Song of the summer 2020: our writers pick their favourite tracks

From Chloe x Halle to Lady Gaga to Haim, Guardian critics recommend their best songs of an unusual season

Haim – Gasoline

The most exotic my dreams are during month five of a lock-in involve being in a car, top down, speeding along a desert road, with the vast expanse of mountainous scenery in front and behind me. Summer means freedom, and to me that kind of road trip would be true liberation. The soundtrack would be Gasoline, and I’d glide along to a radio rock classic that feels like a Paula Cole classic turned inside out and upside down by a heady dose of mushrooms.

From their third No 1 album Women In Music Part III, Haim crack the code, locating the magic of all their influences and creative reaches over the past eight years in one cool, calm jam, complete with a wigged-out psychedelic middle. It suits the Covid-19 purgatory perfectly, as our foot pedals past memories to the floor, and our sights are set on that destination future we yearn to arrive at. EB

Lady Gaga ft Ariana Grande – Rain On Me

Like basically every track off Chromatica, which finds our Mother Monster throwing back to her dance-pop genesis and the halcyon moment of promise that was late-aughts New York City, it will play far better at deafening volumes while dancing with total strangers in a sweaty basement club after 3am whenever any of those things are permitted again. But the second single off Gaga’s sixth long-player, with its straightforward message of perseverance through challenging and traumatic times (“I’d rather be dry, but at least I’m alive”), is an oddly fitting anthem of empowerment for our present times, showcasing two divas at the top of their games bound by call-and-response vocals and an authentic, positive chemistry. A classic Gaga grower that will be waiting for us on the floor. BAG

Chloe x Halle – Do It

“Good vibes only,” trill Chloe x Halle, their voices like honey, over a track that sounds like a late afternoon in Los Angeles, rays of sunlight refracting over a pool. The feather-light vocals, the self-assured lyrics, the instant-earworm chorus: classic R&B and pin-sharp production combine in a song that is both nostalgic and absolutely of the moment. (There is, of course, a TikTok challenge: “That’s just how we do it / And you could do it too,” the lyrics wink).

With fans including Lin-Manuel Miranda, Janelle Monáe and Beyoncé (they are signed to her label), the Grammy-nominated, Atlanta-born sisters were on the verge of mega-stardom when lockdown struck. But this glimmering pop number (from last month’s Ungodly Hour), revelling in carefree moments spent with your closest friends, could not have come at a better time. If you close your eyes and listen, you can just about imagine being by that pool, an icy cocktail melting in the balmy summer air. KB

Jayda G – Both of Us

There is a moment on every dancefloor in which you sneak a glimpse of your friends dancing, lost to the music, and feel a great surge of love towards them. Those memories are all we have to sustain this stricken summer, and Jayda G’s new single preserves them like cirrus in a jar to cherish until clubbing resumes. As the relentlessly euphoric piano of Both of Us crawls to a trudge, time seems to stop. “I – just – want – to – be – with – yoo-oou,” she sings gloriously, gasping every word, human handclaps replacing her catalytic beat. She bridges our current state of physical distancing with a powerful sense of yearning that makes my heart bungee into my legs – until a glittery drop that’s at least a six on the Richter scale shocks it back into my chest. LS

H.E.R. – Do to Me

Do to Me is the best kind of summer song, the kind that wafts in and out of a long July day from windows-down car to sweaty bodega to heaving bar to late-night roof party all the way back home, affecting both pace and vibe. Given the fractured nature of our social lives this year, that ideal summer day might be a little bit different than in years past but as we find ways to enjoy each other’s company at a distance, H.E.R.’s balmy banger still has the opportunity to soundtrack whatever fun we’re able to find right now.

Sampling Sister Nancy’s defining reggae track Bam Bam, H.E.R. retains and builds on one genre while smoothing it out with her more trademark R&B style. Thanks to a range of big-name collaborations and some major Grammy recognition, she’s deservedly vaulted from minor to major with speed, arguably the most refined and versatile female soul singer we have right now. While dancing in a crowd might still be somewhat outlawed, Do to Me makes it impossible not to bounce at home as we dream of better days. BL

Dua Lipa – Pretty Please

When Dua Lipa dropped her disco-refracted sophomore album Future Nostalgia in the frenzied early quarantine of late March, what would’ve become a dance club staple instead landed as a panorama of endurable fantasy. For months of shutdown, I’ve used Don’t Start Now as a portal into a dancefloor future, dreamed of plinking down Levitating’s elastic bass into a crowd, imagined the high of mass physical touch hitting with the barreling intensity of Hallucinate.

But for this summer of reopening limbo, there’s Pretty Please, the album’s sticky, desirous middle track, a sweating cocktail of a song about slipping into reprieve. “I wanna feel a different kind of tension / Yeah, you guessed it, the kind that’s fun,” Lipa’s honeyed voice drips. “But my mind is running wild, could you help me slow it down?” The bass skips and dribbles like fingers drumming on your shoulder at a non-existent party, another fantasy. “Put my mind at ease, pretty please,” Lipa sings, her lambent craving conjuring a dream for many in this fractured, ominous, delusional summer: “sweet relief, pretty please.” AH

Gabriel Birnbaum – Half an Orange Crush on a Recycling Bin

In these straitened times, it can actually be a bit gloomy listening to all the dance anthems and rap tracks that usually soundtrack a hot summer’s bacchanalia – pouring tequila into your own mouth as these tunes echo around your empty house just lacks a certain something. My impulse has been to go the other way, and embrace the weird woozy interiority of a lockdown summer with Nightwater, a wonderful instrumental solo album by Gabriel Birnbaum of the Brooklyn band Wilder Maker.

This track is one of a number of highlights, based around a tinny drum machine, its rhythm like Brazilian bossa nova made sluggish by heat; a quiet country-ish guitar line twanging as if from the garden five doors down; and a truly beautiful melody played on keys, and mimicked on (I think) oboe. Birnbaum’s later saxophone solo riffs around it in an unhurried improvisation. It is palpably warm, but there is melancholy here, and a sort of droop, as if summer has had the momentum knocked out of it. And yet its naive melody doggedly trudges on, as we all do. BBT

Megan Thee Stallion ft Beyoncé – Savage Remix

During a summer that saw us stuck in our houses, with loads of free time on our hands, Megan Thee Stallion and Beyoncé created the perfect remix to dance along to in our bathroom mirrors. This powerful combination of Houston-born talents builds on the singability and lightheadedness of the original TikTok hit and uses pure, concentrated sexual energy and melodies stacked on top of melodies to shoot off into something worthy of obsessive listening. “On that Demon Time, she might start an OnlyFans,” Beyoncé intones, effortlessly flip-flopping between singing and rapping. It’s next to impossible not to feel a burst of confidence listening to the track.

But what really made it my song of the summer was seeing how it inspired young black dancers. It was a delight to scroll through TikTok and see teens, stuck at home for the summer, crafting their own choreography and filming it on their smartphones. Two creators – dubbed the “NaeNae Twins” – achieved virality with their original dance and inspired many (including Megan) to learn the intricate, fast-paced set. In a way, it felt like we were all dancing together, alone. AW

The Weeknd ft Doja Cat – In Your Eyes

Like a refreshing wave that initially crests towards the sun then suddenly crashes over you on a sticky day, The Weeknd’s pulsating remix of his After Hours cut In Your Eyes featuring the emerging pop songstress Doja Cat seems like it was tailor-made to blast from rickety speakers at a sandy, scorching beach. Perhaps that’s all by design, considering the track, masterminded by the earworm king himself Max Martin, was released right at the beginning of the summer season. With its 80s sensibilities (looking at you, sultry sax), infectious chorus that’s impossible to stop humming and The Weeknd’s typically lush vocals, it’s all enough to make you (almost) forget Doja Cat’s penchant for controversy. The biggest tragedy of the bop, though, is that we won’t be able to dance along to its buzzy synths and copious sweeps in a boozy crowd this summer. In the meantime, pass the sunscreen and turn it up. RL


Eve Barlow, Bryan Armen Graham, Kathryn Bromwich, Laura Snapes, Benjamin Lee, Adrian Horton, Ben Beaumont-Thomas, André Wheeler and Rob LeDonne

The GuardianTramp

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