Pop music is the ultimate meritocracy — particularly in the summertime, when rockers, rappers, crooners, songbirds, and DJs alike break us off with their freshest beats and choicest hooks, all in hopes of delivering the season’s anthem. Each year, the good folks at Billboard crown an official Song of Summer, and while their list of tunes is hard to argue with, it’s based purely on numbers — radio spins and sales figures. These things are important, but summer jams forge emotional connections, and some feelings simply can’t be quantified.
With that in mind, we’ve created our own list of the definitive summer songs of the last 25 years. There’s some overlap with the Billboard tally, but we’ve also taken into account MTV airplay, pop-culture trends, and even politics. We’d show you the formula, but school’s out, and no one really wants to do math, right?