Merry Listmas, Merry Britmas and a Happy Hanukkah to you and yours.
The year is (mostly) over. Pop music is (mostly) dead. And now, I present to you: the MuuMuse Top 10 of 2018.
As a reminder, these are the records that stuck with me throughout the year – for various reasons. I don’t care who outsold. So please, I beg: don’t bother me with a “But what about?” – unless you’re singing the Janet Jackson song. Also: I know there were plenty of other good albums this year. I know. These records just happened to mean the most to me. #SomethingMorePersonal, if you will.
Now that I’ve sufficiently yelled at you in advance for no real reason: to those of you who have stuck with me throughout the years, thank you. Sincerely. And to those of you who found me through the Britney podcast recently, thank you also for coming aboard on this journey with me and my irrelevant blog with a readership of twelve (12) gays.
Without further ado – okay, maybe just a bit more ado – here’s my Top 10. I hope that you find something you love.
10. Kylie Minogue, Golden
Released: April 6, 2018
Honestly, we did too much with this one. (Or at least, I did…at first, anyway.) Yes, Kylie heard Joanne, watched some Dolly Parton specials, then headed down to Nashville to scribe a twinkle-toed country-pop romp for the saloon. Yeehaw! While the move initially felt like a personal attack – we said our disco needs you – the album really isn’t actually all that country. It’s still glittery, and still very gay…and therefore, still very Kylie.
There are gems, including the lush ’80s sheen of “Lost Without You,” “Raining Glitter” and the self-celebratory “Golden.” The ballads are beautiful. And in concert, several of the songs go off, including the rollicking “A Lifetime to Repair.” There’s also the rather personal touch of the songwriting, including “Radio On” and “Shelby ’68.” More importantly, as she’s repeatedly expressed in interviews Golden is the sound of a re-inspired and creatively rejuvenated pop icon. And while I’m quite sure most of us are hoping the inspiration leads her back onto the dance floor again soon, it’s nice to see and hear her looking so happy while feeling this country queen fantasy, if only for a moment. Enjoy yourself, Kylie.
9. Lady Gaga & Bradley Cooper, A Star Is Born: The Soundtrack
Released: October 5, 2018
Oh. You didn’t think I’d just forget about Ally, did you? Fuck the “Shallow”: it’s all about “Why Did You Do That?” Kidding. Sort of. Mother Monster did several things with her A Star Is Born soundtrack – namely that.
From the devastating, entirely Whitney Houston-biting final song (“I’ll Never Love Again”) to her cover of “La Vie En Rose” (no doubt a loving tribute to Madonna‘s Rebel Heart Tour rendition) to the theme song from my inevitable second or third marriage (“Is That Alright?”) to the not-so-serious Pop Star Mode tracks (“Heal Me” is genuinely great!), there’s something to suit most every mood, and Gaga is singing her hair, body, face out of everything.
To quote Halsey, the film’s true breakout star: how great.
8. Lykke Li, so sad, so sexy
Released: June 7, 2018
Lykke‘s definitely gone through it over the past few years – and, evidently, discovered trap beats while doing so. The #SomethingMoreUrban version of Lykke presented to us in 2018 is a Thoroughly Modern Lykke, all while still staying true to the increasingly melancholy crooner we’ve followed for a full decade. Beyond the singles, “Better Alone” is a standout, as is the nihilistic “Sex Money Feelings Die,” although the entire record flows from start to finish, making for a perfect accompaniment to a joy – err, depression ride through the night.
7. J Balvin, Vibras
Released: May 25, 2018
J Balvin is unquestionably leading the charge in the Latinx crossover movement, and it’s exciting to watch him eat up the world. Language barrier aside (for those sensitive to such things), his hits are undeniably infectious: “Mi Gente” is so good, even Beyonce hopped on a quick remix last year. But his insane popularity isn’t what’s good about the music: Vibras is an unstoppable, uplifting collection of reggaeton-pop that offers both party-friendly fist-pumpers aplenty (“Machika” with Anitta and Jeon!) and some chiller moments – vibes, if you will, including “Brillo” with one of this year’s other best finds, Rosalía. (More of her on this list!)
Coupled with an explosion of bright, colorful visuals in both his music videos and his stage shows – his show at Barclays Arena, loosely themed around Jurassic Park, was probably my favorite concert experience of the year – he’s truly achieving the impossible: making me actively want to listen to a straight man’s music. Sky rompiendo!
6. Robyn, Honey
Released: October 26, 208
“Dancing On My Own” Robyn, this is not. Cue the meltdowns and outcries of “boring”! If you push past the dated 2011 expectations, or if you were already along for the ride during the Swedish Pop Queen’s more experimental, wonkier collaborations in the years between albums, you’d know she’s simply too strange to keep it in the glossy, radio-friendly lane. Honey is a mood – effectively the sound of a seasoned dance-pop pioneer reemerging from the depths of depression and grief and heartbreak for another moment on the dance floor – decidedly different, a little wiser, a little more somber, but prepared to embrace this moment before it’s too late. Oh: and the title track is absolutely among the top songs of the year.
5. Toni Braxton, Sex & Cigarettes
Released: March 23, 2018
Toni Braxton commands one of my favorite voices in music of all time. Admittedly, I will gladly eat up whatever she’s serving. (Her duets album with Babyface from 2014, Love, Marriage & Divorce, went criminally overlooked!) Sex & Cigarettes is a brief listen, clocking in at a tight 30 minutes. But it’s a thoroughly solid set, including – and especially – perhaps my favorite song of the year: “Long As I Live,” an instant, timeless, hypnotic, classic heartbreaker. Obsessed is an understatement: I reached to it this year with the same frequency and desperation of my inhaler in elementary school – which, for the record, was a lot. Although I don’t believe in assigning importance to the Grammys, the fact that this song, and this album, were recognized only further suggests I’m not the only one who’s got strong feelings about the record.
There are plenty of highlights: “FOH” is peak boss bitch (“Tell me who you think you are / I’m a motherfucking star” – a lyric!), while the “Coping” stands out as a subtle, sweeping crying-at-the-disco club cut. “Missin’,” too, proves that Toni can kick it with today’s cool kids – despite that the fact that she’s infinitely cooler than anyone on the radio, of course. Here’s hoping it doesn’t take her another eight years to release another solo record.
4. Utada Hikaru, Hatsukoi
Released: June 27, 2018
Watching – or, more accurately, hearing – Utada Hikaru‘s journey in this current chapter of her life is fascinating. Coming down off of the dark cloud of Fantome, Hatsukoi isn’t exactly a “return” – rather, it feels like a ray of light (hikari, if you will) poking through the darkness of her 2016 post-hiatus record. In some ways, the musical arrangements have grown more mature and complex, as with “Shittosarerubeki Jinsei” – the antithesis of her earlier pop years, really. And then, there’s something as light and free (easy breezy, if you will) as “Play a Love Song” and her R&B ode to sexual stagnation “Too Proud,” the closest thing we’ve gotten to her English material in years. As a full circle from the moment First Love propelled her to superstardom twenty years ago, Hatsukoi – “First Love” in Japanese – represents how much, and how very little, has changed. And, like so many of her records, it will forever bring me back to a very specific chapter of my life.
3. Rosalía, El Mal Querer
Released: November 2, 2018
I’ve said it before, and I’ll probably keep saying it again: Rosalía is the voice of the past and the future. Her spin on flamenco from her native Spain – mixed with a nostalgic appreciation of ’90s pop melodies and modern-day beats – makes for a rich listening experience. “Bagdad,” for instance, is an 808s & Heartbreak-esque vocoded moment based around the iconic melody of JT‘s “Cry Me A River,” sung in Spanish and riddled with religious symbolism – there’s levels to this. And that’s not even scratching the surface of her thought-provoking, in-your-face visuals, all of which reference folklore, religious iconography and art. Her live show, as well, is captivating. And that voice. She’s got a vision, and she’s only just begun (having her fun). She might have already written all the chapters of El Mal Querer but, to quote English philosopher Natasha Bedingfield: the rest is still unwritten.
2. Mariah Carey, Caution
Released: November 16, 2018
Toni isn’t the only diva who made a comeback this year.
First of all: Mariah Carey doesn’t make bad music ever, dahhhling. But Caution is really good. While Me. I Am Mariah…The Elusive Chanteuse felt a bit more ambitious in scope and sound, Caution feels effortlessly fresh – and laser-focused. It’s a sexy and entirely modern-sounding set, and certainly of her tightest, cohesively speaking, from the moody, oh-so-Mimi kiss-off “GTFO” (which would be breathlessly hailed as “revelatory” if it came from someone like, say, Ariana Grande, but that’s another story) to the ultimate dream collaboration, “Giving Me Life” with Dev Hynes (Blood Orange) – an obvious standout, complete with Babs and Marilyn shout-outs and a to-die-for outro.
There are plenty of single-worthy selections, including the slinky title track and Lil’ Kim-sampling “A No No.” “With You” – the album’s Real Lead Single – is the only song that feels less than interesting. (Naturally.) For the Lambily, closer “Portrait” paints a more introspective picture of the Imperfect Angel. Her press tour for the record has leaned in on deep cut chat and overlooked moments (#JusticeForGlitter was a wonderful surprise cherry on top), all while keeping the conversation centered around her genius songwriting prowess. (Put “Mariah Carey Wrote ‘My All'” on my tombstone.)
We don’t deserve Mariah Carey in 2018, but she’s here for us, anyway.
1. Kacey Musgraves, Golden Hour
Released: March 30, 2018
I don’t like country music. Hell, I don’t even like when my pop stars get twangy. (See my internal battle with Golden.) Golden Hour is different.
Kacey Musgraves – who I admittedly hadn’t even listened to until this year, because why would I? – is an artist I almost immediately warmed to after one initial, dubious listen. She’s a take-no-shit spitfire (and LGBTQ warrior) who seems to be rattling the country cage, and remains unbothered about blurring the genre lines to cater to her own musical taste and agenda. (A country purist might even tell you it’s not really country, anyway.)
If there ever were an album title to accurately describe a body of work this year, it’s this one: the album plays like a fleeting glimpse of the setting sun on a quiet weekend afternoon – or, perhaps, while standing back and taking in Manhattanhenge.
At its most upbeat – the sassy stomp of “High Horse” – Kacey does country-disco better than the other girls who’ve tried it before. Often, however, Golden Hour glows brightest in the stillest of moments, supplying ample space to breathe…and a Space Cowboy, for that matter. It’s a deeply soothing, occasionally forlorn, deeply romantic ride into the sunset.
There’s a bluntness and curiosity and (gulp) relatability to the lyricism that’s refreshing (and, dare I say, millennial) without ever becoming too cliche, from the FOMO-fighting “Lonely Weekend,” to the vaguely existential crisis-y “Oh, What A World,” to the devastating accuracy of “Happy & Sad”: “I’m the kinda person who starts getting kinda nervous when I’m having the time of my life,” she declares, vacillating between joy and an underlying sense of dread. And if that doesn’t accurately describe the State of Being in 2018, I don’t know what else does.
At a time when we’ve never been more overstimulated by our crazy-making contraptions, or burdened by a need for constant validation in the frenzy of social media (some of us, anyway), Kacey helped me realize something quite simple, yet profound: I’m alright with a slow burn, too.
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