A perfect summer song is a special breed of music. It begs you to move, on oppressively hot nights out to the dance floor, or from your lounge chair under the blistering afternoon sun. When it comes on the radio, the only conceivable response is to roll your windows down and shout the lyrics at each passing car on the highway. While this season remains muted compared to years past, as concert calendars fill slowly and Covid-19 restrictions wax and wane unexpectedly, the airwaves are anything but dull. Swedish House Mafia, the dance music titans who ruled the mid-2010s, are back with a thumping new anthem while John Mayer’s return to form offered an instant pool party classic. Tyler, the Creator has found a new, unhurried groove while Olivia Rodrigo’s Sour LP is the perfect mining grounds for edgy, campfire singalongs. There’s more, of course, from the likes of a newly-transcendent Japanese Breakfast, as well as Justin Bieber, Doja Cat and Lorde, if you’ll stick around. There are the 15 best songs of summer 2021.

Swedish House Mafia, “It Gets Better”

The dance music kings are back, and louder than ever. Eight years after their dramatic departure, and two years after beginning to test variations of this cut live, the trio of Axwell, Sebastian Ingrosso, and Steve Angello have released the first single of their almighty return. And while the news begs at memories of their mid-2010s peak, nothing about the twitchy, drum-heavy cut feels like a look backwards. Instead, it ushers in a new era. —Madison Vain

John Mayer, “Wild Blue”

Mayer’s Sob Rock is a top-notch summer album, a return to form, and a triumph of graphic design. It’s such a cohesive statement it’s hard to single out one track, but if we had to, we’d go with this one, a mellow throwback to the adult-contemporary of the ‘80s. Perfect for the magic hour at your pool party, just as the grill gets lit and the sunburn sets in. —Dave Holmes

Tyler, the Creator, “Sweet/I Thought You Wanted to Dance”

Radio may favor breezy, three-minute cuts, but all nine minutes and 48 seconds of Tyler, The Creator’s “Sweet/I Thought You Wanted to Dance,” off his new album Call Me If You Get Lost, are worth playing on repeat this summer. The track begins as a love story (that’s the “Sweet” side) and while it turns sour in “I Thought You Wanted To Dance,” it stays groovy and melodic all the way through. Featuring Brent Faiyaz and Fana Hues, both halves of the two-part track—a Tyler signature for the tenth track on each of his albums—are perfect for unwinding on balmy nights. —Lauren Kranc

Olivia Rodrigo, “Brutal”

“Brutal” is many things: a perfect encapsulation of teenage rage, an ode to summer lethargy, and the killer kickoff song from Olivia Rodrigo’s massively popular debut LP, Sour. (Read the Esquire review here.) While she wrote it for herself, what the Disney star-turned-mainstream-music-sensation may not have realized is that her grunge-pop anthem transcends generational divides. Gen Z and disenfranchised? This works for you. Millennial 30-something grasping at the straws of youth? Also appropriate. Middle aged men hosting a pool party? Absolutely! The thing is, we’ve all been so insecure we think, that we’d die before we drink. —Justin Kirkland

Japanese Breakfast, “Be Sweet”

The first single from Michelle Zauner’s third album as Japanese Breakfast is a mission statement of joy. Her first two LPs chronicled her mother’s fight with, and eventual loss, to cancer, and worked as mournful dream-pop meditations on grief. But with splashes of funk, glowing synth, and a bright bass groove, Zauner taps into the effervescent side of herself. “I wanted to just explore a different part of me: I am capable of joy and I have experienced a lot of joy,” she told Pitchfork. “All the songs are different reminders of how to experience or carve out space for that.” And with everything happening in the world right now, that’s exactly the outlook—and sound—we need now. —Matt Miller

Lorde, “Solar Power”

Lorde gets back to the minimalism of her breakthrough single “Royals” on the verses of this one, but then you blink three times and you feel it kicking in: the hook to be bellowed at pool parties until autumn. It’s a little George Michael’s “Freedom ‘90,” it’s a little Primal Scream’s “Loaded,” the video definitely takes a cue from Humira, and while none of us has successfully made a bong out of a fennel bulb, doesn’t mean we won’t keep trying. We have all wondered whether we can kick it, especially this year, but I think Lorde is right: yeah. We can. —DH

Megan Thee Stallion, “Thot Shit”

Over the past year, it seems that if Megan Thee Stallion so much as lifts a finger, the world pays attention. Lucky for us, she’s doing a whole lot more than that. Enter: “Thot Shit,” arguably thee tell-off of the season. It’s the perfect song for our (mostly, hopefully… permanently?) reopened social calendars—even if it’s causing an uproar on TikTok. —JK

Doja Cat, “Kiss Me More,” ft. SZA

Pop music’s favorite chameleon’s reign remains uninterrupted. Doja Cat, a 25-year-old LA native hot off the release of her third album, Planet Her, moonlights in many genres: hip-hop, R&B, disco, and electro, tying her excursions together with an undeniable, resplendent joy. That’s certainly true here, on this sticky-as-bubblegum roller rink flirtation featuring SZA. —MV

Yola, “Diamond Studded Shoes”

Is anyone blending genres as seamlessly as Yola is right now? The singer has created a new space, one that is somehow equal parts soul and country, as well as pop and R&B. “Diamond Studded Shoes” is a standout, nearly bubbling over with keyboard accents, guitar riffs, and the perfect amount of power vocals. It’s all only compounded when you realize the lyrics take a blisteringly upbeat jab at our broken society. 2021’s music at its finest. —JK

BTS, “Butter”

Immovable at number one since its release in late May, “Butter” continues BTS’ hot streak and injects pure joy into a stressful, angsty season. In their boastful and bouncy second English-language single, our winter-issue cover guys get just cocky enough to show us they know they’re killing it, yet still name-check ARMY to remind us they know who got them there. US radio airplay still lags behind streaming and sales for this one, but it doesn’t matter: this is the unquestioned song of the Summer of Butter. —DH

Justin Bieber, “Peaches,” ft. Daniel Caesar, Giveon

It won’t be the Peaches TikTok Make-Up challenge that does it, but eventually you will give into the latest chart-topper from the Biebs. Why not make now that moment? Bieber debuted the unexpectedly vibey cut during his NPR Tiny Desk performance earlier this year, just hours before dropping his Justice LP. Manning the keys, it was an infectious, if slightly random, ode to different regions of the continental United States. (Don’t overthink this.) But the pristinely-produced radio version, which also features Daniel Cesar, is almost impossibly smooth. —MV

Kabza De Small, DJ Maphorisa, TRESOR, “Folasade”

In the last few years, amapiano has become the most popular sound in South Africa. A subgenre of house music, it started as a grassroots, countercultural, DIY movement that thrived in the local clubs. It’s the music of freedom—long, joyful, hypnotic dance bangers rooted in deep house. Kabza de Small and producer DJ Maphorisa are at the forefront of this movement, helping spread it across Africa and onto global popularity. On this nearly 8-minute track, Kabza, Maphorisa, and TRESOR show the genre’s true potential. It’s also proof of why the likes of Drake, Usher, Beyonce, Disclosure, and others are paying close attention to this scene. Don’t be surprised if this is the next K-Pop, reggaeton, pr Latin trap phenomenon. —MM

Lucy Dacus, “VBS”

Summer is when a lot of cool kids go to house parties and a lot of coastal kids hit the beach, and these experiences have not gone undocumented in song. But it’s also a time when a lot of sadder kids with more cautious parents get packed up and sent to vacation bible school, an experience Lucy Dacus recounts to devastating effect here. The details—a preacher in a t-shirt, a father who wears long sleeves to hide the evidence of a previous life, a girl whose nerves can only be calmed by secret Slayer sessions—add up to a short story. Dacus may no longer be a believer, but she makes it clear: the communion of young and skeptical souls can be a miracle. —DH

Kings of Leon, “When You See Yourself, Are You Far Away?”

Kings of Leon will likely never be as big as they were at the beginning of their career, when songs like “Use Somebody” and “Sex on Fire” enjoyed viral success before things, well, went viral. But on their eighth LP, which dropped in March, it finally sounds like they no longer give a damn. This cut, lifted by an arena rock-sized melody and draped in frontman Caleb Followill’s drawl, moves with an enviable leisure, comfortable in its mid tempo pocket. Its only misstep? It’s mouthful of a title. —MV

Silk Sonic, “Leave the Door Open”

When Bruno Mars takes on a genre—the ‘90s new jack swing of “Finesse” or the early ‘80s synth-pop of “Treasure”—he shows he understands the assignment, but that’s the essential problem with Bruno Mars: too often his music can feel like an assignment. For the Silk Sonic project, Mars has teamed with Anderson .Paak, and their first track is a flawless tribute to mid-‘70s R&B with a key change that will make you stand up and cheer. We’re no closer to understanding who Bruno Mars actually is, but when his work is this much fun, who cares? —DH

This content is created and maintained by a third party, and imported onto this page to help users provide their email addresses. You may be able to find more information about this and similar content at piano.io