Summertime requires its own soundtrack. And every year, pop stars compete to deliver the “song of the summer,” the track that defines the season on the charts and in listeners’ memories.
Officially, the song of the summer is the track that spends the most time atop the Billboard Hot 100 between Memorial Day and Labor Day. The songs on this list weren’t chosen by personal tastes; all of the tracks shown below were the top-charting hits on the Hot 100 for their respective summers, objectively, based on charts data. So if a favorite song isn’t included below, pick a fight with the Billboard charts, not the list.
It’s too early in the season to choose this year’s song of the summer, though Despacito has dominated the season’s charts thus far. In the meantime, we’ve analyzed the last 20 years worth of songs of summer, identifying the best and worst singles of years past. Some of these songs are still classics today, and would fit perfectly on any beach or cookout playlist. As for some of the other tracks — what were we thinking?
20. Party Rock Anthem, LMFAO feat. Lauren Bennett & GoonRock (2011)
After subjecting us to hearing “Every day I’m shufflin'” on loop for an entire summer, the neon-clad, uncle-nephew duo LMFAO put listeners out of their misery in 2012, announcing their indefinite hiatus.
19. I Kissed A Girl, Katy Perry (2008)
2008 was a different time, before social media grew into a powerful tool fans used to instantly flame pop stars for their missteps, and I Kissed a Girl’s icky queerbaiting likely would’ve fared worse today against Internet skeptics.
18. Bent, Matchbox Twenty (2000)
Matchbox Twenty make plenty of good songs and Unwell and 3 a.m. are classics of the ‘90s micro-genre the band inhabited. Unfortunately, Bent isn’t their best.
17. Fancy, Iggy Azalea feat. Charli XCX (2014)
Fancy will be remembered more as the song that introduced Iggy Azalea to the public consciousness, and less for its actual quality.
16. Cheerleader, OMI (2015)
2015 was a particularly dull year for summertime releases, save for Fetty Wap’s Trap Queen, which peaked too early in the year. But according to the listeners that sent Cheerleader to No. 1, OMI’s breakthrough single was the best of the worst.
15. Genie In A Bottle, Christina Aguilera (1999)
Xtina is a ’90s icon, but nostalgia isn’t enough to earn one of her duller hits a higher ranking.
14. Promiscuous, Nelly Furtado feat. Timbaland (2006)
As mortifying as the lyrics of this song can be, Nelly Furtado is as good a rapper as Iggy Azalea, if not better, and her Timbaland duet is bizarrely enjoyable.
13. California Gurls, Katy Perry feat. Snoop Dogg (2010)
Lorde and music theorists agree that Katy Perry’s Teenage Dream is her creative masterwork. Unfortunately, it arrived on the charts in August 2010, too late for summer domination, and the vapid California Gurls was her summertime hit.
12. One Dance, Drake feat. WizKid & Kyla (2016)
Drake’s dancehall phase produced a string of enjoyable singles. And while One Dance may not have been better than Controlla or Too Good with Rihanna, the rapper was on top of the world in 2016, which rightfully included a song of the summer.
11. I’ll Be Missing You, Puff Daddy and Faith Evans feat. 112 (1997)
I’ll Be Missing You was an elegy for Notorious B.I.G, and thanks to its May release date, one of rap’s most depressing hits also became the year’s song of the summer. While it’s a classic, it maybe doesn’t belong on your pool-party playlist.
10. I Gotta Feeling, The Black Eyed Peas (2009)
Is there another track that has compelled as many secular listeners to scream “Mazel Tov!” across the dance floor as the David Guetta-produced hit? I Gotta Feeling isn’t a great song, but that doesn’t mean it’s not iconic.
9. We Belong Together, Mariah Carey (2005)
Another weirdly emo choice to hit No. 1, We Belong Together is an essential later-era Mariah Carey hit and well-deserving of its song of the summer title.
8. The Boy Is Mine, Brandy & Monica (1998)
Monica has confirmed in interviews that she and Brandy won’t be releasing an updated version of the song, and rightfully so — it’s a ’90s R&B classic.
7. Call Me Maybe, Carly Rae Jepsen (2012)
Call Me Maybe is the archetype of the modern song of the summer, an earworm that listeners can’t escape, no matter how they try. And yet, we were always glad to hear Call Me Maybe, which launched the career of one of pop’s most effervescent stars.
6. Confessions Part II, Usher (2004)
Both of Usher’s songs-of-summer winners earned top placement on this list. His Confessions album is a classic, and Confessions Part II still has fun with its tortured narrative of infidelity, but the song isn’t exactly feel-good summer material.
5. U Remind Me, Usher (2001)
A wistful summertime classic, Usher’s earlier hit gets the nod for being a little more upbeat than Confessions Part II.
4. Umbrella, Rihanna feat. Jay-Z (2007)
Rihanna may earn her second song of the summer with her current DJ Khaled collaboration, Wild Thoughts, but Umbrella, which remains her all-time-best collaboration, sets a high bar.
3. Blurred Lines, Robin Thicke feat. T.I. and Pharrell (2013)
Upon Blurred Lines’ release, some listeners were quick to point out the track’s less-than-feminist politics. Unfortunately, it’s still a great song; so good that it inspired a failed lawsuit from Marvin Gaye’s estate for sounding too similar to Marvin’s Got to Give It Up. At least they chose a summer classic to kinda-plagiarize.
2. Hot In Herre, Nelly (2002)
Of all the tracks on this list, Hot in Herre is the most inseparable from summer, sweaty to the point that it’s almost cloying. The lyrics’ middle school-level lewdness are less sexy than endearing. But for all its goofy nostalgia, Nelly’s 2002 hit is a quintessential summertime song.
1. Crazy In Love, Beyoncé feat. Jay-Z (2003)
Not only did Beyoncé make the best song of the summer of the modern era, but she did it with her debut solo single. Crazy in Love was the first track Beyoncé shared from 2003’s Dangerously in Love, and it’s as perfect now as it was then, all horn blasts and clattering hi-hats as Bey tells a story of a girl in love.
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