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First Impressions 2018 Wrap Edition: Drake, Ariana Grande, Justin Timberlake And More

Written By the interns on 12/12/2018

Well, we’ve come to the end of 2018, a year that at many times felt like it was never going to end. Drake streamed big but Ariana Grande came for his crown at the end and Justin Timberlake tanked hard, country-style. Meanwhile, Cardi B stole hearts, Maroon 5 somehow continued to win and The 1975 delivered a classic. Here’s our roundtable reviewing some of the biggest songs of the year.

Ariana Grande – Thank U Next

Reece Hooker: My song of the year. ‘thank u, next’ feels like an entirely fresh spin on break-up anthem. There’s a precarious balance going on – ‘thank u, next’ simultaneously feels gracious, backhanded, potent and tender. It sounds dreamy, luscious and gentle, which takes some of the sting out of the indifferent kiss-off in the lyrics and that’s not even talking about the wildfire viral video. Ariana Grande already earned her spot at the top in 2018, but this just further sealed it. 5

Ben Freeman: It was safe to assume with Sweetener, that Ariana was to reach the peak of her honesty and artistry, and she nearly did, until ‘thank u, next’. I can’t think of a break-up song being released in essentially real-time before; the track was a revelation. Plus, I love a good ‘sheesh’! A perfect perfect pop-song. 5

Jackson Langford: Honestly how did she do it? How. did. she. do. it? She entered the year on a huge musical high, giving us an interesting and totally fresh sounding pop record in Sweetener. Then, life happened I guess, and her way of dealing with her second awful personal year in a row was ‘thank u, next’. Not only is it easily her best song to date, it’s the best pop song to have come out in at least two years. 5

Georgia Griffiths: This song has become my brain’s hold music. Whenever I’m not actively thinking about anything it’s just playing in the background, especially the first verse. It’s been over a month now and I still love it, which is the sign of a bloody good song. Long live queen Ariana. 5

Sam Murphy: Sweetener was more than enough for me to crown Ariana one of my favourites of the year and then she had to come through with her biggest hit yet. Thank U Next is a supreme pop song that understands the mainstream is heading in the direction of throwback R&B once again. It also expertly takes tabloid headlines, screws them up and spins them into something positive. Gratitude is the 2018 mood. 5

Justin Timberlake – Man Of The Woods

Reece: It’s been ten months and I’m still convinced this is a parody song. Country blitzed into the pop world in 2018 largely thanks to Kacey Musgraves, but this one falls way short of the mark. Perhaps its biggest sin is how insincere it all feels. ‘Man Of The Woods’ sounds like a country song written by a man who finds country music embarrassing. Rather than lovingly commit in the way like Musgraves does, JT undercuts ‘Man Of The Woods’ with limp 808 drums, dated R&B coos and guitars so plastic Coles would charge per use. 1.5

Ben: Delete this song and his Super Bowl outfit from my memory. 1

Jackson: thank u, next 0

Georgia: It’s tracks like this that make me believe that we’re actually living in The Bad Place. I’m hoping JT takes 2019 off and comes back with something as far away as you can get from this. 0.5

Sam: It’s quite funny now to think that at some point in 2018 we gave Justin Timberlake attention. He was actually on the money going with country but his self-awareness is so low he went with cheese instead of grit. This is so bad but at least I get a laugh out of it now. 1

Maroon 5 – Girls Like You (Feat. Cardi B)

Reece: At some point we have to commend Adam Levine for topping charts for 15 years despite having absolutely no transcendent talent. ‘Girls Like You’ is inoffensive and toothless … until Cardi B stops by. Charisma is her calling card and with Maroon 5 as her comparative, Cardi’s flame burns even brighter. She’s barely on for 30 seconds but manages to bring ‘fugazi’ back into lexicon, address cheating rumours and close it out with a bar about masturbation. Efficient work that drags a plain Maroon 5 single into something a little better. 2.5

Ben: I don’t really have anything against straight people I just wish they would stop shoving it in our faces all the time. :/ 1.5

Jackson: Maroon 5 have been soulsucking, bloodthirsty trend hoppers for over a decade now, latching their talons onto whoever is the hottest at that point in time in a desperate cling for relevancy. The song isn’t that bad in the scheme of things, and Cardi B is largely the only reason for that. It’s the best thing Maroon 5 have done all year, and the worst thing Cardi B did all year. 2

Georgia: Maroon 5 have the music equivalent of that Benjamin Button disease. They’ve been kicking around for 20 odd years, and while Adam Levine has remained eternally youthful their music has gotten much, much worse. Cardi brings a little bit of joy to the track, and at least it’s not ‘Man Of The Woods’. 1.5

Sam: Maroon 5 know how to stay relevant, even if it took 50 famous women to give one fame-hungry man a hit. This is a very fine pop song made charismatic by Cardi B’s brilliant, sweeping verse. 2.5

Cardi B – I Like It

Reece: Cardi B does her best work when her earthshaking delivery is supported by more established foundations – be it Kodak’s flow on ‘Bodak Yellow’, Three 6 Mafia on ‘Bickenhead’, the Lauryn Hill interpolation on ‘Be Careful’. But this might be her most tasteful spin yet: Pete Rodriguez’s ‘I Like It Like That’ gets pulled from oblivion and respooled into a sun-soaked party anthem full of quotables. It features some of brilliant one-liners, some of Cardi’s surprisingly solid singing and a pair of sticky verses from Bad Bunny and J Balvin – a lock to spin all through ‘til February. 4

Jackson: Somewhere else on Cardi Bs insanely good debut album Invasion Of Privacy, she spits with her tongue firmly in her cheek “my fifteen minutes lasted long as hell, huh?”

Those who discarded her has a one-hit wonder were proven dead wrong when she achieved a feat that no other female rapper before her has ever achieved – not one, not two, but three number one hits on Billboard. The song that got her there? ‘I Like It’. An explosive colour bomb celebrating Cardi’s Latin heritage with half the song being in Spanish, it’s in your face and it gives no sorts of fucks about it – sort of like Cardi herself.

Georgia: Apparently it took seven months for this one to come together, but I’m very glad it did. It was the track that really made me take Cardi seriously. In my mind it’s probably the strongest track off Invasion of Privacy, but to be fair it’s also one of the strongest tracks released by anyone this year. Cardi has some incredible lines, and J Balvin and Bad Bunny add enough to turn it into a fully fledged summer hit. 4.5

Sam: This is the best list of liked things since These Are A Few Of My Favourite Things. The Despacito-fuelled Latin trend may have died down a little in 2018 but Cardi ran in a lane of her own with this colourful, firing cut. It’s an extremely likeable song and one that I will never forget blaring out of car windows in New York over summer. 4.5

Drake – God’s Plan

Reece: Drake has a knack for self-mythologising, but it gets a little tiresome because at his core, Drake is goofy as hell and after a while, the chest-beating feels like cosplay. ‘God’s Plan’, however, might be my favourite Drake song in years. We get the best of Drake’s big talking side, but it’s wonderfully offset by the joy of his corniest, Drake-eist punchlines. Just try not to get amped on the opening verse, then try not to laugh at lines about loving his bed and his broskis. 4

Jackson: On an album that felt as long as eternity itself, Drake’s strength lies in his singles. It’s those earworms that invade your brain and don’t leave for years to come. The earwormiest of earworms on Scorpion was ‘God’s Plan’ and that’s because, for once, it feels like Drake is being himself. 4

Georgia: This year has been so long I honestly forgot this came out. If I have to see one more Tinder bio saying they only love their bed and their mama (and they’re sorry) I’ll probably scream, but I can’t deny this is a great track. Unfortunately Drake is at his best when he’s talking himself up and not feeling sorry for himself, and that’s just what ‘God’s Plan’ delivers. 4

Sam: I was partial to God’s Plan when I first heard it but now I hate it with every fibre of my being. Drake playing the martyr in the video is so egotistical that it’s hard to believe even he didn’t find it a bit on the nose. I’ll take Nice For What thanks. 2.5

The 1975 – Love It If We Made It

Reece: Hands down, the most overrated song of 2018. To start with the good, ‘Love It If We Made It’ has a captivating sense of urgency to it, a big chorus and throwing positivity into the shark tank with bleak nihilism is engaging but god, this song makes me cringe. Shouting high-school grade philosophy into the void alongside a shoehorned shout-out to Lil Peep, with whom the band has no history, doesn’t make for profound songwriting (but at least Healy’s planned XXXTentacion tribute was foiled by deadlines). Like, this is fine but c’mon, can we chill with the Song of the Year talk? 3

Ben: I’ve been unsure for a while of The 1975 and their potential pseudo-intellectualism BUUUUUUT I actually think this track and this record has led me on the right path. I am guilty of dismissing Matt Healy’s rag-tag bunch of British boys as teen-girl-boyband fodder, but The 1975 are the real deal and 2018 proved that. Plus, ‘We’re fucking in the car, shooting heroin’ is so stupidly rock-star, I LIVE for it.

Also, teen girls create culture! Fight me about it! 4

Jackson: Literally the most hit and miss band on the planet. When they’re off, they’re so off you consider getting your ears fumigated. But when they’re on, they reach a level of musical wonder and excellence that you didn’t think was possible. There are better songs on A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships, but ‘Love It If We Made It’ is proof that this band are here to stay and here to win. 4

Georgia: I’ve never really got the appeal of The 1975, and this one doesn’t do it for me either. That being said, I’ve definitely heard worse from the band. I’m also all for teenage taste being better than mine and I am 100% prepared to eat my words in six months time if I have to. 2.5

Sam: I am currently in the process of teaching myself to like The 1975 and am succeeding. Still, this song didn’t grab me at all when it was first released. It feels very loud with little consequence and I know that’s probably what they were trying to do but I like a little resolve in my songs. The album is great, this just isn’t one of my favourites. 3

Childish Gambino – This Is America

Reece: ‘This Is America’ barely feels like a song, but more like a piece of political art. Sliding between Kumbaya guitar strums and growling bass with a cavalcade of all-star ad libs for good measure, there’s nothing conventional about it. I love that something so lacking in cohesion became such a smash even with people who, unlike me, go outside and don’t pore over stupid details in songs. With the video, it’s an unabashed 5. As a song? It’s a little too sparse to reach the same heights, but it’s still pushing enough buttons to be one of the year’s best. 4

Jackson: They say life is defined by single moments, flashes in time that fly by in the present but stay with us long into the future. As far as music, hip-hop and Donald Glover’s career goes, ‘This Is America’ is one of those defining moments. It’s a moment people will be talking about for years to come, and it’s a moment people will endlessly compare anything Glover does from now on to. But that’s okay. If you wanna go down remembered for something, you’d wanna go down for something like this. 5

Georgia: The video for this track still gives me chills. While the song alone doesn’t quite have the same effect, it was probably Gambino’s strongest offering this year. It’s also a track that I think we’ll look back on and realise that he was light years ahead of the pack. It’s topical yet catchy, unconventional but not necessarily unexpected. Donald Glover is a genius, and while the Gambino moniker might be retired soon I know whatever else he does will be just as mind blowing. 4.5

Sam: On a mainstream level this song came and went very quickly. The video is absolutely brilliant and it lifted what is also a good song. This Is America is a wickedly satirical at the state of not only America but the world and it does a better job than most songs at commenting on the flipancy of outrage. Lyrics aside, as a song I don’t think it’s as good as I thought it was when the hype for it was huge. I still think Gambino is a better visual artist than rapper or singer. Please don’t troll me for saying that. 4

Lady Gaga & Bradley Cooper – Shallow

Reece: This one’s a legitimate First Impression and what, Bradley Cooper can sing now?? It sounds pleasant enough. It’s not a world-beater that is kicking in the doors of contemporary music like some of the highlights elsewhere on this list, but it’s nice – Lady Gaga has long cemented her place as one of the best voices of this millennium and the way it builds is well-paced and finely executed. 3.5

Jackson: It’s hard to rate this song without considering the implications of its existence – that Lady Gaga, only ten years into her career, is a bonafide legend. Not legend like stans use legend – an actual legend. She’s about to absolutely sweep up award season with her performance as both an actress and a songwriter for A Star Is Born, and ‘Shallow’ is easy proof as to why. Bradley Cooper’s astounding vocals are impressive, but he’s ultimately just an accessory to help Lady Gaga, a reborn star, shine. 4

Sam: It’s still wild to me that this was a hit this year. I don’t think Bradley or Gaga saw themselves getting nominated for a Grammy with this but here we are. I think it’s because the movie is so brilliant but it also has this raw and real delivery that’s connecting with everyone. The way Lady Gaga takes off into the stratosphere at the end vocally is wild too. 4

Georgia: Full disclosure, I haven’t seen A Star Is Born yet and musicals are generally not my thing (Disney excepted obviously). As a stand-alone track though this one is actually pretty good! A lot of it has to do with the production I think though – while Gaga will always shine, Cooper is helped a lot by Mark Ronson and co. 3.5

Kacey Musgraves – High Horse

Reece: I’ve never wanted to a saloon-themed nightclub until Kacey Musgraves did this. I lambasted Justin Timberlake’s insincere take on country, but Kacey Musgraves is the polar opposite and it’s why ‘High Horse’ works. She’s a faithful student of the genre, but so smart and so talented that ‘High Horse’ is a glittery, artful piece of country-pop that could have long reverberations for music. Do you think we’d have Mark Ronson and Miley Cyrus making dancey standoff music without Kacey Musgraves? Surely not. ‘High Horse’ is immaculate, persistently fun and we might not yet have seen the full influence of it yet. 4.5

Ben: Okay, this is an actual first impression and maybe, just maybe, the hype around Kacey Musgraves is….. valid? Who knew country could be fun! Crazy! Giddy 🤠 up 🤠! 4

Jackson: There’s something that is just so alluring about Kacey Musgraves that no other country star has had before her. Maybe it’s because she has made a career of going against the grain but still remaining faithful to country music. Maybe it’s her outspokenness without cares of alienating her fanbase. Likely it’s a combination of both. But she entered 2018 with ‘High Horse’ –  a country-pop masterpiece whose legacy will live long after 2018 has ended – and she hasn’t even hit her peak yet. 5

Sam: Kacey Musgraves is the disco/country Queen we deserved this year. She’s manage to win over just about everyone but country purists, finding favour with hip-hop heads to indie snobs. High Horse is the best middle finger of the year and it’s made even better by he fact that you can dance to it under a disco ball. Mamma Mia 2 thought it had disco on lock this year and then Kacey swooped through. What a woman. 5

Georgia: I’m so around the cowboy trend that somehow became big this year. Kacey has convinced me that I definitely don’t hate country as much as I once thought I did, and ‘High Horse’ played a big part in that. While I’m sure there’ll be a new trend in 2019, her blend of country and pop has definitely changed me forever. 4.5

Janelle Monae – Make Me Feel

Reece: Long threatening to explode as a mega-star, Janelle Monáe finally feels fully formed on ‘Make Me Feel’. She pushes and pulling different sounds – the gulping spine of the song, the slo-mo explosion of a pre-chorus, the zigging synths, the Prince-evoking guitars – like a virtuoso whilst standing firmly as the centre attraction. It’s confidence, wizardry and it’s all dressed up in a dynamic, fun dance song. 5

Ben: Prince has always been cited as a intrinsic influence for Janelle, and this track symbolised an almost passing of the torch, from one queer icon to the next. From the wonky production to Janelle’s whispers throughout the entirety of it, one thing is certain; Disco is back and Janelle is running it. 4.5

Jackson: Hands down the best song of the year, and we got it so early on. Janelle Monae has always been a force within the industry, but given her general success in the wider entertainment industry over the past year or so, it was nearly cemented that her impact in 2018 would be bigger than ever. And that’s exactly what it was. A celebration of Janelle as the human she is, and all the goodness that comes with it. Her blackness, her queerness, her womanhood, her defiance of the powers that would try and tear her down. ‘Make Me Feel’ is a sonic ode to her mentor, but it truly feels like an ode to herself. 5

Georgia: It’s been a huge year for powerful female artists, but Janelle Monae has been right up there alongside Ariana and Cardi. I’ve always loved Monae and I’m stoked she’s finally been given the recognition she deserves. While Pitchfork’s copy of Dirty Computer must’ve gotten lost in the mail, even they’ve managed to acknowledge the magic of ‘Make Me Feel’. It’s a huge disco banger that I hope we’re all still hearing for years to come. 5

Sam: We may have gotten a bit down in the dumps over the past few years but 2018 was a liberating year, for music at least. Janelle kicked it off with this free-ass-motherfucker anthem that’s a radiant celebration of self. “It’s like I’m powerful with a little bit of tender,” is the mission statement of the year. What a giant triumph. 5