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From Drake to Katy Perry, which of these stars released the top summer song of the 21st century?

From Drake to Justin Bieber to Ed Sheeran: the 21st century’s best (and worst) Billboard songs of the summer

  • Every summer seems to have its own theme tune, the one that gets stuck in everyone’s head
  • Rihanna, Katy Perry and Robin Thicke are all on Billboard’s Top 20 list, but who’s at the top?

It happens every summer: one song, among an infinite number of contenders, rises up to define the season, and is heard over and over and over at pool parties and barbecues on the beach.

But what turns a simple pop jam into “song of the summer”? History tells us the tune can zip (think Call Me Maybe) or swagger (We Belong Together). It can be comedic (California Gurls) or sentimental (In My Feelings).

Beyond those specifics, though, what it must be is inescapable. With the competition now open for 2019’s champion, allow us to present the definitive summer songs of the 21st century so far.

We used Billboard’s statistics to determine each song of the summer since 2000 – and threw in Ed Sheeran and Justin Bieber’s new duet as a top candidate for 2019. We then pitted all 20 against each other to find out which summer songs of the millennium were true classics and which mere seasonal flings. The results below are listed in order of preference – from our favourite summer song of the 21st century to our least favourite (sorry, Matchbox Twenty).

1. Beyoncé featuring Jay-Z, Crazy in Love (2003)

The lead cut from Beyoncé’s debut solo album still ranks among her most delirious soul-funk jams, thanks to those percolating drums, a ripping brass sample – and, of course, Beyoncé herself, whose live wire vocal makes it easy to believe her when she insists, “You got me sprung and I don’t care who sees.” Jay-Z probably never felt luckier.

2. Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee featuring Justin Bieber, Despacito (Remix) (2017)

Already a hit in the Spanish-speaking world before Bieber jumped on it, Despacito finally broke through elsewhere with the addition of the teen dream’s creamy vocals. Two summers later, though, it’s the song’s light reggaeton groove that’s still echoing throughout American pop.

3. Katy Perry featuring Snoop Dogg, California Gurls (2010)

A West Coast response to Jay Z and Alicia Keys’ Empire State of Mind, California Gurls leans no less heavily on guidebook clichés, in this case regarding sand, palm trees and “skin so hot we’ll melt your popsicle”. (Actually, that last one’s pretty good.) But credit Perry for having the wisdom to arrange a cameo by Snoop, who shows up and rhymes “bikinis” with “zucchinis.”

4. Robin Thicke featuring T.I. and Pharrell, Blurred Lines (2013)

“What rhymes with ‘hug me’?” Thicke famously asks in this shameless funk come-on, and the answer he got was a whole lot less pleasurable than he’d anticipated: first claims that Blurred Lines was “kind of rapey”, as one critic put it, then a lawsuit from Marvin Gaye’s family, which convinced a jury that Thicke had ripped off Gaye’s Got to Give It Up.

5. Mariah Carey, We Belong Together (2005)

Carey’s big comeback single following the dicey Glitter/ Charmbracelet years, We Belong Together dialled down her signature excess for a soulful lover’s plea that sounded designed to pour forth from the windows of somebody’s Honda Civic. Bonus points for the cute lift from – and the classy shout-out to – the great Bobby Womack.

6. Drake featuring Wizkid and Kyla, One Dance (2016)

Breezy dancehall globalism from a Canadian superstar who understands the internet’s borderlessness as well as anyone.

7. Drake, In My Feelings (2018)

One of Drake’s three No 1 hits last year, along with God’s Plan and Nice for What, In My Feelings got there with help from a viral dance challenge that had Will Smith filming himself atop a bridge in Budapest. But the song with roots in New Orleans bounce music is also one of Drake’s loveliest (which doesn’t mean it’s not needy as hell).

8. Usher, Confessions Part II (2004)

R&B as soap opera, in which Usher’s “chick on the side” – with whom he’s already admitted to strolling “hand in hand in the Beverly Centre” – calls him bearing most unwelcome news: She’s “three months pregnant and she’s keeping it”.

9. Carly Rae Jepsen, Call Me Maybe (2012)

Jepsen came out of nowhere (Canada) to burrow deep into our heads with this insistent pop number, which pulls off a neat emotional trick: while the music is charging full steam ahead, the singer is worrying that she might be coming on too strong with a guy she just met. “Call me,” she tells him – “maybe”.

10. Katy Perry, I Kissed a Girl (2008)

Given that she jokes around these days with Lionel Richie on American Idol, it’s weird to remember that Perry spent the summer of 2008 entertaining mall punks on the Warped Tour. Listen again to her breakout hit, though, and you can easily imagine the emo road not taken.

11. Ed Sheeran and Justin Bieber, I Don’t Care (2019)

A party song about hating parties, Jed Shieber’s vaguely tropical bro-down exploits current pop’s misanthropic streak while resting easy in the knowledge that millions of radio listeners don’t pay attention to the words.

12. Nelly, Hot in Herre (2002)

Our narrator gets straight to the point – “I was like, ‘Good gracious’ / Ass is bodacious” – then cruises the club via the scenic route as the Neptunes’ go-go-inspired beat sets Vokal tank tops flying.

13. Black Eyed Peas, I Gotta Feeling (2009)

An actual couplet from this gloriously stupid party song: “Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday / Friday, Saturday, Saturday to Sunday.” After years of earnest coffeehouse rapping, and his buds were ready to fill their cups with something fizzier, and for the 14 weeks this tune spent at No 1, America drank right alongside them.

14. Rihanna featuring Jay-Z, Umbrella (2007)

Almost certainly the rainiest summer song of all time, Umbrella nonetheless found Rihanna at her sunniest as she rhymed “always be your friend” with “stick it out till the end”.

15. Usher, U Remind Me (2001)

As polished as Usher’s post-MJ dance moves, U Remind Me used its smooth surfaces to soften a brutal message: I’m dumping you because you look too much like my ex.

16. LMFAO featuring Lauren Bennett and GoonRock, Party Rock Anthem (2011)

The only 2000s summer hit dumber than I Gotta Feeling – and surely the only hit ever by an uncle-and-nephew duo – LMFAO’s stadium rave throwdown wasn’t created just so Alvin and the Chipmunks could cover it a few months later in Chipwrecked. But one suspects that’s not what made it happen.

17. Omi, Cheerleader (Felix Jaehn Remix) (2015)

When it displaced Wiz Khalifa’s See You Again from the top of the Billboard Hot 100, Omi’s airy electro-reggae ditty became the first song by a Jamaican artist to hit No 1 in nearly a decade. But what made Cheerleader’s ascent even more remarkable was its proudly uncool lyric about the value of monogamy. “Mama loves you too,” Omi tells his lady. “She thinks I made the right selection.”

18. Nelly Furtado featuring Timbaland, Promiscuous (2006)

She emerged as a wide-eyed world-music evangelist, and these days she pals around with hipsters like Dev Hynes of Blood Orange. But in-between, Furtado recruited Timbaland for this flirty robo funk duet in which every line comes with a wink: “Roses are red, some diamonds are blue,” Furtado sings, “Chivalry is dead, but you’re still kind of cute.”

19. Iggy Azalea featuring Charli XCX, Fancy (2014)

Who dat? Who dat? It was I-G-G-Y, of course, the white rapper we loved for a summer before deciding to hate her instead. Five years after Fancy set her on a path to villainhood, Azalea’s egregious blaccent can only make you cringe. Beat still slaps, though.

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20. Matchbox Twenty, Bent (2000)

A relic from that now-distant era when a rock song could top the Hot 100, the very moody Bent suggests that singer Rob Thomas was determined not to be seen as soft following the previous year’s Smooth with Santana. But who wants a tough guy at the pool party?