[Editor’s note: Your devoted Flavorwire team is taking Memorial Day off, but we’ve left you with some of our favorite summer-related features that you may have missed the first time around. This post originally ran May 2, 2012. Enjoy!]
We can’t even begin to fathom how difficult life is for pop stars. When temperatures top 90°F, they can’t simply slip into a sundress and slurp down margaritas all the livelong day. Our beloved idols have a higher charge to answer to: creating the perfect summer dance-floor stormer. For them, dressing down and partying hard is all part and parcel to the performance art of pop. Take it from Jennifer Lopez, who, with the measured precision of a seasoned pop-ologist, has given us the summer anthem to beat with “Dance Again.”
The song contains exactly the correct amounts of dance-ability, flair, and derring-do. It isn’t aiming too high. Lyrically it doesn’t strain your brain (“I wanna dance / And love / And dance again”) and structurally, it explodes only during the bridge and into the chorus, and otherwise, it entertains a restrained synth beat. Still, you may be wary about surrendering to “Dance Again.” It isn’t the best pop song. But it is a tour de force befitting a sweltering Fourth of July rave. However, it’s not the only one. America’s entered a dance-pop renaissance, and that means we’re in for a slew of unlikely summer anthems that are at least as good as “Dance Again.” In fact, J.Lo has given us such a perfect benchmark for summer jams that we measure the following 12 potentially overlooked summer anthems on the semi-scientific scale of 1 to 5 “Dance Agains,” wherein 1 = “Sure, I’ll dance again, but I’ll need a few tequila shots first” and 5 = “What do you mean ‘again’ — I haven’t stopped dancing for the past five hours.”
Cheryl — “Call My Name”
You either know Cheryl Cole as that broad who Simon Cowell threw under a bus or — preferably — as one-fifth of Girls Aloud. Either way, she’s roped in Calvin Harris (fresh off the successes of “We Found Love,” “Let’s Go,” and “Feels So Close”) and has managed “Call My Name.” Exhibiting approximately as much lyrical and vocal versatility as J.Lo, “Call My Name” is only slightly more anthemic than “Dance Again,” thanks to that build-up at the beginning. It’s not a slight on the song, but it does make us wonder if Cheryl should’ve called up former bandmate Nicola Roberts for advice on how to make a dance tune that properly rivets.
Scissor Sisters — “Only the Horses”
On its own merits, “Only the Horses” is a patently excellent tune. But you can’t help but feel that the Scissor Sisters peaked prematurely by releasing “Shady Love” as early in the year as they did, because it makes “Only the Horses” look like a foal of a pop song. But overall, this is a compliment to Jake Shears and co., because both tracks prove that this band knows how to crank out a dance jam.
Cinnamon Girl — “FRIENDS”
For every red carpet laid out for someone like J.Lo, there’s always a secret passageway into the limelight for a total newbie who’s willing to give us an excellent reason to throw our arms up on the dance floor — at the risk of spilling our cocktails! That newcomer’s reward? A Cinderella story and the definitive song of the summer. By the time September comes around, Cinnamon Girl could be the one donning that tiara, as “FRIENDS” could definitely be the catalyst for endless late-night vodka mishaps.
Kat Graham — “Put Your Graffiti On Me”
For pop stars who are unwilling to invest in capable songwriters, summer is a boon. For example, Kat Graham, star of The Vampire Diaries, doesn’t even attempt subtlety and shrugs off any accusation that with lyrics like, “Treat me like concrete under your feet / I’ll be your canvas incomplete,” she might be setting feminism back a half-decade. It behooves me to admit that I’m more interested in the rhyme scheme of that line and the occasional cowbell clang than I am about any deeper impact a song like “Graffiti” might have on its listeners.
Sam Sparro — “I Wish I Never Met You (Stereogamous Remix)”
Break-up songs are among the more challenging singles to throw out into the world over the summer. Sam Sparro — who’s quite handy with a dance track or two — breaks form with this kiss-off. But it’s the Stereogamous remix that makes “It’s been sixteen hours and three long years / Been trying to wipe these memories and dry these tears / I wish I never met you / That’s how much I regret you” both bittersweet and danceable.
Kylie Minogue — “Cherry Bomb”
Kylie Minogue is currently the pinnacle of pop. As she marks 25 years of making music, Minogue is celebrating the vastness of her career in a novel way: an “anti-tour” of b-sides, album tracks, and other obscurities. “Cherry Bomb” (no relation to the Runaways song by the same name) is a b-side from 2008’s “In My Arms”. This live performance from Melbourne is lifted from the anti-tour, but really, it’s the crunchy rock riffs that make us wonder how dance music can rock harder than rock itself.
Namie Amuro — “YEAH-OH”
Japanese pop exists in a parallel universe that simultaneously acknowledges and ignores American pop. This is why, at age 34, Namie Amuro can remain the presiding Queen of J-Pop while fending off attempts by American or European interlopers to chip away her fan base. “YEAH-OH” is probably the best thesis we’ll get in favor of lyrical content’s paltry role in summer anthems as an anemic placeholder entirely dependent on the thrumming of big beats. While parts of “YEAH-OH” are in English, most of it is in Japanese. But if ever you find yourself hanging at Hiro half past midnight and this comes on, you wouldn’t stop to perform a linguistic analysis of Japanese-versus-English phonetic sounds; you’d race to the floor to dance your derrière off.
The Saturdays — “30 Days”
Perhaps the most science fiction-themed of all the tracks on this list, The Saturdays’ “30 Days” is a heartfelt stomper about counting down every moment within one calendar month (unless it is a 28-, 29-, or 31-day month) until you’re reunited with the love of your life. Is it maudlin? Of course! It’s a big summer anthem; without hyperbole, it’d be useless.
Bob Sinclar featuring Sophie Ellis-Bextor — “Fuck With You (Nikola Remode)”
1. We love trance. 2. We love British accents. 3. We love gratuitous expletives. Q.E.D.: We love “Fuck With You.” The jam manages to marry all three components into a dance song simultaneously tailored for Ibiza dance halls and West Hollywood drag parties — all while opening with a line as innocuous as, “Take me away on a holiday, sugar.”
Alexandra Burke — “Let It Go”
The Dalai Lama once said, “Most of our troubles are due to our passionate desire for and attachment to things that we misapprehend as enduring entities.” It’s not surprising the sage’s words resonate with a subcategory of zen pop, which embraces the spirit of “letting go” in order to properly celebrate life. The first one comes from a one-time Beyoncé collaborator and Jeff Buckley fan, X Factor alum Alexandra Burke. In addition to doling out some solid life-changing advice pertaining to the best way to get over losers who treat you like garbage (“When life is hard / Let it fall / Put your hands up to the sky”), Burke showcases the universally beloved pastime of city people who like to party in the summer: dancing in trains.
Dragonette — “Let It Go”
Here’s another slice of identically named zen pop from Dragonette, who you may remember from last year’s “Hello.” Perhaps this is an emerging trend in summer jams of 2012: write and perform a roof-raising song about “letting go” and enjoy entry into an elite club of spectacular tunes.
Carishma — “Glow in the Dark”
At times, the A&R departments around a pop star will miss the point entirely. One can only imagine this was exactly the case when the team behind up-and-comer Carishma decided to release a beach-themed video for the Rodney Jerkins-produced “Glow in the Dark” in the middle of December last year. While it made some waves at the end of last year, in this age of singles that find success long after their release date (“Bulletproof” by La Roux, anybody?), “Glow” obviously deserves a chance to shine. For a bigger bang, try the Dave Aude remix. Your eyes do not deceive you; this is the only summer anthem to receive five out of five “Dance Agains.” Chalk it up to keeping the spirit of teenage magic alive and well.