Summer officially kicks off in a week and change, and with the change of the season comes curiosity about what the song of the summer might be. This year, with people venturing out of their houses and into parks, backyards, and other wide-open spaces, the “communal listening” ideal that the song of the summer embodies will be more of a reality than in 2020.
I’ve picked a few Song of the Summer contenders, highlighting particular moments in each one and predicting how hot they might stay until Labor Day. Note that this list represents more of a partial forecast than anything else, since pop is an ever-shape-shifting entity. (And with the sheer amount of music out there, not to mention heavy hitters like Billie Eilish and Lorde releasing new music imminently, these prognostications could be blown out of the water fairly quickly.)
What it is: The K-pop juggernaut’s latest single, which is currently atop the Billboard Hot 100, mashes together a ton of styles — lite-funk on the verses, glittery synthpop on the chorus, and the occasional gang-vocal “yeah!” that carried many a festival-ready anthem in the ’10s — in a compact two minutes and 40-ish seconds.
Highlight: The vocoder-mimicking breakdown at 1:33, which leads into a wholesome yet bragging rap by BTS’s Suga.
Song of the Summer forecast: Partly sunny. BTS has been one of pop’s biggest groups in terms of sheer audience size for a few years now, and “Butter,” with its stylistic shifts, has a generation-spanning appeal that’ll make it a hit at parties.
Cardi B, “Up”
What it is: The Bronx MC’s latest boast-filled track, on which she’s backed by a twitchy, piano-led beat.
Highlight: Cardi lets loose an ad-libbed growl at 1:55 that sums up the song’s chaotic, swaggering attitude.
Song of the Summer forecast: Cloudy with a chance of “wait, you put the clean version on our party playlist, right?”
Dua Lipa, feat. DaBaby, “Levitating”
What it is: A starlit, roller-rink-ready cut from Dua Lipa’s 2020 ode to the ’80s “Future Nostalgia,” now including verses and interjections by the Ohio MC DaBaby.
Highlight: At 1:10, DaBaby breaks off from his romance-minded ruminations and uses the bouncing-ball beat to lead anyone listening in a simple two-step.
Song of the Summer forecast: Sunny and warm. “Future Nostalgia” was a welcome diversion from the early days of lockdown last year, and this revamp of one of its catchiest songs somehow manages to up its carefree quotient.
Elle King and Miranda Lambert, “Drunk (And I Don’t Wanna Go Home)”
What it is: The blues-pop belter and the country outlaw team up for a stomping, surprisingly pop-leaning ode to going out on the town and painting it red.
Highlight: Right before the first chorus at 0:56, when the frenetic production chills out just enough to let a frenzied banjo line poke its head through.
Song of the Summer forecast: Partly cloudy — just like someone’s head after they follow the all-nighter lead of this giddy romp.
Kali Uchis, “Telepatia”
What it is: A dreamy, bedroom-pop-inspired fantasia from the R&B singer, produced by the Latin pop guru Tainy.
Highlight: At 1:21, just after Uchis has run through the song’s chorus, keyboards hang in midair, waiting for her to float back into the track.
Song of the Summer forecast: Overcast, but this song is well-suited for thoughtful moments on steamy days.
Olivia Rodrigo, “good 4 u”
What it is: The second No. 1 single by Olivia Rodrigo, whose drama-racked “drivers license” tugged at heartstrings of all ages. Don’t expect more bummed-out balladry, though: “good 4 u” is all big riffs and peppy, acerbic lyrics, with the big-voiced “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series” star channeling the spirit of Paramore’s spitfire frontwoman Hayley Williams.
Highlight: The pealing guitar at 1:49, which crashes right into some power-poppy “ahh-ahh-ahhs.”
Song of the Summer forecast: Sunny and humid. “good 4 u” has been pegged as part of a pop-punk resurgence that also includes the rapper-turned-rocker Machine Gun Kelly, hip-hop artists like Trippie Redd, and celebrity scion Willow Smith. Trendlet or no, it’ll liven up any poolside bash or open-road drive.
Regard, Troye Sivan, and Tate McRae, “You”
What it is: The Kosovo-born DJ teams up with Australian pop wunderkind Troye Sivan and Canadian teen-popper Tate McRae to create a duet that adds gently funky beats to a slightly regret-wracked duet.
Highlight: At 3:00, McRae’s voice begins to kaleidoscope on itself, creating a genuinely disconcerting moment that’s in line with the song’s young-love angst.
Song of the Summer forecast: Stormy — until they release a song about the flip side of this moment, at least.
Silk Sonic, “Leave the Door Open”
What it is: The lead single from Bruno Mars’s and Anderson .Paak’s new project and a love letter to the sumptuous, romantic soul of the ’70s.
Highlight: The first modulation (0:40), in which Mars leans into his emotions and throws open his heart.
Song of the Summer forecast: Clear as day. Mars and .Paak are both keen students of soul music’s evolution, and “Door” is the latest addition to two top-notch discographies. Plus, the chorus will make for some sublimely sweaty sing-alongs.