Welcome to VOL.UME: LOVE NOW, a new series of stories chronicling how we find and experience romantic connections in the digital age. For the full experience, head to VOLUME.MTV.com.
One of the sexiest singles of the year makes a meal out of a simple declaration: “I love the way you read my eyes.” Angel Olsen delivers it, aligning with Mark Ronson on the gauzy “True Blue,” but you might tell it to a lover, say it in the mirror for motivation, or even unholster it as a last-ditch plea. The phrase highlights what might be the key to the whole damn thing: connection.
Thanks to swiping and DMs and selfies, our experiences with love are filtered in the same way as our lives: via screens. But our yearning for organic connection hasn’t evaporated — it’s still right here, in the best music of 2019. It includes crush bops and attraction bangers, heartbreak odes, and celebrations of self. Some are steamy, full of flirting and fun, while others run hot, teeming with desire. A handful are raw, animalistic, and sexual. And naturally, some of them perfectly soundtrack the momentary yet paralyzing hopelessness that flies in after you get dumped. Everything in moderation, you know?
MTV News has curated an essential playlist that captures the key elements of love now — a bold text sent ahead of a late-night rendezvous, the memory of passion imprinted in an old tune, the unexpected relief that accompanies a breakup. They’re here to connect us to each other, and more importantly, to ourselves. You’ll love the way they read your eyes.
01 Camila Cabello and Shawn Mendes, “Señorita”
It’s getting hot in here, and you can blame it on Camila and Shawn. For their first collaboration since 2015’s “I Know What You Did Last Summer,” they crank the heat way up, recounting a brief but charged fling born in Miami and fueled by tequila. “Ooh, when your lips undress me, hooked on your tongue” and “You say we’re just friends, but friends don’t know the way you taste” are delivered with a flirty smile, while an entrancing guitar loop ups the tension. —Madeline Roth
02 Megan Thee Stallion, “Sex Talk”
Not one for conveying affection through batting eyelashes or PDA, Megan Thee Stallion paints an explicit picture of a bedroom meeting that’ll make you sweat. As she breathes, sighs, and moans through the lusty steam and rocky beats of “Sex Talk,” it’s clear Megan means everything she says. Prepare to bite your lip. —Trey Alston
03 BTS ft. Halsey, “Boy With Luv”
Written for their dedicated fan base, the bubbly lead single off the South Korean supergroup’s Map of the Soul: Persona is about the heart-fluttering feeling of finding joy in the small things. In “Boy With Luv,” BTS asks ever so sweetly, “How’s your day?” without any expectations. —Crystal Bell
04 Post Malone feat. Young Thug, “Goodbyes”
Post Malone’s admission that he can’t let go doesn’t stop him from launching vitriolic directives (“I want you out of my head, I want you out of my bedroom tonight”), but still, he’s tormented. Young Thug’s chaotic vocalizations help sell the drama, and by the end, the pair wave farewell and disappear into the ether before three minutes are up. Maybe Posty’s playing coy: That’s quite a graceful exit after all. —Patrick Hosken
05 Mahalia feat. Burna Boy, “Simmer”
This shining slice of dancehall pop takes its name and sample from Beenie Man’s classic “Who Am I (Sim Simma).” Mahalia’s honeyed vocals are almost trance-inducing. Over a thumping beat, she pleads for her man to take his time to show her some passion: “Cool down, simmer / Cool now, please me.” Her foil is buzzy Nigerian star Burna Boy, who retaliates with his side of the story. Ultimately, it doesn’t sound like they meet in the middle, but the back and forth is sexy, danceable fun. —M.R.
06 Lizzo, “Soulmate”
As a self-love anthem, “Soulmate” is easy to fall for. But the barrier to entry would be much higher if it wasn’t for the radiance of Lizzo herself, who sells every inward compliment with pure delight, and the bounce music behind her. “That’s where I really honestly fell in love with dancing when I was a little kid,” she tells MTV News of the genre. You can hear the sentiment in every clap and feel it in all of Lizzo’s smiling recitations of the title. —P.H.
07 Tyler the Creator feat. Playboi Carti, “Earfquake”
Tyler has come a long way from his days of dissing relationships and spitting in the face of emotion altogether. “Earfquake,” oppositely, finds him pleading in a manic high pitch for another chance, saying anything to keep his partner interested. Playboi Carti slings in for sharp ad-libs that provide further splashes of color into the Seussian atmosphere of Tyler’s most vulnerable anthem. The rapper hasn’t given up on love just yet. —T.A.
08 Chloe x Halle, “Who Knew”
Chloe x Halle make radiant R&B that feeds the soul, and “Who Knew” is no exception. “We started something by mistake / Who would’ve thought that I would feel this way? / This way about you,” the sisters sing to someone previously boxed inside the friend zone. Chloe’s lower register shines, but Halle’s jazzy harmonies swoop in to lift the Anita Baker-esque track to the heavens. —M.R.
09 King Princess, “Prophet”
Is the smoldering “Prophet” a love song? It depends on how you interpret the subject of King Princess’s soulful refrain, “I can only think about you.” Whether she addresses money, fame, drugs, or sex (all of which are either frankly or obliquely referenced) doesn’t matter as much as how the 20-year-old nimbly navigates the vintage backbeat underneath. She plays bass and guitar on the track, also deploying smoke bombs like “It’s the price of the prodigy you wanna be.” No matter the meaning, “Prophet” ends up a definitive statement. Maybe it’s love; maybe it’s just power. —P.H.
10 Bad Bunny and J Balvin, “La Canción”
These Latin pop kings have given us the surprise album of the summer with Oasis, and it’s the tranquil “La Canción” — “The Song” in English — that stands out most. Benito and Balvin brood about memories of lost love, triggered after hearing a certain melody. It’s romantic and reggaetón, stitched together by a lonely trumpet solo that lets you fall right back with them. A great song about the power of a great song. — M.R.
11 Tove Lo, “Glad He’s Gone”
Tove Lo uses dark-rimmed pop to explore our bodies and the elation and detritus created when we bring them together. On the breezy “Glad He’s Gone,” she mines the same territory, though this time it’s to coach a pal through a breakup. A floating guitar guides her comforting words (“Bitch, I love you / He never loved you”) through the warm realization that friendship will always be there, even when your boyfriend bails. —P.H.
12 Carly Rae Jepsen, “Everything He Needs”
Leave it to Carly Rae to flip a quirky show tune into something dazzling. Lifting the hook from a 1980 Popeye cut sung by Shelley Duvall, Jepsen and her co-conspirators hang scores of tinsel around the doe-eyed melody. The music reflects what the lyrics tell — the titular “he” is so enthralled with everything about her — and both combine into a fizzy encapsulation of new love shimmering with glee. —P.H.
13 Mustard feat. Ella Mai and Ty Dolla $ign, “Surface”
Mustard knew what he was doing getting Ella Mai and Ty Dolla $ign back together. The super-producer collaborated with the R&B stalwarts on 2016’s “She Don’t,” but they return glossier than ever on “Surface,” a Mai-starring jam punctuated by a characteristically charming verse from Ty. Mai is raw here, daring her man to “get below the surface,” while Ty assures her, “You’re the only one I want, bae, I’m focused.” And thus, a summer fling is born. —M.R.
14 Julia Michaels, “Falling for Boys”
“Falling for Boys” has all the hallmarks of a Julia Michaels gem, including intimate anecdotes (it begins and ends with her dad wanting to beat up her exes), quirky production (ukulele strumming, twinkling strings, stuttering vocal effects, and a late-arriving hip-hop beat), and self-aware confessionals (“I want, I want, I wanna love me right,” she insists). The pop trendsetter is at her best, turning heartbreak into something beautiful. —M.R.
15 CNCO, “De Cero”
Two minutes into “De Cero,” CNCO’s Joel sings the song’s thesis in English: “Let’s restart and we’ll go far.” His bandmates Zabdiel, Erick, Christopher, and Richard bolster the rest of the track with appeals in Spanish to do the same — forget the heartache and start again. It’s a nice thought, though anyone who’s tried it knows it’s a lot more complicated. Delivered via CNCO’s delicate croons over an energetic reggaeton rhythm, anything seems possible. —P.H.
16 Chance the Rapper feat. Ari Lennox, “I Got You (Always and Forever)”
Ari Lennox, a mid-tempo ’90s beat, and a chorus of heavenly supporting vocals give Chance the Rapper one of his most joyful tunes yet. Lennox’s vivid vocals take center stage in “I Got You (Always and Forever)” as she promises to have a partner’s back. When Chance enters with his nostalgic flow, he questions other people’s understanding of his relationship, proving love is best understood between compatible minds. —T.A.
17 Heize feat. Giriboy, “We Don’t Talk Together”
South Korean songstress Heize’s latest single is for wallowing in post-breakup feels. Produced by Suga of BTS, this chill track follows a pair of exes struggling to confess their lingering yearning for each other. It’s about emptiness, sure, but the bassline snaps and sparkly composition will have you dancing, which is what you need right now. —C.B.
18 Mae Muller, “Anticlimax”
Telling off an ex has never seemed so effortless. Muller — a London singer-songwriter akin to Lily Allen — rides a grooving beat while speak-singing quietly savage bars like “You don’t have a job and you’re shit in the sack.” Her attitude could easily be mistaken as wrathful, even vengeful, but “Anticlimax” is surprisingly sunny. It’s less “Ring the Alarm” and more about finally realizing your worth. “All you are to me is one big anticlimax,” she confidently coos. You can practically see the eye roll. —M.R.
19 Ari Lennox,: “Up Late”
Ari Lennox’s gutsy soul leads this strong, soothing embrace of intimacy. Bluesy saxophones whisper in the horizon and a tempting hi-hat keeps the pulse flowing, while Lennox immerses herself in a temple of bodily praise — she’s being worshipped. Hands trace circles on the skin as Lennox’s voice rises, cracks, and trembles in ecstasy. This is the divine moment when desire and lust meet. —T.A.
20 Mark Ronson feat. Angel Olsen, “True Blue”
This one’s all about groove — until it’s not. That’s not to say that Ronson, a rhythmic master, ever lets up from the wounded beat (he doesn’t). But by the time Olsen’s purple, plaintive intonations about a lover reading her eyes reach the five-minute mark, the song’s crafty illusion reveals itself: It’s hypnosis. And when the glittering disco ball stops spinning, you’re left woozy and lovesick all the same. —P.H.
21 Ed Sheeran feat. YEBBA, “Best Part of Me”
Whether it’s the somber guitar notes strutting forward, or the moment when the singers make their cases for being at their perceived worst — when “Best Part of Me” comes on, tears are inevitable. Sheeran and YEBBA’s voices twist and swirl, grasping each other tight before unwinding gradually. It’s a slow burn that tells you what true love is. You shouldn’t settle for anything less. —T.A.
22 Clairo, “Sofia”
Clairo says she penned the fuzzy, Strokes-like “Sofia” as an ode to childhood crushes Sofia Coppola and Sofía Vergara. As such, it teems with all the exhilaration and effervescence that accompanies such a discovery — and in the capable hands of producer Rostam and mixer Dave Fridmann, it almost levitates. —P.H.
23 Kim Petras, “Got My Number”
In the kitchen, on the counter, on the bed, and on the floor are four places Kim Petras outlines where the object of her eye can “get it.” On “Got My Number,” she drops her digits (complete with area code) over a cascading neon soundtrack, then quickens the pace with a “Baby, I’ma sex it up for ya.” The song doesn’t even have a bridge; there’s simply no time to waste. —P.H.
24 Lewis Capaldi, “Someone You Loved”
Lewis Capaldi recently turned 23, but he’s an old soul. You see it in his warm, Harry Nilsson-esque everyman charm. And most importantly, you hear the grit on his otherwise gilded voice as he strains on the chorus of his devastating breakout hit “Someone You Loved.” He wails like he’s been through some shit, but he still finds the grace to carry on. That must be what keeps him so young. —P.H.
25 Billie Eilish, “i love you”
This acoustic-led ballad sticks out against the jagged electronic production that fills most of Eilish’s chart-topping debut album, and its penultimate placement on the tracklist brings the whole project to the ledge. “i love you” is breathless and overwhelming, as Billie tries not to be in love; the key lyric here is “I don’t want to.” The song is about “when you fall in love with someone and it’s a drag,” according to brother-producer Finneas O’Connell, but being bummed out has never sounded this enticing. —M.R.
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