Oh hi, it’s me, coming back at you with my ultra-delayed favorite things from last year….!!! 😂 2018 was a great year for music (and with impending albums coming from Solange, Carly Rae Jepsen, and Rihanna, 2019 may be even better), and an amazing year of podcast discovery for me. I didn’t read nearly as much as I wanted to in 2018, and I’ve re-comitted to falling asleep with books instead of my stupid phone in 2019. (BTW, the podcasts and books listed below didn’t necessarily come out last year - I just happened to find & fall in love with them in 2018.)
Anyway, here you go! My favorite albums, podcasts, and books from 2018.
Sweetener, Ariana Grande
2018 was the year of Ariana. I’ve been hooked on her since I heard the joyous 90s throwback track “The Way” in 2013, and I finally feel like the world is giving her respect where it’s due. Sweetener hit me like a ton of surprise bricks from the opening seconds: all you get is Ariana’s soaring voice, over a huge silence, singing a clip of a Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons song about loss. The album proceeds to pinball from absolute euphoria, to coping with anxiety, to overcoming deep fear and depression, to the divine power of female sexuality, to pride, to hope, to gratitude, to forgiveness, like I can’t even list out all of the things that are covered in these 47 minutes. Ariana is a treasure, she always was, and Sweetener is the album we all needed in 2018.
Everything Is Love, The Carters
I’ve been obsessed with Bey since age 10, and a huge Jay fan since I first heard The Blueprint in 7th grade. I love and know their catalogs like the back of my hand, and somehow Everything is Love still surprised me. It’s compact, only 9 tracks, but every second of each track packs so much punch. It’s a ‘sit up and listen’ album. The musical timbre is a perfect blend of their individual styles, and they honestly address their realities as a couple while still making it abundantly clear that they don’t owe shit to ANYBODY. They embrace their truths as individuals and as a couple, and prove again that in spite of (because of?) everything they’ve gone through, they are #goals forever.
Time Stops, Kalil Wilson
Kalil Wilson is the best singer I have ever heard, ever, in my entire life. He’s a Bay Area-based jazz singer, bandleader, and songwriter. I try to go see him anytime he plays a show in Oakland or SF, because his shows are honestly so heart-fluttering it seems impossible. Time Stops is Porter/Gershwin fueled romance and it makes me want to lay by a river twirling a parasol while being fed grapes or something. Lol I don’t know, I’m bad at words, just listen to it - try “Won’t It Be Like Heaven” to start. Sigh! ❤️
Golden Hour, Kacey Musgraves
This. Album. This album provided more calm than any other album I listened to this year. From the get-go you know you’re not listening to any old country album (“Texas is hot/I can be cold/Grandma cried when I pierced my nose”). Golden Hour is an ode to true, complicated love. Kacey somehow captures the quiet, insane beauty of being in real love: imperfect, awe-inducing, soft, expansive, scary-good and sometimes scary-scary love. I can’t think of another album that so accurately captures the realities of honest love without extra drama, filters, or ego. I guess I’m drawn to it because it addresses love with the same wonder, longing, melancholy, and joy I feel about it.
Invasion of Privacy, Cardi B
Say what you will about Cardi B , but Invasion of Privacy is an absolute banger from front to back. I’d argue that “I Like It” was strong contender for song of the year in 2018, and of course “Bodak Yellow” made us all dance our butts off the year before, but the other songs on this album are just as fiery and clappable. Also, do you guys realize she is the first female rapper EVER to have more than one #1 single on the Billboard Hot 100?????? GET IT, CARDI.
Bloom, Troye Sivan
Troye Sivan is a poet. This is such a dreamy, hazy, human pop album.
Oxnard, Anderson .Paak
The fact that Oxnard didn’t come out til late in the year couldn’t keep it off this list. I haven’t spent as much time with it as some of the others on this list, but it’s the album that I flip on Saturday mornings when I’m in happy relaxation mode. “6 Summers” is an absolutely epic new protest anthem, “Tints” with Kendrick Lamar makes me jump out of my chair to dance, “Cheers” makes me want to cry. It’s all so beautifully produced.
Good Thing, Leon Bridges
Leon Bridges makes me feel like I’m moving into the future and the past at the exact same time. Good Thing is just as wonderful and vintage as Coming Home, with a little more grit around the edges: the barely distorted guitar hook on “Shy”, the fuzzy keyboard solo at the end of “Bad, Bad News”, the snappy 80s synthesizers on “You Don’t Know”. I can set this album on repeat for hours at a time.
Battle Lines, Bob Moses
Ella Mai, Ella Mai
Malibu Nights, LANY
Ruby, Macy Gray
Voicenotes, Charlie Puth 😑 #WHYYYYYYYYYIMSOEMBARASSED
2018 brought us the revival of Queer Eye and I truly didn’t know how badly I needed it. I started listening to JVN’s podcast “Getting Curious” and it is a complete, utter joy. He hosts a different expert in each episode to talk about what makes him curious - and the huge, colorful range of topics keep the podcast interesting every week. A few of my recent favorite episode topics have included fighting climate change, medical marijuana, flipping red states in the midterms, the history of the study of ethics, abstinence as addiction treatment, and the origin stories of his four other Queer Eye compadres. JVN’s joy and ferocity is so contagious. This podcast is never dull and I look forward to it every week.
“Code Switch” is an NPR podcast all about race, ethnicity, gender, cultural identity, and how all of these things intersect in modern society. The operative word there is “intersect” - it’s about the layering and mixing of all of these different elements of identity, and how multifaceted identity can be. I’m a mixed race woman and my whole life, everywhere I go, the question “But like, what ARE you?” has followed me around. (I love giving deliberately obtuse answers and watching people’s confusion). Grandmothers from a hilarious number of nations have at some point come up to me speaking everything from Spanish, to Tagalog, to Italian, to Portuguese, reacting in total disbelief when I can’t answer back. My experience is just one among a complex, endless sea and I love “Code Switch” for exploring how deep that sea is. It acknowledges, honors, and extrapolates on the experiences of people from multifaceted backgrounds, and acknowledges that labels matter, but can be fluid. It covers the way identities play out in society in both a deeply personal and extremely public, social way. Some episodes are biographical, some are about current events, some are historical, some are political, some are scientific, and all of them are deeply engaging. It’s intense, fascinating, complex territory that could be disastrous in the wrong hands, but the hosts, Gene Demby and Shereen Marisol Meraji, are absolutely incredible. In fact they just released an episode detailing how a professor at University of Texas San Antonio decided to make an entire course based on “Code Switch” and I would do like, prettttttty much anything to take that class.
“Broken Record” is a new podcast that combines a couple of my favorite, favorite things: music and Malcom Gladwell’s voice 😊 Gladwell and Rick Rubin zoom in on artists, songs, genres, and music history. It’s pure music-nerd joy.
“Making Obama” is a deep dive into the political journey & rise of Barack Obama, and it’s fascinating. Through interviews both with Obama himself as well as his former bosses, colleagues, and backers, we get an honest portrait of a man looking for his place in a city famous for ruthless, volatile politics. It’s not worshipful or rosy, but it’s still a comfort to hear from a President whose ideals were centered around a greater humanity and justice instead of their own pathetic ego. I digress.
I’ve already written on the blog about my love of “On She Goes”, but get this: this is the only podcast that I’ve ever listened to all the way through, TWICE. That is how much I love it. The later seasons are good, but the first season with Aminatou Sow as the host is absolutely diviiiiine, and I wish she was still hosting…but I digress again! “On She Goes” is about traveling the world as a woman of color, and not only does Aminatou have a ton of wisdom to drop on the topic (she’s the daughter of international diplomats she’s been everywhere!), there are tons and tons of intelligent, hilarious, engaging guests who offer their stories, expertise, and tribulations with so much heart. I absolutely adore the first season of this podcast, and if you’re even thinking about trying to see the world, listen to the first season of “On She Goes”. 😊
Already covered/honorable mentions:
“Switched On Pop” (a perennial favorite)
“Bad with Money with Gaby Dunn”
“Serial” (Season 2)
This book gripped me, broke me, then scotch taped me back up. It centers on a family dealing with Alzheimer’s as it creeps into every single aspect of their lives. Khong’s writing style is sparse, direct, and as un-flowery as it gets, yet I felt overcome with emotion reading every page. I felt so attached to every character in the story (particularly it’s heroine, Ruth) that I read the last few pages in slow-motion as I realized the whole thing was ending. I didn’t want to leave them.
It’s not an easy one. I cried and sighed and yelled a lot while reading it. It’s not perfect, and I actually found myself frustrated with the lack of acknowledgment of intersectionality at a few points, but I still recommend it.
Of course one fashion book had to make this list, who do you think I am?!?!?! 😂 This book is a lovely account of the stories of 20 Parisiennes, all from different neighborhoods and walks of life. You get a peek at their lives, style, loves, beliefs, families, and histories. For me it’s as much about personal style as it is about Paris itself. It’s a treat to read.
I’m a real nerd for city histories, and City of Scoundrels is the nerdiest book I read/loved last year. Also, it’s about Chicago, so of course I love it. Set in 1919, it is about a period of twelve days in which Chicago was brought to its knees by fires, strikes, riots, and murder. It’s narrative history, and all of these events really happened - but the way Kirst writes makes it feel like fiction, which makes it even more unbelievable that it’s a true story. I’m honestly not sure if the book explains how these days “gave birth to modern Chicago”, but it’s fascinating nonetheless.
Feels like these two need no explanation. Just read them and prepare to feel ignited.