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Beyonce? Lizzo? Drake? Here are the early contenders for song of the summer

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

You know a summertime song when you hear it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THAT'S WHAT I LIKE")

BRUNO MARS: (Singing) Ey, ey, ey, I got a condo in Manhattan.

SUMMERS: Maybe it's the way it makes you want to dance or maybe it's the poppy lightness.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THAT'S WHAT I LIKE")

MARS: (Singing) Lucky for you, that's what I like, that's what I like. Lucky for you, that's what I like. That's what I like.

SUMMERS: Or maybe it just sounds kind of hot.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HEAT WAVE")

GLASS ANIMALS: (Singing) Sometimes, all I think about is you, late nights in the middle of June, heat waves been faking me out, can't make you happier now.

SUMMERS: But what makes it the song of the summer? Well, it is the start of summer 2022. So we asked Stephen Thompson from NPR Music to stop by and help us answer that question. Hey.

STEPHEN THOMPSON, BYLINE: Hey, Juana.

SUMMERS: OK. So it's the start of July, so maybe it's a little bit early to crown any one song as this year's song of the summer. But let's talk about some of the early contenders. What's on your list?

THOMPSON: Well, we've got a bunch of them. You know, Beyonce just dropped a new song called "Break My Soul"...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BREAK MY SOUL")

BIG FREEDIA: (Rapping) Yaka, yaka, yaka, yaka, yaka, yaka...

THOMPSON: ...Which is this big, danceable, defiant number. It's a - you know, it's song of defiance for a cultural moment that I think matches the spirit of that song.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BREAK MY SOUL")

BEYONCE: (Singing) You won't break my soul. You won't break my soul. You won't break my soul. You won't break my soul. I'm telling everybody...

THOMPSON: Lizzo has a song called "About Damn Time," which is basically - that song just transports you to a disco ball-lit roller rink in your mind.

(SOUNDBITE OF LIZZO SONG, "ABOUT DAMN TIME")

THOMPSON: It has this really catchy and nostalgic vibe that's just really easy to hook into.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ABOUT DAMN TIME")

LIZZO: (Singing) Oh, I've been so down and under pressure. I'm way too fine to be this stressed, yeah, oh, I'm not the girl I was or used to be.

THOMPSON: But one of the ones that's really, really jumping out at me as a possible song of the summer for the summer of 2022 is "Running Up That Hill" by Kate Bush, which actually came out in 1985.

(SOUNDBITE OF KATE BUSH SONG, "RUNNING UP THAT HILL (A DEAL WITH GOD)")

THOMPSON: But thanks to its placement in the TV show "Stranger Things," it's kind of had this huge run back onto the charts after 37 years where all of a sudden it's everywhere.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RUNNING UP THAT HILL (A DEAL WITH GOD)")

KATE BUSH: (Singing) And if I only could I'd make a deal with God and I'd get him to swap our places, be running up that road, be running up that hill, be running up that building.

SUMMERS: OK. Stephen, help me understand this. That song is literally older than I am, and yet it is in the top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 right now. I feel like if I scroll through TikTok, I'm constantly hearing it in the background. Is the shelf life of a pop song just getting longer and longer?

THOMPSON: I mean, absolutely. I mean, I already mentioned Lizzo upfront. Lizzo had a song called "Truth Hurts" that was kind of one of the big songs of the summer in 2019. And that song came out 18 months earlier kind of before it broke out as a single. It had this very slow rise aided by TikTok that kind of eventually propelled it onto the pop charts.

(SOUNDBITE OF LIL NAS X SONG, "OLD TOWN ROAD")

THOMPSON: "Old Town Road" by Lil Nas X, which was the song of the summer for 2019, it was No. 1 on Billboard for 19 consecutive weeks, that song came out in December of the year before...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OLD TOWN ROAD")

LIL NAS X: (Singing) Yeah, I'm gonna take my horse to the old town road. I'm gonna ride 'til I can't no more.

THOMPSON: And had this kind of slow rise where they were able to kind of repurpose it with remixes. And kind of - the song became, like, this living and evolving organism.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OLD TOWN ROAD")

LIL NAS X: (Rapping) I got the horses in the back. Horse tack is attached. Hat is matte black, got the boots that's black to match.

THOMPSON: And so it's kind of a natural progression, I think, to have a song like "Running Up That Hill," which has been present but not necessarily ubiquitous for the last 37 years, that that combination of the excellence of the song and people's familiarity with the song all coming together to just make a moment where it's like, why not "Running Up That Hill?" Why not a song from 1985, if that's what everybody wants to hear right now?

(SOUNDBITE OF BILLIE EILISH SONG, "BAD GUY")

SUMMERS: You talked about some of the hot songs of the last few summers like "Old Town Road" and others. But when you think about, like, what makes the quintessential song of the summer, what kind of qualities does that song have?

THOMPSON: Well, I think one thing really is ubiquity. I think ubiquity breeds more ubiquity with some of these things. But I also think there's a shared vibe, a sense of joy or release or, in the case of "Running Up That Hill," nostalgia. I think a soaring quality helps, but it's a little bit hard sometimes to put your finger on it. Sometimes it's just a vibe. The summer of 2019 that I mentioned before with "Old Town Road" also had "Bad Guy" by Billie Eilish, and that song wasn't necessarily, like, a joyful song or a sense of, like, rolling down the windows and experiencing a sense of release. It was just a cool vibe that everybody could kind of marinate in at the same time.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BAD GUY")

BILLIE EILISH: Duh.

SUMMERS: You mentioned Beyonce's "Break My Soul" earlier. And I want to bring in another artist here and talk about Drake's album "Honestly, Nevermind." And when I think about those, I think about the fact that both of them drew so heavily on house music.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MASSIVE")

DRAKE: (Singing) Oh, when you're ready, we can put this behind us. Baby, we can find us again, I know.

SUMMERS: Is there any chance maybe we get a genre of the summer?

THOMPSON: I mean, I think that is very, very possible, and I think that's pretty easy to tie to the pandemic - right? - where we spent a couple of summers - a lot of us spent those summers cooped up in our houses...

SUMMERS: Literally in our houses.

THOMPSON: Literally in our houses. I'm currently talking to you from my closet, and it is the summer of 2022. So I think a lot of artists took a guess that people were going to really want music that took them out into the world, out into the clubs, out among other people, sharing communal experiences close up against one another. We've spent the last couple years inward facing. And so music that takes us outside makes a lot of sense - or outside into a club.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MASSIVE")

DRAKE: (Singing) I don't wanna...

SUMMERS: You know, maybe it is just the news cycle that we're in right now, but a lot of stuff feels really divided and contentious culturally, politically, socially. And I guess I wonder, is it even possible for all of us to agree on something that feels as simple as a song of the summer?

THOMPSON: I mean, the likelihood that we're all going to agree on one song (laughter) doesn't feel super high. But the thing that's great about songs is they form this shared cultural language that has a really low barrier to entry. You have this ubiquity and familiarity. You have - in the case of "Running Up That Hill," you can cross generational divides by enjoying these songs at the same time. And so I think what constitutes the song of the summer can be really culturally important because it's something we're all experiencing together. And I think it's - anything that reminds us we're all in this together is a great and powerful thing.

(SOUNDBITE OF HARRY STYLES SONG, "AS IT WAS")

SUMMERS: That is Stephen Thompson from NPR Music. We will have you on again at the end of the summer. We'll have to see how things play out. Thank you so much.

THOMPSON: Thank you, Juana.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AS IT WAS")

HARRY STYLES: (Singing) Nothing to say when everything gets in the way. Seems you cannot... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Stephen Thompson is a writer, editor and reviewer for NPR Music, where he speaks into any microphone that will have him and appears as a frequent panelist on All Songs Considered. Since 2010, Thompson has been a fixture on the NPR roundtable podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour, which he created and developed with NPR correspondent Linda Holmes. In 2008, he and Bob Boilen created the NPR Music video series Tiny Desk Concerts, in which musicians perform at Boilen's desk. (To be more specific, Thompson had the idea, which took seconds, while Boilen created the series, which took years. Thompson will insist upon equal billing until the day he dies.)
Jonaki Mehta is a producer for All Things Considered. Before ATC, she worked at Neon Hum Media where she produced a documentary series and talk show. Prior to that, Mehta was a producer at Member station KPCC and director/associate producer at Marketplace Morning Report, where she helped shape the morning's business news.
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