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First Impressions 2018 Wrap Edition: Post Malone, Ariana Grande, Nicki Minaj And More

Written By Sam Murphy on 12/20/2018

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.

Post Malone – Better Now

Jackson Langford – Look, pre this record I was a bit of a Post Malone nay-sayer. Some of his comments on hip-hop (a genre of which he is a part of) rubbed me the wrong way and I always saw him as sort of gimmicky. Nothing like an album called Beerbongs & Bentleys to prove someone isn’t a gimmick, and nothing like ‘Better Now’ to lead that charge. It’s this strange combination of pop, emo and hip-hop that I really can’t get enough of. 4

Haydn Hickson – Before beerbongs & bentley’s dropped earlier this year, Post Malone proved he could do two things: belt his way through a trap-infused power ballad and effortlessly flex on earworms. Better Now sits somewhere in the middle. And in this middle-space, Malone compromises his strengths to create a song that’s simply… fine. With lyrics so generic they can literally be applied to any past relationship ever and an instrumental that is perfectly on trend with 2018, this song happily sits in the background. No one’s changing it when it’s on, it doesn’t really evoke emotions – it’s perfect for any Spotify playlist with heavy rotation. 3

Holly O’Neill – I was never really anti-Post Malone, like he can lead a pretty alright banger and “Better Now” was totally one of those. But I could never truely get behind the grubby chic, face tattooed, white rapper movement, and felt it so difficult to properly distil my thoughts into a cohesive reason. Until I read this S C A T H I N G Washington Post review that just jacked my reasoning to 100 and christened 2018 the year I stopped taking Posty all that seriously. Sorry m8, also wow a tour footage video…. groundbreaking 3

Ti Butler: Better Now is absolutely fine, and if you’re okay with listening to music that is a solid “3 out of 5”, then Post Malone is the artist for you in 2018. I guess I’m just struggling to find some compelling story around Posty, something that makes him stand out – something that makes me want to get behind him. 3

Sam Murphy: I actually think the melody of this song is really great, it’s just I enjoy it much more when other people are singing it. 2.5

Calvin Harris – One Kiss (Feat. Dua Lipa)

Jackson – Calvin Harris really just climbs from strength to strength. The man rarely hits a low point as his illustrious career keeps hitting new notches and surprising us at every turn. Dua Lipa’s sensual and fierce voice fits nicely in this retro-inspired pocket Harris has made with ‘One Kiss’, and overall it’s a pretty enjoyable banger. 4

Haydn – What do you get when you pair a producer that can do no wrong and the world’s next pop-princess? A literal banger. Calvin’s evolution from piercing electronic synths towards disco-fusion results in a Groovejet-esque pop track that’s simultaneously perfect for the dancefloor and for throwing your hands outside a car window on a 35-degree day. Dua may have had multiple high-profile collabs this year, but this one was hard to overlook. 4

Holly – Honestly how does Calvin do it? Obvs he’s the king of dance music reinvention, but he just decided to kick off his old-school-house-meets-pop-gloss era with a Dua Lipa collab that inadvertently became the song of year? His mind, so powerful. 5

Ti: I was mortally offended that this, the perfect summer pop tune, was released immediately before our winter, meaning we’ve had to wait until now to be able to pair this song with the season it’s made for. Pleased to have Calvin back after that Funk Wav Bounces Vol 1 era. 4.25

Sam: When I first heard this song, it sounded to me like it went absolutely nowhere. Then I played it more and more and then a little more and then it jumped out and became the song of the summer. Harris’ take on house music this year was so refreshing and hearing Dua on something so explicitly dance is really cool. It makes me want to day party in Ibiza and I’ve never had a desire to do that before ever.

Zedd – The Middle (Feat. Maren Morris)

Jackson – The NYT article about how this song was made was far more interesting than the end result. 2

Haydn – Watching the New York Times’ behind the scenes video on how this song was made had me high-key shook. With the sound of Zedd’s car blinker light opening the track and the sample of an axe hitting wood right before the drop – we have to be thankful that so many musicians had their hand in on this song. It is – and I cannot stress this enough – a perfect pop song. It’s no wonder finding a vocalist was so difficult when Sarah Aarons’ demo was pretty perfect to begin with. We can only hope that she gets the Grammy she truly deserves next year. 5

Holly – Most of the song is that kind of generic level, played out style of EDM pop that plays with heaps of negative space and is full of odd samples. You know the type. But that chorus just elevates the entire track and just gives me goosebumps levels of pop bliss. 4

Ti: An instant classic. Sarah Aarons is one of the best pop writers of our generation. Stunning vocal from Maren Morris, and beautiful crisp production.  4.5

Sam: Zedd and Sarah Aarons are one of the most unexpected but fruitful partnerships in music. This is what we like to call a perfect pop song and the youth will study it one day. 4

Ariana Grande – God Is A Woman

Jackson – If it weren’t for a certain post-breakup anthem that dropped last month, this would’ve been my favourite Ariana song to date. Not only is it a glorious and unashamed ode to feminism, but it shows you don’t have to be a ‘sex icon’ per se to sing about sex. It’s a gorgeous and empowering record that was just one of the many heights Ariana reached this year. 4.5

Haydn – When the music video for God is a Woman dropped, it became painfully clear that Ariana Grande, did in fact, “run pop”. On this feminist trap banger Grande embodies girl-power referencing legends and serving you some of her best vocals to date. Low key I’m going to go to the Sistine Chapel and be disappointed that Grande isn’t up there on the ceiling. Whether she’s turning tragedy into beautiful art or flexing her personal growth in a ridiculously mature way – Ariana Grande is the hero we don’t deserve. 4.5

Holly – Self assured, powerful and anthemic, this is one of Ariana’s most culturally iconic tracks to date. Indicative of her Sweetener era, it’s full of earworm melodies and future facing pop production, and all about owning your strength and sexuality. All things I am very about. I never thought I’d be an Arianator but let’s just say 2016 wasn’t the only year of realising things. 4.5

Ti: I was meant to be writing something about this but I just ended up watching the video four five six seven consecutive times. It’s the kind of truly iconic song that comes along for an artist maybe once every one or two albums, except Ariana has put three such songs on the same album (God Is A Woman, breathin, and No Tears Left To Cry). Ariana is so far ahead of the game it’s not even funny. 5

Sam: My least favourite Ariana Grande single of the year is also one of the best songs of the year. From start to finish God is a woman has this force behind it like absolutely nothing can get in its way. When Grande takes off serving those vocals at the end, she’s saying, “everyone else go home.” 4.5

Kanye West – I Love It

Jackson – I hate myself that I enjoy this song as much as I do. 3

Haydn – The Lil Pump feature, the Minecraft costuming, the premiere at the Pornhub Awards – It’s official, Kanye West the rapper has died, Kanye the clout-chaser is alive. This song marks the death of a legend at its worst and is a mediocre ringtone at its best. 1.5

Holly – A mess, a joke, and an eyeroll of a banger. I feel like without the context of Kanye and Lil Pump, with all their fame and clout and drama, this song would have totally flopped. But looking at everything that’s happened this year to Mr West and Mr Pump, the track is almost like a weird comment on the level of bullshit celebs can get away with and still be seen as boundary pushing artists and bold trendsetting creatives. 2

Ti: I’m just hearing this for the first time writing this, and… this pile of shit has actually been included in this article? Of, like, the best songs of the year, that we need to reflect on? Shitty and unimaginative from start to finish. Please find below the screenshot from our Interns group chat where I learned that this song was “a thing”. 0


Sam: There were points this year that I thought I really liked this song. It was a weird year. 2

Anne-Marie – 2002

Jackson – Much like the titular year, I remember nothing of this despite just listening to it. 2

Haydn – 2002 walked so that 1999 could run. 2

Holly – …who? 1

Ti: 99 Problems came out in 2004 though. 3

Sam: You guys are such haters and Ms. Marie deserves better than that. This is a bop. Sure none of the references actually make sense but this song could’ve been so corny and she pulls it back from the brink. 3.5

Troye Sivan – My My My!

Jackson – AN ICON. Much like my situation with Malone, didn’t really understand Troye pre-this year. I thought his debut record was kind of lacklustre, but now it seems he has truly found his own. Bloom is an unapologetically queer record and ‘My My My!’ booms whenever you hear it. It shows that pop doesn’t have to be cookie-cutter, and nor do popstars, as Sivan is clearly doing things on his own terms and it’s never been better. 4

Haydn – It seems like only yesterday one-octave Sivan was swallowing his happy little pill and look at him now! Troye’s thrust into the Billboard spotlight has shown he truly, truly deserves it. This song is not only hot and sweaty but vulnerable at the same time – which is high key me every time I go out. Pass the poppers, let’s go to gay clubbing, I want this on loop. 4.5

Holly – Wow, this year Troye Sivan really came into his own hey? He channels pure euphoria on this track, with every element from the production to the backing vocals adding to an overwhelming sense of joy. Gorgeous video, amazing track and positive representation for twinks everywhere, bravo! 5

Ti: To repeat my critique from when this was initially released: “I’m not really into boys but Troye can do whatever he wants with me.” 4.75

Sam: I really didn’t think Troye had it in him but he came through with his, what I like to call, Green Light moment. I say that because he ignored all the mainstream pressure and made something that sounds like his DNA. It’s a gigantic pop song that only Troye could’ve made. 4.5

Kendrick Lamar & SZA – All The Stars

Jackson – Look, when you put the creators of two of the best albums of 2017 on a song together, and have it lead the soundtrack for one 2018’s best movies, how did you think it was going to sound? 4.5

Haydn – I wanted to like this song so badly, but with DAMN. and Ctrl still on loop on my phone – this song didn’t really compare to its predecessors. I am a big, big, big fan of both these musicians but this song kind of sounded like their talents and creativity were being compromised for the sake of the charts. 2.5

Holly – I feel like this collab was hooked up by the label, and pitched as two huge cult rap/rnb stars coming together for a breakthrough top 40 single. And that corporate, cookie cutter feeling just holds back a collaboration that honestly should have been incredible. It pacifies all the unique idiosyncrasies and specialness of SZA and Kendrick into a very meh, overly palatable single. It’s okay I guess. 3

Ti: Of course, this was never intended for Kendrick’s core audience, was it. Every now and then, if you’re in hip hop, you need to have a huge mainstream crossover to remind everyone else you’re still top of the game. Teaming up with SZA, for the Black Panther soundtrack? That’s exactly how you do it. 4

Sam: I feel like this has been hyped up as the year went on but I stick by my opinion that it’s disappointing given the two artists on this. It’s the most generic thing they will do and while I still love it, I’m going to need something more next time they meet. 3.5

Nicki Minaj – Barbie Dreams

Jackson – It’s been a very weird, weird, weird, weird year for Nicki Minaj, but nonetheless Queen demonstrated why she is, well, the queen. ‘Barbie Dreams’ is an oddly empowering flip on a pretty misogynistic song, and literally not one person is safe. 3.5

Haydn – Before I decided that Nicki Minaj was cancelled given her collab with 6five-whatever and all that went down with Cardi, I stanned this song. Rehashing the flipping-male-oppressive-tracks-and-turning-them-into-feminist-anthems formula, Nicki Minaj’s 3rd single was controversial and actually pretty funny. The track uses a chilled out Notorious B.I.G instrumental for the first half before her aggressive, hyper-sexual flow blasts in at the end. The song is really good, it’s a shame her ethics aren’t. 4.5

Holly – Look, I’m not even going to start talking about Nicki’s personal life and politics this year bc Yikes so let’s just talk about the track. Well….. It’s cute and fun, love the playing up of her being a sex symbol, tongue in cheek rap is always gr8. That end minute and a half though, I want a whole track of That pls. Overall both sections left me wanting more, just listen to ‘Chun Li’ instead. 3

Ti: Really takes off when we hit that three and a half minute mark and Barbie takes over, doesn’t it. 2.75

Sam: I was gasping the first time I heard this. Nicki Minaj did so much shit talking this year when all we really needed was Barbie Dreams. She’s not taking herself too seriously and it’s so amusing that some of the people she mentioned in this did take it too seriously. That DJ Khaled line is one for the books. We need more of this Nicki. 4

Bhad Bhabie – Gucci Flip Flops

Jackson – Say what you want about Bhad Bhabie as a person, but it’s getting tiring seeing people deny that she has talent. Is it a gimmick? Too early to tell. But I’m happy being along for the ride anyway. 3.5

Haydn – Like the rapper that features on this track, Bhad Bhabie’s personal brand is much stronger than the music she creates. I don’t think Bhad Bhabie’s music is necessarily bad – I’m just waiting to be wowed. Her lyrics and her flow – ghost-written or not – show promise, so we’ll just have to see what 2019 brings. 2

Holly – Why is David Spade in this music video? 3.5

Ti: iunno, Jackson, “it’s getting tiring seeing people deny that [Bhad Bhabie] has talent” is a pretty massive call from someone who gave Zedd’s The Middle a 2. Because the thing is, she does have talent; I can see what she’s doing, I intellectually “get” it, I get the skill she has, I just don’t think what she’s done with her ability is very good or compelling. 2, in retaliation for Jackson giving The Middle a 2 earlier on, because otherwise I would have given it a 2.25 or something

Sam: Hating on Bhad Bhabie is easy but you know what’s easier? Admitting that Gucci Flip Flops is a bop. 3.5