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This year's most important songs (so far): summer jams and chart slams

This year's most important songs (so far): summer jams and chart slams


It's a special, sunny edition of our weekly musical roundup

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Welcome back to The Verge’s roundup of the most important music from the week that was. I’m Jamieson, I’m still your host, and things are a little different this week. Today marks the official global release date change — from now on, albums are going to come out on Fridays no matter where you are in the world. This is an exciting shift, but it also means that a truckload of new music came out this morning, and I haven’t had any time to hear it.

I’ll be back to normal operation next week, but I’m taking this space to focus on one of the office’s favorite bits of time-honored music nerdery: a Songs of the Summer debate! I’m happy to have The Verge’s entertainment editor Emily Yoshida as a guest. We’re going to look over the contenders currently sitting at the top of Billboard’s Hot 100 and assess their merit as candidates for 2015’s crown, and we’ll each name a dark horse entry that’s captured our heart (if not the charts). Let’s begin:

Wiz Khalifa ft. Charlie Puth, "See You Again" (current: #1, peak: #1)

Jamieson Cox: The official anthem of Furious 7 has been at the top of the Hot 100 for 12 non-continuous weeks now, a reign that easily could’ve been an uninterrupted 13 if not for a brief surge from "Bad Blood." There are clear musical and cultural factors motivating this insane success: "See You Again" is piggybacking on a beloved movie franchise, and it’s a tribute to the life and tragic death of one of the stars of said franchise. It's an easy genre crossover thanks to Wiz’s verses paired with Puth’s Wonder Bread pop-soul hook, meaning you can fit it almost anywhere on the radio.

But I want to propose a third motivator, one that helped the song sustain its momentum months after its release. Just when you might expect "See You Again" to start falling off, the charts rolled into June: prime graduation season. Listen closely, and you can hear the echoes of victory lap keggers and grad party bonfires: "We’ve come a long way / from where we began…" The song itself is mediocre, a pawn thrown around by the winds of the market.

It's custom-engineered for blasting out of a teen's used convertible

Emily Yoshida: First of all, thank you for welcoming me into Songs Land, just in time for my favorite annual fake debate about music! Despite its tear-jerkiness, the main thing "See You Again" has going for it is how eminently sing-along-able it is — the power of the "whoa." But I need my no. 1 song of the summer to be a JAM, and this is a little too much like "I Will Remember You 2k15." Say what you will about last year’s song of the summer, "Fancy" — at least it sounded custom-engineered for blasting out of a 16-year-old’s used convertible. But then again, "See You Again" is literally about Vin Diesel driving into the sunset. I dunno, I’ll let Charlie and Wiz have it.

OMI, "Cheerleader (Felix Jaehn Remix)" (current: #2, peak: #2)

Cox: This is another proud entry in the recent tradition of buoyant, tropical, and global (read: non-American) summer hits. (Shout out to "Am I Wrong," shout out to "Rude," and shout out to the king: "Somebody That I Used to Know." Gotye forever.) I don’t like "Cheerleader" as much as I like those songs, but it’s a harmless, sweet piece of summer fun, one that makes me want to lie around in a kiddie pool, and so I have no formal complaints to lodge against it.

Yoshida: So, in addition to "Trap Queen" and Jamieson’s bonus pick below, this is a huge summer for fidelity anthems. And not just songs about how good it feels to be in a committed relationship with someone — songs that specifically focus on not cheating. I first heard "Cheerleader" while browsing through the Billboard playlist on Spotify, and I didn’t immediately understand how it had become a hit while I was a little out of touch with the charts. But I like how spacious it is, how airy and content it feels. I like that trumpet hanging out throughout the song. I also might just be responding to the fact Jaehn seems to have lifted the remix's texture directly from Graceland.

Silentó, "Watch Me" (current: #3, peak: #3)

Cox: I must confess: I heard this song for the first time yesterday morning when I read the charts and headed to YouTube for it. I like when stuff like that happens, stuff that illustrates the power of the bubbles in which we can find ourselves or the thin lines between countries (this is not a very big hit in my Canadian home) — but I’m also embarrassed that I’m only getting around to the #3 song in the country now. This is a fun trifle, albeit one I can’t see myself returning to very often though I’m fascinated by the idea of music as dance move listicle. My favorite move is the Stanky Leg.

Yoshida: I love dance songs — I mean, songs that are specifically tied to a dance routine. Love ‘em. Play me Webstar all day long. And yet, as infectious the joy is in the "Watch Me" video is, this song always feels about four times as long as it actually is. After the first few dances it begins to feel like a never-ending wedding reception Electric Slide. There’s nothing particularly memorable here, which is too bad, because it’s been a second since the dougie reared its head, and we’re definitely due for a new, wholly original dance craze.

Taylor Swift ft. Kendrick Lamar, "Bad Blood (Remix)" (current: #4, peak: #1)

Cox: This is one of the worst songs on 1989, and no amount of Kendrick or enhanced percussive bits can change that fact. (What would Coco Chanel say, Taylor? Take one thing off before you leave the studio!) It’s much more interesting as a show of force — Taylor shoving her way onto the radio with a heavily promoted, starry, and ultimately boring video is more of a flex than an artistic statement, if you ask me. Ke$ha could’ve done this so much better. I wish "Wildest Dreams" was sitting in its place.

Yoshida: Seconded, seconded, seconded. I’d take "Wildest Dreams" — heck, I’d take "All You Had to Do Was Stay," secretly the most Max Martin-y song on all of 1989. How could a pop songwriting genius like Taylor give us such a clunky chorus? Words like "pro-oblems," "so-olve them," "take a look what you do-o-one" are stretched out awkwardly over this anticlimactic downward slope of a musical phrase. I’m not even talking about the Kendrick verse because I feel like the less I think about it, the more I can pretend it never happened.

Fetty Wap, "Trap Queen" (current: #5, peak: #2)

Cox: And now for the people’s champion! I think "Trap Queen" is probably the most beloved of the songs on this list, and I still find it hard to believe it never managed to reach the top of the charts — such is the strength of Charlie Puth, I guess. I have to confess that Emily almost ruined this one for me when she revealed that Fetty throws all of that lovely talk about fidelity and building a life together in the trash at the very end of the song ("I'll run in ya house, then I'll fuck your ho"). I wanted very badly to believe in monogamous trap royalty!

Yoshida: All spring / summer songs should start with the words "I’m like hey, what’s up, hello." It’s the perfect prompt to perk up your head and look around and realize the world isn’t a muddy frozen ice planet anymore. Yeah, this track is still pretty perfect, and I’ll remember it as 2015’s song of the summer even if it doesn’t land on the final top 10. Enough has been written about what a joy-inducing anthem this is — but recently I’ve been living for those AutoTuned "yaaahhs," each one a second-long "what else is there to say?" victory lap for a song that’s already proven itself a classic by the first chorus.

The Weeknd, "Can’t Feel My Face" (current: #6, peak: #6)

Cox: It crept up on us, but Abel Tesfaye is a major pop star now: four straight top 20 hits, three of which landed in the top 10, a run capped off by this Max Martin-assisted monster. I’m not surprised he got here — he’s like the male, Canadian Lana Del Rey, just a little more druggy and a little less emblematic of his home country. I like him a lot more in this uncompromising, unabashed pop mode than as a mysterious, shadowy R&B lech. There’s still a little bit of lecherousness here, of course, but he’s cutting it with that pure, sweet tenor and by picking up the pace. This sounds great on the highway at night.

Yoshida: I appreciate Max Martin for picking up what could have been another flopped-on-the-floor Weeknd song, slapping its face and feeding it a shot of espresso. This doesn’t mean I love it — Jason Derulo’s "Want to Want Me" did it for me way more as far as MJ-indebted breezy male pop jams go, but it doesn’t make my skin crawl the way "The Hills" or his verse on Ariana Grande’s "Love Me Harder" did. (Maybe this makes me a total mom, but "Earned It (Fifty Shades of Grey)" is my favorite mainstream Weeknd hit by a wide margin.)

Walk the Moon, "Shut Up and Dance" (current: #7, peak: #4)

Cox: I like this song because it pairs the guitar melody and tone of a peak U2 hit — seriously, The Edge must be owed royalties on this — with the intensity and tight, hooky blast of the finest mid-’00s power-pop-punk. I flash back to Cartel’s "Luckie St." hearing this, something that was on constant rotation in my bedroom c. 2006, and I can’t help but feel like the members of Walk the Moon might be a little bit familiar with that sound. (Or perhaps I’m just looking for an excuse to relive my bratty, halcyon teenage days.)

Yoshida: I read somewhere that this is Ed Sheeran’s favorite song of the summer, which is about all you need to know.

Skrillex and Diplo ft. Justin Bieber, "Where Are U Now" (current: #8, peak: #8)

Cox: Just two points to make about this one: this is the 2015’s best patio song by a country mile, and no one could’ve done a better job on this vocal than Justin Bieber. He smashed this. I like having Bieber around, and I will believe in his ability to one day release an excellent grown-up pop-R&B album until my dying breath.

Yoshida: Oh, how I adore this song. Somehow it transcends the whiny Bieber penance tour lyrics and becomes something bigger, full of more wonder and melancholy than anything Justin’s done before. It’s summery as f-u-c-k, too — that perfectly balanced drop goes through multiple iterations of dancehall percussion and skittery hi-hats, as if Skrillex and Diplo are tossing it back and forth like a badminton birdie on a muggy August night. It’s built off perhaps the most overused chord progression in modern dance anthems, but that’s also what makes it feel charming and timeless.

David Guetta ft. Nicki Minaj, Bebe Rexha, and Afrojack, "Hey Mama" (current: #9, peak: #8)

Cox: I want to support Nicki, someone I think is a great musician and a general force for good, but this song is execrable. Whenever I hear it, all I can think of are bad routines on So You Think You Can Dance. Imagine one of those terrible hip-hop routines where someone completely unfamiliar with the genre is clearly out of their depth — that’s the scene playing in my head when I listen to "Hey Mama." No more, please.

Yoshida: I keep forgetting how this song goes, because every time I see the title my mind goes blank and suddenly I’m in 2004 with the Black Eyed Peas. This "Hey Mama," however, will only ever remind me of the promos leading up to HBO’s Ballers. And unfortunately, I must dispense with the burn of burns: that the first time I heard this chorus, I thought it was Rita Ora.

Rachel Platten, "Fight Song" (current: #10, peak: #10)

Cox: This taps into the the folky, inspirational MOR-pop vein Kelly Clarkson’s owned for the last decade, and I can’t argue with the commercial efficacy of that sound. I’d much prefer hearing someone like Clarkson doing the vocals here, though, someone with real power and a little grit — Platten isn’t bringing very much to the table. I don’t want to listen to this ever again, but I wouldn’t make fun of my mom for singing along to this in the car.

Yoshida: Summer of 2015, why you gotta be so dramatic? Struggle-pop is so big this year, as evidenced by this, and the song that’s been at no. 1 for approximately 8,000 weeks. This song sounds like something that would play during a season finale of The Hills; I can totally see Audrina, having finally moved on with her life, finding one of Justin Bobby’s fedoras on her nightstand and storming outside to throw it into the ocean, then gazing at the sunset as it is drawn out by the tide and the camera floats up over the rocky cliffs of Malibu. Five years later, apparently, Rachel Platten has found that fedora, spiritually and — watch the video — literally.

BONUS: Andy Grammer, "Honey, I’m Good." (current: #11, peak: #9)

Cox: I know many people who detest this song, and I can’t blame them. There's nothing special about some horny dude having to fight to stay faithful, and yet I find "Honey, I’m Good." touching and sweet. I'll try to explain: this is a bigger hit up here in Canada than it is in the US, and it’s been hanging around for a little longer. So I’ve heard this at bars, streaming from parties while walking around town, in the mall food court, everywhere. And every time I hear it, I see couples looking at each other and grinning the same dumb grin. It's one that says, "This song is dumb, but this is how I feel; we’re going to make mistakes, but you’re the person I want to see at the end of the night."

When I hear "Honey, I’m Good." now, I keep coming back to those moments, ones where I could feel people's happiness radiating out and hitting me like ripples in a pond. The rational part of me says Grammer shouldn’t be asking for a medal just because he’s fulfilling the basic commitments that define a monogamous relationship, but try as I might, I’m not a rational listener most of the time — I’m a blob of instinct and experience and visceral reaction to sound. And "Honey, I’m Good." somehow puts a smile on that blob’s face.

BONUS: Jamie xx ft. Young Thug and Popcaan, "I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)" (current: NR, peak: NR)

Yoshida: You can get completely sick of a song — you’ve played it every day for a month, you’re positive you’ve drained the joy out of it and it no longer can surprise you anymore. And then you find yourself in a small town in North Carolina over Fourth of July weekend as some kids drive by on the deserted main street with the windows down — Jamie’s muted, bell-like beats and Young Thug’s hiccupy wail momentarily drowning out the whine of cicadas — and you’re back in love with it all over again. "It was good, but we didn’t rave to it," says a voice at the tail end of the track. Maybe not, but "Good Times" is good as kickback music, and it’s clear this summer that’s what we’re in the mood for.

Let us know what you think of this summer's crop of jams in the forums.