Breezy, upbeat ‘pop music’ has become as quintessential to summer as 4th of July barbeques and trips to the pool. True, the term, “Song of the Summer” may be little more than an ill-defined marketing ploy — there are always popular songs, but nobody publishes articles finding the best “Songs of Fall.” Most of us have a platonic ideal for a perfect summer song — something catchy and maybe unchallenging, equally appropriate for blasting out of car radios and for private, headphones-assisted dance parties. By the time Labor Day rolls around, a true “Song of the Summer” has become unbearably ubiquitous. Last year, even the most generous Justin Bieber fans did not want to hear “Despacito” for the hundredth time. The best summer songs are not just songs that happen to be popular in July — they turn into sonic sunshine, providing an essential soundtrack to our favorite summer memories. 2018 has no shortage of worthy contenders for this coveted title. Some of these songs are very popular while others simply should be, but all are worthy of remembering even after the weather turns cold.
“Nice for What” – Drake
According to Billboard, this is actually the most popular song of the summer. It’s not hard to see why. This exuberant ode to female empowerment is one of the most purely delightful songs of Drake’s career. Over an ingenious sample of Lauryn Hill’s song “Ex-Factor,” 2018’s most ridiculously successful artist reminds us why we find him compelling in the first place. The song demonstrates that Drake is finally willing to celebrate women instead of deriding them. It is more fun to hear Drake rap about a great night in the club rather than enduring a manifesto of how girls are using Instagram wrong. When too many rap artists are wallowing in melancholy, “Nice for What” is a breath of fresh air — this summer, we don’t “want no slow song.”
“I Like It” – Cardi B featuring Bad Bunny and J Balvin
Powered by Cardi B’s almost superhuman charisma and two great verses from Latin pop superstars Bad Bunny and J Balvin, this irresistible single is the latest step in Cardi B’s world-conquering charm offensive. Cardi B, who is Dominican-American, proves to be a natural hit for this bilingual trap song, and “I Like It” never comes off as a cynical cash grab. This song is a necessary reminder that reggaeton is poised for US dominance — ignore it at your own risk.
“Boo’d Up” – Ella Mai
It seems like every year, an artist enters the summer as a no-name and leaves the summer as a rising star. This year, Ella Mai has exactly the kind of charming, unexpected song that can catapult a young singer into the big league. This refreshingly low-key R&B single celebrates the thrill of a new crush, and Mai settles perfectly into the quietly glittering production from Larrance Dopson and DJ Mustard. This song feels both familiar and brand new. Mai is already being hailed as a harbinger for an exciting new wave of R&B.
“The Middle” – Zedd featuring Maren Morris and Grey
Does it sound like every other song on the radio? Definitely. Yet can any other song on the radio get stuck in one’s head quite like “The Middle?” Definitely not. Written by an Australian singer-songwriter, produced by a Russian-German DJ and sung by an American country star, this dangerously catchy single represents how the pop music machine operates in 2018. With a huge team of songwriters and a lengthy, convoluted path towards its production, this kind of song could either be pop music’s future or demise. You will be too busy singing along to decide.
“Pynk” – Janelle Monae featuring Grimes
Janelle Monae creates the kind of weirdo music which critics love and mainstream audiences find difficult to embrace. Her music is like a theatre kid’s Afrofuturist fever dream — though her most recent album, “Dirty Computer,” demonstrates pop sensibility in spades, Monae has yet to find mainstream success. That’s too bad, because Monae is exactly the star we need right now. This funky, sex-positive jam unabashedly celebrates the female body, while the instrumentation updates Prince for the pussy hat generation. “Pynk’s” expression of female sexuality feels especially poignant in the context of Monae’s personal life — she came out as pansexual in April.
“Heat Wave” – Snail Mail
This one is for when the summer heat becomes overbearing and the summer fling turns sour. Snail Mail, the solo project of nineteen-year-old singer-songwriter Lindsey Jordan, just released an excellent debut album. Jordan is one of the most promising young rock musicians in recent memory. (Isn’t it annoying that everyone stopped caring about rock music just because the male bands grew boring?) If the sticky-sweet summer love songs make you run for the hills, Jordan’s wallflower anthems are here for you.