Summer 2021 was almost the summer of post-vaccine freedom — almost. Continuing our annual tradition, we’ve compiled a list of songs that captured the hope, sorrow and personal growth we experienced over the break.

Surfaces — “Malibu Interlude”
By Melanie Formosa

I forgot the ocean was there — it had become synchronous with my inhales and exhales. 

The sky’s setting sun is a mere backdrop, its sole purpose to illuminate our silhouettes. Iridescent golden hues graze our foreheads, purplish blues smudge the corners of our smiling eyes. We’re laughing.

The resonance of his voice summons my senses. He’s saying something. I’m fully occupied with seizing each fleeting moment that, ironically, his words don’t register. Now I hear the same sounds — this time a bit slower, with more emphasis: “Tell me something I don’t know about you.” 

I can’t help but smile. He already knows everything there is to know. 

Yet his eyes are on me, probing to know more. On an unscripted cue, the next song plays. At the first lyric, I shake my head in disbelief. Besides the ethereal coincidence of it all, the vocals and instruments fit like a lock and key, and I can’t help but sway. I interrupt my train of thoughts — now swirling to unearth a hidden truth — to glance at the song’s title so I can play it once this moment ends.

My breath seems quieter now that the waves are gone. 

The sand’s mountains and crevices reshape into the uneven trails of my duvet, and my mind returns to my surroundings. The sheer curtains in my sunlit room are dancing. I hit replay and at the song’s first notes I return to the youthful scene — the made-up memory. He might be imaginary, but the ocean will be there. I gather my belongings and head to the beach.

TEKE::TEKE — “Kala Kala”
By Nick Wurm 

A single synth note fades in like the rising sun heralding the morning. The soft melody of a shinobue, a traditional Japanese flute, flutters through as if riding a soft breeze, followed shortly after by the first distorted, reverberating notes of an electric guitar.

“Kala Kala” continues to wake up as the seconds tick by; deep drum rolls signal a darker shift in tone from the synth, conjuring brief images of the first dystopic ride through Blade Runner’s industrialized, irradiated L.A. skyline on the wings of a Vangelis score way back when.

And then the song erupts from sleep with a wall of sound, harkening back to the psychedelic tracks of ’60s and ’70s Japan as Maya Kuroki launches into the first frenetic verses.

Everything about “Kala Kala” and Shirushi, TEKE::TEKE’s first full length album, pays homage to the past while still moving forward. The blend of surf and psych rock with flute and traditional Japanese instruments is like nothing else I’ve ever heard and there are days where I can’t get it out of my head. That the song, along with every other on the album, is in Japanese doesn’t matter. 

Even though I don’t know what they’re saying, I feel the energy nonetheless.

Isaiah Rashad and Duke Deuce — “Lay Wit Ya”
By Sarah Beckford

This summer, besides working a ton, I felt like I needed to catch up on music. I listened to older releases from artists I like but only just became a fan of, like Tyler, The Creator, Headie One and Skepta. Another such artist was Isaiah Rashad. He’s a famous fixture in the Top Dawg Entertainment lineup, and the songs that introduced me to his music were from SZA’s album Ctrl, and a few singles, like “West Savannah” and “Wat’s Wrong.” Following the release of his 2016 record The Sun’s Tirade, he took a five-year hiatus from music. This May, he finally released “Lay Wit Ya,” the lead single off his third album The House Is Burning

As soon as I heard it, INSTANT head bops. If a song makes me dance upon first listen, clearly something’s up with it — for all the right reasons. “Lay Wit Ya” soundtracked many a commute to fun summer destinations this year, and it’s one of those songs that gives you a bit more pep in your step, in your own swagger (do the kids still say that? We’ll roll with it anyway!). 

To be fair, I’m not sure what Isaiah Rashad’s talking about in this song, but in general, the song has the feel of celebration, of feeling cool. The hook itself is easy to sing along to, and inspires imagery of big cars that are meant to be driven with pompous flair while blasting music with a massive squad of your closest friends.

Big wheel got that motherfucker skatin’ hard
Chill pill got me high but
Can I lay wit’ ya?
Last year, you was my bitch
Now you my baby girl

The video’s filled with dizzying angles and dancing from Rashad and Duke Deuce, who both hail from Tennessee. Truthfully, your interpretation of the song’s lyrics don’t essentially matter here. What matters is feeling it, letting it move you. It’s the song you blast when your significant other or crush sends you a text that makes you feel like you’re on top of the world. Or when you come up with an idea you know will change the world. It’s a victory song. 

Now to continue to shoulder-shimmy to the bass of this track. 

Emblem3 — “Champagne Dreams”
By Lauren Canavan

Much of my summer consisted of reconnecting with friends and making up for the memories we had to put on hold last summer. “Champagne Dreams” by Emblem3 remained a regular on my playlist for when I’d host pool parties at my house. This song provided a backdrop to many perfectly roasted s’mores, chaotic splashes in the pool and laughs I’ll never forget. 

Emblem3 is a pop, rock, reggae, rap fusion group consisting of brothers Wesley and Keaton Stromberg, along with their good friend Drew Chadwick. I have followed this band since 2012 when they rose to fame on season two of X Factor USA. They placed fourth, just behind the accomplished girl group, Fifth Harmony. The group has faced some raw deals with record labels, so they have been self-producing for the past few years. They have broken up twice now with each member continuing on to pursue side projects — Wesley and Drew as solo acts, and Keaton as the front-man of the band, THE SOCIAL. 

There was some fear among the fanbase the last breakup would be final, but thank God it wasn’t. While this band hasn’t experienced commercial fame to the extent that groups like Fifth Harmony and One Direction have, I think their obscurity makes them more real and relatable. I’ve seen them twice in concert, and last September I went to see one of Wesley’s solo shows at Rockwood Music Hall in New York City. There were only about 25 people there, and I got to chat with him after the show which was amazing. One of my favorite parts of “Champagne Dreams” is the sound of waves during the intro; they really set the perfect scene in my head. Wesley is on lead vocals with Keaton singing background, and Drew’s voice appears about a minute into the song. 

Be sure to check them out!

Lil Nas X and Jack Harlow — “Industry Baby”
By Tamzid Ahmad

I, like many others, had a difficult 2020 and 2021. I was dealing with low self-esteem, lack of confidence and a seemingly lost passion for life. When the whole world paused as COVID-19 hit, anxiety took over my life. I felt out of place in my body, and I had to try and figure out life problems on top of dealing with questionable online classes and a global pandemic.

I had a long year of reflection, discovery and experimentation which led me back to hobbies, like filmmaking, that I haven’t touched in years due to feeling overwhelmed. When making a film I would get into my head thinking my work wasn’t good enough or my voice did not matter. This time though, it was different. I started again with a beginner’s mind. I did it without expecting to create a masterpiece or be the best or to please someone — I started doing things for myself, and enjoyed the creative process again. 

On a drive back home, after a difficult filming day, I heard “Industry Baby” on the radio and instantly loved it. I don’t know whether it was the epic intro with the horns or the way Nas danced around with the lyrics but it stuck with me. The song’s core message — whether you believed in me or not, I will make it — was something I needed to hear. I deal with issues of self-doubt when pursuing filmmaking. There are so many scripts and unfinished videos on my computer that weigh on my mind. In the chorus, Nas says:

I told you long ago on the road
I got what they waiting for
I don’t run from nothing, dog
Get your soldiers, tell ’em I ain’t layin’ low

This is Nas’s story, not mine, but I wish it was me. Listening to him talk about his self-confidence and faith in his own music even through opposition makes me want to get up and go film something myself. The context of the song pushes this idea of not backing down and empowerment further, Lil Nas X and Jack Harlow both felt that many people in the music industry and media thought their success was just a fluke, as they have just broken into the mainstream media and music sphere. With this song, they wanted to let everyone know they will be here for a long time, whether the media wants them to be or not. This idea of persistence even through opposition and criticism is monumental in the creative industry. People can and will get to you, unwarranted criticism and complaints lead to self-doubt and questioning of the validity of what you make, but through all this, you have to have a strong sense of self-confidence and faith in your abilities. Nas says it best; at the end of the chorus, he goes:

You was never really rooting for me anyway
When I’m back up at the top, I wanna hear you say
He don’t run from nothin’, dog
Get your soldiers, tell ’em that the break is over

His bravado, faith in himself and indifference to critics are traits that any creative needs to internalize. I did not have this faith and backed down, that is why I am not where I want to be with filmmaking, Nas and Harlow though have kept persisting through the opposition allowing them to hit new heights that they could not have imagined even in their wildest dreams.

Now as we are nearing the end of 2021 I am not where I want to be, not even close to be frank. I haven’t reached any of the goals I set when I was just starting, and it’s still difficult to reach smaller weekly goals now, but listening to songs like “Industry Baby” makes me want to get back up and try again. Listening to people like Nas share their stories about overcoming challenges and perceptions of their work inspires me to keep at it. When I started making videos and filming I had an initial belief that what I made mattered and I should share what I believed in. Since then, I had completely stopped filming and had given up on myself and the original vision. After listening to ”Industry Baby”, other inspirational songs and hearing these artist’s stories, I believe my break is over and I have been slowly coming back to what I wanted to do forever ago. I shoot film much more and give myself the room to make the mistakes everyone has to go through. I watch more movies and take inspiration, and I share my opinions and beliefs like I’m doing right now, in the hope one day my small fire can grow and turn into one that can help others brighten theirs like others have brightened mine.

Clairo — “Little Changes”
By Keating Zelenke

I spent the summer working as a janitor for a camp in upstate New York, sweeping floors and cleaning porta potties at night on a mountain all by myself. Working full-time didn’t leave much room for the kind of summer that every movie and ad on TV had promised me. Most nights in July and August, I pushed around the wooden handle of a mop and felt sorry for myself.

I listened to Clairo’s July release, Sling, during one of my shifts alone at the lodge. The slow, sad rhythms written in the Catskills only an hour further down the Hudson matched how my life seemed to be going — suffocated by the heat and humidity of a New York summer.

The more I listened to the music, the more I melted into it: her gooey vocals, the somber strings, the acoustic guitar, the soft piano runs. Each song becomes a series of notes that is somehow improvisational — almost absent-minded — and often trailing off. 

“Little Changes” was the first song I connected with lyrically off Sling. The soft and simple ballad is less than three minutes long, but I felt that Clairo had spooled out my first relationship like an unfinished project and put it on display. Her lyrics seeped into the cracks of my confidence about falling in love, and they lay there dormantly even now. 

For the first time it feels
Good to fall between
The ones I loved, and the ones that faded
He loved me good enough to calm me down
But tried to trick me into little changes

Cleaning the same lodge over and over again every single day left me a lot of time to think. I had noticed myself changing and continue to notice now. For twenty years, my life had been solely about who I am. In May, overnight, it wasn’t solely about me anymore. I wonder endlessly about where my boyfriend ends and I begin, and I wonder, too, about whether or not searching for my identity was worth the loneliness and isolation that pushed me to a ledge last winter. If I feel happy now, if I feel at ease for the first time since I was a kid, are the little changes worth it? 

Clairo seems to believe they’re not, but I am less sure. I don’t feel tricked. I feel relieved. Relieved to give up the brooding, tumultuous pieces of myself that lent to the depression and chaos and panic that have defined the last few years of my life. 

All summer, “Little Changes” and the rest of the songs off Sling have been the worm in my ear keeping me company. Maybe Clairo’s nagging, sharp insights can keep you company, too.

Nas — “Rare”
By Anthony Leon

When I was listening to Nas’ new album: King’s Disease II, “Rare” was a song that stuck out to me immediately. From the cadence and lyrics to the instrumental changeup, this track epitomizes why Nas will be remembered as one of the greatest rappers of all time. Creating quality music over three decades is hard to do; that’s why only a few rappers have been able to do it and why Nas is so rare.

Just from the introduction, Nas immediately dives into how people want him to sound like he did back in the 90s when he released his iconic album Illmatic. In the first verse, he talks about how hip-hop has changed over the years and how “too many young gods beef over nothin.” From there, he raps about Jordans and his hometown, Queens, which is where I’m originally from. He also talks about the shooting of Ahmaud Arbery and he makes references to other African-American music icons such as Jimi Hendrix and the Notorious B.I.G. 

This song primarily describes how people have forgotten about him, since many believe he’s a relic from another era. However, this song lets people know that Nas is still relevant in today’s ever-evolving hip hop culture. Since beats are very important in hip-hop, the track’s drums are rare. It switches from this lighter slow snare drum and a synth to a more 90s style beat reminiscent of “I Ain’t No Joke” by Eric B. & Rakim. With the switch to this faster snare beat, Nas then changes gears completely going into the second verse. Although changing beats in a song is not new in hip-hop, this particular track showcases the contrast between modern rap and old-school East Coast hip hop. I think this song does a fantastic job of letting people know that Nas is a once-in-a-generation rapper who is still producing quality music to this day. It’s a reminder that his longevity in hip-hop and his ability to adapt is what made him last so long, and how he doesn’t plan on stopping anytime soon.

St. Vincent — “Somebody Like Me”
By Josh Joseph

Love is weird. This summer began after a semester of staring down the abyss, assuring myself I was wrong about my feelings or that what I wanted was impossible. My nerves and neuroses had worked overtime for months — and just as it became real, school stopped and I went back home.

The summer months became a series of bright, bright spots strung together by weeks of boredom. I felt almost transparent in that time, boiled down to waking up, eating, sleeping and the occasional creative activity. I wanted to, if not stop time or speed it up, gently nudge it forward and drag it out for the brief weekends I spent far away, like a record on a turntable. Three-hour drives up- and downstate put me in a serene space where I could think, hear and really listen to music without worrying about time or myself. I remember the exact moment this song came on, as I careened by mountains and hills on the Taconic State Parkway, finally clear of city traffic.

I’d anticipated the next St. Vincent album for years, and it finally arrived just days before I moved out of my dorm. Each track hits with precision; the album presents a warped reinterpretation of 1970s soul — like Young Americans-era David Bowie through a blender. There’s so much worth listening to, but “Somebody Like Me” stuck out lyrically. 

You can hear Annie Clark (St. Vincent) directly confronting her own discomforts about monogamy, relationships and marriage for the first time on record (a funny proposition over a decade since she released an album named Marry Me). It’s a pretty tune, with an acoustic guitar’s constant finger-picking chased by a rattling drumbeat. Clark sings near the top of her register, reaching up further for runs at the end of the song’s refrains.

Paint yourself white
Clip on the wings
Climb high to the top of a building
Does it make you an angel
Or some kind of freak
To believe enough
In somebody like me?

There’s real, stare-down-the-ledge fear in those lines. Yet the guitar and drums whirl away and the melody flows sweetly into the chorus, where Clark is joined by two backup singers.

Oh, I guess we’ll see
Who was the freak 

She sings with what sounds like an outstretched hand, wavering with uncertainty but prepared nevertheless. In her words, I see a little wind-up version of the last few months of my life, awkward conversations turning into midnight texts turning into whole days spent together. On the precipice of the summer, who I was seemed to shift and refract in my own gaze, turning the corner on a new chapter in my life if I was right, or making a terrible mistake if I wasn’t. I think about lyrics I initially misheard, and find truth in them — it doesn’t make you an angel, or some kind of freak, to believe enough in somebody like me. It’s more like somewhere in the middle, but it’s a happy medium. 

Tyler, The Creator — “CORSO”
By Julio Taku

The sun beamin’

These are the first three words spoken by Tyler the Creator on his latest album Call Me If You Get Lost, just before the music begins. I woke up at 3 a.m. the morning of June 25, the same day the album dropped, because I had to drive upwards of three hours to Kerhonkson, N. Y. to work on the set of a music video. (No, the music video wasn’t for Tyler, but it was a great opportunity nonetheless.) As I drove further from home, the album played on. On the opening track “Sir Baudelaire,” DJ Drama’s voice breaks through with his usual mixtape ad-libs and interjections over a bed of stringed instrumentation and woodwind that sounded like it would play beautifully on vinyl. DJ Drama is a hip hop veteran best known for being a pioneer in the mixtape era and responsible for the “Gangsta Grillz” tapes. Tyler has been a lifelong student of hip hop and even tweeted back in 2010 that he wanted a “Gangsta Grillz” mixtape.

This is a crossover we didn’t know we needed, but Tyler ALWAYS wanted.

The song lays the groundwork, preparing us listeners for what the album has in store. Tyler speaks casually about stamped up passports, his Rolls Royce Cullinan, the success of his clothing label le FLEUR*, his lavish jewelry and other generally fly shit. 

Stage set.

What comes next?


Where “Sir Baudelaire” loaded the bases, “Corso” hit a grandslam to send it all home EARLY.

The driving piano riff, DJ Drama’s perfectly placed ad-libs and Tyler’s braggadocio are a perfect trifecta. He riffs about his accomplishments, subtly intertwining a larger narrative about breaking up a friend’s relationship. This story dominates the rest of the album.

He replaces therapy, introspection and an honest conversation with his lover (his friend’s girlfriend!) with lavish spending on cars, homes and travel. 

Look, tried to take somebody bitch ’cause I’m a bad person
I don’t regret shit because that **** worth it
In the end, she picked him, I hope when they fuckin’
She still thinkin’ of me ’cause I’m that perfect
I’ma get that deep text when this verse surface
Better send it to my ego ’cause that shit hurtin’
Hope y’all shit workin’ (True story), I’m a psycho, huh?
Don’t give a fuck, you left my heart twerkin’

That there is egomaniacal as hell. Feeding the id pre-workout.

Why is this my song of the summer? It’s not because I can relate to it, but because of how triumphant and exciting Tyler makes this very sad reality sound. It’s very much in the canon of happy songs with sad or dark lyrics — think “Wonderwall” by Oasis or “Hey Ya” by OutKast. This song is my song of the summer because of its replay value, it’s rap-along bars, the intoxicating effect of DJ Drama’s presence on the track and being the soundcast for one of the most memorable days of my summer.

It’s the best sounding emotional breakdown I’ve heard this year.

Kygo and Zoe Wees — “Love Me Now”
By Arun Nair

Imagine my delight when I found out the artist who released “Stole The Show,” a song I’ve liked so much since its 2015 debut, put out a brand new song in August. That song, the comeback we’ve been waiting six years for, is “Love Me Now” by Kygo featuring Zoe Wees. 

I still love my 2015 favorite, but not every song can be about aliens (heh), and “Love Me Now” is a great, fun summer track that’s much more down-to-earth — both literally (the subject matter, at least in the video, is summer romance and not space aliens) and figuratively.

The lyrics start off with a lament:

I got this grey cloud over my head
Breaking down here in my bed 
And I’m running round, round and round
Just to go nowhere

But they quickly turn into a longing for love:

Who’s gonna break these walls
Tell me I’m beautiful
Who’s gonna love me now
Oh when the lights go out

You know the answer is his beloved.

The masterful bridge underscores his devotion:

Deep under the surface 
I’m smiling but I’m hurting
No one else can bring a smile back to my face

This bridge serves to show that his beloved is the one he feels free to let go and be himself with. He knows that he can let go of the persona he shows to the rest of the world as his shield, because he doesn’t need any armor now.

This song is emblematic of Kygo’s work and makes me happy to be alive in this moment.

Megan Thee Stallion — ”Thot Shit”
By Emily Scott

For the most part, I had the summer I wanted. Sure, I had to work a few days and watch my siblings, but I always had Wednesdays off — which my pals had dubbed “Emily Day.” I could spend those days floating in the pool, getting sunburnt on the beach, tie-dying and drinking Bud Light Retro Summer hard seltzers, or just sleeping and watching shitty compilation videos on YouTube.

I dubbed this summer “fat girl summer,” because I wanted to have fun, and for the first time in my whole life, I didn’t let my weight define what “fun” could be. I ordered a string bikini top — because Lizzo got a string bikini, so of course I needed to get one. I ordered not one, but two crop tops — and wore them out of the house! Needless to say, “fat girl summer” needed a playlist to accompany the various things I did, which actually exists on my Spotify. So when Songs of the Summer time came around, I turned to that playlist to find my pick. After careful consideration that included Lil Nas X’s “Industry Baby,” Saweetie and Doja Cat’s “Best Friend” and Doja Cat’s “Ain’t Shit,” I found my song of the summer: “Thot Shit” by none other than Megan Thee Stallion.

Hot Girl Meg has released so many bops and bangers, but picking “Thot Shit” was a no brainer. It’s got a beat that makes you want to shake your ass and dance while trying not to spill your drink. Meg does not disappoint with the lyrics on this bad boy either — “hands on my knees, shakin’ ass, on my thot shit” is the catchy hook that repeats throughout the song with a funky beat pounding behind it.

Hoes tryna call me a snake
Shit, I guess I can relate
‘Cause a bitch spit a whole lotta venom

As someone who was once called the “nicest bitch I’ve ever met,” I felt this line in my soul. One line in particular always gets me: “I walk around the house butt-naked and I stop at every mirror just to stare at my own posterior,” because, well who doesn’t stop to check out their ass in the mirror? The brashness of the lyric with the beat in the background has led to this being stuck in my head on more than one occasion.

Hot Girl Meg did not disappoint with “Thot Shit,” and gave us the fun summer bop we so desperately needed after the shitshow that was 2020. So, if any of y’all need me, I’ll be walking around the house butt naked, stopping at every mirror to check out my own posterior.

Galactikraken — “Final Frontier”
By Sam Rowland

Some days it feels like the world is falling around my head. That’s not really a traditional summer feeling, but we’ve had a rough few summers. And besides, I’m not a fan of the heat. Summer 2021 saw environmental catastrophes hitting the news cycle one after another. Floods, deadly heat waves, hurricanes, wildfires and the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) latest report, confirming that it’s going to get worse before it gets better no matter what we do. 

Of course I do what I can to help — and when it gets too much, I like to search for silly or hopeful songs. Maybe it was in that mood that I first found Jonathan Young’s (debuting as Galactikraken) album: Starship Velociraptor. With a name like that, it’s clear this is not an album dedicated to taking itself seriously or being restrained. It has songs about sword fights, jetpack races and even one heroic power ballad about some nutjob talking about the army of tigers he would use to snuff out the hated sun. It’s loud and full of layered and modulated vocals, synth horns, keyboards and electric guitars — if you’ve listened to Ninja Sex Party, you know that ‘80s throwback sound I’m talking about — all with a general theme of adventure, discovery and space opera sci-fi.

But it wasn’t any of those songs that became my song of the summer. “Final Frontier” shares many of the same musical elements, but its tone is different. Jon’s bombastic baritone is not rallying people to go on adventures and fight evil kings. Instead he laments a battle that is already lost. It’s a slow dirge of a piece compared to much of the rest of the album, mourning an Earth described as “a burning bed our fathers made.” 

I thought back to an episode of The Daily podcast, hearing New York Times climate reporter Henry Fountain explaining to host Michael Barbaro how the IPCC report said Earth would be warming well into my 50s in the best case scenario, and how it was not likely to reach the climate my grandparents lived in within my lifetime — if it ever did. We may not have an urgent need to leave the planet, but it still feels like the Earth that provided a livable home in our little corner of the infinite cosmos will be very different to us now.

But within the lament for the home we started to appreciate too late, there is a thin glimmer of something more. After all the shame and fear, every chorus ends with the line “we are conquering the Final Frontier.” 

And that’s the kind of message I think we needed this summer. Not a happy song to distract us. Not some anthem of our unstoppable might. Rather, a song that acknowledged that shit’s fucked right now and that it’s okay to feel like shit. But the future is an unknown entity. And though that’s terrifying, it’s also hopeful.

Isak Danielson — “Face My Fears”
By Janet Chow

I found Isak Danielson back in 2018 when his song “Ending” was featured on the show Cloak and Dagger. His voice grabbed my attention right away. It was like a young Hozier coming to life. 

Over the summer, I wanted to find peace in myself and my mind. Danielson’s lyrics and sound helped me to do just that. His song “Face My Fears” gave me a feeling of release, like I could let go of my worries and doubts. 

I could fly high and never be low
I could be far away from home
I would face my fears, and they disappear
I’d be happy on my own
Falling in love, wouldn’t be hard
I could deal with a broken heart
I’d be anything that I wanted to be
And I’d never feel my scars

I was able to spend more time with my family and friends back in the city. I felt less worried about my responsibilities and I truly felt happier. Everyone in my life I needed was there with me. 

I have been here many times before
But I keep walking away, away from it all
I wish I trusted you the way I can
But will someone ever love me for who I am?

The lyrics resonated with me because sometimes it feels like I might become a burden if I bring my worries and doubts into my relationships. Sometimes, I want to walk away. But, in Danielson’s Youtube video for “Face My Fears,” he demonstrates through his dancing and words that we shouldn’t let our struggles and worries define us. In the video, his dance showed the pain and growth that I’ve related to. I’ve found love in myself, my boyfriend, my friends and my family. I have opened up and I’ve grown from it. 

Over the summer, I found my true self. I was able to take care of myself and truly be happy with those around me.

Mr.Kitty — “After Dark”
By Jayden Feisthamel

It is rare for a famous musician to DM you back on Twitter. 

One night in the middle of the semester I ate an edible, popped in my AirPods and started listening to Mr.Kitty’s “After Dark.” 

I then decided to DM him on Twitter to tell him about the experience, and he almost immediately responded with, “sounds angelic.” My body then got consumed with giddiness, and about 25 milligrams of THC.

“After Dark” came out in 2014, but has picked up momentum recently from viral videos on TikTok. This summer, “After Dark” made many fans feel this phenomenon of loving someone you’ve never met. Bringing synth-pop back like it’s the 1980s, Mr.Kitty has emerged as a new artist. Self-destructive synth-pop is the described genre of Mr.Kitty and “After Dark.” The song has accumulated 65 million listens on Spotify but doesn’t have an official music video yet. 

Right at the start, the song pulls you into this dark yet safe and dreamy synth-topia. Something about the progressive trance beats and lyrics haunts you, but they also make you feel welcome. The song resonated with me in the second summer of COVID-19. It was not a great time for anyone but somehow I still thrived, longing for success. Part of the lyrics talk about hours and hours passing by, waiting for someone — just like how we are all waiting for this pandemic to be over. 

All summer I would listen to it on repeat, at night, in my car, and feel the vaporwave beats run through my veins. Angelic it was.

Kamauu, Adeline and Masego — “MANGO (Remix)”
By Falah Jalali

Kamau Mbonisi Kwame Agyeman, known by his stage name as KAMAUU, debuted with his first song in 2014.

Raised in Maryland, Kamau now lives in Brooklyn, New York.

The song that I love by him is called “MANGO”. It came out in September 2020, but I first heard it in June 2021. Agyeman was exposed to traditional African music from a very young age, which has a deep influence on his craft. In an interview for Ladygunn, Agyeman said, “There is a certain level of bliss we give ourselves access to when we contribute to something bigger. My point is not necessarily to be a musician but to serve. However, I can do so through music.” When you listen to the message of his music in songs like “BOA,” it becomes clear that he is guided by his spiritual ideology to serve. 

The lyrics in the start of the song say:

If you found some other dude
What do I do? 
If he loves you truly, yeah
How could I not love him too?
If he improves you
More than I used to
I don’t want nothing but you getting what you need
Even if it ain’t from me 

These words, when backed by powerful vocals of Adeline, become a testimony of the artist’s emotional intelligence and maturity.

Doja Cat — “Get Into It (Yuh)”
By Jordan Isaac

This summer for me was a constant up and down between fun and boring.

Summer 2021 was supposed to be great. But unfortunately, despite the best efforts of so many people, COVID-19 restrictions were still around.

Half of the time, I was pacing the cage of pandemic restrictions that we’ve all been in over the past year. During the other half, I was filled with hope and anticipation as places reopened and opportunities to get out of the house grew.

“Get Into It (Yuh)” perfectly encapsulates the promise of a vaccinated summer, following a year of pandemic blues. It’s playful, upbeat and a guaranteed crowd pleaser. You can’t help but dance and enjoy yourself while listening to this song.

My favorite lyrics are:

Yeah, you just wanna party, you just wanna lap dance
You just wanna pop up on these clowns like you’re the Batman
You just wanna ball out in designer with your best friends
You don’t wanna talk no more about it in the past tense

Doja was right. All I wanted to do this summer was party, pop up on clowns like I’m Batman, ball out in designer with my best friends and stop talking about things in the past tense. During an Instagram Live on June 26, Doja broke down the meanings behind all the Planet Her songs and said the “You don’t wanna talk no more about it in the past tense” line was referring to the pandemic. She understood that we’re all tired of talking about the things we used to do freely before COVID-19 and incorporated that feeling into her lyrics.

I listened to this song all summer long on good days and bad. It reminded me to find new ways to make my summer fun and embrace life regardless of its imperfections. Honestly, there’s no better advice for when you’re trying to look on the bright side: whatever it is, just get into it, yuh!

Listen to all of our picks with the Spotify playlist below.

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