It was 80 degrees yesterday and I had no idea what to wear–I wore a skirt that Marilyn’d up repeatedly, reminding me that the mere act of possessing a human body is sometimes exhausting enough in itself. Then, I put on “Sorry” and all my frustration melted away; this is the power of a Song of the Summer, it washes away the grit and grime and reveals the shiny ebullience lurking just below. Summer is something we look forward to with a certain golden ache until it’s actually upon us, and we’re reminded that it’s a slippery, humid mess of a season. But what better climate is there to embrace the hedonistic, lizard-brain appeal of pop music?
Particularly in our current era of poptimistic superiority, there has never been a better time to let the bursts of pop brilliance wash over you, whether it’s to calm your anger over a flipping up skirt, or to soundtrack a collection of sweaty loved ones gathered on your patio for a barbecue. Never apologize for loving any of the songs on this list. And even if you think, with an air of superiority, that you are above this kind of plebeian all-appealing music, there will be a night when you’re out and full of glee and it’s 2 AM and one of them comes on and you’ll scream in delight and swear you loved it all along. And you’ll be right, you did. Welcome to summer.
Selling Point: “STOP INTERRUPTING MY GRINDING” — my work is more important than your attempt to devalue me.
This song comes first in the list because it is the most inevitable to dominate every shimmering air wave you breathe in and out this summer. Why? Because the experience of being wronged, mistreated, devalued, and coming back buoyant and beautiful and brave is one that transcends every subset of human identity. “BOY, bye” applies to every single boss, professor, friend, enemy and yes, ex-lover, who has ever tried to undermine your worth. “Sorry” is the ultimate example of how a song with a highly personal narrative can expand outward, limitless, to gather all of your pain and rejection into its arms and transform them into an affirmation of your personhood. Don’t let the person who treated you like you were worthless get the defining word in on your life–don’t apologize for your glorious, tangled attempts at love. Let that bassline wobble its way into your system, snarl out “I ain’t sorry,” and throw your middle fingers up, call an unwavering friend and go get your joy back. “Sorry” is a phoenix, and if the most powerful pop performer in the world can find beauty in her ashes, then goddammit so you can you.
Selling Point: “NUH BOTHA TEXT ME IN A CRISIS” — the ultimate carefree fuck off line for your single summer.
This is the summer of not taking any shit from anybody. Repeat it to yourself like a mantra, and if that doesn’t work, then throw on “Work” and let Rihanna do it for you. The Caribbean influence here goes farther than the undulating, playful melody, her dialect and inflection are out in full force, and it brings me an endless amount of pleasure that listeners who are unfamiliar are forced to come to terms with the way Rihanna wants to speak. “Work” is a text porous enough to pour your own meaning into, but it is a song full of desire, hot unfulfillment and cloudy messages–that’s basically the plotline of every summer I’ve ever known. So this will be on repeat, despite Drake’s foot-in-the-mouth twin line. C’mon you can do better Drizzy, or should I call him Chaining Tatum? He redeems himself later, don’t worry.
“Ultralight Beam,” Kanye West Feat. The-Dream, Kelly Price, Chance The Rapper & Kirk Franklin
Selling Point: It’s… it’s a God Dream.
Remember how every single episode of The Magic School Bus started with the narrator ominously saying “Just when you thought it was safe to send your kids back to school…”–and then the kids gleefully screamed with a measure of recognition “Miss Frizzle!” That’s sort of how it feels every time Kanye West comes back with another album. You’re not sure if he’s going to pull it off again, if he’s going to come back, if he’s going to be able to shrink us down to a size of a platelets small enough to fit inside the human body and battle white blood cells, and then he fucking does it. Sure, it sounds crazy when you’re trying to tell people who don’t believe in his magic about the experience, but those of us who went with him, we learn things other people don’t have access to, will never know. I’ve had several of my most spiritual experiences of 2016 listening to “Ultralight Beam.” I thought I didn’t believe in prayer anymore, then Kirk Franklin is on the mic interceding on behalf of everyone who feels worthless, and, well damn, if you don’t believe in that I don’t know what to tell you. God may be just a dream, but in Kanye World, there is a light that never goes out.
“No Problem,” Chance The Rapper Feat. 2 Chainz, Lil Wayne Selling Point:The best promise made about a lobby’s future guests since the remix to “Ignition.” Coloring Book is a monument to black joy so bright that the gleaming has, unsurprisingly, angered some. Why does joy incite this paralyzing knee jerk reaction of anger? Because joy is powerful. Joy doesn’t need your input. Joy stands alone, floating on a foundation of self-love. You can’t control joy, and on “No Problem” Chance is exulting in the fact that no labels can control his tweaked out creative squawking no matter how much they try to assert their power. He’s literally using his preferred creative method to laugh in the faces of people who would tell him when and how to use those skills; it’s like inception but for telling people to fuck off. And the best part is it’s a fantastic song too. Truly, Chance is on a level most of us can only aspire to, and yet, he’s leaning down, offering us–and 2 Chainz and Lil Wayne–a hand up to stand next to him. That’s the other thing about joy, it loses none of its power in dissemination and only gets stronger when you share it.
“Into You” Ariana Grande
Selling Point: “Baby come light me up, and maybe I’ll let you on it”–damn I love me a good use of maybe.
Though most of Ariana Grande’s third album Dangerous Woman is too safe and padded out, there’s quite a few songs that would light up a dancefloor no matter what season it was, but even moreso when the sky hangs hot and freedom clouds the air the way it does mid-July. “Into You” is the strongest candidate for this particular role, a descendant of Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream,” it is a blade of EDM bubbling under the veil of Ari’s delicate, desirous voice. The track revels in the tension between the discover of desire and its fulfillment, and if you play it right, might soundtrack a few discoveries of your own this summer.
“One Dance,” Drake Feat. Kyla & Wizkid
Selling Point: A pop song specifically constructed to appeal to us is still wildly appealing.
Drake’s new album Views isn’t the finest example of human behavior–you might even say, if it’s truly a reflection of his values, that it’s an example of worst behavior–but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some songs on here that you will find yourself craving all summer. After a narrow miss at a No. 1 song on the Hot 100 with “Hotline Bling,” Drizzy came back with the perfectly concocted summer cocktail of a song: “One Dance.” Dancehall inflections? Check. Nigerian singer and literal Wizkid? Check. An interpolation of Kyla’s sultry vocals? Check. So “One Dance” ascends the charts to its rightful throne, and the rest of us get a bubbling cauldron of pop bliss for windows-down drives.
“Algorithm,” Emmy The Great
Selling Point: A metaphorical quiet hour amid the yawning din of noise.
If you prefer the quieter fare to the radio’s blaring, lovable yawp, then Emmy The Great is the kind of pop songwriter whose tenderness will appeal to you immediately. On “Algorithm,” taken from her terrific third album Second Love, she compares the steady consistency of her love to a logical mathematical formula, foregoing the fantastic dreaminess with which it is generally portrayed. And what could be more loving, after all, then following a precise, predetermined pathway down the corridor of love until you come upon the object of your affections, sitting there, waiting for the formula to take its proper course? I like to put this song on, walk around Brooklyn and hum: I hope it leads me to you. Perhaps it will.
“Pillowtalk” Zayn Malik
Selling Point:Who doesn’t love seeing someone escape the clutches of their past and emerge victorious all on their own? Fuck yes to solo careers for former boy band stars.
Confession time, I fucked up when I first heard this song. Maybe I was in a bad mood, maybe I’d seen it overhyped on Twitter and (predictably) decided I was going to have my “own” opinion about it. Regardless of my dumb, stubborn logic I heard “Pillowtalk” and initially dismissed it as mediocre. Maybe it was the low BPM? Who KNOWS. The cool thing about adulthood is you can look at decisions you made a couple months ago and laugh, easily admitting how wrong you are, without feeling like you’ve lost a concrete piece of yourself in the admission. So I am looking back at March Caitlin and giggling at her foolish loftiness, because “Pillowtalk” is paradise. Zayn walks us through the heaven and hell of being in love with someone, using the intimacy of a physical bed and the emotional bond it affords as a confines for the blissful magnificence he constructs. If you’ve never been in love, this is what it sounds like; if you’re not in love currently, this song will have you stalking the streets, searching for someone to whisper it to in the small hours of morning.
“Can’t Stop The Feeling,” Justin Timberlake Selling Point: Five year olds across the country love this song with the same fierceness that fifty year old women do. That’s incredible.
Unlike most of the rest of the world, I found the first installment of The 20/20 Experience to be just wonderful! I was in the middle of my first great love, and I felt had no other outlets to pursuse writing-wise than my own personal Tumblr, so that’s where my paean to the record lives. Well, after that double album experiment went a little awry for Justin, he came back with a sure thing–like a sure thing. When we’re talking about lizard brain, the fact that there are some kinds of sounds that are basically dopamine streaming in through our ears, we’re talking about songs like “Can’t Stop The Feeling.” You could play this for a newborn infant and they would somehow find a way to wiggle to it. Actually, if you have a newborn, will you try that for me? Because that’s the other wonderful thing about this song, it’s made for a children’s movie. I can’t help but adore multi-age pop like “Happy” and other PG-geared songs; it’s a different kind of appreciation, knowing that me and a 5-year-old could share the same feeling, the same experience, when this track comes on. Music truly is the great uniter, and JT is at the forefront of that nü-dad wave. C’mon, let it crash over you, why the hell not?
“Work From Home,” Fifth Harmony
Selling Point: Innuendo, baby. It’s a beautiful thing.
It’s pretty weird to consider that even a decade ago, the concept of “working from home” didn’t really exist. One of the best parts of this song for me is that my company has an open telecommute policy, so I work from home pretty frequently. It’s a regular thing for me and my coworkers, and honestly, a lot of my friends. So if you have that tie in, then this song becomes delightfully personal. If not, it’s still a great bunch of innuendos about work and sex and bodies and sexting…and dang if I don’t love the way Fifth Harmony harmonizes. To top it all off Ty Dolla $ign shows up to get raunchy and melodious like only he can. My only bone to pick with this song is that it doubles down on the same repetitive “work” chorus that Rihanna already claimed earlier this year… but if she’s not mad then I guess I’m not either.
Selling Point: Copying Future’s flow is now a viable career move for upcoming rappers. All in all, that still works at as a compliment for Atlanta’s once and future rap king.
The first time I heard “Panda” it was the snippet that Kanye West included on The Life Of Pablo, not the song itself. It actually took me several listens through of the album to realize this wasn’t Future going a mile a minute on “Pt. 2,” but someone totally different, and that the snippet in question was plucked from another standalone song. So by the time I finally heard “Panda” in its entirety, I was twice removed from my initial impression. Not that the distance made any impact on how fucking catchy and unstoppable the song is. Between the gothic, tolling synths and Desiigner’s own chuckle-ridden speed-rapping, this is one of those songs you want to scream out into the night every time it comes on. And this summer, it’s going to come on a lot. Scream it now, before you get sick of it, or before Desiigner joins the ranks of Trinidad James. Hey, I hope his debut album makes me eat these words. For now, “Panda” stands on its own.
“I Took A Pill In Ibiza” (Seeb Remix), Mike Posner
Selling Point: An EDM song about how drugs suck is too gloriously ironic to not adore.
I found out about this song from a tweet, which seems like a very summer 2016 thing to tell you. Generally, I try to avoid songs that are explicitly about drugs because I favor metaphor, and I tend to avoid this kind of electronic music all together because it just doesn’t click for me. The EDM blaring track often feels, well, too blare-y to me. But first of all, Mike Posner somehow sounds like Ellie Goulding when he’s singing here, and second of all, the song is about how much being a famous EDM musician and doing drugs is fucking terrible! I love songs that double back on you, turn narratives inside out, and especially give you sad, heartbreaking lyrics to sing over an uplifting melody. This song does all of that and is very very sad, which is also a necessary part of every summer playlist. Posner, you genius, I guarantee you I will be crying to an EDM banger on a roof somewhere by the beginning of August. And the drop is so addicting that I’m actually looking forward to it! I also absolutely love how he claims that he only did drugs to impress Avicii. Nice. I too love to pass the buck, Posner.
“All The Way Up,” Fat Joe, Remy Ma & French Montana
Selling Point: That fucking sax sample, man.
Raise your hand if you are beyond here for a Remy Ma resurgence? Okay, now put your hand back down, you’ll need it to continue scrolling through this list. Seriously though, the appeal here is strong between Ma’s supportive cohort, all of our unexplainable adoration for French Montana, and Fat Joe’s local legacy. It’s basically a track in service of New York’s rap history, a great reminder that even if Atlanta is on top at the moment, there is always something stirring beneath the surface of the Big Apple. Obviously, this song’s hook is so catchy that it was ripe for a remix, and it got one that contained Jay Z’s first comment on Lemonade: “You know you’ve made it when the fact your marriage made it is worth millions / Lemonade is a popular drink and it still is.” Interesting, uh, rebuttal. People will be talking about this song all summer, for both reasons.
“The Sound,” The 1975
Selling Point: The most romantic lyrics of the year award!
Once I went to Ireland on a press trip for a music festival where The 1975 were headliners, and the distillery simultaneously shut down the bar during their set, so I was livid and wrote about how much I hated the show. They hated it, but honestly, that was a terrible show, and I do believe the old 1975 album I listened to was bad, but in the spirit of rethinking old opinions, let me be one of many–former hater and all–to say that the new 1975 album bangs. (Here’s a great interview with the band if you want to learn more about them.) This is multi-layered pop that reminds me of why I loved MGMT, Santigold and Passion Pit back in the early aughts. “The Sound” is the best song on the record; it is weightless without lacking substance, anthemic without veering into aggressive, and telling someone you know “the sound of your heart” has officially made its way into potential lyrics that could be worked into my wedding vows. Except, I’ve taken a vow to never marry–at this rate, a song on the next 1975 album will probably be the thing that changes my mind. Do yourself a favor and hear this song with someone you love while sunlight is shining on your skin. Wait for that hairline crack in the wall you’ve built around your freedom to widen, then sing. That’s the sound of your heart, you can always hear it even if no one else is listening.
“Feel No Ways,” Drake
Selling Point: “I had to let go of us to show myself what I could do” is some real talk from king fuckboy. Thank you, Drizzy, for one moment of wisdom in a vast stretch of pettiness.
Drake is the only artist to have two songs on this list because I still contend that Views will be one of the albums that carries summer 2016 toward coasting, and the hivemind hatred toward him will dissipate once everyone closes their laptops and remembers that everything their friends think online doesn’t have to be what they think. Yes, this is me sub-blogging you. But, close your laptop! Put on “Feel No Ways” and stop giving any fucks what one random music writer thinks about your opinions. Because honestly who cares? There are airy, ’80s-inspired samples to flip, 808s to bob your head to, whips to be procured to go pick up babes in–it’s summer 2016! Let this be the season you shut off the internet and return to a gentler, eight-years-ago era; “Feel No Ways” makes that easy, because it cribs so heavy from Kanye’s “Paranoid,” which came out in 2008, and scolds a woman in a similar condescending but-still-in-love way. If you get too lost in the nostalgia don’t worry, “feel a way” is decidedly of our current time, that’s a lifesaver to bring you back to the current moment if you’re swimming too far out into the past. Or, hey, keep swimming. That’s what summer is for, too.
“Boyfriend,” Tegan & Sara
Selling Point: Standing up for yourself and self-care wrapped in pop jubilation is a winning formula.
Only Tegan & Sara could make a pop song about being in a toxic relationship, that gently teaches young lovers to stand up for themselves, and still careens by on a confetti-flush chorus so catchy that you don’t care about the lyrics anyway. See, not all pop songs need to be full of “I Can’t Feel My Face”-style hedonism to encourage said hedonism in the listener! I’m kidding, but it is nice to hear a positive message that doesn’t make me want to gag with earnestness. Especially love how the song calls back to Blondie and Pat Benatar ’80s girl-power-pop. On their new album, Love You To Death, Tegan and Sara are on their way to joining those legendary ranks.