The Song of Summer is Cursed. And It’s Our Fault.
Summer of 2015 is coming to a close, and it’s been a good one for bands like Walk the Moon, Fetty Wap, and Omi, whose hits have been dominating radio, Spotify, and iTunes downloads. But given recent history, these up-and-coming artists may not be as fortunate in the summer of 2016.
The Best New Artist Grammy Award has often been believed to be a curse, with many winners hitting their stride only to completely disappear (Paula Cole and Starland Vocal Band are a couple of notable examples). But now there’s another curse to be submitted into pop music lore: the Song of Summer.
The curse of the Song of Summer is a phenomenon that’s become more prominent in recent years. Here’s what happens: An artist comes out with a song between May and August, it becomes unavoidable everywhere in popular culture, and then by the following summer, the artist is drenched in backlash instead of limelight.
The perfect example of the curse is Robin Thicke and his monstrous hit “Blurred Lines” from 2013.
This song was everywhere that summer, culminating in a tongue-in-cheek (almost literally) performance by Thicke and Miley Cyrus at the MTV Video Music Awards on August 25 of the same year. However, by 2014, Thicke became the butt of everyone’s joke, facing a copyright lawsuit from Marvin Gaye’s family, dismal reviews from his follow-up album Paula, and also a high-profile divorce from wife/actress/album namesake Paula Patton (his actions at the VMAs were said to have spurred the separation).
If you tracked Thicke’s trajectory into popularity, it would look like what happens to the yodeling traveler if he goes too far in the Cliff Hangers game on The Price is Right. One-hit wonders at least get to fade away into obscurity, but when Song-of-Summer singers go down, they fall hard.
Thicke is one example, but this summer expanded the idea of the curse when two 2014 Song-of-Summer contenders faced similar negative reaction.
First, there was Iggy Azalea with last year’s “Fancy,” which Billboard declared 2014’s unofficial “song of summer.” Fast forward to 2015. Azalea’s the talk of the season, yet again, but for a different reason. In June, she canceled her tour, with Washington Post tracking a breakdown of the singer’s demise, writing: “Stick a fork in Iggy Azalea. She’s done.” Around this time, she was forced to bow out of performing at Pittsburgh’s Pride Fest after groups protested her for being anti-gay (Sample tweet: “When guys whisper in each other’s ears, I always think it’s kinda homo”). In the same amount of time that Thicke fell from popularity, so had the woman who had so politely spelled out her name in bold for us.
But the summer wasn’t over yet.
In July, Ariana Grande, who had three hits last summer (“Bang Bang,” “Break Free,” and “Problem” which featured Iggy Azalea) encountered controversy when she was caught on camera licking a donut at Wolfee Donuts in Lake Elsinore, California before declaring “I hate America.” By mid August, the former Nickelodeon star was named the No. 2 Most Hated Celebrity behind Bill Cosby.
Some may believe that this isn’t a curse, but what happens when cheaters, homophobes, and spoiled brats get caught behaving badly, but even LMFAO, who had the 2011 Song of Summer with “Party Rock” (which showed up in KIA commercials with hamsters that looked like they survived nuclear radiation poisoning) suffered from their popularity and took “a hiatus” in 2012. And Thicke’s fellow 2013 Song-of-Summer candidate Daft Punk were not so lucky when they backed out of a Colbert Report appearance and got majorly dissed by the future CBS Late Night host (Robin Thicke would end up stepping in to perform on the Comedy Central show). As it turns out, doing and saying nothing — and in Daft Punk’s case, not even showing your face — can also be detrimental to your public persona.
So what does this mean? Is it an actual curse or just a reflection of the scrutiny modern performers face after becoming popular?
Social media and the Internet have surely thrust these performers into stardom in a unique way compared to just a few decades prior. They have no privacy and can’t make mistakes. Unlike 20 years ago, the Internet makes it possible for people to read everything from think pieces (like this one) that influence and examine pop culture in excruciating detail to an Instagram post in poor taste. One influencer’s work gets shared and suddenly changes the opinion of someone else.
If blogs would have been around in 1998, there would surely have been posts about why “The Boy is Mine” doesn’t pass the Bechdel test, but today we remember it as a cutesy piece of ‘90s nostalgia. And in 2000, when Creed’s “Higher” dominated the airwaves, Scott Stapp was just a religious rocker. It wasn’t until leaked sex tapes and YouTube videos in the aughts that we realized it was a ruse.Today, all it takes is one tweet to take down an artist.
We all remember Mark Morrison only as the “Return of the Mack” guy. In June 1997, that song peaked at No. 2 in the United States. But what we don’t remember is that he brought a gun on a plane and was convicted of armed robbery during that same year, just as his song was rising up the charts. Had the Internet and social media been more influential, would his reputation be different? Would we remember him for his song or for his actions?
An early sign at how influential technology would become was in 1989 when Milli Vanilli was caught lip syncing during a live MTV performance. They were forced to give back their Best New Artist Grammy (we come full circle) and their career was over after that.
Today, everyone lip syncs, which makes synthetic voice recording the norm, not the enemy. So perhaps years from now, the Song of Summer curse will cease to exist when everyone becomes accustomed with public failure the way they are with Auto-Tuning. Until then, the only thing Rachel Platten, The Weeknd, and Silento can do is hire someone to manage their Twitter accounts, stay out of donut shops with cameras, and hope they’re in the Internet’s good graces next summer.