It’s alive! IT’S ALIVE! P&J has risen from the grave!
à la Anthony, here’s my P&J ballot, slightly tweaked from my Uproxx ballot, along with points and comments.
1 Jeremy Dutcher, Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa (23) – Jeremy Dutcher’s marriage of his classically trained vocals and composition with 100+-year-old recordings of his First Nations tribe in New Brunswick is unlike anything I’ve ever heard. The power in both Dutcher’s tenor and the way in which he’s arranged his music and these vintage Wolastoqiyik recordings in dialogue is stunning, and shocking, and so emotional. His being openly two-spirit just renders this all the more powerful; I don’t speak this language, but can’t help but be moved. God bless Canada’s Polaris Prize, which, upon awarding this year’s accolade to Dutcher’s debut album, introduced his work to legions of people, including myself.
2 Me’shell Ndegeocello, Ventriloquism (21) – Me’shell Ndegeocello, one of America’s trickiest and smartest R&B reconstructionists of the past quarter-century, may have outdone herself on her thirteenth album. She took a stack of some of the best R&B singles of the 1980s and reverse-engineered them, turning these digital, largely synth-laden marvels (in their original form) into analog songs suitable for the campfire. Some of her re-arrangements here are shocking, such as the way she gives Force M.D.’s’ “Tender Love” the Harvest treatment, but every one of them works, thanks to the unifying power of Ndegeocello’s vocals and the love pouring from each re-versioning.
3 Kacey Musgraves, Golden Hour (10) – It took Kacey Musgraves’s CMA Awards performance of “Slow Burn,” in November, to open this record up for me beyond the “country for people who don’t like country” bullshit hype. And I’m glad it finally happened, because goddamn the songwriting here. And — much less credited, but no less deserving — her singing! The epitome of gorgeous.
4 Pusha T, Daytona (9) – Say what you will about the year in Kanye, but at least he gave Pusha T his best work in 2018, producing an incredibly tight, taut album for the rapper of the year. I’ll stack Daytona up against We Got It 4 Cheap — either volume.
5 Mariah Carey, Caution (9) – Welcome back, Mimi. Working with 10 different producers across 10 different tracks? Smart. Knowing how to best use your voice across these songs? Smarter. And your songwriting? Smartest. Not to mention that as great as “GTFO” is, it’s not even the best track on Caution: that award goes to the “Crush on You”-twisting “A No No,” which sends me into paroxysms of glee with each and every play.
6 Hubert Lenoir, Darlène (7)
7 Emery, Eve (6)
8 Kamasi Washington, Heaven and Earth (5)
9 Toni Braxton, Sex & Cigarettes (5)
10 Tracey Thorn, Record (5)
1 “End Game” – Taylor Swift feat. Ed Sheeran & Future – I didn’t care much for Reputation (and loathed its first single, “Look What You Made Me Do”), can’t stand Ed Sheeran, rarely find Future pleasurable, and am no fan of Max Martin nor any of his proteges. So what the fuck is this doing as my single of the year? Frankly, I’m as surprised as anyone. “End Game” is the exception that proves every rule, a collision of musical elements I generally can’t stand that, somehow, works as a sum. T-Swift sounds sincere, I love the song’s sentiment, the synth chords behind the chorus sound gorgeous and expensive, the too-loud-but-so-right drums sound delightfully cheap — and honestly, you know when Sheero is at his least annoying? When he’s rapping. Really. I first heard this on top 40 radio just after the first of the year, and nothing ever topped it. I’m befuddled that this flopped.
2 “GTFO” – Mariah Carey – Not just the source of a million Gay Twitter™ memes in 2018, “GTFO” is also Mariah’s best single since “Touch My Body,” and maybe even longer. Nineteen85 somehow flips a Porter Robinson sample into a delicate R&B record, Mariah smartly sings against the beat, and when she sings the “get the fuck out” chorus, of course I believe her. I’m befuddled that this flopped.
3 “joy.” – for KING & COUNTRY – Spent a lot of 2018 dealing with depression and anxiety, and “joy.” truly provided what it promises in its title. A trop-house record by a pair of Aussie brothers/Christian music superstars — with a 100-person choir on its chorus, no less — shouldn’t work. But this does more than work; it felt life-changing. At a minimum, every time I heard “joy.” this year, it was mood-elevating, better than an antidepressant.
4 “Long As I Live” – Toni Braxton – The natural follow-up to her 2013 Babyface collabo. Parent album Sex & Cigarettes rides the coattails of this sterling, heartbreaking single. Her voice is still devastating.
5 “Back & Forth” – MK, Jonas Blue, & Becky Hill – “Back & Forth” fills my USDA requirement this year for uplifting-as-fuck hit-the-floor piano house. Becky Hill sounds like Lorde if Lorde had really gone for it in her bid for the dancefloor, and Marc Kinchen is of course a legend. He can do this shit in his sleep, but luckily for us he doesn’t; he puts much more effort into it, crafting perfect 3:30 pop singles out of house heaven.
6 “Come e Baza” – Titica feat. Pabllo Vittar – Titica’s hips really don’t lie; neither do Pabllo Vittar’s. And the fact that this high energy team-up single by an Angolan transwoman and a Brazilian drag queen was a huge smash in Brazil, in a year when the country elected a new head who makes 45 look moderate, means plenty.
7 “The Story of Adidon” – Pusha T – The year’s finest hip hop single was made by the same guy who made the year’s finest hip hop album, but “The Story of Adidon” doesn’t feature on Daytona, because this was Pusha T’s sharpest, most on-target arrow in his musical feud with Drake. And when was the last time you heard a beef single this good? “Ether,” maybe? Over the track of Jay-Z’s “The Story of O.J.,” Push lacerates Drizzy with surgical precision. “Adidon” is shockingly brutal, and 100% on point.
8 “Lady” – Yubin – Yubin, the former rapper for K-Pop girl group legends Wonder Girls (RIP), returned in 2018 with a total surprise, going full-on city pop on her debut solo single. And of course, as the Wonder Girls were always the masters of successfully executed retro styles, it works like crazy.
9 “APESHIT” – The Carters – a/k/a Beyoncé’s “I can rap, too, motherfuckers” moment, even if her husband got the most quotable lines — “Tell the Grammys fuck that 0-for-8 shit” — but then again, Bey did tell us to “get off [her] dick,” so maybe it was a draw? Also, the year’s best Migos single.
10 “Nice for What” – Drake – More than any song on my list, this got better every time I heard (or watched) it, all year long. I love the use of Big Freedia (though I dearly wish the label credit on this had read “Drake featuring Big Freedia” — how amazing would it have been to see THAT ruling the Hot 100 for eight weeks), I love that BOOM! bassline, I love the stupid sped-up Lauryn sample, and I love that for once in his life Drake is neither a) posturing nor b) whining. It makes MY ass jump, too. And the video rules.