Lend ye ears! Spotify hath made a proclamation, and it is thus: Drake has hereby been duly crowned, as his song “In My Feelings” hath been adorned with that sought-after but elusive “song of the summer” title.
Such an absurdly arbitrary designation surely deserves the Queen’s English, until you take a closer look.
The streaming service’s criterion for awarding the superlative is astoundingly narrow. It simply goes to the song that was streamed the most between June 1 and Aug. 20. Drake’s Drakeiest song, which begins with his Drakeiest line (“Kiki, do you love me?”), racked up 393 million streams in that short 81-day span — so it got the label.
There are several factors that likely contributed to those streams that have nothing to do with the quality of “In My Feelings.” Nicki Minaj pointed as much out in her epic rant following the slightly disappointing performance of her album “Queen,” when she tweeted that “Spotify put drake’s face on every playlist.”
She’s not wrong. In a first for Spotify, Drake’s music was so heavily promoted on the streaming service that, as Billboard noted, “his image was even used on [playlists] that did not feature his music — ‘Best of British,’ ‘Massive Dance Hits’ and ‘Happy Pop Hits’ among them.” The promotion proved a double-edged sword. He shattered streaming records with his album “Scorpion,” but Spotify was reportedly inundated with angry Drake-disliking patrons demanding refunds.
But what made this song, in particular, so popular?
Its aforementioned Drakeiness — from its emo-romantic lyrics to its New Orleans bounce-inspired beat — certainly wormed its way into a few ears. But it truly took off when the chorus was transformed into a popular meme. Comedian Shiggy posted a video of himself dancing to the song, inspiring a viral dance challenge that overtook social media and (somehow) led to a Florida man being hit by a car. (The man was okay. He even appeared on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!”)
So, sure, there’s certainly a convincing argument for the coronation of “In My Feelings.”
But aside from being popular, what does the song mean, particularly in the politically fraught climate of 2018? And does it need to mean anything?
If its cultural impact amounts to nothing more than even more people making fun of the already constantly mocked Drake and a guy getting slammed by a vehicle, does it deserve the title? Particularly in a year that saw women — particularly women of color — breaking barrier after barrier? Or a year that brought the music video back as a biting cultural criticism? Or one that saw the musical convergence of pop’s biggest stars?
Here are some other contenders that fit that mold. Warning: The videos below contain graphic language and/or images.
Childish Gambino, “This Is America”
If we’re taking more than popularity into account, then Childish Gambino has a strong case for song of the summer.
Just as the weather was growing balmy in May, the song arrived in a memorable “Saturday Night Live” performance and a more memorable music video on YouTube, which was immediately dissected.
The song was scathing enough, referencing police brutality and high-end brands with equal ease. But the Hiro Murai-directed video was a work of eviscerating art, packed with so many references to America’s everyday racism that a few views are required to notice them all. (The Washington Post’s breakdown of the video by Sonia Rao is helpful in that regard.)
Years ago, the idea of a song known for its video earning the crown might have seemed absurd, but those old rules were tossed out the window when Beyoncé released a visual album in 2016. Now, the video can be part and parcel of the song, and it’s certainly part of what made Childish Gambino’s record so important.
The Carters, “Apes—”
Speaking of visual songs, one tune might have taken the cake if not for the bizarre way in which we consume music today.
The pop-culture world was beside itself when Beyoncé and Jay-Z, two of the biggest pop stars, wed. So the excitement would at least double when the two put out a record together as the Carters — a surprise record, at that! — right?
Not really. The record flew mostly under the radar, likely because it was released exclusively on Tidal, Jay-Z’s minuscule streaming service that has only about 3 million active users to Spotify’s whopping 70 million. It never stood a chance.
Not there, at least. YouTube is much more populist, so the couple used it to drop a Ricky Saiz-directed video for the song “Apes—,” which finds the couple gallivanting through the Louvre in Paris with a few dancers in nude bodysuits. “The video is a study in juxtaposition,” The Post wrote. “A juxtaposition between the fluid movements of the couple and the still paintings and statues. A juxtaposition between the black and brown dancers and the white faces lining the walls. A juxtaposition between art and reality.”
The young rapper was monumentally famous when he was fatally shot on June 18. His songs — like his turbulent life — captured the attentions of millions when they were still free files on SoundCloud. Before he died, several of his songs and both of his albums had already climbed up the charts.
“SAD!” became the first posthumous No. 1 hit for a lead soloist since Notorious B.I.G.’s “Mo Money Mo Problems” in 1997. Within days of XXXTentacion’s death, the song skyrocketed to the top of the Billboard 100, from No. 52 to No. 1.
It’s the perfect encapsulation of the rapper, a haunting, sorrowful ballad with wrenchingly simple lines such as “Suicide if you ever try to let go / I’m sad and low, yeah.” And it’s likely his last big hurrah.
Cardi B, “I Like It”
Cardi B’s “Invasion of Privacy” album, featuring smash hit “Bodak Yellow,” was released in April as an explosion. The Recording Industry Association of America certified the record gold within a day. But it was with her 2018 hit “I Like It” that Cardi broke a glass ceiling and became the first female rapper with two Billboard Hot 100 No. 1s, and a song that’s still spinning long into the summer.
Pusha T, “The Story of Adidon”
If Drake’s going to win this thing, it’s vital to bring up Pusha T. The rapper’s one of the sharpest in the game, which he (again) proved this year with an incredible album and the most scathing diss track written since Nas’s “Ether.” While feuding with Drake, Pusha T dropped a song in which he (seemingly correctly) points out that Drake has a secret son he barely visits. And, on YouTube, in lieu of a video, there was simply a static (real) photo of Drake in blackface. Woof.
Was it the most popular track? Not really. But it exposed what was likely one of the biggest skeletons in Drake’s considerable closet. That’s an astonishing feat. Pop songs don’t tend to double as investigative journalism, but Pusha T’s did just that.