THE SONG OF THE SUMMER
BY BEN TUTHILL
One of the first music videos I ever saw was Nelly’s Country Grammar. In so many ways, Country Grammar is the ur-experience of my hypothetical best life: everyone I know, proud of our city, dancing on cars. I’ve never been to St. Louis. I’ve never owned a car. I don’t even particularly like dancing. But I want to like all of it as much as Nelly likes it in Country Grammar. Country Grammar is Nelly living his best life. He’s on top of the world, the Cardinals are winning, and it’s summertime.
The best pop music videos take place in summertime. Making a list of the best summer music videos of all time is the same thing as a list of the best music videos in general. Mariah Carey’s ’95-’96 threepeat no. 1 streak – Izzo – Rio – Bawitaba – Karma Chameleon – good videos are filmed in good sunlight and too much heat. Beautiful sweaty people with exposed arms are nicer to look at than beautiful cold people with dry skin. Even Drake’s notably Canadian Started from the Bottom ends up at a swimming pool in L.A.
If you think about it too much, summer is sort of the worst season. Winter is ostensibly worse, but at least you can stay inside and create the illusion that it doesn’t exist. Summer is always hot, always bright, and always everywhere. It’s horrible and gross and oppressive. No one thinks about this too much, though. Everyone loves summer. I love summer too.
I love summer because it forces me into contact with other people. It’s seasonally ordained mandatory freedom. When the weather’s nice you go outside and see people because its too perfect a day to waste on being alone. When the weather is hell, you’re still outside and you’re experiencing hell with everyone else, all together. You can’t escape it, but you’re never trapped. The sun is a global panopticon and it’s comporting you into fun.
It makes sense that pop music and summer go hand in hand. Pop music is an assault of liberation, an unavoidable expression of joy and communion and touching other people. It’s obligatory sexiness, moments of extra-bodily contact with the spirit of a transcendent humanity that destroys individual isolation. It’s overwhelming and oppressive, but it leaves you in a place that’s intimately connected with everyone whose trapped in the same inescapable cultural position. Call Me Maybe was miserably omnipresent in summer 2012. It was also miserably hot. But for some reason I remember both of them fondly. We were all in it together.
There’s something sort of pathetic about watching pop music videos in summertime. Today I’m sitting over an air-conditioning vent in a café, drinking hot coffee to stay warm and streaming St. Lunatics videos. Outside it’s 85 degrees and humid and there’s an event happening in the park near my house. I’m here on my own volition, though. I don’t really want to live my best life; I’d rather watch Nelly live his. He’s better at it than I am and he always will be. I don’t know very many people, most of them care too much about insurance rates to dance on their cars, and my baseball team will never win.
Music videos give me the opportunity to stay inside and sidestep my obligation to fun. They’re the air-conditioning to community’s summer. In some ways they’re worse. Air-conditioning creates a completely artificial environment that simulates everything I hate the most: cold, isolation, dry skin. Music videos show me a better life and then prevent me from getting it. I stay inside freezing in order to get stabbed with the desire to go outside and sweat.
American pop journalism is obsessed with finding ‘The Song Of The Summer’, a mythical single that dominates the spirit of a particular summer. Fancy, Blurred Lines, Call Me Maybe, were the last three. We don’t really have one this year. See You Again is the only real contender, but that seems more like a fluke than anything else. This summer hasn’t been very hot either; at least in America. It’s been too mild to get behind a pop single. The only important pop music events have been Ariana Grande’s Donutgate and Rihanna’s Bitch Better Have My Money video.
Bitch Better Have My Money is a great summer video. It’s maybe one of the best summer videos of all time. It came out at the peak of summer, at the very end of June. Maybe it’s worth noting here that Country Grammar came out in mid-February.
Maybe we shouldn’t watch music videos in the summertime. We should probably go outside and be miserable and sweat on other people and live our best lives. We’re all tired of hearing that. But we should probably keep saying it.