Songs for an Uncertain Summer

Songs for an Uncertain Summer

As the concept of summer morphs into fantasy, it’s hard for many to think about barbecuing, beach days, or even daydreaming of being at the beach while sitting in a cubicle. Fun is something you must imagine and take yourself there; it’s making the best of what is attainable. As usual, the Jezebel staff has the vaguest of ideas about which songs might soundtrack the summer of 2020, which will be different than all the summers of all our lives. But here, we’ve laid them out a few options for your consumption.

There’s a chance an artist will swoop in with an anthem that captures the vibe of unrest in the middle of a pandemic, uprisings, and a practical depression; or maybe they’ll deliver a song that strives for mutual escapism. In 2019, it was Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” that carried us through. This year’s contenders—Lady Gaga, Bad Bunny, Megan Thee Stallion (whose “Savage” remix featuring Beyoncé is currently the No. 1 song in the country)—are on the charts and in people’s living rooms, and who knows where they’ll go next in the months ahead. Here are our early picks for song of the summer.

Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande, “Rain on Me”

It’s hard to figure out what will be a “Song of the Summer” this year. I tend to pick something I believe will be ubiquitous, even if I hate it. But it’s difficult to identify ubiquity when you can’t move around in the world and experience how music reaches you in the summer: wafting from speeding cars and speakers in motion, blasting at a park barbecue or rooftop party, quietly in the background of the CVS you’ve stepped into just to get, like, a minute of air conditioning. I have to go with what feels “big,” even if the markers of greatness have shifted.

For that reason, I chose “Rain On Me,” which was a “moment” as much as a single can be a moment right now. It’s Gaga with one of her best dance songs in years, featuring Ariana Grande. It’s also bittersweet in its resilience; it doesn’t scream for a party to start, but wills one into being even in sadness. It feels like a song people will reach for this summer. I certainly am already! —Hazel Cills

Doja Cat, “Say So”

In a year spent mostly inside, I can only assume music discovery for the masses takes place in exclusively two places: Spotify playlists and TikTok. There’s been a ton written on the subject of virality and record deals (honestly, it feels like Atlantic Records could probably just hire someone at TikTok to run their A&R department), and for that reason, the song of the summer is Doja Cat’s “Say So,” with or without the Nicki Minaj remix. It is a breezy, psychedelic disco banger, one Clover has previously described as “a skate-rink song, a breathy, candylicious bop you can daydream to,” and I tend to agree.

Songs of the summer, historically, elicit joy and a feel of escapism, and this song does exactly that. Plus, TikTok divorces artists from their art in lieu of easily mimicked dance routines, so few probably care that she was canceled for making racist remarks in the past. It’s simply the world we live in. —Maria Sherman

SAINt JHN, “Roses” Imanbek Remix

Lately, every time I strap my toddler into the car, he begins screaming for me to play “ROSES, ROSES, ROSES.” Thus, my little charge has ensured that Imanbek’s remix of SAINt JHN’s “Roses” will be my inescapable song of the summer, but I suspect that might be true beyond our heat-baked car. What speaks to a toddler tends to speak to the masses and, at nearly 3 years old, my son is closer in age than I am to many of the social media creators who have launched the song—a remix of a 2016 single—onto the charts. Imanbek’s “Roses” has now been used in millions of TikToks videos. It even has its own Snapchat filter, which applies hearts and freckles to your face as the music plays. The youngs seem to like it, is what I’m saying. I admit: I like it, too. —Tracy Clark-Flory

Bad Bunny, “Yo Perreo Sola”

“Yo Perreo Sola,” is a banger but it also captures the unique experience that this particular summer will be. Instead of grinding on strangers in the dark at your cousin’s friend’s basement party, everyone just has to turn this song all the way up and have a socially-distant perreo, which really is the best kind to have. —Shannon Melero

DVSN feat. Snoh Aalegra, “Between Us”

This song came out sometime in March, and also it lacks the hallmarks a traditional song of summer has—nary a car in my neighborhood has driven past my open windows blaring this song, and also, slow jams are not really “summer” songs because summertime is for dancing in backyards with a drink in your hand, breathing on strangers. That is not this summer! And so, “Between Us,” which opens with a nasty little “Nice and Slow” sample, is the song for this weird-ass moment in time. Though this is about emotional distance, the yearning of the chorus will translate nicely to the melancholy of a mid-July day trapped indoors, body-rolling slowly in front of your fridge for the 10th time that day. —Megan Reynolds

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, “Dreamsicle”

GQ recently described Jason Isbell’s devoted fanbase as encompassing such a wide variety as “emotional hipster kids, hard-bitten Nashville guitar players, brainy suburban moms,” and boy, did they drag me to hell with that one. But Reunions, his latest album with his band the 400 Unit, is another great one. While “Do It Anyway” is really a better song for our current moment, “Dreamsicle” better captures the vibe of our pandemic summer to come.

The words of the chorus—“Dreamsicle on a summer’s night in a folding lawn chair/witch’s ring around the moon, better get home soon”—are evocative of an idyllic Southern scene at first listen, a slice of hazy perfection. But it’s a deeply melancholy song, from the perspective of a teenager whose parents have just messily split, who longs of turning 18 and escaping. As somebody who’s going to spend a lot of the next few months sitting in a folding lawn chair, eating popsicles, desperately sad about circumstances beyond my control, it’s convenient that somebody has so perfectly encapsulated the mood! —Kelly Faircloth

Megan Thee Stallion feat. Beyoncé, “Savage” Remix

Last year, I chose “Old Town Road” as the song of the summer, but noted that it felt more like a spring 2019 hit than a summer one. Well, it turns out that Lil Nas X spent much of summer 2019 topping the charts, despite the fact that the song was already an old meme. This year, I’m making a similar call: Megan Thee Stallion’s “Savage” Remix, featuring Beyoncé, will always feel like a spring 2020 banger. After the original song made the rounds as a TikTok dance sensation soon after covid-19 lockdown, I expected “Savage” to become old-hat very quickly. But Beyoncé giving the song the ole razzle dazzle a few weeks ago helped propel it to the No. 1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100, and I’m still hearing people blast it from their cars.

It’s a covid-19 summer, and the “Savage” remix is the inappropriately upbeat song that will help define it. I can only imagine us up in the club or at a block party or listening to a Spotify playlist five years down the road and hearing this song pop up and getting goddamn covid horror flashbacks as Megan says, “Classy. Bougie. Ratchet.” —Ashley Reese

Harry Styles, “Watermelon Sugar”

“Watermelon Sugar” is the sweet factory sound of summer handed to you on a Harry Styles-shaped platter, with warm vocals that evoke actual sugar. I’d be surprised if the song becomes a big hit—it’s more of a gentle tune made for beach days or riding with the top down if you have the luxury. But if this doesn’t scream summer and “touch me, please!” I don’t know what does. —Clover Hope

Dua Lipa, “Levitating”

Even though it was released in March, which simultaneously feels like five minutes ago and 50 years ago, Dua Lipa’s “Levitating” has secured its spot in my song of the summer rotation. It’s no coincidence that roller skating became the trendy pandemic activity moments after “Levitating” was released. The perfect bop for the summertime solo roller disco of my dreams. —Lisa Fischer

The Weeknd feat. Doja Cat, “In Your Eyes (Remix)”

The Weeknd’s After Hours album was released in March and continues to prove itself as a gift that keeps on giving. If you asked me a year ago, I would have imagined that would have been as likely as a society-shuttering pandemic. But here we are. This updated “In Your Eyes,” spit-shined with Doja Cat’s vocals, flirts with the new wave influences that the Weeknd’s No. 1 single “Blinding Lights” full-on made out with. This one has a more melancholy, tentative approach to the club that in another context may have come off as introverted but today sounds like opening up. —Rich Juzwiak

Justin Quiles, Daddy Yankee, and El Alfa, “Pam”

By the third month in covid-related lockdown, with the textured cacophony of New York City sounds dissipating concurrently with my comfort with leaving my apartment, the main indication I’ve had about what’s going on in the streets has come from the sound of cars driving by my window, bumping music loud from stereos—the quintessence of Brooklyn summer. Most everyone I hear is playing any number of Bad Bunny songs, but after that, it’s El Alfa, the beloved king of Dominican dembow who’s had perennial bangers for going on a decade and change, but has only recently come into more mainstream/English language consciousness, thanks in part to collaborations with Conejo and Cardi B. His latest album, El Androide, was released in May, and with luck will be propelled by the success of “Pam,” his Billboard-charting single with reggaetón icon Daddy Yankee and Justin Quiles, which hits like, I don’t know, my butt when I’m dancing on the seat of the chair I no longer leave. One day, I swear to god, I will hear this shit in a club. —Julianne Escobedo Shepherd

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