What is the song of the summer? It’s a question that’s practically been in the air since the radio was invented — even if it wasn’t always asked so directly, so annually, and so often. There’s a reason why people are constantly enamored with pinpointing which big tune will soundtrack barbecues, poolside hangs, beach-blanket blasts, and beyond: more so than any other season, summer is very superficially associated with Good Times, and more often than not there happens to be One Big Song that’s inescapable during its three-month duration. Whether you hear it blasting from passing cars, humming on the radio amidst the melted candy of your local corner store, or pulsing from a listening device of some sort while soundtracking low-level sidewalk revelry, there’s always a song of the summer, whether you like it or not.
In recent years, predicting the song of the summer has gone well beyond skipping around the FM dial or scanning the pop charts to get an idea of certain singles’ overall trajectories. Along with compiling year-end lists, middle-of-the-year lists, award-show predictions, and artists-to-watch roundups, attempting to guess what the song of the summer will be has become part and parcel of digital music writing. The theoretical online equivalent of Punxsutawney Phil, it’s arguable that summer doesn’t actually begin until song-of-the-summer debates start cropping up.
As with most internet discussion-flashpoint phenomena, song-of-the-summer debates tend to annoy people. Some have identified this bugbear commonality and managed to get a laugh or two out of it; since the release of Daft Punk’s Pharrell-featuring single “Get Lucky” in 2013, British comedian Brian “Limmy” Limond has made great hay out of regularly Tweeting recommendations of the song, proclaiming it to be the “sound of the summer” (even in the dead of October). Otherwise, there’s a measure of understanding as to why song-of-the-summer discussion gets under peoples’ skin. More than anything else, the discussion typically tends to center around widely beloved pop, and since the act of listening to music is in itself one that’s reliant on personal taste, one person’s song of the summer might simply be annoyingly ubiquitous to another.
With that in mind, we’re shaking things up a bit by taking a trip through the last 20 years of popular music not only to identify the song of every summer, but to present an alternate suggestion — a what-could’ve-been for those sweaty months of every year, whether it be a slightly-less-popular song that narrowly missed its window or an underground favorite that deserved more time in the theoretical and literal sun. And, yes, in case you were wondering, we took a stab at this year’s too — would it be summer, after all, without us trying to predict this year’s song of the summer as well?