Today is the first day of summer, which means a whole host of wonderful things: boozy rooftop get-togethers with sloshy drinks and Instagram sunsets, meandering downtown with your shirt clinging to your salty lower back, sweaty dance parties, and syrupy canned pop music on the radio. Summer is the season of sticky things: sticky skin, sticky drinks, sticky melodies.
This summer, I’m thinking of one melody in particular. Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky.” It’s impossible to avoid if you’re in radio range. Twelve years after the release of Discovery, and “Get Lucky” could be a track off that CD. It’s got the same boppy slinkiness as “Digital Love,” the same sweetness as “One More Time.” Is it regressive? No, I wouldn’t say so. It’s catchy, it’s slick, it’s a summer jam. It sticks to itself in an electro loop, and if you put it on repeat you wouldn’t know when it stopped and started.
My first summer back home from college, the summer of 2011, I remember being enthralled by the music that poured out of my brother’s stereo as we rolled around town, windows down. I was at home under lockdown in the suburbs of Portland, Oregon, miles from any frat house or indie basement. There was no making out with strangers to be had here. But the songs that rushed through the speakers and out the windows, the heavy bass that left puddles on the asphalt and the car floor, carried a unique and already bitter sweetness, lingering reminders of the less academic endeavors of my previous academic year.
“Wait, I like this one,” I told my brother, as he moved to change stations.
“Why?” he asked. It was “Hello” by Martin Solveig: clubby, with a thumping, European beat and an emphasis on the anti-hookup.
“It reminds me of dancing at dumb parties,” I said. You’re all right but I’m here, darling, to enjoy the party. I turned my face towards the window and felt the hot breeze blow through my hair. It was almost like being in my favorite dank party basement again. With a flick of the switch, the radio could bring back the genre I only knew half shitfaced, and all those marvelous, murky memories. If Proust had his madeleine, well, I have my summer top 40s.
It seems like every song has a drop now, or at least, every auto-tuned, drum machined, beautifully engineered hit. What’s the drop do? What’s it for? In the worst cases, it comes out of nowhere, and you’re left thinking: this track was really better off without. But in the best of times, the drop is the inevitable result of a tension created by a bass line, drum line, or other steady, insistent beat — and when it finally comes, it feels like a release. Everything breaking down — every body breaking down. Like an orgasm, tense and then loose again.
Summer is for lovers, or maybe it’s not for lovers. Say what you will of summer flings: sometimes, coming back to your hometown is hard. It can be lonely. It can be winsome. Pop music becomes the perfect solution — memories of parties past, coupled with the throbbing, sticky heat of the present. Only during high summer and dirty dance parties is it permissible to sweat through the sheer clothes you’ve donned for propriety’s sake alone. And if you’re fortunate enough to find yourself fit for some summer lovin’ — thanks to the omnipresence of top 40s, you’ve also found yourself the soundtrack for your seasonal romance.
The drop is perhaps a poor substitute for orgasm, though. Witness the silliness of the misnamed Harlem Shake, already a flash in the pan. The beat drops; everyone goes wild. But no one really dances like that (no one should really dance like that!). And if the orgasm is the mind and body plunging into bliss, it doesn’t seem right to dance harder afterward, does it? In the end, the drop is the dissolution of the tab on your tongue. The marshmallow reward your four-year-old Stanford experiment brain has been waiting for. The ice cream after it’s finally gone soft and melty, pure sugar, sticky, a gloppy, glitchy beat.
Pop is the thing that happens after the drop. Also the thing that comes before it. But pure pop, the thing that makes your hips twitch — is the sneaky release of everything you thought you wanted. More accurately, it’s everything you have, in the previous minute, been instructed to want. I read recently that scientists engineer our chips to the perfect crunch point, the point of crunchiness that makes our brains happiest. I wonder if producers engineer drops at the perfect dance point to make our butts joyous, too.
Don’t ask me where it comes from, but we all crave tension and release. There’s a science to the sugar and there’s a name for it, too: earworm. Pop, however shitty, is constructed to make us dance. We need it that way. It’s not about the craft so much as the experience, the atmosphere it creates and the things you do in it, the things you remember and the things it stirs in you. Pop is infinitely recursive. Every shimmy, every sway, every drink, every roof, every summer. Sticky.
I first heard “Get Lucky” at a backyard barbecue in New Haven, Connecticut, and it followed me all the way to Portland, where I hear it at least once a day on the radio. And I’m certain it will follow me back, when I return to school in the fall. It’ll come with me to dance parties, to study sessions, to flashmobs and god knows what else. I haven’t made those memories yet. But I know for sure that next summer it’ll be replaced by something similar — like, but not exactly — and that sticky new melody will bring all these memories back.