DaBaby, Cardi B, Lady Gaga: Who scored 2020's Song of the Summer?

LEFT TO RIGHT: Curtis Waters, Megan Thee Stallion and Cardi B, DaBaby.
LEFT TO RIGHT: Curtis Waters, Megan Thee Stallion and Cardi B, DaBaby.

I don't think I need to tell you that the summer of 2020 wasn't a normal one, and the sheer weirdness of the world seemed to seep into popular art, as well. But now that August is winding down, there's a burning question that literally dozens of people out there are thinking: What was this year's Song of the Summer?

Perhaps a better question is what exactly is a Song of the Summer? It's a somewhat nebulous designation that music critics love awarding to a massive mainstream radio hit that dominates cultural conversation and soundtracks all your summertime hangouts in a given year. Recent examples include Katy Perry's bubblegum-y "California Gurls," the inescapable club banger "Despacito" and last year's record breaker "Old Town Road." All of those songs seemed to seep into our consciousness by osmosis, floating through the summery air everywhere you went.

But since beach parties weren't really a thing this year (if you were playing it safe, that is), and since most of us seem to be directing our attention to more pressing concerns, how do we account for a Song of Summer in the midst of a summertime pandemic? There are a few contenders, and I wanted to analyze their credentials before officially crowning 2020's Song of the Summer.

"Blinding Lights," The Weeknd
This single actually dropped back in 2019, but it didn't become a No. 1 smash until its accompanying album, After Hours, was released in March. It finally topped the charts in April and hovered around the top spot into the first weeks of summer, and you're probably still hearing it on the Top 40 stations. It's the sort of cinematic, glimmering pop we've come to expect from the Weeknd, but does its delayed release exempt it from Song of the Summer status?

"Cardigan," Taylor Swift
So far the only single from T. Swift's surprise album Folklore to hit No. 1, "Cardigan," is about as cozy and autumnal as the title suggests. Although Swift has had huge summer singles in the past with the likes of "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" and "Shake It Off," this is a much more hushed and introspective track than those pop anthems. And besides, can a song about a sweater be a Song of the Summer? I don't think so.

"Rain on Me," Lady Gaga feat. Ariana Grande
This collab between two of our most beloved divas was the second single from Gaga's well-received album Chromatica, and it seemed to be all over Twitter for a few days back in May. The second the precipitation-soaked music video hit YouTube, it was already being memed into oblivion. It's a solid single, catchy and bright, but I haven't heard it talked about much since its release. I have to imagine that if dance clubs were open for business like in normal times, though, it would no doubt still be on people's lips.

"Rockstar," DaBaby feat. Roddy Rich
If you simply take sales and chart longevity into account, rapper DaBaby's smash single is the odds-on favorite for 2020's Song of the Summer. Even Billboard, which created the very concept of song charts, has crowned it as such. It dominated the Hot 100 for most of June and July and hit No. 1 in just about every other country where it was released, and it's one of those songs whose thumping, hooky chorus belies its dark verses concerning PTSD and police brutality. A perfect song for the time, and a Top 40 juggernaut to boot.

"Savage," Megan Thee Stallion
Despite a recent horrific incident in which she was shot, Texas-based hip-hop artist Megan Thee Stallion had a good summer as far as her music was concerned as audiences take notice of her gleefully filthy verses and her effortless flow. "Savage" premiered on a March EP, but it was a summertime remix featuring none other than Beyonce that blew up on TikTok, propelling it up the charts. It's a good candidate for Song of the Summer, but there's an even better Megan song that'll come up later.

"Stunnin,'" Curtis Waters
Here's another song that got traction via TikTok, thrusting young Nepalese-Canadian musician Curtis Waters into the spotlight seemingly overnight. Because of that virality, "Stunnin'" seems like an out-of-nowhere hit, but it's got a slick groove and a laid back, slightly stoned vibe that's perfect for summertime jamming. It's almost too modest to be a Song of the Summer, but as somebody who isn't regularly on that popular video sharing app, I have to admit this track comes as a pleasant surprise.

"WAP," Cardi B feat. Megan Thee Stallion
Is the ribald viral hit "WAP" merely a contender for Song of the Summer because it swooped in at the tail end of the season and dominated the conversation for a solid week? Maybe, but it's also a certified bop, unabashedly over-the-top and gleefully profane (we can't even print what the titular acronym stands for), and watching certain sectors clutch their pearls over the lyrics has been fun (don't let them near Nicki Minaj's "Anaconda"). All that publicity has reportedly resulted in the song being streamed more than 90 million times, a staggering number for a song that's only a month old.

"Watermelon Sugar," Harry Styles
Even the title of Styles' recent chart-topping hit conjures up feelings of lazy July afternoons lounging in the grass, and its video, which can best be described as an omnisexual picnic, features a lot of bare skin and the sort of touching that seems alien these days. With his foot firmly in the sounds of '70s pop and his penchant for bright colors and bold style, Styles no doubt has a future Song of the Summer in him, but this one doesn't quite fit the bill.

It's pretty clear in my mind that, based on sheer radio play/streaming numbers and cultural relevance, there are two major candidates for 2020's Song of the Summer: "Rockstar" and "WAP." And since regular rules are out the window anyway, why not crown them both? I declare a joint winner, with a shoutout to the charmingly homemade "Stunnin'" as a sentimental favorite. ♦

Zephyr Dinner Theater ft. Blake Braley @ Zephyr Lodge

Tue., April 20, 6 p.m.
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About The Author

Nathan Weinbender

Nathan Weinbender is the Inlander's Music & Film editor. He is also a film critic for Spokane Public Radio, where he has co-hosted the weekly film review show Movies 101 since 2011.