Remember when summer actually meant something?
It meant tropical vacations, the end of school, getting day drunk, and falling in love with that summertime fling. But 2020 has been a different summer for us—one built on isolation, hand washing, socially distanced picnics, and still getting day drunk but for less fun reasons.
Our summer soundtracks have remained essential to having a successful time in the sun. Still, with darties (that’s “daytime parties” for the noobs), bar crawls, and bbqs all cancelled for the foreseeable future, 2020 hasn’t really had a song of the summer, and the potential contenders just fill us with an eternal sadness of the summer that could have been.
“WAP” and “Watermelon Sugar” are undoubtedly contenders, but frankly, we’ve all been on such a dry spell for so long that we feel anything but sexy. Sure, Megan Thee Stallion’s “Savage” remix and Drake’s “Toosie Slide” are contenders as well, thanks to their virality on TikTok, but we’ve all been stuck inside for so long that these dance videos are starting to get a little too choreographed and a little sad.
As this wacky summer comes to a close, let’s reflect on past soundtracks to our summers, when times were a little simpler and way more fun.
2010 – California Gurls
Katy Perry’s anthem for sun-kissed Cali women dominated the charts in the summer of 2010. Written as a response track to Jay-Z and Alicia Key’s “Empire State of Mind,” the bubbly disco and funk’induced summer anthem was an international success. “It’s so great that ‘Empire State of Mind’ is huge and that everybody has the New York song, but what the f*ck? What about LA?” said Perry in an interview with Rolling Stone.
The track, in turn, was the antithesis of “Empire State of Mind,” while Jay-Z’s track was raw and heartfelt, Perry’s offering was bubbly and brighter than cotton candy. It remained at number one on the Billboard 200 for six consecutive weeks and was certified Platinum in nine countries, 4x Platinum in Canada, 6x Platinum in Australia, and 8x Platinum in the states. The track also featured a guest verse from Snoop Dogg and gave the rapper his third number-one single.
2011 – Party Rock Anthem
There was an endearing quality to the short-lived absurdity that made up Cali’s LMFAO. They called their genre “Party Rock Music” and embodied the ludicrousness of it so completely that it always bordered on parody. From Redfoo’s untamable afro, colorful cheetah print leather jackets, and lens-less glasses to the fact that Skyfoo was the grandson of Motown founder Berry Gordy, it was all just so much.
Regardless, they took over the summer of 2011 with their brash brand of house music, and their track “Party Rock Anthem” took over the world. It was the best selling single of all time in Australia and charted number one around the world in 13 different countries. It remains the third best selling digital track in history. The duo would go on hiatus a year later and disappear as fast as they arrived.
2012 – Call Me Maybe
This was a summer that everyone can remember. Mass shootings had been spiraling out of control all year, and the danger of climate change had truly set in as being a real, long term bummer. But Carly Rae Jepsen emphatically brought us back to our tween years with her viral hit “Call Me Maybe.”
A bright and hopeful bubblegum pop song about simply giving a boy her number, Jepsen’s hit focused on the infatuation of young love at a time when casual sex had infiltrated every ounce of mainstream music. It snagged two Grammy Awards for “Song of the Year” and “Best Pop Solo Performance” and sold over 12 million copies by the end of 2012. It remains the best selling single of the century by a female artist and has been regularly hailed as one of the greatest songs of all time.
2013 – Blurred Lines
We try not to talk too much about this summer. One of the most problematic songs in recent memory, Robin Thicke’s misogynistic “Blurred Lines” ran the charts all summer long in 2013 until people started actually listening to the words. The track undoubtedly promoted date rape culture, and when faced with scrutiny, Thicke merely called the track “a bad joke.” Producer Pharrell Williams would later disown the song entirely—but after gaslighting the accusers, saying the song was meant to empower women rather than degrade them.
Poor taste aside, the track also directly ripped off the drumming pattern for Marvin Gaye’s “Got yo Give It Up.” Gaye’s estate sued, and Williams and Thicke were found liable for copyright infringement in March 2015 and were ordered to pay the estate almost $5 million. Thicke has since become as irrelevant as the song that secured his stardom. Regardless, the song still peaked at number one in 25 countries, was nominated for two Grammys, and remained the longest-running number-one single of that year.
2014 – Fancy
Ebola raged around the world, a Malaysian airline seemingly disappeared into thin air, the Republicans took control of the Senate after a historically low voter turn out, and Robin Williams died. 2014 was truly a mess, and the song of the summer wasn’t any less messy. The electro-hop song “Fancy” by the now-disgraced rapper Iggy Azalea and Charli XCX had charted all over. A saccharine ode to glam life, it reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 and held the spot for seven consecutive weeks. It has been streamed almost 10 billion times and has outlasted the career of Azalea.
Her sophomore effort, In My Defense, was panned by critics and only sold 17,000 copies its first week. Additionally, allegations of cultural appropriation had swirled around her for years and came to a head in 2018 when she said she makes “black” music and that she grew up in a situation that didn’t involve any privilege. “I worked really hard,” she told GQ.
2015 – Bad Blood
Taylor Swift was embroiled in her drama with Katy Perry when she released “Bad Blood” off of 2014’s astounding 1989. It was the third single from the singer’s fifth project to go number one after a hip-hop infused remix with Kendrick Lamar was released in May of 2015.
The tension between Perry and Swift happened swiftly after Perry was seen snuggling up to Swift’s ex-squeeze John Mayer. The feud then boiled over after it was rumored that back up dancers for Swift secretly sought to potentially pirouette for Perry’s performances instead, to which Perry agreed. The fallout was…swift. “She basically tried to sabotage an entire arena tour. She tried to hire a bunch of people out from under me,” Swift said to Rolling Stone. The two have since reconciled— and have continued to be problematic ever since.
2016 – One Dance
Everyone knows this song, as it’s been relentlessly played every summer since its 2016 birth, so let’s not waste time here with unnecessary details. It topped the US Billboard Hot 100 for 10 non-consecutive weeks and reached number one in 15 countries. It is one of the best selling singles of all time and is Spotify’s most played song ever with well over a billion streams.
2017 – Despacito
As Spanish Reggaeton began to seep into international waters, the US was long overdue for a Spanish renaissance. Three months after the release of “Despacito” by Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee, Justin Bieber got ahold of the track, and with the help of Juan Felipe Samper sang an entire Spanish verse. Samper said that Bieber had mastered his Spanish verse in two hours and that the remix process as a whole only took six days. The achievement sounded impressive at first, and then Bieber tried to perform his verse at a nightclub in New York City. “I don’t know the words, so I say Dorito,” he called out in what he thought was a hilarious gesture. Bieber was met with condemnation for the performance.
Still, Bieber’s assistance on the track skyrocketed “Despactio” to international acclaim, with many music critics citing the remix as instrumental in popularizing Latin music in the mainstream. It topped the charts in 47 countries and was the longest-reigning number one on the Billboard Hot 100 at the time with 16 weeks, and it remains the most viewed YouTube video with over six billion streams.
2018 – In My Feelings
Yes, Drake and his Draconian rule struck music again in 2018 with “In My Feelings.” Thanks in part to the viral dance challenge, as well as an excellent sampling of Lil Wayne, Magnolia Shorty, and New Orleans bounce music, the song became Drake’s sixth number one single on the Billboard Hot 100 and soon after broke the streaming record for most streams in a single week with 116.2 million streams. The record would soon after be broken again, though, by an inventive young teenager from Georgia.
2019 – Old Town Road
Thanks to the growing popularity of Tik Tok, Montero Lamar Hill, known as Lil Nas X, quickly climbed the international charts with his rap country single “Old Town Road.” He bought the beat off YouTube and circulated memes online to help generate interest in the song. After a year, the song began to pop off on the Internet and went viral so fast that it was certified Diamond before the end of the year.
But the song’s success was due to the inventive marketing of Lil Nas himself. He rebranded the song several times, releasing remixes of “Old Town Road” that featured everyone from BTS to Mason Perry and Diplo to keep the track on the charts. Completely unexpectedly, his remix with Billy Rae Cyrus exploded.
While many saw “Old Town Road” as a flash in the pan movement, Lil Nas X remains a creative genius and continues to push the boundaries of his music. He was the most-nominated male artist at the 62nd Grammys, and Time named him as one of the 25 most influential people on the Internet in 2019. He was additionally featured on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list in 2020.