Each year artists hustle to deliver the song of the summer, the ubiquitous track that plays on every radio station, in every store, and on every dance floor. They’re inescapable—and, too often, insufferable. In recent years, the summer-song playlist has been overstuffed with pop candy, inane lyrics, repetitive choruses, and excessive silliness. Let’s revisit leading contenders from recent years: “Call Me Maybe,” “Sexy and I Know It,” “California Gurls,” “Buy You a Drank,” “I Gotta Feeling …” Catchy? Yes. Fun? OK. But good? Umm …
So our eardrums are thankful this year that, by and large, the 10 biggest songs of the summer (so far) are not bad. On average, they’re actually kind of great. So, at this July 4 juncture—summer’s midway point—here’s a ranked list of contenders for this year’s song of the summer.
1. “Blurred Lines”—Robin Thicke featuring T.I. and Pharrell Williams
Yes, as you sing along to Robin Thicke's sexy, sunny dance track, you may start to feel a bit icky as you slowly realize what the lyrics you’re cheerfully crooning actually mean. But the song's shake-your-groove-thing bounce, Thicke and Pharrell’s playful falsetto, and its opening command—“everybody get up”—all swirl together for an irresistible piña colada of a track that demands and, a rarity, even endures repeat listens. It's the kind of song that when it's played in every bar, restaurant, and drugstore you walk into this summer, doesn’t make you groan, "This again?" Instead you coo a little bit, involuntarily do a little shoulder wiggle, and shop for your toothpaste with some extra pep in your step.
2. “Get Lucky”—Daft Punk featuring Pharrell Williams and Nile Rodgers
Finally, a dance song dominates the summer but manages to forgo sugary pop confection. Daft Punk’s loving nod to the disco era perfectly melds the funk of its bass line, crisp drum beats, and the gleeful sing-song delivery of Pharrell’s vocals to create an old-school track with ultra-modern flair. And let’s credit the guitar work of Rodgers, grand old man of the dance floor as half of Chic and co-creator of “Le Freak,” for helping to strike that balance. It’s a song that manages to sound familiar and revolutionary at the same time, with lyrics (“we’re up all night for good fun”) tailor-made for shouting along to during a sweaty late-night dance session.
3. “Can’t Hold Us” – Macklemore & Ryan Lewis featuring Ray Dalton
Proving that the success of “Thrift Shop” was no fluke, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis released “Can’t Hold Us,” a track that’s just as catchy—but less kitschy and more musical—than its smash predecessor. The persistent foot-stomping beat is perfect for a steering-wheel drum solo, while the blaring horns and anthemic “this is the moment” chorus make for a summer-festival ready combination.
4. “Cruise”—Florida Georgia Line featuring Nelly
Every summer needs a nice, simple tune with a good twang for sing-alongs on long drives with the windows down. Shrewdly aware of this fact, Florida Georgia Line opens the chorus to “Cruise” with the line “You make me wanna roll my windows down and cruise.” The rest of the track is breezy, easy listening, and the presence of Nelly, while slightly odd, adds just the right amount of grit to a track that otherwise veers dangerously close to country-fried milquetoast.
5. “We Can’t Stop”—Miley Cyrus
Is she really singing about doing lines in the bathroom? Is she really singing about taking Molly? More importantly, are we really singing along with her? Yes, we are, because—despite ourselves—we have become hooked on yet another Miley Cyrus party jam.
6. “Treasure”—Bruno Mars
The worst thing to say about Bruno Mars’s latest retro-groovy, effortlessly fun, and easily danceable single is that it’s maybe just a little less retro-groovy, effortlessly fun, and easily danceable than his recent string of strong and successful singles. All that is to say that “Treasure” is as joyous as you expect from a Mars summer track, with the added bonus of a heavy Michael Jackson influence—never a bad thing.
7. “I Love It”—Icona Pop featuring Charli XCX
Sometimes (OK, a lot of times) during the summer, you just want to get a little (very) drunk and jump up and down to a good song and dance with abandon. Perhaps that’s why “I Love It” is as big a hit in July as it was when it was hit the charts five months ago. The song might be a little old, but the chorus of giddily chanting bar patrons you no doubt encountered this weekend probably says it best: “I don’t care / I love it.”
8. “Come & Get It”—Selena Gomez
Yes, it does sound a little bit like it was picked off the Rihanna discard pile. But with no new Rihanna tracks lighting up this summer, we’ll take a knock-off with a catchy hook and appealing come-hither vocals from Gomez instead. And we’ll listen to it. On repeat.
9. “Cups (Pitch Perfect’s When I’m Gone)”—Anna Kendrick
“Cups” has had the unlikeliest of journeys to summer earworm. It all began when Kendrick discovered a rendition of the song “When I’m Gone” (a folk song originally recorded in 1931) on Reddit that used only a cup as percussion. Learning the entire routine, she performed it as her character’s a cappella audition piece in the film comedy Pitch Perfect. After the soundtrack version of Kendrick’s performance took off, a single was recorded with added percussion. An adorable music video was then filmed with a diner’s worth of people performing the cup choreography, and incessant radio play followed … not that anyone’s complaining.
10. “I’m Out”—Ciara featuring Nicki Minaj
This is the late entry into the “song of the summer” contest, and certainly the most aggressive one. The kiss-off track grinds with a bass-heavy club beat, peppers in Nicki Minaj’s characteristic sass, and layers it all under Ciara’s breathy sex-voice for a girl-power anthem that’s decidedly not girlie and all power.