It was an amazing year for popwave music, as artists continued to blend the ‘80s nostalgia of synthwave with contemporary mainstream influences, wrapping up their vocal-driven creations in tidy pop packages with mass appeal.
In addition to the Top 10 Popwave Albums of 2018, there was also a wealth of popwave singles released from up-and-coming artists. In fact, there were nearly enough standalone singles released in the style this year to represent the subgenre (and the closely related sounds of dreamwave) entirely on their own. Dozens of artists threw their hat in the ring, often with surprisingly excellent results, and hidden gems in the style seemed to hide around every corner.
In many cases, these songs are from new and emerging artists who have not yet released a full album, and the quality of their early singles points toward an extremely strong release forecast for popwave in 2019.
In recognition of the increased interest in synthwave singers, this list is limited to popwave tracks with vocals.
These are the best popwave songs of 2018!
25. Kalax, Player One – “Not Alone“
Kalax returns with a heartfelt vocal contribution from Player One.
24. Futurecop!, Parallels – “Edge of the Universe“
Minimal dreamwave instrumentation gives Parallels frontwoman Holly Dodson room to work her magic.
23. Gunship – “When You Grow Up, Your Heart Dies“
Gunship puts their unmistakable stamp on this rock-flavored single from their hit new album, Dark All Day.
22. Dream Shore “Another Time“
An instant dreamwave classic.
21. Chris Huggett, Parallels – “Golden“
Sparkling synth tones and a great vocal melody with touches of soft rock.
20. Timecop1983, The Bad Dreamers – “Back to You“
Timecop1983’s serene dreamwave songwriting takes on new life with an impeccable singing performance from The Bad Dreamers.
19. Dana Jean Phoenix – “Written“
A sparkling, downtempo track takes instrumental cues from The Midnight as synthwave stalwart Dana Jean Phoenix delivers one of her best vocal performances to date.
18. Jessie Frye, Timecop1983 – “Faded Memory”
Newcomer Jessie Frye scored a hit on her collab with Timecop1983, offering up a compelling blend of soft dreamwave with a modern vocal styling.
17. Elevate the Sky, Dana Jean Phoenix – “These Walls“
The prolific Dana Jean Phoenix makes the list again with her collab on the up-and-coming Elevate the Sky’s imaginative “These Walls.”
16. The Night Game, The Midnight (Remixer) – “The Outfield“
A cross-pollination of separate genres leads to a popwave-defining track on The Midnight’s remix of “The Outfield.”
15. The Bad Dreamers – “How to Disappear“
2018 had its share of quality breakup tunes, though none approached the subject with more maturity and a more intriguing mix of emotions than The Bad Dreamers’ “How to Disappear.” Like nearly every entry on the outstanding Songs About People Including Myself, the track wraps its humbly poetic lyrics in a unique blend of genres and production techniques for a relentlessly compelling creation.
14. Star Cassette – “Summer Nights“
If there was one song in 2018 that perfectly embodied the mix of synthwave and modern pop music, it’s Star Cassette’s “Summer Nights.” This popwave-defining effort pairs mainstream effects with a relaxed vocal performance that is the music equivalent of a cool evening breeze.
13. Electric Runner, Kinnie Lane – “Virtual Game“
One of Kinnie Lane’s many notable efforts in 2018, “Virtual Game” offers a pure popwave track with one of the most unique and memorable vocal performances of the year. Few entries on this list improve across repeat listens more than this innovative jewel.
12. New Arcades – “We Can’t Turn Back“
New Arcades’ influences from alt rock and pop punk put a welcome spin on their approach to the genre. Their Nothing is Lost EP was solid from start to finish, and “We Can’t Turn Back” provides one of the most addictive chorus melodies of the year.
11. Moonrunner83, Megan McDuffee, Die Scum, Inc. – “Among the Stars“
Moonrunner83’s Streets was one of the best surprises of the year, and some of the EPs most enjoyable entries featured multi-talented Megan McDuffee on the microphone. “Among the Stars” feels custom-made for fans of The Midnight and Timecop1983, but with an evolved take on the popwave style those artists helped pioneer.
Related: Popwave – The Playlist
A definition and discussion of the popwave style with a link to the most popular playlist of its kind
10. Le Matos, Computer Magic – “Cold Summer”
Perhaps the only song on this list that could be reasonably classified as synthpop, “Cold Summer”’s horror-tinged atmosphere works perfectly in collaboration with a reserved vocal performance, creating one of the most subtly engaging tracks of the year.
9. Wolf Club – “Summer Lights“
With two full-length albums to their name in 2018, Wolf Club single-handedly released an entire mixtape worth of great tracks. “Summer Lights” is at the top of the list with its infectious rhythm and bouyant vocal delivery, a combination that made it a sleeper hit in 2018.
8. Bomarz, Kinnie Lane – “San Francisco“
Kinnie Lane was seemingly everywhere in 2018, releasing quality popwave tracks under her own name and teaming up with an array of producers for one of the largest single-artist contributions of the entire year. Her collab with Bomarz is a splendid mix of genuinely retro ‘80s pop with modern mainstream influences, and their hidden gem “San Francisco” provides just one more piece of evidence for how deep and rich the vein of popwave ore was in 2018.
7. Bunny X – “Come Back“
Backed by impeccably understated dreamwave instrumentation, “Come Back” holds one of the most heartfelt and serenely beautiful vocal performances of the year. The pared-down songwriting puts full emphasis on the melodies and lyrics, offering an open-handed breakup track that feels like it could draw water from a stone. “Come Back” was just one of several quality creations from up-and-comers Bunny X in 2018.
6. Artemesis, Sunnie Williams – “Drive“
This patiently attractive effort was one of the best hidden popwave gems that populated the retro synth world in 2018. Despite the newness of the artists to the style, Artemesis and Sunnie Williams bring “Drive” to life with a quietly poetic delivery and introspective lyrics that make it an irresistible and style-defining entry in the popwave canon.
We’re down to the Top 5, but before we go any further, here are a few honorable mentions that just missed the list.
(Bonus Track) Let Em Riot – “I Know“
(Bonus Track) Morgan Willis, Kel – “Brand New“
(Bonus Track) The Alphabet Zero, Kellie Besch – “The City Is a Ghost“
Here they are, the Top 5 Popwave Songs of 2018!
5. Gryff – “Jessie“
Shifting from funk and rock-driven tracks on 2016’s Feel the Night EP, Gryff delivered a slice of pop gold on the relentlessly catchy synth-powered gem, “Jessie.” Listening to the hook-heavy chorus and soulful sax solo, it’s easy to understand why the song has racked up accolades since its release, including first place in r/outrun’s dreamwave competition.
4. Ollie Wride – “Never Live Without You“
The star vocalist of FM-84’s superb Atlas album broke out on his own this year, delivering multiple singles that prove the artist has the songwriting chops to back up his pitch-perfect vocal performances. Ollie Wride is undeniably one the most talented vocalists in any part of the broader synthwave genre, and his reimagining of retro pop possibilities represent some of the most ground-breaking and ambitious efforts of the year.
3. Michael Oakley – “Control“
“Control” is the first single released by Michael Oakley since his sleeper hit California EP, and it’s clear the artist has stepped up every part of his game in the time between. Peerless production quality, a humbly attractive vocal performance, and truly inspired background touches mark “Control” as a titan of forward-thinking popwave music.
2. Nina – “The Calm Before the Storm“
Nina’s Sleepwalking was one of the finest popwave albums of the year, and the artist capped off 2018 with an incredible new single powered by top-notch production, a faultless vocal performance, and deceptively subtle instrumentation. A succinct but perfectly placed guitar solo adds the final touch to one of the most professionally made and creatively inspired popwave tracks of the year.
1. The Midnight – “America 2“
A fulfillment of The Midnight’s great songwriting potential, “America 2” blends soft rock, folk, and dreamwave influences in a vibrant mix of modern and retro, stamping it with the duo’s signature production style. The melodies are nothing short of sublime, and the vocal lead carries the song so effortlessly that the song’s four minutes often feel like they pass in seconds. Put it on repeat and leave it — “America 2” is the best popwave track of the year.
Listen to the Best Popwave Songs of 2018 in order on Iron Skullet’s popular
Popwave / Dreamwave Playlist