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Song of the summer: 9 Canadian contenders for the season's top tune

Shawn Mendes? Carly Rae Jepsen? Lights? Justin Bieber? Who's it going to be?

Shawn Mendes? Carly Rae Jepsen? Lights? Justin Bieber? Who's it going to be?

Shawn Mendes? Carly Rae Jepson? Justin Bieber? Lights? Whose song will be crowned 'song of the summer' for 2019? (Jeff Spicer/Getty Images)

For people in northern countries such as Canada, summer is extra special, our reward for getting through the long, dark winter months.

That's why we throw ourselves into its fleeting months with abandon. We crowd patios, head out on road trips, shed layers of clothing, fill parks and beaches, and take the art of cottaging to a whole new level.

And, of course, music is essential to all of it.

Every year, one song emerges from the pack to claim the title of song of the summer. In 2012, Carly Rae Jepsen's "Call me Maybe" wore the crown, so it's no surprise that two tracks from her recent album, Dedicated, made this year's list, alongside recent hits from Shawn Mendes, Justin Bieber, Alessia Cara, Lights and others.

Below, find our picks for this year's top Canadian contenders.

Which Canadian song is soundtracking your summer? Let us know at @CBCMusic.


'Julien,' Carly Rae Jepsen

The opening moments of Carly Rae Jepsen's last album, Emotion, are seared into my memory. That bright burst of saxophone on "Run Away With Me" will forever remind me of summer 2015, when I shouted the words to that song at the top of my lungs at every given opportunity. In some ways, Jepsen has gifted us another memorable introduction on her latest release, Dedicated

The album opens with "Julien" and its squelching synth sounds are subtler than its predecessor, but it fits perfectly with the "chill disco" vision she originally had for this album. Whereas "Run Away With Me" was a euphoric declaration of love, "Julien" is about being hung up on a past fling as Jepsen confesses, "Another bad dream where you were running away/ I'm forever haunted by our time." Sure, it sounds like a bummer, but it also has an incredible way of unearthing butterflies buried deep in the crevices of your heart. This song makes the act of pining feel blissful instead of painful. Whoever your Julien is, Jepsen's new song spins an old thorn into a blooming fantasy that you can spend all summer getting lost in.

— Melody Lau


'If I Can't Have You,' Shawn Mendes

Wasting no time, this song hits you with the chorus right off the bat, as if to say, "You may as well learn it now; you know you'll be singing it all summer." And it's true: it's only June and we're already chanting its signature line, "Everything means nothing if I can't have you," while wagging our index fingers and doing all sorts of summery things. We also love how Mendes' tone goes from confiding, during the verses, to anthemic in the choruses, putting the full range of his musical personality on display. And it's just plain fun imagining ourselves on the receiving end of his obsession: "I can't write one song that's not about you/ can't drink without thinking about you." A song sure to boost your self-confidence all summer long.

— Robert Rowat


'Querer Mejor,' Juanes feat. Alessia Cara

Multiple Grammy and Latin Grammy winner Juanes has joined forces with Canadian pop powerhouse Alessia Cara on "Querer Major," Cara's first-ever Spanish-language song. The mid-tempo ballad celebrates long-lasting love over laidback guitar, radiating warmth as the two trade verses and combine on effortless harmonies. "I've always loved Latin music, so getting to dabble in that realm with such a legend is pretty amazing," Cara revealed via press release. "And getting his stamp of approval on my Spanish pronunciation wasn't so bad either." For all your reflective, porch-sitting summer nights spent with your honey, "Querer Major" is essential listening.

— Jess Huddleston


'It's Alright,' Mother Mother 

As summer approaches, it's time to shed all our confines, wintry or otherwise. In this crazy, divisive world where the powers that be are constantly trying to separate us with walls of political affiliation, race, sexuality and religion, it's nice to find an upbeat song that tries to unite us. Mother Mother's "It's Alright" is the perfect summer anthem for this exact moment in time because it celebrates the things that make us flawed, acknowledges that we are more than our past mistakes and says that those are exactly the things that make us one planet of messed-up humans who all deserve forgiveness and love. It's one of those rare songs that rocks, but might also make you cry. 

— JJ LaBorde


'Yes Mama,' Missy D

I wrote about "Yes Mama" for CBC Music's Songs You Need to Hear a few weeks ago, and Missy D's sparkling shout-out to the matriarchs is still the soulful Afrobeat-and-bounce summer anthem of my dreams. The Vancouver-based femcee sings and raps in French and English, paying tribute to her own Mama and her ancestral mothers in Rwanda, Côte d'Ivoire and Zimbabwe. "Yes Mama" is also a song for the Motherland, Mother Earth and the community mothers and caregivers who do so much work and who cultivate so much joy. Musically, "Yes Mama" has more layers than a sunrise. It pulses with life, it shimmers and shines. It's a glow-up and a get-down, radiant and resilient, joyful and free. 

— Andrea Warner


'Too Much,' Carly Rae Jepsen

Carly Rae Jepsen's new album, Dedicated, is so present on our playlists that two of its releases are contenders for songs of the summer. "Too Much" is, in true Jepsen style, about emotional excess, presented as both an unapologetic list of things she does "too much" of, while also serving as a warning: "'Cause if I love you then I love you too much." On the flip side, there isn't much hung on the spare electro-pop beat at the heart of the track, save for the layered build of each chorus. "Too Much" is understated, but sure of itself — the perfect mixture for a long-lasting earworm. And as my colleague Melody Lau so perfectly wrote earlier this year: "What's the point in doing anything if you're not going to give it your all?"

— Holly Gordon


'I Don't Care,' Ed Sheeran and Justin Bieber

The gist of Ed Sheeran and Justin Bieber's new song, "I Don't Care," is: I can handle all the bad stuff as long as I've got you. And isn't that the way we, as Canadians, think of summer? We can handle the polar vortices, freezing rain and wind chill of our wearisome winters as long as we know summer's on the horizon. Well, summer is finally here and this tropical-pop tune from Sheeran and Bieber — their first collaboration since 2016's "Love Yourself" — is the accomplice we've been waiting for to initiate some fun in the sun. Feeling self-conscious? Shy? Socially awkward? It doesn't matter. Grab that person who makes "all the bad things disappear," and get dork-dancing. — RR


'Love Me,' Felix Cartal and Lights

Real talk: not all summer flings are sunny and carefree, and for the ones that aren't, Felix Cartal and Lights' "Love Me" is the perfect pop banger. "I'm trying to stay cool in the downtown weather/ wondering if you think of me ever," sings Lights, exploring the delicious torment of unrequited love. When the track dropped in February, she described it as "essentially a love song but with a sad twist" for which Cartal has crafted moody verses, a finger-snapping pre-chorus and rousing drops — the ideal soundtrack for obsessing about that stubborn someone who still hasn't realized how awesome you are. — RR


'Let Yourself be Seen,' Doomsquad

The song of the summer doesn't need to be a shiny pop tune, right? It can also be an alternative freak show. Doomsquad brings politics to the party with the title track from its new album. Over a throbbing, propulsive beat, Trevor Blumas plants a flagpole in the dance floor and declares, "It's about time, for all the freaks to come out, find your safety in numbers and your power in pain," an invocation to dance-floor liberation for all beautiful weirdos.

In the First Play Live version of this song, Doomsquad friend and collaborator Lido Pimienta chants the empowering lyric, "Raise your flag," as the song climaxes with abandon. "I used to fly my freak flag at night/ but now it never comes down." See you on the dance floor.

— Reuben Maan