpse into her real world. It came as no surprise that while shedding her alter-ego, Monáe was also able to come out as pansexual. DIRTY COMPUTER perfectly mimics this period in her life – open and carefree. “I Got The Juice (feat. Pharrell Williams)” perhaps emulates that feeling better than any other song on the album – its equal parts uplifting and bravado. When she performs this song live, Monáe calls fans onto the stage to dance, asking them if they have “the juice” before giving them a dance solo – an uplifting part of the performance for both those fans lucky enough to get called on stage as well as those of us who remained in the crowd. “Make Me Feel” has resulted in even more comparisons of Monáe to her late mentor, Prince. And while the comparisons are valid (the guitar hook on “Make Me Feel” has very strong Prince vibes), make no mistake – Janelle Monáe is incomparable. DIRTY COMPUTER is Monáe’s true introduction to the world, and I cannot wait to see what else she has in store for us.
GOLDEN HOUR by Kacey Musgraves
I don’t often listen to country music, but I when I do it’s usually because of a really talented woman or women (read: Dolly Parton, Dixie Chicks, Loretta Lynn, Wanda Jackson etc.) – Kacey Musgraves is no exception. GOLDEN HOUR is one of the smartest albums of the year – and perhaps one of the best country albums of the decade. A few years ago, someone told me to check out Kacey Musgraves because they thought I’d like her lyrics, and boy were they right. She is one of the smartest lyricists in pop and country music. The brilliance of “Space Cowboy” gets me hyped every time I listen to it. The way she takes a classic phrase and completely changes its meaning with a simple pause! It’s !!!! But it’s not just the lyrics that have me yee-hawing my way to and from work everyday. The music is beautiful. “Rainbow” came on while I was driving, watching a classic California sunset and I just started crying. I guess Kacey Musgraves is to me what Joni Mitchell was to Emma Thompson’s character in LOVE ACTUALLY; She teaches me how to feel.
THIS IS AMERICA by Childish Gambino
It’s hard to think of an image that defined 2018 more than that of Childish Gambino in his video for “This Is America”, the standalone single that mainly touches on racism in the U.S.. It was the music video that sparked a thousand think pieces. And while Gambino’s stance with the song and video may not have been especially groundbreaking (when compared to many black female artists who have been producing and creating this kind of art for years), it felt important. Be weary of any white man who INSISTS that you watch this video. But if you do live under a rock and haven’t seen the video yet, you can watch it here.
MAKE MY BED by King Princess
King Princess debuted her first single “1950” in 2018. The song an ode to Patricia Highsmith’s 1952 novel THE PRICE OF SALT, which was the inspiration for the 2014 film CAROL. At just 19 years old, King Princess brings a refreshing, young, queer perspective to the world of pop music. Her first EP, MAKE MY BED, is a warm and soulful collection of songs. “Talia” radiates confidence with an ease not expected from such a young popstar. All five songs on the EP are oozing with an effortless amount of cool and sophistication. I’m excited to see what more King Princess has in store for us.