Looking for the Real Song of the Summer

by Vijith Assar

Last year’s putative “Song of the Summer” was a national embarrassment; as a result, American songs — and for safe measure, all songs in English — are no longer eligible. Each month, until summer has died, the Awl will present alternatives.

“Sun” by Gen Hoshino
#1 in Japan (Tokio Hot 100)

The Japanese songwriter’s new single is so relentlessly upbeat and optimistic that it almost reads as 2015’s response to Pharrell’s “Happy,” but it’s also somehow simultaneously weirder than anything currently happening in mainstream American pop. There are the unexpected production flourishes derived from disco, of course — shades of Michael Jackson’s “Rock With You,” or perhaps at least the lightweight adaptation of it he might have performed during a guest appearance on Sesame Street thirty years or so ago. But after a couple cycles, even the most dramatic horn stabs start to feel insignificant again, because the most readily identifiable “hook” is absent any lyrics, nothing more than a disorienting string of key changes sent around for absolutely no apparent reason other than to demonstrate its own serpentine logic before eating its own tail and arriving back at the starting line.

“Bobo” by Olamide
#1 in Nigeria (iTunes)

Rap verses in Yoruba aren’t even the most interesting thing about this — how strange to hear such heavy handed Auto-Tune quantizing of the vocal melody while the rhythm teeters to and fro! There’s a lot going on here — not in the sense that there’s a lot to unpack while discussing it, rather just literally a shit ton of sounds all overlaid atop one another simultaneously, instead of themes and flourishes entering and leaving in blocks of four bars at structurally meaningful points. It’s like you’re hearing the inside of a music box which is about to break, every gear and spring slipping out of place and detuning the notes in unexpected ways. Hence also the Auto-Tune, perhaps.

“Est-ce Que Tu M’aimes” by Maitre Gims
#4 in France (IFOP)

The attempts at moody grandeur start to fall flat once you realize he’s just going to keep loping through the pizzicato string plinks, but the vocal treatment here is a dead ringer for the fascinating screwball Timbaland yelps on “Morning After Dark,” and likely also a close analogue to whatever looming monster Flo Rida hit will inevitably soundtrack the sweatiest parts of August.

“Emlékszem, Sopronban (A Volt Fesztivál Himnusza)” by Wellhello and Halott Pénz
#1 in Hungary (Offizielle Deutsche)

That bouncy lil funk synth gets buried in verbed-out drum machine samples which must have seemed so unbelievably stupid on paper, and even all the way through the first turnaround, but then in a split second it quickly powers through the cheese and actually becomes one of the better recent juxtapositions of 1980s pop production nostalgia against more contemporary lyrical phrasing (see also: Taylor Swift’s “Style.”) The big drops sit just this side of E.D.M. caricature but are still obviously crafted explicitly for club sound systems, and should certainly be enough to help you get past the guy’s Macklemore haircut. Use this as your anthem for irresponsible behavior until further notice.

See you in July.