Songs of Summer: A Retrospective & Prospective Overview

Emma Gase | Medium Talk Co-Creator

Memorial Day has passed, summer is imminent, and so begins the search for the Song of Summer: 2015 Edition. But what does it mean to be the Song of Summer? Some folks reserve the summer months exclusively for Country music. Others look to radio to guide their BBQ playlist choices. Still others enjoy the influx of album releases across all genres—when it comes down to it, May through September is the best time to be listening to new music, period.

Is the Song of Summer the song you hear the MOST during the summer? Or is it the one that is most intricately connected to your summer experience? Is it your go-to car song while driving? The definition itself is elastic, as there are several metrics by which you can measure the Song of Summer, no one more reliable than any other.

Songs of Summer: A Review of the Past Three Years

2012

Summer Song (as Determined by Radio & Popular Opinion): Carly Rae Jepsen, “Call Me Maybe”

The Earworm. Did my study-abroad roommate and I record a semi-drunken music video to this particular song that may or may not still live deep in the bowels of YouTube? I won’t say for sure.  What I can say for sure is that this song, while incessantly catchy to the point of discomfort, was one of those cases where a song you loved became a big hit many months after your initial infatuation had flamed out. Meaning “Call Me Maybe” was stale to me by the time it hit U.S. airwaves. AKA: Not a Summer Song (to me).

Summer Song (as Determined by Slightly Embarrassing Play Count on my iTunes): Frank Ocean, “Pyramids”

The Epic Novel. The perfect Frank Ocean song. A ten-minute song of Odyssey proportions, I listened to “Pyramids” on a loop as I rode the subway every morning to my tortuous PR internship in New York. Corporate PTSD aside, this song has a lock on not only summer, but 2012 as a whole.

 

2013

As the best year of releases since 2010*, 2013 was the most stacked summer of releases in recent memory.

Song of Summer (as Determined by Critical Acclaim and Pharrell): Daft Punk, Get Lucky

The People Pleaser. “Get Lucky” was as universally loved as any song I’ve listened to in the past decade. I love this song. Parents love this song. Your grandma probably loves this song. “Get Lucky” rode the hype wave straight to the top and kicked off the era of Pharrell, disco revival, and the (thankful) end to the womping EDM that dominated electronic music during the late 2000s.

Song of Summer (as Determined by Radio Ubiquity, a Popular-Yet-Misogynistic Music Video, and Pharrell): Robin Thicke ft. T.I. & Pharrell, “Blurred Lines”

The Popular Mean Girl. This song does nothing for me. The music video even less so. The outpouring of love for this song baffled me at the time, and continues to do so. A flat melody, no real chorus, and a flagrant, plagiarizing retread of a Marvin Gaye song has led this song to where it rightfully belongs: Getting Robin Thicke’s ass sued in court. Thank you, litigators.

Album-Length Soundtrack to Summer (as Determined by Youthful Buzz, Refreshing Earnestness, and All Around Quality): Chance the Rapper, Acid Rap

One of the rare albums where every song is a hit. Each week brought a fresh obsession with a different track. Maybe one weekend it was “Chain Smoker,” and during the week “Good Ass Intro.”

Runner Up (as Determined by Impending and Inevitable Mainstream Success for an Actually Deserving Artist): Lorde, Love Club EP

2013 was the summer my friends and I discovered Lorde. Thanks to MadonFood’s sister’s extreme internet savviness (thanks, JLak), we downloaded the early cut of “Royals” a full six months before it was released in the US. It didn’t take more than one listen for agreement across the board that Lorde would be a requirement for all porch playlists going forward.

*I have a theory that the best music is released on a three-year schedule.  2010 was the last truly Great Year: MBDTF, How I Got Over, High Violet, The Suburbs, Teen Dream, The Monitor, This is Happening. Could we have been any more spoiled? 2013 was similarly resplendent: Modern Vampires of the City, Acid Rap, Yeezus (back off, haters), Random Access Memories, Trouble Will Find Me, Pure Heroine, Nothing Was the Same, and the Mother Lode: Beyoncé. Can 2011, 2012, and 2014 even hold a candle to these two years in any meaningful way? Hell no—fillers, all of it. Bide your time until 2016. It’s going to be great.  

 

2014

Worst Song of Summer (as Determined by Anyone with Functioning Eardrums): Iggy Azalea ft. Charli XCX, “Fancy”

The Default in a Dearth of Options. “Fancy” is the worst Song of Summer in the past decade of pop. Despite the pop genius of Charli XCX (the girl who brought us “I Love It”), not even her charisma could stamp out the contrived horror that is Iggy Azalea. Truly a testament to the musically blah year of 2014. My three-year theory in action.

Song of Summer (as Determined by Danceability and Radio Play): Tinashe ft. Schoolboy Q, “2 On”

 DJ Mustard’s Magna Cum Laude Effort. “2 On” is perfect in every way a digestible pop/R&B song could be, and to me connotes every single dance floor at every single bar I ever attended last summer. Smoky, sexy and the single best DJ Mustard song to ever exist.

Album of the Summer (as Determined by Critical Acclaim and Cohesiveness and a Respect for the Album Format)The War on Drugs, Lost in the Dream

The Reliable Staple. The War on Drugs made the rare album that sounds equally excellent at any time of day—mellow enough for the morning hours, upbeat enough for mid-afternoon, and textured enough for the night hours, Lost in the Dream simply never got old.

 

PROSPECTIVE SONGS OF SUMMER: 2015

It’s still early in the Song of Summer race in 2015. June will see another slew of singles dropping and album releases, but tentatively, this is what’s on the radar.

Contender #1: Jamie XX, PopCaan, Young Thug, “(I Know) There's Gonna be Good Times”

This song has the best potential to be the Song of Summer. Hipster yet appealing enough to hit the mainstream, it is nearly impossible to be in a bad mood while listening to this track. There are even steel drums!

Contender #2: Mark Ronson ft. Bruno Mars, “Uptown Funk”

Please don’t let this bland James Brown rip-off be our Song of Summer. The last thing the world needs is another neutered soul-sample track with no peaks and valleys sung by Mr. Unremarkable himself, Bruno Mars. We can do better, world.

Contender #3: Taylor Swift, “Bad Blood”

Painfully self-aggrandizing? Yes. Infuriatingly catchy and hypnotic? Also yes. Song of Summer potench? Lukewarm. Slightly desperate Kendrick remix aside, this song just doesn’t have the carefree nature the Song of Summer requires. But T Swift is the single most influential pop star in the world right now. She released this bonkers video at her own personal award show, aka the Billboard Music Awards, which were basically just an ode her to perfect life/bf Calvin Harris. Swift nation may pull through.

[Extremely obscure & unlikely] Contender #4: Shura: “2Shy”

This track sounds like the sonic equivalent of finally “going for a walk” in the woods with your No. 1 crush at summer camp. It could easily be played as the end credits to a John Hughes movie. “2Shy” is synthy, a little bit cheesy, and totally charming.

-EG