By J MATTHEW COBB
As this very hot summer crawls to its eventual close, we must take a minute and celebrate all the songs that left us slaying the dancefloor and bobbing our rainbow heads. Sure, Drake’s “In My Feelings” (and the #KikiChallenge that ensued) blessed our ears with its overt trap grooves and New Orleans bounce beats and gave mainstream a considerable slice of queer culture, but there was so much bubbling under the radar that left us all gagging. Here’s a sizzling list of the fifteen summer anthems you need to plug in before the summer is over.
“Dance to This”
Troye Sivan feat. Ariana Grande
Gorgeously produced by Oscar Holter (Taylor Swift, Carly Rae Jepsen, Tove Lo), this brilliant mesh of R&B and pop unites breakthrough queer sensation Troye Sivan with pop idol Ariana Grande. Although it possesses a warm-up dancefloor vibe, it’s so sonically mesmerizing that it feels like a blend of sultry Drake with the new wave chill of The War on Drugs. It helps to know that it lyrically steams up the room (“Oh yeah, under the kitchen lights/You still look like dynamite and I wanna end up on you”). And the pair sound brilliantly together, making all our little gay dreams come true.
This track from queer-loving Lizzo drops James Brown funk in the middle of Studio 54. It’s ripe with a catchy chorus and one sickening shoutout (“From the playboys to the gay boys/Go and slay, boys, you my fave boys”). Only problem is that it’s not long enough, only clocking at a brief two minutes and 53 seconds. It definitely deserves a Tom Moulton disco mix.
“No Tears Left to Cry”
In case you didn’t get the memo, Ariana is the Mariah to today’s generation of gays. With the uncertainty of our future being hijacked by nasty politics and the threat of danger constantly looming over us, the “Focus” singer fights through the stress (“Comin’ out, even when it’s rainin’ down”) and gives us hope on this triumphant jam blessed with dancefloor magic.
MNEK feat. Hailee Steinfeld
Inside this showcase of breezy dancehall and jubilant pop, UK singer-songwriter MNEK blesses us with a pride anthem for the ages. “Before you came into my life, everything was black and white/And now all I see is color like a rainbow in the sky,” he sings across the tropical grooves. Then, Hailee Steinfeld steps in and blesses the arrangement with her sunny, youthful pipes.
“If Our Love Is Wrong”
Conjuring the vocal heartache of fellow Brit superstar Sam Smith, Calum Scott plunges into the deeply personal “If Our Love Is Wrong,” a song he calls his “coming out song.” And it’s a beautifully-assembled emotional ballad blessed with dreamy adult contemporary vibes and a touching love story that is challenged by a world of homophobia (“Why do I care what people say?/Cause I’m nobody but yours”). It’s a story we all can relate to.
Todrick Hall feat. RuPaul
In the concept video for “Dem Beats,” YouTube super-sensation Todrick Hall puts on his unicorn gear and gives the gay clubs one of the loudest and proudest sickening strobelight anthems of this era. The sass is fierce (“Don’t kill my vibe/Don’t touch my weave”), so is the nostalgia to ballroom culture (“They don’t make dem’ beats like they used to”). With RuPaul guesting, this performance stands tall as a fiery homage to the queer underground and butch queen vogue showdowns, recently popularized on FX’s latest groundbreaking television series Pose.
South African-born Australian breakout twink Troye Sivan had us all swooning to “Bloom,” a song that’s been described by Dazed magazine as a “gay anthem for bottoms.” Inside the lyrics, the “Youth” singer subliminally screams for his mate while using bedroom come-hither foreplay (“Baby, I’ve been saving this for you…Baby, play me like a song/Every time it comes on”). There’s also a Katy Perry “Teenage Dream” similarity there, all the ingredients we need to identify this as one of the finest euphoric pop songs of the year.
“What I Need”
Hayley Kikyoko feat. Kehlani
Openly gay singer-songwriter and actress Hayley Kikyoko teams up with queer pop sensation Kehlani (also heard on Charlie Puth’s “Done for Me”) on this bubbly gem highlighted with a Carly Rae Jepsen-esque glow. It’s unapologetically gay, and the artful music video enforces the narrative with the two running away from their trite rural dwellings and embarking on an adventurous journey together capping off with a make out session on the side of a two-lane county road.
“Nice for What”
Similar to “In My Feelings,” the vibes of New Orleans bounce thrives on this Lauryn Hill-sampled feel good breezy jam by Drake. It goes a step further by celebrating female empowerment in the most way, highlighted brilliantly on the companion music video featuring a glorious cast of powerful women in the arts. But there’s another sweet addition to the mix: gay rapper Big Freedia is heard at the very beginning of the trap track and right before the killer breakdown. When the Queen of Bounce shouts out “uh huh oh yeah, these hoes they hate,” one has to recall Freedia’s contribution on Beyoncé’s “Formation.” Deja vu, maybe, but this time it’s on the biggest male star in hip-hop and it’s definitely on a mission to take club bounce worldwide.
“R U Mad”
Michael Blume feat. Shea Couleé and Peppermint
On the John “J.C” Carr & Bill Coleman remix of Michael Blume’s “R U Mad,” electro traces of Meghan Trainor’s “Me Too” and bubbly disco show up. So does RuPaul’s Drag Race royalty (Peppermint, Shea Couleé). Each bring their best Right Said Fred talk-sing vocals to the table, but Couleé’s turn on the chorus tugs the ear the hardest: “Are you mad that I’m paid?/Are you mad that I slay?/Are you mad that I’m Shea?” Leave it to Peppermint to nail the outro: “Are you mad that he’s gay?/Ima call my cousin Trey/Oh, now you wanna play?/You’re such a cliché, sashay away.”
Years & Years
Some of us can be a little uneasy when innuendo with religion comes into question, but ever since Madonna paved the way with “Like a Prayer,” we’re good. UK synthpop trio Years & Years does a fine job with the religious cosplay on this jam loaded with Timbaland-esque swag and Britney Spears pop atop Bollywood riffs. But underneath all the altar boy talk is a fierce narrative about straight guys experimenting with the sexual spectrum and Alexander’s overjoyed love for the D.
On the very onset of the verses, Monáe meticulously worships the vagina without getting too explicit (“Pink like the inside of your, baby…Pink like the lips around your, maybe”), but her celebration goes beyond its crash course on female anatomy. As the song journeys onward, the lyrics detail a buoyant festival of self-love, sex-positivism and pussy power, while explaining how pink makes the world go round. And she does all of this using a splash of rousing coffeehouse poetry.
Nicki Minaj feat. Ariana Grande
Yes, a “Bang Bang” mini-reunion. These straight divas with two incredible gay fan bases – one hip-hop, the other pop – reassemble for this seductive Quiet Storm teaser. And with Grande cooing the charming chorus and Minaj holding down the rhymes (He go insane on it, I put my fame on it/Coulda' put Zayn on it, but I put your name on it), the pair pull off something resembling a sleek bisexual love affair.
“Make Me Feel”
Using Prince beats circa 1986 (I’m detecting “Kiss”), Janelle Monáe – who recently came out as pansexual – throws down a sexy jam that’s totally possessive of feel-good kink. It’s the perfect tribute to the sexually fluid ‘80’s persona of the Purple One.
“If You’re Over Me”
Years & Years
Sunny synthpop and rhythmic hand claps prevail on this summer-ready gem by Years & Years. It stings a little that the lyrics inside detail a tumultuous breakup, but it almost feels like a burden’s been lifted off Olly Alexander as he croons “you played games and it ended/I’ve got to look out for me.”
“Swimming pool of passion” is the first words MNEK echoes on this explosively experimental electro-R&B cut. That in itself sounds like the perfect summer declaration. But the London-based singer-songwriter singer ends the charades of a simple Man Crush Monday and takes a chance with a next-level confession: “There it is on the tip of my tongue/I think I love you, I think you’re the one.” If you’re looking for more vivacious queer bait, check out the concept video.