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