On Spotify last weekend, it seemed as if the streaming service had given itself over entirely to presenting the music of a single artist.
That would be Drake, whose double album Scorpion was released on June 30.
Everywhere you looked, there was his handsome mug, the cover image of every single playlist on the world’s most popular streaming service.
That went for even the ones his songs weren’t featured on, such as “Best of British,” or \”Happy Pop Hits.” The promotion was a silly goof that online rageaholics are comparing to U2’s Songs of Innocence being inserted into all the world’s iTunes music folders in 2014 because, well, because people love to complain.
But the all-Drake all-the-time stunt underscores a truism: Scorpion is the unavoidable event release of the summer. The Toronto rapper’s album is uneven but still packed with hits. Scorpion has smashed streaming records left and right, garnering more that 435 million plays on Spotify, Apple Music, and other streaming services in its first three days of release. That is more than the previous record holder, Post-Malone’s Beerbongs & Bentleys, accumulated in a week.
Drake is included on the 24-song summer playlist assembled here, which you can play on Spotify by scrolling down to the bottom of the page.
But there’s more than Drizzy happening this summer: The tunes assembled include big pop hits in contention in that winner-take-all Song of the Summer competition that media outlets obsess over, but also breezy and brooding songs with a multiplicity of moods, because while hot and sticky seasonal pop songs are often joyful, they’re not always enough to chase away the summertime blues.
“I Like It,” Cardi B feat. Bad Bunny and J Balvin. If a single song of the summer had to be named, I’d go with this one, the second Billboard chart topper for the Bronx born rapper who dominated 2017 with “Bodak Yellow.” This collaboration with two reggaeton emcees effortlessly blends trap music beats with salsa. It’s further evidence of the indomitable spirit of the rapper born Belcalis Almanzar.
“Make Me Feel,” Janelle Monáe. The current single from the Atlanta R&B-pop-funk synthesist’s terrific new Dirty Computer is “I Like That.” “Make Me Feel,” however, is the superior summertime jam, a celebration of sexuality that takes pointers from Prince’s “Kiss.” She will play the Made in America festival on the Ben Franklin Parkway on Labor Day Weekend.
“Apes-,” The Carters. Beyoncé says the bad word on multiple occasions in this hard-banging celebration of high-powered entertainment couple bliss on Everything Is Love, which features art history lessons aplenty in its video filmed at Paris’ Louvre museum. Jay and Bey will be at Lincoln Financial Field on July 30.
“Short Court Style,” Natalie Prass. A delectable slice of bubble gum flavored throwback 1970s pop-funk is Richmond, Va., indie singer Prass’ impressive second album, The Future and the Past. Prass plays the Xponential festival in Camden on July 28.
“Boo’d Up,” Ella Mai. Summertime is the love song time. British singer Ella Mai first put out this celebration of going steady early last year, but it’s a success story that gathered stream and pop radio exposure into 2018.
“Slow Burn,” Kacey Musgraves. While still IDing herself as country singer, Kacey Musgraves has redirected her music in a ‘70s soft-rock direction, a smart strategy since country radio is too conservative to play her anyway. This superbly crafted tune stays on permanent simmer.
“Babe,” Sugarland feat. Taylor Swift. Wyomissing, Pa.’s own megastar Swift now rules a pure pop universe. She plays back-to-back nights at Lincoln Financial Field starting Friday. but she’s smartly kept her finger in the country pie by continuing to write hit songs for country pop acts such as reunited duo Sugarland.
“Let’s Take a Vacation,” Joshua Hedley. The Nashville crooner puts a warm-weather spin on Merle Haggard’s “If We Make It Though December,” on this cut from Mr. Jukebox, as he tries to convince his significant other that a summer time getaway will put some zip back in their failing relationship.
“Pretty Horses,” Dwight Yoakam. This is the best of two new lonesome and blue songs that the uncommonly dependable veteran songwriter recently debuted on his excellent new Sirius XM channel Dwight Yoakam & the Bakersfield Beat.
“Pet Cemetery,” Tierra Whack. A love song to her lost dog, this is one of the standout cuts on the North Philly rapper’s wondrous 15-songs-in-15-minutes album Whack World.
“Summer Games,” Drake. “Summer just started and we’re already done,” the Canadian rhymer, in sad and sensitive mode, raps on the 1980s synth driven summer bummer, sounding disappointed. It’s one of many Scorpion cuts, along with “After Dark” and “Nice For What” that would have made worthy addition to this list.
“No Tears Left to Cry,” Ariana Grande. The octave leaping singer has a new album called Sweetener due next month, and a frisky new single called “Bed” with Nicki Minaj. This, though, is the sad song with a sweet melody whose mournful tone feels like a response to the terror attack that killed 22 at a Grande show in England last year.
“Lucid Dreams,” Juice Wrld. Drake isn’t the only rapper who’s pouring his feelings out this summer. Juice Wrld is the suburban Chicago teen born Jared Higgins who specializes in feeling sorry for himself in song, thankfully with a modicum of self-awareness. “I take prescriptions to make me feel a-OK,” he rap-sings. “I know it’s all in my head.”
“Heat Wave,” Snail Mail. Baltimore teenager Lindsey Jordan explores her feelings with scalpel-sharp acuity and songwriting smarts on her debut, Lush, and this will mentally cool you down if you watch its ice hockey video. Jordan plays Union Transfer on Saturday.
“Nameless, Faceless,” Courtney Barnett. The Australian rock songwriter who is so good at precisely — and drolly — detailing thoughts of alienation and detachment on her new Tell Me How You Really Feel. Put down of the summer: “I could eat a bowl of alphabet soup and spit out better words than you.”
“If You Know You Know,” Pusha-T. There’s no self-pity on this hard-hitting highlight from Daytona, the Kanye West-produced return to form by the rapper who made his name with the street-wise Virginia hip-hop duo Clipse.
“Stay Woke,” Meek Mill feat Miguel. The appropriately serious-in-tone first song by the Philadelphia rapper since his release from prison in April. He spits with authority, and takes Grandmaster Flash’s classic “The Message” as a starting point. Look for Miguel to join him when they both play Made in America on Labor Day weekend.
“This Is America,” Childish Gambino. The song of the summer that speaks the most intensely to a bitterly divided nation in 2018 from Renaissance man Donald Glover.
“The Middle,” Zedd, Maren Morris, Grey. A collaboration between Russian-German deejay-producer, a Nashville country pop singer, and an L.A. EDM act is just the sort of Frankensteinian creation that contemporary pop mega-hits are made of. And this one is hard to resist.
“One Kiss,” Calvin Harris feat. Dua Lipa. This summer’s soaring firework celebration-ready dance track from Scottish deejay and Taylor Swift-ex Harris. This time with English songwriter and vocalist handling the vocal duties in a testimony about how a single peck on the lips can spell transcendence.
“A Song for Those You Miss All the Time,” Thin Lips. Speaking of Lips, this song by the Philly band fronted by Chrissy Tashjianis is by no means a happy one, but its gnarly guitar riff and catchy hook does deliver plenty of catharsis. Chosen Family is out July 27.
“Hey! Little Child,” Low Cut Connie. A ribald stomp from the raucous throwback Philly rocker’s Dirty Pictures (part 2), covering Big Star star Alex Chilton, who included it on his 1979 solo album Like Flies On Sherbert.
“I’m Your Man,” Spritualized. One man band Jason Pierce — a.k.a. J. Spaceman — is returning with And Nothing Hurt, his first album of new music since 2012 on Sept. 7. This and a second song, “A Perfect Miracle,” are marked by swelling orchestration and divine summertime sadness sentiment.
“Summer’s End,” John Prine. Before you know it, it’ll be gone. This highlight from the 71-year-old Prine’s superb better-than-it-has-any-right-to-be The Tree of Forgiveness is as beautiful and bittersweet as a late August sunset.