A lot of July’s best pop music isn’t on the radio. No offense to Drake and Post Malone, but they make a couple million dollars more per month than I do, and they don’t need my extra promo. The month’s best pop music comes from some surprising places. Ciara is back! The Chainsmokers put out something… kind of great? Andy Garcia has a lovely singing voice?
July was a slower month for big pop album releases, but some pop superstars teased late summer releases, and others dropped the first singles off their upcoming fall projects. You might hear a couple of these songs on the radio after “Psycho” and “In My Feelings,” and some others are poised to blow up in the coming months. Collected here are the ten best new pop singles released in July.
Billie Eilish — “you should see me in a crown”
In an iconic scene in the BBC series Sherlock, the psychopathic Moriarty tells the good detective, “In a world of locked rooms, the man with the key is king. And honey, you should see me in a crown.” It’s a fittingly powerful quote for Billie Eilish, who, as a 16-year-old, is already touring with Florence + The Machine and collecting features from Khalid and Vince Staples. Eilish sings over the sound of knives scraping, maniacal laughter, and a downright evil beat. Eilish says that she’s “gonna run this nothing town” — I think she’s on to something there.
Christine And The Queens — “Doesn’t Matter”
The lyrics to “Doesn’t Matter” are dark and hopeless on first listen (It doesn’t matter, does it? / If I know any exit / If I believe in God, and if God does exist”), but given power through singer Héloïse Letissier’s exalting voice, they become a call to push through and keep looking. There’s some comfort in not knowing, in feeling a religious presence but not knowing where to attribute it, finding hope in the simple knowledge that you are still looking and still hoping.
Ariana Grande — “God is a woman”
“God is a woman,” at first listen, reminded me of “Dangerous Woman,” off Ariana’s last album. It’s an assertion of her confidence, a sex-bop over layered choir vocals and a sultry beat. But “Dangerous Woman” occasionally felt like Ariana was dressing up in a persona that felt a little too big for her, not entirely convincing me that she was this dangerous bad girl. But now, when Ariana compares herself to God, it’s not a stretch. By the end of the song, she’s created a whole church choir with just her own voice, amplifying herself as she hits the highest of high notes. God is a woman indeed.
Ciara — “Level Up”
“Level Up” is my favorite kind of pop song. The beat comes a little too fast, verging on stressful to listen to if you’re not in the headspace for it. It’s only three and a half minutes long, but I think I can run seven miles before it ends. “Level Up” is Ciara’s first new music since 2015’s criminally underrated Jackie&, and it’s an incredible reintroduction, well-produced and accompanied by a music video with killer choreography.
ZAYN — “Sour Diesel”
“Sour Diesel” is a strain of cannabis sativa, but in the lyrics of this song, she might also be a sexy lady. Apart from the comfortable climb of his voice, one of Zayn’s greatest strengths as a singer and songwriter is putting words and music to the blurring of memories, people, and places. In some ways, “Sour Diesel” is the hazier sister of “lUcOzAdE,” a stream-of-consciousness highlight off his first album.
But waxing poetic about the lyrics of “Sour Diesel” ignores the song’s more immediate charms. It’s funky, with a Seinfeld bassline and guitar solo. The album artwork is absolutely insane. His voice, obviously, sounds incredible. The song is the best kind of unexpected, a wink toward whoever might think they know Zayn well enough to put him in some kind of box.
BROCKHAMPTON — “1997 DIANA”
The “best boy band since One Direction” released a few new tracks in July, but “1997 DIANA” especially stands out. The controversy the rap collective has faced in the last few months appears to have made BROCKHAMPTON emerge from the fire with even stronger music. Dom McLennon brings incredible energy to his verses, and Kevin Abstract leads the song into exalting, cathartic chaos at the end.
The Chainsmokers, Feat. Emily Warren — “Side Effects”
When my friend texted me telling me that “the new Chainsmokers song was great” I’ll admit I almost didn’t believe him. (Editor’s note: I did!) The Chainsmokers are the kings of undergrad clubs — their previous singles are the kind of big, anthemic EDM that I usually find grating, foreshadowing a headache the next morning. “Side Effects” is refreshingly groovy, with a slinky future bass line that reminds me a little of Charlie Puth’s “Attention” (another song I grew to reluctantly love). The song is about living in the moment and embracing the things that make you happy. Appropriately poetic, as I click play again.
teddy — “I Was in a Cult”
Teddy Geiger, former One Tree Hill-era swoopy-haired teen idol, has been quietly creating some of the best pop music of the last decade. Geiger has written hits for One Direction, 5 Seconds of Summer, Leon Bridges, and Lizzo — and almost all of Shawn Mendes’ self-titled album earlier this year. “I Was In A Cult” is fuzzier and rockier than the stuff Geiger writes for other artists, but the song’s razor-sharp lyrics and even-sharper hooks make it an undeniable contribution from one of pop’s reigning songwriting queens.
Cher And Andy Garcia — “Fernando”
I’ve been listening to the soundtrack for Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again more than any other pop album released in July, so it’d be dishonest for me to not include a song from that album on this list. “Fernando” is my favorite on the soundtrack. It’s one of the several songs that plays during the joyous last half hour of the movie, it’s Cher’s big song, and it’s the only song to spotlight Andy Garcia. (He actually has a great voice! Sorry, Pierce Brosnan.) “Fernando” isn’t even one of my favorite ABBA songs, but Cher and Garcia spin it into an anthemic, iconic cinematic spectacle.
The 1975 — “Love It If We Made It”
“Love It If We Made It” is a list of everything that’s horrible in the world in 2018, but damn if that beat isn’t still optimistic. Singer (and credited songwriter) Matty Healy juxtaposes lyrics about police brutality, the opioid crisis, climate change, and the death of music idols against the band’s signature shimmering synths. The repeated chorus of “I’d love it if we made it,” sounds like a rallying cry against every threat and tragedy. The world is ugly, but maybe we can still dance through it.