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If There’s Still Such a Thing as the ‘Song of Summer,’ This Year’s Would Be …

Photo-Illustration: Vulture

Summer’s basically over, which means it’s the time of year when people with too much time on their hands traditionally debate — with intensity — which song is the “song of summer.” In recent years, those discussions have gotten even more heated because, thanks to streaming and the dissolution of American monoculture, it’s difficult to make a definitive pick that “everyone” can agree on. But, as you can read below, Switched On Pop’s Charlie Harding and Reanna Cruz joined the latest episode of Into It to try to anyway. See what they have to say, then check out Into It wherever you get podcasts.

Sam Sanders: What is the song of summer — if there even is one?
Charlie Harding: How dare you ask? I thought we killed the “song of summer” years ago.

Reanna Cruz: I don’t necessarily think it’s that easy, Sam.

Tell me more.
RC: In 2022, the “song of summer” isn’t the same “song of summer” we used to know. Those songs used to be a cultural moment that everybody rallied behind. “Get Lucky” was the song of summer the year it came out. But now the way we listen to music is decentralized. TikTok brings us a million different songs in 15-second clips every other week. There are so many options right now that the song of summer as we used to know it doesn’t necessarily exist.

CH: Reanna is right, but the song of summer is definitely “Break My Soul” by Beyoncé.

I have to admit that if I’m looking at the metrics — doesn’t matter if it’s TikTok ubiquity, radio airplay, performance on the charts — I think it has to be Lizzo’s “About Damn Time.”
RC: Wow, that would’ve been one of my top guesses.

Am I wrong to say that? It’s everywhere.
CH: I mean, it is the “Get Lucky” of this season, because it does feel like a continuation of Daft Punk’s record Random Access Memories — with all of the disco sheen and slap bass. Just on-the-nose references to past music. Lizzo says, “been feeling down and under pressure. I’m way too fine to be this stressed.” (Like “Under Pressure” by David Bowie and Queen, of course.) I like it. It’s fun. It’s got flutes. It’s got bells. It’s got good harmonies.

When I first heard it, I hated it. I said, immediately, that the Lizzo song “Juice” is a better version of this song. It sounds like “About Damn Time” was cooked up in a lab to be a No. 1 Lizzo hit for TikTok dancing virality to win a “song of summer” contest.
CH: That may be true, but I have to say that fast food is made to be scrumptious. And even if this is super-produced, it does it for me. It’s fun.

RC: I don’t know. I feel like it’s a grower for sure. I used to be in the “Lizzo makes Old Navy music commercial music” camp, so I was initially opposed to this song. But it’s grown on me over time. It continues a trend we’re seeing, between Beyoncé and Lizzo, of this disco vibe coming back to the top of the charts. There’s a renewed interest in older music. Personally, one of my songs of summer, if not my pick for de facto song of summer, is “Running Up That Hill.”

CH: Kate Bush.

Okay, we’re going to have to pause right there and really unpack that, because I believe you are the youngest person in this chat right now.
RC: I am.

And that song might be older than you.
RC: Oh, absolutely.

CH: Yeah. But Reanna’s the only person in this chat room with a Kate Bush tattoo right now.

RC: This is true.

What? Tell me about all of this.
RC: I’m a Kate Bush stan. I am currently sitting under a vintage Hounds of Love poster. I have a tattoo on my arm that says “Cloudbusting,” which is the fifth track off of Hounds of Love and my favorite Kate Bush song. “Running Up That Hill” is not the song of summer because I’m a Kate Bush die-hard. I’m saying that because I feel like it’s true and accurate.

Yeah, it came into the zeitgeist this summer because it was featured in the newest season of Stranger Things.
RC: Right. Right. And I don’t watch Stranger Things, so I was just like, “Oh cool. All of this renewed interest in Kate Bush. That’s so funny to me.” But I’ve actively been hearing it everywhere. I think it’s one of the only songs this year, maybe even alongside “Break My Soul,” to capture the summer vibe in a way that is so ubiquitous. It’s on TikTok, it’s out of car speakers, it’s at the club — everybody is remixing it, putting their spin on it.

What club did you hear “Running Up That Hill” in?
RC: Sam, I go to gay clubs.

So do I. Guess I’m going to the wrong gay clubs.
RC: I’ve been hearing it everywhere.

CH: I have this conspiracy theory that perhaps Stranger Things has been seeding our interest in Kate Bush since it landed and has been Netflix’s big show, because we actually spoke with Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein, who composed the music for that show and specifically cite Kate Bush as a significant influence on their sound. It’s almost like this soundtrack to the show, which is wildly popular, has been slowly revealing to us all of these ’80s synthesizers and beautiful melodies — and just a little bit of melancholy. I think Kate Bush has been with us for the last many years and we just didn’t know it. And now she’s fully arrived again.

I like that Kate Bush plot more than I like the actual plot of Stranger Things.
RC: Me too.

I do love these instances of classic songs being rediscovered by new groups of young people every five or six years — like with Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams.” I see some viral video of some young kids hearing it for the first time, their minds are blown, and it makes me so happy every time. To see it happen with Kate Bush’s song as well — I’m constantly here for this. I can’t wait for the kids to discover Rush.
RC: Please.

CH: Sam, you’re going to have to come back on Switched On Pop for a dedicated episode about Rush. You contain multitudes.

All right. So far, I’m hearing that there are arguments to be made for Lizzo having the song of summer and for Kate Bush having the song of summer. But we’ve alluded to a third contender, Beyoncé’s “Break My Soul.” I’m going to go out on a limb here and say — as perhaps the world’s biggest Beyoncé fan and the lover of her latest album, Renaissance — that “Break My Soul” is not the song of summer, because pound for pound, it is not an outstanding Beyoncé single.
RC: Wow.

I know. Fight me. It’s full of energy, but it feels very repetitive and doesn’t get as strange as the rest of Renaissance does. When I think of lead singles from Beyoncé albums, this is not top-five for me.
CH: Yeah. I’m slowly backing away like Homer Simpson into the bush.

The Kate Bush.
RC: The Kate Bush.

I’m going to have to close the loop on Beyoncé so that I don’t get too much hate mail. Part of why “Break My Soul” is not the song of summer is that, whenever I hear “Break My Soul” on the radio, all I want to do is go play “Heated” or “Pure/Honey” or “Alien Superstar.” I just think it’s a strange first showcase for an album that is so rich. That said, you all know I love Beyoncé. So don’t come at me.
RC: Sam, I get it though. I think Renaissance focuses its attention on being an album rather than a collection of songs. I don’t really see a specific single pulling away from the pack, even though “Break My Soul” was the single. I think it functions better in the context of an album. Similarly, I really enjoy the Bad Bunny record and would call it album of summer.

Okay. What’s it called?
RC: Un Verano Sin Ti.

What do you like about it?
RC: The song of summer always has a certain je ne sais quoi — tropical vibes, summer vibes. You could hear it on the beach. You could hear it on a hot day out of speakers. That intersection is the song of summer, and that’s what I find in Bad Bunny. I love it. I’ve been listening to it everywhere. And I think it’s similar to Renaissance, where you talk to everybody and they have a different favorite track off of it, but everybody’s heard the Bad Bunny album and rallies behind it being the soundtrack of the past few months. I think they’re very similar.

CH: Reanna is spot-on that there are multiple songs with more than 400 million Spotify plays off that record. One, two, three, four, five. There’s a lot of songs that are crushing it on that album.

RC: Oh, yeah. It’s crazy. I think, as evidenced by the Bad Bunny album, as evidenced by Renaissance, that we are moving toward an album of summer. An album can take up the cultural moment in a way that a single song can’t necessarily do anymore.

Before we do a little informal vote, are there any other contenders that we should consider?

CH: This might be out of left field, but the biggest song in K-pop right now is “Attention” by NewJeans. It is this amazing throwback R&B song that I’m really loving. I would put that in the mix, because that’s a huge global hit. I would say that Harry Styles is probably pretty sad that we’re not talking about “As It Was.”

Oh, “As It Was” was actually good.
CH: It’s a great song. Is it the summer vibe that you’re feeling? I don’t know.

It was No. 1 on the Billboard charts for weeks. He makes music for upscale restaurants that are never too loud, and that’s my vibe right now in my life.
CH: I love it. I dig it.

Yeah. So let’s call him a contender for “As It Was.” All right. So then our contenders are Lizzo with “About Damn Time,” Beyoncé with “Break My Soul,” all of Bad Bunny’s Un Verano Sin Ti, Kate Bush with “Running Up That Hill,” and Harry Styles with “As It Was.” If you had to pick, even though I know you don’t want to do that, which of those is it?
CH: I’m off to get a Kate Bush tattoo.
RC: I think I’ve got to go with Bad Bunny. Honestly, maybe it’s just the little Puerto Rican in me, but I have to. It really embodies the summer for me.

I’m going to begrudgingly give it to Lizzo for “About Damn Time.” She is making music that feels pretty ephemeral right now. It is very girlboss, Kidz Bop energy, but it works.
CH: Look what we did. We’ve determined that there is no song of summer. We all contain multitudes.

We all contain multitudes. It’s funny though. I’ve been thinking about how the moment when we could’ve diagnosed an actual song of summer is over. We’ve lost a monoculture. Streaming has opened up so much possibility that it’s hard to see anything that grabs everyone’s attention all the time. So if the era of the song of summer is moving further behind us, what takes its place? Playlist of summer? Festival of summer? Should “of summer” just be retired?
CH: “Best algorithmic playlist of summer” sounds about right.

This interview excerpt has been edited and condensed for clarity.

As of August 29, “As It Was” has been in the Hot 100’s No. 1 spot 11 times, across five different streaks, since it debuted in April.
The Post-Monoculture, Would-Be ‘Song of Summer’ 2022 Is …