You have been misled.
They have told you that every summer there is a song. One song. This song will, in some unspecified way, rule the summer. This “Song of the Summer” will then become your compulsory auditory memory for the season. “Ah 2016! That was the summer when we [insert some outdoor activity in which you indulged, probably near a body of water] while listening to Drake's 'One Dance.'”
Enough! Your authoritarian memory-policing and winner-takes-all pop competition-mongering is driven by the logic of cutthroat capitalism, if not outright Game of Thrones barbarism. Far be it for me to say that arguing about the Song of the Summer is why Trump won, but, well, when I was a kid in the '80s, we did not argue about what the Song of the Summer would be, and how many times was Donald Trump elected president then? Draw. Your. Own. Conclusions.
Pop music is more democratic than all that. Throughout the summer, radio hits do jostle one another for your favor, but they also supplement, contradict, and communicate with each other, together forming a conversation about sex and love and money and dancing and why exactly Justin Bieber had to be on this track.
So instead of forcing songs to battle one another to the death like the bloodthirsty savages we (you) are, let's just take a spin through the most recent Top Ten of the I Heart Radio countdown and examine the merits of the music we'll enjoy and endure this summer on pop radio.
Of course, if you'd still like to debate which of these is the Song of the Summer, I can't stop you. I really don't know why you'd bother though. It's clearly “Despacito.”
10. Ed Sheeran -- 'Castle on the Hill'
In reactionary times, even innocuous fibs about how the past was better and simpler are worth rejecting. Prematurely nostalgic pop songs make unhappy kids unhappier by insisting that their teen years are the best days of their lives, a lie that doesn't do much to cheer adults up either. I won't mock Ed (much) more than I have already, though, and he deserves credit for giddyappping a gallop of guitar and drums into such a rousing imitation of his favorite U2 song. Which is clearly a Coldplay song.
9. Halsey -- 'Now or Never'
Halsey is like if “w/e” and “idc idc idc” had a kid together and then they could never remember to pick her up after school. Her bored petulance is a gift. She sulks winningly through contemporary doldrum-pop (she should've named her teen anthem “New Anhedonia”) but can rouse herself into reckless desire as well. This romantic ultimatum doesn't exude frustration, though. It just hovers as blank and impassive as an uncalled bluff. So, um, “never,” I guess?
8. Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee (feat. Justin Bieber) -- 'Despacito'
The most remarkable thing about the third -- only the third -- Spanish-language #1 single in U.S. history is that it's not particularly remarkable. Los Lobos' remake of “La Bamba” sprang from a hit movie during a '50s rock 'n' roll nostalgia boom. “Macarena” was a colossal phenomenon, a dance craze that infected every strata of American life. Steamy yet effortless, “Despacito” just feels like the track that happened to hit when an audience was in the mood for some insinuating reggaeton-lite -- and maybe to show timely mass solidarity with Spanish-speaking Americans. The Bieber remix is a small price to pay for busting the Anglo lock on U.S. pop, and lyrics like (rough translation) “I sign the walls of your labyrinth/ And make your whole body a manuscript” are Shakira-worthy erotic absurdism.
7. Bruno Mars -- 'That's What I Like'
Martial law, widespread eco-disaster, Ed Sheeran deciding maybe he should sing in Spanish too -- whatever dystopia the future brings, you can be sure this peppy little guy will still be blithely luxuriating in affluent ease over an expertly retro beat, and whenever we've got a minute to rest from street fighting over our gas rations, we'll all still coo about how talented a showman he is. To be honest, Bruno's aspirational funk-pop fantasies are a little too facile for me still, but any penthouse in a storm, I suppose.
6. Julia Michaels -- 'Issues'
Writing with collaborator Justin Tranter, Michaels has had a hand in Hailee Steinfeld's she-boppin' “Love Myself,” Bieber's career-rebootin' “Sorry,” and lots of the best parts of Britney's under-celebrated 2016 album, Glory. But I'm most interested in Michaels & Tranter's work with Selena Gomez, with what it shows about the relationship between songwriting, image cultivation, and the work of maintaining pop stardom. They're behind the frisky “Hands to Myself,” the subservient “Good for You,” (“Selena play-acts a vacant shell of selfless glamor so creepily it must be deliberately subversive, right?” I once hoped desperately), and, this year, the cool, “Psychokiller”-jacking “Bad Liar.” On her first hit as a performer, Michaels scrunches her voice expressively over plucked strings, delivering as undramatic a song about drama as you could ask for. She's leapt agilely across the great chasm between songwriter and star that has claimed so many others. (Some nights you can hear Bonnie McKee's voice echoing from the deep.) And I'd still rather hear Selena sing this.
5. The Chainsmokers & Coldplay -- 'Something Just Like This'
Basic structure: Male fragility verse → ventriloquized female reassurance chorus → generic EDM breakdown → “doo-doo-doo doo-doo-doo” → falsetto “doo-doo-doo doo-doo-doo.” So cruelly self-parodic I swear Chris Martin must have lost a bet with Jay-Z, or a wicked Gwyneth demanded he record this if he wanted to keep one of the mansions.
4. James Arthur -- 'Say You Won't Let Go'
I was gonna complain about this acoustic-plucker's sub-Sheeran mewl and borrowed Adele melody, but, hell, kids have to slow dance to something at the prom. And along the way from love-at-first-sight to I-will-always-be-true, one memorable lyric does surface: “I held your hair back when/ You were throwing up.” A v. important quality in a prom date.
3. DJ Khaled (feat. Justin Bieber, Quavo, Chance the Rapper & Lil Wayne) -- 'I'm The One'
If rock stars had supergroups, rap stars have Khaled tracks. This is too bubbly for me to hate, and I'm glad Chance got his #1. But Bieber's continuing degeneration into a human sound effect is bad news for us all -- even if you hate the guy, he's not going anywhere. And Quavo may want to think twice before he becomes the most over-exposed MC in the game today. Look what happened to Luda when he tried that shit, Q. Hell, look what happened to Wayne.
2. Kygo X Selena Gomez -- 'It Ain't Me'
While “Bad Liar” languishes far below its rightful place on the charts, Gomez leads a defiant femme chorus here in their refusal to ever again play designated driver for a nation of bad boyfriends. The Norwegian in charge double-times the beat for an EDM hoedown in the style of the Avicii oldie “Wake Me Up.” From way back in 2013, that one, yet “It Ain't Me” doesn't feel like a throwback. More like time has stood still.
1. Zedd & Alessia Cara -- 'Stay'
A depressing fact: This is the only song in the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100 right now sung by a woman. As this survey has shown, pop radio airplay is still, fortunately, a more coed affair. (Billboard now factors in streaming, and users of those services skew male, apparently giving Lil Uzi Vert the edge over Halsey.) But that doesn't change another depressing fact: As with “It Ain't Me,” the male producer gets top billing over the female star here, who has to compete for space on the chorus with the keyboard hook devised by the elfin Russo-German music-meister in charge. Maybe we're on the verge of a return to the days of the big bands, with credited male bandleaders and merely featured “girl singers.” In reactionary times, you have to wonder.
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