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The Most Poetic Lyrics We Heard in Pop Music in 2018

Photo courtesy of Flickr user David Lee.

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It’s undeniable: 2018 was another huge year in music history. From record-breaking releases, to the interstellar rise of young talents such as Post Malone, Cardi B, and Billie Eilish, to the utter domination of Drake by way of streaming, it’s been a super interesting ride that has continued into 2019.

There’s no doubt that pop music has given us a lot of musical taffy to chew on, both intellectually and emotionally — and a lot of it came in the form of lyrics. So before we move on and fully set our sights on what’s to come in the future (summer festivals, new releases, new shakeups in the industry), we wanted to take a last moment to revisit those intellectual and emotional moments that made us stop and say, “Wow.” Here are our favorite pop lyrics of 2018.

Billie Eilish – “Bitches Broken Hearts”

Writers: Billie Eilish, Emmit Fenn, Finneas O’Connell

This soft, dreamy song is a beautiful tapestry of an ex who hasn’t quite let her go as he claims. Lines such as the following help to secure the song a place on this list, with its poetic imagery and unexpected rhyme schemes:

“Everybody knows,
You and I are suicide and stolen art (oh yeah),
Pretty moments sews,
Stitches into all your bitches’ broken hearts.”

Drake – “God’s Plan”

Writers: Aubrey Graham, Ronald LaTour, Daveon Jackson, Matthew Samuels, Noah Shebib, Cardo, Yung Exclusive, Boi-1da

Drake has been known for throwing powerful lyrics down over his equally ripping beats for years. In 2018 he released “God’s Plan” which spent 26 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100’s coveted top 10 spot, straight up dominating the charts, and breaking his own record for longest consecutive streak at number one. And, of course, who could forget the iconic pass-off line:

“She tells me do you love me,
I tell her only partly,
I only love my bed and my mama I’m sorry.”

If it’s about moms, it sounds like poetry to us!

Mitski – “Nobody”

Writers: Mitski, Patrick Hyland

Indie rocker Mitski joins our list with her hit song “Nobody,” from her 2018 album, Be the Cowboy. The lyrics are beautiful and deep, albeit saddening. Her statement about change not being the solution for someone to want her strikes a chord with many. And the song deals with themes of loneliness, isolation, and longing for what we often take for granted.

“I’ve been big and small,
And big and small,
And big and small again,
And still nobody wants me.”

The Weeknd – “Call Out My Name”

Writers: Abel Tesfaye, Adam Feeney, Nicolas Jaar, Frank Dukes

“Call Out My Name” sees Tesfaye doing what he does best: pairing emotive lyrics about heartbreak in his own unique vernacular and misguided decision making with mournful vocals and lush synth pads. Here, he laments a lover who never felt the same way about him. There are multiple lyrical examples from this song that we could have included on this list, but these lines from the second verse hit us the hardest:

“I said I didn’t feel nothing, baby, but I lied,
I almost cut a piece of myself for your life,
Guess I was just another pit stop, ’til you made up your mind.”

Ouch.

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The 1975 – “Love It if We Made It”

Writers: Adam Hann, George Daniel, Matthew Healy, Ross MacDonald

The synth-driven modern rock group The 1975 has always been able to speak the truth in a jarringly direct yet beautiful way. “Love It if We Made It” is no exception. They get simultaneously political, theoretical, and personal with their audience through beautiful lines such as:

“Start with misdemeanors and we’ll make a business out of them,
And we can find out the information,
Access all the applications,
That are hardening positions based on miscommunication.
Oh f*^k your feelings,
Truth is only hearsay,
We’re just left to decay,
Modernity has failed us.”

Sophie – “Immaterial”

Writers: Sophie, Cecile Believe, Xeon

Sophie has seen incredible growth over the last year. Lyrics like the following stand out, as she questions her identity without her material, physical self. Existentialism and poetic romanticism combine in this very pop-friendly package.

“Without my legs or my hair,
Without my genes or my blood,
With no name and with no type of story,
Where do I live?”

Kacey Musgraves – “Golden Hour”

Written by: Daniel Tashian, Ian Fitchuk, Kacey Musgraves

Musgraves’s 2018 album Golden Hour comprises a gorgeous collection of honest pop music. With stunning songs like “High Horse” and “Mother,” it certainly isn’t an album of filler tracks. However, the song that earns her a place on this list is the late-album, non-single title track itself.

“I used to get sad and lonely when the sun went down,
It’s different now ’cause I love the light that I’ve found,
In you.

Baby don’t you know?
That you’re my golden hour,
The color of my sky,
You’ve set my world on fire,
And I know, I know everything’s gonna be alright.”

Not only are the lyrics beautiful, they’re romantic and evocative. They remind us of a place and time that exists clearly in our memory — sometimes a single person, or even a single moment with that person.

Ariana Grande – “Thank U, Next”

Writers: Ariana Grande, Victoria Monét, Tayla Parx, Njomza Vitia, Kimberly Kryiuk, Tommy Brown, Michael Foster, Charles Anderson

This song might be a bit of a surprise. Don’t get us wrong — Grande impresses us all the time, and slays at everything she does, but we wouldn’t readily call this song poetic. The reason we wanted to feature it on this list, though, is that she’s able to convey her deep and personal message in just three words. So much emotion, so many lessons learned, so many hard experiences that she’s had to overcome — all summed up in a very singable, memorable line of text that Grande can repeat as many times as she wants:

“One taught me love,
one taught me patience,
one taught me pain,
now I’m so amazing.”

Yup, alright. Thank U. Next!

Chelsea Cutler – “Out Of Focus”

Writer: Chelsea Cutler

The lyrics to “Out of Focus” are the kinds of words we all say in our head sometimes, but at some point we just need to let them out and live with the consequences. They almost sound like they were plucked right out of Cutler’s journal. This lends an even more precious, poetic quality to the lyrics:

“I hate the way you smoke cigarettes when you’re drunk,
But you always remember to call me,
And I hate the way you say that you’re right when you’re wrong,
But you always come back home to love me.”

Julia Michaels – “Heaven”

Writers: Julia Michaels, Uzoechi Emenike, Tayla Parx, Morten Ristorp Jensen, Brian Garcia

Julia Michaels’s release on the 50 Shades of Gray: Freed soundtrack is a brilliant concept, with brilliant lyrics. It encapsulates all the drama and pent-up emotion of the film in a single song, just as a great soundtrack piece should.

“No need to imagine,
‘Cause I know it’s true,
They say ‘all good boys go to heaven,’
But bad boys bring heaven to you.”

Can we get an amen to that?

Sam Smith – “Too Good At Goodbyes”

Writers: James Napier, Tor Hermansen, Mikkel Eriksen, Sam Smith

We know, we know — we’ve heard this song like a gazillion times. But just take a moment to really dig into the soulfulness here. His voice alone is poetry. It’s a love song. It’s about heartbreak. We’ve heard that a gazillion times too, but Smith turns the tables here to talk about recognizing his own flaws. That’s refreshing, a bit surprising, a bit too honest and fragile — and, frankly, it cuts to our core better than 90% of those other love songs out there.

“But every time you hurt me, the less that I cry,
And every time you leave me, the quicker these tears dry,
And every time you walk out, the less I love you,
Baby, we don’t stand a chance, it’s sad but it’s true,
I’m way too good at goodbyes.”

Selena Gomez & Marshmello – “Wolves”

Writers: Selena Gomez, Marshmello, Andrew Watt, Alli Tamposi, Brian Lee, Louis Bell, Carl Ronsen

Selena Gomez and Marshmello killed it on the instrumentals and production with this track. It shifts so fluidly between romantic and slow and uplifting and ecstatic, and the lyrics help that transition flow. It’s about doing whatever it takes to find one’s love in the darkness, whether that means running alongside the wolves or crying with them (lyrically, Gomez shifts between both).

“I’ve looked for love in every stranger,
Took too much to ease the anger,
All for you, yeah, all for you,
I’ve been running through the jungle,
I’ve been crying with the wolves,
To get to you, to get to you (oh, to get to you).”

Kendrick Lamar & SZA – “All the Stars”

Writers: Kendrick Duckworth, Mark Spears, Al Shuckburgh, Soiána Rowe, Anthony Tiffith

“All the Stars” from the Black Panther soundtrack was perhaps one of the most talked-about songs of 2018. The song combines themes of ancestry, identity, hope, resilience, doing the right thing, and more — all of which feature heavily in the film, making it a great musical bridge to the world of Wakanda.

“Love, let’s talk about love
Is it anything and everything you hoped for?
Or do the feeling haunt you?
I know the feeling haunt you.”

Logic ft. Alessia Cara, Khalid – “1-800-273-8255”

Writers: Bobby Hall II, Arjun Ivatury, Alessia Caracciolo, Khalid Robinson, Drew Taggart

This song technically came out in 2017, but it dominated the early half of 2018. The message is so meaningful and needed (and basically inspired us to create this list). The video also helps the lyrics shed light on our darkest, most complicated moments in life — moments that call our faith and very foundations into question. And since this phone number is actually the Suicide Prevention Hotline number, it’s all the more important to have been included in the song in full. If you or a loved one is experiencing suicidal thoughts or tendencies, please call: “1-800-273-8255.”

“All this other sh^# I’m talkin’ ’bout they think they know it,
I’ve been praying for somebody to save me, no one’s heroic,
And my life don’t even matter,
I know it, I know it, I know I’m hurting deep down but can’t show it.”

With so much great music released last year, we’re bound to have missed a lyric or two. If you’ve got any we missed, let us know in the comment section down below. Here’s to another great year of musical poetry in 2019!

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Sammy Hakim
Sammy Hakim

Sammy Hakim is an up-and-coming young songwriter based in New York City. In May, 2018 she graduated from Berklee College of Music with a Major in songwriting and a focus in music business. These days she spends most of her time in songwriting sessions with artists all over the country.