My best friend’s feet rest on the dashboard of my dad’s old car as we drive around in an attempt to escape the heat. My high school years were spent almost exactly like this—summer days stretched between coffee shop chess games, aimless visits to Target, and poorly planned trips to the city. Behind the fragments of our conversation and the hum of the air conditioner has always been the latest song to emerge from the shuffle of my summer playlist. 

The trope of the summer playlist is one that we subconsciously cling to, a soundtrack to play while we cross tasks off of our invisible bucket list. With warmer weather comes the romantic idea that there are a million ways to fill our summer days, and that this can’t possibly be done without the perfectly curated playlist to accompany it all like an indie movie montage. 

Whether this means hours of upbeat pop music or a compilation of your favorite alternative albums, the music on your summer playlist needs to convey this sense of possibility that the season provides. And as we depart from our high-school hometown, we may not need background music for endless hours spent with our friends but rather for the morning commute to our internships or to class. 

So, what deems a song worthy of a spot on a summer playlist? To put it in Marie Kondo’s terms, sometimes it can just be as simple as a piece of music that sparks joy. The arrival of summer typically means the re-emergence of our dear friend the sun, halting a seasonal depression I never experienced until moving somewhere that actually encountered seasons. It's a celebration of feeling the warmth on your skin, of long nights in the sticky–sweet city air with your friends, of seeing places in a new light. The summer playlist is meant to be a reward for exhausting yourself. Whether it be adorned with hundreds of tracks you’ve collected over the years or a handful that you’ve been saving since snowstorms, the summer playlist is inherently for you, by you. 

This year has been different for me. Instead of poring over a playlist to blast while driving around my hometown, I needed one to encapsulate my first summer on the opposite side of the country, abandoning fields for skylines. I dug through prior collections and new releases alike to craft mine, and unearthed a few songs that I have deemed all–stars from this compilation. Rather than expending the effort trying to explain how these songs ended up on my list, take a sentence and a hopeful click to listen to them. 

"So Good" – Omar Apollo


The only song appropriate for both dancing around in your apartment Saturday night before going out, and Sunday morning when finally addressing the dishes that have accumulated the week prior. 


Photo: Julia Davies Omar Apollo (Julia Davies)


"Kiss Me Again" – The Drums 


The Drums originated in New York City, and yet their music has typified many of my California summers—this year my location may change, but their presence on my playlist will not.  


Photo: Noa Jett The Drums at The Foundry


"Self Control" – Frank Ocean 


For warm nights that bleed into the morning, surrounded by the only ones that seem to matter to you in that handful of hours. 


Frank Ocean // Photo by Shane Hirschman via Flickr // CC BY 2.0


Above all else, the summer playlist is meant to be fun. The stress of finding the perfect song can be eliminated with a simple “next” button if the mood isn’t right. As you pave your way through your days of freedom, remember to keep changing it up, adding or subtracting, but most of all, using the music as a tool to bring yourself closer to the people you choose to share your summer with. 


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