With all that time spent outdoors, it's tough to stay in-the-know when it comes to new music during the summer. But with the summer now drawing to a close, this is as good a time as ever to bring you up to speed on some of the biggest songs — some that you probably know and some that you might not. Read on for the backstory on the biggest hits right now to ensure you're up on what's new and hot in music.
MILEY CYRUS, "WRECKING BALL"
If you own a TV, there's a good chance that you saw Miley's controversial performance at the MTV VMAs. Lost in all that controversy is the fact that Miley can actually sing. Her new single "Wrecking Ball" is a powerful ballad that excellently showcases her voice (as opposed to her antics). The "Wrecking Ball" lyrics are about Miley trying to cope with a break-up — a far cry from the controversial subject of her previous single "We Can't Stop." The song was produced in part by Dr. Luke, who also co-produced Katy Perry's "Roar" and Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines," and at one time was rumored to be taking a judge's chair on American Idol.
JAY Z, "HOLY GRAIL"
After seeing the commercial advertising Jay Z's Magna Carta Holy Grail for the hundredth time, you may have asked yourself, "Is this a Jay Z album or a Samsung album?" The promotional campaign that preceded this album was one of the most elaborate in recent memory, but, thanks to the Samsung sponsorship, Jay sold 500,000 copies of the album before it was released. On "Holy Grail," the album's lead single, Jay Z teams up with Justin Timberlake, his tourmate on the Legends of the Summer tour. If Jay Z keeps banking at this rate, he'll have no problem affording all the luxurious things he references in the "Holy Grail" lyrics.
ROBIN THICKE, "BLURRED LINES"
The "Blurred Lines" lyrics drew criticism this summer for their questionable subject matter -- which lines are he crossing exactly? Nevertheless, the song reached a level of ubiquity rarely seen in music today. "Blurred Lines" smashed radio-play records and soundtracked probably every outdoor BBQ this summer. And is that such a bad thing? The track is guaranteed to make you get up and dance, which is why it's no surprise that it was featured in the latest season of So You Think You Can Dance. And don't forget Thicke's memorable performance on The Colbert Report in the wake of Daft Punk's infamous no-show.
"Royals," a song from 16-year-old New Zealander Lorde, traveled across the ocean to the U.S. this summer. The song has been a huge success on the charts, thanks in large part to its authentic, genuine songwriting. It's written from the perspective of an average high school girl. "A lot of people think teenagers live in this world like [Skins]," says Lorde, referring to the British TV series about debaucherous teens. "Truth is, half the time we aren't doing anything cooler than playing with lighters." Keep bringing us that real talk, Lorde.
AVICII, "WAKE ME UP"
There's a good chance that Avicii's big break into the mainstream came in October 2011 when his soon-to-be mega-hit "Levels" was featured in the end credits of HBO's How To Make It in America. Since then, he's become one of the world's biggest DJs, pushing EDM to a new level. On his latest single, "Wake Me Up," the first off his debut album True — Avicii teams up with neo-soul singer Aloe Blacc. But the single isn't the mix of R&B and fist-pumping beats you'd expect; instead, Avicii has gone bluegrass! "Wake Me Up" sounds like what you might get if you put Mumford & Sons,Marvin Gaye, and David Guetta into a musical blender. But Avicii makes the song his own, and has earned his reputation as a top genre-mixing producer.