This year, like any other, all of pop is vying for control of the charts during the sweatiest season. But the stakes are higher this summer, since we all need a song that defines the joy of renewed social bonds amid a desperately coveted reopening. Thankfully, plenty of artists understand the assignment of making the world feel alive again, be it with a raging breakup anthem or a sweet, fruit-based serenade. As always, what should and what will rule the summer are two different things. Below, we take a closer look at some of the biggest contenders and a few favorite outliers.
Saweetie: “Best Friend” [ft. Doja Cat]
In the last 15 years, the “song of the summer” as a concept has become codified with its own rules and rhythms. Though Rihanna’s “Umbrella” marked a turning point in 2007, and Billboard launched an official Song of the Summer chart in 2010, the competitive aspect of the whole thing really started heating up in 2013 and 2014. It was around then, in our unfortunate summer of Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy,” that I read something on the subject that has stuck with me ever since: “This is usually when someone raises his hand and is like, ‘Oh, I’ve really been enjoying the new Spoon single, that’s my song of summer.’ Which… no,” Amanda Dobbins wrote on Vulture. “Let’s be clear about how this works: There is no such thing as a ‘personal’ song of summer.”
Does it matter that I’m going to feel wistful to Angel Olsen and Sharon Van Etten’s “Like I Used To” all summer long, or dance around my bedroom to some blown-out indie-pop track called “PISTOLWHIP”? No, it does not. There’s a social contract when it comes to songs of the summer, one that is still being worked out as life continues to open up. Though the charts suggest another Doja duet will be the contender to beat (see below), “Best Friend” has shown impressive staying power since being released early in the year—and I only see it growing in the zeitgeist. The video itself is proof of concept for a zero-fucks-given Saweetie/Doja buddy comedy I would very much watch, but, like Lizzo’s “Truth Hurts” before it, get this song’s über-catchy chorus in a cute movie montage (or just an endless parade of trailers), and that’s a wrap, folks. –Jillian Mapes
Doja Cat: “Kiss Me More” [ft. SZA]
Several things feel off about Doja Cat’s new album rollout, like the fact that it’s coming out on Dr. Luke’s label or that the whole Planet Her concept looks like what might happen if Chromatica lost its franchisee license. But you wouldn’t know any of that just from hearing the lead single, which is why “Kiss Me More” has a perfectly good chance of following last year’s Doja Cat hits “Say So” and “Like That” to become a bubblegum pop-rap smash. As a song, it goes down easy: plausibly sexy but reasonably tame—it’s mostly about French kissing—with a very vaguely tropical flavor, like a piña colada seltzer. The emotions get briefly more complicated when SZA comes in for a guest verse, but “Kiss Me More” isn’t deep or insightful; this isn’t the season for deep and insightful. This song will give tens of thousands of people coming off a period of limited social contact an immediate excuse to make out on the dancefloor. What more do you want? –Anna Gaca
Justin Bieber: “Peaches” [ft. Daniel Caesar & Giveon]
The most glaring thing about “Peaches” is that it doesn’t feel like a Justin Bieber record at first. It’s instantly too smooth, too dreamy, too warm. (He takes his “bad-ass bitch” where?) But this is Journals-era Bieber skating over a track with two of the most tonally distinct R&B singers around—both of whom make him sound not only fresher but more relaxed on his own single. Daniel Caesar’s verse is sweet enough to forget he’s singing about trading true love for Mallorca, and when the song transitions to Giveon’s sonorous reflections on romance as surrender, it makes for a pleasant contrast. A smooth-as-ever Usher salvages the remix from transient houseguests Ludacris and Snoop Dogg, adding lived-in harmonies to an already suave song.
Sure, it’s easy to reject the allure of “Peaches”—from the wistful opening chords to Bieber’s “edgy” ad-libs and the final finger snaps, it’s such a targeted summer anthem. Yet something tells me that when fall breezes start drifting in, this song will be among the few that evoke memories of a uniquely carefree, social season filled with gratitude for life, fun, and touch. Like the best fruits, neither summer nor love seems to last long enough to really savor. –Clover Hope
Megan Thee Stallion: “Thot Shit”
For the third year in a row, Megan Thee Stallion has put forward an unimpeachable contender for song of the summer. Like “Big Ole Freak” and “Savage” before it, “Thot Shit” is a call-to-action for a permissive, indulgent good time: throw ass, sip something, feel yourself. Longtime collaborator LilJuMadeDaBeat offers a propulsive siren of a beat, and Meg laces it with her unwavering commandments for a season of aspirational post-pandemic debauchery. Neither the sound nor the conceit of “Thot Shit” are especially innovative, and that is precisely the point.