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This Swedish Teenager Gave Us the Rihanna-Style Summer Jam We Deserve

8 minute read

It’s almost July, there’s still no sign of a new Rihanna album, and the offerings from her near-mythical eighth LP have been decidedly hit-or-miss. “FourFiveSeconds” was pleasantly out of left field for an artist famous for her prolific club-bangers and crotch-patting dance moves, but “Bitch Better Have My Money” had more attitude than substance and “American Oxygen” was downright anemic. Of course, Rihanna has every right to take her time and make a record that creatively fulfills her, but now that summer’s in full swing, the rooftop parties and summer barbecues and beach excursions aren’t going to wait for her.

Luckily for those occasions, there’s a surrogate bad gal to fill the R-shaped void in your heart: meet 17-year-old Zara Larsson, who sounds like a dead ringer for Riri on her new single “Lush Life.” (You may already know Larsson from her viral Instagram post in which she put a condom over her leg to make fun of guys who think they’re “too big” to wear one.) Mixing the island-pop of Rihanna’s early days with a pulsing bass line on par with “Fancy,” “Lush Life” is the song of the summer that never was—a track so jam-packed with hooks that the song’s real chorus doesn’t even arrive until after the two-minute mark.

Larsson has a biography that’s guaranteed to make you feel old and unaccomplished. Born in 1997—the year the Spice Girls took America and the year fellow swede Robyn scored a hit with “Show Me Love”—Larsson won the Swedish equivalent of America’s Got Talent at the weathered old age of 10. (The country’s TV competitions are real hotbeds for talent: Tove Styrke, who placed third on Swedish Idol as a teenager, released one of the best albums of the year so far earlier this month.) Larsson dropped her debut LP in only a few European countries last fall, but several songs from it made their way to the U.S. via January’s Uncover EP. There, you’ll find even more songs to pad your summer playlists (like the seasonally appropriate “Rooftop”) and keep you busy till Riri comes through.

Keep an eye out for the proper album Larsson has in the works, however—Uncover makes it clear she’s worth appreciating on her own terms.

Years & Years, “King”

The British trio’s electro-pop stunner has gone to No. 1 in several countries but barely cracked U.S. Top 40. That’s America’s loss: “King” is as compulsively danceable as any ‘90s house anthem, and frontman Olly Alexander’s bewitching voice gives it plenty of heart to match.

–Nolan Feeney

Florence + the Machine, “Delilah”

There are so many things that Florence + the Machine do well: big sound, soaring vocals and lyrics that paint epic dramas. “Delilah,” from the latest album How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful, combines all of those elements beautifully in one exuberant track, with the added bonus of a swelling, multi-tracked call-and-response.

—Megan Gibson

St. Vincent, “Bad Believer”

It speaks to St. Vincent’s talent that a bonus track appended to a re-release of last year’s self-titled opus—TIME’s second-best album of the year—is as good as anything else that has come out in 2015. It’s also not surprising: the herky-jerky fuzz of “Bad Believer” is one more reason to worship her.

—Nolan Feeney

Major Lazer featuring MØ and DJ Snake, “Lean On”

The Danish singer who showed you new corners of your iPhone keyboard makes up for last year’s Iggy Azalea misfire “Beg For It” with this tropic thumper that leans on “Turn Down for What” mastermind DJ Snake for some extra oomph—no special characters needed.

–Nolan Feeney

Kacey Musgraves, “Biscuits”

Since shaking up the country scene with 2013’s Same Trailer Different Park, Kacey Musgraves has breathed new life into Nashville with songs that employ a pure country sound while making jabs at traditional southern values. “Biscuits” may not send up any overtly political messages, but its lazy-river, banjo-laden melody melds satisfyingly with its age-old message: live and let live.

—Eliza Berman

Tobias Jesso Jr., “How Could You Babe”

The 29-year-old didn’t take up the piano with any seriousness until he was just about ready to call his music career quits after struggling to make it as a songwriter in Los Angeles. Thank goodness he did—this ballad from his March debut album Goon time-warps back to the 1970s with flashes of McCartney.

—Nolan Feeney

Janelle Monáe featuring Jidenna, “Yoga”

Only an artist as visionary as Janelle Monáe could turn an ancient Indian tradition into a sex metaphor that redefines “downward dog” and makes a statement about not letting society police your individuality. It’s definitely not Vinyasa, but it’s got plenty of flow.

–Nolan Feeney

Galantis, “Peanut Butter Jelly”

This song’s got everything: clapping hands, bull horns and your favorite childhood sandwich (assuming you didn’t draw the short stick in the allergy game). Infused with retro vibes care of 1960s soul singer Bettye Swann, “Peanut Butter Jelly” is arguably the best song of the year to dance to, work out to or justify the transformation of your car into a rush-hour disco for one.

—Eliza Berman

Tanlines, “Pieces”

In a parallel universe, this glistening synth-pop gem was the real windows-down song of the summer. Though it set a high bar the rest of the duo’s second full-length, Highlights, couldn’t quite meet, that bassline is as potent as anything that uptown funked you up this year.

—Nolan Feeney

Kendrick Lamar, “The Blacker the Berry”

A complex track by one of the most gifted rappers working today, “The Blacker the Berry” is angry, rough and urgent — and performed with lacerating precision.

—Megan Gibson

Tink, “Ratchet Commandments”

The protege of hip-hop heavyweight Timbaland is neither the next Aaliyah nor the next Missy Elliott nor anyone other than just Tink—and that’s more than enough on this humorous call for her peers to rethink their priorities. Yes, it’s a little slut-shaming, but with five mixtapes by age 20, Tink’s earned the right to scoff at your work ethic.

—Nolan Feeney

Jamie xx, “I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)”

In this strong contender for Song of the Summer, British DJ Jamie xx mixes a soul sample (The Persuasions’ “Good Times”) with synths that sound like steel drums, adding some welcome vocals from Atlanta rapper Young Thug and Jamaican dancehall artist Popcaan into a breezy, feel-good track.

—Megan Gibson

Carly Rae Jepsen, “All That”

The “Call Me Maybe” singer turned heads by working with über-hip producers Ariel Rechtshaid and Dev Hynes, but the way her syrupy-sweet vocals gently rock this would-be ‘80s prom song shows why music’s coolest names take her calls.

–Nolan Feeney

Rihanna, “FourFiveSeconds”

It’s perhaps the most delightful song ever made about being stuck at work on a Tuesday. Rihanna broke her long (for her, at least) hiatus with a country-inflected collaboration with Kanye West and Paul McCartney, all about being on the edge of a nervous breakdown after dealing with people all day. Relatable stuff: No wonder the trio’s performance at the Grammys this year was the night’s most crowdpleasing singalong.

—Dan D’Addario

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Write to Nolan Feeney at nolan.feeney@time.com