Counting down the year's best, from Deafheaven to Drake and beyond

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In a year that did its best to knock you off your feet, pop music was there to pick you back up. 

In the streaming era, the single has become the dominant form of musical expression; sure, albums still exist, but in a time when even phone calls seem invasive (just text me, bro!), who has time to listen to a full album?

Or maybe that's just an excuse to justify our shortened attention spans. But in a year where artists rolled out singles with no regards for albums — Ariana Grande released "Thank U, Next" as a one-off less than three months after her album "Sweetener" was released — it's fair to say the single is what's driving the music industry today. 

With that in mind, here is my list of the year's best, most transcendent singles. There are many lists like it, but this one is mine:    

1. "Sicko Mode," Travis Scott f/ Drake: A disorienting, shape-shifting, three-part odyssey that name-checks Jamba Juice twice, "Sicko Mode" makes almost no sense, but then again, neither did 2018. Therefore, there's no better soundtrack to this year than this oddball piece of prog-rap that even after 1,500 listens still has us out like a light (like a light, like a light).  

2. "Powerglide," Rae Sremmurd f/ Juicy J: The year's most propulsive jam re-appropriates Three 6 Mafia's 2006 track "Side 2 Side," slathers it in slime green paint and peanut butter, and comes off sounding like doing 150 mph on the freeway. Buckle up.     

3. "Canary Yellow," Deafheaven: The black metal shoegazers really lightened up this year; "Ordinary Corrupt Human Love" is the group's airiest — and best — album to date. "Canary Yellow" spans 12 minutes and has lyrics about questioning the language of flowers, and it reaches its crescendo when the band kicks in late in the game for its first-ever chorus, as close to an ebullient moment as Deafheaven will ever get. 

4. "Ghost Town," Kanye West f/ PartyNextDoor, Kid Cudi and 070 Shake: Kanye West, who had a year many would rather forget, cedes the best moments on this ultralight beam to his co-stars; Cudi cuts deep with his "I've been trying to make you love me" lament, and the skies open up when 070 Shake brings down the house with her "I feel kinda free!" chorus. Kanye should continue to stay out of his own way.    

5. "Thank U, Next," Ariana Grande: Ariana Grande has been a star for years, but it wasn't until this breakup bop dropped that she finally let people get to know her. Opening up about her exes, she let people see behind the ponytail, and wound up not only launching a catchphrase and a treasure trove of memes, but notched her first No. 1 single. And you all thought it was gonna be a diss track.

6. "God's Plan," Drake: Drake is, without a doubt, the artist of the decade; whomever is No. 2 (Beyoncé, probably?) lags far behind. Drake's Midas Touch is so powerful that he can even make an inspirational banger with a cornball line like "imagine if I never met the broskees" (a shout-out to his musical and business partners) sound hot; anyone else trying to pass it off would watch their career dissipate before their eyes, Thanos-style. God's plan, indeed.    

7. "Better Now," Post Malone: Human Mountain Dew can Post Malone is a better pop songwriter than people give him credit for; "Better Now" is basically a Rick Astley song with trap drums. And that's a good thing.  

8. "Apesh*t," the Carters: The music world's most powerful couple, Beyoncé and Jay-Z, unite for a power anthem worthy of the Louvre. 

9. "Sway," Tove Styrke: Swedish pop singer Tove Styrke flows like Migos on this pop jam that's stickier than flypaper. "I don't see nothing wrong with you and me getting along," she sings. No arguments here. 

10. "Golden Hour," Kacey Musgraves: The laid back title track from the laid back country singer's fourth album is calming like a sunset, and its "I know everything's gonna be alright" refrain is comfort in a tumultuous time. It's a good message to carry forward into the new year. 

agraham@detroitnews.com

@grahamorama

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