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.
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