Music is sport, and summer is the most competitive time of the year for artists. Which musician will reign supreme? What song will be played on repeat? What anthem will color the nostalgia of our sun-smooched days? Song of the Summer is among the most coveted trophies because it lives with us forever, locked safely in the cellar of our memory. It is a reminder of who we were in the unfading light of July, at our most radiant and care-free.
But the metrics for competition are changing—and fast. Music streamers are swollen with content. TikTok thinks it knows best (it doesn’t). With terrifying precision, AI-generated songs are creeping into the mainstream. Yet the nine contenders for this year’s summer anthem endure in spite of the sugary suck of the algorithm. They endure in spite of the artificially-rendered future on the horizon.
Which leaves only one question: Who deserves the top spot?
‘You Wish,’ Flyana Boss
BFFs Bobbi and Folayan are Flyana Boss. They met in college, bonded over shared musical tastes, and wrote a song called “You Wish.” It features catchy lyrics like: “I’m made of sugar, spice, kanekalon and cinnamon/ Me and my bestie are the same, like a synonym.” The duo recently went viral on TikTok, where you’ve likely seen them running through Disneyland, a Chipotle, or the streets of Los Angeles. But don’t expect Flyana Boss to temper their pace—they’re just getting started.
‘Padam Padam,’ Kylie Minogue
Among the season’s most irresistible offerings is the neon earworm “Padam Padam,” a dance floor hit wet with infatuation. Featured on Kylie Minogue’s upcoming September release, Tension, the song is a greedy little thing: it demands all of you. “I think it’s time for you to take me out this club,” Minogue sings, “And we don’t need to use our words.”
‘Set the Roof,’ Hudson Mohawke and Nikki Nair ft. Tayla Parx
“Set the Roof” is all atmosphere. Atop bright, skittering synths and the gooiest of house beats, singer and Arianna Grande collaborator Tayla Parx—she co-wrote “thank u, next”—invokes the spirit of the season. Like summer, this is a song you never want to end. (Treat yourself to Nikki Nair’s 2022 Boiler Room set while you’re at it.)
‘Lipstick Lover,’ Janelle Monae
Janelle Monae’s fourth album, The Age of Pleasure, is a tropical brew of diasporic influence, and its first single, “Lipstick Lover” swaggers with sensuality. Monae christened it their “freeassmothafucka anthem,” and the title is fitting: over sun-colored reggae rhythms, Monae searches for self-liberation through sexual release.
Over splashing Afrobeats, Nigerian producer-turned-hitmaker Pheelz taps into the heart of the 2010s with a playful reinterpretation of one of the decade’s most time-worn phrases. (The term was popularized by Drake on his song “The Motto” and means “you only live once.”). The euphoria of “YOLO” is contagious.
‘Little Things,’ Jorja Smith
Flirtatious, fast-moving and sweetly textured, “Little Things” is the quintessential soundtrack to your houseparty meet-cute. “It’s the little things that get me high,” Smith sings, “Won’t you come with me and spend the night?” Well?
‘All My Life,’ Lil Durk ft. J. Cole
Drill rapper Lil Durk trades in his me-against-the-world machismo for a tender meditation on perseverance, and all the hardship he’s faced. With an assist from J. Cole and backed by an affecting children’s choir, “All My Life” is not your typical Durk banger, but a banger nonetheless, peaking at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100.
‘Spirit 2.0,’ Sampha
Returning after a six-year hiatus, and following a successful string of residencies in London and New York City in June, Sampha dazzles on “Spirit 2.0,” an absorbing reflection on what it means to live somewhere beyond the valley of grief (the singer lost his mother to cancer just before the release of his 2017 debut, Process). In Sampha’s estimation, the song is about “the importance of connection to both myself and others, and the beauty and harsh realities of just existing.” It feels so.
‘America Has a Problem (Remix),’ Beyonce ft. Kendrick Lamar
I mean, c’mon—it’s Beyoncé!
Honorables Mentions: “Contact,” Kelela; “Done (Let’s Get It),” Yaeji; “Anti-curse,” boygenius; “Pearls,” Jesse Ware; “Violet Chemistry,” Miley Cyrus; “Wilshire,” Tyler the Creator; “Just Relax,” Lola Brooke; “Calm Down,” Rema