The heat index is soaring, and we're finding ourselves frequently at the pool. It must be time for the songs of summer, those tunes that keep us company as we try not to spontaneously combust every time we leave the house.
For our third annual exercise in what's in hot and heavy rotation, we turn to a few familiar faces (hey there, Katy Perry) as well as promising newcomers (what's shakin', Janelle Monae). It's an eclectic mix of styles, from sleek R&B to unabashed pop-rock glee; any one of these tracks is sure to class up your next summertime gathering.
DFW.com critics Preston Jones and Christopher Kelly recently met up to discuss the merits (or drawbacks) of each song on this list. Hear their podcast, complete with sound clips of the songs, at dfw.com/music, or at the top of this story. And vote on your own favorite in our poll (see poll, right).
Katy Perry, California Gurls: A Frankenstein-ian smash marking the return of Perry to this list, who seems to pop up every year. Billed as a response to Jay-Z's Empire State of Mind, Gurls nevertheless comes off as a synthetic, borderline lazy lark. We can't begrudge the song its popularity, although we do take issue with the groaningly gratuitous cameo from Snoop Dogg. We're most impressed, however, by California Gurls managing the best rhyme of the summer: martinis and no weenies.
Travie McCoy featuring Bruno Mars, Billionaire
The economy is still struggling to regain its footing (just ask all the national touring festivals how that's going) and, hey, who hasn't daydreamed about having fat stacks of cash at their disposal? Gym Class Heroes frontman Travie McCoy, with a soulful assist from up-and-coming singer-songwriter Bruno Mars, delivers 2010's most aspirational single and does so with wit and charisma. Added bonus? Billionaire's breezy, almost tropical feel -- coupled with shout-outs to Hurricane Katrina victims, Forbes magazine and Oprah -- makes it timely in more ways than one.
Maroon 5, Misery
Gleaming, catchy and steeped in pain, this first single from Maroon 5's forthcoming album, Hands All Over, reminds us a bit of This Love, but we still can't stop listening. The juxtaposition of bleak lyrics ("I am in misery/Ain't nobody that can comfort me/Why won't you answer me/The silence is slowly killing me") with the infectious, funky melody is fascinating, underlining the idea that bands like Maroon 5 are pretty scarce in the Top 40 these days. What's wrong with a little streamlined pop?
Janelle Monae featuring Big Boi, Tightrope
The name may not click right away, but by year's end, we're betting Janelle Monae will be a lot less mysterious. Her debut full-length, The ArchAndroid, is earning critical raves, and tracks like Tightrope display her exuberant ambition. With patrons like P. Diddy and Outkast's Big Boi looking out for her (and influencing her stylistically), Monae has created a wonderfully weird slice of hip-hop-tinged pop that will have you coming back for more.
Usher featuring will.i.am, OMG
Is this the most popular song of summer 2010? Maybe -- we can't escape it whenever we leave the house -- and try as we might, we just can't bring ourselves to hate this sleek-sexy cut. Even the borderline childish lyrics can't dim our love for this thumping, almost tribal track. The pulsing chorus is as seductive as it is thrilling. Producer-vocalist will.i.am pushes Usher a bit outside his comfort zone -- dig that Auto-Tune -- and the end result is one of the summer's most "produced," expertly sculpted tunes.