The Counter’s Summer 2021 Playlist

Mike Dang, senior editor

“Pporappippam,” by Sunmi

I always want upbeat pop songs in the summer and this ’80s-synth K-pop hit by South Korean singer Sunmi has been on my playlist for months. The song title can be translated as “purple-hued evening” and Sunmi described the song as evoking “a breeze that cools you down on a summer day at sunset after a hot day.” Sounds perfect.

“The Walls Are Way Too Thin,” by Holly Humberstone

I discovered Holly Humberstone last year in a Billboard round-up of songs to discover while quarantining. The British singer-songwriter says her latest alt-pop track was influenced by Fleetwood Mac and you can hear a bit of that.

Karen Stabiner, West Coast editor

“California,” by Joni Mitchell

Because her “Blue” album is 50 years old, because what else is the West Coast editor supposed to list, and because you never need a specific reason to listen to her.

“Song for My Father,” by the Horace Silver Quintet

This was one of my father’s favorite tunes, but I didn’t know the name of it until I walked into a bar one night and the trio was playing it. Horace Silver wrote it for his father; it’s a song for my father, too, because it elicits such memories. I like music that connects people across years. So did David Benoit, in 2008

Patricia I. Escárcega, reporting fellow, Covid-19 recovery

“Soy yo,” by Bomba Estéreo

The 2015 hit song from Colombian “electro-cumbia” band Bomba Estéreo has been in heavy rotation around our house this summer. Actually, it’s been in heavy rotation since at least June of 2019, when my daughter Sofia was born. My partner and I were looking for upbeat, positive songs to play for her and this one quickly became a favorite of everyone. The viral music video, featuring a fearless, free-spirited elementary school-age girl strutting through the streets of Brooklyn, evokes the verve and spontaneity of a warm-weather day in the city.

“Paleta,” by Ozomatli

Ozomatli’s high-energy ode to paletas, Spanish for “popsicle,” is the energy boost you need on the hottest summer day.

Tina Vazquez, senior staff writer

“Disaster (Is What We’re After),” by Death Valley Girls 

My taste in music never really evolved far beyond the punk rock, grunge, and riot grrrl I grew up listening to as a kid in the ‘90s. I came across the Los Angeles band Death Valley Girls by accident and “Disaster (Is What We’re After)” is a song I blast in the morning to hype myself up for long work days. 

“Get Back,” by Ludacris 

This song may be 16 years old, but lines like, “Get back, motherfucker; you don’t know me like that” and “I know it’s been a lil while since I been out the house, but now I’m here, you want to stand around running your mouth” resonate this summer as most states are fully reopened and people are getting a little too close for comfort and acting a little too familiar in public—even as the pandemic is still in full swing. 

Tricia Vuong, multimedia producer

I Miss You (Dobie Rub Part One-Sunshine Mix) by Björk

‘90’s hip-hop beats mixed with a classic Björk song. This summer I’m spending a month visiting my family on the West Coast and this one has been on repeat. Perfect for driving with the windows down during a California sunset.

Jeas Cyclo (Ride Cyclo) by Yol Aularong

I discovered this song last summer from the album Cambodian Rocks, a compilation of 22 uncredited garage rock songs from the late 1960s and ‘70s. The song combines Western psychedelic rock vibes with traditional Cambodian music. Sadly, Aularong was presumed to have been killed during the Cambodian genocide.

Talia Moore, editorial producer 

“Life U Choose,” by Yani Mo

Yani Mo, the self-proclaimed #countryqueersoul artist from Georgia, is giving summertime realness, community cookout vibes, and a whole lotta healing energy. Plus, the music video is a must-see.

“Floetic,” by Floetry 

This late 2000s jawn is an instant mood booster, sure to get you on your feet movin’ and groovin’. 

Safiya Charles, reporting fellow, Future of Farming

“French Press” by Rolling Blackouts C.F.

Instant summer vibes on this track with a cruisy melody that might inspire you to catch a wave or pour another round.

“Be Sweet” by Japanese Breakfast

A low-fi pop tune with a dreamy sound reminiscent of late nights or early mornings spent in good company. 

Joe Fassler, deputy editor 

“Emotion (feat. Wild Nothing)” by Molly Burch 

Reliable summer banger. Best enjoyed at high volume. 

“Sangria” by TV Nomad

A neo-soul ode to a warm-weather classic. The assured groove and sun-drenched backing vocals channel the swagger and languor of August, and the ache of it, too. “I need you like summer needs seasons,” TV Nomad sings, a line addressed to sangria itself—a reminder that our best moments are made more precious by the fact that they don’t last. 

Jessica Fu, staff writer

“Kiss Me More” by Doja Cat (ft. SZA)

The lead single from Planet Her, Doja Cat’s latest album, which is effervescent, funny, and a very good time all around. I’m convinced I can physically feel all my inhibitions evaporating when I play this song.

“Latter Days” by Big Red Machine (ft. Anaïs Mitchell)

When I listen to music these days, I file certain songs into a mental playlist called “climate apocalypse tunes”—this mournful piano ballad is an excellent contender. In it, Mitchell sings tenderly about storms, power outages, childhood innocence, acts of God, and end times, against beautiful harmonies by Justin Vernon. The song came out the day after a record-setting and traumatic heatwave in the Pacific Northwest (where I live). Its opening lyric poses a question that’s been running through my mind amid the endless drought and heat and wildfires and indifference and inaction: How long do you think it’s gonna last? 

Jesse Hirsch, managing editor

“Doesn’t Matter (Voleur de soleil),” by Christine and the Queens 

It’s not a new song, and not a new obsession, but somehow I’ve emerged from lockdown with a renewed vigor for quietly singing the lyrics over and over and over. Specifically: “It doesn’t matter, does it…if I believe in God and if God does exist.” A bit nihilistic! I’m in a good mood, I swear.

“Long-Legged Larry,” by Aesop Rock

A thoroughly charming jam from alt-rap mainstay Aesop Rock, and one of the best songs you’ll hear about a frog having little adventures. Larry is a hero we can all get behind; he’s just trying to help princesses and poodles in distress. The chorus is simply: “Go Larry, Go Larry, Go Go Go Larry!” (I bought this, don’t judge.)

Kate Cox, editor in chief

“My New Swag (我的新衣),” by VAVA featuring Ty. & Nina Wang (王倩倩)

This summer, I bought the first sorta-newish-used car anyone in my family has ever owned. (Where I come from, “sorta-newish-used” means less than a decade old.) My partner said the song you play when you drive off the lot sets the tone. Having never driven off a lot or pondered the song I’d play when I did, I made a snap decision: Chinese rapper VAVA’s ode to adorning herself—an assertive, slinky, and relentlessly danceable anthem, ideal for exploring the back roads of your own badassery.

“She,” by Alice Phoebe Lou

Exit music for a grand departure of any kind. Throbbing with whatever comes next. 

Alice Heyeh, production fellow

“Chewing Gum” by Blood Orange ft. A$AP Rocky and Project Pat

The overlapping vocals and repetition of the chorus in “Chewing Gum” encapsulates the feeling of anticipation. While patiently (or not so patiently) waiting for the end of quarantine, this song provided comfort through anxiety.

“Kokomo, IN” by Japanese Breakfast

My favorite song from Jubilee. The sweet lyrics makes me nostalgic for something I have yet to experience—to echo the second verse, “These days, I can’t shake the awful feeling

I’m missing something I can’t place.”

Cynthia R. Greenlee, senior editor

“Party,” by Beyoncé, featuring J. Cole and “The Boomin’ System,” by LL Cool J

I know a real summer jam by how inclined I am to play it loud with my “boomin’ system” (shoutout to the LL Cool J classic) while driving with the windows down. I live in the South, where July without air conditioning means serious sweat, so that’s really saying something. Allow me my seasonal noise pollution. But that’s how I feel about Beyoncé’s “Party” single (featuring my fellow North Carolinian, rapper J. Cole). I’m not typically a member of the Beyhive (Note: the megastar actually has beehives), but this one just does something to me. Check out the video, where Bey scrambles eggs while serving sideboob, pushes an old-school lawn mower while wearing an itsy-bitsy-teeny-weeny yellow fur, and lives in a trailer park (I believe that as much as I believe anything J.D. Vance says about being from Appalachia). But what can I say? She’s a country cosmopolitan, and letting your mind go is part of the fun.

The Counter Stories by our editors.