It’s official: summer is upon us. And with the start of the new season comes a whole host of songs vying to be the song of the summer.
Although the idea of a “song of the summer” has been around for a while, it’s only been formally recognized by mainstream media in recent years: Billboard started officially crowning a winner in 2010 and MTV created an award for the category in 2013 (some of the most notable songs of the summer over the past decade include 2012’s “Call Me Maybe,” 2016’s “One Dance,” and 2019’s “Old Town Road.”) So, what makes a summer hit?
Summer isn’t the time when people want to think about heavy emotional stuff (save that for sad girl autumn.) Generally, when the warm weather hits, we want the mood to feel breezy and light — translating to music with simple melodies and straightforward lyrics. (“Watermelon sugar, high…watermelon sugar, high,” isn’t necessarily lyrical genius, but it works.)
There’s evidence that suggests we tend to gravitate towards music with around the same tempo as a heartbeat. Spotify observed that the top streamed songs between May and September 2016 had a tempo between 120-130 beats per minute (around the same rate as the heartbeat of an average 30 year old engaging in light exercise.)
Songs of the summer usually sound upbeat and energetic, even if the actual content of the song is melancholic (for example, Olivia Rodrigo’s summer 2021 hit “good 4 u” is famously about being passive-aggressively heartbroken over an ex.) No matter the subject material, audiences need to feel like singing along.
This is the hardest factor to control. Past summer hits have either taken the charts by storm (like Katy Perry’s “California Gurls”) or taken months to rise through the ranks (such as Glass Animals’ “Heat Waves.”) It’s a difficult balance: release too early and it’ll be forgotten by the peak of the season, release too late and you’ll lose airplay time and end up drowned out in a sea of competition.
So, which song will dominate the soundscape of barbeques, pools, and beaches across America? We’ll have to wait to find out.