The summer is long, and hot, and far too sweaty. In the heat, there’s nothing better than the right song to take you away. To celebrate the season, we wrote about our favorite songs of summer, which span the years. Crack a beer and press play.
Charli XCX - “Boys”
It’s almost absurd that there’s even a discussion about the best summer song. The best one is Charli XCX’s “Boys”, a campy bop about the joys of blowing off commitments. Traditional summer songs steer into the skid of over-achievement, bumping out paeans to travel or dance or spending your hard-earned emotional currency on a short relationship with a hot bozo. In short, most summer songs are protestant work anthems in the key of Abercrombie. “Boys” is something else entirely, an opus built on the gonzo sonic foundations of the Super Mario Bros coin sound, airy pads trembling like heat waves off concrete, and, of course, the word “boys” over and over again. Charli sings "I’m sorry that I missed your party, I wish I had a better excuse … But I was busy thinking ’bout boys.” That’s what summer is all about: Bartlebying out of plans to dream, refusing to optimize your fun and just letting your head spin. — Erik Hinton
Blood Orange - “Time Will Tell”
If you live in a city, the height of summer is foremost about one thing: the inescapability of bodies. I don’t mean this in the metonymic sense that has become fashionable of late, but the literal leaky, smelly, friction-prone flesh prisons that trap us all. Nothing captures both the dread and possibility of summer skin like Blood Orange’s “Time Will Tell” from his 2013 album Cupid Deluxe. Even though the reminder that “it is what it is” seems open-ended, the song manages to sound humid and close. There are many people, myself included, who find this track a bit embarrassing but so is almost everything about our hottest, horniest season. When Dev Hynes repeatedly pleads “come into my bedroom,” you know it has air conditioning. — Brandy Jensen
Childish Gambino - “Pop Thieves”
Okay, let me address something: This is an extremely horny song. There’s no other way to say it. Childish Gambino literally says, “I know you miss this di— ...love.” The song has very little lyrical variety, and mostly just refrains “make it feel good” for several minutes. But for me, this song invokes the state of mind that’s unique and specific to summer: having no evening classes or obligations, unlike the academic year. When I listen to this song, my heart rate drops, my surroundings escape me. It’s the way that I arrive back into my own mind.
I’ve never listened to the song out loud, or with another person. Back in high school, it was a song I played in my air-conditioned car with the windows up, completely alone. Since moving in New York, it’s a song I put on after a day at work, walking down chaotic streets with my headphones in, searching for a moment of solitude. So here is my personal recommendation: this summer, take a long walk, watch the sunset, enjoy the warm air, and make sure this song is on your playlist. — Caroline Haskins
Mark Morrison - “Return of the Mack”
Once I hear the first three notes of that Tom Tom Club sample, it’s over. Physically, I may be on the couch or in the line at the bank or something. Mentally, I’m on a beach at an undisclosed location. There’s sun, sand, ocean, bikinis, me in sunglasses a chain and a smart suit, for some reason. Me and my two backup dancers are here to walk confidently along the surf. “Return of the Mack” is about none of these things, but it is about stuntin’, flexin’, and stepping out to remind anyone who might of forgotten that you are the shit. Summer is nothing to me if not the promise of rebirth as a slightly cooler, more relaxed, more fashionable person. And whether or not that ever actually happens, this song makes me feel like things the future’s bright. This is going to be the best summer, the best weekend, the best three minutes and 33 seconds of the entire fucking year. — Ann-Derrick Gaillot
Fetty Wap - “Trap Queen”
Every time I hear Fetty Wap’s “Trap Queen,” I am forced to reckon with the stupefying fact that I there may never be a better summer song in existence. It’s hard to imagine that anything could ever beat the synth-inundated trap track, which in the late spring of 2015 seemingly came out of nowhere. “Trap Queen” spread like wildfire and played everywhere and anywhere, into its entire summer. I didn’t mind one bit. When I hear Fetty Wap’s autotuned quasi-mumble start off with that simple “hey, what’s up hello,” I can’t suppress the want to yell out along with him.
I In 2015, there was no desire for anything but unabashed joy, no want to mull over anything too serious sounding. “Trap Queen” is only as high stakes as you decide it to be — in three minutes and forty-two seconds of pure romance, Fetty Wap manages to declare his love for his girl, details his proud gaze as she packs cocaine bricks with him, and rejoices in his eagerness to “buy her everything.” His love for her is meant to be broadcasted out to the world, in high school parking lots, at very fun weddings, and especially in cars zooming down the highway in the summertime. The booming outro boasts that Fetty Wap sounds like “a zillion bucks on the track.” It is an extremely correct statement. — Melinda Fakuade
Ty Dolla $ign - “Love U Better” ft. The-Dream and Lil Wayne
Each of Ty Dolla $ign’s three Beach House mixtapes are stuffed with tunes that feel as if they were created by a team of extremely stoned scientists in an R&D lab whose sole purpose was to crank out one objectively perfect summer jam after another. While Beach House 2 may be his strongest project — it starts with an orchestral dubstep song where Ty sweetly sings about his girlfriend finding a condom in the trashcan and ends with him duetting with himself over a contemplative chiptune beat — “Love U Better” is, quite literally, a perfect song. Featuring guest spots from The-Dream and Lil Wayne, both of whom treat DJ Mustard’s stuttering chipmunk-soul beat as an opportunity to flash the stylistic wizardry that was once routine for them, “Love U Better” fuses sunny optimism and exuberant horniness in a way that makes lyrics like, “Pull up on your girl with my roof gone / Pull up on your girl with my jewels on” feel like they’re the ultimate expression of romantic fidelity. It’s all silly, hyperactive nonsense, the sonic equivalent to you and your friends plopping your feet into a kiddie pool, closing your eyes, and believing that you’ve made it all the way to the ocean. — Drew Millard
Swae Lee & Young Thug - “Offshore”
This song tastes like a quarter water on the shore, feels like a fresh pair of linen shorts, and is smoother than melted coconut oil. An album cut on Swaecation, I expect to hear this song on plenty of Beats Pills on the beach. — James T. Green
Grouplove - “Tongue Tied”
A true summer jam has to sound good enough to get people hyped when played in three specific environments: Blaring full-blast from the speakers of your friend’s shitty car while you’re driving above 40 miles per hour with the windows down (smudged sunglasses optional); partially muffled by the wind and general cacophony of any rooftop event after 3:30pm; and playing from someone’s smartphone on the beach after the portable speaker you finally remembered to bring dies.
“Tongue Tied” by Grouplove nails all three, and then some. Though the track originally appeared on the band’s 2011 debut album Never Trust a Happy Song, the unbridled euphoria expressed by its dreamy lyrics and poppy beat are about as trustworthy as it gets. The hook is catchy as hell and easy to shout at the top of your lungs while you try and forget about our shitty, depressing reality — and despite what critics may have said at the time of its release, Hannah Hooper’s rapped verse is pretty damn smooth too. — Paris Martineau
Magic! - “Rude”
The first time I heard “Rude,” I was pretty sure someone was fucking with me. What was this reggae backwash, the sound of four frat guys starting a band after staring at their Bob Marley posters for too long? Was its sudden popularity a declaration of war from Canada, where the band originated from?
But very slowly, and very surely, “Rude” won me over. It went to No. 1; I heard it coming out of cars and bars as I walked along in the summer heat, my pace as unhurried as those cookie cutter riddims. There was nothing original or novel about the song whatsoever, but the existential question posed in the chorus — “Why you gotta be so rude? Don’t you know I’m human too?” — seemed deeper and deeper, the more I thought about the banality of human cruelty in a bong-induced state. Why do you gotta be so rude? Why don’t you know I’m human, too? It’s the only thing I want to ask when I see someone acting like a cock on the internet. Hearing it transports me to a backyard where the sun is shining, the burgers are grilling, the bottle of Bud Light Lime has uncapped itself in my hand, and my friends are smiling and laughing and having a lovely time, none of us suffering the effects of rudeness. Also, the Zedd remix makes me feel like I’m Mega Man about to fuck up some robots. — Jeremy Gordon