Listen, the Song of the Summer race in the last 10 years or so has admittedly had a dubious track record. For every “Crazy in Love” there’s a “Party Rock Anthem.” We are blessed with a summer of “We Belong Together,” and then forced to atone for our Mariah-soundtracked sins with three months of “Cheerleader” or “Fancy.”
But even the years with the worst chart-toppers have at least had other contenders to help drown out the offender’s omnipresence. Not this year. They’re all trash.
Maybe I’m getting old. Maybe I’m losing touch. Or maybe I’m just living in a sweat-soaked New York City hell summer in which I can’t even buy toothpaste at the drugstore with hearing goddamn “Despacito.”
The Justin Bieber-guested collaboration between Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee is following me around to every bar, grocery store, and Payless Shoe Source I have frequented this summer. It’s even worse than the musical version of a stalker you can’t shake; it’s a stalker that everyone else around you seems to really enjoy. But they shouldn’t. “Despacito” is bad. This summer, they’re all bad.
We know the Song of the Summer doesn’t have to be good, per se. In fact, that’s often even the point.
Nelly’s “Hot in Herre?” Terrible song. Phenomenal Song of the Summer. Have you ever actually listened to the lyrics of “Promiscuous?” It’s like the song was written in one of those summer camp games where you pass a paper around the room and everyone writes one sentence of the story. Doesn’t matter though. It’s a song that sounds like summer, leans into the camp of it all, and perfectly complements a margarita with melted ice, consumed to numb the pain of a sunburn.
How dire is the situation this year? At the summer’s halfway point, here’s a look at the contenders.
“Despacito” – Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee featuring Justin Bieber
Daddy Yankee bangers have played in the background in some of my favorite summer memories. “Gasolina” and “Rompe” are blaring, scorching, calls to the dance floor that can get even the whitest white boy’s (read: my) hips shaking. “Despacito” is like someone took one of those songs and poured water all over it. It is the musical equivalent of your friend cutting you off and bringing you water instead of the vodka you asked for, yet everyone championing this song seems to be too drunk to notice the difference. Why is this song getting a free pass? It’s marginally catchy, but so half-hearted that even Justin Bieber sounds like he’s in a hurry to finish laying down his vocals before the sleeping pill kicks in. It’s been a rough 2017 for America. We deserve better than “Despacito.”
“I’m the One” – DJ Khaled featuring Justin Bieber, Quavo, Chance the Rapper, Lil Wayne
You know when you’re at a barbecue or a party and a bunch of your friends who used to be in bands in high school start picking up their old instruments and start to jam together? The novelty is fun and exciting at first. You love it. And then it never ends. That is “I’m the One,” from DJ Khaled featuring everyone ever. At first it’s hella charming. The bopping chords in the beginning are irresistible shoulder-dancing music. Bieber’s hook is great. Fast-forward four minutes, and you’re like, “Wait? This song is still on?” It starts at a simmer and never goes anywhere. Who wants a Song of the Summer that’s this lukewarm?
“Wild Thoughts” – DJ Khaled featuring Rihanna and Bryson Tiller
Rihanna is the closest thing we get to a savior this summer, but even badgalriri isn’t powerful enough to help us. Her verses on “Wild Thoughts” boom with bravado and sultry confidence, inviting you to groove the way only Rihanna can. Sampling Santana’s “Maria Maria” initially seems like a clever move until you realize that, really, “Maria Maria” is a much better song and you’d rather be listening to it instead. Which I’ve done many times since “Wild Thoughts” came out. So this year’s Song of the Summer is Santana’s 1999 hit “Maria Maria”?
“Shape of You” – Ed Sheeran
“Shape of You” is one of those cases in which a song is released early in the year, but is so inoffensively popular and overplayed that it maintains its cultural dominance well into summer when people want to play, at least in some part, songs they already know at parties. That would be fine if there was anything remarkable about “Shape of You,” which is Ed Sheeran completely ripping off Sia’s “Cheap Thrills” orchestration, but without Sia’s amazing voice to back up the burglary. It’s as phoned-in as pop music could possibly be in 2017.
“That’s What I Like” – Bruno Mars
Bruno Mars is such an engaging and charismatic performer that he could make this song, which sounds like someone just slapped words on top of the built-in demo music that comes with a ’90s Casio keyboard, kind of groovy and addicting. Mars is one of the best pop stars out there right now. This is not one of his best songs.
“Believer” – Imagine Dragons
This is the kind of song that exists solely for the purpose of soundtracking movie trailers, and I will not legitimize it beyond that.
“Something Just Like This” – Chainsmokers & Coldplay
The Chainsmokers and Coldplay collaborated on a song this year, as if we haven’t all been through enough. Worse, it sounds like a mash-up of tracks the respective groups would have rejected on their own respective albums. The beat drop is addicting, sure. But that’s a cheap trick disguising one of the most half-hearted attempts at a dancefloor anthem I’ve heard.
“Mask Off” – Future
This song is so unremarkable and tuneless that it could literally be playing right now and I wouldn’t notice. The Song of the Summer should announce itself. It should be shameless, campy, and loud, not just the life of the party but the party itself. “Mask Off” sounds like the mumbled thumping you hear through the wall of your apartment building when the neighbor down the hall is having a party and the music volume is too high.
“Swish Swish” – Katy Perry featuring Nicki Minaj
Our former Queen of the Summer, who’s won the race twice (2008’s “I Kissed a Girl” and 2010’s “California Gurls,” while she played for the title again with “Last Friday Night,” “E.T.,” and “Wide Awake”), rapid-fire released three dance tracks from her new album, with “Swish Swish” the only one to gain any traction. (Even that’s likely only because it reignited her exhausting feud with Taylor Swift.) But while we can see the understated, bumping track soundtracking many a runway catwalk at fashion week, it won’t receive much airplay at this summer’s pool parties.
“Cut to the Feeling” – Carly Rae Jepsen
This should be the Song of the Summer, the Song of the Year, the Song of a Generation. Yet it’s barely charting on the Billboard 100. Straight people ruin everything.