Graphic by Jane Montalto

Trick-or-treaters will march through the fallen leaves today, and summer feels like it was ages ago. As we deepen into the heart of fall, we thought it was a good time to revisit those sunny days. Continuing our annual tradition, here are The Press’ staff favorites for this year’s Songs of the Summer.

Faye Webster — “But Not Kiss”
By Samantha Aguirre

Singer-songwriter Faye Webster brings us back into the post-breakup despair with her latest single “But Not Kiss.” Released on June 20, the single dives into the feelings surrounding the end of a relationship, and the dance one does with oneself post-relationship while deciding whether to reach out to this former lover or not.

The song bounces back and forth between Webster’s soft voice and a repeating hard-hitting piano refrain. Webster’s quiet vocals are punctuated with this 6-note riff after each verse is sung. The absence and return of the instrumentals jars listeners, leaving them with no choice but to bob their heads along when the beat drops. Her melancholic and subdued vocals get a chance to shine and so does the track, contrasting the forlorn, disheartened passions with the intense, powerful ones.

The lyrics peppered throughout the song capture the contradicting emotions that arise from a breakup, the push and pull back together and then apart yet again. “I want to see you in my dreams/But then forget.” There is a sense of indecision in the first line of each verse — Webster’s pitch turns up at the end as if in question. But, once the second line hits, there is no doubt where Webster truly stands. She knows the only way to move forward is to leave these questions in the past, and quickly slams the accompanying line down to solidify this choice. 

The conflicting feelings of a painful breakup can lead to some unease and insecurity, and Webster encapsulates this unsettled feeling. She wants her ex-lover close, but can’t bring herself to put her heart out to them, “I hope you’re okay/But I won’t ask.” In this verse, there is a desire to protect oneself and their ex from more heartache. It’s a balancing act between wanting and letting go that many of us haven’t yet mastered.

If you’ve been through a painful breakup, you might be able to resonate with some of the emotions portrayed in this song. I love how simple her lyrics are — they follow the train of thought that the brain goes through when questioning “do I dare reach out?” at the same time as reconciling the actual breakup, and pondering the potential regret of contacting this person again. Webster lets us be confused, a little angry and definitely conflicted, all while trying to push past a gloomy cloud that is lingering over our every move.

Billie Marten — “God Above”
By Ivan Vuong

It begins with a light, hypnotizing strum of a guitar in a three-four time signature. This summer, Billie Marten’s “God Above” was a song that played in the back of my mind, like an embedded tape stuck on a loop. Sometimes, I would hear it emerge from the background noise and play front and center, especially during moments of quiet and clarity. I would find it unexpectedly being the accompaniment to my morning meditation, whistling faintly in the leaves of the trees outside my bedroom window, or perhaps blending in with the silence around me as I went to bed. It was one of those deep, early summer evenings when I heard her voice for the first time, before the fireflies had come out of the ground and before the crickets had begun their frantic song. In the midst of all this ambience, she describes a meadow:

Here as I am like the toes on my feet
Always a gamble on who they might meet
Fresh are the flowers, and air that is sweet
Bringin’ me back to you

This acoustic waltz evokes a strong sense of longing for an unperturbed and reflective place, reminiscent of a pastoral painting, or the flower garden from the film Howl’s Moving Castle. What I most enjoyed about this piece was its economy of sound: with just string instruments and a drum set, the song sounds kind of folksy, relaying a very grounded message all throughout. There’s a pacifying simplicity to it. After the soundscape of the introduction and a substantial, tension-filled buildup to the chorus, the piece abruptly but naturally shifts to an upbeat, glorious tune. Its openness would make me very happy every time I listened to it — I would often find myself smiling afterwards.

In an interview, Billie Marten expressed how she had composed this piece, along with her album, Drop Cherries. “In modern music, you can get caught in this chasm of eternal takes and layering,” she said. “Then you have a full song but it’s not necessarily a performance.” In “God Above,” the chorus, in referring to her vision of God, “Her golden hair / And she’s everywhere,” had originally included the line, “But I go nowhere.” She wanted this line to portray her own ability to keep herself grounded. But in the end, she had decided to cut it in order to suggest a more open-armed connection to the divine. She found, like I did this summer, answers in simplicity.

This summer, I had something of a divine intervention. In preparation for my senior year as a creative writing major, I had to develop and refine my own style and voice by the start of the fall semester. Oftentimes, I’d find myself hitting roadblocks — writer’s block, as well. In writing, voice reflects a state of mind. If I was bitter or holding onto something that needed to be expressed, it would inevitably show up in my writing. After reading books, I’d go right to judging my own work, attempting to emulate different writers’ styles while lacking the confidence to improve my own. Oftentimes, I questioned my own writing ability. At times, I even questioned my purpose altogether. However, towards the end of the summer, as I began to revise what I’d written so far, I found that I was most comfortable writing short stories if I treated it like writing a journal entry. I had complicated things too much, after all. As the nighttime grass began to fill with ephemeral flashes of light, I took out my journal and began writing. I was right at home; my writing took inspiration from others, yes, but, at its core, it was myself. So I kept on writing, dreaming of colorful pastures, a blue sky and a smile from above. And, when I woke up, I was at peace.

The Japanese House — “Sunshine Baby”
By Sydney Corwin

“Sunshine Baby” was released on the very first day of my summer vacation. When I listened to it for the first time, I knew the song would completely embody my feelings this summer. Even the title makes it sound like a perfect summer song. 

The Japanese House — whose real name is Amber Bain — has been releasing music since 2015, but I didn’t become a fan until this year. “Sunshine Baby” was released as a single leading up to her sophomore album, In the End It Always Does, which came out in June. There were a lot of songs I loved on the album, but “Sunshine Baby” prevailed as my favorite all summer long. 

The instrumentals really drive the song forward. There are synths, guitar, violin and saxophone all layered over each other to create a dreamy combination of sounds that you can get lost in. It’s perfect for a sunny drive with the windows down. Bain’s smooth voice pulls you into the song and keeps you there. Her voice, combined with backing vocals by The 1975’s Matty Healy in the second half of the song, captivate the listener as the track builds. 

Everything sounds perfect together, but what stands out the most to me are the lyrics. They feel so helpless. Bain sings about wanting to feel alright again and missing what she once had. She knows that time is passing, and she doesn’t want it to. “Hold on to this feeling ’cause you won’t feel it for long,” she sings. 

These days my whole life seems to revolve around uncertainty. I don’t know what I’m going to do after I graduate in the spring. I don’t know what I’m gonna do with my life. I don’t really know what I want at all. All I have is the hope that someone or something is going to make it better someday. Bain puts all of this into words so perfectly in the chorus. 

I don’t know what’s right anymore
I don’t wanna fight anymore
Sitting in the back seat, driving with my sunshine baby
Well, I’ve gone a little crazy
Surely someone’s gonna save me now

“Sunshine Baby” also contains the album’s titular lyrics: “Putting off the end ‘cause in the end, it always does.” At first, I didn’t know what the “it” Bain was talking about was. But one day it hit me that “it” is the end itself. Everything ends. No matter how hard you try to put off the end of something, it always ends anyway. I think Bain is a genius for how simply she managed to put such a devastating truth. 

I never wanted this summer to end. I felt like this was my last real summer because, once I’m done with college next year, I may not have a summer break again. I did my best to savor every single moment of it because I knew it was destined to end eventually. And it did. But I’m still glad it happened, and I’m happy I had “Sunshine Baby” to keep me company through the entire thing.

Slowdive — “kisses”
By Antonio Mochmann

I love rainy summers. It’s the kind of rain you’re not afraid to get wet in. You don’t get cold because the heat of summer dries the water droplets off your clothes and skin. 

My mom tells me all the time how much she loves the summer heat.  

“The kind that seeps into your bones and thaws you from the inside out,” she’d say. 

I spent a lot of time with her this summer, interning at the lab that she works at. I also spent a lot of time being retrospective, listening to ‘90s rock almost exclusively. It’s like Slowdive knew this when they made their return to music with the release of their single, “kisses.” I would listen to the song for what seemed like hours on end, watching the summer rain pour. 

Born desert sun
Born desert sun
Born desert sun

I actually thought the chorus was “born dancing slow” before I looked up the lyrics. The misinterpretation was fitting though. 

At my internship, I primarily worked with tumor samples which were all dated as early as the 2000s. Old memories flooded my mind as soon as I read those dates, intensifying my retrospective summer. My old dog, my old house, my old friends – my old life was all I could think about. I try not to dwell on the past, but sometimes it’s difficult not to lose yourself in what could have been – yearning for the familiarity of your childhood years.

With the song on constant replay in my head, the misheard lyrics grounded me in the present. The rushing of past memories calmed. I slowed down. 

The melancholic and ethereal sound of “kisses” leaves me nostalgic, but also content. What once was regret is now an appreciation for the past, welling up inside of me. “Maybe there’s a car there/Driving away from here/Taking all the ghosts, the hurt.”

My dad took us hiking one weekend when the sky was a blanket of clouds. It looked like the it could open the floodgates at any moment. Despite seeing cars drive the opposite direction on our way to the mountain, we were reluctant to give up on the trip. Ponchos at the ready, we trekked the rocky trail. The wildflowers and cows greeting us at every corner, I could sense Slowdive’s atmospheric guitar riffs in the brisk, rainy air.  

My mom spent a great deal of her childhood in the desert climate of El Paso, Texas, so rain typically isn’t her favorite weather. To my dad’s surprise, my mom couldn’t stop expressing how much she enjoyed herself, hiking through the thick rain and impenetrable mist.

Steps ahead of our parents, my brother and I tried not to slip on the mossy rocks on our way down. The slightly raspy and steady voice of Neil Halstead, one of Slowdive’s vocalists, echoed with every careful step.

The time I spent with my family this summer is something I’ll always cherish. The memories that pulled me under the water desiccate when I’m with them – as if I’m standing under a desert sun

I’ve never been able to tolerate the heat like my mom. One day, I hope I can. Until then, I can count on her to towel me dry whenever I fall into the water.

Mitski — “Star”
By Marie Lolis

Betelgeuse, described by NASA as a “blazing red supergiant,” is going to explode. Well, it could have gone supernova already and the light simply hasn’t reached us yet.

The idea of light-years fascinates me—the distance light travels between astral bodies is measured in Earth years. All the stars we see in the night sky are projections of light from hundreds or even thousands of years ago. They’ve watched over us. The light from these stars traversed the universe and time itself to dot our night sky.

When I first heard Mitski’s “Star,” I felt myself shatter into a million pieces. She always seems to release an album when I need it most, even if it nearly kills me. Her newest record, The Land Is Inhospitable and So Are We, embodies love in such a beautiful way — and the track “Star” is a shining testament to it. 

I have never been in love. For so long, I yearned for that feeling I was expected to have. Love is supposed to feel like salvation. Love is a beautiful thing that I somehow could not grasp. Any residual feelings of love I have are quickly extinguished by the never ending notion that I am unlovable. 

Sometimes I cringe when I listen to songs about love — maybe it’s because I can’t relate to them or I don’t believe I am even deserving of it. However, as chills enveloped my body right from the first note of “Star,” the only thing I pictured was every single person I ever met and the love I have for them. 

Mitski sings, “You know, I’d always been alone/’Til you taught me/To live for somebody.”

It is completely naive to relegate love to just the romantic level. Love is ever-present in who we meet and what we do. Yet memories of laughing in the dining hall, spending hours practicing dance routines, or watching quail chicks emerging from their shells in my kindergarten incubator express love in its purest form: joy. Living for somebody, living with someone and experiencing life together is where joy resonates. There are people from my past I have not spoken to in years, but that love remains.

Mitski takes us on a cosmic journey of love from start to finish. “That love is like a star/It’s gone, we just see it shinin’/’Cause it’s traveled very far.” Equating love to a star is a perfect analogy. A star is an everlasting light that not only makes a journey to us, it follows us through life and death. Even if the star no longer exists, its light is still there or, as Mitski says, “I’ll keep a leftover light/Burnin’ so you can keep lookin’ up/Isn’t that worth holdin’ on?”

The song almost twinkles with its synths. The gentle instrumentals and vocals gradually crescendo into this orchestral and masterful triumph of love with the lyric, “I’m yours no matter.” 

Every time I listen to “Star,” I remember that dark movie theater and the glow of the screen, I remember candles glowing on a birthday cake and I remember shadow puppets on a stormy night. “Star” represents the love of life and that light that belongs to everyone. Even in darkness, when I look up at the sky, stars are there watching over us all.

Hozier — “First Time”
By Esmé Warmuth

The first time I heard “First Time” by Hozier, I was so captivated by the beautiful string melody that I didn’t pay too much attention to the lyrics, aside from noticing how poetic and complex they were. The instrumental music is smooth and romantic, driven by a powerful bassline, reminiscent of Carole King or Andy Rourke. The song also features a rich orchestral backing band that adds a classical jazz sound to the melody and pays homage to the traditional Irish fiddle music of Hozier’s homeland. 

I listened to Hozier’s new album, Unreal Unearth, the day it came out, while I was getting ready for and driving to work. By the time I actually arrived at my office job, all I wanted to do was listen to “First Time,” the third track on the album, over and over again. This is exactly what I did all day, until I had the lyrics memorized. 

This song, right from the first verse, feels like a masterclass in poetry:

Remember once I told you ’bout
How before I heard it from your mouth
My name would always hit my ears
As such an awful sound
And the soul, if that’s what you’d call it
Uneasy ally of the body
It felt nameless as a river undiscovered underground

As a lover of literature, I was—and still am—absolutely floored by this opening verse. Hozier’s description of falling in love as being so transformative that for the first time in his life he liked the sound of his own name, and that the sound of his lover saying it awoke his soul, is incredible. 

My favorite part of the song by far is the second verse and subsequent pre-chorus, during which Hozier crafts a complex metaphor comparing life and love to the fleeting lifespan of a flower. He begins, “These days I think I owe my life/To flowers that were left here by my mother/Ain’t that like them? Gifting life to you again,” and continues in the verse to describe how a flower lives most of its life underground, until it finally reaches the sunlight, after which it is immediately ripped out of the ground and begins to die. All it can do at that point is try to bloom during the time it still has left. As Hozier sings these beautiful lines of poetry, his voice crescendos as he grows almost frantic, trying to explain what he means, and eventually he just gives up and drops his voice, saying, “but, anyway…” before he launches into his chorus:

Bloomin’ forth its every color
In the moments it has left
To share the space with simple living things
Infinitely suffering, but fighting off like all creation
The absence of itself, but anyway…

This track, more than any other, really encompasses the way I try to tell people I care about them. Hozier’s desperate attempts to explain his feelings with such complex metaphors and long phrases reminds me a lot of myself. I love language, and I tend to put my feelings into as many words as possible so people can actually understand them. The way Hozier invokes classic literature and nature to embody abstract feelings of love is something I can relate to, and the song feels very personal because I understand it so well. I never get tired of listening to this song because there’s so much meaning in the lyrics to decode and the melody is just so layered and lovely. But, anyway…

Laufey — “From the Start”
By Aman Rahman

What does heartache sound like?

Blocked chords on guitar, or maybe the brief quiet just after them. So begins “From the Start” by Icelandic-Chinese singer-songwriter Laufey — pronounced “LAY-vay.” The lyrics speak to her obsession with longing, an obsession that — and maybe you’ve felt this, too — can leave you devastated, lying motionless on the floor of your bedroom as you wait for a boy to text you back. “Don’t you notice how/I get quiet when there’s no one else around?/Me and you and awkward silence.”

The opening pulls you in. You’ve been here before — under the tender and inscrutable burden of a crush. “Don’t you dare look at me that way/I don’t need reminders of how you don’t feel the same.”

And then it hits you. The reality that your crush doesn’t like you back can send you screaming into pillows and cropping out pictures in a heartbeat. In an interview with Genius, Laufey articulates how she is interested in a particularly painful kind of heartache. It’s that feeling when you’re talking to the person you’re falling in love with, and they tell you about the person they like — that pit in your core, that sinking in your stomach — that’s what lives in this song.

But blast the track in your bedroom because — and level with me here — the boy you’re obsessed with won’t text you back, and you’ll find yourself dancing circles like no one’s watching. There’s a groove to the piece, inspired by jazz and bossa nova, which Laufey sings through. Her voice, full and lustrous, is grand enough to sit inside. Inspired by Ella Fitzgerald, she bursts into scat after the first chorus, her voice becoming horn-like and playful. 

Since when did heartache sound this good?
“I was always very sheltered,” Laufey admits to Genius. “I never really dared to really express exactly how I felt about someone, so for this I just wrote it, kind of this confession, into a song.” So this groove? It’s bravado! It’s a fanfare of ambivalence. The next time your crush is standing in front of you, and you wonder if you’ll ever be able to say exactly how you feel — just tell him. And don’t just tell him, tell him with confidence. Like it barely even matters, like it can wait for the next verse. Sing it, really sing it, make up the words, and dance — dance like somebody’s watching.

Chappell Roan — “HOT TO GO!”
By Jane Montalto

I spent a lot of my summer sitting in the blue and turquoise seats of the LIRR trains from Ronkonkoma to Atlantic Terminal to visit my friends in Brooklyn. I found myself really getting into podcasts on these long train rides. Las Culturistas — a pop culture podcast hosted by comedians Matt Rogers and Bowen Yang — quickly became my favorite. I was obsessed. The two comedians figured out how to keep things fresh every episode. It was often so funny that I had to hold back my laughter when I was in public. I worked through their older episodes, listening to as much as I possibly could. In one specific episode titled “Sunday Morning Talk,” the duo raved about up-and-coming pop singer Chappell Roan. I had heard of Chappell Roan before when her song “Pink Pony Club” went viral on TikTok, but I had never really listened to the rest of her discography. I took the Las Culturistas shoutout as my sign to give her another listen. 

I was instantly hooked. As an openly queer artist, Roan’s infectious pop songs embody queer joy. Her music became the soundtrack of my summer days when I hopped off the train and waited for my transfer at the Jamaica station. Her August single “HOT TO GO!” was on constant repeat in my head. Roan described her motive behind the song as a means of living out her “cheerleader fantasy.” The track has a unique quality that made me obsessed with songs like “Cha-cha slide” that would play at school dances and childhood birthday parties — they all have built-in dance instructions. The instructions in “HOT TO GO!” are: “Snap and clap and touch your toes/Raise your hands, now body roll/Dance it out, you’re hot to go.”

In addition to those instructions, the post-chorus chants “H-O-T-T-O-G-O.” In both the music video and her onstage performances, Roan spells out the letters using her arms, reminiscent of the accompanying dance to “YMCA.” Too often does it feel common for queer media to be paired with yearning and melancholy — think songs like “Moon Song” by Phoebe Bridgers and movies like Portrait of a Lady on Fire. And while I am no stranger to enjoying those things, it is refreshing when artists embrace the joy of being queer. Like Roan said, the intention of the song was to be “simple and silly,” and I agree that it is important to not take things so seriously and dance it out to “a song about being hot.” “HOT TO GO!” is an absolute blast — I can’t help but want to get up and boogie whenever I hear it. I am in no way a professional dancer, but I couldn’t wait to dance my little gay heart out to “HOT TO GO!” when I finally saw Chappell Roan in concert this fall.

MUNA — “One That Got Away”
By Gwendolyn Loubier

MUNA had a busy summer touring with Taylor Swift — but they still had time to drop their first single following the release of their self-titled album last June. “One That Got Away” is a synth-pop anthem that brought me into the summer feeling intoxicated by its production, lyricism and instrumentals.

The lyrics are scathing, confrontational and empowering, and the song feels like a punch to the gut. Lead vocalist Katie Gavin translates the heated feeling of being ready to commit to a relationship with someone, only to realize that they’re “only messing around.” 

The one that got away
The kiss you never tasted
Now I’m the one that got away
Tell me that you hate it

Backed by Naomi McPherson’s harmony and Josette Maskin’s syncopated guitar, Gavin addresses the flirtation with pity, but she doesn’t pull any punches. It’s bitter and cocky, delivering a very satisfying “fuck you” to the ex you might be winning imaginary arguments with.

The music video is just as fun and even vengeful — MUNA is wrapped up in some criminal activity during a game of poker. The trio murder some mafia guys, eat pasta and look hot, all thanks to directors Ally Pankiw and Taylor James. Gavin said in an interview that they thought Pankiw’s idea of a criminal underworld “fit perfectly” and that they wanted “an excuse to dress Jo up like The Bear.” 

The heat of “One That Got Away” is perfect for the summer. In June, I had similarly ended things with someone, and this song resonated with my feelings of confusion and being used. I couldn’t feel sorry for myself while listening to it, though. The first time I saw MUNA in concert, there was nothing but queer joy in the venue. The energy of their music is electrifying, even when the lyrics are more somber. This single was especially refreshing for a power-strut through Manhattan, hoarsely giggling after singing and dancing with your friends all night.

In August, I got my driver’s license. When I was finally able to drive by myself, cultivating the perfect driving playlist was a task I took very seriously. I’ve always been extremely anxious behind the wheel and wanted to embrace the confidence I felt when I passed the test, so “One That Got Away” played while I drove to school by myself for the first time. With the windows down, wearing my favorite sunglasses, and no traffic on the road, I drove smoothly, thrilled to be independent and sure of myself.

SZA and Doja Cat — “Kill Bill”
By Alex Myers

Doja Cat’s opening lines in her remix of SZA’s “Kill Bill” didn’t immediately speak to me.  

I’m in a funk, so I bought a bouquet of roses
And cut ’em up at your doorstep, your new neighborhood is gorgeous
I paid a lot of money for the fragrances you wore when we were datin’
And I sold some lemonade just to afford them

My friend and I discussed on FaceTime how it felt slow and out of pace with SZA’s parts — as if we had any qualifications to do so. But much like how Doja Cat snuck up on her ex in the lyrics, this song, and my summer, snuck up on me. 

My summer was not like any other. I traded home for Stony Brook’s West Apartments, the Jersey Shore for the Port Jefferson beach and 1 a.m. hangouts for 9 a.m. organic chemistry lectures. I stayed on campus for the summer and the “Kill Bill” remix stayed on constant repeat. 

Much like SZA, I thought “how did I get here?” The answer lay in my previous fall semester — when focusing on my work was not easy and I felt too embarrassed to ask questions. The same way that Doja Cat and SZA call out the insanity of their choices, I called out the insanity of mine. I asked myself: “should I be here? Should I have just taken it at home?” 

I faced a class that had seen me at my worst, but now with half of the time. Yet, I walked out of that first lecture with the decision to not just pass the class but to absolutely kill it. The weeks passed and, like SZA’s, my plan to kill became a confession every time those exam scores came back. 

My friends and I lived in the library and spent our days throwing our brains at whiteboards and practice exams. We understood those lyrics more than ever. The obsession, the desire and the willingness to cross all sensible boundaries — even if it meant staying up until 3 a.m. studying— to get what we wanted. The first grade — the first kill — came back and it was not bad, as in “oh my god, what if I can actually do this?” The kill streak started and then I had no choice but to keep going, to work harder and to blast my new favorite song even louder. 

Doja Cat’s slow, unsteady trudge to her ex’s house was also mine to Frey Hall every day at 9 a.m. SZA’s wild rationalizations were my thoughts of “it’s totally fine to stay up until 6 a.m. studying.” Doja’s kitchen knife became my pencil and SZA’s ex my ex(ams). Every walk to class, to exams and to the library had the soundtrack of my absolute favorites and a gentle, slightly delusional reminder to keep on killing. 

SZA dominates all of my playlists and the “Kill Bill” remix was a daily part of my summer. It’s sweet and calming and catchy and really just fun. It’s a reminder of a summer that ended up being way better than I expected and of a class I grew to love. Now, I’m just trying to keep that energy going for physics this semester.

Tyla — “Water”
By Naomi Idehen

You know that feeling where those first few weeks of college air hit you, as happens every year, where all of a sudden, you’ve got a crush? It’s a rite of passage, isn’t it? You go on and on to your friends about that special someone, and you just can’t seem to shut the hell up. That’s what Tyla’s song “Water” feels like. 

You’ve got the track on repeat, its sensual beats and lyrics a soundtrack to your budding emotions. You find yourself in your room every other night with your friend, attempting to decipher the secret behind Tyla’s iconic “Water” dance as she repeats:

Make me sweat
Make me hotter
Make me lose my breath
Make me water
Make me sweat
Make me hotter
Make me lose my breath
Make me water

Tyla seems to perfectly isolate her hips for the iconic Bacardi dance she does along to the song’s amapiano beat. Bacardi, which originated in South Africa, is a dance that incorporates intricate but almost invisible leg work slightly moving the backside enough to create what looks like twerking but in a much quicker, calculated and elevated fashion. The dance seems impossible to do, and you blame it on not having the proper equipment to begin with — a plumper backside. But then your friend points out that Tyla barely has the equipment herself yet still executes it flawlessly. You crawl into bed and sob, overwhelmed by the intensity of it all. But you know you’re not alone in this struggle. You open TikTok, the addictive amapiano beat trickles out of your phone, and watch countless others trying to recreate the moves. Some nail it, making you feel like you’re lightyears away from mastering it. But there are those whose attempts are comically endearing, and their videos remind you that it’s not about perfection — it’s about the joy of dancing, the thrill of letting loose and the shared experience of being caught in the throes of desire. 

“Water” is the ultimate anthem for these moments. It’s all about that steamy tension between desire and restraint, a tension that mirrors the emotional rollercoaster of a college crush. Sometimes, restraint is nowhere to be found, and you find yourself consumed by the flames of attraction. Other times, it’s all about holding back, the anticipation driving you wild. However, in this song, she throws caution to the wind, inviting listeners to revel in the raw, unbridled passion of the moment.

Can you blow my mind?
Set off my whole body
If I give you my time
Can you snatch my soul from me?
I don’t wanna wait, come take it
Take me where I ain’t been before
Can you blow my mind?
Set off my whole body
Whole body

Her lyrics encapsulate the essence of infatuation. They speak of the desire to be consumed by passion, to let go of inhibitions, and to dive headfirst into the intoxicating waters of lust. Tyla’s sultry vocals and the song’s irresistible amapiano beat are a reminder that sometimes it’s okay to surrender to the overwhelming rush of emotions, embrace the heat of the moment and let desire flow like water.

Reneé Rapp — “Pretty Girls”
By Lauren Canavan

It’s Reneé Rapp’s world and we’re just living in it. You might know her from her character Leighton on Sex Lives of College Girls, or from her portrayal of Regina George in Mean Girls the musical in 2019. Rapp’s broadway debut was a result of her winning the 2018 Jimmy Awards, a nationwide high school theater competition. Trust that I will be the first person at the movie theater when Rapp reprises her role as Regina George in the movie remake of the Mean Girls musical this January. 

At 23, Rapp has checked boxes that others take decades to achieve. A Broadway debut, a television acting debut, her own radio show on Apple Music and, this August, the release of her debut album. Snow Angel debuted at number 44 in the Billboard 200 chart, making it the most successful first week for a debut album by a female artist in 2023. It didn’t take me long to fall in love with this project and memorize all of her lyrics. However, I think the song “Pretty Girls” in particular will likely make it onto my Spotify Wrapped this winter.

While much of her social media content is smeared with sarcasm, Rapp remains passionately transparent when speaking on issues that she cares about. These topics include body positivity, mental health and LGBTQ+ issues. In various interviews, Rapp revealed having insecurities surrounding her own bisexuality. She has been in heteronormative relationships and has shared her fears of not fitting in with the queer community. Lyrics laced throughout her album allude to her love of men, and also of women. In “Pretty Girls,” Rapp sings about the sexual tension between two women during a night out. Despite one having a boyfriend, they engage in a whirlwind of flirtation while under the influence of alcohol. 

In the p.m., all the pretty girls
They have a couple drinks, all the pretty girls
So now, they wanna kiss all the pretty girls
They got to have a taste of a pretty girl

However, by morning, they are left denying the spark and feeling ashamed. 

In the a.m., all the pretty girls
Act like it never happenеd in another world
Yeah, it’s a blessing and it’s a cursе
So keep on pretending, pretty girl

Although the song is emotionally deep, the bumping bassline establishes the track as a going-out anthem and gives it a celebratory vibe. It conveys the power and joy in carefree attraction — before the sun comes up and the insecurities creep back in. I am currently on my own journey of finding myself, and while reflecting on my college years, I’ve come to appreciate the duality of this song. The best songs are the ones that contain enough depth to bear different meanings. “Pretty Girls” fits just as well on your pregame playlist as it would on your solo drives car playlist — if you let it.

Taylor Swift — Mine (Taylor’s Version)
By Elene Mokhevishvili

I’ve never really considered myself a Swiftie. While I dabbled in a couple of her music videos as a kid, to say she piqued my interest beyond that would be a lie. I don’t say that as some statement about being different, her music has just rarely been on my radar. However, she is partly responsible for arguably one of the most iconic lesbian scenes in TV history — “The Break Up,” from Season 4, Episode 4 of Glee. I had heard the song “Mine” before — I didn’t live under a rock. My mom always had the radio turned on, but a song about Taylor’s potential marriage, divorce and whole love story about a guy she’s never me didn’t really stuck with me, until I witnessed this pivotal scene.

In this episode of Glee, Santana Lopez, after moving away for college, decides to break up with her long time girlfriend, Brittany S. Pierce, and serenades her with Taylor Swift’s “Mine.” In this tearful ballad, Santana professes her love for the last time so that Brittany can move on. This scene was a shock to Gleeks, including me. A 9-year-old me sat there, sobbing in front of my TV, not realizing this scene would be etched into the back of my mind for years to come. Brittana, Santana and Brittany’s couple moniker, was the first openly lesbian couple I had seen in popular media. Seeing what I thought would be the last moment of this couple hit me harder than it should have, but those were thoughts I decided to pack up, along with the song, and not touch for years to come. 

Fast forward almost a decade. I was a sophomore at Stony Brook University, living with new suitemates — some of them avid Swifties. As they began to indoctrinate me, I was reminded of the scene. My sole Taylor Swift song request in the car for the next five months was “Mine,” but without any guilt. We eagerly awaited for Taylor’s version of the song to drop while still jamming to the original from time to time. 

Then it happened — July 7, 2023. I was back home, away from my friends for a while now. As I waited to be reunited with them, I turned on “Mine (Taylor’s Version).” While my connection to this song seems silly, it’s how I stayed connected with my friends over the summer. And seeing the song mature along with me and my identity was a very beautiful sentiment. 

Taylor’s version of this song is truly the epitome of the bittersweetness of nostalgia. Sometimes, I still find myself missing her original starry-eyed version, especially considering she was around my current age when she wrote it, but her new sound, while subtle, has brought a lot of comfort to me over the summer. It truly makes me think that this song, and the memories with it, have been the best things that have ever been mine.

MiSaMo — “Do Not Touch”
By Sophie Beckman

My love of K-pop stems from my twin sister. It started when we were both obsessed with BTS in middle school, gushing over the seven members and their amazing choreography and music. We begged our parents to let us go to their concerts and buy their merchandise, but with no income as sixth-graders, it was difficult to convince them. 

As I grew older, my love for K-pop started to fade, but this summer revived it. My sister and I went to a Tomorrow X Together concert in May, and it was such an exciting performance. UBS Arena was packed with fans equipped with light sticks as they screamed along to the songs. There was so much energy and love from the crowd that not even spending $10 on hot dogs at the arena could ruin it. After the concert, I spent the next few months rediscovering my favorite groups and uncovering new songs. 

I had the song “Do not touch” by MiSaMo on repeat the most. The track is fun, upbeat and has empowering lyrics that portray the girl power that a lot of girl groups in K-pop have started to adopt. “Yes, you can watch me /If you love me/But you can’t touch me.” 

“Do not touch” is super catchy with satisfying vocals and punchy notes that encapsulate a perfect summer pop song. The instrumentals are mesmerizing and, from personal experience, it sounds great blasted through car speakers or headphones. 

For me, this song represents a summer filled with memories with my sister. We learned K-pop dances in the kitchen, unboxed albums together and sat in her room at midnight, surrounded by posters of her favorite music groups, waiting for new songs to release.

Now my walls are decorated with K-pop posters like hers, and we gush over our favorite members like we used to in sixth grade. We took many trips to Target together to buy albums and she keeps all of our photocards safely together in a binder.  

We go to college eight hours apart and it’s sad not being able to run to her room to show her TikToks or to jump on her bed and talk about anything. But listening to songs like “Do Not Touch” reminds me of how much I enjoyed getting to spend the summer with her. 

NewJeans — “ETA”
By Audrey Reynolds

 Korean-pop girl group NewJeans is taking the world by storm. The five-member group’s most recent EP, Get Up, features six upbeat tracks titled “New Jeans,” “Super Shy,” “ETA,” “Cool With You,” “Get Up” and “ASAP.” When I first listened to the third track, “ETA,” I just knew it would be my song of the summer.

I spent most of my summer working extremely long shifts at my healthcare job. I felt like I was wasting my days away and stuck listening to the same songs that I had on repeat all year. While looking through social media, a video surfaced on my feed: an Apple ad for a music video. In the ad, a man demonstrates how to create high-quality music videos with his iPhone, as he films the choreographed dance moves of NewJeans. This music video for “ETA” was shot entirely on an iPhone 14 Pro, in a partnership with Apple. As I watched the ad, I was mesmerized. The dance moves were eye-catching and the experimental beat made me nod my head. I immediately wanted to get up and learn the iconic and fast paced routine that had the girls spinning and jumping around. 

NewJeans offered special album packaging to promote the record — the album is wrapped inside a purse that can be decorated with collectible photos of the band members. I made it a mission to go to different Targets after work to find all the different colors and variations of the album. As I was using my GPS to travel to different stores, these lyrics repeated in my ear asking the same question that I wanted to know: “(Mmm-hmm) what’s your ETA? What’s your ETA? I’ll be there right now, lose that boy on her arm.”

The song is an energetic heartbreak anthem about a group of girls who catch the boyfriend of their friend Eva being unfaithful to her at a party. When they find out he’s been disloyal, they ask their friend what her estimated time of arrival is. Then, they encourage her to break up with her boyfriend, pointing out his misgivings throughout the song:

Don’t waste it, your time’s a bank
Come on and end it, he’s real bad
Don’t indulge him, no, you better trust me
Why can’t you see it?
I saw it before but when you weren’t there
Sprinkling his gaze everywhere
So dazzling, honestly between us
He’s been totally lying, yeah

I was completely blindsided by how a fun dance hit can convey a dark storyline. The music video showcases the lengths the girls go to protect their friend from having her heart broken. The story starts with the girls walking around a party, FaceTiming Eva about what they are seeing. Eva’s panic and anger combines with the love she feels for her friends, as she pictures them next to her in various scenarios while rushing to the party. In these scenarios, the girls relay what they overheard by singing:

Heard him say
We can go wherever you like
Baby, say the words and I’m down
All I need is you on my side
We can go whenever you like

 By the end of the video, the shirt of Eva’s cheating boyfriend is sticking out the back of the trunk as she arrives at a cliff, which hints at what happened to him in the end. It made me feel like I was experiencing this with Eva and I wondered if I was going to help her bury the body next.

NewJeans brings a new style to teenage-pop. This group will certainly be the next Spice Girls, a group known for their popular hits all over the world that are still playing on the radio today. Now, “ETA” is my go-to song to blast in the car, and while the catchy dance moves make me look foolish, I can’t help how much joy the track brings me. A single EP was able to help me out of my shell and provided me with the excitement of being able to deep-dive into NewJeans, which is why “ETA” is my summer anthem.

Jungkook and Latto — “Seven”
By Allison Luna

Attention ARMY: the youngest member of BTS has finally launched his solo career! “Seven (feat. Latto)” by Jungkook brings something new to the table with its R&B touch. Jungkook has been my favorite member of the K-pop band since I watched the “Blood Sweat and Tears” music video in 2016, when I was in seventh grade looking for new music to listen to. Since then, I have been there for every comeback and album drop that BTS has put out. I even had the chance to see them perform live at Citi Field during the “Love Yourself World Tour” in 2018. Since BTS announced they were going on hiatus last year on June 14, I was eager to see Jungkook shine in his own light. Upon hearing the song for the first time, I was captivated by the chilled, instrumental beat, his talented vocals coursing through it and the catchy chorus. This summer, I had the single on repeat “seven days a week.”

Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday (A week)
Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, seven days a week
Every hour, every minute, every second
You know night after night
I’ll be lovin’ you right seven days a week

The track features female rapper Latto, which many ARMY, as BTS’s fans are referred to, were not expecting but were pleasantly surprised about. Jungkook’s label, Big Hit Music, wasted no time after the announcement and immediately posted promotional photos for the song and reminded fans to save the date for Friday, July 14. I saved the photos straight away to an album on my phone, titled “Jeon Jungkook” with a purple heart emoji. 

The day before the release, I had to work a 12-to-5 shift at my call center job. I remember dreading going in because I had stayed up all night playing Animal Crossing. During my 30-minute break, I ate an apple as I scrolled through Twitter and TikTok to see what ARMY had been saying about the 30-second music video teaser that had dropped, which featured South Korean actress Han Soo-Hee as Jungkook’s love interest.

I reacted to the music video teaser like everyone else did on social media: with enthusiasm. In the teaser, Jungkook and Soo-Hee have a tense conversation in a restaurant that starts to crumble above them. Seeing Jungkook after a long time made my heart skip a beat and reminded me of how much I missed him performing. 

Finally, Friday rolled around. My alarm went off, as it usually did, and I immediately turned on my PlayStation. I took to the search bar on YouTube and inputted “Seven by Jungkook.” The thumbnail of the singer and actress submerged in water greeted me. Within seconds, I clicked on the video and did not hesitate to press the “skip ad” button. Throughout the music video, Jungkook tries to win affection from his girlfriend who is avoiding him as much as possible through the course of a week, referencing the chorus of the song. His attempts to win her over are comedic — he goes through various catastrophic events like an explosion in a restaurant, serenading her as a laundromat floods and even faking his own death to get her to notice him. After all of this pandemonium, Latto follows with an incredible verse and cameo. 

I knew this song was going to be a hit within the first couple seconds after hearing the first note. With the strumming of a guitar, a catchy melody and Jungkook’s perfect vocals, “Seven (feat. Latto)” was absolute perfection to launch the former band member’s solo career. There are two versions of the song — one being on the romantic side and another with a bit more spice to it. However, please don’t ask which one I listen to the most. For now, all I know is that I cannot wait to see what other projects Jungkook has in store for us.

Ryan Gosling — “I’m Just Ken”
By Ben Campo

Barbie had a great soundtrack that was so memorable and fun to listen to. However, my favorite song was “I’m Just Ken,” written by Mark Ronson and Andrew Wyatt and performed by actor Ryan Gosling, who plays Ken in the movie. Slash, of Guns N’ Roses fame, plays the guitar on the song. I love how the track embodies Ken as a character taking us along in his journey to find out who he is and what he wants. In the movie, Ken takes over Barbie Land, thinking that Barbie doesn’t care for him. When Barbie and her friends find a way to take back Barbie Land, Ken sings “I’m Just Ken” while going up against Simu Liu’s Ken and other Kens in both a beach fight and dance off. Gosling does a great job in the song because he expresses feelings of determination and uncertainty finding his purpose in life, showing his talent as both an actor and a singer. 

In addition to conveying so much emotion, the song has a fun and energetic feel to it. The lyrics flow into one another and the song builds to a fast pace that makes you want to dance along to the beat. When I first heard it on YouTube Music, I began jumping and dancing like crazy because of how good it was. When I heard it again in the theater, I was thrilled to see how it fits into the story. It was really cool to see Gosling and Liu playing Kens and showing off to one another with the song playing in the background. I also thought it was hilarious when the lyric “Can you feel the kenergy? Feels so real, my kenergy” plays during the dance sequence because it adds to the comedy of Gosling and Liu dancing off against one another. I remember laughing when that scene played.

Ultimately, I love “I’m Just Ken” not only because of how much fun it is, but also because of its message. I think the song’s message of trying to find out who you are in life is really important. After all, this is what life is all about. Everyone wants to find out who they are, and both this song and the movie convey this message well. I feel like I connected to the message because I’m in my 20s still figuring out what I want for myself when I’m older. One lyric that made me connect to the message was “And is my moment finally here, or am I dreaming?” This is because, similar to how Ken asks when he is going to have a moment in his life, I also ask myself: when am I going to have a big moment of realization? For my life, I want to be more independent, find my own place to live and get a good job after graduating college. Like Ken, I’m also wondering if my moment will actually happen or not. Gosling makes the song shine with all the talent, dedication and over dramatic flair he puts into it. Overall, “I’m Just Ken” is a song that anyone can enjoy because of its connection with Barbie, strong message, fun vibes and Gosling’s kenergy. 

Dua Lipa — “Dance the Night”
By Nisa Demiroglu

Dua Lipa’s “Dance The Night” from the Barbie soundtrack has been on my Spotify “On Repeat” playlist since its initial debut in May of 2023. This song came out at a time when I really needed it. The spring semester had just ended, summer was beginning and Barbie was set to release in theaters in a couple months, which only added to my excitement. 

Whether you’re a young girl playing with Barbie dolls or a dad dragged to watch the movie with your kids, “Dance the Night” will make you fall in love with the movie and Dua Lipa —if you haven’t already. 

“Dance The Night” is a true testament to Lipa’s ability to create a song that not only makes you want to get up and dance, but also touches your soul. The song’s production is nothing short of breathtaking. Produced by Mark Ronson, who is best known for his collaborations with Bruno Mars, Miley Cyrus and Camilla Cabello, the track is a cinematic uplifting pop song. The lyrics are about having a fun night with friends — essentially encouraging you to throw all your problems and concerns behind you and just dance the night away. 

The disco-esque track seems to reference the pop star’s album Future Nostalgia . The addition of electronic elements gives the song a modern club vibe. 

The accompanying music video showed a lot of glitter and glam. With a surprise cameo appearance of Greta Gerwig, the director of Barbie, the video incorporated clips from the movie featuring Margot Robbie, Issa Rae, Emma Mackey and other cast members. 

However, the video wasn’t just made for Barbie, as we see Lipa including symbolic elements and hidden messages. At the end of the video, we see a shattered disco ball, which many say foreshadows the end of her Future Nostalgia era and the beginning of a new one. 

I don’t think anyone else could have captured the essence of dancing away a carefree night out with friends better than Dua Lipa. Her vocals shine throughout the song and I can’t wait to see where her creativity takes her in the future.

Billie Eilish — “What Was I Made For?”
By Rafael Cruvinel

In “The Summer of Barbie,” as Vogue Magazine called it on the cover of its summer issue, nothing felt more right to me than having a song from Barbie as my song of the summer. Although I did go through the universal experience of getting my Instagram feed flooded with pink as a result of its marketing campaign, I have to admit that the movie itself was only a small part of my summer. I watched it once, in an empty theater on a Monday night. I was with one of my best friends from high school, wearing a Taylor-Swift-themed bubblegum pink shirt that I bought for The Eras Tour. I had fun that night, but the truth is, I wasn’t really happy at the time. 

I did a lot of things that I hated this summer. First, I had to go back to my home country of Brazil after being rejected from every internship I applied for, which was not in my plans. Once I was home, I had to go back to my driving lessons. Even though I recognize that my driving improved significantly, I still don’t find pleasure in driving and failed the two road tests that I took, making my grand total four failed attempts counting the ones from 2021. Beyond driving lessons, I applied to more internships, which I got rejected from, and recorded videos for my YouTube channel, which I lost after my computer broke. 

Amid this negativity, I found myself listening to “What Was I Made For?” by Billie Eilish quite often during the chilly nights of the Brazilian winter. In the movie, the song comes in at a moment of internal struggle for Barbie. To me, it was the self-doubt expressed in the lyrics that was relatable because, despite how fabulous things look on the outside, I too was struggling internally. I left the spring semester with good grades, a senior capstone project completed one year early, amazing friendships and a bunch of other reasons to feel proud. Still, I could only feel like my self-confidence had never been lower and that a happy and successful Rafael was now locked in the past. “I used to float, now I just fall down/I used to know, but I’m not sure now/What I was made for.” These words defined my summer. 

Sonically and thematically, “What Was I Made For?” could easily fit into Happier than Ever, Eilish’s sophomore album, which also dives into internal insecurities. The album had been the last of the artist’s projects I paid close attention to, and, as I listened to her Barbie song, I realized how much I missed her voice. Since her debut, Eilish has been criticized for whispering in her songs. However, in my opinion, Eilish’s whispers only add to her art. They make her singing uniquely relaxing. Her soft voice combined with smart lyricism never failed to calm my messy summer mind. “I don’t know how to feel/But someday, I might.” I had to rely on that, I had to promise myself I would soon know how to feel. The answer to the question comes in the last lines.

Think I forgot,
How to be happy,
Something I’m not, but something I can be
Something I wait for
Something I’m made for

I’m not a doll, but maybe that’s it — I was made to be happy, no matter how unpredictable life is. I wanted a “Dance the Night” summer and got a “What Was I Made For?” one. But I got through it. It’s fall now, and all I can say is I’m in a much better place.

Daniel Pemberton — “Across the Spider-Verse (Intro)”
By Ali Jacksi

Before the release of both Spider-Verse films, defending Spider-Man movies was like a full-time job for me. I may be the only Amazing Spider-Man 2 defender to exist. My mom has said that, when I was a toddler, I would not be able to eat my food unless Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 was playing. 

I loved the charm of the character in each movie — Peter Parker’s light-hearted nature stood in stark contrast with the cruel world around him. He was not the dark and brooding Batman, or the perfect adult Superman. He was a kid that could make mistakes. All these themes were exemplified in the Spider-Verse films, which gave them their critical acclaim. There was no longer an argument of how to best portray the character. 

The biggest contributor to this was the soundtrack. Daniel Pemberton, who composed both films, created a soundtrack in the first movie that meshed perfectly with the licensed music. Yet, in the second movie, the soundtrack takes center stage, as seen with “Across the Spider-Verse (Intro).” 

This film starts with a black screen and no visuals until the song begins with drums. The drums start slow, and, throughout the song, that character Gwen Stacy narrates events from the previous movie that are being shown on the screen. It then cuts to Gwen playing the drums in sync with the soundtrack, showing the audience that she is performing the song that plays in the background. While the narration of the events gets closer to the present, the song builds up with the drums getting faster. She tells the audience that she thought she understood how being Spider-Woman could help save people, that in fact it was her responsibility to do so. Yet, she struggles with the fact that she hurts the people closest to her in the process, and does not know how to handle balancing both. At the end of the song, the drums lose their form and she begins to freestyle, showing her frustration. This song, without any words or licensed music to tell the audience how the character feels, shows exactly what it means to be Spider-Man or Spider-Woman. It is the struggle of responsibility, captured powerfully by the weaving of frustrated drums in the back of the song and the crescendoing music of the soundtrack. In its first scene alone, we understand what story the movie is trying to tell. We understand the story of Spider-Man — and Spider-Woman — in the first two minutes. And it’s what makes the movie so good. 

The Foundlings — Taconic Shade
By Kaitlyn Schwanemann

When I was in 10th grade, I had an English teacher who taught me a lot more than Geoffrey Chaucer and F. Scott Fitzgerald did. I was that girl who ate lunch in an empty classroom — just Mr. Dunckley and I discussing Tibetan Buddhism, philosophy and astrology. It was a solemn departure when I graduated in 2022, but one thing kept me connected to that empty classroom: his album, Gaslight Alley. In addition to being a high school English teacher, he is the frontman of a rock band named The Foundlings. 

This year, Mr. Dunckley reached out to me on LinkedIn some time in August. I’d been living with a host family in Miami for three months, working about 60 hours a week in a newsroom. It was the first time I’d been living on my own, and I felt like a real grown-up. He sent me MP4 files of his unreleased sophomore album to review. With a 12-track whirlwind of Americana, bluegrass and rock, I was brought back to my sophomore year — a turbulent, painful and invaluable experience. 

“Taconic Shade” stood out to me when I first downloaded the files. The song begins with vivid, bright imagery. “Riding shotgun with the ragtop down, the sky is like the bluest eye/Morning air is whipping through my hair, a red-tailed hawk is on the fly. 

The lines describe exactly how the song feels — like spending the last few days of summer driving aimlessly, windows down and radio blasting, which is how I’d been spending my time off. Husky vocals accompany an acoustic guitar, which sings a soft, simple melody, and an invigorating, bellowing electric guitar solo closes out the song. The chords form one last hoorah before you’re brought back down to Earth by the last chorus. “All the simple things in life unfold, the mountains hold mysteries left untold/The clouds are bleached, the sun is liquid gold.

The percussion ramps up as he sings these lyrics one last time — for just a moment, before the song ends with near silence alongside the closing lines. “The road winds through the glade, where sunbeams narrow and fade/Through a canopy the leaves have made over Taconic shade.

The previous choruses are like a transcendental day, soaking in the sunlight and basking in youth. The quiet groundedness of these last two lines, though, are different — more dignified. 

Essentially, “Taconic Shade” feels like being 15 again. Markers of my coming-of-age year — lunches with Mr. Dunckley, driving with newly-licensed 12th-graders and sleepovers with my best friend reorienting to include older, wiser topics of discussion like first boyfriends — come to mind. As the song wanes, though, it feels less like the moment and more like the memory. For me, it’s remembering being 15, while living on my own for the first time, 1000 miles away from home.

Kurtains — “Skin”
By Liam Hinck

I make anime edits — well… not anymore, but I used to. In the summer of 2020, locked down in quarantine, a friend of mine taught me how to make edits on my computer. I fell in love with it. Following the same mundane routine for months was getting stale, until I found this new hobby unlike anything I had ever done before.

There are three steps to making an anime edit: choosing the clips or scene you want to edit, choosing the song to edit your clips to, then actually editing them. One of my favorite artists to use for the soundtrack of my edits was a Welsh glitchcore/hyperpop artist on soundcloud called Kurtains. At the time, he made rambunctious, loud and fast-paced glitchcore songs with booming 808s — the new age way of adding drums to a song. As silly as some of those songs were, my 16-year-old self found them fun.

Three years later, in the shoebox of a break room at my minimum wage job, I received an Apple Music notification: “New Release: Skin – Kurtains – Single.” A name that had almost completely slipped out of my head was now on my screen. I was transported back to all the times I visited my computer, laboring for hours over a 15-second anime edit for my 50 Instagram followers. Insignificant as these may have been, and as little traction I gained for my edits, I’ve always viewed this small period of time in my life as a blaze of creativity and enjoyment like I had never experienced before.

I took my headphones out of my backpack and threw them on. I hovered over the play button, bracing myself by turning the volume down to near zero in fright of my headphones crumbling to dust the second I heard one of the 808s from Kurtains I was accustomed to. I was greeted with the exact opposite.

The mellow tone of his voice accompanied by a faint acoustic guitar was the antithesis of anything I could have ever imagined I would hear after I pressed play. This John Mayer-esque song was flowing through my Sony XM4 headphones as I checked to see if this was the same Kurtains that I was familiar with — and it certainly was. The slow, sappy love song echoes the feeling of someone reading a love letter aloud, which is then transformed by heavy lead and bass guitar that caught me off-guard at first listen. Yet, because it stays at the same tempo as earlier in the song, it fits perfectly. After taking some time to comprehend what I just listened to I gave it another listen and I became hooked on it.

After adding it to my playlist it became a non-skippable song, one that I would always listen to from start to finish whenever it played. The rugged guitar blasting through the speakers of my car as I drove with the windows down was a common scene from this past summer. The euphoric feeling I would get from this song was like no other and even now I still get it to a certain extent when I hear it. Part of me is still shocked by this 180 degree turn that he’s made with his music, even after listening to Skin so many times.

As a person, I have changed in a similar way to how Kurtains’ music has. When I was 16, I was more energized and immature, just like the type of music he was making. Three years later, I am still immature, but I have new interests and hobbies, and I’ve transformed my music taste. “Skin” aligns with what I prefer to listen to now. From then to now, my life is totally different — different people, different schools and a different me. If I try to make an edit now I can’t do it — I don’t have that same fire in me like I used to and I don’t have the same love and fondness for it as I once had, but I have grown to accept that that is okay.

Sunami — “Y.S.A.B.”
By Liam McLean

Sunami, a beatdown hardcore band hailing from San Jose, California, initially formed as a satirical response to the lack of profundity in a lot of hardcore circles. Though intended as a joke, their debut EP Demonstration and notoriously violent first show turned them into underground hardcore favorites. Although the band has been around since 2019, I only became aware of them last year, when I saw videos of their mosh pits. Sunami’s long journey, marked by a series of EPs and singles, culminated in the release of their self-titled album in June under hardcore heroes Triple B Records — living up to all the hype.

This project contains all of Sunami’s signature elements amplified to the max: caustic lyrics, thunderous drumming and those cathartic, chunky riffs that never fail to get the crowd two-stepping — moving in the pit. Clocking in at a succinct 17 minutes and 22 seconds, the album offers a quick and exhilarating fix for fans of beatdown and metallic hardcore, or anyone seeking unapologetically aggressive music.

The standout track for both die-hard fans and newcomers, including myself, is “Y.S.A.B.” — You Such a Bitch. The song kicks off with an infectious, thrashy riff and relentless double bass drumming, complemented by frontman Josef Alonso’s distinctive screams in the verses. This unique vocal style strikes a balance between raw intensity and authenticity. As the first verse concludes, the song seamlessly transitions into the hook, with the guitar evolving from a thrash-inspired part into a head-nodding, chromatic riff. Guitarist Mike “Durt” Durrett delivers some of his finest work on this track, a testament to his ability to churn out catchy and heavy riffs that’ll always incite violence on the floor. The crushing guitar tone, engineered by longtime collaborator Charles Toshio, adds an extra layer of malevolence to the song. After revisiting the verse, the band slows it down, signaling the impending breakdown. Alonso delivers another one of his memorable callouts, “Front all you want/It don’t mean that you’re shit/You’re a stupid motherfucker, and that’s about it!”

Drummer Benny Eissmann pounds the snare drum, unleashing chaos in a bone-rattling breakdown, arguably one of their heaviest to date. After 2 minutes and 26 seconds, the song comes to end, cementing its indelible mark as an exceptional track that sets the tone for the rest of the album.
Sunami was never meant to last, especially in a scene like hardcore, where bands can come and go. “Like I said, we didn’t really plan on having this band go the way it’s been going,” Alonso told Kerrang! “So it’s still hard for me to even comprehend how big it is.” While other hardcore bands like Turnstile are getting praised for their fusion with alternative and indie rock elements, which isn’t necessarily bad , Sunami has stayed true to the spirit of hardcore with their cop-hating lyrics, pummeling drums and vicious guitars that have become hardcore favorites. “Y.S.A.B.” and the entire Sunami (L.P.) are poised to become classics in the scene, undoubtedly securing their place as genre staples for years to come.

Water From Your Eyes — “14”
By Layne Groom

Over the summer I finally purchased a car to call my own. With this newfound freedom, I did what any insufferable 23-year-old music enthusiast sporting a mid-length haircut would do — I went to familiarize myself with the indie music scene of my nearest metropolitan area. What used to be a once-in-awhile trip became a religious, weekly hour-and-a-half long drive to Brooklyn. From shy singer-songwriters who looked at their microphone more than the audience, to experimental noise bands that unknowingly taught me the importance of hearing protection, I was immersed in a diverse range of musical expression. 

One group that stood out from the rest was the art-pop duo Water From Your Eyes. They recently released their third album, Everyone’s Crushed, which I became infatuated with rather quickly — especially the track “14,” which carries a Rorschach-like quality, inviting diverse interpretations from different listeners.

The experimental dyad, comprised of Nate Amos and Rachel Brown, takes bleak observations of late-stage capitalism and fatalism of the human condition and delivers them on unseriously toned lyrics over looped sound collages and noise-pop jingles. There is no better way to describe their album than as uncomfortably fun.

There’s an intricate range of unease expressed across the LP, from sharp screeches of audio feedback to defeated lyrics. The title track open with:

I’m with everyone I love, and everything hurts
I’m in love with everyone, and everything hurts
I’m with everyone I hurt, and everything’s love
Loving everyone I’m with, and everything hurts
Everybody is in love, and every hurt gives

Or the corporate jingle of a closer, “Buy My Product,” in which Brown says, “There are no happy endings/Only things that happen.” However, these moments of anguish are supplemented by upbeat elements that function as a life preserver for the listener, keeping the fun going.

But for the second to last track, “14,” the listener is kicked into the deep end before they even have a chance to fasten the vest, as they are immediately submerged in discomfort. This track, like a stomach knot, leaves little sense of relief, and in moments that it seems like it may come, it dissipates immediately.

The looming string arrangement that haunts this track doesn’t provide anything to hold onto either, with one or two notes always in dissonance from the rest. Apart from the sporadic introduction of distorted synths, that’s all the listener has to work with.
Only made up of five unique, heavily-repeated lines of lyrics, the self-described “quasi-serial inkblot” gives the listener an immense amount of intimate time to take in each phrase and think about the meaning that can be derived from it. For some of the lines the listener can easily find ways to project some of their own meaning like the opening bar of, “When did it start to loop?” or the hook, “I’m ready to throw you up.” But the most intriguing line comes from the bridge, in which Brown sings, “How many is 14?” The song itself offers no hints and places the onus on the listener to decide what significance these words hold. And that’s precisely what separates “14” from the other tracks on Everyone’s Crushed: the demand for introspection in the face of discomfort.

Daniel Caesar — “Always”
By Shelly Gupta

“Baby, baby/There will always be a space for you and me/Right where you left it”

And just like that, I’m back in Central Park. I’m back on the blanket on the grass with my sweatshirt covering my face because the sun is too bright. I peek out from under it to see the clouds moving with the wind. Time feels fleeting.

And I’ll be here
‘Cause we both know how it goes
I don’t want things to change
I pray they stay the same, always

I let myself melt into the ground. It’s a bittersweet memory.

Truthfully, I didn’t know “Always” at the time of the memory I’m reminiscing about, but it’s so easy to let the lyrics take me back to when it was hard to feel like what I was doing was the right thing. Losing someone is never easy, and it’s even harder when you’re the one that had to initiate it. And it’s inexplicably hard when you still love the person.

At the beginning of this summer, my partner and I decided to call it quits after three years together. And despite the absolute necessity of the break, I didn’t want things to change — he was my best friend. But we weren’t working, and I had known that for a while. Still very in love with one another, we went our separate ways after one final date in Central Park. I can’t tell if that was the best or the worst decision ever. I left early. 

I think he hated me for a while after that. Maybe hate is a strong word. I think he resented me for a while after that. To him, I had abandoned him and our relationship. I couldn’t put into words how hard it was for me — but even if I could — it wouldn’t have made it any easier.

Always, can count on it, sure as the stars in the sky
Always, you can count on it, sure as the stars in the sky
Always, my love for you ain’t goin’ nowhere
Always, I will be here

I wish I could’ve said those words that day. Maybe if I knew this song then, I could’ve sent it to him so that it could say the words I couldn’t find.  

I don’t regret the breakup, though. We’re friends again now after a long and isolating summer and we still have a lot of love for one another. And I don’t think that is something that will change, or could ever change. I’ll always be here.

It’s gotten easier, but I feel like I relive the heartbreak a little every time I listen to “Always.” It stings so sweetly and I can feel tears welling up in my eyes again. Still, I’ll cherish the memory forever.

Abby Cates — “Rainbowfish”
By Jessica Castagna

My Dad has a go-to joke for questions that come up at the dinner table: “If only there was a little box that you could type things into… and it would give you answers,” he cracks. Google is great for questions like, “do you need a law degree to be a paralegal?” Or, “does your heart lean to the left or right?” But I always find myself wanting to type impossible questions into the search bar. “Is that couple from high school still together?” Or, “how on Earth are you supposed to cope with death if you don’t know if you believe in God?” 

In the early days of August, Abby Cates released her single, “Rainbowfish.” I have always thought that the Nashville-based songwriter has a voice I would expect of an angel: silky soft and strong. “Rainbowfish” is Cates’ latest dive into what it means to be human and experience every color on the wheel. To me, love is red. Happiness is sky blue. Fear is gray. To Cates, experiencing grief and existential dread without faith in a power above means living with an obscure mish-mash of the whole damn wheel: “If God is a white dude with kind eyes and a man bun/Then I am a hummingbird with gills like a rainbow fish.”

I am often overwhelmed by how fast time moves. One minute, I am enjoying a much-needed summer vacation. “Rainbowfish” plays as I write articles for a summer internship with my bedroom window open. Cates’ delicate voice floats through my headphones as the song builds in intensity. As the backing guitar, choir and drums build, the song switches quickly from steady and folksy to an emotional ballad about coping with the difficulties of being human. Suddenly, I am stocking the milk fridge at work and the expiration dates read November, and am heading home to realize that I should really be using LinkedIn more as a college senior. Suddenly, I am saying goodbye to my dog, my most beloved friend. 13 years of having a big, golden nose greet me at the front door came and went. In the weeks before his passing, I struggled to put a finger on why “Rainbowfish” was hitting a nerve with me. 

If love is a river, we’re all fools with buckets
Wading in carefully, avoiding the rapids
And being pulled under is a treacherous fate
But maybe it’s true to be loved is to be saved

Then, a moment of clarity came. The rhythmic plucks of Cates’ acoustic guitar drop out and are replaced by gentle strums as she sings the first chorus: “Been dreaming of ghosts in my sleep/And nothing makes sense anymore to me/Why can we love so deeply only to drown inside of grief?”

Cates’ poeticism is beautiful, yet painfully real. We hope that they never reach the end of the line when it comes to the emotion of love. But grief is always a part of the deal. Nevertheless, Cates contends that feeling love and being loved is a gift. The song is a reminder to welcome what comes, including the emotions that are difficult to feel. “Rainbowfish” concludes with a gentle outro. The instruments fade out in a decrescendo after the final chorus, and the listener is left with Cates’ voice and the quiet strum of her guitar. In its final lines, “Rainbowfish” captures feeling miniscule in the face of a tremendously complicated world, but exploring anyways. “If God is an orange tree with hundred-foot roots/Then I am a fly with an eye for her fruit.”

Avery Anna — “Self Love”
By Katherine Kimes

I’ve never understood self-love. I still don’t fully understand it, but recently I’ve decided to give it a try. 

Before this summer, I had no desire to pursue the ideal of self-love. I thought it was impossible. I was so used to hating myself that I became comfortable and complacent in my hatred. Loving myself just seemed unbearable, excruciating and unattainable. My hatred consumed me — drowning me in the detrimental wave of self-destruction. I hated the mere idea of self-love. 

So, I played “Self Love” by Avery Anna on a loop. I first stumbled across this song as a fluke. It popped up as a recommended title after one of my other repeated songs. I saw the title and grimaced thinking that this was going to be the cheesiest song I’ve ever listened to. But something told me to just listen to at least a couple seconds of it as my finger hovered over the skip button. And upon first listen, it reaffirmed everything I had been feeling about self-love, until I stopped looking at it from the surface: 

Deep down in reality
I hate the way “self-love” sounds
I hate that I need some right now
I hate this dumb self-love song
‘Cause I’m the only one, I don’t let my

The contrast between the bitter lyrics and an upbeat accompaniment conveys the innate nature of self-love that is masked by the resentment we ceaselessly tell ourselves. The rhythm is reminiscent of a heartbeat, which makes me aware of my own heart and its ability to give internally the love I show other people. “Self Love” reminds me that achieving self-love is hard and uncomfortable and extremely painful – but not impossible. 

I stopped choosing paths that would inevitably destroy me: the major I would never love, the job that would eventually break my heart, the rage I never expressed and the continuous cycle of running away from real relationships – all while running away from myself, desperately attempting to ignore the needs my heart was begging for and clinging onto this idea that it was sacrificial to refuse compassion and care.  

I needed to let go of the version of the world I was weaving. I needed to let go of the perceived limitations I lamented over and the humanity I thought I had long lost. 

I’m trying to stop loving the idea of me and start loving me— right at this very moment. Not in the future when I land that job, lose 15 pounds or get a partner. Even when it’s painful, I try to love myself because my tears remind me that I am real. Even though this life is ephemeral, I still get to experience what it means to be human. 

And after all, isn’t being human a worthy enough quality for love?

Listen to our picks with the Spotify playlist below!

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