Technically speaking, the song of Summer ’Sixteen was undeniably Drake’s “One Dance.” Not only did it top the Hot 100 for 10 straight weeks, but its parent album, Views, drew in such an unprecedented number of streams that it’s practically unbelievable. And even if you don’t follow the charts, anyone listening to Top 40 FM in the past few months would tell you “One Dance” was by far what they heard the most.
But even as I constantly heard “One Dance” on the radio, I couldn’t quite accept it as the “Song of the Summer.” I kept asking one very important question:
Where are the memes?
I don’t mean that the song of the summer should have been Young Thug’s “Harambe” — God, I definitely don’t mean that. But more than any other artist, Drake has mastered the art of going viral. From “Draft Day / Johnny Manziel” to “Summer Sixteen”-branded air fresheners to the “Hotline Bling” video and the popularization of “The 6” as a nickname for Toronto, Aubrey Graham and his team can seemingly make anything hot, whenever they want.
But songs of the summer, specifically, have always been about memes — each one sticks a phrase into the culture. “Hey, I just met you, and this is crazy.” “First thing’s first / I’m the realest.” “We’re up all night to get lucky.” “Why you gotta be so rude?” “Hey, what’s up, hello!”
And “One Dance” doesn’t seem to have that. Of course, that opening “I need a one dance” hook,” is easy enough to remember, but can you quote any other part of the song? Do you make jokes on Twitter about it? Do you even talk about it?
Look at how Drake closed out last summer — performing his Meek Mill-killing “Back to Back” at OVO Fest in front of a screen filled with corny branded tweets. There’s no equivalent, nothing that dominated the pop-culture conversation, with any track off Views, except for maybe that cheesecake line off “Child’s Play.” Compared with how Meek v. Drake was just naturally the big story this time last year, “One Dance” feels more like a mediocre track made inevitably popular by Tim Cook’s marketing machine.
And so, at least where I was, for the first time I could remember, there didn’t seem to be one clear song of the summer. Beyond Drake, it could have been anything from Ariana Grande’s “Dangerous Woman” or Sia’s “Cheap Thrills” to Schoolboy Q and Kanye’s “THat Part” to Fifth Harmony’s “Work From Home” or Desiigner’s “Panda.” All were fun tracks played pretty often on the radio, though none felt inescapable, and none got the kind of momentum needed to permanently make a home in our heads.
Music writers seemed to feel the fatigue, too. After a few summers in a row where publications rushed to crown whatever was a hit in March the first song of the “summer,” this year felt less like a horse race, and critics relaxed. Most of their “songs of the summer” were more whimsical, less charts-based. The New Yorker ran a series of “Song of the Summer” articles that included idiosyncratic picks like “Bawitaba” by Kid Rock and the 1929 fiddle track “When Summer Comes Again” by something called The Lewis Brothers, while Deadspin — which last year ran an article titled “Calling It Early: ‘Trap Queen’ is the Song of the Summer” — declared 50 Cent’s “Hate It Or Love It” to be “the song of the summer, and also every single other day of life.”
For me, then, with no regard to universal relevancy, the SotS was Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop ’Til You Get Enough.” I went up to Lake Michigan with a bunch of old friends for a weekend in July, armed with six-packs and a master playlist that stretched over 24 hours long. Somehow, though, “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” played at least 3 or 4 times that weekend — while we were out playing volleyball, making a big dinner together, or just goofing off. When I look back at one of the highlights of my summer, I hear that Michael Jackson falsetto.
But if I had to pick a current track to represent my Summer ’Sixteen, I have to go with “I Got The Keys,” the DJ Khaled joint featuring Jay Z and Future. It’s not that the song itself is great — though Hov’s verses are solid, and Future’s energy is infectious — but it just feels like summer. DJ Khaled always sounds like he’s yelling out a window while cruising on a lazy afternoon, Future’s DS2 was one of the biggest hits of last summer and Jay rapping on the radio just brings me back to when The Blueprint 3 was the shit and “Young Forever” got blasted every hour at the swim club.
And I think that’s why I’m bummed out about not having a clear song for this year’s summer. Music usually isn’t a race, and it’s tough to anoint winners without controversy, but that’s not the point. The song of the summer isn’t about a winner — it’s about having something we all share. This summer for me was defined by Michael Jackson and Jay Z, but those songs don’t bring back memories with the same kind of power as a track from Teenage Dream or 21.
When “California Gurls” plays, I feel a little sunburnt, and I hear people splashing in a pool and I relish the cool breeze on my face. I’ve avoided “Rude” for the last two years, but I know that song will take me back to being on a boat with my friends on Fourth of July. I love the fact that I know millions of people feel the same way, that these songs are a big powerful collective time machine we can all access, and since that feeling got broken up into millions of tiny, unique feelings this summer, it’s seemed like something was missing.