100 Songs, 2018
As the fourth decade I can remember winds down, I’m increasingly okay with not hearing or engaging with everything that might be great, choosing instead to stick by my idiosyncrasies and letting curiosity lead me down rabbit trails where my peers won’t often follow. The result might be a year-end list of singles even more disconnected than usual from what the English-language media consensus, or the even more parochial consensus of my Twitter timeline, has embraced, but every one of these songs has given me a lot of joy over the course of the past year, and the older I get the less I’m willing to ask for more than that from popular music.
I hadn’t run the stats until writing this introduction, so I was surprised to learn that thirty-one countries and nine primary languages are represented here (not counting creoles or the various West African languages which contribute to Nigerian afrobeats, which I count as primarily English). I would have expected it to be less, since I’ve been self-consciously less adventurous in trying to draw from all parts of the globe. English is still the most dominant language — 42 of these hundred songs are at least partly in English — but Spanish and Portuguese together match that number, and the rest is filled out by Mongolian and French, with one contribution each from Thai, Arabic, Zulu, and Japanese. This is the first time since 2010 that no K-pop has appeared on one of my year-end lists, less because I thought K-pop fell off this year than because, after several years of random, cursory engagement, I simply stopped trying to keep up. My attention has been more and more consumed by Latin, African, and Caribbean musicians making captivating, unpredictable pop in a wide variety of modes. Reggaeton, kizomba, afrobeats, dancehall and Brazilian funk are all functioning at a pinnacle of creativity just now, and Anglophone listeners unwilling to notice that due to linguistic parochialism or the shiny distractions of the pop-culture discourse du jour are only giving themselves more homework to do once they finally catch up to the rest of the world.
That’s one way to look at it, anyway. Another is that everyone only has so much attention to go around; if I’m not listing your favorite pop song of 2018, there’s a very good chance that it’s because I haven’t heard it. I’m not claiming that these are the best songs of the year, whatever that means — only that they’ve given me a lot of pleasure, and maybe they’ll give you some too.