Summer and pop music go hand in hand, and now that “Call Me Maybe” is finally starting to get on people’s nerves, it might be time to diversify your summer playlist. It’s the middle of the summer! Drink beer, eat some barbecue, and fall in love. But don’t you dare do it without a soundtrack.
Here are ten candidates that are worthy of your attention.
Charli XCX – “You’re The One”
In Five Words: Electro-pop with a gothic edge.
Thick, wobbling synths and cavernous drum samples resonate on the first single from UK songstress Charli XCX’s debut EP You’re The One. The melodies are saccharine, but a pervasive darkness in the lyrics and production choices make Charli XCX’s brand of goth pop pleasantly unsettling. Add a little edge to your poolside BBQ with this electro banger.
Little Big Town – “Pontoon”
In Five Words: Modern country gets daytime drunk.
Occasionally, a ridiculous song will cross over from the fiercely literal, self-sustaining world of country music, and destroy any traditional notion of what a pop song can be. In “Pontoon,” Little Big Town (see, even their band name is ridiculous) describe a perfect summer day, spent “party[ing] in slow motion” on a buoyant watercraft. The euphemistic chorus hook, “Mmmmmm, motorboatin,’” is a perfect punchline to the muggy, drunken world that Little Big Town create with this sleepy, steamy summer hit. It’ll make you feel like you have sunstroke, in the best way possible. Fill up your cooler, go sit by the nearest natural body of water (a kiddie-pool will do), and do summer right – the Little Big Town way.
Kelly Clarkson – “Dark Side”
In Five Words: Clarkson’s typical life-affirming power ballad.
Whether it’s during the walk home from the bar, or a long, expensive ride in the back of a cab, an inspirational pop anthem can perfectly underscore summertime misadventures. In the business of making you feel better via song, there’s none better than Kelly Clarkson. This feel-good power ballad preaches self-acceptance, and found the perfect home in Greg Kurstin’s expert pop production. Kurstin has produced for Lily Allen, Kylie Minogue, and Britney Spears, and his twinkling, lullaby-esque keyboards and layered background harmonies bring “Dark Side” to an emotional peak. Toss this jam on during your bike-ride home, after you get too drunk and embarrass yourself in front of your summer crush at the bar. [ed: But don’t ride your bike drunk, kids.]
Meek Mill – “Amen” feat. Drake & Jeremih
In Five Words: Mixtapes are the new albums.
Meek Mill is the Maybach Music rookie of the year, and if his recent mixtape Dreamchasers 2 is any indication, his proper debut Dreams & Nightmares (out August 28) will springboard the Pennsylvania rapper to the forefront of hip-hop in 2012. The standout track from Dreamchasers 2, “Amen” is a forum for Meek Mill to showcase his relentlessly energetic flow over a bouncy sampled piano riff. Aided with a little help from Drake and Jeremih, “Amen” is a speaker-blowing, requisite hip-hop song about partying and living in luxury. When “Amen” comes on, crank your air conditioner up to ten, and live beyond your means. It feels good, right?
Kristina Maria – “Our Song Comes On”
In Five Words: Can-con, yes, but great chorus.
Twenty-three-year-old singer Kristina Maria is a rising star on Canadian pop radio, and as a result, you’ve probably heard her new single roughly a billion times. Perhaps you heard it while grocery shopping, or for six seconds at a time as cars drive by your house, testing the limits of the factory stereos built into Honda Accords. When you finally get a chance to take in the song on your own time (when you’re not assessing the firmness of avocados), you’ll find it to be fairly cheesy dance-pop fare, with a chorus that has all of the addictive qualities of crack cocaine, without that creepy skeletal, sunken-cheek side effect.
Ciara – “Sweat” feat. 2 Chainz
In Five Words: Ciara is back; still sexy.
The lead single from Ciara’s fifth studio album (One Woman Army) proves that she still knows how to ride the beat. This Tricky Stewart-produced bass-heavy track is probably best experienced on a sweltering dance floor in a basement dive bar. Ciara has never been known for vocal heroics, but her song selection always makes for good dance party fodder. Also, any song that encourages, and even glamourizes sweating is an ace in the hole for unbearably hot summer nights. If your t-shirt is dripping on the dance-floor, request Ciara’s “Sweat,” and act like you’re ahead of the curve.
Lady – “Yankin”
In Five Words: Everyone loves a novelty song.
Georgia rapper Lady’s “Yankin” actually appeared on her 2010 mixtape Bitch From Around The Way 2, but an amazingtelevisionplacement in the season finale of HBO’s Girls has given this song new legs in 2012. With songs like “Yankin,” and “Pussy,” Lady’s entire discography is built around her bragging about how great her vagina is. We’d write this one off as a new incarnation of “SmellYoDick,” but “Yankin” is far more listenable than Riskay’s genital-referencing counterpart. Turn it up at the next house party you go to, and watch your hipster friends lose their shit.
Usher – “Euphoria”
In Five Words: Usher creates new genre: EDM&B
Usher is a very good singer. Swedish House Mafia are very good electronic music producers. It only makes sense that their collaboration, “Euphoria,” almost lives up to its name. Usher’s new album Looking 4 Myself is so cohesive, and well-produced that it nearly makes you forget how terrible some songs from Raymond vs. Raymond were (we’re looking at YOU, will.i.am-produced “O.M.G.”). Wait until everyone at your garden party has three or four Bacardi Breezers in ‘em, queue this one up on your portable-stereo-with-iPod-dock, and watch in awe as everyone starts to fist-pump in sync to the sweet, summery sounds of Usher Raymond IV.
Schoolboy Q – “Hands On The Wheel” feat. A$AP Rocky
In Five Words: Way better than Kid Cudi.
Schoolboy Q’s second independent album Habits & Contradictions came out in January, but the mainstream recognition only started to filter in recently, partly due to the mondo blog buzz for Black Hippy (a West Coast hip-hop collective featuring Schoolboy Q, Kendrick Lamar, Jay Rock, and Ab-Soul). In “Hands On The Wheel,” Washington D.C. production team Best Kept Secret re-work a liveperformance by Texan recording artist Lissie covering “Pursuit of Happiness” by Kid Cudi. Don’t get it twisted – to say that this is way better than Kid Cudi is not the same as saying that his version of “Pursuit Of Happiness” is bad. It’s an incredible song, but it’s far too melancholy for a summer party playlist. Lucky for us, Best Kept Secret took out the downer shit, and Schoolboy Q and A$AP Rocky took do what they do best (ie. rap about partying) on the re-worked instrumental. If you agree with Q & Rocky, and think that, at its base level, summer should be “about weed and brews,” this is an ideal soundtrack for partying with pals in a park. Just don’t play this one too loud, or the cops will bust up your outdoor festivities.
Justin Bieber – “Thought Of You”
In Five Words: Diplo’s deep cut from Believe.
Most people over the age of fourteen will probably completely overlook Believe. If there’s one song from Justin Bieber’s new album that’s worth giving a chance, it’s this one. Diplo finds a way to inject some of his sample-driven creativity into the poppiest of pop realms, and Justin delivers one of the single best vocal performances of his career. All this on a song that, in all likelihood, probably won’t even be a single. Fans of Justin Bieber love it for its cute, romantic lyrics, but the production is just weird enough that it could entice some of the most acrimonious music critics. Post this jam on your summer crush’s Facebook wall, and thank Justin Bieber and Diplo for sealing the deal on that budding summer fling.