By Cathy Lew
The song of the summer is dead.
And that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
I’ve always defined the song of the summer as the ultimate enabler. You can play it at your family barbeque or Todd’s 27th Turnt Up Birthday Fiesta, and it will have the same effect. Listeners light up, dance, and even the cynics will at least give it a nod of recognition. It’s the song that gives everyone permission to become Fun Human Being from Memorial Day until Labor Day, when it saturates the airwaves and elicits a collective groan.
But the song of the summer—the track that commands people’s attention for an entire season—doesn’t really exist anymore. We’re no longer beholden to something playing on repeat on the radio until we’re forced in to liking it. Billboard charts and YouTube numbers tell us what people are listening to, but they don’t dictate it. To become today’s song of the summer, it’s not about play count: it’s about a song’s ability to achieve meme-like status. Last year’s “Blurred Lines” retained its relevance throughout the summer because of a music video that never seemed to go away and a live performance that Robin Thicke is still paying for. “Call Me Maybe” was catchy as hell, but its true power was that it was designed for parodies and response music videos. Everyone from Bieber to U.S. troops in Kandahar got involved. Being classified as “catchy” isn’t enough—to dominate summer, a song needs to become its own three-month long public spectacle.
Summer just started, and “Fancy” is at the top of the charts. But it’s hard for me to see “Fancy” as the song we all listen to ten years from now when we want to wistfully remember the good old days. Maybe it could be Ariana Grande’s “Problem,” but that gratuitous whisper chorus is a major buzzkill. In honor of the songs that have topped the Billboard charts, I assess songs of the summer on a scale of 1 (let’s forget this ever happened) to 10 (I STILL BUMP THIS) to see where they stand today.
“Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke (2013)
What more can be said about what felt like the longest publicity stunt of your life rather than an actual song? Give me another five years when the “Hey Hey Hey” and #THICKE have faded from my memory, and I’ll get back to you on it.
Score: Too soon to tell, holding out until 2019
“Call Me Maybe” by Carly Rae Jepsen (2012)
I am prepared for this song to be used on every trailer for every Kate Hudson rom com from now until the end of time. It would also make a really great theme song for an ABC Family series about a group of attractive, racially diverse friends who run a private investigator’s office and solve petty crimes. This song has staying power. If you need help figuring out how to use it for promotional purposes, just let me know.
“Party Rock Anthem” by LMFAO feat. Lauren Bennett & GoonRock (2011)
I feel like no one ever actually enjoyed this song, and the only reason it existed was for parents to reference it as the music “the youths are listening to these days.” Also a song that was dubbed for hamsters was never meant to endure.
“California Gurls” Katy Perry feat. Snoop Dogg (2010)
As a California native, here’s a list of songs about California that I prefer to Katy Perry’s 2010 anthem:
“California Love” by 2pac; “Californication” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers; “California” by Phantom Planet; “Big Sur” by The Thrills; “California Dreamin’” by The Mamas & The Papas; “Yay Area” by E-40; the one part of “Hannah Hunt” that mentions Santa Barbara; the line in “Step” that goes “But actually Oakland and not Alameda”
Score: 3/ Hey Vampire Weekend!
“I Gotta Feeling” by The Black Eyed Peas (2009)
“I Gotta Feeling” will play at approximately 7:48 p.m. at every wedding you’ll go to for the rest of your life. If you don’t jump around and sing along, you look like a tooootal dick who doesn’t believe in love. You’ll be hearing this from now until forever, so feel free to skip over it for the summer playlist.
“Bleeding Love” by Leona Lewis (2008)
Though you may not listen to this song and immediately think “summer jam,” this song takes me on an important emotional and spiritual journey. It is a power ballad with healing powers. IT MOVES ME. IT MOVES US ALL.
“The Way I Are” by Timbaland feat. Keri Hilson (2007)
Timbaland could produce a song about why wearing a fedora isn’t as bad as you think, and I’d still hail it as song of the summer.
“Promiscuous” by Nelly Furtado feat. Timbaland (2006)
I was pretty apathetic about this song when it was released, but how many opportunities will Steve Nash have to be immortalized in song?
Please reference 2007 for additional details.
“Lose Control” by Missy Elliott feat. Ciara & Fat Man Scoop (2005)
This song makes me feel like life is just one long video game, and the only way to make it to the next level is to dance. Also, remember the music video? Because you should remember the music video.
“Confessions Part II” by Usher; “Burn” by Usher; “If I Ain’t Got You” by Alicia Keys; “The Reason” by Hoobastank (2004)
Something bad must have happened during the summer of ’04 because the top songs on the Billboard charts read like a breakup mixtape you’re too embarrassed to tell other people exists.
Score: Give me all of the sad face emojis
“Crazy in Love” (2003) by Beyoncé ft. Jay-Z
In our rapidly changing and unpredictable world, the best part about “Crazy in Love” is that it’s a testament to the fact that there are still people you can rely on in this world.
“Hot in Herre” (2002) by Nelly
I have beef with songs that are deliberately angling to be the song of the summer, which “Hot in Herre” so clearly was. It was also made for those pervy parties where people would sing along to the chorus and hope everyone would follow its instructions. CHILL, you are not the “Cha Cha Slide.” If you’re looking for the right Nelly throwback, go with “Ride Wit Me” instead.
“Where the Party At” by Jagged Edge feat. Nelly (2001)
This is the type of song that if it had come out last week, the only way I’d be able to process it would be:
“YAAASSSSSS” or “This. Song. Is. Everything” or “LITERALLY NO WORDS”
But it didn’t come out last week. It came out in 2000, so I’ve had over a decade to think about it and make the claim that this is one of the all-time best songs of the summer. Without overtly pandering to the masses about summer (come at me, “Hot in Herre”) it captures the essence of what every perfect party should sound like. Whenever the opening bars play, everyone in earshot immediately becomes the best version of their party selves.
Score: Hello, nice to meet you, welcome to a perfect 10.
“Higher” by Creed (2000)
This is like when your friends are arguing about where to go on Saturday night and you promise them there’s going to be this sick party but you have to drive about 45 minutes to get there and then you get stuck in traffic and by the time you arrive you’re like holy shit this is the worst party of all time and no matter how many times you apologize, no one wants to hear it. Your friends don’t forgive you. It wasn’t the worst thing you’ve ever done in your life, but it was definitely a mistake. That’s how I feel about 2000 for empowering Creed to have one of the top songs of the summer. I still won’t forgive.
Score: Kindly leave.
You can find Cathy Lew on Twitter: @cathy_lew