The recipe for a summer song

Experts from the University of Minnesota and the Minneapolis music scene weighed in on what makes up a summer hit.

Katie Lauer

“I know a place

Where the grass is really greener. Warm, wet and wild

There must be something

in the water.”

Just like the water, there were some things in Katy Perry’s smash 2010 single “California Gurls” that helped it become one of the summer’s defining songs: the lyrics, beat, length, genre and overall vibe.

“It’s pretty undeniably catchy and undeniably a summer song,” said Radio K’s Music Director Luke Michaels. “People are either willing to accept that millions of people love that song or they will reject it — which I’m guilty of too — and be contrarian for the sake of being contrarian.”

When Michaels thinks of “summer songs,” he thinks of pop music that’s light and breezy — like “Minnesota” by The Courtneys or Gorillaz’ “Saturnz Barz (feat. Popcaan).” He said short songs around two minutes are nice and palatable during the season. But why?

“It’s really just the tone of the music,” Michaels said. “I’m just, personally, a lot happier in the summer. I love pop music, but when it’s snowing or sleeting, I’d way rather listen to a seven-minute, dark instrumental or electronic track.

“Promoters want to promote songs [in the summer] that people will love to drive around with in their car,” he said.

University of Minnesota music theory associate professor Sumanth Gopinath agreed.

“Summer hits often seem to feature lighthearted themes [such as] romance, dancing, partying, other fun,” Gopinath said. “[They] might mirror the way that summer film or TV releases are similarly lighter in tone when compared to fall or winter releases.”

While this concept isn’t new to anyone, it’s an idea that Jay Gabler, a digital content producer at The Current, sometimes considers for his work.

“You’re going to listen to music that’s upbeat, that’s atmospheric — you put music to communal use and celebrate the season together,” Gabler said. “We’re just trying to help people connect with music as they go about their summer activities.”

Here’s a breakdown of a few tracks vying for 2017’s song of the summer:

“Cut to the Feeling” by Carly Rae Jepsen

*Luke Michaels’ pick

Honestly, Jepsen and summer are synonymous. After “Call Me Maybe,” “I Really Like You” and “Run Away With Me,” is this one next?

“Green Light” by Lorde

*Jay Gabler’s pick

As either the opener or closer of every live set this summer, Lorde has been her own promoter for this piano-pop track to take the title. Plus, you can really dance to it.

“DNA.” by Kendrick Lamar

*Sumanth Gopinath’s pick

Lamar has loyalty and royalty in his blood, but does he have a summer song? “DNA.” has been blasted from nearly every car stereo, so there’s a good chance.

“Slide” by Calvin Harris feat. Frank Ocean and Migos

A nice slow down to the rest of the charts, “Slide” sounds best played whilst cruising down I-94 with the windows down.

“XO TOUR Llif3” Lil Uzi Vert

Why not pair the happy bops of summer with a bit of angst? This track accomplishes that nicely. Choice lyric: “I don’t really care if you cry.”

“I’m the One” by DJ Khaled feat. Justin Bieber, Quavo, Chance the Rapper and Lil Wayne

This song gets stuck in your head before you can even finish reading its featured artist list. As much as we all hate it, it might be “the one.”