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 will celebrate the songs that are ruling each of their worlds – from huge hits to weirder, more personal choices. Check back soon for more summer songs, and hear all our picks in the Spotify playlist at the bottom of this post.
In commercial terms, Ella Mai’s “Boo’d Up” looks like a long-shot for this year’s Song of the Summer title. Betting on it would be reckless, even rash. Mai is competing with singles from titans like Drake, who took home the Song of the Summer crown in 2016, and Post Malone, a streaming behemoth. In contrast, Mai never had a hit before “Boo’d Up;” her label didn’t even push the track as a single until recently. On top of that, “Boo’d Up” is sunny and love-drunk and full of dexterous singing – three things that have largely gone out of fashion in pop.
But lately those outlier qualities are looking more like advantages. Listeners have proved willing to support new singers during past summers – few Americans knew Omi or Carly Rae Jepsen before they swept in front of established favorites to take home pop’s warm-weather crown in 2012 and 2015, respectively. And there’s valuable musical precedent for “Boo’d Up” among previous Songs of the Summer too: The keyboard swells, nimble bass work and pulse-quickening drums in Mai’s track reach back to Mariah Carey’s “We Belong Together,” which ruled beach season in 2005.
So far, the fact that there’s nothing on the charts in the same mode as “Boo’d Up” has worked in its favor, with the track climbing as high as Number Six on the Hot 100. 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.”