2012's Songs of the Summer

Full-blown summer is nearly upon us. (Or fully upon us -- it got hot pretty quickly this year, eh?) So it's time for some prognostication: what will reign supreme as 2012's Song of the Summer? Will it be a pop hit, an indie smash, a dance-music burner? Has it been out for months, or weeks, or days? Has it even emerged at all yet? Below, our various genre editors handicap potential victors, from Justin Bieber to Best Coast to Nicki Minaj to Avicii to Baroness to Jack White. The playlist above will get you started. Enjoy, and may the best song win.

The Wanted, "Chasing the Sun"

Nothing says summer like five guys throwing a big stay-up-all-night ...Expand »

Full-blown summer is nearly upon us. (Or fully upon us -- it got hot pretty quickly this year, eh?) So it's time for some prognostication: what will reign supreme as 2012's Song of the Summer? Will it be a pop hit, an indie smash, a dance-music burner? Has it been out for months, or weeks, or days? Has it even emerged at all yet? Below, our various genre editors handicap potential victors, from Justin Bieber to Best Coast to Nicki Minaj to Avicii to Baroness to Jack White. The playlist above will get you started. Enjoy, and may the best song win.

The Wanted, "Chasing the Sun"

Nothing says summer like five guys throwing a big stay-up-all-night slumber party. What? That's not what this insomniac ode's about? OK, well, with club beats as cool as a breath of fresh air, a boy band of singers as hot as this song's titular sun and a vibe that screams joyful, inebriated youthfulness, this sucker's got summer jam written all over it. [Rachel Devitt]

Carly Rae Jepsen, "Call Me Maybe"

We bet our itsy-bitsy teeny-weenie yellow polka-dot bikini that this Canadian cutie's gonna be crowned the summer song queen. A sweet, sunny story about flirting with boys and doing crazy stuff over an unflappably bouncy beat? That's what summer's all about. Well, that and hot shirtless guys mowing the lawn. [R.D.]

Avicii, "Levels (Skrillex Remix)"

Swedish house producer Avicii's "Levels" was one of last year's biggest festival anthems, racking up 15 million plays on YouTube before the single was even released. These days, it continues to be inescapable -- after Coachella, even Avicii fans groused about the ubiquity of the song. With a recent remix from Skrillex giving it a beefy makeover, expect to be hearing a lot more of those chords. [Philip Sherburne]

Trouble Maker, "Trouble Maker"

Finger-snapping, hiccupping, chiming co-ed New Wave disco from Korea, starring badass HyunA from girl group 4minute (and 2011's awesome "Bubble Pop") and androgynous Jang Hyun-seung from boy band Beast, plus the most infective whistle-hook you'll hear all year. Despite controversy owing to alleged raciness and the pair seemingly kissing on TV, it went either No. 1 or No. 2 at home (depends which chart you use), and sounds wacky enough that it could've topped some Continental European chart in the late '80s. America, get with the program already! [Chuck Eddy]

Rush, "Headlong Flight"

With the highly anticipated Clockwork Angels due out this June, Rush unleash a seven-minute rager that out-rocks anything from the under-30 sect. Forget feel-good barbecue jams: the aptly titled "Headlong Flight" is for all you crazies who have no problem plunging down falls in a fiberglass coffin or scaling gargantuan boulders with no safety rig. Dig these lyrics: "All the journeys of this great adventure, it didn't always feel that way/ I wouldn't trade them because I made them the best I could, and that's enough to say." This is Rush's summer, yo. Book it! [Justin Farrar]

Jack White, "Sixteen Saltines"

With a gallon of gas clearing the four-dollar mark, peak oil has rendered the idea of the car jam -- the perfect tune to crank while "blazing" to the beach, say -- a nasty anachronism. Then again, isn't that what Jack White is all about: nasty anachronisms? Confusing The Knack and Led Zeppelin (again), the guy delivers a wicked howler that will surely nag us well into September. Consequently, "Sixteen Saltines" goes out to every fella who this summer will foolishly obsess over a bikini babe way out of his league. Oh, the torment. [J.F.]

Rihanna, "Where Have You Been"

It's not summer without a Riri hit, and "Where Have You Been," the fifth single off Talk That Talk, is a serious contender: it sounds a lot like the album's smash lead single, "We Found Love"; it embarks on a romantic/obsessive quest (road trip!); and it's ready-made for slipping into your next-to-nothingest outfit and shaking it. Also, Rihanna as some kind of swamp mermaid? Um, yes please. [R.D.]

Best Coast, "The Only Place"

California should just go ahead and hire Best Coast as full-time ambassadors. The title track off their sophomore album is all sappy love stuff, and we ain't talking boys and girls. Bethany Cosentino's biggest crush is on the Golden State: "Why would you live anywhere else? We've got the ocean, got the babes, got the sun, we've got the waves," she gushes over surf guitar and brisk beats. Don't do another drive down Highway 1 without this. [Stephanie Benson]

Chris Brown, "Sweet Love"

Despite his legion of haters, Brown is ubiquitous on the radio. But do his many appearances -- from his own "Strip" to backing vocals on Pitbull's "International Love" and Nicki Minaj's "Right by My Side" -- add up to a career-changing hit à la 2010's "Deuces"? His new album, Fortune, got pushed to July. Perhaps "Sweet Love," wherein Brown jettisons the EDM sound for a classic babymaker slow jam, will be the singular smash he's looking for. [Mosi Reeves]

Rick Ross, "Stay Schemin'"

Originally released on Ross' Rich Forever mixtape, "Stay Schemin'" was one of the biggest rap hits of 2012 well before Def Jam serviced it to retail. It didn't hurt that it features Drake responding to Common's shots on "So Sweet," rapping, "It bothers me when the gods get to acting like the broads." It's unlikely it will be a mainstream smash, but then again, Ross' classic "BMF (Blowing Money Fast)" wasn't, either. [M.R.]

Dev, "In My Trunk"

Once the Cataracs open things with disruptive Auto-Tune swallowing itself, our slizzered heroine delivers the most deliriously melancholy performance of her already-stellar career (= one album + at least an album's worth of tracks that aren't on it). She rides by, Dev tells us, with Mexican girls in her backseat (she's half Mexican, half Portuguese herself) "like nobody knows what's in my trunk," and neither do we: is it just big speakers to keep her bass down low and make her car go boom, or is she bragging about her figure, or is something (somebody?) less legal hiding back there? So when does this get played on Weeds, or mashed up with Yelawolf's "Pop the Trunk"? [C.E.]

Rita Ora, "How We Do (Party)"

Have you heard of this hot young thing the media's calling the next Rihanna? We don't know about that, but the Kosovo-born British singer is (a) backed by Jay-Z; (b) apparently a cute wild child with a penchant for hot beats and hot pants; and (c) in possession of a clear-cut party jam built out of a Biggie bite and a nice, easy groove ideal for an impromptu dance party outside your car. Start listening. [R.D.]

Jennifer Lopez feat. Pitbull, "Dance Again"

You liked "On the Floor," right? Did you like it so much you want to hear it all over again, just in a slightly different package? That's what J.Lo and P.Bull are banking on with their collaborative Round 2. And in a totally unsurprising twist, it still sounds good, and you will indeed dance again. [R.D.]

Jack Back, "Wild One Two"

No, Jack Black hasn't made a club hit (though the mind boggles to think what that might sound like). We're talking about Jack Back, David Guetta and Nicky Romero's nominally back-to-basics project. In truth, you won't hear much classic Chicago house here, no matter what the pun on "jacking" (a quintessentially Chicago style of club music) might suggest: with a driving, funkless beat, Coldplay-caliber piano riffs and lots of whooshing, buzzing synths, this is lighters-in-the-air EDM through and through. [P.S.]

Santigold, "Disparate Youth"

This single is probably the tamest track off Santigold's industrial-dub-punk-filled sophomore album, Master of My MakeBelieve. It feels dreamy and defiant at once: New Wave synths sparkle throughout as Santi delivers galvanizing lines ("We know now we want more/ Oh-ah, oh-ah/ A life worth fighting for") in a stoned-out daze. The melody may float along like an easy, breezy summer day, but spasms of electric guitar alert you to the seriousness of her words. [S.B.]

JT Hodges, "Goodbyes Made You Mine"

Oh sure, this fast-talking slow-burner ends with the guy getting the girl, but "Make You Mine" isn't predictable mush. With a "glass is half full" slant, it's a cleverly written look at how past relationships prepare us for when the right one comes along. [Linda Ryan]

Usher feat. Rick Ross, "Lemme See"

The Village Voice suggested that this selection off Usher's upcoming album is a strong summer song contender, and while we're of the opinion that a mid-tempo jam can never truly be the song of summer, we're inclined to think they're onto something. Usher positively undresses you with his falsetto; slinky beats, a typically boss Rick Ross cameo and lyrics about, well, undressing also help. This is the song for finding your summer fling. [R.D.]

Kanye West feat. Big Sean, Pusha T and 2 Chainz, "Mercy"

OK, it's weird and kind of alienating and doesn't have much in the way of a hook. And 'Ye's verse sounds like the soundtrack to the scene in a horror movie where people are tiptoeing around trying to avoid an ax murderer, just before said ax murderer jumps out and murders them. But there is an undeniable fierceness in this fantastic foursome that, paired with ominous beats and that hair-raising dancehall-call sample, we suspect might sound even better booming out your car windows this summer. [R.D.]

Nicki Minaj, "Beez in the Trap"

Nicki Minaj's Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded continues to inspire debate. But whether you love or hate her new album, there's one song everyone digs: "Beez in the Trap," where she works linguistic wonders over a minimal swag-dance beat. The swag phenomenon seems to be the only way all-rap songs get played on pop radio (as opposed to rap songs with R&B/pop vocals on the hook) -- think Chris Brown's "Look at Me Now" and Tyga's "Rack City." [M.R.]

fun., "We Are Young"

"We Are Young" is like the "Pumped Up Kicks" of 2012. It's been racking up plays for a while now, especially after its starring role in Chevy's stunt-filled Super Bowl commercial. By March, it hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, and there's no sign of it slowing down. It's got all the hallmarks of a great graduation/summer jam: big, dramatic, anthemic, with a sing-along chorus full of youthful empowerment ("We are young/ So let's set the world on fire/ We can burn brighter than the sun"). [S.B.]

Gotye, "Somebody That I Used to Know (Tiesto Remix)"

Fun fact: before anyone outside Australia knew who Gotye was, Kompakt's Superpitcher and Michael Mayer (aka Supermayer) turned his 2006 single "Heart's a Mess" into an impossibly dreamy slice of ambient pop; more recently, Innervisions' Dixon remixed "Somebody I Used to Know" into sweetly Balearic house. Both mixes are resolutely understated affairs -- the very opposite of Tiësto's pumping, buzzing trance-pop remix, with a drop that stretches from here to the land down under. [P.S]

Bella Thorne, "TTYLXOX"

From Disney's Shake It Up: Live 2 Dance soundtrack (also home of Blush's worthy pan-Asian girl-pop bouncer "Up Up and Away"), coming exactly a decade after Nikki Cleary's groundbreaking "I.M. Me," here's teen-pop's textiest trifle yet. Fourteen-year-old Bella, who plays CeCe Jones on the tweeny TV series, gets all staccato with her ABCs to her bestie: "Be be be, my BFF! 'Cause IDK what's comin' next! LMHO with the rest!" Plus emoticons! And the music somehow has a real Eurodancified, big-shouldered bubble-funk to it. [C.E.]

Marilyn Manson, "No Reflection"

Poor, forlorn Marilyn would probably explode if exposed to direct sunlight (hence the title). But no matter. Evil dude knows how to write big dumb hooks, and that's exactly what summer requires of a good anthem. Sure, he mumbles about all manner of industrial gloom, but what really counts are the handful of repeated phrases. Like this one: "You don't even want to know what I'm gonna do to you." Imagine hearing that line ping-pong about your skull while raging at the ultimate pool party. It would inspire you to nude cannon-balling for sure. [J.F.]

Kip Moore, "Reckless (Still Growin' Up)"

We'll probably have to sit through a couple more just-OK country hits by this Georgia rookie before we get to his debut's best song, but we can always hope. Not to be a spoiler, but basically: he gets signed by the big leagues but blows his arm out in Wichita, then joins the Peace Corps but a girl he meets at the airport keeps him from the third world, then he gets fired from his job at a coastal club for smoking pot, then he tells some music biz suit where to stick it when the jerk recommends a cowboy hat. The drone builds like a Jamey Johnson song, if Jamey weren't so darn depressive most of the time. And for every mess-up, the lyrics provide a built-in escape hatch. [C.E.]

Beach House, "Myth"

This one's for the pensive beachgoer -- a song to guide you into a meditative state while burning your backside. The lead track from the Baltimore dream-pop duo's fourth album, Bloom, is all sparkle and glow, with hazy layers of guitar building along Victoria Legrand's deep and soulful howl. "Drifting in and out/ See the road you're on," she starts, before wondering "What comes after this momentary bliss?" -- hopefully not a reminder that you need to use more sunscreen. [S.B.]

Usher, "Climax"

Squelching synthesizers via superproducer Diplo, a falsetto moan of ecstasy, and a T-shirt clinging to a muscular chest. Yes, Usher is back with a new hit to make the ladies scream. This might be too slow and erotic to win Song of the Summer honors -- we tend to like summer hits that we can dance to on the club floor, not between the sheets -- but it's massive regardless. [M.R.]

Wisin y Yandel feat. Jennifer Lopez, "Follow the Leader"

This is the more appropriate sequel to "On the Floor." On the lead single from their upcoming album, the reggaeton kings have assembled a dizzying array of beats -- big, building club thumps; subtle cumbia shuffles; horns; synth-accordions (!) -- into a serious crossover contender while sacrificing very little of their swagger to the pop gods. J.Lo sings in Spanish and English -- and sounds really good doing it. [R.D.]

Don Omar feat. Natti Natasha, "Dutty Love"

Elsewhere in the reggaeton realm, Don Omar gets all dubby, reconnecting his genre with its dancehall roots. It's slow going -- and not in the usual, ominous reggaeton-strut sense. Rather, Omar crafts a vibe (complete with steel pans!) that's easy-going, relaxed and sunny. In other words, a perfect summer song. [R.D.]

David Nail, "The Sound of a Million Dreams"

The country-chart-climbing title cut off the Missouri smoothie's 2011 album is perfectly warm '70s singer-songwriter-style piano soft-rock about being a songwriter, but he didn't write it. So you can probably credit Phil Vassar for how the second verse ("My 18th summer I was a cocky up-and-comer, cranking up 'Born to Run'/ Turned left out the drive with the pistons open wide, and I came back the prodigal son") has so much Greetings from Asbury Park in its rhythm and rhyme scheme. Plus, the verse before that references Bob Seger's immortal "Main Street" -- and you can totally imagine David standing on the corner at midnight, trying to get his courage up. [C.E.]

Bruce Springsteen, "Death to My Hometown"

The Boss is totally losing it. But hey, it happens to all of us. On the latest single from Wrecking Ball, he inexplicably assumes a British accent while busting a Pogues-style drinking tune about the death of the American small town ("They destroyed our families' factories, and they took our homes"). I grew up in one of them, so let me tell you something: play this jig in a working-class bar after the July softball tournament, and everybody will go nuts. Of course, they won't pay any attention to his message, but his fans never do. [J.F.]

Juanes, "La Señal"

In case you haven't heard, this guy called Juanes has recorded this little unplugged album for MTV that's going to be (OMG! OMG!) descending upon us any day now. The lead single from that effort has been climbing the charts for weeks now -- and with good reason. A country-blues lick kicks things off, then Juanes and his full, rich accompanying band roll out a warm, joyful vallenato groove it's impossible not to tap your toe to. And his salted-caramel voice makes it stick. [R.D.]

Alex Clare, "Too Close"

British singer-songwriter Alex Clare released this single -- his second off debut album The Lateness of the Hour -- back in April 2011, meaning it's taken nearly a full year to reach and rouse the ears of American listeners. Its placement in a Microsoft advertisement earlier this year was likely its ticket to success. Clare's soulful croon touches halfway between Adam Levine and James Blake, as perky beats and abrasive dubstep effects make the track both gritty and groovy -- a perfect combo for a summer night at the club. [S.B.]

LoveRance, "UP!"

LoveRance's claim to beating the p*ssy "up, up, up" dropped in spring 2011, and yet it's still building at a national level. No one expects the Bay Area rapper to last beyond this novelty smash, but in the meantime, the memorable hook and the slinking, stutter-step beat continue to burn. [M.R.]

The Farm, "Home Sweet Home"

This new but seasoned biracial country trio comprises Kenny Chesney's fiddle player, Nick Hoffman; Krista Marie of fleeting 2009 "Jeep Jeep" semi-fame; and R&B-straddling, multitalented MuzikMafioso Damien Horne. Here, on their Top 25-and-rising first country hit, they yearn for the green green grass (not to mention crickets, magnolia trees, fireflies, church choirs, full moons and Mama's cookin') of you-know-where, while "stuck in this prison cell of city streets." The song is punctuated with hoedown and handclap breakdowns right out of whatever boondocks Little Big Town grew up in. Secret weapon (don't tell anybody): a repeated grunge-pop riff from Collective Soul's "Shine." [C.E.]

Martin Solveig, "The Night Out (A-Trak vs Martin Rework)"

Martin Solveig, "The Night Out (Madeon Remix)"

Martin Solveig's "Hello" was another of 2011's biggest singles, possibly even bigger than Avicii's "Levels," thanks to its instantly recognizable chords and its chirpy sing-along melody; those two elements alone provided the fodder for untold remixes, enabling "Hello" to offer its salutations in electro-house, dubstep and just about every other dialect of EDM. "The Night Out" isn't as catchy, but it still has plenty to offer crossover crowds: jangly guitars, earnest vocals reminiscent of MGMT or Miike Snow, and a one-two punch of a beat tailored to getting festival crowds jumping. Solveig and A-Trak play it relatively straight with their club rework, while rising star Madeon busts out the dry ice and lasers on a mix that stakes its claim on the turf between Daft Punk and Deadmau5. [P.S]

Kany Garcia, "Que Te Vaya Mal"

The lead single off Garcia's upcoming third album is just what we might expect from the Puerto Rican singer-songwriter: plucky melodies and quirky beats that draw together acoustic coffee-shop pop with circus-y dub into an absolutely adorable package. An off-the-beaten-track summer jam selection, to be sure, but worth the trip. [R.D.]

Pirupa, "Party Non Stop"

It's hard to say what, exactly, separates the Italian producer Pirupa's "Party Non Stop" from scads of similar tech-house tracks that pair Latin-tinged percussion with drum machine pitter-patter and chest-thumping bass. Nevertheless, the people have spoken, and "Party Non Stop" has lodged itself in DJ charts across the commercial underground. It probably helps that it's on Loco Dicer's Desolat label; the snatches of hip-house rapping and easily identifiable refrain probably don't hurt either. [P.S]

Aaron Lewis, "Endless Summer"

Yep, the Staind guy! No, it has nothing to do with The Beach Boys, or even Richard Marx for that matter. And no, he's not trying to be all Montgomery Gentry with nanny-state-baiting Tea Party propaganda, à la his first crossover shot "Country Boy" last year. Sounds more Hootie this time, actually. He's taking his three daughters on a weekend of fishing holes and sand castles, leaving on Saturday morning and coming back real early Monday, happy when Jason Aldean comes on the radio 'cause at least it's not Miley Cyrus. Fighting words! But still "another day in paradise," just like Phil Collins and/or Vassar back in the good old days of 1989 and/or 2000, respectively. [C.E.]

Alabama Shakes, "I Ain't the Same"

For now, this new band's gospel-infused "Hold On" is still super-popular. Chances are good it will remain so through the summer. But whatever the follow-up single will be is sure to blow up, too. My money is on this far more gritty and angst-ridden number. The Shakes have included the tune in many of their radio sets and live video appearances; it gets real punchy toward the end, with Brittany Howard howling and wailing while a din of crashing cymbals and thumping piano threatens to swallow her alive. [J.F.]

Kenny Chesney & Tim McGraw, "Feel Like a Rock Star"

This single was released shortly after Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw announced their Brothers of the Sun tour, so you know this arena-sized rocker comes with a feel-good, sing-along chorus -- the kind that makes you feel like you are right onstage where the action is. [L.R.]

Electric Guest, "This Head I Hold"

Tinkling piano, hand claps and a retro-soul groove make this track from L.A. duo Electric Guest positively sizzle. The funky swing of "This Head I Hold" oozes with the psych-soul touch of producer Danger Mouse. (Who is no stranger to big-time summer hits -- remember "Crazy"?) Then there are the lyrics, which scream lazy summer day: "Sit back, don't think, get high, take a drink." If you say so. [S.B.]

3 Inches of Blood, "Metal Woman"

If heshers still drove Camaros and gas prices were lower, they'd be blasting this jam all up and down the dirty strip this summer. Think of it as a "Hail Mary Full of Grace" to a larger-than-life goddess in studded leather, spikes, bullet belt and chains, screamed in a kerosene-gargling falsetto that'd make Udo Dirkschneider proud. (Singer's name, honest: Cam Pipes!) And following the majestic start, it's a chugging dance tune, too. "The way she moves to metal gives us all a thrill," but watch out, or the black widow will strike: "Lust will betray you/ She'll smash your face." So "don't disrespect her," dude. Post-misogynistic, even empowering. Only women make you bleed. [C.E.]

Todd Terje, "Inspector Norse"

Last year, Todd Terje sent critics into ecstasy with his single "Ragysh"/"Snooze 4 Love," a perfect double-A-side of Italo-disco and Balearic house that cried out for two slots in year-end Top 10s; both tracks finished high in the polls. "Inspector Norse," released in January on Norway's Smalltown Supersound, has DJs and fans going similarly gaga, and it's not hard to hear why: this sprightly, sparkly synth-disco tune is as summery as they come. [P.S]

Daddy Yankee, "TBD"

Daddy Yankee's got a new album out this summer; hence, the omnipresence of its rollicking, hook-driven dance jam of a lead single. "Lovumba" may have hit too soon to be a true summer jam, though -- plus, we're holding out for a bigger, more bombastic second single with a bit more actual rapping. Because you just know he's gonna be all up in our summer. [R.D.]

Baroness, "TBD"

Hellfire or no, metal tends to be Land of Ice and Snow music most of the time. So you might have to look all the way back to "Panama" or "The Boys Are Back in Town" or something to find a true, world-conquering summer single from the genre. But it doesn't have to be that way. These Savannah, Ga. (via Lexington, Va.) fellows have been getting more and more beautiful -- moving closer and closer to pure air-conditioning rock -- with every album, just like singer John Baizley's intricate cover art. The cover of Yellow & Green, due in July (and following 2007's Red Album and 2009's Blue Record -- colorful, huh?), features tastefully naked ladies with crowns of candles and nails and sea creatures, battling giant prawns and black swans. The music inside is rumored to be nearly Allmans-like in its rambling peachiness. Just right for summer's dog days! [C.E.]

Pitbull, "TBD"

Right now, our primary Pit option is " Back in Time," his time-warping single from the Men in Black III soundtrack. And while it's a solid (if a bit phoned-in) summer jam entry, we've also got an upcoming single (likely "Get It Started") off his July album to look forward to. Either way, it ain't a party without him. [R.D.]

Justin Bieber, "TBD"

Our little Biebster proved he's all growed up with "Boyfriend," the dark, sexy single that leads off his upcoming June album (and evokes another baby-faced, silver-tongued Justin). And with its smoldering, vodka-drenched groove, that cut itself might just be Bieber's summer song contender. But it dropped a little early, so if single no. 2 isn't a ballad, our money might just be on that one, instead. [R.D.]

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