What’s the song of the summer? That’s a question that I’ll be dodging for the 2021 playlist I’ve compiled for you here.
Several big hits that are surfacing in the annual debate are included: Lil Nas X’s “Montero,” Olivia Rodrigo’s “good 4 u,” Justin Bieber’s ”Peaches.”
But it’s not a contest with a single winner, and just because Lorde kicks it off with the sunbaked “Solar Power” doesn’t mean she came in first. There’s no ranking here — it’s a playlist meant to be streamed in sequence.
Or go ahead and hit shuffle. When you do you’ll find songs of escape and songs of longing, some that celebrate a return to communal gathering in a vaccinated world, and others that wallow in the summertime sadness that’s also an essential part of the season.
Lorde, “Solar Power.” The title cut of Lorde’s first album in four years, due Aug. 20, is an almost too on-the-nose summer song. “Acid green, aquamarine,” she sings on the Jack Antonoff-produced track. “The girls are dancing in the sand.” She’s coming to the Met Philly next spring, on April 20. But for this summer, Lorde has gone to the beach.
Olivia Rodrigo, “good 4 u.” Since breaking big with her “drivers license” single, Olivia Rodrigo has been open about her adoration of Taylor Swift and accused of plagiarism by Courtney Love. Another prevalent influence is Lorde, whose imprint can be clearly heard on this cathartic breakup song.
Justin Bieber featuring Daniel Caesar and Giveon, “Peaches.” Is Justin Bieber a worthy headliner for Made In America? That will be determined on Labor Day weekend, when he’s the biggest name — along with Lil Baby — at Jay-Z’s festival. Meantime, this relaxed summer jam with the R&B stars will disarm the haters.
Japanese Breakfast, “Be Sweet.” The leading earworm on Jubilee, Michelle Zauner’s joyful companion piece to her sorrowful Crying In H Mart memoir. Japanese Breakfast play five shows at Union Transfer starting Aug. 6. Before that, Zauner will join me for an Inquirer Live interview on July 15. Go to Inquirer.com/PhillyPlaylist to sign up and join us.
Mannequin Pussy, “Control.” “I’m in control,” sings Marisa Dabice of the Philadelphia punk trio whose songs are featured in HBO’s Mare of Easttown. “At least that’s what I tell myself when all the walls are closing in.” The song is the centerpiece of Perfect, their Will Yip-produced EP. Mannequin Pussy opens for Japanese Breakfast’s first three Union Transfer shows.
Doja Cat featuring SZA, “Kiss Me More.” This flirtatious hit from the Los Angeles pop star’s album Planet Her has a cotton-candy texture that’s given added substance by a guest verse from New Jersey singer SZA.
Sault, “London Gangs.” The always mysterious London collective Sault released two albums in both 2019 and 2020, so they were overdue in 2021. The brand new Nine will only stream for 99 days beginning with its June 27 release date. “London Gangs” is the album’s taut and tense centerpiece.
H.E.R., “Bloody Waters.” “People marching, there’s no one there to lead, someone give me somethin’ to believe,” Gabriella Wilson sings on the Kaytranada-produced track with an assist from Thundercat on bass. It’s a protest song reminiscent of Marvin Gaye, from H.E.R.’s new Back Of My Mind.
Amythyst Kiah, “Black Myself.” Kiah originally recorded “Black Myself” for Songs of Our Native Daughters, the 2019 album that teamed her with Rhiannon Giddens, Leyla McCalla, and Allison Russell in a folk supergroup. That recording won a Grammy, and Kiah has added muscle on her excellent new Wary + Strange album. She plays a People’s Light Drive-In Concert on July 24.
Silk Sonic, “Leave The Door Open.” This is the delectable first single from Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak’s 1970s soul collaboration on their upcoming An Evening With Silk Sonic debut album. It features a luscious string arrangement by Philadelphia’s Larry Gold.
Megan Thee Stallion, “Thot S-.” The latest single by the 2021 BET Awards Best Female Hip-Hop Artist, who plays Made in America and Firefly in September, is both catchy and caught up in a controversy. It’s been boycotted by Black TikTok creators — not because they have a problem with her or the song, but to call attention to how their uncredited, uncompensated dances influence pop culture.
City Girls, “Twerkulator.” “I’ma shake what my mama gave me,” City Girls’ JT and Yung Miami promise on this track, which became a TikTok hit when it was leaked before its official release last month. That familiar sample is from Afrika Bambaataa’s 1982 hip-hop benchmark “Planet Rock.”
Lil Nas X, “Montero.” Lil Nas X has done well for himself as a social media celebrity since “Old Town Road” ruled prepandemic 2019. But until now, he’s been short of worthy songs to shed the one-hit wonder label. The flamenco-flavored “Montero” takes care of that.
Kali Uchis, “telepatia.” Colombian American singer Uchis released her first predominantly Spanish-language album Sin Miedo (del Amor y Otros Demonios) last year with no intention of making “telepatia” a single. But the bilingual song about making an emotional connection became a pandemic hit.
Miley Cyrus, “Nothing Else Matters.” Cyrus’ powerhouse voice and charismatic presence work wonders with covers. Here, she turns to metal, with the motley crew of Elton John, Yo-Yo Ma, and Metallica’s Robert Trujillo. It’s the first cut from a 53-track tribute to Metallica’s 1991 Black Album, due Sept. 10.
Grace Vonderkuhn, “Put It On Me.” The Delaware trio fronted by Grace Koon lets it rip on this rocker, ready to blow the doors off a year of coronavirus confinement. It’s a track from the new Pleasure Pain, due Aug. 13. The band plays the Shady Grove Music Festival in Arden, Delaware, on July 10.
The Killers featuring Bruce Springsteen, “Dustland.” It has a title that could have been created by a Springsteen song-title generator, but “Dustland” brings Brandon Flowers and the now back-on-Broadway Boss together for an effective rumble down thunder road.
The Strapping Fieldhands, “Across The Susquehanna.” Just half a year late for the 2021 sea shanty craze, the Philadelphia band that specializes in woozy, Syd Barrett-style psychedelia is back with this title song from their new album, due July 16.
Jack Ingram, Miranda Lambert, Jon Randall, “In His Arms.” “In His Arms” finds Lambert and her songwriting buddies gathered around the campfire in Marfa, Texas, for a dose of the off-the-cuff intimacy that we’re all hoping to recapture this summer as we come out of isolation.
Shamir, “Songs Remain.” The Philly-based songwriter’s stunning, evocative track is an acoustic cover of an Esther Rose song about music and memory. It’s from How Many More Times, a collection of covers from Rose’s album How Many Times.
Faye Webster, “In a Good Way.” “You make me want to cry — in a good way,” Webster sings on the lead single from her wholly impressive I Know I’m Funny haha. The Atlanta songwriter’s easeful groove shows off her comfort level with R&B.
Jazmine Sullivan, “Tragic.” The Philly soul singer is already one of the stars of 2021 with her Heaux Tales project, which came out in January. This terrific new single about “reclaimin’ my time” shows she’s still on a hot streak.
The Boys With Perpetual Nervousness, “Play (On My Mind).” A power-pop nerd’s dream come, the band is named after a song on the Feelies’ 1980 debut and Graham Caveney’s 2017 coming-of-age memoir. The principals live in Scotland and Spain, and collaborated on the winsome, jangly songs on Songs From Another Life with ample social distance.
Hurry, “Where You Go, I Go.” Hurrah, there’s a new Hurry record, called Fake Ideas, on Lame-O Records. Philadelphia songwriter-guitarist Matthew Scottoline’s band is expert at hazy, sun-dazed power pop, always tinged with that summery sense that the season’s pleasures are fleeting.