The 98 Greatest Songs of 1998: Critics’ Picks – Billboard

The 98 Greatest Songs of 1998: Critics’ Picks – Billboard

Hit songs in 1998

Video Hit songs in 1998

If 1997 was the year that everything changed in ’90s music — with the grunge and G-funk of the decade’s first half giving way to boy bands and Bad Boy — then ’98 was the year that the brave new pop world was fully realized.

Those groups of singing, dancing heartthrobs went supernova, as the Backstreet Boys and *NSYNC led the way to Diamond sales and total cultural omnipresence. Nu-metal became the rock mode of the moment, with bands like KoRn and Limp Bizkit spiking an alternative genre that had become increasingly watered-down over the course of the decade. The ascendance of Puff Daddy and the late Notorious B.I.G. to blockbuster status the year before cleared the way for a full-scale revitalization of New York hip-hop, as JAY-Z, DMX, and Big Punisher all catapulted to stardom. And the emergence of MTV’s Total Request Live as appointment viewing for young pop fans created an ecosystem for them all to co-exist, while pushing each other to ever-greater commercial heights.

But even in a year where these pop planets finally seemed to find themselves in perfect alignment, it was the other hits orbiting and shooting off around them that gave 1998 its real character. A quarter century into their career, Aerosmith had their first Hot 100 No. 1. All three members of the perma-hiatused Fugees had major solo hits. Some of the biggest songs of the year came from movies as random as Rush Hour, City of Angels and Dr. Dolittle. Brandy & Monica happened, and so did Whitney & Mariah. “Pretty Fly (For a White Guy)” happened. “Du Hast” happened. The swing revival happened. It was the roaring ’90s on the Billboard charts, a pre-millennial boom where no one involved could’ve guessed that a couple teenage ‘Net entrepreneurs were just a year away from turning the entire industry on its head.

At Billboard, we’re celebrating everything 1998 with a week’s worth of content themed around this incredible year, remembering all the unforgettable (and some of the unfortunately forgotten) songs, artists, and moments it had to offer. To start, we compiled a list of our 98 favorite songs of ’98 — the classics that best define our memories of the year that was, and the ones that have stuck with us in the decades since. Songs were counted as eligible if they were released as singles in ’98, or if they debuted on the Billboard charts in ’98 — but if they didn’t hit the Hot 100 until the next year (like “Ruff Ryders’ Anthem” or “Ex Factor”), or if they debuted in ’98 but didn’t hit No. 1 until the next year (like “Baby One More Time” or “Believe”), we’re counting ’em for ’99.

See our list below — with a Spotify playlist of all the songs at the bottom — and have fun reliving the days of Monica Lewinsky, Jesse Camp and Mark McGwire all week on

98. Donny Osmond & Chorus, “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” (Did not chart)

Let’s get down to business to defeat any notion that this isn’t one of the greatest Disney songs of all time. Yes, there are many racial and gender issues at play — Osmond is providing the singing voice for a Chinese character, and the lyrics deal in a vast array of male and female stereotypes. But listening to the smooth delivery of Osmond’s insults and orders to those under his charge — and singing along with those backing “BE A MAN!“s in response — is too damn fun to resist. — DENISE WARNER

97. Jewel, “Hands” (No. 6, Hot 100)

Jewel successfully avoided the sophomore slump with this single, the first off her second album, Spirit. The track’s popular music video followed our star as she weirdly sauntered through the aftermath of a natural disaster, emotionless, while rescuers frantically helped victims out of the rubble. The clip wouldn’t have survived today’s relentless meme culture, but the track’s sentimental and strong lyrics hold up, and its themes echo on in modern call-to-action anthems like Pink’s “What About Us.” — PATRICK CROWLEY

96. Nicole Wray feat. Missy Elliott & Mocha, “Make It Hot” (No. 5, Hot 100)

“Make It Hot” was a song from R&B newcomer Nicole’s debut album of the same name, but it became a hit largely because it sounded like a bonus cut off of Missy Elliott’s futuristic rap romp Supa Dupa Fly, and for good reason: Missy wrote it, Timbaland produced it, and their creeping beats and cool delivery are all over this tune. Hell, Missy even raps on the song, giving the smooth-voiced, 17-year-old Goldmind signee all the extra juice she’d need to get her alluring debut single to the top 5 of the Hot 100. — CHRISTINE WERTHMAN

95. Cherry Poppin’ Daddies, “Zoot Suit Riot” (No. 41, Radio Songs)

Amid the 1990s’ many so-called revivals of genres past, Cherry Poppin’ Daddies — and their signature hit, the unshakeable “Zoot Suit Riot” — might be the greatest relic of the however-brief swing revival. Led by Steve Perry (no, not that Steve Perry, but can you imagine?), the band fleetingly charted in Billboard from early 1998 to early 1999 — but what a year it was, leading pre-Google listeners to strain to remember what the Zoot Suit Riots even were (or, uh, what a zoot suit is, for that matter). Now, throw back a bottle of beer! — KEVIN RUTHERFORD

94. Deftones, “Be Quiet and Drive (Far Away)” (No. 29, Mainstream Rock)

The “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out” of the nu-metal era, Deftones’ thrashgaze masterpiece packed a generation’s worth of catharsis into two chords and not very many more lyrics. The rest of their hard-rock peers spent the next half-decade trying to go forever louder and more explicit in expressing their bottomless reserves of angst, but the Sacramento quintet knew there was no point in even trying to top frontman Chino Moreno’s gutturally howled, universally understood passenger-seat request: “I don’t care where just FAR!!” — ANDREW UNTERBERGER

93. Jo Dee Messina, “I’m Alright” (No. 43, Hot 100)

All of the country ladies of the late ‘90s were invested in female empowerment, but Messina’s “I’m Alright” also served as a feel-good jam that could lift anyone’s spirits. “It’s a beautiful day, not a cloud in sight/ So I guess I’m doing alright” is a timeless mood-booster, one that’s emphasized by Messina’s confident singing and the song’s breezy tempo — all of which make “I’m Alright” a classic for fans of country and pop, whose worlds weren’t that far removed in ’98. — TAYLOR WEATHERBY

92. Puff Daddy feat. The Notorious B.I.G. & Busta Rhymes, “Victory” (No. 19, Hot 100)

One year and eight days after Christopher Wallace passed, his friend and partner Sean Combs released the final single from Combs’ blockbuster album No Way Out. “Victory” is the first song proper on Puff Daddy’s debut, and it’s a monster, the sort of opener that could just as easily function as the closer, the kind of spectacular experience that demands an eight-minute long video with cameos from Danny DeVito and Dennis Hopper. The Rocky sample, the strings and ringing bell ratcheting up the tension, Puffy talking his shit over ad-libs from Big that sound like sparring before the title bout. And then Biggie arrives with the resplendence of a boxer emerging from the corner with terrifying poise and intention: “In the Commission, you ask for permission to hit ’em.” Everyone except Big, that is. — ROSS SCARANO

91. JYP, “Honey” (Did not chart)

After starting off with one of the most iconic, whining intros in K-pop history, J.Y. Park’s “Honey” exudes confidence with its funky brassy riff and explosive horns. This Park song became an instant K-pop classic in 1998, and even though he’s now more known as the founder of JYP Entertainment, home to the likes of TWICE and GOT7, the legacy of “Honey” lives on with countless covers by K-pop’s most popular acts. — TAMAR HERMAN

90. Rob Zombie, “Dragula” (No. 6, Mainstream Rock)

Own a PlayStation in the late ’90s? Then you were eminently familiar with “Dragula,” which became part of its fair share of racing simulations in the console’s early days. And with good reason: Aside from perhaps Molly Hatchet’s “Flirtin’ with Disaster,” there’s no better song to soundtrack racing games both then and now — and c’mon, it’s literally named for a drag-racing car from The Munsters. To boot, it was fitted with one of nu-metal’s choicest choruses, plus riffs that absolutely kicked your ass every time out. An adrenaline rush in song form. — K.R.

89. Shakira, “Ciega, Sordomuda” (No. 1, Latin Songs)

Shakira was a Latin American star, until she released Dónde Están los Ladrones? and crossed borders into international success. “Ciega, Sordomuda,” a pop-rock anthem that defiantly equated total love to being blind, deaf, and mute, broke completely with everything popular Latina musicians had been doing up to that point. It would become Shakira’s first No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot Latin Songs chart, and the precursor to her game-changing crossover success in English. — LEILA COBO

88. Blink-182, “Josie” (Did not chart)

In the late ‘90s, Blink-182 was writing pop-punk gospel for the post-Gen X’ers too young to remember Dookie but cool enough to realize alt-rock could be a lot edgier than Sugar Ray and Eve 6. Dude Ranch’s “Dammit” broke them in ’97, and a year later, this buzzsaw single off their major-label debut cemented the Blink brand: slapstick vocal interplay between Mark Hoppus and Tom Delonge, rapid-fire percussion (from pre-Travis Barker drummer Scott Raynor), lyrical pining for a cool, independent (imaginary) girlfriend. References to their favorite Mexican food joint (Sombrero) and their pop-punk friends Unwritten Law capture ’98 San Diego as more than just the year the Padres got swept by the Yankees in the World Series. — CHRIS PAYNE

87. Beenie Man, “Who Am I” (No. 40, Hot 100)

Beenie Man previously earned respect in his native Jamaica thanks to a role in 1997’s Dancehall Queen and party-starter singles like “Wickedest Slam” and “Romie.” But “Who Am I” brought his exaggerated “Woieee nah nah!” wails to the rest of the world. The track is one of dancehall’s few pop-culture masterpieces, with Beenie Man cheekily referencing both Luther Vandross’ 1981 jam “Never Too Much” and Missy Elliott’s “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)” over a ground-shaking low-end. “Who Am I” was adored so much that Beenie Man later transformed it into his 2000 track “Girls Dem Sugar,” a sensual duet featuring Mya and production from The Neptunes that further established the original’s immortality. — BIANCA GRACIE

86. Alanis Morissette, “Uninvited” (No. 4, Radio Songs)

Alanis’ 1995 debut Jagged Little Pill is the Canadian rocker’s undisputed opus, but the harrowing City of Angels soundtrack single “Uninvited” built on that album’s intensity, momentum, and overwhelming acclaim. The song scored her Grammys in the best rock song and best female rock vocal performance categories, and it made for a standalone smash that held fans over until Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie‘s arrival later that year. This was reflected on the charts, too: “Uninvited” topped the Adult Mainstream Chart, her third single to do so after “Ironic” and “Head Over Feet.” — HILARY HUGHES

85. Monica, “The First Night” (No. 1, Hot 100)

As soon as producer Jermaine Dupri brilliantly built Monica’s “The First Night” around Diana Ross’ 1976 disco classic “Love Hangover,” we all knew this was going to be a surefire success. R&B artists typically sung about abstinence through emotional ballads (see Janet Jackson’s “Let’s Wait Awhile”). But Monica played it ultra-cool about not giving it up so easy atop a thumping bassline. Her sassiness and self-worth on “The First Night” earned her a Hot 100 No. 1 smash and became an inspiration for future female singers to stand up to pesky men for years to come. — B.G.

84. A Tribe Called Quest, “Find a Way” (No. 71, Hot 100)

With a new generation of New York rappers rising to prominence, A Tribe Called Quest were a fairly alien presence on ’98 radio, particularly with “Find a Way,” arguably their most inscrutable single to date. The Love Movement single was a curious, Dilla-helmed hypno-banger with an emotionally confused love-and/or-lust lyric and a strangely overstuffed chorus — albeit one still catchy enough that the group held a bouncing-ball singalong to it in the song’s video. “Find a Way” hardly scorched the charts, but it remains seared into the memory of everyone who experienced it, a song as mysterious and enchanting as the complex feelings it attempted to articulate. — A.U.

83. Everclear, “Father of Mine” (No. 70, Hot 100)

Art Alexakis let it bleed. The Everclear singer-songwriter never shied away from dealing with his addiction on hits like “Heroin Girl,” and this swinging single from his band’s second major-label album hit hard, but with a velvet glove. With the band’s signature bouncy bubblegrunge sound, Alexakis laid bare residual anger and resentment about his dad splitting when he was a ten-year-old “scared white boy in a black neighborhood.” The last cut was the deepest, though: “Daddy gave me a name/ Then he walked away.” — GIL KAUFMAN

82. Wyclef Jean, “Gone Till November” (No. 7, Hot 100)

As each member of the rap trio Fugees made their first solo statements following the group’s ’96 blockbuster The Score, Wyclef Jean dedicated his ’97 debut The Carnival to showcasing his versatility as a rapper, singer, and musician. On the ’98 single and standout track “Gone Till November,” the Haitian transplant makes his most striking divergence, with an orchestral ballad that acts as a vicarious comfort for every hustler’s lonely loved ones. Lyrically, it’s full of heart-wrenching twists, but it adds a sweetness to the Fugees’ raw candor that that could soothe any long-distance woes. — BRYAN KRESS?

81. Edwin McCain, “I’ll Be” (No. 5, Hot 100)

Long before Ed Sheeran delivered a spiritual successor with his chart-toppin “Perfect,” Edwin McCain crafted one of the most swoon-worthy, first-dance-ready love songs of the ‘90s with “I’ll Be.” The dynamic chorus is essentially a set of wedding vows in itself (“I’ll be better when I’m older/ I’ll be the greatest fan of your life”), and the way McCain passionately relays all of those heartfelt words – on top of a jazzy sax, no less – makes his declaration of love fitting for a belting sing-along and a wedding dancefloor, whether it’s 1998, 2018, or 2088. — T.W.

80. Air, “Sexy Boy” (No. 22, Dance Single Sales)

The lead single and one of the standout tracks from Air’s enduring debut album, Moon Safari, “Sexy Boy” finds the French electronic duo at the peak of their crossover powers. Earning syncs with the 1999 film 10 Things I Hate About You and British TV series Queer as Folk, the dreamy-but-expansive downtempo number hit No. 22 on Billboard’s U.S. Dance/Electronic Singles Sales chart and helped launch the critically-acclaimed outfit to international prominence. — MATT MEDVED

79. Tamia, “So Into You” (No. 30, Hot 100)

After being introduced via a pair of hit ballads, Tamia went left and took on a Commodores sample for her third single. Of all its enticing elements, the hook stands supreme, with a buttery vocal that matches the beat of the drum pattern just before Tamia glides off into a honeyed high note. The chorus was so delectable that Fabolous snatched it for the core of his own hit “Into You,” a No. 4 success on the Hot 100 in 2003, and it was a notable highlight of Childish Gambino’s BBC Live 1 Lounge set in 2015. — TREVOR ANDERSON

78. Sheryl Crow, “My Favorite Mistake” (No. 20, Hot 100)

On her star-making 1993 debut Tuesday Night Music Club, Sheryl Crow established herself as a guitar-chugging rocker who could run laps around the male coterie of musicians in her circle. It was then that she showed a flair for fitting blues licks and power chords into a pop songwriting template, something she refined for her eponymous 1996 follow-up and even more so with 1998 chaser The Globe Sessions. In a way, “My Favorite Mistake” is where that skill set peaked: Her toffee vocals against the thrust and twang of six-strings and organs cement her as a true pop star in rocker’s clothing. — STEVEN J. HOROWITZ

77. Cake, “Never There” (No. 78, Hot 100)

Though 1996’s “The Distance” was Cake’s breakout hit, “Never There” has managed to surpass it — not only on the charts, but also in terms of its pop-culture endurance, thanks to its all-too-real lyrics. Loving someone who is, simply put, never there for you — leaving you listening to an empty dial tone in their wake — is a tale as old as time, and one that Cake successfully tapped into, pressing our emotions like buttons on a landline. — LYNDSEY HAVENS

76. Will Smith, “Miami” (No. 17, Hot 100)

Big Willie Style was the solo debut album for Will Smith, but with five albums under his belt as the Fresh Prince and three massive blockbuster film credits (Bad Boys, Independence Day, Men In Black), he was hardly a fresh face when it dropped in ’97. Which is largely why “Miami” managed to dominate 1998, despite being released as the album’s fifth single. Of course, it helps that the song is an irresistible funk bop with some of the most iconic come-hither backup vocals of all time: “Welcome to Miami / Bienvenidos a Miami” will never not sound sexy. — JOE LYNCH

75. Moby, “Honey” (No. 49, Dance Single Sales)

While Moby’s timeless Play LP is perhaps better known for producing international smashes like “Porcelain” and “Natural Blues,” the album’s opener and lead single, “Honey,” shouldn’t be slept on. Featuring bluesy looped vocal samples from U.S. folk singer Bessie Jones’ “Sometimes” over a driving piano and slide guitar, the track briefly graced Billboard’s U.S. Dance/Electronic Singles Sales chart while kicking off the best-selling electronic album of all-time in unforgettable fashion. — M.M.

74. Seo Taiji, “Take Five” (Did not chart)

Seo Taiji remains South Korea’s “Culture President” for a reason — he pioneered the industry’s embrace of diverse genres. “Take Five” marked another sonic transformation, one that eschewed the rap-rock of his prior group Seo Taiji and Boys. While his self-titled album was coated in the heavy metal of his early days, this track takes on a sunnier disposition with flahses of late-’90s college rock. After all, “Take Five” was a message to fans that he’d return to music after retiring in 1996. — CAITLIN KELLEY

73. Boards of Canada, “ROYGBIV” (Did not chart)

“ROYGBIV” would be a pretty appropriate title for just about any Boards of Canada song — their brand of effervescent downtempo is both so polychromatic and so naturalistic that a rainbow never seems more than a few measures away from poking out of its atmosphere. But this two-and-a-half minute instrumental is prismatic even by their standards: simple, stunning, organized with impossible geometric precision — and, like all such ephemeral phenomenons, vanishing long before you’re ready to say goodbye. — A.U.

72. Usher, “My Way” (No. 2, Hot 100)

Usher’s first My Way single, “You Make Me Wanna…,” introduced him as a coy R&B star, while his second, “Nice & Slow,” replaced the coy with straight-up coital. But it was his third, “My Way,” that turned him into a freaky philanderer, the original Mr. Steal Your Girl: “She likes it my way,” Usher croons over a thrusting beat and interjections from Jermaine Dupri, one of the album’s co-producers, matching his boastful attitude with a bounce that stands the test of time. What perhaps ages less well is the music video, where Usher, dressed like a funhouse version of Alex from A Clockwork Orange, squares off against Tyrese in a junkyard. With a bounce house. Sure. — C.W.

71. Janet Jackson, “Go Deep” (No. 28, Radio Songs)

Not only is this song tailor-made to get a party started, it’s also its very own party contained in a song, from the crowd murmurs over the beat at the beginning to the group sing-along of a chorus. That super-loose vibe — with its irresistible snare intro and cheeky sound effects sprinkled throughout — is what makes it so danceable, and it perfectly matches the music video’s foamy house party, so rudely interrupted by a pre-SNL Bill Hader as a pizza delivery boy at the end. — KATIE ATKINSON

70. Missy Elliott feat. Lil’ Kim & Mocha, “Hit ‘Em Wit da Hee” (Remix) (No. 61, R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay)

This remix from the Can’t Hardly Wait soundtrack took some of the bite out of the original’s menacingly funky instrumental, but it compensated for that with new attitude-filled verses from Elliott, a moody, Björk-sampling coda from Timbaland, and, why not, a few random horse neighs for good measure. One thing that stayed the same? A feisty kick-off from Lil Kim that remains one of her best guest spots, thanks to its kooky pop-culture references (Finnegan’s Wake! Sarafina!) and zero-fucks tongue-twisters like “Christians repent then sin again/ Girls wanna be my friend again.” — NOLAN FEENEY

69. Elvis Crespo, “Suavemente” (No. 84, Hot 100)

“Suavemeeeente!” The nasal cry from an unknown Puerto Rican merengue singer was ear-piercing and unforgettable. Elvis Crespo’s hyper-kinetic merengue, punctuated by shouts of “pequena” (little one) and “Que es la cosa!” topped Billboard’s Hot Latin Songs chart and even crossed over to the Hot 100. More impressively, Suavemente, Crespo’s debut solo