Recently I was asked to create a playlist for a summer beach party. An opportunity to procrastinate and mess around on Spotify for a few hours? Yeah, totally, when can I start?
I like playlists that are diverse, not just in terms of genre (pop, hip-hop, rock, country), but in terms of era. So I picked 3?½ hours of songs dating back to the early '70s — Kendrick Lamar, Fleetwood Mac, Sturgill Simpson, Hall and Oates, SZA, Spoon, Avicii, you name it.
But because I didn't want it to sound like I had been in a coma for six months, I made myself a challenge: Include a dozen songs released in 2018. And as this was to be a family-friendly party — and one between professional colleagues at that — try to avoid songs bearing Spotify's "EXPLICIT" tag.
This was harder than it sounds. Many 2018 Song of Summer candidates are explicit in some way, from Drake's Nice for What and God's Plan to the bulk of Post Malone's Beerbongs & Bentleys, and might not be the best backdrop for a kid-friendly soiree.
Should it matter? Would tots and grannies really be scandalized by hearing Post Malone moan Psycho over chicken tenders and pasta salad? Nah, probably not. Still, it speaks to the challenge of creating a middle-of-the-road playlist for everyone that doesn't sound out of sync with today's music landscape. In our splintered and hand-curated culture, are there songs out there that can still appeal to everyone?
These are weird rules, but it's my playlist — and any summer playlist that foists less Drake upon the world, I consider a win.
Here's what I picked.
Playing in the safe zone
After the Storm (Kali Uchis featuring Tyler, the Creator and Bootsy Collins)
One of the year's best debut albums — one of its best albums, period — comes from Colombian-American singer-songwrier Uchis, who channels classic slow-jam funk here. Bonus points for recruiting Bootsy for authenticity, and for coaxing eight genuinely sexy bars out of occasional enfant terrible Tyler.
Short Court Style (Natalie Prass)
A breezy throwback R&B jam about the groove we all hit when we're smitten by the one: "When it fits / it should stay like this / Oh, I can't be without / my love that I have found."
Breeze Off the Pond (Justin Timberlake)
Breeze Off the Pond is a perfect '70s yacht-rock title, and J.T. flirts with that vibe throughout. But the song's pumping disco-lite beat carries it through sunset wine coolers and into the brown-liquor night.
Take a Byte (Janelle Monae)
This one, a throbbing embrace of Monae's inner Prince, did earn an explicit tag from Spotify, but it's not apparent why. Yeah, it's about sex ("Maybe it's lust, maybe it's love, maybe it never ends"), but lyrically, it's pretty clean. I deem it safe.
The Middle (Zedd, Maren Morris and Grey)
It probably debuted too long ago to be the song of the summer, but it was definitely one of the most relentless pop earworms of spring, and it's still got a lot of life left.
Familiar (Liam Payne and J Balvin)
If you're looking for this year's Despacito, look no further. Bouncy and bilingual with a boy-band pedigree, it sounds like it was calibrated in a lab to maximize potential ubiquity — all too familiar, but we're feeling it nonetheless.
Drank Like Hank (Brothers Osborne)
A spiritual scion of their hit It Ain't My Fault, it's a rollicking nod to George Jones and Hank Williams, and an ode to the fine art of overdoing it.
Say No More (Fickle Friends)
Like Paramore, Walk the Moon or their fellow Brits the 1975, Fickle Friends embrace highly saturated, highly danceable synths and guitars across their new album You Are Something Else. Rock like this might not actually have existed in the '80s the way these bands seem to think it did, but with songs as irrepressible as Say No More, it doesn't really matter.
Hurt to Look (Rae Sremmurd)
The hip-hop duo's new triple LP SR3MM is a bit much. But its "middle" album, the Swae Lee-led Swaecation, is pretty tight and great, with the slinky Hurt to Look showcasing his skill as a pop songwriting savant.
Bloom (Troye Sivan)
Speaking of the '80s, Sivan takes you there sonically with Bloom's vaporwave squiggles and gated synth snares. Otherwise it's positively progressive, a song between male lovers that also feels universal.
Cabrona (Gin Wigmore)
Why this New Zealand hellion never became a bigger star in the States is a mystery, but don't blame it on her new stuff. Cabrona is a feisty slice of disco-fied soul in the vein of Amy Winehouse or Elle King. Retro but rockin'.
Lake Erie (Wild Pink)
Chill down with this New York outfit, whose dreamy but driving new single weaves warm slide guitars into five blissful minutes of Americana-tinged indie rock. For fans of the War on Drugs, and of warm hugs around sundown.
Put the kids to bed
Phew. Now that happy hour's over and Granny's gone upstairs, let's crank this playlist from PG to R. Here are six more standout summer 2018 tracks to mix in at your next party where no one gives a you-know-what about the lyrics.
Nice for What (Drake)
Fine, whatever. At this point it's practically a war crime to create a summer playlist and not include one Drake song. At least the old-school-flavored Nice for What is one of Aubrey's brighter, more danceable singles, unlike the dreary God's Plan.
This Is America (Childish Gambino)
If not for a mumbled Young Thug f-bomb in the middle, this would have made the all-ages playlist. Political songs are risky at parties, especially one as intense as This Is America. But it bum-rushed the Song of Summer debate upon its release because it's just so catchy and quotable and, well, it's everywhere. Lando Calrissian, you space scoundrel, you've done it again.
Girlfriend (Christine and the Queens featuring Dam-Funk)
Pansexual French pop provocateur Heloise Letissier's new jam blends rolling G-funk grooves and guitar licks with a sense of urgent, unconstrained lust. Lust for whom? Hey, that's between you and your bedsheets.
ATM, (J. Cole)
You can roll with it as an ode to flexing and stacking that paper, or you can listen closely and relate more to Cole's resigned shrug in the chorus: "Can't take it when you die, but you can't live without it."
Win (Jay Rock)
Welp, here's the song every high school sports team will be blaring in the locker room and on the team bus after every victory next season. The blasting horns and Rock's unconstrained cockiness give it the feel of classic UGK, Ludacris or any number of No Limit rappers.
Spoil My Night (Post Malone featuring Swae Lee)
I don't know if you're ready to hear this — it certainly took me a while to admit it — but Post Malone's Beerbongs & Bentleys is the vibe album of summer 2018. The whole world's into half-rapped, half-moaned, midtempo, sad-boy club music, and while Post Malone himself may be a drip, this LP delivers a solid hour of the good stuff. Pick any track you like; I'll go with the aching, borderline romantic Spoil My Night, featuring the more interesting half of Rae Sremmurd.
Contact Jay Cridlin at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8336. Follow @JayCridlin.