Summer is in full swing. The weather has improved, Wimbledon has kicked off, and I’m voluntarily spending time outdoors in an attempt to avoid writing my dissertation. Pop culture of this season is typically defined in frothy terms. The books in the best-seller lists are categorised as ‘beach reads’; The movies are blockbuster fare with varying degrees of seriousness and a giddy focus on spectacle; The T.V. shows are marathon-friendly and lean away from the ponderous dramas of the Winter months. Of course, the music must follow suit, and we must declare a Song of the Summer.
The Song of the Summer is a pop tradition that offers a more frivolous alternative to the Christmas Number One. That tends to be a competition, with rushed sales and seasonal novelty taking dominant form in a race for the top spot for one week only. Crowning a Song of the Summer relies on many more weeks of build-up. It cannot be forced. The song must find its audience alone. Whether it’s through radio play, streaming numbers or the background music of shopping centres the world over, a true Song of the Summer must be popular, populist, and utterly inescapable.
The young audiences who wield the most Song of the Summer power aren’t as beholden to the airwaves as generations past. They’re more likely to turn to YouTube for their songs and share them on social media in ways that it is impossible to describe without sounding hopelessly old and out-of-touch. As someone who doesn’t have a Spotify account and never listens to the radio, I often don’t find out about the hit songs of the day until they’ve lost their cool or become advert fodder. If I am aware of a big pop number as it’s the hit of the moment, then it must be a big damn deal.
Last year, the Song of the Summer seemed to inspire less debate. It was clearly Despacito, whether we liked it or not, and nobody could disagree with that. This year, however, the field is a little more open. In that spirit, here are some likely contenders for the title, as well as a few that I think deserve our attentions.
Apeshit by The Carters
I must admit that the latest surprise effort by Beyonce and Jay-Z was a bit of a let-down for me. It’s super catchy and the swagger is undeniable, but it felt underwhelming compared to the mighty efforts the pair demonstrated on their most recent solo efforts. The Migos fingerprints are all over this production, which is either the best or worst thing ever, depending on who you ask. However, given that neither Beyonce or Jay-Z are really chart acts anymore - they’ve totally transcended the need for a mere number one single - this one feels pitch-perfect for the Billboard top 10. Indeed, it makes people go apeshit.
I Like It by Cardi B, Bad Bunny & J Balvin
If ever a song this season felt engineered in a lab to become Song of the Summer, it’s the latest single from Cardi B. That sample of Pete Rodriguez’s classic hit, I Like It Like That is a full-on earworm, and that’s before you get to Cardi being inimitably Cardi. Few people on the charts right now sound like they’re having as much fun with their music as Cardi B. That sheer force of charisma can carry many a mediocre tune but I Like It has the goods to back up its leading lady. You can’t go wrong with a Latin-Caribbean fusion.
SoulMate by Justin Timberlake
Oh Justin. I see what you’re doing. Hey, remember when you went all bro-country a few months ago and it didn’t work in the slightest? If Justin’s trying to make us all forget Man of the Woods, he needn’t bother since few of us actually remember that album (and I reviewed it!) This surprise single strategy is no Lemonade. While I Like It feels like the number most engineered to snatch the Song of the Summer crown, SoulMate is easily the most cynical effort of the season. It starts with the line ‘Summer starts here’, for the love of SexyBack! It’s not a good song, but it is better than Filthy, and it sounds more like something Timberlake’s fans actually want from him. Still, it doesn’t seem to be catching on, as of the writing of this post. Honestly, I don’t think this has a hope in hell of breaking out, I’m mostly curious to see if anyone was actually aware that Justin Timberlake had a new song out.
High Horse by Kacey Musgraves
Kacey Musgraves has been a country music darling for a few years now and has always skirted around the edge of mainstream fame with some of the most effecting songs the genre’s heard for years. Suck it, bro country. Her new album has received similarly strong reviews and High Horse feels like it has the best break-out potential for the Summer. Disco-country-pop could sound so kitsch and embarrassing, but Musgraves makes it seem effortlessly cute and dorky-cool. It’s got a message perfect for the season too - get the fuck off your high horse and enjoy yourself for once!
No Tears Left To Cry by Ariana Grande
On top of releasing her first single from the forthcoming album Sweetener, Ariana Grande has been a gossip hot topic for the past few weeks thanks to her whirlwind romance with Pete Davidson. It never hurts to be visible over the season you’re pushing a new song. It helps that No Tears Left To Cry is a damn fine song. It’s the kind of light inspirational disco-pop number that always does well in the Summer and Ariana’s never sounded clearer. Her vocals are on-point but so is her enunciation. She’s seldom sounded more effortless or casually fabulous.
What’s your Song of the Summer for 2018? What’s your all-time favourite Song of the Summer? Share your top choices in the comments. For me, no Summer is complete without Daft Punk.
(Header image from YouTube)