Ella Mai, 'Boo'd Up' - Rolling Stone
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These Are 2018’s Songs of the Summer

From Cardi B and Drake to Snail Mail and the Beths, these are the songs we’ll be playing on repeat until Labor Day

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What makes a summer jam? Is it the sunniest chorus, the hottest beat, the most weeks on the charts? Do the lyrics have to be about beaches and barbecues, or is it a question of vibe? What if it’s a song on your summer playlist and no one else’s?

We believe the answer is “all of the above.” This summer, Rolling Stone’s writers are celebrating the songs that are ruling each of their worlds – from huge hits to weirder, more personal choices. Read all our Summer Songs posts here, and hear all our picks in the Spotify playlist below.

Ella Mai's 'Boo'd Up' Is the Song of the Summer

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Ella Mai, ‘Boo’d Up’

In commercial terms, Ella Mai’s “Boo’d Up” looks like a long-shot for this year’s Song of the Summer title. Mai is competing with singles from titans like Drake and Post Malone; on top of that, her breakthrough single is sunny and love-drunk and full of dexterous singing – three things that have largely gone out of fashion in pop. But so far, the fact that there’s nothing on the charts in the same mode as “Boo’d Up” has worked in its favor. One of the best arguments for Ella Mai’s single was made on Twitter, where one user posted a helpful, much-watched video titled “5 steps on how to listen to Boo’d Up.” The clip starts with careful preparation: step 1, “check yo surroundings and lean back real smoov;” step 2, “make sure window is closed.” But the key step is the last one: “Fuck them steps, sing that shit.” Elias Leight

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the beths song of summer

Amanda Cheng

The Beths, ‘Happy Unhappy’

Summer songs should feel drunk on escape velocity for its own dumb sake – that feeling of school doors blowing open and papers swirling in the sunshine, or riding your bike to the record store to spend money you don’t have, or skipping your job with the Parks Department to sit on your boyfriend’s roof and blow weed smoke across the treeline. They should burst with a freedom that feels boundless, even if it’s probably really going nowhere fast. This blissy, pissy little indie-pop breakup jammy has that vibe in piles. New Zealanders the Beths fire off perfect guitar and vocal hooks like they’ve been hoarding them in their basement all winter. The pure joy you can sense in them having constructed this thing, and now to be actually playing it, is incredibly exciting. We’ve seen a million bands get busy being born like this, but it never, ever gets old. Jon Dolan

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5 Seconds of Summer's 'If Walls Could Talk' Is the Song of the Summer

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5 Seconds of Summer, ‘If Walls Could Talk’

5 Seconds of Summer’s “If Walls Could Talk” is a near-perfect tune, just in time for their fifth summer—a case of former teen-pop punk ingenues scheming to turn into journeymen. These Australian boys scored the summer jam of 2014, “She Looks So Perfect,” singing about American Apparel underwear and opening for One Direction. But now that American Apparel and 1D have both closed shop, 5SoS are forced to grow the hell up. “If Walls Could Talk” is easily the tastiest snack on their new Youngblood, and it’s the one I’m rooting for to blow up into a hit—the first time they’ve gotten sad-boy sensitive mode right. Rob Sheffield

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Snail Mail's 'Heat Wave' Is the Song of the Summer

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Snail Mail, ‘Heat Wave’

This big, sad, skywrite-the-chorus song might be the best thing ever to be named “Heat Wave,” and that’s no light claim. For Martha and the Vandellas, a heat wave meant desire. For Snail Mail, it means getting bored enough to make some dicey emotional bets. Lindsey Jordan spends her vacation falling for a green-eyed dream who’s barely there, mostly because she has nothing better to do. “I hope I never get a clue,” she sings. Knowing what’s real would mean knowing it was never meant to be. Who wants to think about the future in the middle of July? Simon Vozick-Levinson

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Kacey Musgraves' 'Slow Burn' Is the Song of the Summer

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Kacey Musgraves, ‘Slow Burn’

Some folks wanna go hard in the heat. But my definition of the perfect summer song – especially in this unnerving year – is one that soundtracks chilling the fuck out, and for me, no new song has invited that vibe so much, in both sound and theme, as this one. It’s a meditation on pacing yourself, earning your wisdom, savoring the world’s beauty, and – figuratively, if not literally – getting tantric with it. Will Hermes

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Margo Price

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Margo Price, ‘Cocaine Cowboys’

Some records just sound better in the summer – the soundtrack to 1972’s The Harder They Come, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ Live Anthology, just about anything by the Grateful Dead. It turns out Margo Price’s October 2017 release All American Made is one of those albums. That’s especially true of “Cocaine Cowboys.” Over a groove in the loping vein of the Dead’s “They Love Each Other” or the Band’s second album, Price croons a funny story about a type she no doubt pegged herself when she moved from the Illinois country to Nashville in her early twenties: the faux cowboys of the 21st century. “They’re all hat, they don’t rope no cattle,” Price sings. “They don’t ride no bulls…With their bloodshot eyes and their cigarette teeth/I wish someone warned me stay away from them cocaine cowboys.” Patrick Doyle

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Selena Gomez's 'Back To You' Is the Song of the Summer

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Selena Gomez, ‘Back to You’

With its campfire strums and grab-the-car-keys impulsivity, “Back to You” is a natural summer song. It’s the feisty screed against your camp boyfriend who ditched you after 10 long months of letter-exchanging. Obviously, his name is Justin. We took him like a shot, as Gomez sings, during last year’s summer of “Despacito.” We were his sunrise on his darkest day. We savored every moment slowly. And now we’re singing “Back to You.” It’s the melancholic jam for us goths, misanthropes and Sandra Dees to listen to on our lonely walks home. Gomez’s lilting soprano whispers to us like a cool stream of ventilated air as we sit inside while everyone else plays volleyball with Cardi B or Drake. Everyone but Selena, our goddess of the 2018 summer bummer. Sarah Grant

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Tove Styrke

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Tove Styrke, ‘Say My Name’

In a just world, Tove Styrke would have had several Top Ten hits by now. Take “Say My Name,” the best song on the 25-year-old Swede’s new album, Sway. Released as a single last year, it’s a minor classic of blissed-out romance, as well as (probably) my most-played track of the past 12 months, the kind of thing that demands infinite repeats as a salve after a shitty day or a mood-enhancer after a good one. Styrke, a Swedish Idol also-ran who’s opened for both Lorde and Katy Perry, calls Sway “a little collection of love stories.” “Say My Name” plays like a crush song, or maybe a lust song, full of casual commands for the object of her affection to not just to say her name, but wear it out like a favorite sweater. Christian Hoard

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harry styles song of the summer

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Harry Styles, ‘Carolina’

Yes, I know – technically Harry Styles’ “Carolina” came out last summer, and no, it did not climb the charts. But hear me out. This glam-rock groove practically screams summer romance. And as Styles’ first-ever solo U.S. arena tour rolls on, the time has come for “Carolina” to shine. It’s supposedly about a girl named Townes, referenced briefly in the lyrics and discussed ever after by Styles fans – but the best parts of this song are universal. From the retro guitar riffs to the incredibly catchy la-la-las and “oh yeahs!” Styles describes a love interest whom we all want to be and/or meet. It’s not just a song for this summer. “Carolina” is a song for every summer. Daniela Tijerina

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John Prine's 'Summer's End' Is the Song of the Summer

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John Prine, ‘Summer’s End’

Summer is nothing if not self-memorializing. It’s the most wonderfully self-aware time of the year, three months when bored children, fast friends, yearning teens and old lovers get together to mourn and celebrate an enchanting impermanence. John Prine’s “Summer’s End” is a bittersweet snapshot that captures that quintessential summer ritual: sitting around and taking stock of the fact that our most precious moments are passing in front of our very eyes. This song isn’t so much about getting older as it is about the stark, sudden acknowledgement of just how relentlessly time accelerates with age. Jonathan Bernstein

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newport folk festival joshua hedley

Sachyn Mital

Joshua Hedley, ‘Let’s Take a Vacation’

No one ever said that summer songs have to be upbeat. With “Let’s Take a Vacation,” country crooner Joshua Hedley delivers a warm-weather song for the brokenhearted, those poor souls among us for whom summer memories are inextricably linked to the one that got away. He’s lamenting his own lost love, daydreaming about reuniting for one last make-or-break getaway. “Let’s take a vacation and fall in love again,” he sings, giving no damn where they end up, be it somewhere in the country or the beaches of Hedley’s native Florida, where, with any luck, they’ll “get some sand in the bed.” Joseph Hudak

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Daron Malakian

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Scars on Broadway, ‘Lives’

There aren’t many metal songs that would make you want to dance a jig – there’s Thin Lizzy’s “Róisín Dubh,” anything by Finntroll or Alestorm and, of course, Spinal Tap’s “Stonehenge.” So “Lives,” by System of a Down guitarist Daron Malakian’s side gig Scars on Broadway, is already extraordinary just by joining that short list. It’s got the sort of skittery, syncopated disco beat that would fit only in a song by a band like System of a Down (or maybe Gogol Bordello) because of its sheer heft and ability to draw smiles. And it’s got the kind of lyrics that make you just want to party, even in uncertain times: “Everyone get high, there’s no need to justify/We will occupy and we all know the reasons why.” It’s a celebration with a purpose. Kory Grow

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Death Grips' 'Black Paint' Is the Song of the Summer

Death Grips, ‘Black Paint’

Cardi B’s cravensexybrilliant “I Like It” is shaping up to be the consensus pick for 2018’s Song of the Summer. What’s more, it’s on track to take the trophy from DJ Khaled’s “Wild Thoughts” in the all-time contest for most shameless yet undeniable pop reboot of an already-iconic song. But “Black Paint,” from rap-rock-industrial-noise-punk computer viruses Death Grips, is worth consideration as a different kind of summer jam. Even though the whole paint-your-windows-black, ‘noided agoraphobe vibe isn’t exactly my summer feeling of choice, the aggro “I require privacy” chorus of “Black Paint” will still resonate in the relative isolation of a sunny headphone walk. Christopher R. Weingarten

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