Three major acts share their thoughts on 16 potential winners, from Fifth Harmony, Drake, and more
What will be the “Cheerleader” of 2016? For the new issue of EW, on newsstands Friday, we put together a list of the front-runners for the season’s most inescapable earworm and asked a panel of pros to weigh in: Canadian synth-pop duo Tegan and Sara, whose new album, Love You to Death, arrives June 3; Meghan Trainor, whose new album, Thank You, comes out this Friday; and DJ-producer duo the Chainsmokers, who are currently burning up the charts with their hit “Don’t Let Me Down.” Check out their unfiltered opinions below on tracks from Desiigner, Iggy Azalea, DNCE, Zara Larsson, and more:
Fifth Harmony featuring Ty Dolla $ign, “Work From Home”
Sara Quin of Tegan and Sara: The genius of a song like this is that I don’t even relate to the lyrics at all. I’m like, “That doesn’t describe me or any situation I’ve ever been in.” I find myself singing along almost like a kid would. It proves that even the gayest person can relate to the straightest song, and hopefully vice versa.
Tegan Quin of Tegan and Sara: This came on the other day and I was laughing because we had a song that we were working on for our record called “Work.” And then all of a sudden, every song that’s popular now has work in the title. I’m so relieved that we don’t have a song called “Work,” but I love this song. We had done some shows with Fifth Harmony on the pop radio circuit a couple of years ago and they were really nice, so I was really excited.
Alex Pall of the Chainsmokers: That’s one of our favorites songs of the summer. This is one of those catchy pop songs you can’t deny.
Drew Taggart of the Chainsmokers: We’re close with some of the girls in that group. It’s cool to see them come back with another hit. When I heard that the first time, I was like, “This is a big track.”
Meghan Trainor: I immediately thought this was ear candy. I could sing the words back by the second chorus, which is my favorite part about pop songs. I was so impressed by that.
G-Eazy & Bebe Rexha, “Me, Myself & I”
Tegan: I had a party over the weekend, and this song came on three times. I don’t know how I accidentally added it three times, but by the end we were all singing along. I think it’s a total hit.
Sara: I’m very interested in his story. I don’t know if I’m musically very drawn to it, but I saw his set at Coachella and appreciate his enthusiasm.
Alex: G-Eazy’s verse is sick, the production is dope, but let’s not kid ourselves, this top line pulls you. Bebe Rexha doesn’t get enough credit. She’s one of the best top-line writers in the game.
Drew: Bebe and I have been writing songs together since before anyone knew who either of us was. I’m so proud to see her just crushing the charts. I’m a big G-Eazy fan—it’s not easy for a white rapper to be respected by everyone and to cross over in such a cool way.
Meghan: Bebe and I talk all the time about working together. She’s so talented. Anytime you hear a song on the radio it’s like, “Oh, there’s Bebe.” I’ve never met G-Eazy, but I’m a fan of this song. I like his rap.
Tegan: Since I’ve been using Spotify, I listen to more hip-hop than I probably ever have. It’s not what I would put on and listen to, but I liked it. We were making so many jokes about trap music this weekend. All of our friends were like, “What the hell are you guys talking about?”
Sara: I love thinking about somebody sitting down and being like, “What are we going to write a song about today?” Like watching YouTube, and a panda video comes up? It doesn’t make very much sense to me. I think it’s just cool.
Alex: He sounds like a British gangster. I know people have drawn comparisons between him and Future, but the truth is, everything is an iteration of something else. What’s really impressive is the fact that it’s not getting any airplay on pop radio, but it’s still so big.
Drew: That song is fire. I thought for sure it was some British guy. I found out he was from Brooklyn, which threw me off. We play it at every show. I made a sick bootleg with it.
Meghan: [Rapping] Panda! Panda! Panda! I’m not the biggest fan of trap rap like that, but my brother plays that song a lot, so I definitely bump to it.
Zara Larsson & MNEK, “Never Forget You”
Tegan: She’s 18? Wow. It could totally be song of summer. It was very upbeat and I really, really like the production a lot.
Alex: This is the sickest vocal melody ever. We didn’t realize [Zara] is a huge pop star in Sweden. We really want to work with her on something. The production is a little bit too reminiscent of “Where Are Ü Now,” but that’s what’s hot right now.
Drew: I love that song. It’s always refreshing to hear a new singer that has a really powerful voice break into the American pop scene with such a good track.
Meghan: The writing and the melody is very catchy. When the drop comes in I’m like, “Oooooh sh-t!” I love Zara, she’s so sweet. She’s is so passionate about what she does. She wants to write with me so bad. I told her she’s doing a great job and that I’d love to write with her.
Mike Posner, “I Took a Pill in Ibiza (Seeb Remix)”
Tegan: That was the last one I listened to on the elliptical. It’s great, but I can’t tell what’s happening. Is it a joke? Is he making fun of other EDM artists? Or are they all, like, friends?
Sara: Whenever I hear it, I can’t help but listen. It’s like somebody telling you a gossipy story.
Alex: I didn’t know if it was going to fit in with pop music, and of course it gets the tropical-house remix and blows up. The songwriting is excellent. We can relate to [the message]—how people count you out and then you come back
Drew: The production sounds like someone listening to what’s popular and imitating that, but it’s cool that this remix found its way to the forefront. I always thought the stuff he chose to write about was super real and cool.
Meghan: I heard this one on the radio today and sang it all day long. I have so much respect for him. I love [songs] about real stuff that not a lot of people talk about but everyone experiences. That’s why Mike is one of the best.
Lukas Graham, “7 Years”
Tegan: He’s in that same category as Hozier: He doesn’t belong where he is, yet he’s conquering that format [because] it feels real and genuine. I just met him last week, and I really liked him. He told lots of really funny stories and we talked about lots of really interesting things, including feminism.
Sara: Boys of a certain age love to write about their dads. It reminds me of hanging around with drunk teenagers in high school who would write about their dads. I was writing songs about girls.
Alex: It represents everything good about pop music. We performed at the [MTV] Woodies with him [in March], and the dude performed in sweatpants. The fact that this dude is just so himself unapologetic.
Meghan: Lukas is one of my favorites. This song just proves that when you’re really honest and speak the truth, people will relate to it.
Drake featuring Wizkid and Kyla, “One Dance”
Sara: Drake is my favorite pop star, and I like that he can let his inner happiness just shine. And Drake and Rihanna? I mean, we’re all secretly hoping they get married and have children, right?
Tegan: It’s probably the one I know least about, but I’m glad Sara likes it. Sara keeps me fresh.
Alex: I’m the biggest Drake fan on planet Earth, but this is the only song of Drake’s we still don’t get. Drew and I have listened to this song 1,000 times already, and we’re waiting for that moment where we’re out at a bar and it comes on and we’re like, “Oh, I get it now!” But we haven’t had that moment yet.
Drew: I don’t think it’s the best Drake I’ve ever heard, but I’m always happy to have more Drake in my iTunes.
Meghan: I recently learned every word to this song. We play it every morning to get ourselves pumped for the day. I especially like it because it has that little Caribbean taste to it.
DNCE, “Cake By the Ocean”
Tegan: Every time it comes on I’m like, “This is such a hit!” I feel like it took a really long time for this record to pick up speed. It felt like nobody was going to get it. It reminds me a little bit of how I feel when I listen to the big, upbeat pop hits that Maroon 5 does.
Sara: This song is an earworm. It’s like the Proclaimers’ “I Wanna Be (500 Miles).” If I hear it, I wake up in the middle of the night with cold sweats singing the song. I’m sort of amazed by the Jonas Brothers and how completely different their projects are. As a sibling with a musician family, I think that that’s really neat.
Drew: I hate that song. I feel it’s been forced down our throats. I remember it came out, and I didn’t know a single person who was into that song, and it just kept getting played and played. I like Nick Jonas more. Like, what the hell is this song about? Is it about being a rich kid? That whole lifestyle doesn’t resonate with me.
Meghan: I immediately went to go hear it when I saw that Nick Jonas posted about it for his brother Joe. I was low-key so obsessed with them [as a teenager]. I just thought this song was going to be the biggest song ever. I’m so proud of Joe for pulling this band together and taking risks.
The Strumbellas, “Spirits”
Tegan: I really like it, obviously, because they’re Canadian. There’s so much hip-hop and pop that’s popular from Canada, but I like it because it’s more indie sounding. It’s got the energy to be a hit for sure.
Alex: I love the video for it. There has to be songs like this on pop radio—you can’t have 30 ballads, you can’t have 20 super generic pop songs. You need these real, gritty kind of songs.
Meghan: I’ve heard that one! I like their name a lot. I definitely love that name.
Tegan and Sara, “Boyfriend”
Tegan: I went to the gym this morning and saw it pop up on a bunch of playlists. I was like, “Hey! That’s us!” I’m excited that we’re putting a record out right before summer. There’s a lot of lyrical and thematic depth, but then it’s also just a really fun song to dance to.
Sara: I think it could be a song of the summer, but it’s also one of the things where I’m not sure what to look for.
Alex: Anytime there’s a new Tegan and Sara record, we’re on board. “Walking With a Ghost” is one of my favorite songs ever. They were the illest indie artists when we were coming up as producers—to work with them would be God’s gift. They have such amazing abilities to harmonize with each other. They stayed true to their original sound: there’s more of a pop sensibility now, but it hasn’t lost their integrity, which is really hard to do. I was pumped to see them on this list.
Drew: I like Tegan and Sara a lot. They’re two Swedish chicks, right? Oh they’re Canadian? Screw what I know.
Meghan: Sounds like a jam to me!
Meghan Trainor, “No”
Tegan: I would automatically put her in the summer hit category just because I like her. I follow her on Instagram and see her with her dad. Obviously you don’t need to be a great songwriter to be worthy of pop success, but I love that she writes so much.
Sara: She’s got wicked talent. Her voice is undeniable. I haven’t heard the song enough to love it or hate it, but I’m totally rooting for her. It’s nice to see she’s doing so well.
Alex: It’s so pop that two dudes at our age have a hard time getting down this, but she’s one of our favorite artists in terms of how far she’s come and how real she’s kept it.
Drew: Every time I’ve met her she’s been really cool. Her whole image and vibe and attitude is really tight. This song, personally, is a little too poppy for me, but it’s the Meghan Trainor brand, which is an awesome thing.
Meghan: I was nervous because this was so different for me but I think people like the saucy Meghan Trainor! And there’s a lot more sauce to come with my album.
The Chainsmokers featuring Daya, “Don’t Let Me Down”
Tegan: It’s been on my workout playlist for two weeks now. I like that it’s kind of upbeat but also feels really dark. It’s actually not necessarily a great song for working out. I was listening to it and staring out the window. It made me feel very melancholy but also very much like I wanted to go out.
Alex: I thought that was a joke that we were on this list—that’s awesome. We’re super proud of this song. It feels like the most complete song we’ve ever created. And obviously Daya is a force to be reckoned with in her own right.
Drew: What the fans don’t see is there is a lot of research and numbers and figures that our record label keeps track of, and “Don’t Let Me Down” looks like it’s going to be around for a while. The production is everything I’ve been working to become as a producer.
Meghan: I was very impressed with the lyrics and the melody, and I love that it was very sing-songy. It sounds like songwriters wrote it.
Iggy Azalea, “Team”
Tegan: I hate the culture of “We love something and then we hate something.” I hate how social media has made that even more popular now. I felt like she was everywhere, and then I read a headline that was really critical of her, and that made me upset. I don’t know if she did something wrong, but I like the song. I love that she was wearing a baseball cap on the [single artwork]. I screenshotted it and sent it to a friend like, “Are we popular enough that we could wear baseball caps?” Thanks, Iggy Azalea, for giving me permission.
Alex: She had such a big year two years ago, I think people overloaded on Iggy. It’s what everyone wants from an Iggy Azalea track. It resonates on every level, from the production to the hook to the verses. It’s classic Iggy.
Drew: I think she’s pretty wack. I don’t really like her voice. I don’t know what her move is. She had this mixtape [Ignorant Art] and it was fire. It was super raw, and she had this sick voice. But then she went pop—and I get that you’ve got to do that—but I thought it was done in a kind of a lame way.
Meghan: At first I was a little hesitant, and then I played it again and was like, “Yoooo this is a banger.” I’m proud of her for singing. I didn’t know she sang! Artists like me, when you got “All About That Bass” or “Fancy,” it’s hard to come back and say, “I got one just as big.” That was very cool to see another side of her.
Elle King, “America’s Sweetheart”
Tegan: It feels like a crossover. It’s got that electronic feel to it, but then it’s also got this country thing to it. She seems like a total badass and the real deal. The lyrics are really strong, and I really like that.
Sara: I kept seeing her name everywhere, and it made me happy because sometimes the alternative charts are all men. I’ll be like, “Where are the girls at?” I wasn’t over the moon about [this song], but I liked it.
Alex: Her last single was so dope. It’s in the same vein, so I’m curious to see how it will be received. I don’t think it will be quite as big as “Ex’s & Oh’s,” but this is a welcome song to my world—it’s refreshing.
Meghan: Elle King is my favorite human being. She is the cutest, sweetest person ever. She is a true superstar, and I can’t wait to see her blow up and become huge because I know she will. She is wild, just like her music.
Sia, “Cheap Thrills”
Tegan: It makes me want to go out, but it also makes me feel like it’s being sung by a person who doesn’t really want to go out. It feels almost metaphorical for something darker. It’s a party song for people who don’t really party.
Sara: Everytime I hear anything by Sia I feel like I’m listening to an Olympian. My skill level is a paper route and she’s working for, like, the U.N. Her talent is ridiculous.
Alex: We’re huge Sia fans. She’s the perfect example of what the antithesis to DNCE is. This will be one of the biggest songs of the summer. We’ll keep throwing it into our sets, but it’s not quite there in the U.S. I’m really pumped for it to blow up here.
Meghan: She’s an idol of mine, and I hope to write songs like her one day. Sia’s really good about writing stuff that breaks you heart but you jam to it. That’s a very tricky thing to do. Usually when you have minor chords it’s very sad. But this one is a summer jam because it also has that Caribbean love to it.
Beyoncé, “Hold Up”
Sara: I love the production on this track so much. Something is incredibly familiar about this melody, in the best way. True Romance vibe meets drunk New Years Eve singalong.
Alex: This album caught everyone by surprise with its message. She’s a full-on artist. Making an album is about telling a story, a moment in time, and other than Kanye, I think this is the best example of album writing this year.
Drew: I don’t love the song. That record I don’t think was written for me—I can’t really identify with Beyoncé’s situation, and the root of where her music isn’t what I’ve ever been into—but I really respect it and appreciate it. I felt like she’s been getting a lot of sh-t because there are, like, 150 writers on the record, but I don’t have any problem with that. Albums like Lemonade and The Life of Pablo, that’s like a different type of art—a collage of greatness. Ezra Koenig [of Vampire Weekend, who co-wrote the song], he’s dope. I’d love to write with him.
Meghan: “Hold Up” is my favorite song on the album. I have such a love for reggae and soca, and this gives me a little Caribbean flava of that. I love her attitude and the way she sang it.