Song of the Summer: An Unqualified Investigation

By Sammy Bovitz and Sam Stearns

Few unofficial titles are as coveted as “song of the summer.” In a season full of celebration, vacation, relaxation, and, for Beacon seniors a bit of application, music is not only welcome but downright essential to soundtrack the year’s most unpredictable time. Spotify tries its best not to crash while the radio stations find out which songs they’re going to have to play, over and over again.

But now it’s September, and the music world is quieting down. Albums from the likes of Taylor Swift and Kid Cudi are still on the way, but many of the big headliners set to release new material have unleashed it on the world. It’s time to decide, once and for all, 2022’s song of the summer. 

If we’re only counting songs released this year, and not the wave of 80s music that Stranger Things pumps up the charts every few years, it boils down to six serious contenders. Let’s start with the one that almost everyone knows: 

“As It Was,” Harry Styles

SAMMY: When Mr. Styles wasn’t busy selling out Madison Square Garden 20 times or starring in the upcoming “Don’t Worry Darling,” he was making money off of possibly the most popular song of 2022. It’s a great track, too, combining his now-signature style of bouncy production with a tinge of melancholy and a hook that’s easy to belt out on the beach. It was the perfect lead single to prepare for the massively successful album Harry’s House. Combined with blowout performances at Coachella, in London, and, of course, in New York City, “As It Was” refused to leave the Billboard charts or the minds of every teenager. 

SAM: Because of this popularity, “As It Was” could fall victim to the pop music trap of being overplayed to the point of insanity. Somehow it doesn’t. Somehow, even after dozens of listens, “As It Was” is as fun as ever. Following the strange new trend of interpolating 80s songs in 20s hits, Styles borrows from a-ha’s “Take On Me” for the main riff, but it’s not obvious on the first listen, especially because just about every melody in the song, from the verse to the chorus to the bridge, is undeniably catchy. It suffers a little from the drums – a catchy beat, but mixed, as in many Styles songs, as if the producer couldn’t decide whether they should sound artificial or natural. Still, this doesn’t detract from the song as a whole, and no matter the nitpicks, it has a way of worming itself into your heart in the end. 

“Harry’s House” was the home of “As It Was,” one of the biggest hits of 2022.

SAMMY: Overall, saying you don’t like “As It Was” to a room full of teenagers is like deciding that the lion might be nicer to you if you throw 100 sharp sticks at it. It’s a dumb decision, and it might get you killed. 

Now, the current king of pop is one thing, but what about the longtime queen?

“BREAK MY SOUL,” Beyoncé

SAMMY: The long-awaited follow-up to 2016’s seminal Lemonade finally arrived in July with the infectious dancefest that is Renaissance, and it didn’t hurt that Beyoncé chose possibly the best single to lead us into her new era. “BREAK MY SOUL” is an addictive track that plays right into a summer song checklist, with masterful production, lines like “I just fell in love/I just quit my job,” and a hook that goes right up there with her best. Being her first track not tied to a movie in six years doesn’t hurt, either, and she kept that momentum up, with the full album’s released and a viral “Queens Remix” with Madonna. Barely any promotion went into the single, yet this brilliant piece of art shot up charts and won critical hearts. 

SAM: Much like the rapid-fire lyrics yelled at the song’s opening, “BREAK MY SOUL” can best be described in a single verb: explosive. Unlike Drake’s attempts at house beats (which we’ll get to, don’t worry), Beyoncé’s latest single dodges the negative stereotypes associated with the genre, such as overt repetition or filler lyrics. Instead, it’s both rhythmically and lyrically engaging, humming with an energy that brings you to your feet. The production is sharp and fiery, and twenty years into her professional career, Beyoncé still sounds as good as ever. 

SAMMY: Let’s talk about the annoying one now!

“First Class,” Jack Harlow

SAMMY: Call it personal preference, but I just cannot listen to Jack Harlow on his own. I won’t deny that “WHAT’S POPPIN” and Lil Nas X team-up “INDUSTRY BABY” are infectious little pieces of rap, but Harlow’s skills aren’t really what makes the tracks shine– a few memorable lines and the production carries those hits. 

That’s why I can’t get behind “First Class.” Sure, it’s a perfectly serviceable piece of rap, but lines like “I don’t care what frat that you was in/You can’t alpha me, keep dreamin” do nothing to convince me that this track was a hit because of Harlow’s overwhelming rap skills. The Fergie sample is cute, and the song is fun enough to get people dancing, but there’s no way I’d label this as anything more than a mediocre rap song that got blown up by a little bit of hype.

SAM: I don’t have much to say about “First Class.” Forgettable verses, basic production – the only thing that keeps it interesting is the hook and the sample, which is kind of funny because Harlow made the fascinating choice to wrap lyrics around the “G-L-A-M” but gave up for the “O-R-O-U-S,” making the writing sound like a homework assignment he forgot about and had to rush right before he went into the studio. 

First Class? More like worst class. At least, that’s what we think.

SAMMY: Yeah, what happened to those last letters?

Anyways, I’ll decide on the next song we talk about… in a minute.

“About Damn Time,” Lizzo

SAMMY: I’m honestly surprised this song wasn’t bigger. One of Lizzo’s most energetic and engaging tracks yet, this 3-minute track is a ride filled with memorable lines and addictive production. I believe that this track was just a victim of bad timing. The track’s release date of April 13th put it right between the busiest music news cycle of the year: “As It Was,” “First Class,” the Grammys, Coachella, and the announcement of Kendrick Lamar’s new album all occurred in the span of three weeks, and Lizzo’s big comeback may have been one story too many. 

SAM: Keeping up with the ‘80s vibe from Styles’ single, “About Damn Time” is a…damn good song. Sure, the rhythm section feels hypnotically familiar and there’s no particularly memorable melody, but it’s still brimming with feeling and funk. The two standouts are the slap bass, which is partially hidden in the mixing by the keys and guitar but still stands out (especially on the pre-chorus), and the second verse, which seems to be the point of fixation for the public, too. That’s right – I’m talking about the “In a minute, imma needa, sentimental…” verse. These rhythmic, rapid-fire lyrics are refreshing and drive the song forward – and beg to be memorized so that one can, for example, spit them with confidence as they’re walking down the street. The song on a whole is nothing we haven’t seen a lot of so far – but it’s still great. 

SAMMY: Speaking of overshadowed but great tracks, we should talk about…

“Cash In Cash Out,” Pharrell Williams ft. 21 Savage and Tyler, the Creator

SAMMY: Pharrell Williams is one of the most talented producers and artists of the century, and his engineering of a collaboration with two of the hottest rappers right now should have made a surefire hit. It’s a good track, too, with Savage’s more laidback bars contrasting brilliantly with Tyler’s bellowing of ridiculous lines like “I hit the beach in a furry hat!” Pharrell also timed the song around his Something in The Water festival, where he brought the two together at Tyler’s headlining set that closed the weekend.

SAM: There’s something exciting about hearing Pharrell’s iconic four-beat opening. No matter who’s rapping over what’s about to follow, there’s no doubt it’s going to be a hit. “Cash In Cash Out” is far from his best song, or his most interesting. But it’s deceptively complex – combining thick, heavy drums with the machine-gun 808 kick, and layering in a strange one-note vocalization over it all. Pharell has a talent for combining radically different production elements in a way that shouldn’t work, but totally works, and “Cash In Cash Out” is no different. And Tyler, the Creator is as Tyler, the Creator as ever, which is another unlikely success as he spits absurdities over Pharell’s unique production. 

The three stars of “Cash In Cash Out.”

SAMMY: And yet, this song also felt overshadowed to an extent. It should have owned June and July’s hip-hop scene, but someone else had to show up and ruin Pharrell’s fun. 

Now, who could that have been?

“Jimmy Cooks,” Drake ft. 21 Savage

SAMMY: First off, it should be mentioned that 21 Savage owned the summer despite not releasing a single track by himself. “Cash In Cash Out,” “Jimmy Cooks,” Calvin Harris team-up “New Money,” and his multiple features on DJ Khaled’s God Did were all well received and shot up charts instantly. 

As for “Jimmy Cooks,” why is this song such a big hit? I feel like I’ve heard this kind of Drake song a thousand times. Savage brings some much-needed energy to a track that feels like it’s on autopilot the whole time. This track is fine for a mindless car ride to the beach, but when you get to the beach itself, maybe turn off the new-era Drake.

SAM: In fact, there’s far better songs for a mindless car ride than what Drake’s had to offer lately. Now, I’ll give “Jimmy Cooks” this – it is leagues better than the other 13 tracks off Drake’s house-oriented “Honestly, Nevermind.” But it also sounds nothing like them, and was most likely a non-album single that he thought might give the record some credibility. The track has an interesting opening, with distant, airy drums and a chant in the background – and then gets even more interesting, as the drums change, the tempo speeds up, and what sounds like a real-life saxophone kicks in over trembling synths – and then it’s brought back to earth with the copy-paste 808 beat we’ve grown to expect from most of modern hip-hop. Besides the intro and Savage’s verse, there’s nothing that makes the song particularly unique, catchy, creative, or really even good. 

***

SAMMY: So there you have it. The six candidates for Song of the Summer. 

SAM: Summer 2022 has been an interesting year for music. It’s seen many artists break form and chase different genres – and many artists stick to form, releasing music that sounds exactly like what they always sound like. 

SAMMY: I couldn’t agree more. It was a summer of question marks rather than exclamation points, and it remains to see what from this year will actually remain in the public eye for months or even years to come. Stuff like Calvin Harris’ grand return with “Potion” and Steve Lacy’s sleeper hit “Bad Habit” are both good tracks, but they just didn’t stick the landing. I reject the idea that pop music is dying or somehow worse off than before, but I will admit that it’s perhaps a little frustrating more than anything to look back on this summer’s selection of bops.

SAM: But of all the songs you’ll hear at the park or the beach, blasting over a speaker or through the radio, there’s only a few that are bearable to hear again and again – and of those few, there’s only a couple that won’t disappear into the record sleeves as the years roll by – and of those couple, there’s only one that works on multiple levels, brimming with emotion and passion. 

SAMMY: And so, 2022’s song of the summer was…

SAM: “First Class” by Jack Harlow!!

SAMMY: Really?

SAM: Not really. My actual pick… Beyoncé’s “BREAK MY SOUL”!! 

SAMMY: I’d love to say it was Beyoncé – I mean, “BREAK MY SOUL” was my favorite of this bunch– but there’s no way it’s not “As It Was.” The song was and is absolutely everywhere. For good reason, sure, but also because of the almost relentless presence of Harry Styles around the globe. From touring to Don’t Worry Darling to the success of the album itself, “As It Was” could not and would not escape ears, minds, or hearts around the world. 

It has to be 2022’s song of the summer. Right?

Sam? 

Are you there?

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