Solstice-ly speaking, summer is still officially a month away—June 21, to be exact—but it’s never too early to get a head start on the Song of Summer sweepstakes. And now that there is an official “Songs of the Summer” Billboard chart, we’ll have a quantitative answer to this inquiry by the fall. But until then, here are the current 8 sleeper contenders that have the potential to become the Song of Summer—and we’re disregarding, blatantly, the chart-toppers that have already (seemingly, hopefully) peaked. (Sorry, “Despacito.”) This is a highly subjective list, of course: A few major artists appear here, as well as some relatively obscure ones, but hopefully by summer’s end one of these will be your personal song of summer, even if the charts don’t back it up. We won’t be mad if it’s any of the following.
“Magnolia,” Playboi Carti
Earlier this year, the beloved SoundCloud rap star, and every rapper’s favorite moodboard, Playboi Carti released two singles: “Lookin’” and “Woke Up Like This.” Both were excellent songs upon which to build anticipation for his long-awaited album, but it was a leaked track originally called “Hiding In My Socks,” since retitled “Magnolia,” that is already inescapable. Even if Carti is from Atlanta, his opening rejoinder of “In New York / Milly Rock hiding in my socks” at live shows nearly causes a riot as fans get out their sturdiest Milly Rock. Produced by Pi’eree Bourne—his tag “Yo Pi’erre come out here” kicks things off—the song’s woozy beats, once they kick into gear, along with Carti’s ad lib-heavy style, make a powerful punch that’s hard not to dance to. Thankfully, the season is still early—there’s time to perfect your Milly Rock.
“Malibu,” Miley Cyrus
Miley Cyrus never stays in a single pocket. First she was the daughter of country star Billy Ray Cyrus, then Hannah Montana, then the pop star of “Party In the USA,” then the hip-hop alter ego of “We Can’t Be Stopped,” then a Flaming Lips collaborator for her last album, Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz. All of those twists and turns makes the subdued nature of “Malibu” a bit surprising. No longer offering up soundtracks to a 2 a.m. drug-fueled party, Miley’s beach-ready soft rock of “Malibu” feels primed for late 90’s Adult Contemporary radio. The song’s relaxed attitude might throw off newer fans of the singer, but it sounds like the most Miley that Miley’s been in a while.
“It Ain’t Me,” Kygo feat. Selena Gomez
When Avicii bowed out of EDM and pop, the Swedish DJ left a fairly massive hole in the limited space of potential top-tier electronic festival headliners who could also top the Hot 100. Kygo, though, was ready to take on those duties. The producer, who is probably best known his success with tropical house and endless chill playlists, teamed up with Selena Gomez on a country EDM stomper. Gomez’s opening lines perfectly evoke a summer night where fireworks light up the sky: “I had a dream that I was sipping whiskey neat.”
“Drowning,” A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie feat. Kodak Black
Not every summer jam needs to convey good times. There’s a certain charge to A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie’s “Drowning,” a paranoid, yet endearing, song about navigating post-fame waters. A Bronx native, A Boogie spent most of 2016 slowly grinding from local New York fame into one of the hottest rappers in a crowded field of exciting new rap talent. His debut tape, Artist, centered on post-Drake emotional heartbreak that carries through on “Drowning,” where he’s constantly in his head about whether he made the right or wrong life moves at this critical fork in the road. While the weight of the subject matter might not brighten a summer day, it does give fuel to those grinding away in the week, just trying to find some light for the weekend or that getaway.
“Lines of The Broken,” San Holo & Droeloe feat. CUT_
Late last year, the Dutch producer San Holo released an amazing single, “Light,” that was one of the better moments of the popular EDM genre known as future bass. The style pulls from structure of pop, the drops of big-tent EDM, and small flourishes from quirky indie pop. “Lines of the Broken” is San Holo’s latest single, where he’s joined by Droeloe, a production duo, to continue down the path blazed by “Light.” Opening with soft glimmering synths that transitions into a confetti explosion of a drop, the song to it’s credit doesn’t simply repeat that wondrous opening minute, ducking and weaving in search of a different drop. Released earlier this month, and already getting positive love from numerous producers on SoundCloud, expect the song to ring out at festivals across the country this summer.
“Benny Whip,” King Imprint
Two years ago, King Imprint, a YouTube dancer, saw his channel take off after he uploaded a video for ILoveMemphis’s “Hit The Quan,” which got over 70 million plays. Not only a dancer, he directed his own videos, choreographed his own dances, and early this year brought all those talents together for his burgeoning viral song/video, “Benny Whip.” The song throws back to late aughts summertime Atlanta rap by the likes of Soulja Boy and Travis Porter, who were part of the first generation of rap stars to find musical success in part due to their social media personas. King Imprint is following their footsteps and hoping that, by the end of the summer, kids and adults across the country will be onto his dance moves.
“Issues,” Julia Michaels
Even before “Issues,” most people knew the work of Julia Michaels, even if they hadn’t heard the singer’s name. The 23-year-old performer has written hits for Selena Gomez (“Slow Down”), Justin Bieber (“Sorry”), Fifth Harmony (“All In My Head (Flex)”), and even Linkin Park (“Heavy”). On “Issues,” Michaels wallows in her own “Issues” over a spry keyboard melody that feels pulled from a mid-aughts indie movie. That charm and quirk separates the song from various radio fodder still caught up in the current crush of electronic music. Not a song to start a party, certainly, but one that should be inescapable from any coffeeshop—at least until Michaels’s next single.
“Love Galore,” SZA feat. Travis Scott
Nearly three years since her debut album, Z, the Top Dawg-affiliated singer SZA returned with “Love Galore” featuring Travis Scott, one of rap’s brashest stars. Right now, R&B is in an interesting place—arguably the biggest musical star in the world, Beyoncé, is an R&B act, but the genre has struggled to really make its mark on the charts and in the pop mainstream. “Love Galore” to its credit doesn’t make an attempt to crassly go pop; instead, it’s a slow-winding jam, with SZA swaggering about with self-assured confidence. Then Travis Scott, who just released his own Song of the Summer contender (“Butterfly Effect”), appears in a shockingly sweet guest verse for the Houston rapper. R&B might still be a bit outside the pop spotlight, but “Love Galore” is one way to reclaim that attention.
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