What does summer sound like this year? I can only speak for myself, and the answer is that summer sounds like a cartoon character singing over a scratched reggaeton CD. “Mequetrefe,” by the Venezuelan experimental musician Arca, has lately been my default get-moving song, though the places I have to get moving to are mostly the couch and the grocery store. The song is a mess of glitchy noise, with a catchy, hopeful groove that disintegrates and reconstitutes. Restless energy, unpredictable disruption, and sunshine—it’s very now.
A song this abrasive would ruin the average beach party or baseball game. But we aren’t really doing beach parties or baseball games at the moment. Though the effects of the coronavirus pandemic are unequal across different places and identity groups, the crisis is making the warm months weird for everyone. Which, among many other things, disrupts the notion of a singular “song of the summer.” Can one great bop unite the sweltering, socially distanced masses?
The annual song-of-the-summer race has always been mostly a pretext for having fun arguments. After all, it’s simplistic to think that some combination of popularity, major chords, and supposedly “tropical” tropes define a common seasonal experience. But there’s no denying that, in past summers, it seemed as if the entire country was dancing along to Los Del Río’s “Macarena,” Katy Perry’s “California Gurls,” Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee’s “Despacito,” or Drake’s “In My Feelings.” The mythology of the song of the summer honors the shared, in-person amusement culture that threads between mall food courts and sidewalk boom boxes. The pandemic’s shutdowns have squelched that culture and made the sonic zeitgeist harder than ever to define.