There was a lot to write about in 2018. The political spilled over into the personal, and every conversation about the headlines seemed inextricably tied to who you were as a person.

Ordinarily, this is the sort of arena in which art thrives — giving a language or, failing that, a melody to complicated things we otherwise struggle to express. But for the most part, this year’s most successful artist steered their attention inward. Maybe the endless chaos of the news made our own interior lives feel a little more manageable in comparison. But as often happens, any journey inward must eventually turn around and steer back out into the world, bringing whatever fragile wisdom we’ve gleaned from our most intimate selves into the hard realities around us. And here are our picks for the people who navigated that journey best.

10. Mitski: Be the Cowboy

Cowboy? Maybe. But the spirit Mitski conjures on her latest and greatest album would be a very particular type of wrangler: the outlaw, the loner, the rugged, defiant individualist standing against the rising tide, firing into the whites of its eyes.

On Be the Cowboy, that tide could be loneliness, a toxic relationship or even just sadness over a slowly fizzling friendship. But what sets Mitski apart here is that she’s hitting her targets. These are songs that don’t just chart a journey through life’s hardships, but over them. Personal triumph is possible on Be the Cowboy, and its tracked with swirls of Prince-y guitars, jittery synths and impossibly catchy choruses. Most cowboys don’t indulge gorgeous, expansive pop, but maybe that’s the most cowboy thing about Mitski: she does absolutely whatever she wants, and she does it with excellence.

If that’s now being a cowboy, what is?

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