Drake's 'One Dance' is a terrible Song of the Summer

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It doesn't feel like summer's over. In most of the country, temperatures are still hanging well above 80 degrees even now that the calendar has flipped to September. There are no leaves falling from trees. And somehow we made it through the past four months without the summer's most ludicrous traditional debate ever really taking flight.

In the year of our Lord Rihanna 2016, there have been no gesticulating thinkpieces, no battling stereo systems, no chorus of groans over the age-old frivolity of the Song of the Summer. Because this year, the Song of the Summer was pretty obvious, according to Billboard. With the exception of three failed contenders—"Can't Stop the Feeling" by Justin Timberlake (one week), Sia's "Cheap Thrills" (four weeks), and "Closer" by the Chainsmokers featuring Halsey (three weeks)—Drake's "Once Dance (at 10 weeks spent up top) is the undeniable Song of the Summer 2016.


By the lyrics alone, Drake's "One Dance" seems like it could have been an anthemic party song. "That's why I need a one dance / Got a Hennessy in my hand / One more time 'fore I go / Higher powers taking a hold on me," Drake sings. But it comes off more like a parlor sing-along song than a summer jam. What we ended up with wasn't a song that defined a season, but a song there was so much apathy toward that everyone just accepted its reign.

"One Dance" took the pop chart throne at the very beginning of summer, in May. It's a dancehall song about dancing, an intended club hit if there ever was one. But it's not raunchy. With a sprinkling of Caribbean vibe, it's a sonically innocuous song. It's slow, groovy, and not very catchy at all.


The Song of the Summer is pure. It is, in theory, completely democratic. A Song of the Summer is chosen, no matter how hated it is, by the masses. "The summer song induces thoughts of tearing your hair out with helpless irritation," Mim Udovitch wrote in a 1995 New York Magazine article titled "That Summer Song." But "One Dance" isn't irritating. If anything, it's utterly forgettable—a song that plays in the background for so long it stops meaning anything really at all.

"One Dance" is Drake's first number-one hit, and—if we're honest—it's a pity number one. Like Tupac Shakur's "How Do U Want It?" 20 years ago this summer, Drake's first number one is by no means his most popular or most famous song. "One Dance" will not outlast the misogynist but unbelievably catchy "Hotline Bling." It certainly won't be a smash hit at parties in 20 years like "The Motto" will be. As Chris Molanphy wrote for Slate when the song hit number one in May, "'One Dance' is about as exciting for Drake in 2016 as 'How Do U Want It?' was for 2Pac in 1996. It feels inevitable rather than triumphant."

Even months later, "One Dance" doesn't feel like an unavoidable hit. To be clear, it is played everywhere. But because there's no real earworm, it just didn't ever sound like it could stay at the top of the chart for this long, much less edge out every other summer hit.

Drake was going to get a number-one hit off of this album. When it came out, he had already admitted that it was the only prize he really wanted to win. Just before Views released, an Apple reporting error kept "Hotline Bling" from clinching this win for Drake—and once it hadn't, it seemed clear that something else on Views would. This has been, after all, Summer Sixteen, the summer of Drake.


In terms of first-week sales, Views was a smash hit—selling 825,000 copies in that period alone. Because it was one of the best streaming albums in history, 18 of the songs of Views made it onto the Billboard Hot 100 chart in the album's first week. That's every song except "Hotline Bling" and an interlude. That's the kind of dominance that isn't based on true artistic success; it's dominance based on obsession. The only other two artists to dominate 1/5 of the Billboard Hot 100 chart in the same way are Justin Bieber and the Beatles, icons with cult-like followings.

Drake's such a cult figure that if "One Dance" hadn't been on this album, fans probably would have anointed the next most popular song to the top of the charts. Spotify's streaming data from this summer shows Drake not only taking the number-one spot with "One Dance," but the number-two spot ("Too Good") and the number-five spot ("Controlla").


Traditionally, grabbing a Song of the Summer title isn't the end of some drawn-out battle for the throne—it's a surprise. More often than not, the Song of the Summer can come from truly anywhere or anyone. Little Eva's "The Loco-Motion," Song of the Summer 1962, was such a truly catchy song that it appeared in the American top 5 three times in three different decades by three different artists. "Funkytown" by LIPPS INC, Song of the Summer 1980, was the very first single from a band's very first album.

Maybe choosing the Song of the Summer is an outdated concept. Maybe "One Dance" can be the Song of the Summer because it's a reflection of an era when a singular—albeit very white and very male—monolithic American culture was created and praised. Maybe the nostalgic ring of a familiar bass drum just won't ring in our ears in 15, 20, or 50 years simply because we all had different songs that we loved. But for some reason, I don't buy that. "One Dance" is ubiquitous. It is everywhere. It's just a different kind of Song of the Summer.


In a Washington Post article about summer hit songs from May of 1907 (yes, 1907), songwriter Ron Shields is quoted saying, "It is the song that the drunk is going to sing that is the song that is going to be popular." If that's the true metric of Song of the Summer, then "One Dance" is a continuation of the other sadboy sad songs we've anointed to the top of the chart already this year. Justin Bieber's "Sorry" is an apology. Lukas Graham's "7 Years" is a midlife crisis sung by a 26-year-old.

Maybe we needed "One Dance" because this was the hottest summer in recorded history. Maybe we were all too hot and too tired to work ourselves up over a smash one-hit wonder. Song of the Summers typically exist outside of political climates. Fetty Wap's "Trap Queen" paid no attention to the murder of Freddie Gray, which happened that summer. Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines" certainly didn't deal with the Boston Bombers or Edward Snowden.


Maybe "One Dance" is the Song of the Summer because it's exactly what we needed in a 2016 political climate that is consistently racist, sexist, classist, and exhausting. It's a balm we can smooth over everything because it just doesn't make us feel anything at all.


Kelsey McKinney is a culture staff writer for Fusion.