The 13 Best Songs of Summer 2013

Summer is practically over. So we're counting down the best songs from French Montana, Big Sean, and yes, even Miley Cyrus.

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Complex Original

Image via Complex Original

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Summer songs are made for the radio. More than any other season's. Blasting out of a box on a stoop full of empties, or booming from the windows of a car cruising the strip, every year's summetime anthems become a part of the collective unconscious, inextricably linked to our memories of hot fun.

These past three months were no different. From the retro disco-funk singles to the crossover EDM smash, the emotional street rap to the bubble-gum pop to the... well, whatever the hell it is Miley Cyrus is doing, all sorts of music made the soundtrack to our barbecues, our beach days, our ballgames. A welcome diversity, some mix-and-match freshness to soothe us as the thermometer spiked and the sweat started to trickle. A wide range of songs will mark this summer in time.

With the season winding down, this weekend being Labor Day's, it's a good opportunity to look back. (And to make a list!) So fire up the grill one last time, get some sun and try to find some water to splash around in. Soon you'll be missing all the complaining about the heat you've been doing. When that happens, here are the tunes that will remind you of how good you had it. Please check out The 13 Best Songs of Summer 2013.

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13. Big Sean f/ Lil Wayne, Jhene Aiko "Beware"

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Producer: Key Wane, Mike Dean
Album: Hall of Fame

Big Sean needed "Beware." We'd been anxiously awaiting his second album, Hall of Fame, which was pretty do-or-die for Sean. Sean wants to be taken more seriously as an artist, drop the ad-libs, and do that record that will kill it on the radio. And that's what "Beware" is. The bubbly synth production by Key Wane and Mike Dean just makes you feel goooood (no pun intended) when you hear it. And then the effortlessly talented Jhené Aiko hops on the hook for "You should beware, beware, beware/Of a woman with a broken heart." Maybe Sean has caught on to Drake's knack for making songs that work wonders as Tweets and Facebook statuses but come on, how relevant is that to so many of his fans? Very relevant, which is why when Sean spits the singsongy verses paired with that airy, catchy chorus, it's an instant hit.

Then you hear it: Is that the sound of a lighter? Oh right, it's Wayne. "Don't believe them hoes because they don't wanna see us together." Wayne's verse is... very much a Wayne verse: pussy talk that veers into philosophical quandry ("She said it's gonna be me, myself and I/Damn, that would make me the one I fuck...") and using some really outrageous similes, like riding a dick like a moped. But it all works, and it was a great start for Sean's sophomore effort. —Lauren Nostro

12. Jay Z f/ Rick Ross "FuckWithMeYouKnowIGotIt"

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Producer: Boi-1da, Vinylz, Timbaland, J-Roc
Album: Magna Carta...Holy Grail

When Magna Carta Holy Grail dropped on July 4th, people immediately started searching through the tracklist for the song that would become the jam of the rest of the summer. Was it "Holy Grail?" Ehh, it's a good song but a little to heavy sounding for what we want to be bumping nonstop in July and August. "Somewhereinamerica?" Everyone loves the Miley shout out, but it lacks a hook that'll get stuck all over everyone's everything. Pretty quickly, it became clear what was going to become the summer hit off Jay's album.

"Fuckwithmeyouknowigotit" has given us everything we could want from a summer anthem. It's got a simple chorus everyone can sing, delivered by a boisterous Rick Ross in a summer that has been startlingly devoid of him, and it has added a new boast to the hip-hop lexicon. There are two key pieces of visual evidence that prove this song's merits as a summer jam. The first is the video of Rick Ross coming out at the end of Jay's summer long tour to perform the song and the crowd going absolutely nuts. The second video? This fucking guy. When chubby dads in golf polos and visors are singing your song, you know it's a winner. —Max Goldberg

11. Lil Durk "Dis Ain't What U Want"

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Producer: Paris Bueller
Album: N/A

"Daddy doing life," says Lil Durk on the second verse of "Dis Ain't What U Want." "Snitches doing months." With lines like those, the Chicago rapper offers a glimpse into his surprising talent. 2012 might have been a banner year for Chicago hip-hop, but it was marred by the backlash against Durk's GBE partner Chief Keef and everything he stood for. This year, while Keef cools off some, "Dis Ain't What U Want" offers everything you could ask for from a drill song. Paris Bueller's beat has as much bombastic slap as anything Young Chop has come up with it, and Durk's rhyming provides harrowing insight into the mind of a young man who "terrifies his city."

Hear him claim, "I'm really in the field cause this is what I want," and you're reminded of Wallace from the The Wire pointing at the West Side Projects saying, "This shit, this is me yo, right here." Durk's had some legal setbacks in recent months, but here's to hoping that unlike Wallace, he gets to make it out. —Insanul Ahmed

10. French Montana "Ain't Worried About Nothin'"

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Producer: E, Earl & Rico Love
Album: Excuse My French

After scoring his biggest hit last summer with "Pop That," French Montana continued his rise this year with "Ain't Worried About Nothin'." "Pop That" was a bombastic, can't-miss cut featuring a mainstream murderer's row of Rick Ross, Drake, and Lil Wayne. But his latest finds the Bronx rapper going solo over Rico Love and Earl & E's dense, head-ringing production.

The theme of the record is simple enough, as French laces the track with sparse lyrical quips and a nonchalant chant that wouldn't take more than a listen or two to memorize. But that's the genius of this record. French can rap, "Bad bitches with me/Molly and Aquafina," and the listener comes away from the song with a new motto for the weekend. From there, the hook acts as the hood's new national anthem, and that's where this record gets the most mileage.

The song is already expected to get a taste of twerk queen Miley Cyrus on the remix, and when that happens, no one truly knows how it will can go. Not even two years removed from releasing his breakthrough single "Shot Caller," French can comfortably maneuver through the rap game because of his ability to connect with pure, populist rap music like this. —Edwin Ortiz

9. Rich Homie Quan "Type of Way"

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Producer: Yung Carter
Album: Still Goin In: Reloaded

Rich Homie Quan's "Type of Way" is glorious. It is epic. It is illustrious. It is whatever other adjective you choose to use in struggling to describe just how fucking awesome it is. The song is the first hit for the young ATLien, but it is doubtfully the last. For those who are writing him off as a one hit wonder, remember when people thought Future was just that "Tony Montana" guy? Exactly.

Quan, like the afformentioned Future, is part of the much talked about upcoming class of Atlanta rappers who are bringing a new sound to hip-hop. Melodies, vocal inflections, and audible emotion are of the utmost importance to this new school (along with Autotune) and it has already resulted in some amazing music. A shinning aspect of "Type of Way" is the excellence of Quan's adlibs. Adlibs take a lot of flack from some critics who write them off as corny or gimmicky, but what Quan is doing in this song takes it to another level. They are legitimately perfect and they do as much for the song as the lyrics do, which is in no way a bad thing.

The real reason why "Type of Way" is such a summer banger is the victorious feeling that accompanies the song. Rich Homie talks about how his girl, his watch, and his car all make him feel some type of way. While us normal people might not have the luxuries that Quan boasts of, we all have times where we feel that very same type of way. Plug your computer into the charger right before it dies? You feel it. Ask for guacamole at Chipotle and they forget to charge you? You're gonna feel it. Hear the train pulling into the station as you're coming down the stairs and take out your metrocard and slide it through the slot on the turnstiles and it rings in acceptance on the first try and you bolt across the platform and turn yourself sideways and slip between the doors as they're closing? Breathe. Nod casually at your fellow passengers who are all looking at you, in clear admiration of your skills. You are definitely feeling some type of way.

Rich Homie Quan made the only song to soundtrack those truly championship moments of our summer. —Max Goldberg

8. Zedd f/ Foxes "Clarity"

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Producer: Zedd
Album: Clarity

Of all of the songs on this list, this could be the stupidest, and trust, the competition is fierce. But it's not the stupidest, even if "Clarity" could basically be characterized as, more or less, a soccer chant over blaring techno. But evidence of this song's brilliance is in the way any truly great idea catches fire: Slowly, until it burns strong.

Zedd actually dropped "Clarity" last year, but it took a change in temperature for the song to truly make sense: A triumph over Summer malaise, an anthem of seemingly galactic proportions, there is no song that played at more parties this summer that felt bigger, or more important, or more meaningful, or more tailor-made for a capital-M "Moment," the kind that plays out in slow-motion when you remember it. This song is the sound of those memories, its echo, reverberating every time until you find yourself-yet again-scrolling to "Z" on your iPhone, putting on your headphones, and blasting it at deafening volume. —Foster Kamer

7. Big Sean f/ Kendrick Lamar, Jay Electronica "Control"

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6. Ariana Grande f/ Mac Miller "The Way"

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Producer: Harmony Samuels
Album: Yours Truly

Pardon us for not being hip to Ariana Grande the Nickelodeon star, but as soon as we heard Ariana Grande the pop singer, we knew she was on one. Her debut single "Put Your Hearts Up" was a little too bubblegum pop for us (and for her too, apparently) but soon as we heard her vocals glide in after Mac Miller’s verse on “The Way,” it was a wrap. It almost feels sacrilegious to say this, but this is a voice that truly does remind us of Mariah Carey. Ariana Grande is a small girl who has a big voice.

Not only that, but she’s got the poise and stage presence that come with experience on camera. (Watch: Nickelodeon's 'bout to be the next Disney and just churn out the new generation of pop stars.) So she looks well positioned to have a lasting career. This summer, Ariana stands as an alternative to Miley Cyrus—one that isn’t quite so self-consciously ratchet or seeking attention quite so hard. She recently told Billboard, “I'm finally at an age where I can do the music that I grew up loving, which was urban pop, '90s music.”

"The Way" offers all of us "the-'90s-were-better" millenials that feel that we miss—on a pop level backed up with real vocal chops. —Insanul Ahmed

5. Miley Cyrus "We Can't Stop"

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Producer: Mike Will Made It, P-Nasty, Rock City
Album: Bangerz

Let's pretend for a minute that the VMAs didn't happen and MileyGate didn't get blown up into a senseless, endless debate that turned this song into the crux of larger racial, sexual, and political issues. Hell, let's pretend that none of us ever saw the video that opened the gate for these ghosts of cultural tension to gallop into the middle of a really, really, really great summer jam. Because that's what "We Can't Stop" is. Even in the midst of a ruthless skewering of Miley's VMA performance in a Vulture post, NY Mag critic Jody Rosen still called it "by a good distance, the most powerful pop hit of 2013."

There's a reason this song has become so divisive, and that's because it's a sonically powerful track and the accompanying visuals are equally affecting. Yes: some people are worried that these visual arguments reinforce detrimental cultural attitudes. But there's a time and a place for cultural discussion and there's a time and a place to let a song just jam. 

We'll take a Miley-led zero-fucks-given summer blast over Taylor Swift's saccharine, sickly triumphant, gender-normative dreck any day. Mike Will Made It's deceptively paced production positions this track as a slow-burning pop anthem that gains heat with each play. Miley asserts her right to own the night, love who she wants, and say what she wants—like the delightfully grammarless phrase "we run things, things don't run we."

A quick reminder, for those of you who haven't grappled with the changes, and challenges, and societal expectations that come with being a teenage girl: they can be crushing. You need a release.

Miley Cyrus provides that, while driving home the importance of rebellion and summertime freedom. So forget the haters, because when "We Can't Stop" is on, it feels like somebody loves you. —Caitlin White

4. A$AP Ferg f/ A$AP Rocky "Shabba"

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Producer: Marvel Alexander & Snugsworth
Album: Trap Lord

A$AP Ferg was under a lot of pressure this summer. His song "Work" became a hit, breaking out of the underground and onto radio stations and nightclubs across the nation. But Ferg had yet to prove that he could replicate the success. "Work," after all, had been released almost a year ago. Was the self-crowned Trap Lord a one-hit wonder?

Ferg put any doubts to rest by putting out "Shabba." The song's beat prominently features a simple xylophone throughout, with sirens periodically blaring, a call to get on the dance floor. A$AP Rocky's charisma shines during his guest verse. But the real power rests in the irresistible hook. Seriously, try to restrain yourself from chanting the legendary dancehall artist's name when this comes on at the party. You can't. —Dharmic X

3. Migos f/ Drake "Versace (Remix)"

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2. Daft Punk f/ Pharrell "Get Lucky"

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Producer: Daft Punk
Album: Random Access Memories

Can you think of a smoother summertime anthem than Daft Punk's "Get Lucky"? Well... maybe there's one more. But "Get Lucky"'s effervescent optimism was a cool fizzy splash of champagne over everyone's summertime wedding nights, pool parties, and seances. While Pharrell's poised earnestness drove the song's pop songwriting, Nile Rodgers' timeless chicken scratch guitar was the show's real star, proving that with the right groove, repetition doesn't have to feel repetitious.

There are probably still people rocking the 4-minute-loops Internet instigators strung together when the song was little more than a leaked clip and the promise of a disco-retro-future. There was something so agreeable about "Get Lucky," something simultaneously classy yet accessible and translatable. It was the late-'70s steppers' smash that never was, a generation-spanning moment of consensus and keepin' it positive. —David Drake

1. Robin Thicke f/ T.I., Pharrell "Blurred Lines"

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Producer: Pharrell
Album: Blurred Lines

"Blurred Lines" is officially the song that will not die. It has ruled the airways all summer long even though there have been countless attempts to knock it off. Controversial video that critics claim is demeaning towards women? Nope. A sensitive reading of the lyrics that calls the song "rapey"? Nice try. Nothing has been able to slow the complete dominance that "Blurred Lines" has over summer 2013. If you need statistical support, it has been the number one song in the country for the last 11 weeks (aka the entire summer) and sold more than 5 million copies.

The song's reign as king of the summer is well deserved. It sounds like it was handcrafted by the Gods (or Pharrell) to rule the warmer months. It's poppy, danceable, has an amazing bassline and just sounds fun. Pharrell's comeback was one of the hottest topics of discussion earlier this summer and "Blurred Lines" was the final piece in the puzzle. As summer is ending, so is the song's stranglehold of the number one spot on the Billboard Hot 100. It's fitting that the two go out together. —Max Goldberg

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