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A look back at the best songs of the summer

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Well, it's Labor Day. It's the last day of summer in many people's eyes, including mine. And back when this season started, we asked NPR's Stephen Thompson to predict which songs would be everywhere this summer. Well, some of those predictions probably sound pretty familiar by now. There's Kate Bush.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RUNNING UP THAT HILL")

KATE BUSH: (Singing) Be running up that road, be running up that hill...

SUMMERS: "Running Up That Hill," the 1980s song revived by the TV show "Stranger Things."

(SOUNDBITE OF LIZZO SONG, "ABOUT DAMN TIME")

SUMMERS: Lizzo's "About Damn Time."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ABOUT DAMN TIME")

LIZZO: (Singing) Turn up the music. Let's celebrate.

SUMMERS: That one is pretty self-explanatory.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ABOUT DAMN TIME")

LIZZO: (Singing) I'm going to be OK.

SUMMERS: And, of course, there is Beyonce.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BREAK MY SOUL")

BEYONCE: (Singing) You won't break my soul. You won't break my soul. You won't break my soul.

SUMMERS: She had a whole album drop this summer.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BREAK MY SOUL")

BEYONCE: (Singing) And I'm telling everybody, everybody.

SUMMERS: Stephen Thompson is back now to chat about just how great his predictions were. Hey, Stephen.

STEPHEN THOMPSON, BYLINE: Hey, Juana.

SUMMERS: All right. We are journalists. We are in the business of facts. So if you can fact-check yourself, what happened in music this summer?

THOMPSON: Well, I think I mostly got it pretty right. I mean, I certainly picked three songs that were massive hits in the summer of 2022. But it's important to note that song of the summer is a marathon, not a sprint. These things didn't happen overnight. They had weeks or even months or, in the case of Kate Bush, years of rollout before they kind of took off and became kind of defining songs of the summer. So I got them right. But it was a pretty easy lift.

SUMMERS: OK. So I got to ask you here. Was there a clear winner? Who came out on top to you?

THOMPSON: Well, I think, you know, it's in the eye of the beholder. And there are different metrics at work here. We could talk about what was streamed the most on Spotify. We could talk about what topped the Billboard charts. We could talk in sort of a more nebulous way about what kind of dominated the cultural conversation. And I don't think you can necessarily slot the same song into all those spots.

(SOUNDBITE OF KATE BUSH SONG, "RUNNING UP THAT HILL")

THOMPSON: The most streamed song on Spotify in the summer of 2022 was "Running Up That Hill" by Kate Bush from 1985...

SUMMERS: Right.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RUNNING UP THAT HILL")

BUSH: (Singing) It's you and me. It's you and me - won't be unhappy.

THOMPSON: ...Thus showing that a song can have the longest imaginable tail and still have enormous cultural resonance years and years, decades later. The most streamed song globally was "As It Was" by Harry Styles.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AS IT WAS")

HARRY STYLES: (Singing) In this world, it's just us. You know it's not the same as it was.

THOMPSON: And I think that's kind of the song that we talked about a little bit earlier this summer. But I think I certainly underestimated the staying power of that song. That song is still No. 1 on the Billboard charts.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AS IT WAS")

STYLES: (Singing) As it was, as it was, as it was.

SUMMERS: So any other artists that come to mind who also had strong showings this summer that maybe surprised you?

THOMPSON: Well, I wasn't necessarily expecting Jack Harlow's song "First Class" to kind of climb as high in the charts as it did and stick around as long as it did.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FIRST CLASS")

JACK HARLOW: (Rapping) And I can put you in first class up in the sky. I can put you in first class.

THOMPSON: That song had an enormous amount of staying power, in part due to radio airplay.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FIRST CLASS")

HARLOW: (Rapping) They say you a superstar now. Damn, I guess I am. You might be the man. Well, that's unless I am. OK, I'll confess. I am.

THOMPSON: So Jack Harlow is certainly an example of somebody who really broke through in 2022 and had a very, very big summer. I think it's definitely worth mentioning Bad Bunny.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TITI ME PREGUNTO")

BAD BUNNY: (Singing in Spanish).

THOMPSON: Bad Bunny put out an album called "Un Verano Sin Ti" back in May, and its songs were just all over the streaming charts all summer long. If the metric you're using is streaming, he was enormous. If the metric you're using is the number of times I heard it playing out of car windows, it also qualifies.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TITI ME PREGUNTO")

BAD BUNNY: (Singing in Spanish). Say cheese. (Singing in Spanish).

THOMPSON: He had a massive, massive, massive summer.

BUSH: OK. So when we talk about some of the names we started out with, Beyonce - she's been around for nearly 25 years. Kate Bush's song "Running Up That Hill" came out before I was born. But were there any newcomers that sort of came out of nowhere this summer?

THOMPSON: I don't think this summer was necessarily a big one for completely left-field artists who came entirely out of nowhere. I think you're starting to see some trickle up, though. I think this fall you're going to hear a lot more of Blackpink. Blackpink is a K-pop girl group.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PINK VENOM")

BLACKPINK: (Rapping) Kick in the door, waving the coco. (Rapping in Korean).

THOMPSON: They just played the VMAs. They've got a song called "Pink Venom" that's kind of climbing the charts.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PINK VENOM")

BLACKPINK: (Rapping) This, that - pink venom. This, that - pink venom. This, that - pink venom. Get 'em (ph). Get 'em. Get 'em straight to your dome like whoa, whoa, whoa.

THOMPSON: We didn't necessarily have that one big K-Pop smash hit that defined the summer the way we have for BTS in the last couple of years. And I think Blackpink, a band that a lot of people have been talking about as a next big thing for the last few years - they seem to finally be crossing over to the U.S. in ways that began this summer.

SUMMERS: When I think back about our conversation at the start of the summer, we also talked about how house music was reemerging both in Beyonce's songs and Drake's new album. Were there any other big artists that we saw dabbling in house, or was that kind of a one- or two-off?

THOMPSON: I'm not sure. I mean, I think that particular trend in pop music is still kind of revealing itself. You know the saying, you know, two is a coincidence; three is a trend, or whatever? I mean, you had Beyonce and Drake really doing that.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MASSIVE")

DRAKE: (Singing) I can't help it. I'm so into you.

THOMPSON: And certainly other artists have broken through in dance music, but I'm not sure that's necessarily taken over the sound of mainstream pop music the way it seemed like maybe it might for a minute there.

(SOUNDBITE OF DRAKE SONG, "MASSIVE")

SUMMERS: Now, I know summer is sadly coming to an end, but we are headed into what I think is the best season of the year - fall. And I don't know if there's, like, a song of the fall, but, Stephen, what are you excited about over the next couple of months? What kind of artists are going to be bringing you into autumn?

THOMPSON: I mentioned Blackpink. That feels like it's about to become a really, really, really massive thing in terms of topping charts. There's a new album from Carly Rae Jepsen coming out in October.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BEACH HOUSE")

CARLY RAE JEPSEN: (Singing) Boys around the world, I want to believe that when you chase a girl, it's not just hunting season.

THOMPSON: She is an enormously reliable pop hitmaker.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BEACH HOUSE")

JEPSEN: (Singing) Say it like you mean it. I've got a beach house in Malibu, and I'm probably gonna (ph) hurt your feelings.

THOMPSON: There's a new Taylor Swift coming out in October. She is certainly likely to dominate the cultural conversation, really, between now and then, as she so often does. We're going to see more of these kind of BTS solo projects rolling out that - any of which have the potential to kind of cross over in a big way. But one thing that's worth keeping in mind is songs really aren't just songs of the summer. Pop singles have more staying power than just about any piece of pop culture right now. Movies stay in theaters for just a few weeks. Even "Top Gun: Maverick" only stayed in theaters for a few months, right? But sometimes these pop songs will last and stay on the charts for months and months and months or even years. I mean, Glass Animals had the song of the summer with "Heat Waves" a while back.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HEAT WAVES")

GLASS ANIMALS: (Singing) Sometimes all I think about is you - late nights in the middle of June. Heat waves been faking me out.

THOMPSON: And that thing still hasn't gone away. So some of the songs of the fall are going to be the same as the songs of the summer because songs take so long to kind of slip out of the public's imagination.

SUMMERS: All right. Stephen Thompson from NPR Music, thanks for helping us fill out our playlist this year.

THOMPSON: Thank you, Juana.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HEAT WAVES")

GLASS ANIMALS: (Singing) Sometimes all I think about is you - late nights in the middle of June. Heat waves been faking me out. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Stephen Thompson is a writer, editor and reviewer for NPR Music, where he speaks into any microphone that will have him and appears as a frequent panelist on All Songs Considered. Since 2010, Thompson has been a fixture on the NPR roundtable podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour, which he created and developed with NPR correspondent Linda Holmes. In 2008, he and Bob Boilen created the NPR Music video series Tiny Desk Concerts, in which musicians perform at Boilen's desk. (To be more specific, Thompson had the idea, which took seconds, while Boilen created the series, which took years. Thompson will insist upon equal billing until the day he dies.)