CLEVELAND, Ohio — Summer is not a season. It’s a state of mind.
Those 100 or so days between Memorial Day and Labor Day shake you up. Summer, they say, is like a merry-go-round. One night, you’re drunk in the back of the car, crying like a baby coming home from the bar. Before you know it, you’re at a barbecue on the 4th when the smell of the grill sparks nostalgia. But the feeling comes and goes without warning, and you remember every moment of those endless summer nights.
The season is so special that it has its own soundtrack. The songs come on the radio and instantly take you back to a specific summer and the unforgettable vacation, fleeting romance or questionable decision that came with it. Think “Magic” by The Cars in 1984 or “Summertime” by DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince in 1991.
But what songs, in a few years, will take you back to the summer of Barbieheimer, the Eras Tour and the Grimace shake? Here’s our countdown to the Top 15 Songs of Summer 2023.
15. “Last Night,” Morgan Wallen
One of the most played songs on the radio this summer, it might be better on this list if Wallen wasn’t such a polarizing figure.
14. “Bass Planet (feat. DJ Crazy Times and Ms. Biljana Electronica)”, Kyle Gordon
Remember that one week we were all obsessed with this TikTok parody of every 90s Eurodance song?
13. “Repeat,” SZA
Take your pick: “Shirt,” “Nobody Gets Me,” “Kill Bill,” “Snooze.” SZA has been crushing it all year. But on the sultry “Snooze,” she could be talking as much about summer as she is about a person: “I can’t just take a nap and miss the moment.” You are simply too important.
12. “Fast Car,” Luke Combs
It’s a tribute to the greatness of Cleveland native Tracy Chapman’s 1988 original that country star Combs didn’t change a thing — not even the line about being a cashier. His cover is so sincere and passionate that we can’t help but succumb to his charms.
11. “Mourning,” Post Malone
Always count on Posty to create the summer mood. This year, he embraced his emo side and gave us a choice with “Chemical,” “Enough Is Enough” and “Dial Drunk” (featuring Noah Kahan). But “Mourning” captured the best of summer with lyrics like: “They drag me to a party in Malibu / After thirty High Noons, it was pretty cool / Tried to take my picture, she m Said she had a photoshoot, goodbye.”
10. “Barbie World,” Nicki Minaj and Ice Spice with Aqua
“Barbie” wasn’t just the feel-good movie of the summer. It became a movement with this song, featuring two hip hop powerhouse Barbies putting a modern twist on Aqua’s classic, anthem-like hook.
9. “Seven”, Jung Kook with Latto
BTS is on hiatus, but Jung Kook continues to produce hits. Crowned “Song of the Summer” by Billboard and MTV, “Seven” is the witty, riskier follow-up to Rebecca Black’s “Friday.”
8. “Cupid” (twin version), fifty fifty
This talented quartet fused K-pop with the irresistible, unmistakable sound of an ’80s girl group in this fun bop with lyrics that shouldn’t, but I can confirm, live for free in my head. Cupid East so stupid!
7. “Calm down,” Rema and Selena Gomez
This collaboration between the rising Afrobeats star and the most followed woman on Instagram is everything: a viral dance challenge, a global protest anthem, and a seductive earworm of a song you couldn’t escape all year.
6. “Karma” (Remix), Taylor Swift with Ice Spice
Tay Tay’s brief romance with the problematic Matty Healy disappointed fans, but the net result was this catchy revenge song featuring a super cold but captivating performance from Ice Spice. Facts!
5. “All My Life,” Lil Durk featuring J. Cole
Summer can be an emotional time, and an inspiring song can help you get through it. Lil Durk, with the help of J. Cole and a children’s choir, delivered a deeply personal track about overcoming adversity and bettering yourself.
4. “Dancing the Night,” Dua Lipa
Summer can feel a lot like Barbie Land: a non-stop dance party with its own custom song, occasionally interrupted by an existential crisis or two.
3. “Damn, naughty,” Gunna
Every summer needs a good song. See: Olivia Rodrigo’s ‘Good 4 U’ in 2021 This year’s honors go to Gunna, who raps about his enemies and, uh, hobbies with a smooth flow and killer beat. The “eyuh” still haunts me.
2. “Vampire”, Olivia Rodrigo
The queen of summer 2021 returned more angsty than ever with a more mature and bolder sound on bangers like “Bad Idea Right? and “Get it back!” from his second album, “Guts”. But “Vampire” gave us all the feels. So provocative, so dramatic, so extra, “Driver’s License” feels like “Baby Shark.”
And the song of summer 2023 is…
1. “Cruel Summer,” Taylor Swift
This was Taylor Swift’s summer. The pop superstar has taken it to another stratosphere with a sold-out stadium tour, a recently re-recorded album (with vault cuts!) and even some boy drama. His every move and look became a national obsession. She subverted all expectations, including releasing a four-year-old song for her big summer single. The result was an instant karaoke classic with a “sing it out loud” bridge that resides permanently in our heads:
I’m drunk in the back of the car
And I cried like a baby coming home from the bar
“I’m fine”, but that wasn’t true
I don’t want to keep secrets just to keep you!
And I slipped through the garden gate
Every night this summer just to seal my fate
And I screamed for what it’s worth
“I love you,” isn’t that the worst thing you’ve ever heard?
Previous Cleveland.com Song of the Summer winners
2016: “I can’t stop the feeling!” “, Justin Timberlake
2017: “Despacito” by Luis Fonsi with Daddy Yankee and Justin Bieber
2018: “In My Feelings”, Drake
2019: “The truth hurts”, Lizzo
2020: “Watermelon Sugar”, Harry Styles
2021: “Good 4 U”, Olivia Rodrigo
2022: “About fucking time,” Lizzo