Song of the Summer contenders reviewed by experts: Katy Perry 'misses the mark,' Bruno Mars 'can do no wrong'
Bebe Rexha, Khalid and Perfume Genius discuss this year's lineup of tracks
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What will be the “One Dance” of 2017? We put together a list of early Song of the Summer contenders and asked a panel of pros to size up the competition: Pop star Bebe Rexha, who just released the Lil Wayne collaboration “The Way I Are (Dance With Somebody),” the first taste of her upcoming All Your Fault: Pt. 2 EP; “Location” singer Khalid, who embarks on a tour in support of his debut album, American Teen, this July; and Perfume Genius, the experimental indie-pop musician who recently released his fourth LP, No Shape, and is on tour now. Check out their unfiltered opinions below on tracks by Drake, Katy Perry, DNCE, Selena Gomez and others.
“Mask Off” by Future
Bebe Rexha: All the girls wanted to play flute when I was trying out for high school marching band, and now you have all these rappers using it and making it sound gangster! I don’t die for lyrics with drugs in them, but if it’s honest and real, I support it.
Khalid: Literally last night I was with a couple of my friends and the song came on the radio. We were riding down the street bumping the song and singing all the words. And the #MaskOffChallenge that happened on Twitter? I’ve participated in [the memes]. It’s definitely the song of the summer.
Perfume Genius: I was really into the flute. You can’t understand anything Future says, so you have to pick something you recognize. Is he saying “Percocet”? This is one of my favorites on this list.
“Kissing Strangers” by DNCE feat. Nicki Minaj
Bebe Rexha: I love Nicki Minaj, I think her verse is amazing on it, but I just don’t get this song. This song doesn’t speak to me on a lyrical or melodic level. It has that old Maroon 5 vibe, for the younger generations that weren’t around for Songs About Jane, which was incredible. It’s really cool for Joe Jonas to be a part of that, and I love Nicki, but it’s like a C version of “Cake by the Ocean.”
Khalid: Very bright, very fun. They make such wonderful toe-tappers. If you’re in school, you can’t help but tap your desk or bob your head. I’ve always been a Nicki Minaj fan, and she really adds the sprinkle of fairy dust and makes it magical. She lifts almost everything she hops on.
Perfume Genius: Whoever wrote it has talent. I can feel the writing, not the performance, which is the ultimate shady thing you can say about it. But I do like the idea of kissing a bunch of people and trying to “find someone I trust.” I feel like I did that! Maybe I’ll do an ultra-pretentious serious cover.
“Bon Appétit” by Katy Perry feat. Migos
Bebe Rexha: I’m a really big Katy fan, and I love everything she does, but “Bon Appétit” misses the mark for me. I don’t love the meaning, and I’m not crazy about the song. I like “Chained to the Rhythm” better because of the message and the music video.
Khalid: I’ve never heard her do a song like this, and she did a good job of trying something new. This song is fun, and Migos are very awesome as well. They really move as a team. Their presence in the music game right now is needed.
Perfume Genius: I like the part when [Migos’ Quavo] talks about how there’s no tooth fairy and then says, “Whipped cream, no dairy!” What speaks to me about it? I don’t know! I like how they just picked a theme and ran with it. “Let’s do food: Plates! Breakfast!” It’s almost creepy. And the cover art is sort of off-putting. It’s rad that she’s in control — usually, it’s a dude who presents women in that way. But she’s doing it herself, which is tight. I don’t dislike her — her songs are always well written.
“I’m the One” by DJ Khaled feat. Justin Bieber, Quavo, Chance the Rapper & Lil Wayne
Bebe Rexha: This is the new “Lady Marmalade,” but the guy version. It’s probably going to be the song of the summer. Sometimes artists will put a million people on one song and it falls flat, but this song is a monster. You can be a guy or a girl and sing along to it; it’s a universal record. I’m obsessed.
Khalid: I love this song. Chance the Rapper has so much fun with his lyrics. Justin Bieber’s hook is amazing. Lil Wayne always brings his best. And Quavo? He’s a beast as well. With all these heavy hitters, it was meant to be a No. 1. It feels like summer, and when you think of summer, you have to smile.
Perfume Genius: I don’t care for it, but I like the very first line [when Khaled shouts out to his record label]: “We the Best Music!” I wish it were just that over and over for four minutes. I think I’d enjoy it more than the rest of the song.
“Passionfruit” by Drake
Bebe Rexha: As much as I want to get tired of Drake, I can’t. Everything he puts out is fire. I can’t wait to hear what he comes up with next. There are very few artists that excite you like that, and he’s one of those artists for me. The guys are taking over right now. I’m like, “Girls, come on, we gotta step it up!”
Khalid: It reminds me of being in a big tube in an aquarium and there’s water around me. The way he flows on it is very smooth and fluid, and Drake’s melodies are always awesome. I love his tropical Caribbean and Afrobeat vibes. Drake pulls that off very well. He has brought light to the mainstream about how that music exists and is very good. He does a good job of incorporating it into his music.
Perfume Genius: [Drake has] a lot of albums and songs; it’s kind of relentless. They all kind of blend together. But I can never really be mad at Drake. He just seems like he would smell really good. I would appreciate a hug from him. It’s just a feeling I have. I don’t fight Drake.
“Body Like a Back Road” by Sam Hunt
Bebe Rexha: I’m not a country girl at all, but I’ve played this song a couple of times, and I can actually sing the hook back to you — it’s pretty catchy! And I think Sam Hunt is really hot. [Laughs] I got the chance to meet him at Stagecoach [Festival]. We got on stage with G-Eazy and Snoop Dogg. He was cool.
Khalid: This song reminds me of when I lived in northern New York. It was all lifted trucks, [off-roading], fishing, all that stuff. This song really brought me a sense of nostalgia for my high school experience. Once you find a [connection] to the music, it makes it more enjoyable. I wouldn’t say that country is my go-to, but if my friends are playing the song in the car, I’m definitely not telling them to change it. I enjoy it.
Perfume Genius: I really did not care for this. I like country, but I don’t know how much I like popular country. It’s like he thought of this [concept] and wrote a list: Speed limits! Maps! That’s basic. It’s cheap. I also don’t like when men sing about women and try to come across as sensitive when it’s just the same sh– in a different way.
“Slide” by Calvin Harris feat. Frank Ocean & Migos
Bebe Rexha: This song feels like cruising down the coastline. If you had a convertible, you’d take the top down, grab an iced coffee, and blast the song with someone you really like.
Khalid: It’s a smash. What Calvin’s doing right now is amazing: all these groovy, melodic tracks. Even though it’s so funk-driven, you can hear the artist’s vibe. When we got together for [Harris’ “Rollin,” also featuring Future] he was like, “I’m not here to tell you what to do, do what you love, do what you feel you do best.” He’s super nice.
Perfume Genius: This was a little too beachy. If people were having sex on the beach or something nasty was happening [in the song], I’d like it more. Just the beach? As a person, I don’t like to go there. The song is a little too nice and sweet.
“iSpy” by Kyle feat. Lil Yachty
Bebe Rexha: I had Kyle come out at my show in L.A. His vibe is so fresh. I love this record; it’s so easy, I can’t help singing it. What makes a great summer song is something that’s not so heavy and is on the happier side—major chords, simple and chill.
Khalid: I love the pro-positivity movement [Kyle and Lil Yachty] have going on: Look at what’s around you! Don’t focus on the negative vibes! That’s something I really gravitate toward. They’re also friends of mine, so that helps me enjoy it.
Perfume Genius: I like that it started out with a skit about gratitude! It’s feel-good. If you listen to it enough, the lyrics are kind of f—ing weird. It’s goofy and surreal. Also, he didn’t rhyme anything with “Oprah,” which I think is classy. You shouldn’t try to rhyme with “Oprah.”
“It Ain’t Me” by Kygo & Selena Gomez
Bebe Rexha: The production is not crazy-innovative or different like some of the others, but I think what makes the song really special is Selena. It’s not something you’d expect her to do, and she killed it. Her vocals are beautiful.
Khalid: I’m a big fan of tropical house, and Kygo dominates that. Selena has a very beautiful voice as well. I like the [chopped-up vocals] because that’s something I wish I could do with my voice. I’ve tried to do it before and it never comes out cool for me. Maybe one day!
Perfume Genius: I like that it went to a ’90s world-music place — Enigma, Deep Forest. That’s what all those bands were, that weird affected vocal that’s cut up and sounds almost like chanting. It has that fantasy element.
“Humble” by Kendrick Lamar
Bebe Rexha: Wow, incredible lyrics. Kendrick’s always been dope, but now with this album, he’s really pushed through and is becoming a real household name. My mom knows who he is! I always say that when your parents start to know the names of artists, they’re getting really big.
Khalid: Kendrick kills everything he does. Kendrick will never let me down as an artist. He’s untouchable with lyrics — I love the “I’m so tired of the Photoshop” part. And I love how he really finds a way to separate himself and create his own lane.
Perfume Genius: I’m a fan of this, big-time. There is so much power and charisma and it’s not mimicking either of those things. It’s very real, and it could only come from him.
“Issues” by Julia Michaels
Bebe Rexha: An incredible record. One thing I love about this song is that it’s very conversational. It’s not trying to be gimmicky, it’s just very honest and real. It came out around the same time as Noah Cyrus’ “Make Me (Cry).” They’re these really simplistic-sounding records that are very unique and very refreshing. It feels a really good space in the pop world right now.
Khalid: What I love about this song is the message is so real: “I got issues, you got them too!” We all have our personality traits that make us. It’s about finding the person who can put up with your bulls–t.
Perfume Genius: I hear it everywhere: in the car, at Target. It’s omnipresent. I like that it’s just strings and vocals. That’s audacious. People crave that kind of thing, like Adele having a No. 1 single with just her and the piano. All the songs [Michaels] wrote I really like. “Hands to Myself” [by Selena Gomez]? I wish we were talking about that one!
“That’s What I Like” by Bruno Mars
Bebe Rexha: Bruno can do no wrong. Is it my favorite Bruno Mars song? No. But is it amazing? Yes! Creatively, aesthetically, musically, dance-wise — he’s so dope. Some songs on this album are so unbelievable that this one was kind of a sleeper. It wasn’t your favorite song, but it’s the one that grows on you because it’s still an amazing song.
Khalid: Bruno is awesome. He does a good job of taking things from the past and making them current, not just with his lyrics but with his melody choice. I love a good hook, and he is just really killing it in the hook. You have to dance to it when you hear it.
Perfume Genius: He’s so cute and sweet! This song is like he took the ingredients of all these ‘90s R&B songs, smooshed them together and moonwalked around. That’s a good combo. And I like that he says the word “jammies.” Coziness to me is the most luxurious thing.