Whitney Houston / Lizzo / Shawn Mendes
Credit: Tibrina Hobson/WireImage; Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images for American Express; Monica Schipper/Getty Images
The song of summer no longer exists. At least since social media became our governing body and radio stations our smart college professor whose office hours we only attend once a month, it's been nearly impossible to anoint a single song of summer thanks to the explosion of taste and accessibility that our zeitgeist has expanded to include.
Obviously, an individual song of summer should still take a hold of the charts on a technical level — we'll always have our Drakes and Daft Punks and Despacitos and, this year, "Old Town Road" to point to as mathematical victors — but the truth is that, at least to this pop queen, the spiritual winner of "song of summer" was never about chart performance but real-world application. There is a test, you see, for whether a song — any song, mainstream or obscure isthmus — is truly perfect for the sweaty summer season:
- If you're tanning and don't want to move because you're too comfortable, lazy, or your fingers are all sunscreeny, would you feel disappointed if you couldn't skip it?
- If you're in the car at the beginning of an exciting road trip and have a full bag of snacks and more than two-thirds of your iced coffee left, would you dance or sing to it at an uncharacteristic volume with the windows down?
- If you're throwing a festive summer BBQ and don't want to stay glued to the aux cord, would you consider it innocuous yet catchy enough to serve as background noise that you didn't have to worry about because you trust that it both continues the spirit of your event and might even cause a guest to say, "Wait, I like this, who is this?"
If the answer is yes, then congratulations — you've got a song of summer, and that's where it's important to designate that it's no longer about the song of summer, but songs of summer that make July life worth living. Yes, the summer pop sphere is increasingly becoming a wild slapdash frontier, with major artists straying from their release schedules to fast-track their bids for a juicy spot while pundits on the other side clamor to predict a winner that never ends up winning at all. But as pop culture has expanded from One Big Taste to thousands of little mini zeitgeists that are sovereign in their own rights, the song of summer has grown from what was once a single dominant tune to what it should now be recognized as: a collective.
Thus, here's a collection of tunes that I have personally tested in tan, car, and party situations and believe deserves to be included in whatever summer discography you've been dreaming up. Admittedly I like to keep my focus strictly on pop, gleefully inclusive of both the stuff you've heard and the stuff you haven't. This is by no means an extensive list nor is it any type of prediction of what you'll be hearing this season — but it's what I've been listening to as the sunshine flows and the days stretch into overtime. Happy listening.
"Soulmate" – Lizzo
The release of "Juice" in January sent out the call early that Lizzo was going to dominate 2019; by the time her third studio album dropped in April, listeners were primed and ready to bask in the year of Lizzo. As summer rolls around, playlists are already booming with selections from Cuz I Love You — the title track and "Juice" are as ubiquitous as "Truth Hurts" and "Like a Girl" — but for me, it's "Soulmate" that's proving itself the most singalong-able as the carefree days get underway. It's all just to say: This year's summer, solstice, and solar chart all belong to Lizzo.
"Blame It On Your Love" – Charli XCX feat. Lizzo
Charli is always a contender in the sweaty-pop sphere — and for my money, her daunting double-header with the aforementioned summer queen is one of the strongest pop songs of the year and deserves to be streamed on repeat as the perfect salve for both tanning and stanning.
"Ice Cream" – MIKA
Ahead of a very exciting October return, the prince of falsetto made his comeback known at the end of May with this expectedly buoyant, topically appropriate, and heretofore slept-on summer bop that, just to remind you, is literally called "Ice Cream" and yet has been left out to melt. Save it!
"Sucker" – Jonas Brothers
It's extremely acceptable if sudden stans of the glowed-up Jonas Brothers don't know much about their earlier music. As one perfect tweet already suggested, "the Jonas brothers are BACK and they've had SEX" — so anything from their more virginal days is virtually inconsequential when compared to the newly teamed and newly steamed Brothers Jonai. They've found a way to update the goofy-catchy hooks of their younger years with some noticeable adult edge, and it's displayed nowhere better than in their first and best song off Happiness Begins.
"If I Can't Have You" – Shawn Mendes
Some of Mendes' best work seems to pop up out of nowhere, and though his self-titled album of anxiety bops from last year is still well worth the discovery, there's nevertheless a uniquely zippy appeal to this standalone single as well as his Camila Cabello collab "Senorita," both of which have already earned their share of constant airplay for good reason.
"Higher Love" – Whitney Houston, Kygo
There's no reason it should work and even less reason why it should exist, but Kygo managed to conjure EDM magic out of an unearthed recording of the late singer covering Steve Winwood's sweaty classic. Leave it to Whitney Houston to save summer pop music, year and mortal plane notwithstanding.
"It's Not Living (If It's Not With You)" – The 1975
It's still only a matter of time before the wider masses discover the ebullient '80s vibes of this track off The 1975's 2018 album A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships. Any day now, a single, well-placed deployment in a Netflix rom-com is all it'll take to put this song into the greater pop-culture consciousness, and you can say you knew it when by throwing it on a road trip playlist and letting the John Hughes feelings flow.
"Walk Me Home" – Pink
As if Beautiful Trauma isn't still just as listenable as it was almost two and a half years ago, Pink blessed us with another exceptional record that boasted this blissful uptempo venture into an almost folksy, hum-driven frontier. (And if "Walk Me Home" for some reason doesn't circus your silks, consider "Hurts 2B Human," "Can We Pretend," or "Happy" as somber yet sensational alternatives.)
"Now That I Found You" – Carly Rae Jepsen
CRJ's long-awaited if underwhelming follow-up to Emotion thankfully contained at least one song that demanded to be danced out in a sunshine-lined receptacle this year. Feel free to supplement it by keeping "Cut to the Feeling" in rotation — like your childhood best friend, it will always be there for you even if you haven't spoken in a while.
"GIRL" – Maren Morris
Country has its own chart to measure summer superiority, but Morris whipped up a welcome crossover this year with the breezy title track off her ravishing second studio album. As certain backwards, backwoods stances toward women have proven more and more difficult to stomach in 2019, Morris' "Don't hang your head low" message itself has only grown more and more cathartic to scream from the top of your lungs, BBQ etiquette be damned.
"bad guy" – Billie Eilish
Perhaps the closest thing we'll ever get to the girls from The Crucible starting a YouTube channel, Eilish and the rise of her enigmatic pop are best explained to the uninitiated by simply pressing play on this techno bumper and letting the propulsive beat speak for itself.
"I Don't Care" – Ed Sheeran, Justin Bieber
The surprise collab between the fratty friends (whose tattoos add up to one giant map of Hogwarts) is, we must admit, abundantly light and catchy, so lest you spend your summer rolling your eyes at what dumb heterosexuality-affirming jokes were probably made on that video set, you might as well just embrace the Ed/Justin team-up and nod your head along accordingly.
"Sad Forever" – Lauv
Anyone who can drag depression onto the dance floor deserves attention, and that's exactly what we collectively owe this hard-working 24-year-old who's been on a steady stream of fire releases this year (like his Troye Sivan collab "i'm so tired…" and his universal self-drag "Drugs & The Internet") that all seem to share an effusive emotional energy.
"Peer Pressure" – James Bay, Julia Michaels
Julia Michaels, a.k.a. pop's secret songwriting weapon, and James Bay, a.k.a. not James Blunt or James Blake, are slowly gaining traction with this simple and sweet duet that sits snugly at home in between both of their signature styles. A summer song doesn't always need to be turnt to be turned up.
"This Life" – Vampire Weekend
You can only start your morning with "Brown Eyed Girl" so many times, so consider rotating in this uplifting gem by the indie rockers, fresh off May's Father of the Bride. Its cheerfulness lifts the anxiety of its lyrics and assures listeners that perhaps it's gonna be a good day after all — or, more appropriately, a good Weekend.
"Body Like Yours" – Call Me Loop
One of my favorite newcomers (whose name simultaneously confuses and delights) has several infectious singles to choose from ("Silly Boy" brings some low-octane bounce I'm not embarrassed about loving) but "Body Like Yours" feels the most primed for a mainstream breakthrough. It's a sexy sway of a song that should serve as a strong introduction to this singer-songwriter whom you are most certainly just hearing about for the first time right now.
"Late Night Feelings" – Mark Ronson, Lykke Li
Ronson's entire album is bespoke for sweaty bebopping, so it's no wonder the musician is awarding all sorts of superlatives to his latest mix-and-match. Among the better features are King Princess, YEBBA, and the consistently contagious Lykke Li, who gets to spread her wings with a plucky chorus on the superb title track.
"Not Yours Never Was" – Hannah Jane Lewis
Julie Bergan's on-the-nose banger "STFU" almost made this list, but in its place, I submit this equally catchy if slightly more feel-good eff-you from the rising young Brit.
"I Don't Belong In This Club" – Why Don't We, Macklemore
The supposed boy-band battle that was meant to reveal an heir apparent to One Direction never quite amounted to anything (save for BTS swooping in like a superteam via stealth jet) so instead, all of the contenders rise and fall by the hooks of their latest release. Presently, Why Don't We's get-me-out-of-here collab with Macklemore is just leisurely enough to be sweet, while 5 Seconds of Summer, though fresh off the release of the perfectly-fine "Easier," are still riding the surprisingly long "Youngblood" train.
"Hold Of Me" – Dean Lewis
While radio stations continue to rely on "Be Alright," it's the first song off Lewis' March debut album that takes hold once you've heard it and seizes on a very specific slice of optimism that we can all only hope to feel staring down the limitless potential of an unscheduled July and August.
"Dirty Air" – Two Door Cinema Club
The band's entire False Alarm album is exactly the kind of beachy background noise that summer playlists are made of.
"Let You" – Cheryl
"Fight For This Love"! "Call My Name"! "Love Made Me Do It"! If I didn't know better I would say it's almost as if American audiences still haven't wised up to the eminent pop mastery of the Girls Aloud alum.
And hey, since you made it this far, why not throw these on your summer playlists, too?
"Shadows" – Alphabeat
"Nostalgic" – A R I Z O N A
"Just Thought You Should Know" – Betty Who
"Lady" – Blake Rose
"Lost" – Clara Mae
"I'm So Sorry" – Hearts & Colors
"Crazy AF" – In Real Life
"Bye Bye" – ISA
"Still Sleeping" – Jai Wolf
"Hearts Will Bleed" – Janice
"Any Other Way" – jens
"i love you, i love you" – JUNG
"Never Really Over" – Katy Perry
"The Way I Feel" – Keane
"Harry" – Kelsy Karter
"This Baby Don't Cry" – K.Flay
"Do Me" – Kim Petras
"lost" – Loote
"Stand By (feat. Rudimental)" – LORYN
"Friends Go" – Maggie Lindemann
"Light On" – Maggie Rogers
"Orange Trees" – MARINA
"Mother's Daughter" – Miley Cyrus
"Number One Fan" – MUNA
"Win" – Nasty Cherry
"False Confidence" – Noah Kahan
"Alligator" – Of Monsters and Men
"27 Sorries" – Peg Parnevik
"Bitter Love" – Pia Mia
"All This Love (feat. Harloe) – Robin Schulz
"Fire" – Sara Bareilles
"Novocaine" – The Unlikely Candidates
"You Broke Up with Me – Remix" – Walker Hayes
"Wish We Never Met" – WhoHurtYou
"All the Time" – Zara Larsson
- The 21 best Songs of Summer
- EW crowns its official Song of the Summer 2018