The song of the summer is a slippery, ephemeral thing. You can try to predict it, labels can (and will) try their hardest to make sure that their song is the one that comes out on top, but it’s still an imprecise science. It means different things to different people, certain niches will gravitate toward specific songs. But, typically, the song of the summer transcends most industry machinations — it’s a matter of the collective unconscious, something that just seems to be rather than something that is mapped out. It’s not apparent now, but sometime in mid-September, once the leaves start changing color, we’ll look back and say, “Yeah, that was the song.” It will be something that rises above genre boundaries — the indie kids will get down to it at parties, pop music stans will push it to the forefront of culture, and metalheads won’t be able to avoid it: in malls, in commercials, blasting out of someone’s car.
It happened last year with “Fancy,” which enjoyed a healthy and long reign at the top of the charts from Memorial Day through Labor Day weekends; the year before, “Blurred Lines” took the prize. For the next few decades, until we all die off and the next generation comes in to replace us, these songs will define their respective years, and all the memories — both the good and the bad — that go along with them. Some will age well (“Call Me Maybe” has), while others will seem like awkward, embarrassing mistakes (“Blurred Lines” is already there). But, for whatever reason, these are the songs that captivated the world for a summer.
And what will it be this year? The jury’s still out, but there are some strong contenders. Could Taylor Swift take the crown with a Kendrick Lamar verse? That seems a little too easy. But what else is there? Jason Derulo, Walk The Moon, maybe something we haven’t even heard yet?
There’s no better people to ask than two musicians, both of whom are on the outskirts of pop but have a deep appreciation for the genre. Mitski Miyawaki has been vocal about her support of pop music, covering One Direction and speaking out against “the elitism of indie rock music” and how the culture “de-legitimize[s] music that has a majority of young girl fans.” Ryan Hemsworth champions left-of-center pop music with his Secret Songs project, and his own work exhibits a deft understanding of the genre. We sat down with both artists, who have been friends with each other for a while, and played them 10 candidates for song of the summer 2015. Here’s what they think of each one.
Taylor Swift – “Bad Blood” (Feat. Kendrick Lamar)
MIYAWAKI: It feels weird, as someone who writes lyrics, that she did [sings] “cuuuuuut.” Like the word “cut” on three notes feels a little weird going down. But, whatever, I don’t care — she can write her own songs. I remember I took a music course in junior year of high school, and some girl brought in “Teardrops On My Guitar,” and she was like, “Isn’t this song great?” And everyone was like, “Who’s Taylor Swift?” And now every time I listen to Taylor Swift, I remember that moment. Like, wow, Taylor, you came far. Good for you, Taylor.
STEREOGUM: What do you think about Taylor in general?
HEMSWORTH: She’s OK. [laughs]
STEREOGUM: What do you think about Kendrick rapping with Taylor?
HEMSWORTH: Uh, it’s strange. I mean, it’s just one of those things where you can see the executives in the boardroom, like, “Let’s put these two things together and it’s gonna become the song of the summer for some people.” So that’s probably a very well-orchestrated, planned-out song of the summer, and I’m sure that it will be that for some people.
STEREOGUM: On a scale of 1 to 10, how likely do you think that this will be the song of the summer?
MIYAWAKI: Are you talking for other people or for us?
STEREOGUM: Not for you; for America as a whole.
MIYAWAKI: For America, I’d say like an 8 or 9.
HEMSWORTH: I’d say like 6. I feel like Taylor’s following isn’t gonna really fuck with Kendrick’s verse.
MIYAWAKI: I think they just wouldn’t know who Kendrick is. They’re probably like, “Oh, a rapper on her song.”
HEMSWORTH: So I feel like that is her attempt to push into his audience a little, which is not really gonna be a standout thing for her.
MIYAWAKI: Remember when we were tweens and teens, there were these stupid songs that we still remember? Like “Mambo No. 5?”
HEMSWORTH: Is this a “Mambo No. 5?”
MIYAWAKI: [laughs] No, I’m not saying it’s a “Mambo No. 5,” I’m saying like regardless…
HEMSWORTH: Like, Mariah Carey or Ol’ Dirty Bastard, or something like…
MIYAWAKI: Yeah, like for some kids, it’s going to be their song.
HEMSWORTH: Yeah, that’s a scary thought.
MIYAWAKI: I hate that my opinions are gonna be on record… that my opinions of other artists are going to be on record.
HEMSWORTH: Taylor’s gonna be so mad at you. [laughs]
STEREOGUM: Yeah, Taylor’s going to subtweet you.
Maroon 5 – “This Summer’s Gonna Hurt Like A MotherF****r”
HEMSWORTH: He says summer, so it’s already, like, set. But then he says fuck. Like, you just fucked up the formula.
STEREOGUM: This song is called “This Summer’s Gonna Hurt Like A Motherfucker.”
MIYAWAKI: Why? Does he explain that in the verses?
STEREOGUM: I’m not sure — I’ve listened to it twice.
MIYAWAKI: I just see like… convertible, playing, beautiful people in sunglasses, this blasting.
HEMSWORTH: I see like a blond girl in Miami driving around, top down.
MIYAWAKI: Top down, for sure.
HEMSWORTH: It’ll be a thing for… I say probably 8 out of 10.
MIYAWAKI: Lately, pop song lyrics are so lazy. Maybe I’m just picky… He just repeats [sings] “fuucker.” Whatever.
HEMSWORTH: Well, it’s this time now where you can kinda do that, and people are gonna know the dirty version. Whereas back in the day…
MIYAWAKI: Is it gonna be bleeped?
STEREOGUM: Yeah, it’d be bleeped on the radio.
MIYAWAKI: So it’s like [sings] “hurts like a mother…” [laughs]
HEMSWORTH: But the way everyone hears music now, it’s not like back in the day, where if Eminem dropped a song that had a swear word in it, we would all know the clean version by heart, and if we heard the explicit one, we’d be like, “What is this?” Now, everyone’s going to hear the explicit version through Spotify or however people listen to music.
MIYAWAKI: But that means it totally ruins the melody! A few bars, then there’s just no vocals for no reason.
STEREOGUM: That’s definitely weird.
MIYAWAKI: Also, remember Songs About Jane? That’s why I forgive Maroon 5 for anything. I mean, I don’t even care about that album, actually. [laughs] But it’s part of my upbringing, so I have to support it.
HEMSWORTH: Yeah, they did some things. I don’t know about this track, though.
Jamie xx – “I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)” (Feat. Young Thug & Popcaan)
HEMSWORTH: I like this song — we’re gonna hear it all summer, absolutely. It’s not gonna be like a pop song of the summer to people, but I think it’s gonna resonate for 2015.
MIYAWAKI: Yeah, it sounds just like summer. It doesn’t make sense for any other season.
STEREOGUM: Do you think there’s any crossover appeal?
HEMSWORTH: I don’t know, I don’t think so. For some reason, I feel like I can just picture industry people being like, “Oh, it’s a little too cool for this year station.” So yeah… [laughs] It’s probably not gonna work for the people who make those decisions.
MIYAWAKI: Within a niche market, like a 9. For the rest of America, 5 or 4.
HEMSWORTH: Agreed, exactly.
Nicki Minaj – “The Night Is Still Young”
HEMSWORTH: I live in a condo in Toronto, and I overlook a pool. It’s in a really shitty area, and shitty people live in the building. And they blast the worst music all summer, and this is totally gonna be a song that I’m just gonna be looking out of my window like [takes a deep breath] “Turn it off.”
MIYAWAKI: Be like an old man about it?
HEMSWORTH: Yeah, absolutely. I can picture doing that.
MIYAWAKI: Who is the person who is not Nicki?
STEREOGUM: It’s all Nicki.
MIYAWAKI: She’s singing as well?
STEREOGUM: Yeah, she does sound a little weird on it. Very repetitive. Do you guys like Nicki in general?
MIYAWAKI: I support Nicki.
HEMSWORTH: I don’t know. Sometimes yes, sometimes no.
STEREOGUM: How do you feel when she switches back and forth between rap and pop?
HEMSWORTH: Honestly, she can bulldoze both, I guess. I don’t know — she’s sort just sort of a badass person. But I’d rather hear her do interviews and stuff, maybe not necessarily listen to her music.
STEREOGUM: On a scale of 1 to 10, what do you think?
MIYAWAKI: Can’t tell.
HEMSWORTH: It’s really slow and then like fast… I don’t know — I would say a 7.
MIYAWAKI: Yeah, it’s Nicki so everyone is going to listen to it.
Kacey Musgraves – “Biscuits”
HEMSWORTH: Who was that?
STEREOGUM: That was Kacey Musgraves with “Biscuits.”
MIYAWAKI: Well, it’s country, but I think actually its “crossover potential” is totally dependent on their marketing team. I mean, I don’t want to sound cynical, but it could cross over if they do it right and in a smart way.
HEMSWORTH: Well, I feel like she advocates smoking in it, which is a nice little crossover. [laughs] But then it’s really cutesy otherwise.
MIYAWAKI: The chord structure is very typically country… I don’t know.
HEMSWORTH: There’s really nothing special about it…
STEREOGUM: Do you guys like country music in general?
MIYAWAKI: I don’t really listen to pop-country, but I like really, really old country that’s closer to folk. Like Johnny Cash, who is considered country. There’s also this one song by Brandi Carlile called “The Eye” that I was just listening to today. But I wouldn’t say I’m like a fan… Saying you’re a country fan has implications….
HEMSWORTH: It’s not something you’d walk around and announce. But, like, sad country like Townes Van Zandt.
MIYAWAKI: Or hardcore old-school country is my jam.
STEREOGUM: Do you think a country song could be the song of the summer?
HEMSWORTH: Yeah, totally.
MIYAWAKI: I mean, this is America.
HEMSWORTH: I don’t think it’s this song, but definitely. It always happens — once in a while, a country song kind of takes over.
MIYAWAKI: [to Ryan] Oh my god, I’ve been saying America, but you’re actually from Canada, so you should take into account Canadian demographics as well. [laughs]
HEMSWORTH: Same diff.
STEREOGUM: Does Canada have that much different of a pop scene than here?
HEMSWORTH: No. I mean, people just like Drake a little bit more. Otherwise, it’s still the same shit everywhere.
STEREOGUM: So, any rating?
MIYAWAKI: I don’t know. I mean, for certain demographics, this is gonna be their summer jam. But also, I don’t think it necessarily sounds like… With country, unless they specifically say summer or “we’re swimming in a creek” or whatever, it doesn’t necessarily mean summer. Like, this song could be for any season in country. But I also don’t really know anything about country… [In the song], she says if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it… [laughs]
Sam Bruno – “Search Party”
MIYAWAKI: I’m getting tired of this one-note melody trend we have right now.
HEMSWORTH: It’s also just like a bad M.I.A. “Paper Planes.”
MIYAWAKI: Exactly! I’m only OK with one note shit if it’s M.I.A. Or like “One Note Samba.” Do you know that song?
HEMSWORTH: What is it?
MIYAWAKI: It doesn’t matter… But for this I see, like, a summer movie trailer.
STEREOGUM: That’s exactly what it is. It’s from Paper Towns, from the same guy who was behind The Fault In Our Stars. So, you’re not digging this one?
MIYAWAKI: I mean, again, I can’t speak for everybody, but I wouldn’t listen to it just ’cause I can listen to the first 20 seconds of it and I know exactly what’s going to happen for the rest of the song. But, I mean, if the artist is doing well, then good for them…
HEMSWORTH: I think that’s the message we want to take home after this.
STEREOGUM: So out of 10?
HEMSWORTH: I would say, like, 6.
MIYAWAKI: Yeah, I’d say 5.
HEMSWORTH: Well, I’m being nice.
MIYAWAKI: We have to remember, we’re speaking for everybody.
Jason Derulo – “Want To Want Me”
MIYAWAKI: So I’m gonna embarrass myself ’cause, for some reason, this has been my summer jam. [laughs] And I don’t know why, because I don’t really listen to Top 40. That sounded really pretentious, but I don’t. But this Jason Derulo for some reason, I think it’s his voice. Or just because this is very ’80s-reminiscent, which I have a soft spot for.
HEMSWORTH: The strong synth! Is this off his new album?
HEMSWORTH: I heard another track from that — it’s really good.
STEREOGUM: What do you think of his turnaround? Because I feel like it’s been kind of weird.
MIYAWAKI: Yeah, he really changed. He kind of did a 180. [to Ryan] It’s “Cheyenne,” the other song you’ve heard.
HEMSWORTH: Oh yeah — the really, like, stabby synths.
MIYAWAKI: Um, yeah, he used to do like kind of misogynistic, typical stuff. A lot of that language… And then he just did a turnaround and started doing more pop and I kind of like it.
MIYAWAKI: Very smart.
HEMSWORTH: He’s doing this very well. And I would be pretty happy with this being a song for someone’s summer. I’d say 9 out of 10.
MIYAWAKI: Yeah, 9 out of 10 for me, too. I mean, for me personally, it’s a 10 out of 10. But I hate saying that because I see everything he’s doing. You know what I mean? I know what you’re doing, but I’ll fall for it for you.
HEMSWORTH: I’ll fall for you, Jason Derulo. [laughs]
MIYAWAKI: You personally. [laughs]
Carly Rae Jepsen – “I Really Like You”
MIYAWAKI: Wasn’t this like a winter thing?
STEREOGUM: It came out in March.
MIYAWAKI: Oh, I think because in the video, it was snowing. It looks cold.
STEREOGUM: Yeah, it is.
HEMSWORTH: It feels like I’ve been hearing it for a while, but songs can totally just continue onto the summer, which she probably might.
MIYAWAKI: But, just very cynically looking at how the industry works, I think in the music business’ eyes, this is an already played-out song. I don’t know if it will be, like, the top song in August.
HEMSWORTH: Yeah, there will definitely be a lot of good stuff that catches up to it. But it’s a good pop song.
STEREOGUM: Do you guys like Carly Rae Jepsen in general?
MIYAWAKI: I only know this song and “Call Me Maybe,” so I shouldn’t say that I’m familiar with her repertoire.
HEMSWORTH: I feel like she’s been getting better and better. And she’s been working with Dev Hynes and a bunch of other performers.
HEMSWORTH: She’s definitely making moves.
MIYAWAKI: This is like a very steady pop song. Well, I’d say it’s more of a spring song, though, so hardcore fans will keep blasting it, but I don’t know if it will be someone’s summer song.
HEMSWORTH: I’d say like 6 … 6.3.
Walk The Moon – “Shut Up And Dance”
HEMSWORTH: I hate this song. Who is it?
STEREOGUM: Walk The Moon.
HEMSWORTH: I hope it isn’t the song of anyone’s summer. I wouldn’t wanna wish that upon anyone.
MIYAWAKI: I don’t know this song, but just upon hearing that clip — I might be too judgmental — but I can just see five people in a writing room being like, “These are the trends, let’s put them all in one song.” In terms of composition and songwriting…
HEMSWORTH: There’s an interesting ’80s vibe in a lot of these that’s reviving right now, which in some of the songs is kinda cool. But this is like a weird… I don’t know what it’s like… A-ha or something.
MIYAWAKI: Yeah. The whole bridge section was so…
HEMSWORTH: [imitates some dramatic keyboard playing] And then [sings] “shut up and dance.” …Like, you can’t even really dance to that song. Don’t tell them what to do.
MIYAWAKI: You should tweet at them: “I can’t dance to this.” [laughs]
HEMSWORTH: “You’re not my dad.” [laughs]
MIYAWAKI: I personally wouldn’t rate it for my summer… I probably wouldn’t hear it at all on my Spotify playlist. But for the rest of the country… I don’t know. 5, I think.
HEMSWORTH: Yeah, I’d say 5.
Fetty Wap – “My Way” (Feat. Drake)
HEMSWORTH: I like Fetty Wap a lot. “Trap Queen” is definitely a hit if you like this genre. But I don’t know… I don’t think this song is going to connect in a way that that one did. He’s been really good at the three-note repetitive thing through five minutes, I guess. I don’t know how long that could really last in a career. But “Trap Queen” is amazing.
STEREOGUM:: That’s all the songs I’ve got for you. What do you think is gonna be your personal song of the summer?
MIYAWAKI: I mean, I’ve just been replaying Drake. [laughs]
STEREOGUM:: Yeah, I was gonna put a Drake song on here, but I feel like they’re so old.
HEMSWORTH: I’m just gonna listen to Tegan And Sara. [laughs] None of our opinions are probably relevant to this at all. I am excited for… I don’t even know when it’s coming out, but the Skylar Spence album. I feel like he’s a really summery thing.
MIYAWAKI: Yeah, he’s really building. And he has a live band now. That’s excellent.
HEMSWORTH: Any of the songs from his next release totally have potential.
MIYAWAKI: Um, maybe that song that Will Smith does about Miami? [laughs]
HEMSWORTH: Yeah, that could be a 2015 comeback. Not even a remake or anything, just the song itself.
MIYAWAKI: It always comes back.
STEREOGUM:: Do you wanna say anything else about summer or songs?
MIYAWAKI: I love the summer.
STEREOGUM:: Is summer your favorite season?
MIYAWAKI: I actually love the summer. When I went to Miami on tour, I was actually like, “I love this place.” It was everything Pitbull said it would be. [laughs] I love it.
HEMSWORTH: Pitbull doesn’t lie.