The musical landscape on 2018 packed a solid punch — from new beginnings (Cardi B’s debut) and follow-ups (Charlie Puth and Zayn Malik’s sophomore records), to big screen scorchers (‘Black Panther’ and ‘A Star is Born’) and long-awaited comebacks (Lil Wayne’s ‘Tha Carter V’.) As the year comes to an end, we take a look back at 18 of the most buzzed-about albums to hit the shelves in the past 12 months.
1. Black Panther: The Album (February 9)
It’s hard to believe ‘Black Panther’ came out this year — 2018 has been an exceptionally long moment for pop culture — but the soundtrack remains a solid favourite. Thanks to producer Kendrick Lamar and friends, the record is evocative, contemporary and laced with the heart-thumping, tug-of-war tension that made the film itself so great.
2. Cardi B – Invasion of Privacy (April 5)
Arguably the best debut record of the year, Cardi B delivers a no-holds-barred introduction to who she is and what she’s about. The album takes turns being deliciously combative and uncompromisingly triumphant, with the creme de le creme of features, from Migos and Chance the Rapper to Kehlani, Sza, Bad Bunny and J Balvin.
3. J Cole – KOD (April 20)
J Cole’s fast-spitting record is filled with earworms and catchy hooks, though lyrically, it’s been polarising. Are J Cole’s warning messages preachy and recycled, or are they right on time? For a record only 12 tracks long, ‘KOD’ sure got people talking.
4. Janelle Monae – Dirty Computer (April 27)
Janelle Monae’s ‘Dirty Computer’ is an unabashedly candid and decadent album. A retro celebration of self-love and resistance to the status quo. Monae’s juxtaposition of joyful funk-pop beats against technological metaphors and a thread of sensuality creates a titillating listen, from start to finish.
5. Charlie Puth – Voicenotes (May 11)
Where Charlie Puth’s debut album ‘Nine Track Mind’ failed to impress in 2016, ‘Voicenotes’ hits a home run. Puth sheds his cookie cutter pop persona to take more creative risks and experiment with his smoky, versatile vocal tone. The result is a persevering pop record that is as timeless as it is current.
6. Shawn Mendes – Shawn Mendes (May 25)
Shawn Mendes’ third album is his self-titled one for a reason: The polished Canadian pop star finally comes into his own, delivering a mostly cohesive record that is in turns vulnerable (‘In My Blood’) and audacious (‘Queen’). Mendes goes from bumbling pop hopeful to a sturdy contender in the singer-songwriter arena.
7. 5 Seconds of Summer – Youngblood (June 15)
The reason ‘Youngblood’ works so well is that 5 Seconds of Summer has finally abandoned the pretence of being a pop-rock revival act and embraced a fully pop-tastic identity instead. The Australian lads have certainly gained new ground — and new fans — with this endlessly danceable album, worthy of a contemporary boy band.
8. Panic! at the Disco – Pray for the Wicked (June 22)
Fresh off a stint on Broadway in ‘Kinky Boots’, lead singer Brendon Urie crafts a celebratory — and very loud — record about wiping off the sleaze of showbiz and emerging victorious. Blissfully free of deadweight ballads, it brims instead with the relentless anthems of a self-made man. The band’s most put-together album in a while.
9. Travis Scott – Astroworld (August 3)
The much-awaited ‘Astroworld’ delivers the goods and then some, as Travis Scott welcomes us into his strange and experimental world. From chill vibes (‘Stargazing’) to multifaceted smash hits (‘Sicko World’), Scott manages to be both restrained and ambitious, reaching new heights of creativity without breaking a sweat. Plus, the features on this record are a dream — Frank Ocean, Kid Cudi, The Weekend, Drake and James Blake are just the tip of the iceberg.
10. Mac Miller – Swimming (August 3)
Tragically, 26-year-old hip hop artist Mac Miller died only a month after releasing ‘Swimming’, arguably his most cohesive record to date. The album is a tranquil attempt at working through the pain of being human, with Miller’s 13 tracks unspooling slowly like a roll of gauze. His storytelling is straight-shooting and relatable, solidifying him as a voice that could stir even the most detached of listeners.
11. Nicki Minaj – Queen (August 10)
On Nicki Minaj’s compelling fourth album ‘Queen’, the rapper plays more defence than offense. The record refuses to ease into its meatier tracks, instead delivering a handful of hard-hitters right off the bat, including ‘Majesty (ft Eminem)’ and ‘Barbie Dreams’. If anything, it simmers down halfway through with pleasantly bubbling tracks like ‘Run & Hide’ and ‘Chun Swae’.
12. Ariana Grande – Sweetener (August 17)
Can we all agree that, as far as pop stars go, 2018 belonged to Ariana Grande? The hitmaker has been more committed to being herself than ever before, and nowhere is that more evident than on ‘Sweetener’. The delightful album possesses the front-to-back listenability of an instant classic, with the added contemporary bite that comes with Grande being a 20-something pop idol.
13. Lil Wayne – Tha Carter V (September 28)
Lil Wayne goes straight for the jugular with the opening track ‘I Love You Dwayne’, which features his mother Jacinda Carter tearfully lavishing her son with affection and pride. It sets the tone for the 22 self-assured tracks that follow, reminding us why Lil Wayne is inimitable, baring his soul and all his hard-earned triumphs through word-heavy monologues and irresistible melodies.
14. Lady Gaga & Bradley Cooper – A Star is Born (October 5)
Yes, Lady Gaga’s sensitive acting in a ‘Star is Born’ was raved about, but did any of us know Bradley Cooper could sing like that? With enough raspy cynicism to fill voracious stadiums, Cooper knocks it out of the park as the weathered rock legend Jackson Maine. ‘Black Eyes’ and ‘Alibi’ are rock ‘n roll gold, making this soundtrack as compelling as the film that inspired it.
15. Robyn – Honey (October 26)
Layering soft and honeyed stories of heartbreak on top of upbeat melodies, Robyn indulges in the electropop stylings of the 90s and delivers us ‘Honey’, the sticky sweet, EDM-infused lollipop record of our (nostalgic) dreams.
16. Imagine Dragons – Origins (November 9)
Rock has been in sharp decline lately. But if anyone’s been keeping the genre alive — unpretentiously and without animosity — it’s Imagine Dragons. Frontman Dan Reynolds knows exactly how to craft a rock record that’s sincere enough to stick. ‘Origins’ is the band’s fourth album in six years, but there’s no sense of fatigue — neither for the band nor their audience.
17. Little Mix – LM5 (November 16)
‘LM5’ is a more surefire record than the band’s previous efforts, with the foursome’s confident vocal delivery and rich harmonies sidling up to the forefront. The record swings between headstrong (‘Woman Like Me’) and resilient (‘The Cure’), to friendship-focused (‘Told You So’) and sensual (‘Wasabi’, ‘Notice’). At points, ‘LM5’ feels disjointed and out of order, but it delivers more than a handful of repeat-worthy tracks.
18. Zayn Malik – Icarus Falls (December 14)
Zayn Malik has nothing to prove on his sophomore record, ‘Icarus Falls’. Unlike the mishmash of energy on 2016’s debut ‘Mind of Mine’, this year’s follow-up hears Malik settling more serenely into his own voice. 27 tracks deliver romantic declarations, stylistic odes to his cultural roots and mementos of his illustrious career. An overall measured record, with well-placed bursts of sentimentality in between.