Ranting About Music’s Top Songs of the Summer (2016)

It’s the last day of August, Labor Day’s coming up, and there were two chillyish mornings last week leading to everyone in my social media feeds to talk about how ready for fall they are; it’s the end of the summer. As per usual, the rundown on Billboard’s songs of the summer will be up after Labor Day when the summer chart closes, but I wanted to do something different first. Here are the songs that I got the most mileage out of this summer, because you only get so much out of the radio, and I wanted to touch on some songs that wouldn’t get a spotlight otherwise (and some that will). So here are my songs of the summer in alphabetical order.

Beyonce – “Sorry”
Lemonade‘s been out since late April, which in 2016 music release time means it’s practically ready for a reissue, and while 4 or 5 different tracks could have been on this list, it was always going to come down to “Sorry.” This electropop number with the late-night synths, crisp snares, and dreamy atmosphere is not only catchy and melodic, but it best distills Lemonade‘s themes: don’t let anyone fuck you out of your grind, stay defiant, and do right by yourself at any cost. If you want to celebrate it in context, “Sorry” also had Lemonade‘s second most pronounced video and its most headline-baiting lyric, but really, I think what sells it is the emotional range. It opens with that spent but unwavering anger, but gradually gives way to sadness–listen to the slight voice quiver on “I ain’t thinkin’ ’bout you” at 1:54–and eventually loss during its free-floating outro. All that pathos wrapped up in one of the year’s best beats; nothing to be sorry about here.

Chance the Rapper – “Same Drugs”
The degree to which Chance’s Coloring Book has been pegged as “the happy album” strikes me as true if reductive. Sure, most of the mixtape is bathed in sunlight, but it also has stuff like the sad gospel hymn “Same Drugs.” “Same Drugs,” which Chance has gone on record saying isn’t about actual drugs, is a heartbreaker to hear in summer; summers are supposed to be all about hanging out with your friends and being together, and here’s this somber but melodically deft song about how you and someone you used to relate to have grown up and apart. That’s a hard one to deal with at any time of the year, but in summer, when you’re apt to see a younger you and your friends all tanned up looking back at you thanks to Facebook’s On This Day? It fucking sucks. Of course, all this sadness is tempered by some truly soothing piano and female backing vocals, plus strings and a guitar solo of all things, giving “Same Drugs” the comforting warm of an old summer.

DJ Khaled ft. Big Sean and Drake – “Holy Key”
In a space similar to this one last year, I wrote about Kendrick Lamar’s pathological inability to mail it in, and nowhere is that compulsion nearly as on display as it is on Khaled’s “Holy Key.” The song’s pretty great before Kendrick shows up, thanks to a surprisingly game Big Sean, that huge arena-rap beat, and Betty Wright’s take’em-to-church hook, and for a while it looks like Kendrick’s going to keep everything where it’s at, energy-wise. But no, once he locks into the wordiest, most technical part of his verse, he pivots into his upper register and goes the fuck off, chaining together multisyllabic phrases and rhyming voice cracks with each other with the dexterity of a goddamn Simone Biles floor routine. And all this is, again, on a DJ Khaled track: a one-off where just showing up and not bludgeoning Big Sean in the head with a dictionary (again) is 98% of the job. But Kendrick won’t do 98% percent of a job when he sees a whole other 52% just sitting on the table. It doesn’t get more major key than that.

Drake – “Feel No Ways”
How bad does Drake have to feel listening to the like, three or four flatout wonderful albums that have come out in the last few months knowing his entry is the bloated and tedious VIEWS? My guess is “kind of bad,” because while he’s having the time of his life on the charts, VIEWS neatly snapped his critical hot streak, and even most fans concede that the album is “okay” at best. It’s not the coronation he had in mind, I’m sure. But VIEWS does have a couple of winners on it, like “Feel No Ways.” Musically, “Feel No Ways” is a sleeker, less chart-baiting “Hold On, We’re Going Home” with its watery keys, clicking beat, and some familiar vocal melodic phrasing, but stands on its own thanks to enough beat variation and the last minute of breakdown. Despite a few lyrical missteps (“Who is it that’s got you all gassed up?” really, Aubz?), the hook and production are all around solid here, and the tempo’s a good fit for Drake. I don’t even hold it against “Feel No Ways” that it’s almost a convincing argument to give VIEWS another try.

Ariana Grande – “Into You”
My pick for the “Summer Pop Banger: Contrarian Edition” category. It might scan as odd to call the sitting 13th biggest song in the country underrated, but in the case of “Into You,” it totally is. The song reminds me most of mid-period, Blackout and Circus Britney, when she had these industry-insider, weapons grade, icy club beats to work with that bordered undeniable. The difference is that Grande can sing the shit out of this stuff, and “Into You” is constructed (in part by chief Britney architect Max Martin, no less) so that Grande gets to deliver on that chorus in as big a way as possible. Grande brings her A game here, standing head and shoulders above a track that could easily swallow an artist whole. She’s working in the same field as “Love Me Harder” but sounds less–well–childlike here, a problem that was exaggerated her last album cycle, but noticeable all the same. Really, “Into You” stalling out is emblematic of Dangerous Woman as a whole: it’s a good pop album, but Grande can’t seem to find her footing. Still, this is a keeper, and probably your friend who wouldn’t shut up about Carly Rae Jepsen last year’s favorite pop single.

PUP – “If This Tour Doesn’t Kill You, I Will”
One of my favorite moments in this year’s music takes place a minute and a half into pop-punker “If This Tour Doesn’t Kill You, I Will” when everything but an overdriven guitar riff drops out, and the entirety of PUP screams in raspy unison “WHY CAN’T WE JUST GET ALONG?!” That moment takes the song from just a needling travelogue from frontman Stefan Babcock (that name, though) to a full band civil war. On the surface, “ITTDK,IW” aims to de-romantcize life on the road, but underneath that, this is a song about how those who know each other best know best how to piss each other off; it’s for the times when someone else’s quirks can’t help but bug the shit out of you, you know your schtick is getting thin with them, and look, dammit, we’re all in this so just deal with it. And while that sentiment sounds overwrought, it’s actually pretty funny as a song. Look, it’s 2016: tensions between varying factions of Americans are running high, we’ve suffered through a year of Trump’s bullshit, and the election from hell still has two more months. Maybe a band of Canadians screaming “WHY CAN’T EVERYBODY JUST CHILL?!” is what we need right now.

Rihanna – “Same Ol Mistakes”
For me, ANTI‘s been in rotation since its January release, with “Same Ol Mistakes” picking up as we entered the warm season, which is weird because I was never receptive to Tame Impala’s original. Listening to the pair back to back, I think Rihanna’s take works because Kevin Parker just doesn’t have the voice to capitalize on a pop hook while Rihanna does them so well that “Imitate Rihanna” is a pathway to radio success. In Rihanna’s hands, “Same Ol Mistakes” goes from being a sleepy album closer to a killer late summer night cut for when the air is a shimmering as these synths. She just knows how to find the fun and the sway this sort-of-stoned psych-pop. I might even come around on the original through a combination of her and Donald Glover.

Sia ft. Sean Paul – “Cheap Thrills”
My pick for the “Pop Hit Summer Banger: Non-Contrarian Edition” category. I understand why Rihanna passed on this one, but it’s still a good summer jam with its dancehall thump and groove and I’m glad to see that Sia notched took it to number one. I honestly just appreciate Sia’s pop career because it’s like she’s daring it to succeed. Like, the music’s market friendly, but she’s so willfully obtuse: she refuses to let her face be seen in public appearances or be at the forefront of her performances/music videos, and we’ve rewarded her with multiple top ten hits. Take the Sean Paul feature on “Cheap Thrills” for example: it makes sense–he’s a veteran performer and adds some Caribbean authenticity–but the inclusion of a dude who’s been out of the charts for the better part of a decade feels again like daring the song to take off in spite of itself. Yet, because of a smooth beat and her own do or die vocals, here’s Sia with a number one song. Nothing cheap about that.

Teen Suicide – “Falling Out of Love With Me”
This lo-fi indie popper and the album it’s from have quietly flown under the radar for most of the year, but I can’t get enough of both. Teen Suicide’s farewell album (well, to the moniker) It’s the Big Joyous Celebration, Let’s Stir the Honeypot is a hodgepodge of styles, but it carves a pretty generous lane for poppy guitar rock with interplay between reverb and delay drenched vocals and peppy, clicky drums, something the band does quite well. “Falling Out of Love With Me” in particular could almost pass for a take on The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven,” except its reminiscence is anchored in “I can’t stop you falling out of love with me” instead of “You’re just like a dream.” The interplay between the different guitar parts here and aloof vocal take put the dream in dream-pop, and like the end of a relationship, “Falling Out of Love With Me” sounds like it could drift away at any second. Not that you’d want it to.

What were some of your songs of the summer? Let me know below!

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About bgibs122

I enjoy music and music culture; I hope you do, too.
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