Are the Songs of the Summer really bad this year, or am I just old?
Every summer there’s supposed to be that one song. The one the comes on the radio when you’re in the car and everyone from your brother in college to your mom knows the words and sings along. The one that booms from the speakers of the hotel beach bar as you lay burning in the sand. The one that soundtracks your sweaty walks to work, and then the changing of your sweaty shirt into a dry one because you’re not an animal and you don’t want your coworkers to see like you that.
Sometimes the Song of the Summer is great: “I Wanna Dance With Somebody,” “Waterfalls,” “Crazy in Love.” Sometimes it’s kitschy, slight, and unapologetically fun, just like summer! “Hot in Herre,” “Baby Got Back,” “Call Me Maybe.” They typically encapsulate a certain pop moment (though dialed up to the bubblegum variety), are effortlessly catchy to the point of grating, and transport you to a time and place even as it becomes obnoxiously overplayed.
They should make you happy.
These do not.
Apologies if I’m the only one who finds, at this July 4th weekend midpoint of the summer of 2016, this year’s contenders to be uninspiring. Even kind of bad. Here are the big horses in the race.
All I can say is—as I do every day—thank god for Beyoncé.
“Can’t Stop the Feeling” – Justin Timberlake
“Can’t Stop the Feeling” is an original song from the forthcoming animated feature film Trolls, based on the nude dolls you used to anally impale on your pencils. Perhaps that’s a fair enough summation of the deranged sunniness of a Justin Timberlake single that literally contains the lyric, “I got that sunshine in my pocket…” Dammit, though, the song lodges itself in your head, where it will play on loop eternally as your skin is scorched into painful burns all summer long. It’s weak musical SPF.
“One Dance” – Drake featuring WizKid & Kyla
The current number one single in America, Drake’s first, is less a dancehall banger than it is dancehall filler. It comes on and it’s not like you groan. You might actually say, “Oh! I like this song.” Your shoulders might start bopping up and down, your foot tapping. But you’re not exactly compelled to bark across the bar at Karen to forget about getting another round of shooters and meet you on the dancefloor right now. It’s the music equivalent of a pleasant grin, with Drake doing his stream-of-conscious slurring over a bouncy reggae-inspired beat. It’s catchy, but kind of tuneless. I look forward to pretending I know the words for the next six weeks.
“Panda” – Desiigner
When this song was first brought to my attention I assumed it was a joke, before it was explained to me that it has also been sampled by Kanye West and, as Rolling Stone explains, “is a fixture everywhere from car stereos to Vogue shoots.” I’m not sure why Gigi Hadid prefers menacing and anxiety-inducing trap beats to soundtrack her lingerie lounging, but you do you, G. Listen, summer is prime time for guilty pleasure camp—I did the Harlem Shake and turned down for what and assured the world that I was aware of my sexiness. But I draw the line at “Panda.”
“This Is What You Came For” – Calvin Harris featuring Rihanna
I’m sorry, I will not be convinced that this song did not already exist. Disqualified.
“Work From Home” – Fifth Harmony featuring Ty Dolla $ign
I would not be able to pick the members of Fifth Harmony out of a lineup. Maybe that’s the joy of watching them: each time you see them perform you spot a new one. Or maybe it’s an old one but just in the next stage of her transition into an actual human Bratz doll. That said, “Work From Home” is a mechanically perfect version of a 2016 pop hit: cautiously urban, to both attract but not alienate; repetitive; speak-sung; and about a totally nonsensical topic that could be reappropriated into a hashtag and memes. Is it a good thing when the Song of the Summer is a meme? I’ll report my findings from the dance floor of Boxers.
“Just Like Fire” – Pink
Pink has become so skilled at belting her face off whilst suspended upside down a hundred feet in the air dangling from Cirque du Soleil ribbons that we’ve come to be bored by it. Someone muttering “Panda” over and over again is thrilling, but hitting a high D5 while somersaulting in the rafters is a snooze. We are here for this forever and always, Pink. Just don’t sing “Just Like Fire” ever again. It’s garbage.
“Ride” – twenty one pilots
“Don’t Let Me Down” – The Chainsmokers featuring Daya
Those exciting claps building up to the that funky beat drop is exactly what summer songs are made of. Close your eyes and you can see the twentysomethings jumping and down and spilling their Bud Lights while shouting along to it. This song played during a Soul Cycle class I took recently. That is both the biggest endorsement and also greatest damnation I could possibly give.
“Into You” – Ariana Grande
Hi, gays! It’s me, Ariana. As you’ve heard, I have the range! I also have terrible producers that keep, year after year, failing to serve up the summer anthem that my voice deserves and my fans are clamoring for. We keep being insufferable about the need for a summer song to command you to the dance floor, and of all this year’s contenders this sexy-as-hell chorus provides the most forceful beckoning. But the slow verses and Grande’s bold refusal to enunciate make for awkward foreplay leading up to it.
“M.I.L.F.$” – Fergie
Arriving at the 11thh hour as workers across the country were workshopping excuses to leave the office early Friday to beat the beach traffic, it’s the return of Fergie Ferg! “M.I.L.F.$” boasts all the subtlety you might expect from a pop track titled MILFs-with-a-dollar-sign. It is technically pronounced “MILF money” and it is a diagnosable musical schizophrenia of straight-up noise. But it’s a lovable schizophrenic. Each respective personality is appealing in its own right—if when all rearing their heads simultaneously can be a bit much. But it’s a post-Iggy world. With Fergie, we didn’t know how good we had it.
“Cheap Thrills” – Sia
Honestly, I like this one!
“Like I Would” – Zayn
Apparently Nick Jonas has a reject bin. Who knew?
Something Beyoncé – Beyoncé
Go to the current Billboard singles chart and you’ll see the highest-ranked Beyoncé song is “Sorry,” all the way down at no. 32. Go to any party thrown by a human with taste and you’ll hear all of Lemonade played, multiple times, start to finish, followed by hours of scouring YouTube for bootleg versions of our Queen performing those same songs during her Formation tour. The disconnect lately between the culture-at-large’s mass enjoyment of Beyoncé’s music and its radio and chart play is mysterious. But be not confused. It is the Summer of Bey.