You may not be able to tell with all the rain and cold weather we are currently experiencing in England, but it’s actually Summer. I know! Hard to tell. But as the days get longer, and the weather (eventually) becomes warmer a strange phenomenon occurs. Everything you do becomes sound tracked by one particular feel good hit of the summer. You can hear the song years later and it will always remind you of that summer.
In 2003, it was Beyoncé’s Crazy in Love with Jay-Z; 1999 school discos were filled with the hit Mambo No.5; 2009 was the year that you put your hands in the air and screamed there was a “Party in the USA,” even if you were a long way from the USA. Last year, the sounds of George Ezra’s Shotgun filled the air and instantly transported you to riding shotgun with the windows down enjoying the summer air.
In the UK, the biggest music sale period traditionally was the run-up to Christmas, both for albums as gifts and singles in the race to be number1. But the way we listen to music has changed, as we purchase less and stream more.
In broadcasting, too, the summer is considered to be a more exciting time of the year for music. The Guardian spoke to Radio 1’s head of music who reported, “For us at Radio 1, it’s always felt that summer songs were more important than Christmas songs. I think that’s because young people own the summer.” School and university ends, it’s festival season and time for holidays. The summer months have an intensity that the rest of the year lacks, and any record that can sum up that elusive feeling is destined for a permanent place.
So, what is the key to a good summer hit? Is it the poppy ballad of Carly Rae Jepsen’s Call Me Maybe? Or could it be the slightly moodier beat of Billie Eilish’s “Bad Guy”. Maybe all that is needed is a catchy chorus. Lil Nas X sings, “I’m going to take my horse to the old town road, I’m going to ride until I can’t no more.” Instantly you feel like you are riding a horse down a warm summer street.
Terry Pettijohn, a professor in the department of Psychology at Coastal Carolina University, says it’s not necessarily what the songs evoke but rather what the listeners gravitate towards. In the summer, school is out, the weather is warmer, family’s go on vacation, more time is spent outdoors, people relax and party. The music that gives them the opportunity to incorporate that feeling into their lives is going to be energetic, rhythmic and upbeat, compared to more reflective, complex things you may prefer in winter when you are less sociable.
So why do we gravitate towards certain songs and associate them with summer? It comes down to a few factors; one being release date, and the lyrics, are they about partying and having a good time? And is the chorus upbeat? In seasonal countries, when the sun does come out and shine, the world looks brighter, and lives feel easier pumped up on all that extra Vitamin D.
This year’s song of summer could quite easily be Lil Nas X “Old Town Road”, even though it was released in December it found its feet with a few savvy hashtags and a remix with Billy Ray Cyrus singing about Fendi Sports bras. This could quite easily be the song of festivals; people will start singing this song at 6am when the music has stopped for the night, but the partying hasn’t quite quietened down.
While we don’t have a definite song for the summer of 2019 just yet, behind the scenes, they are being honed and prepared, much like all the beach bodies at the gym months in advance, to make one particular song shine and stand out as the hit of summer.