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Summer 2021 was the season of getting back out into the real world and experiencing things we may have missed out on last year as well as earlier this year. “Hot Girl Summer” became “Hot Vaxxed Girl Summer,” and I was here for it. As we return to school for the first semester fully back in person, it’s time to leave summer behind and get into the mindset of routine, academics, making new friends, reconnecting with old ones, and struggling to remember where buildings are on campus — or perhaps if you’re newer to the university, learning where buildings are and adjusting to the bus routes.

Because songs and albums released during summer are always major hits that often withstand the changing of seasons, unlike having to suddenly shift your focus from summer vacation to academics, I thought I’d reflect on the songs that defined my summer 2021. Some of these I still can’t get enough of even as we get closer to September, and some of these I listened to so much, I got sick of hearing them all the time. Some of these might not be for your personal music taste, and that’s also totally fine! If there’s one thing I never understood, it was shaming people for the music they like, (unless the musical artist/band someone likes is known to be problematic, then that gets a little muddy).

“Save Your Tears (with Ariana Grande) (Remix)” – The Weeknd & Ariana Grande

I’m starting off this list with a song that was actually my mom’s favorite during the summer. I kid you not, she would be playing it on repeat while we cleaned the house on Sundays, singing along, sometimes stopping to watch the music video on YouTube on our smart TV. I don’t blame her though, the song is pretty catchy, and the music video is artistic and colorful. As the summer went on, however, I quickly grew tired of it and couldn’t stand hearing it on the car radio.

The Weeknd/YouTube
“t r a s p a r e n t s o u l” – WILLOW ft. Travis Barker

I definitely think pop-punk is more Willow Smith’s style, and in the beginning of the summer, I could not get enough of this song. The song blew up on Tik Tok, (like most of the songs on this list of mine), and Willow even performed it on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, which honestly was what solidified this song as one of my favorites this summer. I love how much fun and passion Willow displays while performing, and I also like how Travis Barker is just hammering away at the drums in the background, completely in his element.

willowsmith/YouTube
“MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)” – Lil Nas X

2021 was definitely a year of Lil Nas X making several iconic statements with his music, and he has proven time and time again that he is a voice of our generation. The music video for “MONTERO” caused a huge uproar in the religious community, especially regarding the depiction of Lil Nas X dancing on the Devil and other allusions to Christianity. Yet, the song itself is a referral to the artist’s own sexuality and his undeniable pride in it. There was certainly no shortage of Tik Tok videos using this particular song to show off people’s confidence in their bodies and celebration of their sexualities.

Lil Nas X/YouTube
“I like Dat” – T-Pain ft. Kehlani

This is a collaboration I didn’t know I needed, but definitely appreciate. T-Pain is a legend in the music industry, and he even came to UGA for a concert hosted by University Union in spring 2019, (which I attended and it was awesome!). Kehlani is one of my favorite musical artists, and their song is perfect for a party or just a dance around your room. There are also some hooks and references to past T-Pain hits, like “Buy You a Drink.”

T Pain/Youtube
“Sweet Dream” – Alessia Cara

Alessia Cara is such a talented lyricist and her style of music always feels somewhat nostalgic to me. I think this song perfectly captures what all my fellow insomniacs and anxious people experience, and that’s not being able to sleep because your mind won’t calm down. The music video for this song is also very whimsical and shows off that “totally relatable” persona that Alessia Cara always seems to embody.

Alessia Cara/YouTube
“NOW” – Olivia O’Brien

Olivia O’Brien gives voice to anyone who has been in love with a man and been disappointed with the outcome of their relationship, mainly due to his own behaviors. This song is sassy and unapologetic about telling off the guy who has wronged you when you were led to believe that he would be the endgame. Also the music video is so fun, it gives me early 2000s music video vibes.

Olivia O’Brien/YouTube
“Rain (from The Suicide Squad)” – grandson & Jessie Reyez

Something about this song just stuck with me. I love both grandson and Jessie Reyez, and their collaboration is just unexpected given their respective genres. However, I was extremely excited to see James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad film especially since I was a big fan of Harley Quinn following her story in Birds of Prey (2020). This song just makes me want to dance in the rain and confront my inner demons.

grandson/YouTube
“Kiss Me More” – Doja Cat ft. SZA

This song is just too cute, and it makes it very clear what the singer wants from their lover. This isn’t of course, the first time Doja Cat is being featured on this list, but what can I say? She just released so much good music these past few months, it’s hard to stay away. SZA is also an artist I thoroughly enjoy, so this song really was everything to me in the beginning of the summer.

Doja Cat/YouTube
“Industry Baby” – Lil Nas X ft. Jack Harlow

Simply put, Lil Nas X doesn’t miss. Over time, he has consistently put out hit after hit, and considering this is the second Lil Nas X song I have on this list, I might be a little biased. However, the ratings do not lie, and in addition, the music video and Jack Harlow’s feature took the internet by storm.

Lil Nas X/YouTube
The entire Planet Her album – Doja Cat

Okay I know this isn’t one particular song but this album had me, (and Tik Tok), in an absolute chokehold since its release in June. It’s just so fun and showed off Doja Cat’s lyricism and flow in various ways. To this day, I cannot get enough of “Woman” and “Get Into It (Yuh),” and I think people really sleep on “Love to Dream” just because it’s a little slower. And yes, I know I already put “Kiss Me More” in this list and it is also on the Planet Her album, but the song was originally released as a single, so…

Doja Cat/YouTube

Kayla is a Communication Studies and Entertainment & Media Studies (EMST) double-major, with a Women's Studies minor. She enjoys good music, Marvel movies, and Tik Toks. In the rare moments where she's not writing, watching, or listening to something, you can catch her hiking outdoors, eating good food, and spending time with family and friends.
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