Music

Every Potential Song Of Summer 2017, Ranked

August marks the dead heat, final lap of summer. It’s the best, brightest, and most lurid of the summer months, the final distillation of what this heat will represent to us later on, after it fades into the past and we drift toward fall. So I’d argue that it’s impossible to designate a Song Of The Summer in the early months of the year — June and July are both too close to spring to really reveal what will be resonating. There’s too much time left for a dark horse of a pop song to gallop into the lead.

It’s in August that everything snaps into focus, the pervading sounds and stars are placed upon their pedestals, and we settle upon the song that will define this briefly tender season where everyone pretends that they’re teens again, capable of the carefree love and light that always felt possible before adulthood.

Maybe the Song Of The Summer is a way for everyone to reclaim their youth in the humid confines of a pop song, sweating it out without a thought of tomorrow. In that spirit, here’s the twenty songs that could or should or will define the summer of 2017. If you’re not a blurbs person, check out our full playlist of all twenty entries over on our Spotify account.

20. “Now Or Never,” Halsey

Halsey’s woozy, brooding lead single “Now Or Never” is slightly too slow and doomed for this summer’s top echelon, which all center playful lust, or at least existential joy, but you can almost feel her ushering in a new era of icy, slowly revolving gloom ballads with this song and the rest of her fantastic sophomore album hopeless fountain kingdom. Holding steady at No. 17 on the Billboard Hot 100 — the track’s highest position on the chart, Halsey is here to remind you that a biracial, bisexual and bipolar pop star who is open about all her dichotomies doesn’t need cosigns from the powers that be. As a truly homegrown New Jersey pop star, who cultivated her own organic growth online before the tastemaking indie electronic label Astralwerks stepped in to propel her to massive stages like Madison Square Garden, Halsey functions like a flickering avatar for the freaks and the losers, most of whom were the coolest among us all along. “Now Or Never” is a crackling ball of icy desire that demands recognition on its own terms, and even if some other songs burned hotter, this one won’t stop simmering right on the brink of spontaneous combustion.–Caitlin White

19. “Something Just Like This,” The Chainsmokers Feat. Coldplay

Here’s the thing, “Something Just Like This” had all the makings to become the biggest punchline imaginable in 2017. With all due respect to the banality of Nickelback, the only artistic entity that people enjoy taking the piss out of more than Coldplay in the modern era is Chainsmokers. Put them together and that’s a weapon’s grade recipe for parody. People were cracking wise about “Something Just Like This” well before they ever even deigned to push play, but then, inevitably they heard it and the joke went sour. Hell, I myself scoffed at this collaboration, wondering how it could possibly produce anything resembling a listenable passage of music, much less a viable Song of the Summer contender. But, as the saying goes, 500 million people can’t be wrong, which is how many views it’s managed to rack up on Youtube. The way it opens at the Tartarus scraping depths of Chris Martin’s lowest register and rises and rises with easy passing line to this soaring cataclysm of optimistic fervor is utterly infectious. It sounds great in headphones, on home stereos and blasting out of car windows. When the weather warms and the sun starts to shine, I want “Something Just Like This.”–Corbin Reiff

18. “Fetish,” Selena Gomez Feat. Gucci Man

Selena Gomez’s rise from teen-centric adolescent idol to genuine, indisputable artist has been one of the most surprising turns among pop music makers this last decade. Her run just this year alone includes several different selections that would’ve been right at home on this list. Have you heard “It Ain’t Me” or “Bad Liar?” Both are high-quality bangers, but it’s her most recent effort, “Fetish” that merits the highest amount of Song of the Summer consideration. The feeling of the music is a syrupy and thick as the smog settled over the San Fernando Valley at three in the afternoon. It’s laconic in the best way imaginable. It’s not psychedelic by any means, but induces visions of astral planes and an otherworldy existence. In “Fetish” Selena plays the role of the pursued. Someone who “pushes you out,” only to have you “come back.” She’s irresistible, and she’s not out here to blame you for getting addicted to her being. To be honest, Gucci Mane’s guest role, while well-handled, is superfluous. Selena is a star, and she doesn’t need another man, any man, stepping into her spotlight.–Corbin Reiff

17. “Magnolia,” Playboi Carti

Usually an artist’s rise to stardom is a slow grind. A years long trial and error process that includes the artist finding out who they truly are, what they want to sound like, what works and what doesn’t after taking a ton of risk and trying all sorts of mixes of the elements that make up their music. For Playboi Carti — and producer Pi’erre Borne — it took about three minutes of absolutely mesmerizing production and verbal bouncing to make that leap from relatively unknown to national sensation. Because “Magnolia” is so enrapturing, it became the sound of a Tidal campaign that featured some of the biggest names in music like Beyonce, Nick Jonas, Demi Lovato, Kendrick Lamar, Big Sean and more. While those are superstars in every sense of the word, Tidal decided Carti was what their movement should sound like, and with good reason. While those stars make for a nice look, Carti milly rocking in New York is the sound of the youth and Tidal knew it. The exuberance of the song oozes out of the speakers and the track is intoxicating, practically putting listeners into a rambunctious trance. Whether it’s the varied flows Carti uses to waltz all through, over and around the instrumental, or the undeniable bounce of “Magnolia” — complete with plenty of chirps, a distorted synth, a timely creaking sound and a thunderous bassline organized into a giddy contraption for Carti to play with — it’s impossible to hear the track and not at least get up and jump around. Or, at the least, throw down your best milly rock.–Eddie Gonzalez

16. “I Know A Place,” Muna

In this hurricane of shit that is 2017, it’s a blessing to have a track as massive and pure as MUNA’s synth-coated treasure that is “I Know A Place.” We could all use a track that can soundtrack a moment of beauty or having a sob in the dairy section of your local corner store. “And I can tell/When you get nervous/You think being yourself/Means being unworthy,” sings Katie Gavin on this flashlight on your soul track. “I Know A Place” is a defiant and defiantly queer anthem in a Trump-era America where LGBTQ2 rights are under (further) attack and trans people can be classified as less than human with a President’s single tweet. In the midst of all this miserable bullshit is the massive pop-propelled reminder that there are spaces where people can be themselves, be loved and feel loved. It also doesn’t hurt that the song is a stadium-sized anthem that claps, snaps and glows like the pop colossus it is. “I Know A Place” isn’t just excellent. It’s essential.–Dan MacRae

15. “That’s What I Like,” Bruno Mars

Bruno Mars has a gift for transmuting our parents’ classic funk sounds into something both modern and timeless, and nowhere is it more on full display than on “That’s What I Like,” the second single from his third album, 24K Magic. Borrowing elements from hip-hop, new jack swing, and the synthy 1980s funk purveyed by the likes of the late, great Kashif, with lyrics that swing from not-quite-rapped, to passionately, urgently sung, Bruno describes the sort of luxuries relegated (for most folks) to a romantic summertime getaway to a four-star hotel with that special somebody. Yet, thanks to its trappy, No Limit Records-inspired drums, “What I Like” would be just as much at home in a darkened nightclub in Vegas, Hollywood, or Miami as on your “Setting The Mood, Vol. 4” mixtape, no champagne needed.–Aaron Williams

14. “Body Like A Back Road,” Sam Hunt

For those who don’t follow American heartland pop, aka, modern country music, let me break it down for you: Sam Hunt is the Drake of country. So much so, that Hunt does his own version of “Marvin’s Room,” and often interpolates hip-hop into his own countrified pop and soul sound. If you’re still skeptical, consider that Hunt’s incorporation of newer sounds into the notoriously traditional genre meant he faced down the similar old head backlash that plagued Drizzy — and came out on top. After Hunt’s massively successful debut Montevallo went platinum three times, the thirst for a follow-up was enormous, and, it was met with “Body Like A Back Road.” This syrupy ode to both the beloved country roads and curvy women who, well, make our country great, strikes just the right balance between car sex innuendos and a clever meet-cute narrative. While there’s an unabashed, heavy-handed dose of that infamous male gaze in the song, it never veers into a leering or lascivious tone, toeing the line between lust and love over a soft, golden melody, finger snaps, and old-timey whistles. Considering this song made its way all the way up to the No. 9 slot on the all-genre Billboard 100 chart — a nearly impossible feat for a country song — it looks like Hunt’s next album is going to cross over in a major way. And while America isn’t really ready for a country song to be the song of the summer, this one comes pretty damn close.–Caitlin White

13. “Passionfruit,” Drake

Here was my to-do list as of May this year: Drink a sangria at a day party whilst two-stepping to Drake’s “Passionfruit.” That’s it. The song struck me as the perfect summer song way back in March (has it really been that long?), with its Caribbean influences and the loose, airy vibe of sea breeze and sunshine. It really doesn’t take much to make a summertime bop; just add vaguely equatorial sounds, keep the tempo right around 110 BPM, and watch dance floors fill up with revelers once the liquor starts flowing — mojitos preferred. The only miss with this song was timing; by the time the season started, we had a good ten more songs to get the job done. Better luck next year, Drake.–Aaron Williams

12. “It Ain’t Me,” Kygo Feat. Selena Gomez

Let the record show that deep down Selena “Kill ‘Em With Kindness” Gomez is a savage. Following her much-publicized rollercoaster of a relationship with the one and only Justin Bieber, both parties did their best to be cordial to the press. Music, however, was another matter. Most of Bieber’s admittedly great, full-fledged adult pop star album Purpose felt like it was reflecting on his failures with Selena, and, similarly, her own breakout Revival contained several tracks that reminisced on a romantic partner’s inability to support and fulfill the song’s protagonist. Even so, they were quite gentle. With “It Ain’t Me,” Selena is subbing Justin Bieber on a feature spot, her voice twisted and burbling on Kygo’s spectacular EDM kiss off that even cribs Bob Dylan’s best break up scoff for good measure. Maybe something snapped into focus for Selena earlier this year, sometimes hindsight is 20/20, but it can take a year or two to reveal itself. Whatever the case, she is crystal clear on this unabashed breakup anthem, reveling in the fact that she’ll no longer have to show up for someone who could never quite show up for her. “Who’s going to walk you through the dark side of the morning?” remains the best thing to scream out your window at the quite reasonable hour of midnight when you’re driving your damn self home, to your own damn bed, to get a good night’s sleep. No whiskey needed. Not all summer anthems need to be toxic, sometimes the highest high comes from putting your own g*ddamn self first. And it feels good as hell to hear Selena doing that.–Caitlin White

11. “Shape Of You,” Ed Sheeran

Look, if you came here to rail about how terrible Ed Sheeran is, you came to the wrong f*cking place. “Shape Of You” is a f*cking jam, and it’s time to stop pretending like this former British nerdy outcast hasn’t pulled off one of the greatest feats in musical history by ascending to the role that he has. Yes, he is, as I just mentioned, a nerdy-looking white British guy. Yes, he plays acoustic guitar and favors warm, jumpy melodies with earnest lyrics in an era that’s flooded with trap drums, icy hooks and disaffection. Yes, “Shape Of You” owes an obvious debt to TLC. But none of those things are on par with the weirdly malicious backlash that Sheeran faces everywhere he goes. He has the voice of an angel, he writes all of his own songs, and he’s never making a fool of himself with drugs or drinking or drama like plenty of pop stars do. Plus, man, this song, it’s about falling in love in taxis and on dates that you’re so broke you can barely afford. It’s about feeling like a person finally fits in with all the weird bits of you that you can barely stand on their own. It’s about remembering how good it feels to wake up every day and remember you’re in love with someone, because you smell or taste or feel a trace of them in your bed. How the hell can you hate on that? In my book, this song is a heavy contender for overall song of summer 2017, haters can make their way to Westeros.–Caitlin White

10. “Bad Liar,” Selena Gomez

A huge component of summer is that sense of nostalgia that pervades every picnic, beach bonfire, and lazy day in the sunshine for similar days long past, and “Bad Liar” evokes that same sense, from its lyrics about unrequited love (shout-out to everyone who ever got — or left — a yearbook confession on the last day of school), to its funky, retro-inspired video set in a 1970s small town high school. The snappy beat gets toes tapping, and the Talking Heads-sampling bassline easily finds a groove that’s not too lazy, but forgoes urgency — feels like those old summer days to me: Just three months with nothing to do, but infinite possibilities, and simultaneously not having enough time, but having all the time in the world. To let Selena Gomez tell it, that’s what new, secret love feels like, and that feeling is exactly “Bad Liar” captures.–Aaron Williams

9. “Cut To The Feeling,” Carly Rae Jepsen

Carly Rae Jepsen is a completely misunderstood natural resource. It’s like folks think A+ pop miracles grow on trees and a truck full of “Run Away With Me” or “I Really Like You” could easily jackknife in front of their house. If that was true, why did Katy Perry’s last album stumble so badly? (And I’m one of those folks like goes to bat for Katy Perry!) [Editor’s note: Me too, usually] We’re being spoiled rotten is what I’m getting at. The former Canadian Idol bronze medalist has blessed us with another song that gets in the brain and consumes the heart all with an appropriate thump of technicolor. “Cut To The Feeling” is a propulsive sort of number that has this aura of junior high romance, but emotions of grown-ups aren’t really all that different. Only the heartless can’t feel pulled in by this cut’s gravitational pull. You certainly could do worse for meticulously crafted pop that makes you feel all sorts of ways during your August wheelings and dealings. What’s wild is that “Cut To The Feeling” is “leftover material” from 2015’s E•MO•TION gussied up for the still-to-arrive animated movie Leap! These are the scraps for goodness sake. Scooter Braun needs to be imprisoned for war crimes (or at least scolded) for botching that last album rollout. Whatever, this ruuuuuuuuules. F*ck it, I might have to run through a sprinkler to this a couple times before Labor Day.–Dan MacRae

8. “Lust For Life,” Lana Del Rey Feat. The Weeknd

Lana Del Rey and The Weeknd aligning forces seems like a bit of a big deal, doesn’t it? Worth roughly a million in prizes, “Lust For Life” wraps itself up in the teen melodrama pop of yore and an infusion of modern style as is Lana’s custom. It’d be a bit off-brand if this were a prog-ska anthem or something.
Decadent in its fusion with style and flair for the cinematic, “Lust For Life” has Lana and Abel sharing their own complicated dream pop world that comes equipped with all the classic Wall of Sound inspired production trimmings. It’s the sort of track where an affirmation about the will to live is ushered in with two massive chart-toppers calling for the other to disrobe. Appropriately woozy, shamelessly grand and everything you imagine, “Lust For Life” owns some significant summer song real estate in 2017.–Dan MacRae

7. “Slide,” Calvin Harris Feat. Frank Ocean, Quavo

I can’t dance, so any song that lets me two-step like a drunk uncle is good money over here, and that’s exactly what “Slide” by Calvin Harris does. It’s a funky, bouncy wave that threw off many critics at first listen, but has shown plenty of staying power since its release earlier this year. Unlike Drake, Calvin Harris isn’t nearly as ubiquitous in the urban world, so this one had time to trickle over based on the magnetic star power of its guests. As a lover of the tropical house genre, this was already going to enter my rotation, but mad genius that Calvin Harris is, he stuck Frank Ocean and Quavo on this smooth slapper and ensured that it was going to get played in every car on Ocean Blvd. (in Santa Monica or Long Beach, take your pick) at sunset every weekend in August and September. Expect to hear this inescapable jam at any day parties have the sense to throw on a no-brainer dance floor-filler early and often — and that should be all of them.–Aaron Williams

6. “Humble,” Kendrick Lamar

“Humble” isn’t merely a song. “Humble” is the act of Kendrick Lamar planting his flag firmly at the top of the rap hierarchy and saying “I’m the best there is.” It’s a warning to all other braggadocios MCs out there to “sit down” and pay proper respect to the greatest rapper alive. “Be Humble!” Evidently quite a few people agreed with his declaration, as it became the first overall No. 1 hit of his entire, accolade-filled career. Propelled by a plunking piano-filled riff designed by one of the most vital producers in the game today, Mike Will Made-It, K. Dot goes hard in the paint, switching up his flow on multiple occasions, sometimes even mid-sentence, all in the service of painting a picture of how he assumed his throne. How many among us have reached for the volume knob and screamed out “My left stroke just went viral!” at full throat every time he arrives at that line? Guilty as charged. Kendrick has always argued that he was the most skilled lyricist in the game. His last album To Pimp A Butterfly proved that he might also be the deepest thinker. On DAMN, and with “Humble” specifically, he’s shown that he can make pop hits with the best of them.–Corbin Reiff

5. “Green Light,” Lorde

I do my make up in someone else’s car. That line, alone, makes “Green Light” a stunning song, and is one of the best album opening lines in the history of pop music. Grief always live the longest inside the tiny domestic acts that must shift in unspeakable ways when we lose someone. Something as simple as a makeup brush or a different angle in a car seat can evoke or revoke an entire romantic history in a second. Put your mascara on anyway, and keep going. That’s the ethos that lives inside “Green Light,” which is, at first, a little disconcerting when taken out of the context it appears in on Lorde’s monumental sophomore album Melodrama. In fact, it’s so odd and off-kilter that pop scientist Max Martin even infamously told Lorde the math needed to fix it — and she still opted not to. The result is a slow, boiling track that’s a bit rubbery when we’re used to static clean, and that smolders when we’re used to kerosene. That doesn’t mean it’s not a banger — this thing gets to almost flat-out screaming on some choruses — but it bangs, and it slides, it twists, and sparks and whirls. It’s a joyride pop track that’s sinuous enough to veer toward revenge and loneliness and jealousy without ever losing sight of the final destination: Freedom. That feeling — freedom — is what courses through every perfect song of the summer, and exactly why Lorde should be in the running for this year’s top slot. Though there’s finality and loss written into the double helix of “Green Light,” the other side of the strand is always joy, and possibility. And when it comes to Lorde, it always will be.–Caitlin White

4. “I’m The One,” DJ Khaled Feat. Justin Bieber, Quavo, Chance The Rapper, And Lil Wayne

DJ Khaled’s latest album Grateful is a sprawling mess, overflowing with some truly mediocre contributions from some of the biggest names in pop and hip-hop. “I’m The One” is the exception. So is “Wild Thoughts,” featuring Rihanna and a stunning sample of Carlos Santana’s “Maria Maria” for that matter, but that’s another blurb for another day. DJ Khaled’s truest skill is bringing together disparate forces in music, putting them in a room with one another and seeing what happens. Khaled himself recognized that he had something special with this particular song, and went to great lengths pulling on some of the biggest names on the planet to work on it: Justin Bieber, Chance The Rapper, Lil Wayne and Quavo. This man, this jet-skiing resident of Miami played the Biebs in a one-on-one game of street hockey just to secure his place on this song. That’s how much he believed – Beliebed? – in it. His faith was reward of course, as it became the first No. 1 hit of his career. It’s not hard to hear what people love about this song so much. The finger snaps, the tom-filled drum beats, the whistling piano melody; there’s a breezy quality to the music itself that just makes you feel good. You try not smiling while Chance is out here rapping about the joys of Netflix and chill! Can’t. Be. Done.–Corbin Reiff

3. “Despacito,” Luis Fonsi, Daddy Yankee, Justin Bieber

Okay, so let’s get one thing out of the way up front: It’s not that tight that Justin Bieber still thinks making fun of Spanish lyrics in public is okay. It’s nothing to brag about that America only pays attention the to sheer, towering genius of Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee when a white pop star like Bieber hops on a remix. And it’s frustrating for the Latinx community to hear this track championed while plenty of other artists who equally deserve this shine will never get it. Those are important caveats, and things that any listener should have in the top of their mind in 2017, and under a president who openly devalues and belittles the Latinx community. But, despite all of this, the “Despacito” remix is still an undeniable banger. If a song is strong enough to withstand all the heaviness and awkwardness and tension and still be a banger, then Jesus Christ, it’s really something. From the first guitar strummed notes of the intro, through Bieber’s own sunrise of a verse, all the way into the quick-sung pre-chorus and undeniable rhythm of the chorus, there isn’t a single moment that isn’t brilliant and spine-tingling and smile-inducing. It’s a song caught up in its own wave, and the reggaeton crossover the world needed to shine some light on a very deserving community. So please, take the time to learn the Spanish so you can sing along to your heart’s content without looking like a fool. That’s literally the least you can do for the song that probably deserves to be in that top slot, but is held back from ultimate triumph by the immature behavior of one unrelenting Bieber. All the best things, as the song notes, come ever so slowly.–Caitlin White

2. “Wild Thoughts,” DJ Khaled Feat. Rihanna, Bryson Tiller

It took approximately one week for this song to hit saturation. Every club, every day party, every clothing store is playing this record, and show no sighs of stopping any time soon. It’s become every bit as ubiquitous as the 2008 hit is was built on, Carlos Santana’s “Maria, Maria,” featuring Wyclef Jean and The Product G&B, which spent ten weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. That’s the whole summer of 2008. Simply put, “Wild Thoughts” has duplicated the formula that made Bad Boy Records’ hit singles so successful throughout the late-’90s: Jack a popular hit wholesale, repurpose it with popular artists of the day — in this case, Rihanna — make sure it gets played ad nauseum, and finally, profit. Whatever your particular opinion of DJ Khaled, you can’t deny he knows exactly how to make a hit; while not quite topping the charts, “Wild Thoughts” did peak at No. 2 on the Hot 100, and probably won’t leave the list entirely ‘til we’re all wearing scarves and sipping pumpkin spice.–Aaron Williams

1. “Unforgettable,” French Montana, Swae Lee

Music fans are clamoring for a solo turn for Rae Sremmurd’s Swae Lee, and “Unforgettable” may be the finest example of why. Yes, it’s technically a French Montana song, and yes French does hold his own on the record, but Swae doesn’t just “hold his own” he makes the entire song his own. The infectious hook is so enveloping it’s the type of tune that’s sung for decades at gatherings of all kinds, from weddings to drunken bar room karaoke sessions. It’s as unorthodox a hit as could be. The song features a four-bar bridge, where the lead artist barely makes a peep — French quickly delivers a line about popping champagne in a jacuzzi, then makes the shrewd decision to step back and let Swae get back to work — and a 16-bar hook that’s actually a verse lifted from an earlier version of the track. But it’s easy to see why, Swae’s mastery of melody helps “Unforgettable” live up to it’s name.
Every element of the song is addicting, the soothing dancehall production from Jaegen and 1Mind, the seemingly random, abrupt but brief contributions from French and even the jubilant video. But make no mistake, Swae’s warbling chorus and chirping behind that is what makes “Unforgettable” the most captivating and hypnotic song of the summer. If Swae ever makes 12 of these and puts them on the same album he might rule the world.–Eddie Gonzalez

Here’s the full playlist of all our picks:

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