For a brief moment every year, music bloggers, critics, and pundits obsess over the same cultural concept: the all-important song of the summer. The song they predict will dominate Spotify playlists and top iTunes charts, crash radio waves nationwide, and top every retrospective summer 20-whatever culture listicle. The song that will ultimately transcend enough genres and infect enough audiences that even your grandma is saying, "Hey, I know that one!"
"It is the song that wrecks wedding dance floors," Amanda Dobbins wrote of the concept for Vulture in 2014, when Iggy Azalea's "Fancy" earned the top prize. "It does not necessarily have to hit No. 1 on the charts, but it should probably be on the charts, because it must be widely played. It must bring people together. It must be a shared enthusiasm."
There can be multiple songs of the summer, or there can be just one, but that there will be a discussion is a foregone conclusion. How will we soundtrack these three months of our lives?
But, hear me out: Why don't we apply this concept to … I don't know, every other season? Surely we needn't forget about winter, spring, and fall, nor is there some reason we can't bestow such a symbolic cultural honor upon the songs that color them. Did we all stare longingly out the window at the glum wasteland that is a city in February and bump Mitski's "I Guess"? Might that make it the song of the winter? Or maybe we all sipped chai lattes and snapped apple-picking Instagrams in November while vibing out to Taylor Swift's re-released "Come Back…Be Here"? If so, by the same logic used to determine our hallowed summer jam, wouldn't that deserve song of the fall status?
But nowhere is this nonsensical approach more baffling to me than in the springtime. Why is there no song of the spring? Think, first and foremost, of what spring represents. It's a season for defrosting, throwing off your too-tight jeans, and letting your shins see the light of day. It's a rebirth and a revival — poetic, even! Tell me, what am I going to listen to as I walk down 8th Avenue without a jacket for the first time in months? Doesn't that deserve some cultural attention?
It's not that we don't need a song of the summer to play in July with the windows down — it's that we need even more a song to blast with the windows down for the first time in a long time. And that track, my friends, should be rewarded as the song of the spring.
By my estimation, a textbook song of the spring falls into one of four categories: a folksy, 50s- or 60s-inspired romp (think Lake Street Dive, Yola, or St. Paul and the Broken Bones), a triumphant, synth-heavy pop song (MUNA, or Florence and the Machine), a rowdy, punk manifesto (Christian Leave, Car Seat Headrest), or an ethereal and ambient alt-rock anthem (Sharon van Etten, Rostam, and Lucy Dacus come to mind). While different, these kinds of songs all manage to do one thing particularly well: They sound like a fresh start feels.
Whether that's a symptom of their driving synth or sweeping orchestral undertones, I can't be certain — it's a je ne sais quoi I struggle to put in words. But I nonetheless know it when I feel it, as though I might look up and watch buds grow into leaves right before my eyes. As though the world is one big dance, and I finally have the steps memorized. The song of the spring should feel triumphant — we made it! — and aspirational — I've been reborn! — and almost profoundly separate from reality in the happiest possible way.
So, what is this year's hallmark springtime bop? I have some ideas.
Vying for the top spot is Maggie Roger's "That's Where I Am," a potent, 90's-inspired love song with deep synth and experimental instrumentation reminiscent of spring song category #2. "It all works out in the end/Wherever you go, that's where I am," Rogers croons over layered vocals and infectious claps. Presumably an ode to all-but-confirmed partner Holden Jaffe (known by the stage name Del Water Gap), "That's Where I Am" is Rogers' first single since the 2019 standalone "Love You For A Long Time" and 2020's retrospective LP Notes from the Archive. Though it ventures down some familiar paths, the song never feels tired. Just when you think you know where it's going, Rogers gleefully turns it all around.
In a close second is Florence and The Machine's achingly beautiful "Free," produced by pop wunderkind Jack Antonoff for the band's forthcoming album Dance Fever. Lead vocalist Florence Welch hauntingly wails over a thumping beat: "I'm on fire, but I'm trying not to show it/As it picks me up, puts me down." It's a dance anthem for the inescapable suffering that is being human, imbued with Antonoff's signature ambient sound. "'Cause I hear the music, I feel the beat / And for a moment, when I'm dancing / I am free." Just like that, Welch is alive again, much like the leaves at the end of March or the flowers in May. I couldn't turn it off if I tried.
Now get on out there, and put on some music — it is springtime, after all.