With only a little over a month left of spring, there is one question that should be on everyone’s minds: Where are the contenders for 2019’s song of summer?
When considering the criteria for any “song of summer”, a few elements are key. You can metabolize the data from the charts all you want, but that doesn’t mean a chart-topping song is necessarily the song of summer (and besides, haven’t we learned that those charts can be extremely flawed due to personal bias?).
Instead, consider the following (loose, non-scientific) principles for deciding if a song is a summer jam: Do you hear it often on the radio? Is it blasting in the aisles at your local supermarket? Might there be some sort of viral video or dance component of the track? And perhaps most importantly, will you be getting your life to this song at 1 A.M. at the bar, in the club, or around your living room?
If previous years are anything to go by, songs of summer tend to be released by May (DJ Khaled’s “I’m the One” came out on April 28, 2017), usually before or around Memorial Day, the unofficial start of summer. And releasing a song on the holiday gives it enough time to really infiltrate the culture, though some songs don’t really take off until summer officially begins in June (Drake’s “In My Feelings” last year). In any case, by the time you’re back from your Fourth of July weekend, you should have a pretty solid idea of the bops in the running.
And this year, the contenders we’re working with include: “Me!” by Taylor Swift and Brendon Urie, “Medellín” by Madonna and Maluma, “Old Town Road” by Lil Nas X (the Billy Ray Cyrus remix version, naturally), “Talk” by Khalid, “Sucker” by the Jonas Brothers, “Bad Guy” by Billie Eilish, and “Sweet But Psycho” by Ava Max. But this list—which, admittedly, was conjured from loose data-collection habits, and by taking mental notes in the backseats of cars with the radio on, and in line waiting to check out at the store, and by a general temperature check of what seems to be popular with teens on TikTok—feels lackluster.
Let’s face it: None of these songs feels like the quintessential song of summer. By this time last year, we had a fresh Cardi B album (which was filled with bops, though most seemed to agree that “I Like It” was the breakout summer jam), a Sweetener single from Ariana Grande (“No Tears Left to Cry”), a Drake single (“Nice for What,” which was eventually usurped by “In My Feelings”), your mom’s favorite grocery-shopping jingle (“The Middle” by Zedd, Maren Morris & Grey, which is still almost as ubiquitous as it was last summer), and Ella Mai’s “Boo’d Up” dominating the airwaves. With “Boo’d Up” being the exception, most of those are mid-tempo bops that you could imagine yourself dancing to with or without a drink in your hand.
This year, however, the songs topping the charts don’t check enough boxes to satisfy that song of summer itch. Both Taylor Swift and Madonna endlessly teased that their respective music videos would be worth the wait, but neither of these songs is necessarily a smart first single to release as a taste of their upcoming albums (nor are the respective music videos). Khalid’s “Talk” has potential but feels a bit slow. (Although, to be fair, “Boo’d Up” wasn’t exactly a banger, and it still managed to blast its way through the airwaves—everyone needs a little lovesick anthem to listen to in the dead of summer, it seems.) “Sucker” seems to have possibly been upstaged by the Jonas Brothers’ second single, “Cool” (or at least upstaged by their SNL performance of an oldie, “Burnin’ Up”). Billie Eilish is destined to be the one Gen Z musician everybody name-checks, and “Bad Guy” is certainly a standout track from When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, but does it have the legs to stay up there through July? And while most people are still trying to figure out exactly who Ava Max is, where she came from, and why her hair is cut like that, “Sweet But Psycho” is one of those songs that seems to be popping up everywhere you go. Maybe by the time summer actually rolls around, we’ll have some solid contenders from the likes of Megan Thee Stallion, Carly Rae Jepsen, DJ Khaled, the Jonas Brothers, Madonna, and Tyler, the Creator (all of whom plan to release albums in the coming weeks) to add some more heat to the song of summer race.
But then again, we may already have found our winner: “Old Town Road,” which, if not bumping in your headphones right now, is probably blaring out of the window of a passing car. It’s a certified viral earworm, is integral to the black yeehaw agenda, and even though it’s not very up-tempo, people dance to it on the Internet. Lil Nas X released the track in December, technically, but added Billy Ray Cyrus to the remix last month, which made it really blow up in the mainstream. “Old Town Road” might actually even be the song of the year. It’s breaking radio chart records, streaming records, and shows no sign of slowing down. There is no other song out right now that evokes as much excitement. Right now as I write this, they are blasting it in our corporate cafeteria.