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What happens when three young, sad-sounding songwriters join to form a supergroup? They make epically sad-sounding music with glorious threepart vocal harmonies. The union of Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers and Lucy Dacus has existed for just six months, but their soldout shows and widely acclaimed EP make us hope their fierce vulnerability continues to reverberate in the male-dominated halls of indie rock.
The seven-member South Korean boy band, around since 2013, is a global phenomenon, commanding Beatlesin-1964 levels of screaming fans, chart records and a social media empire—the most Twitter engagements for any music group. But it took until 2018 for BTS to become inescapable in the U.S.: The group’s latest album, Love Yourself: Tear, has become the first K-pop album to top Billboard’s U.S. albums chart; BTS is also the only Korean act to play a U.S. stadium.
The defiantly strange artist from Philadelphia has turned a childhood poetry habit into a surrealist hip-hop career. Her debut, Whack World, received substantial acclaim. It’s also the most unusually structured album of the year: 15 tracks (one, “Bug’s Life,” about her serious insect allergy), each just a minute long. And that rap-perfect name? She was born with it.
GRETA VAN FLEET
If you are younger than Justin Bieber but play music that sounds exactly as if it’s from 1969, you might be a member of Greta Van Fleet. The band’s debut, Anthem of the Peaceful Army, sold 80,000 U.S. copies in just one week. Detractors mock them as hollow, industry-hyped Led Zeppelin clones. Fans adore them for being old-fashioned, hard-driving Led Zeppelin clones. Either way, when’s the last time rock critics got riled up arguing about a rock ’n’ roll band?
“Bodak Yellow” reached No. 1 (usurping none other than Taylor Swift—quite a feat for an upstart rapper) in the latter months of 2017, but 2018 was the year Cardi solidified her viral-fueled ascent with her best-selling debut, Invasion of Privacy. Cardi’s aggressive flow and distinctly millennial rise from Bronx-bred stripper to rap queen inspired even politicians: Alexandria Ocasio-cortez, in celebrating her own working-class roots, quoted from “Best Life.” —ZS