Everyone should. The annual debate over which pop single will rule our hot months is the best kind of music debate. Why? Because it’s impossible for anyone to win, for starters. We listen, we fight over which tune should define June, July and August, then we listen some more.
It’s a million-muso campfire masquerading as an argument, anyway. In an era that encourages us to curate our own highly specialized pop culture diets, summer songs are the last scraps of pop music that we still share. We’re all outdoors, living and listening in three dimensions. Music resumes its original audio format: the air.
That gives the song-of-summer debate its Darwinian urgency. The Meghan Trainors and Jason Derulos of the world are forced to compete not only with one another, but with everything else, too. Sunshine makes our world noisier by luring humanity outdoors, where songs must clash for supremacy at the ballpark, under the boardwalk and wherever cracked car windows leak subwoofer oomph.
There’s a certain magic to this kind of incidental, open-air listening — especially considering how our earbuds have made our relationship to music so private during the other nine months of the year. We use the songs stored in our hand-held devices to aestheticize our morning jogs, our daily commutes, our afternoon coffee breaks and our evening strolls. More regularly than not, we move through public spaces to a private soundtrack.
Summertime switches that up. It transforms us from individual consumers into social listeners, inviting us to absorb big hits in communal spaces. Music rises up to its seasonal duty, helping to establish the aura of a time and place. What’s more, summer continuously confronts us with songs that we didn’t choose to hear. If we’re lucky, our tastes might begin to mutate against our will.
Iggy Azalea, left, arguably owned last summer with “Fancy.” This year she has teamed with Britney Spears, right, for a bleh duet, “Pretty Girls.” (Jimmy Morris/European Pressphoto Agency)
Carly Rae Jepsen dominated the summer of 2012 with “Call Me Maybe, ” and she’s trying really hard to replicate that feat with “I Really Like You.” (Owen Sweeney/Owen Sweeney/Invision/AP)
It only helps if the songs feel big and small, stupid and wise, all at once. The greatest summer songs can express a mob emotion that still feels specific to you. They can present themselves as naively simple, even when they’re teeming with secret smarts. But it’s always on you to decide whether the song crackles and pops like a cold bowl of cereal or the burning bush. And maybe you haven’t had breakfast yet.
The point is this: As an honorific, the song of the summer is always up for grabs, always up for discussion, always impossible to resolve. Nobody’s name gets ripped from an envelope on Labor Day. That alone makes it a far more meaningful — or at least a more interesting — metric for measuring pop significance than, say, a Grammy award or an invitation to some ridiculous Hall of Fame.
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