This year, as part of an annual tradition, we’re sharing our favorite songs of the summer. We’re a little late this time, but considering the concept of time has lost all meaning in 2020, we’re going ahead with it anyway. In a remarkably bad time, these songs brought us solace and comfort, and we hope they’ll do the same for you.
Phoebe Bridgers — “I Know The End”
By Deanna Albohn
Phoebe Bridgers’ newest album Punisher was a perfect soundtrack to a not-so-perfect summer. What was supposed to be a few months of fun and relaxation was filled with hundreds of hours spent wallowing in my room.
In the three years since her debut album Stranger in the Alps was released, Bridgers formed the bands boygenius and Better Oblivion Community Center. Alps was filled with sad emo-folk songs, whereas on Punisher, the songs are grungier and full of contradictions — often switching between violence and romance.
“I Know The End,” the cinematic ending to Bridgers’ sophomore album, highlights the extreme lows of life on tour with the lyric “there’s no place like my room,” and parallels the mundane cycles many of us have been stuck in for months.
In an interview with Amoeba Records, Bridgers called herself a “sucker for a huge outro,” and “I Know The End” is a colossal conclusion to an otherwise melodramatic album. The track crescendos from a hushed and contained first half about homesickness to a third verse littered with doomsday references inspired by a real drive she took to Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival in San Francisco, during which she saw a SpaceX rocket launch she compared to a government drone or alien spaceship.
During her drive through dystopian America, she talks about fearing God while passing by slaughterhouses and outlet malls, all while listening to “some America first rap country song.”
“I Know The End” grows to its climax in its last minute, with wailing guitars and background vocals from her boygenius collaborators Lucy Dacus and Julien Baker, who yell “the end is near” while Bridgers screams at the top of her lungs.
I listened to this song on repeat for weeks after the album came out, and found myself watching the music video over and over just to feel the build-up and release of that final minute of screams and guitar. Something about her making out with her future self — while dressed in her signature skeleton suit — really stuck out.
I stress-screamed along to distract myself from quarantined days that all blended together.
ppcocaine — “PJ”
By Emily Scott
If you’re like me, you spent most of your summer on your phone because going out wasn’t really an option. Spending most of my free time like this led me to TikTok, where I discovered Trap Bunnie Bubbles herself, also known as ppcocaine, the artist behind these iconic lines:
Let’s get it poppin’ with all my ladies
Bitch, did you hear what the fuck I said
Shake some ASS, hoe!
Aye aye, tell lil’ shorty come here
I’m tryna blow her back out
Walkin’ funny for the year
For you! Imma let you hit it for free
For you! Imma let you hit it for free
For you! (I probably shouldn’t though)
I might let you hit it for free
These lyrics, when scream-sung in ppcocaine’s raspy tone, just unlocks something inside me that makes me want to go feral. Not only does she refer to her listeners as hoes, but she talks about sex in a way that is comical, even if it is vulgar and a little out there. Something about being told to shake my ass makes me go feral, I guess.
While “PJ” isn’t ppcocaine’s first viral song on TikTok, the serotonin I get when I hear her yell “shake some ASS, hoe” is unmatched. All of Trap Bunnie Bubbles’s songs are raunchy and remind me of a song from none other than CupcakKe, but for some reason, “PJ” just hits differently. Maybe it’s the fact that the song opens with “hey bitches…get up! Trap Bunnie Bubbles!” Or maybe I’ve just been on TikTok for so long that I’ve fried my last three brain cells to the point where any song with a beat that I can shake my ass to gets a gold star in my book.
That being said, “PJ” is hands down my song of the summer.
Lady Gaga — “Chromatica II” and “911”
By Jackson Scott
This summer, I felt like I was falling. I was full of anxiety, which manifested as self-doubt, and trying to find a way to keep it all together. Who didn’t feel like that though, honestly? Luckily for me, I found a new song that really clicked with me as soon as I heard it and helped me understand that this is all temporary. That song was “911” by Lady Gaga, from her sixth studio album Chromatica. The preceding musical interlude, titled “Chromatica II,” also deserves a special shout-out.
“Chromatica II” is an orchestrated instrumental highlighting how dramatic a string section can sound — not what you’d expect to find on a dance album. As the bass and violins play away, the looming anxiety of something new and unknown brews. Then, with an explosion of synth and string, the song pushes you down the rabbit hole into an unexpected sea of synthesizer. The first time I listened to Chromatica, I gasped at the transition between the two songs. It also turned into a meme used when something incredibly unexpected or drastic occurs, such as when Wendy Williams had heat stroke on-air.
“911” is a killer dance song that carries on the same feeling from the preceding interlude with a new synth sound, and a darker edge. I closely identified with its opening lyrics:
Keep repeating self-hating phrases
I have heard enough of these voices
Almost like I have no choice
It’s truly difficult to wrangle all the things in our minds that push us down. Some days I feel like I’m on autopilot, going through the motions just to do the bare minimum. Here, Gaga sings about exactly how I have been feeling — which is probably why I love the song so much. There’s one particular part of the song, towards the end, that I really like. Gaga sings:
Please patch the line
Need a 911, can you patch the line?
Some days, all you feel you can do is call for help.
“911” is a message from Gaga on her confrontation of mental health and how taking medication allows her to better manage herself. The music feels almost robotic and automated, which pulls me in with a groove. While “911” may be a song about processing and handling self-doubt, Chromatica is a beacon of self-love and communicates the understanding that while things may not be okay right now, eventually they will be.
Fiona Apple — “Drumset”
By Josh Joseph
Looking back at last year’s Songs of the Summer write-up, it’s bitter but funny to see my fellow editors complaining about how bad the summer of 2019 was. If that summer was a dull moment, then this one was a slow, dreary sludge that was at once too long and too short.
Although quarantining at home brought unexpected inconveniences, it also brought some good surprises. In April, Fiona Apple popped out of an eight-year hiatus to announce her album Fetch The Bolt Cutters, with a cover that looked like a manic arts-and-crafts project.
Seeing the cover and tracklist plastered across social media gave me flashbacks to 2012, when her previous album, The Idler Wheel… (whose full title is too long to write concisely here), was released. I remembered flipping back and forth through its tracks on Spotify, back when the free service was impossibly ad-free. And I remembered the intricate, spiraling self-portrait on its cover, and the way that each raw, passionate song coalesced into an earworm despite its unpleasant themes and demo-like production.
This new album felt the same way. Each song was built on homemade percussion tracks, with lyrics and melodies inspired by chants. Picking one track to represent the varied terrain of the album wasn’t easy, but “Drumset” is one of my favorite distillations of that chanting, repeating, percussive energy. Here, Apple unpacks the concept of absence and the anger, the confusion and the neurotic tendencies that it can bring on. The song was written as a voice memo and recorded verbatim in a single take, capturing feelings about her recently ended relationship and her bandmates.
The drumset is gone
And the rug it was on
Is still here screaming at me
Why did you take it all away?
The melody is sweet and the composition is a beautifully ordered clatter. A two-note organ loop hums in the left channel. Percussive claps and thumps come from all directions. A chorus of Fionas join her plaintive cry — “why did you take it all away?”
Although the subject matter seems desperate at first glance, the song is more about stewing, mulling, composing, rationalizing and all the things we do to distract from loss. The key is undoubtedly major, and the tune swings in a seeming contradiction to the troubled lyrics. Yet Apple’s refrain seems to reach the heart of our collective struggles in quarantine, as we contemplated memories of a past that was impossible to recreate. Alone in a dorm room on an empty campus, I still feel the resonance of her message.
Billie Eilish — “my future”
By Makeba La Touche
Being optimistic was one of the hardest things to do this summer. Having spent a majority of the past six months stuck in my room, a wave of hopelessness came as no surprise. The summer usually comes with a mental break from school and numerous nights out with friends — maybe even a trip to the beach — but isolation came with fears of the future, both for myself and the rest of the world.
“My future” came to me not as a cute little Band-Aid to cover up the negative feelings that settled in these past few months, but as a window for a new perspective to shine through. Billie Eilish’s new track starts off almost melancholic, calling on someone who doesn’t seem to notice her. As she leaves her subject’s gaze, however, the song takes on a more self-appreciative tone. Her signature soft and soothing vocals float throughout the entire track. She croons and lilts her voice in tribute to herself.
I think about my future and I’m met with all these anxieties, but what’s stopping me from wishing for happier days? Why not look upon it more fondly and hope for better? Although she’s speaking for herself here, Billie opens up the idea of falling in love with what lies ahead.
The ease of the beat and its pickup midway through the song reflects Billie’s new outlook. The transition into the second verse is slightly more upbeat but still manages to maintain a soft pop sound. The echoes of her backing vocals create a surrounding atmosphere throughout the song that allows for an amazingly immersive experience. The last few lines really pull it all together. It’s a love song, but not for anyone else.
And I, I’m in love
But not with anybody here
I’ll see you in a couple years
I want to fall in love with what’s to come. As college students, it’s so natural for us to look upon our futures with fear, as the pressure to be something great looms overhead. These feelings are expected, but we deserve a break from time to time too.
Orville Peck and Shania Twain — “Legends Never Die”
By Melody Lin
I had often throughout my life uttered the words, “You couldn’t get me to listen to country even if you locked me in a room alone with it.”
And so, when COVID-19 had finally rolled into my little county of Rockland with its tenacious agenda, fate would have it that after a couple months, I’d be locked in my room listening to country. Yes. Willingly.
I gave in after three and a half months of quarantine, 12 pounds unhealthily lost, my perception of time obscured and a particular resentment and heavy-heartedness over my lost senior year of high school and summer — F.O.M.O. for things that never happened, but could have been. It was mid-July, with its high summer heat I hadn’t known in the coolness of my home, when I first watched the music video for Orville Peck’s “Nothing Fades Like the Light.” The video serves as a little time capsule of him and his friends, doing what youth do best — being stupid and somber, a fragment of life before quarantine. I wasn’t even aware that I had been listening to country music.
I was immediately compelled.
“Legends Never Die” was released towards the end of summer. A lighter, more empowering song, it came at the perfect time, at the end of a bleak personal era. I had moved out of my home for the first time. I was passing a coveted milestone I’d fantasized about for years.
It was more country than anything I’d listened to before — but then again, I never listened to much country — and I loved it.
There’s a warmth in Orville’s sound, despite the grim front of slow lyricism and echoing instrumentals that seemed irreplicable to me. That twang and hospitality soothed my tensions through such an unprecedented time in history.
It’s something I held onto when things got rough. Although Orville may not be traditionally “country,” with his free-form expression of identity and rhinestone cowboy hats, it’s a comforting thing to see that sometimes exploration can be very, very good.
Tom Morello, Shea Diamond, Dan Reynolds and The Bloody Beetroots — “Stand Up”
By Nicholas Grasso
This is what the song of the summer looks like:
Black Lives Matter.
Black Trans Lives Matter.
Tom Morello’s signature guitar playing.
Guttural vocals demanding change.
Morello never set out to grace the summer season with a fiery protest anthem. The Rage Against the Machine guitarist and activist simply passed guitar riffs along to Bob Rifo of EDM outfit The Bloody Beetroots to turn them into a track. From there, Dan Reynolds of Imagine Dragons penned lyrics that coincidentally spoke to the Black Lives Matter movement. The group then reached out to Shea Diamond, a Black trans activist and songwriter who injected her vocals into the mix.
“This is what the movement should look like, in music and beyond,” Diamond said in a live stream with Morello, Reynolds and Rifo to discuss the track and debut its music video.
Talk is cheap, and the foursome demand that the American people take action against police brutality:
’Cause you are standing for nothing
Just shut up
’Cause your words mean nothing!
The eclectic group brought various perspectives to the fight for justice. Reynolds examines his privilege, asking:
When I call the police, will they just kill me?
Will they just kill you?
When I call the police, will they just protect me
’Cause I’m white-skinned too?
Diamond expresses how:
Everybody stares like I’m just my gender
I’m a living soul with my own agenda
One hundred percent of the track’s proceeds are being distributed to four anti-racist groups: the NAACP, Know Your Rights Camp, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Marsha P. Johnson Institute.
In the livestream to debut the video, Morello shared what he tells people who want to make change and be anti-racist: “You are an agent of history. History is not something that happens in books. History is something that you can make.”
Preston Wu — “Believe Me”
By Pamela Wong
I had a hard time finding new music to listen to this summer. I tried to listen to my Release Radar playlist on Spotify each week, but nothing sparked my interest. However, lo and behold, my friend and fellow Stony Brook University student, Preston Wu, wrote a song called “Believe Me” that connected with me deeply. Preston uses the lyrics from both the chorus and bridge of Ali Gatie’s “What if I Told You That I Love You” that was released on Jan. 23, 2020. Despite the fact that Preston’s version is a cover and follows the same instrumental and chorus, I think his additional rap verse helped bring the emotions to life.
This song made an impact on me because I understood where Preston was coming from. He was going through heartbreak over an ex for a good amount of time — and I felt a little at fault because I helped set them up. Writing his rap lyrics helped get his feelings off of his chest from his past relationship. With all the verses and rhymes he came up with, he seemed to finally come to terms with the state of his relationship:
Does she even miss me
I just wanna know
We had a lot of history
But I think she let it go
These lyrics made me think about how a lot of broken relationships are usually left with each person left wondering, “Are they even thinking about me? They probably don’t even care or miss me like I do.” I’m in a happy relationship at the moment, but I thought back to my previous heartbreaks, and his words resonated.
What we had was beautiful
That’s something I won’t deny
When I told you that I loved you
That was never a lie
But it’s over and I needed just a little more time
To accept the fact that you’re no longer mine
This verse made me think of couples who decide to go away from each other and think of happier times. In “Believe Me,” those two people loved each other, but it just wasn’t the right time or thing they needed.
Overall, I really enjoyed the song, not just because Preston’s one of my closest friends, but because he put a ton of work into it. I’m proud of him for putting his mind into his rap to help alleviate the pain he felt about this relationship. He’s come a long way since those tough times. I hope he continues to work on music — but until then, he’s pursuing a technological systems management degree with a minor in electrical engineering.
Troye Sivan — “Rager teenager!”
By Keating Zelenke
Summer 2020 was kind of a bummer to say the least. With no parties, no concerts, no trips and no flings, many of us were lucky to see our friends once every few weeks from a safe distance. Troye Sivan’s August release, “Rager teenager!” captures what was lost this year in a sad, synth-driven pop song perfect for crying alone in your bathroom at 2 a.m. The song was the second single off his surprise Aug. EP, In A Dream.
The meaning behind “Rager teenager!” is sure to hit home for a lot of us right now, as Troye explained in a video on his TikTok account: “I feel like I started re-meeting myself a couple weeks ago where I’m like, oh fuck, I forgot that I had this in me.” In a voice memo recorded during the writing process, he described the track as “a letter to your old self kind of thing.”
The song speaks to every aspect of life that we’ve missed out on in the past seven months, trapped alone inside our homes, and every aspect of life I know I’ll no longer take for granted when things finally return to some semblance of normal. In the pre-chorus, Troye sings:
I just wanna go wild
I just wanna fuck shit up and just ride
In your car tonight
In your bed tonight
I just wanna sing loud
I just wanna lose myself in a crowd
The song feels like a memoriam to all the could-have-beens of this year — a memory of something that never happened. Immediately after listening, my friends were drawing comparisons between “Rager teenager!” and Lorde’s massively popular “Ribs,” thanks to the reverb, layering and heavy use of synthesizers. Because of these effects, both songs are able to sound like distant, fuzzy memories commonly shared by a whole audience of listeners.
In a Dream is reminiscent and remorseful. It’s Troye’s first release following a break-up with his boyfriend of several years. Not only does “Rager teenager!” speak to the things we have missed out on during quarantine, it’s also representative of both the loneliness and the exhilaration of being single for the first time following a committed relationship. Troye wrote to listeners about the single on Instagram: “There’s a fire in you that you’ve had your whole life. It might dim to a pilot light when you’re comfortable, and you might forget it’s there, but make no mistake.” While the lyrics celebrate the return of this fire, the sadness and loss that accompany it are evident in the music. The instrumental outro is able to detail the highs and lows of such a raw time in life without any lyrics at all.
“Rager teenager!” isn’t what we might normally consider a song of the summer. It’s not exactly upbeat or overtly fun, but it is able to capture and express a feeling on many of our minds right now, with the nuance and complexity that accompanies real-life emotion.
Moses Sumney — “Bless Me”
By Sarah Beckford
Moses Sumney’s græ is a double album released in two parts this year — the first part arriving in February, and the second in May. “Bless Me” is a favorite — a tender five-minute track near the album’s end. The remarkable thing about Sumney’s voice is that it contains multitudes of emotion. In a single phrase or breath, his emotion is tangible — whether you listen through headphones or regular speakers. He creates this bubble in each song, like a galaxy in which his voice is the North Star, and every harmony is another star that fits perfectly in its specific place. His vocal control is so masterful that at one point he could whisper sweetly in your ear, then extend it into a plaintive, fierce cry you feel in the depths of your soul.
In “Bless Me,” his voice is backed by simple instrumentation that hits deep. Sumney starts with a whisper.Then, with the help of a rising, steady bass, his voice rises to an authoritative, yet calm volume. He cries out in the chorus so shortly as if it’s a final plea.
before you go
You’re goin’ nowhere with me
It’s fitting that the track is near the end of the second half of græ. The song feels final, even if I cannot pinpoint what exactly feels finished.
He paints this picture of lovers or partners separating, but one still holding on. There’s also a spiritual piece of the song — I think of the Bible story in Genesis 32:22-31, in which Jacob wrestles an angel and demands a blessing. It’s an interesting thought, of a mortal man fighting the supernatural — despite the finite features of humanity, man craves higher things. He craves good despite the inherent shame of humanity. Sumney asks to soar with wings and lets his voice persuade you to allow him that goodness.
Sumney’s ability to make a whole world in a song with just his voice and instrumentation is remarkable. Even as Sumney asks for a blessing, it doesn’t sound like begging at all. He sings with a nobility that’s dually vulnerable, knowing full well he can still stand tall no matter the outcome.
If you’d like to listen to these songs on Spotify, here’s our playlist: