Where's Our UK Summer Anthem?
Is it here, hiding in plain sight, or are we still waiting?
Photo by Chris Bethell
It’s Summer. You know this, because the days stretch into the distance – coated in underarm sweat, scented with cider-soaked grass stains. Right now, we’re also deep in the embrace of a seasonal heatwave, another signifier that the GOAT season has arrived. But: hold up. Unlike the BBQs and heated bus journeys home of the past, we’re missing an essential ingredient: an anthem, a crowning jewel, a slapper/banger/tune that will come to define the next three months and be looked back on when we think about Summer 2018, remembering all the STIs and blackouts.
The summer song cannon is a transatlantic cargo jet sized amount of songs. There’s “Summertime” (Will Smith), “Boys of Summer” (Don Henley / DJ Sammy), “Long Hot Summer” (The Style Council), “Summer” (Sum 41), “Summer of 69” (Bryan Adams), etc. There are the winter releases that take on new life – think J Hus’ “Did You See” last year, or literally anything that was released by a 1980s group as a quarter-four single, and is now played in disgusting 2-for-1 cocktail bars at even the slightest hint of sunshine (personal fave: “Video Killed The Radio Star”).
The summer playlist (of which there are undoubtedly *squints eyes and does calculation* thousands on Spotify) runs the emotional gamut of the whole season: from song that faintly trickles into focus when the fuzz of a roadside balloon fades (Sigala’s “Sweet Lovin’”), to 3am power ballads (Pat Benatar “Hit Me With Your Best Shot”), to whatever Drake or Rihanna released that year (“One Dance” and “Work” in 2016). The summer song isn’t really defined by genre either; it can be anything, as long as it sounds better in the sun (cya later Bonny Bear). All of which leads me to ask: where is the official anthem of summer 2018, and why is it not here yet?
Of course, there have been a few contenders. There’s Years and Years, with their new track “If You’re Over Me” – a light, bubbling slow-build of a song that seems purpose built for shedding tears in a solo Uber home. But that tune (personal opinion alert) is also like a b-side to a summer anthem, not quite hitting the spot. The same goes for a track like “079ME”, by B Young, in which the lyric “You better 079 me / 079 me / 079 me” could easily be replaced with Swarmz’s “Lyca to like her” or Not3s’ 2017 ode to getting a taxi home with a “peng ting called Maddison”, and the song would still pretty much be the same thing. I’m sorry, I’m not gonna lie about it, it’s true. Bill me at my home address.
Perhaps the closest anthem we have is the triumphant “I See You Shining” track from Nines. Bolstered by production from Steel Banglez, each beat hits a specific bounce that’ll have you feeling like you’ve gained 10 extra health points or your trainers are box-fresh rather than tatty with holes in and causing blisters. There are the usual disco, electronic, soul, etc etc etc suspects too, which are always purpose built for summer – think “Terrorize My Heart (Disco Dub)” from 79.5, a rework of their 2016 track; the smooth cruising of The Internet’s “Come Over”; or the warped yet addictive nature of DJ Koze’s “Pick Up”.
Like Nines though, these tracks are unlikely to get the right amount of daytime radio traction to truly become a song of the summer. Instead, even if they’ve been heard by hundreds of thousands of people, they’re ostensibly a passing flirtation in the lives of a few switched on heads, rather than coming to truly define the next few months like Rihanna and Drake’s “Work” did in 2016, which is perhaps the last time there was an obvious contender for song of the summer. Think about it: that tune pleased adventure-park bound parents on school-break duty as much as it did bloggers and club DJs, easily passing through the ears of shop assistants to bar attendants to the office overheads.
So what of this lack of a summer song?
Partly, surely, it is down to the behemoth streaming giants such as Spotify. Writing in The Baffler, Liz Pelly envisions a future where songs on the service’s playlists resemble a version of muzak – a bland, elevator kind of music, where everything sounds the same. Looking over Spotify’s Summer Hits UK playlist, that statement holds new and updated credence: Rita Ora blends into Calvin Harris blends into George Ezra blends into another soundtrack to a trainer advert/branded campaign for a mobile phone network/ Love Island montage. That said, does the blame here fall to Spotify, or is it in the hands of labels and artists who are creating identikit versions of songs? It’s hard to say, and that’s another question for another time.
Instead, I have a different theory. The summer anthem is here already, and it’s going somewhere else, into your hands, walking up to your doorstep now, ringing the doorbell, standing on the step and looking around, opening their ears for the sound of footsteps, waiting, essentially, to be able to Come Home. Yes, it’s the fucking football song. The song of this meme, and this meme, and this meme. This has to be the song of the summer, because it is absolutely everywhere – unavoidable to the British public like an extremely contagious case of herpes that can be passed on through atmosphere rather than body-2-body contact. I don’t know if this is good or bad. Like Spotify, that’s another conversation.
For better or worse, though, “Three Lions” is the song of summer 2018. It says a lot of things, and not all of them are pretty, but it’s here, and it’s more culturally relevant than anything Drake put out this year. Writing this now, I don’t know what the outcome will be of England’s game against Sweden. As songs of the summer go, though, I don’t think it matters. It has already been decided that “Three Lions” is the definition of summer in Britain in 2018. Not by me, by everyone, and nothing anyone releases can hope to compete with it. That’s just how it’s gone. Always next year, eh? For now slather me in the fat butter of this song and leave me out to roast in the hot, sorry sunshine.
You can find Ryan on Twitter.