What ‘Popped’ This Summer
Words by Michael Nied
As students prepare to return to Kent for the fall semester, another summer has come to an end.
Days are getting shorter, and they’re filled with last-minute decisions about what textbooks you’ll need and whether or not to bring snow gear (thanks, Ohio), or if you’ll be able to get by until Thanksgiving break. Things are a little hectic, so I’ve decided to compile a recap of all things pop culture that have happened in the last few months.
We had a super-powered summer for film, as both Marvel and DC unleashed their latest blockbusters. The former’s Spider-Man: Homecoming relaunched the beloved franchise for the third time. Tom Holland, the newest face of the red-clad web-slinger, made a brilliant debut in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, and his first time leading a project was also well received.
DC, meanwhile, broke records and seems to have finally found success on the big screen with Wonder Woman. The film was directed by Patty Jenkins, who earned the distinction as the first female director of a major studio’s superhero film. The flick featured Gal Gadot as the titular, fearless Amazonian. Expertly choreographed fight scenes and a thrilling storyline made for an exciting adventure, and ticket sales exceeded $800 million.
Game of Thrones dazzled fans in its big return to HBO, while The Bachelorette finished its latest season with a (hopefully) happy ending earlier this month.
TV and film may have had an action-packed summer season, but pop music had one of the most eclectic seasons in recent memory. A slew of songs defined the warmest months of the year, and I’ve rounded up the best of the best in a playlist to kick off the semester.
Luis Fonsi featured Daddy Yankee and Justin Bieber on this year’s song of the summer, “Despacito.” The hit burned up the Billboard Hot 100, and it edges ever closer to a record set by Mariah Carey and Boys II Men in 1996 for the longest time at the top spot. Although the crossover anthem is finally starting to cool down as fall sets in, it seems clear that Bieber is determined to stay at the top based on his late-summer bop “Friends.” The electro-tinged release is a collaboration with BloodPop, Julia Michaels and Justin Tranter, the pop masterminds that crafted “Sorry” in 2015, and the single may be his third time topping the charts this year after “Despacito” and a feature on DJ Khaled’s “I’m the One.”
Former Disney sweethearts Selena Gomez, Demi Lovato and Miley Cyrus each unveiled new projects, as well.
Gomez, the Revival songstress, landed a one-two punch with “Bad Liar” and the Gucci Mane-assisted “Fetish.” Both singles explored a fresh new sound, with the latter serving as a frosty, undeniably sexy essential on any playlist as the semester kicks back in.
Lovato remains as fiercely unapologetic as ever on her latest release “Sorry Not Sorry,” and she also teamed up with UK producer Jax Jones to dance the night away on “Instruction.”
Cyrus closed out the trio, and her Younger Now lead single “Malibu” is a drastic departure from the naked wrecking ball-riding and sledgehammer-licking of her Bangerz days. She ditched her hip-hop beats on the track, which is a striding love song dedicated to her fiance Liam Hemsworth. The twosome reunited after calling off an engagement in 2013, and the “Can’t Be Tamed” hit-maker expressed her joy as she sings the closing lines: “It’s a brand new start, a dream come true in Malibu.”
This summer’s charts were flooded with appearances from reliable hit-makers who had been absent from the scene while working on new projects.
Kesha emerged as one of the greatest success stories. After years of legal battles with producer Dr. Luke, she was finally able to unveil new music, finding peace on “Praying” and closure on “Learn to Let Go.”
Pink, who will be honored with MTV’s Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award at this year’s VMAs, also returned with a confident call of dissent on “What About Us,” and sisters and pop duo Aly & AJ are back in action on their ’80s-inspired “Take Me.”
Charli XCX has the distinction of releasing one of the season’s cutest music videos in support of her glitchy and relatable single “Boys.” “I was busy thinking about boys,” she coos over a video game-esque production, which features a veritable horde of dreamy boys in some compromising situations.
Camila Cabello is rolling out her first solo album after finding success with girl group Fifth Harmony, and her globally influenced “Havana” is a clear standout. After sampling Christina Aguilera on her debut “Crying in the Club,” she teamed up with Young Thug for a sensual mid-tempo bop.
Cabello isn’t the only act focusing on individual projects, either.
Four members of One Direction unleashed solo cuts, with Niall Horan’s dreamy but seductive “Slow Hands” standing out. The stripped-back production highlights his vocals, and the single becomes an instant earworm after one listen.
Almost as promising is Louis Tomlinson’s sparse collaboration with Bebe Rexha. After a generic but endearing appearance on Steve Aoki’s “Just Hold On,” it seems like the former boy-bander is beginning to discover his solo sound.
Rihanna and Bryson Tiller also hit the studio with DJ Khaled for the delectable “Wild Thoughts,” while Ariana Grande hopped on Cashmere Cat’s “Quit.” The Sia-penned record features a predictably amazing vocal performance from the Dangerous Woman siren, and is truly a stunning moment that was overlooked in a flood of impressive releases. Avicii recruited UK songstress Rita Ora for his latest release, the moody “Lonely Together.” “I might hate myself tomorrow, but I’m on my way tonight,” Ora intones on the track as she heads off to a one night stand.
Pop’s up-and-comers had a similarly impressive season. Aspiring pop princess Dua Lipa had a fiery breakthrough hit on her hands with “New Rules.” After 2016’s “Hotter Than Hell” found moderate success in the U.S., the UK songstress returned with a tightly produced track about how to get over a broken heart. “And if you’re under him, you ain’t getting over him,” she warns in the chorus.
Madison Beer took a similarly hard line on her cutting breakup anthem, “Dead.” The chilly synth piece takes on an anthemic quality as the rising talent delivers a serious diss to her ex. “You say you can’t live without me, so why aren’t you dead yet,” she demands in what may be one of the summer’s most straightforward lyrics.
YouTuber turned crooner Troye Sivan teamed up with Martin Garrix for the decidedly more optimistic “There For You,” a tune that saw the artist crooner looking for some support from a lover.
What was the pop culture highlight of your summer? Let us know!