Summer 2018 music recap

Wesley Stenzel, Staff Writer

The summer of 2018 produced an eclectic array of popular music, as many successful artists created and released their most ambitious projects yet. The commercial king this summer was Drake, whose massive 25-track album “Scorpion” spawned two of the biggest tracks of the year, “Nice for What” and “In My Feelings,” the latter of which inspired a prolific dancing meme.  The album also featured a posthumous collaboration with Michael Jackson on “Don’t Matter to Me.” Meanwhile, Kanye West released five albums over the course of five weeks, including “Ye” and “Kids See Ghosts,” and Post Malone’s hour-long “Beerbongs and Bentleys” blends hip-hop with rock and pop. These three artists’ high-volume projects signify the evolution of the music industry in the era of streaming, as mainstream musicians become more willing to experiment with extended album lengths for both artistic and commercial purposes.  

Cardi B was arguably the biggest female artist of the summer, despite the fact that her album released in January. Her own song “I Like It” capitalizes on almost every major popular music trend: rap verses, ridiculous beat drops, heavy Latin American influences (including two guest verses entirely in Spanish from Bad Bunny and J. Balvin), and samples of yesterday’s hits––specifically Pete Rodriguez’s 1966 song “I Like It Like That (A Mi Me Gusta Asi).”  Cardi B was also featured on one of the season’s biggest pop songs, Maroon 5’s “Girls Like You.” Her inclusion in the song marks a departure from the typical style of the band, who had previously only included one rap feature across their five previous albums. While the song may be a testament to Maroon 5 trend-hopping, “Girls Like You” remains a victory for Cardi B’s pop career.

Perhaps the most significant musical moment of the summer was Childish Gambino’s “This is America. Gambino released the politically-charged video on the same night that he hosted and performed the song on “Saturday Night Live.” “This is America”’s video grapples with police brutality and American racial tension, while the song itself draws heavily from both trap and gospel roots. The video was both a critical success and a viral phenomenon, and inspired a plethora of memes that made the song inescapable for the better part of the summer. 

The summer wasn’t entirely dominated by hip-hop, though, as established pop acts evolved in surprising ways. Ariana Grande unexpectedly teamed up with Pharrell to create Sweetener, an R&B-tinged album that produced her pop hit “No Tears Left to Cry.” Charlie Puth released his surprisingly funky second album “Voicenotes,” featuring 80’s-inspired singles such as “Attention” and “Done for Me” that made substantial waves on pop radio. Similarly, Shawn Mendes’ self-titled third album showcases his evolution as a songwriter with the rock-inspired “In My Blood” and the funk-influenced “Lost in Japan” as well as collaborations from Ed Sheeran and John Mayer. Australian pseudo-boyband 5 Seconds of Summer also released their third album “Youngblood,” which managed to beat Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s surprise album “Everything is Love” in sales and traded pop-punk sensibilities for a new indie-pop style.

The most critically-acclaimed project of the summer was Janelle Monáe’s Dirty Computer. Monáe’s tightly-produced album draws from a wide variety of genres including pop, R&B, hip-hop, and funk. “Dirty Computer” navigates topics like race, sexuality, and politics without ever becoming heavy-handed or overly pessimistic, and features contributions from Pharrell Williams, Stevie Wonder, Grimes, and the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson. Expect multiple Grammy nods for Monáe when nominations are announced in January.