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Pop Culture Happy Hour: Road-Testing The Songs Of Summer

Cardi B.
Cardi B.

Summer gets a lot of its own culture, from summer action movies to frothy network TV shows to what inevitably get called "beach reads." In this episode of Pop Culture Happy Hour, we pull off an NPR Music takeover — it's just me and my colleagues Ann Powers, Sidney Madden, Lyndsey McKenna, Lars Gotrich, Marissa Lorusso and Stefanie Fernandez, each popping in one at a time — to discuss another crucial slice of summertime: pop songs.

Last year's unofficial Song of the Summer was almost certainly "Despacito" by Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee, but there's still plenty of time to litigate 2018. So each of today's guests — myself included — pops in to make a case for one pop banger to rule them all. (I invoke host privilege and mention two.)

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Ann Powers picks "APES***" by The Carters, a.k.a. Beyoncé and Jay-Z, whose new collaborative album (Everything Is Love) functions as a joyous victory lap after a difficult stretch in the artists' marriage. "You could say the video is really the song of the summer," Ann says.

This episode drops the same day Drake releases a double-album called Scorpion, which has already spawned a couple of massive hits. Sidney Madden reps for "Nice for What," which features a bunch of samples — traces of Lauryn Hill, Big Tymers and Big Freedia — en route to a breezy-but-busy jam. According to Sidney, "You can't not move to this song."

Lyndsey McKenna is, among other things, one of the godparents of what NPR Music calls "roséwave" — "not precisely a genre, it's more of a lifestyle," she says. So it's no surprise that her pick is Kacey Musgraves' disco-pop kiss-off "High Horse," which Lyndsey calls "fun as hell."

For fellow roséwave progenitor Lars Gotrich, the song of the summer is Calvin Harris and Dua Lipa's "One Kiss," which fuses '90s house sounds with Lipa's rich pop vocals to create a sound Lars describes as "summery chic." "I tend to like blaringly obvious pop songs," he says, "but this one is not."

Marissa Lorusso knows from roséwave, but she's also got to rep for Hayley Kiyoko, whose debut album Expectations is "full of these big, ambitious, shimmery pop songs that are very much about the fact that she's a gay woman living in [2018]." Marissa praises "Curious" for the way it mixes party-friendly fun with sentiments that might make you want to "cry alone in the stifling humidity."

Alt.Latino contributor Stefanie Fernandez makes a powerful case for "I Like It" by Cardi B and guests J Balvin and Bad Bunny: Beyond the song's huge reach via streaming, Stefanie calls it "a great statement of Latin solidarity" that also possesses "the drop of the year." "It sounds like summer in any Caribbean community in the Bronx or Miami," she says.

Finally, I close the show with a twofer. The first pick, Zedd and Maren Morris' inescapable "The Middle," provides a useful example of how songs can come to sound like summer even when they're released many months earlier.

Then there's a fun little discovery in Kady Rain's "R.A.D. Moves." Where the other picks in this episode have been streamed on YouTube millions — even hundreds of millions — of times, this one hasn't yet cracked 25,000 views as of this writing. But it's a fizzy, joyous, ridiculously infectious song that doubles as a potent reminder: You can love pop music, the slicker the better, and still find a Song of the Summer that others haven't yet embraced.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.