Turn It Up

11 Songs of Summer ’16

September 11, 2016 0 Comments

Billboard has published its Songs of the Summer chart, with Drake’s “One Dance” given the cumulative crown for 2016 (unsurprising since the song reigned at #1 for 10 non-consecutive weeks). Also making the list were familiar hits by Justin Timberlake (the Max Martin and Shellback-assisted “Can’t Stop The Feeling”), Sia (the Sean Paul-featuring “Cheap Thrills”), Calvin Harris (the Nils Sjöberg TSwift co-written and Rihanna-featuring “This Is What You Came For”), and Adele (“Send My Love (To Your New Lover),” another Max Martin and Shellback-assist).

But the songs I mostly closely associate with this summer didn’t make Billboard’s tally, an unsurprising outcome you may well share, as the closest thing to a monoculture we currently have is Netflix. So since this summer was all about Stranger Things if anything, here are eleven (get it?) songs that made living in this upside-down world that much better over the past three months.

1. Ariana Grange – “Into You”

It would seem that the Pop Gods, like me, were entirely too distracted this summer by the continuing ridiculousness that is U.S. presidential campaign. How else to explain that “Into You” was kept outside the Top 10, topping out at a very unlucky #13? With Ariana echoing a little Mariah Carey (listen to the breathy ends of the song’s first few lines) and the aforementioned Max Martin’s involvement in both writing and production, the strutting “Into You” should have been a Grande-sized summer smash.

“A little less conversation and a little more touch my body” (name-checking Mimi’s 2008 hit) followed by the descending “‘Cause I’m so into you, into you, into you” is the Pop Moment of Summer.

Because the world is so topsy-turvy at the moment, I’ve no doubt that “Side To Side” — offering a literal version of being so into you — will be a giant smash. What’s good, Nicki Minaj? *side-eye emoji*

2. Alicia Keys x Kaskade – “In Common” (Radio Mix)

I can’t recall the last time I cared at all for an Alicia Keys single, so it took Kaskade’s superlative remix to set this boy on fire.

For a hot second, I expected Ms. Keys to pull a Lana Del Rey, whose “Summertime Sadness” successfully ascended to the uppermost reaches of the Hot 100 thanks to a Cedric Gervais remix just three short summers ago. Alas, it turns out they didn’t have that in common (though remixes of “In Common” did score a #5 showing on the Billboard Dance chart).

3. Tegan and Sara – “U-turn”

The Quin Twins followed up the pop u-turn that was 2013’s brilliant Heartthrob by consolidating efforts with producer Greg Kurstin and continuing further down the hook-filled path with the even more brilliant Love You To Death.

A tight 10-song set that clocks in at just over 30 minutes, Love You To Death quickly proved to be the ideal running soundtrack. But whenever “U-turn” would pop up, I couldn’t help but put the song on repeat and pick up the pace, stretching out my enjoyment of the track’s tight three minutes even longer.

4. KDA feat. Tinashe – “Just Say”

I don’t know how KDA’s collaboration with rising R&B star Tinashe came to be, but the thick-beated “Just Say” was the house music moment that Summer 2016 didn’t even know it needed. Hey! Hey! Hey!

Tinashe also released a new single, “Superlove,” the very same week as “Just Say,” a Miami bass-inspired track poised to play off the recent viral rebirth of Ghost Town DJ’s “My Boo.” “Superlove” hasn’t crossed over yet, something a just-released slew of remixes might remedy.

5. AlunaGeorge feat. Leikeli47 and Dreezy – “Mean What I Mean”

Surprisingly, the summer lumbered on sans a standout female rap moment along the lines of Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy” or Nicki Minaj on “Bang Bang” (both big in 2014, so maybe 2015 similarly fell short). With A-list artists failing to deliver, the arrival of AlunaGeorge’s “Mean What I Mean” in mid-July more than made up for that deficit by doubling up, presenting a verse each from femcees Dreezy and Leikeli47.

Whether “Mean What I Mean” was meant to serve as an official single from AlunaGeorge’s sophomore album, I Remember or a promotional push for pre-orders, whenever the this mélange of moombahton pop, R&B, and rap was pumping through my headphones — with Aluna’s bridge vocals echoing Inner City — I was having big fun.

6. Banks – “Fuck With Myself”

The first taste of Banks’ forthcoming sophomore set, The Altar was also the last song written for it. “There’s so many meanings to it,” she told Radio 1’s Zane Lowe. “It could be like, ‘I fuck with myself,’ like, ‘I mess with myself more than anybody else.’ It could be, ‘I fuck with myself,’ kind of like, ‘I’m feeling myself.’ It means a lot of different things that I think a lot of people can relate to.”

With Prince’s untimely passing in April still top of mind, I related the skeletal pop of “Fuck With Myself” to the Purple One’s legacy. I couldn’t help but feel Banks in my bones all summer long.

7. Bright Light Bright Light feat. Elton John – “All In The Name”

Bright Light Bright Light’s latest album, Choreography, is imbued from start to stop with brassy bursts of absolute delight. “All In The Name,” which serves as both the album’s lead track and its first single, was a superb introduction to Rod Thomas’ new horn-happy era.

No pop song has sounded as big as “All In The Name” in far too long (kudos to that can’t-miss chorus). And while guest Sir Elton John certainly deserves his due, let’s not overlook the ecstatic vocal contributions of Mykal Kilgore toward the track’s close.

8. Shura – “What’s It Gonna Be?”

Summer ’16 at the cinema ushered in a parade of disappointing sequels and reboots, so Hollywood producers still in search of something old to make new again could do worse than turn toward relatable teen comedies in the John Hughes tradition.

While we wait, Shura delivered the next best thing: a video for her bubbly, ’80s dance-pop of “What’s It Gonna Be?,” conjuring up Hughesian vibes with a sweet same-sex twist. The Mancunian’s debut album, Nothing’s Real, proudly sits alongside Love You To Death and Choreography as this summer’s full-length stunners.

9. Carly Rae Jepsen – “Fever”

For an all too brief moment, Carly Rae Jepsen’s E•MO•TION leftovers “First Time” and “Fever” were my little secret, albeit one shared with anyone who’d also sought out the Japan-only E•MO•TION Remixed + featuring those bonus tracks. I didn’t get my hands on the import CD until late July, giving me just a few short weeks to enjoy the pair before Carly Rae (wisely) shared these riches with the masses, and adding six more to create Emotion: Side B.

While “First Time” is a total blast of mid-’80s pop you’ll wanna dance with (check the Whitney-esque 808 cowbell), “Fever” is one whose emotion I was really feeling.

10. Phantogram – “You Don’t Get Me High Anymore”

Sure, the perfect summer song is often a light and fluffy escape, but current times also call for something altogether tougher.

New York duo Phantogram stepped up to impressively fill that void with “You Don’t Get Me High Anymore.” The darkly determined, sample-driven track conjures up the alt-rock noir-pop of classic Garbage. “Nothing is fun, not like before…”

11. Christina Aguilera feat. Nile Rodgers – “Telepathy”

This delicious slice of disco funk from the inspired pairing of Xtina and the Chic-est bassist around didn’t hit the streets until mid-August (thanks to a Netflix tie-in, fittingly), but I instantly connected to “Telepathy” upon the very first spin. Getting deeper into its groove, I discovered that Sia and Stargate wrote and produced this glittering get-down beamed in from a much earlier era, primed to make it shine bright like “Diamonds” once again.

As something of a latecomer, “Telepathy” could still take us through autumn. A spectacular dance routine set to the song caught the attention of Xtina a couple of days back, and an official video could help increase momentum:

What were your favorite songs of the summer? Listen to my 11 picks via this Spotify playlist: