In Hear This, the A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well. This week, since we’re getting into the summer groove, we’re picking what we’d like to be this year’s song of the summer.
A few years back on The A.V. Club, then-senior editor Sean O’Neal and music editor Marah Eakin discussed whether or not it still made sense to claim something as a “song of the summer.” Sean argued that popular culture had become far too fragmented into niches and fiefdoms for anything to earn the moniker, which he felt should mean a tune everyone has heard and knows, whether they want to or not. Conversely, Marah suggested not only that such songs still exist (you just have to be open to hearing them from any random source, like a grocery-store speaker system or an auto-play commercial before a YouTube clip) but also that there exists a rough conceptual formula for what it could, or should, entail.
I’m willing to bet that most of us, were we asked to describe what the “song of the summer” should sound like, could probably come up with an agreed-upon list of a half dozen or so qualifications. We wouldn’t agree on genre, most likely—there’s as good a chance it would be hip-hop as pop, rock as electronica—but we could outline what it might sound like. It would have big, splashy hook-filled choruses; it would be something you can dance to; it would feel adolescent as all hell; and so on. It’s that frothy, lighter-than-air pop sensibility, more than anything else, that drives the concept of a song of the summer. There’ll be nothing serious in the lyrics (reference to the beach, driving, clubs, or parties is a likely element) and certainly nothing to make you feel anything other than silly and/or carefree. It’s the sound of youth, an idea that seems awfully vague, but— much like obscenity—we know it when we encounter it.
I recently reviewed Tegan And Sara’s new album, Love You To Death, a quite good record that nonetheless can be exhausting when taken in all at once, like a big bag of candy from which you take one too many bites. Taken by itself, “Stop Desire,” a bouncy, effervescent stomper of a dance track, never gets old and is my nominee for song of the summer. It traffics in the retro-’80s sounds that characterize the contemporary pop charts, so it won’t stick out like a sore thumb on whichever upcoming edition of Now That’s What I Call Music! logs it in pop-music history. The vocals are the epitome of a sing-along-worthy earworm; you can picture the hormonal 16-year-olds rolling down the windows of their cars, the better to shout the words to the heavens as they race through the night. The lyrics are pure romantic yearning, headstrong and dreamy at the same time: “Tonight, you’re fuel for my fire / You can’t stop desire” is followed by the kind of “oh-oh-oh” ululations offered up by the best pop music. It sounds genetically engineered to be the song of the summer.
And sure, maybe Marah’s right, and the problem is that everyone sets out to make exactly that kind of song. But hey, sometimes someone actually does. You can’t stop the song of the summer. As an idea, it will live on, long after the rest of us are a robot fuel source, snug in our Matrix-style human battery pods, generating energy to power the moon farms. We’ll probably still be humming “Stop Desire” while we do it.