That’s hot! How to make a summer hit

Summer demands its own tunes, from J Balvin to the Rhythm Method. Here’s our five-point guide to how to make the biggest track of the season

1. Bring the beat back!
With serotonin vocals and synths that sound like getting a head massage at Glastonbury at 3am, Ariana Grande’s No Tears Left to Cry was already shaping up to be one of the songs of the year. But what makes it a summer smash is that drum pattern. I’m no musicologist, but I think you can roughly describe it as “how it would sound if you glued snares and hi-hats on the wheel of fortune and watched the clicker hit them on the way round”. There’s a similar beat on Drake’s Nice for What – a kind of slowed-down breakbeat that makes you want to turn your speakers to face out of the window so you can pretend your sleepy cul-de-sac is a Brooklyn block party.

2. Call J Balvin’s people!
Latin pop continues to be the most influential sound in the charts, and this summer Jennifer Lopez, DJ Khaled and Cardi B’s Dinero as well as Nicky Jam and J Balvin’s X are being played on repeat from Ecuador to Elephant and Castle. The trend has made Balvin, Colombia’s biggest reggaeton star, hot property, as more mainstream artists queue up for him to lend some credibility to their tracks. His collaborations on Cardi B’s I Like It and Camilla Cabello and Pitbull’s I Need You, as well as the Beyoncé version of his own hit Mi Gente, are all perfect canciones del verano. His powers are not infinite, though – he couldn’t save Liam Payne’s Familiar, a song that sounds more likely to be played on cassette tape by a year-7 Spanish teacher than a carnival soundsystem.

3. Celebrate summer in the city!
The British summer is a unique beast: all exposed BCG scars, phallic Callipo play and Monday-festival-comedown Deliveroo orders. As such it needs its own soundtrack; something that reflects a summer when it isn’t always sunny. Songs such as Mura Masa and Octavian’s Move Me, which is about “the south-east, where it rains a lot”, where “I walked past a cop I hope they don’t look in my sock and see what I really got” sums up the edgy atmosphere of mid-July out on south London pavements. Or Tirzah’s Gladly, an unambiguous love song that sounds like spooning on the concrete banks of a public lido, with its blissed-out refrain of “feels like it’s raining, super soaks”.

4. Your mantra is: more is less
Drake dropped a 25-track album, Beyoncé and Jay-Z surprise-released a nine-track collaboration without so much as a promotional music video warning, Kanye has released two albums as an artist and three more as a producer in the space of five weeks. Popcaan has already had eight goes at releasing this year’s carnival anthem, and there’s more still to come. The streaming era is all about throwing everything against the proverbial wall and letting the people vote with their Spotify streams, then making a music video for the song everyone likes some time in October.

5. Remember to always reference Three Lions
The World Cup may be almost over but the music can live on, and football is always coming home, right? Take for example, The Rhythm Method’s Chin Up, an ode to our unique footballing traditions such as “prawn sarnies” and “a plastic chair thrown across a European market square”. Less defeatist is Olamide’s C Ronaldo, an Afrobeats track more about the thigh-bearing alpha-energy of the man than his role in the Portugal football team. I don’t think Spice’s outstanding carnival smash Tik Tak is necessarily about Spain’s attacking style (key lyric: “Tik to the tak, pum pum no slack”) but stranger songs (hiya, Atomic Kitten’s Whole Again!) have been repurposed as a terrace chant.


Sam Wolfson

The GuardianTramp

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