The Beths’ ‘Happy Unhappy’ Is the Song of the Summer

The New Zealand indie-pop group lights up the summer with a blissy, pissy breakup jam

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.

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.

The sound is Courtney Barnett gone bubblegum, or the shy-sugar lift-off of Belle & Sebastian with some Replacements stank in the cute, careening guitars. Singer-guitarist Elizabeth Stokes excavates the feeling of not really being able to get over someone who may have been worth it or maybe not so much. But is that ever the point? It’s her new spins on the ritual that give the song its kick: “‘You’re in my brain taking up space/I need for remembering pins and to take out the bins/And that one particular film that that actor was in,” she fulminates with openhearted elegance as the rest of the band chimes in “It ain’t right! It ain’t right!” like a garage-rock Greek chorus. The guitars help her push into her confusion and right on through it, just as they’ve been doing in indie-rock songs since back when Stephen Malkmus was still on the soccer team, magically transubstantiating the mess in her head into sunshine in her pocket, and ours. Listen to it once and you’ll be carrying it around til Labor Day.