Commercially speaking, 2018 wasn’t a
great year for the representation of women in music. Once again, the top 10s – Spotify, Billboard and the like – are dominated by men. But some of the most interesting, most boundary-pushing, and best music of this year came from women. In our opinion, women made all the best albums this year; from Ariana Grande, who made the best album of her career thus far, to Cardi B, whose star shone brighter than any man in rap, to Camila Cabello, whose solo debut surpassed expectations. These are the ten best albums of 2018.
10. Camila Cabello Camila
Latin music continued its upward swing in 2018, and Camila Cabello successfully integrated
Cuban and reggaeton into her post-Fifth Harmony coming-out with a confessional, singer-songwriter aesthetic. Cabello mixes up the templates that brought so much success to Carly Simon, Celia Cruz, and Pharrell into a modern style all her own. And let’s not overlook that after the most famous group from The X Factor, One Direction, failed to produce any solo hits that stormed the charts in the way Cabello has; she has proven herself to be an unexpected champion. Looks like going her own way really paid off.
9. Brandi Carlile By The Way, I Forgive You
What does the real American think in the age of Trump? There’s no one better to ask than Brandi Carlile. She’s a gay woman, a mother, and now a multiple-Grammy nominee who dropped an album full of American folktales early in the year. From examining the war on opioids with painful intimacy on “Sugarfoot” to addressing the marginalization of bodies and people in “The Joke,” Carlile has proven herself to be the voice and the witness we all need in a very dark hour indeed.
8. Mitski Be the Cowboy
Indie rock doesn’t have a long history of making stars out of women, and when it does, it’s quick to tear them down and diminish their contributions (we’re looking your way Cat Power and Santigold). Mitski created an album with those ideas in mind, though her eyes were on society as a whole rather than one genre of music. After being hailed a darling, she wrote a slew of songs featuring women characters who are fully in control of and at the center of their stories. Loneliness and power collide in songs that are detached yet personal. On it, life is horrible and deliriously wonderful, all within the matter of a few bars. In a word, it’s real.
7. Robyn Honey
Robyn’s much-anticipated follow-up to 2010 masterpiece
Body Talk was the undisputed critical darling of the year, but it’s also a fascinating archeological project for pop fanatics. As she’s been working on it since 2014, it follows a major shift in pop music production preferences over the last four years. It also details a significant breakup with her romantic partner and their reconciliation. Combined, Honey documents an evolution that is both musical and psychological. That’s the very definition of heightened pop; once again, Robyn manages to elevate the genre, finding the art in the form.
6. A Star Is Born Soundtrack
Rarely does a soundtrack album of original songs stand up on its own without the picture; but it’s also rare that a performer and songwriter of Lady Gaga’s caliber is writing and singing the thing. 2018’s biggest tearjerker movie brought us not only the surprisingly good debut of
vocalist Bradley Cooper, amazing songwriting by Lukas Nelson, and exciting production by Dave Cobb, but some deeply emotional songs from Lady Gaga all written as her character, Ally. Some songs, like “Shallow,” “Always Remember Us This Way” and “Maybe It’s Time” are such superb examples of songwriting they could exist without the film. But to get that punch in the gut that “I’ll Never Love Again” brings, you have to go on the journey of Ally and Jackson.
5. Lykke Li so sad so sexy
There is always some new frontier for Lykke Li to explore, and with her latest, she comes out of the valley of sadness that nearly swallowed her last two LPs. That’s partly thanks to her significant other, and the producer of this album, Jeff Bhasker (Miguel, Rihanna) who finds a way to lead her closer to the hip-hop influences she’s played with but never been able to fully embrace. She’s still less than satisfied, examining all the cracks in her relationship, but this time Li with a very different method of vocal delivery, and music, one more indebted to late ‘90s and early ‘00s rap. It’s an unexpected turn and a clever way to examine some very adult problems.
4. Ariana Grande Sweetener
Expectations were high for Grande’s fourth LP, and she rose to the challenge and then some. Grande elevates her game, working closely on many tracks with Pharrell, stating an intention to go somewhere new musically. Rather than creating sad laments after the life-changing trauma of the Manchester terrorist bombing at her concert, Grande welcomes in the light with all the optimism she can muster. Not only does she tap into the cultural zeitgeist by singing and writing songs about her high-profile (and ultimately short-lived) relationship with
Pete Davidson, but she reinforces her stance on feminism and a dash of her signature silliness. “ Thank U, Next ” was the little extra hit that could, proving Grande found her sweet spot in 2018.
3. Cardi B Invasion of Privacy
No one has had a bigger year than Cardi B. And her swagger on
Invasion sounds like she knew it was coming. In a year when rap’s ascendency into the mainstream was 99% male, it’s nice to see a distinctly feminine point of view come through. While her crossover moment with “I Like It” was a bit softer, she kept it hard with her original crossover hit, “Bodak Yellow.” Cardi’s irrepressible and larger-than-life comes through on every track, setting a new standard for what a successful woman in rap looks and acts like.
2. Kacey Musgraves Golden Hour
Country radio may have forsaken Musgraves on this album, but everyone else was totally onboard, and with good reason. While her dance into the land of disco-inspired production hit the spot for a Mamma Mia! -doused year in pop culture, it was all a little too girly for the genre who can barely be bothered to give women airplay. Their loss is everyone else’s gain, though, because this glitter-covered fantasy of an album brought is a cadre of songs to fall in love to and created a model for a healthy relationship. Between “Butterflies” and “Slow Burn,” who wasn’t falling in love with Musgraves this year?
1. Janelle Monae Dirty Computer
As a whole album, no one came close to touching the experience that Monáe crafted on
Dirty Computer. It’s a concept album (with matching concept film) that explores her feelings of marginalization both as a Black and queer woman, along with messages of revolution and acceptance. Monáe pulls some big guns as collaborators, from her late mentor Prince to the creative brain trust behind the Beach Boys, Brian Wilson, to pop outsider Grimes. The whole album is a career-best for Monáe, who has been on a winning streak in both acting and music; Dirty Computer recontextualizes the idea of “having it all.”
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