“It’s a new state of mind,” sings the pop artist Lorde in a sunny new single. “Are you coming, my baby?”
With America reopening, there’s a summery exuberance in the air. And the songs blasting from our radios may reflect that newfound carefree attitude.
We caught up with our culture writer Spencer Kornhaber, who argues that, as the nation reopens, Americans may see a return to a simpler, sparkly 2000s vibe.
The conversation that follows has been edited and condensed for clarity.
First, let’s talk about the new Lorde single, “Solar Power.” What do you make of it?
It feels like Lorde is attempting a cultural reset. And I kind of support it. It’s a song about emerging from darkness and winter, and just letting yourself enjoy life again.
Lorde’s first album was also a cultural reset, back in 2013. She ushered in a more introspective, vulnerable, and somewhat morose mood on the pop charts. People might have expected her to come back and make more music like that. But she said, Screw that. I’m going to make my Sheryl Crow, strummy campfire anthem and tell everyone to lighten up.
You recently argued that, as we exit the pandemic, we could see a 2000s-pop-culture revival. Can you explain what you mean by that?
When we think about what life might be like this summer, as things open up again, it feels natural to expect that people will want to be focused on fun, enjoying life, and frivolous things.
The most frivolous time in recent memory for a lot of people was the early 2000s. The pop culture of that era was just sort of ridiculous and flashy and joyfully artificial, with artists such as Britney Spears and Fergie and early Kanye West.
People are nostalgic for that vibe, including the Gen Zers on TikTok. There’s this mood of Let’s forget our problems and just care about wearing silly outfits—and not making all of our pop music have to reveal our soul.
You’ve also written about how pop music of late has been less in the bombastic style of Katy Perry. As America starts to reopen, do you think we might drift back that way? Or will something else dominate?
Between BTS, Doja Cat, and Dua Lipa, you definitely see signs of an upbeat dance-pop moment brewing in the charts. And then at the same time, you see songs like Lorde’s. You also have Justin Bieber’s “Peaches,” featuring Daniel Caesar and Giveon, which is definitely a strummy sing-along. And even Polo G’s “RAPSTAR,” the biggest song in hip-hop right now, is built on a pretty guitar loop. The singles from Billie Eilish’s new album are all very guitar-based.
Which other big music trends are you keeping an eye on this summer?
I’m interested to see what happens in the hip-hop world where, on one hand, you have this continuing trend of pretty morose and streetwise music by men such as Polo G and Roddy Ricch. On the other hand, you have really colorful and upbeat female stars such as Cardi B, Megan Thee Stallion, and Doja Cat, who are also joined by the first gay superstar rapper, Lil Nas X, whose song “Montero” is still riding high on the charts.
I’m interested to see where that more escapist, silly, poppy strain of hip-hop goes in the next few months. I think that’d be a great soundtrack to the summer.
It’s mid-June. Do we have any early contenders for song of the summer?
Two very real contenders as of this moment are “Leave the Door Open,” by Silk Sonic, which is a supergroup made up of Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak. It’s a throwback R&B song—really sultry, a little bit campy. And then Olivia Rodrigo’s “Good 4 U.” The return of pop-punk is here. If you didn’t get your full pop fix, read Spencer’s review of Rodrigo’s debut album.
Read. Cultish is a “savvy, enlightening new book about the sort-of-cults people join every day and the linguistic patterns those cults and cultlike brands use to reel us in,” Sophie Gilbert says.
Find the book, and more like it, on our summer reading guide.
Watch. The film adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In the Heights is now in theaters and streaming on HBO Max. It’s directed by Jon M. Chu, whom our culture writer Shirley Li has dubbed Hollywood’s new crown prince of musicals. The film has a deep understanding of the second-generation American’s dilemma, Carlos Aguilar writes.
On TV, Disney+ debuted Loki, a Marvel series that cares little about the Marvel universe. And the Pose finale was a bittersweet homecoming, Hannah Giorgis writes.
Sleep. In this week’s “How to Build a Life” column, Arthur C. Brooks offers advice for how to optimize your nightly slumber to increase your happiness.
9-Across, nine letters: Where a start-up might start up
Try your hand at our daily mini crossword (available on our site here), which gets more challenging through the week.
Thanks for reading. This email was written by Caroline Mimbs Nyce.
Congratulations to our colleague Ed Yong, who today won the 2021 Pulitzer Prize for explanatory reporting for his groundbreaking coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic. Revisit some of Ed’s prescient work, and join us in giving him a huge round of applause.