The summer is about innocent, feel-good fun. Well, at least it was, just last year in fact. The song of the summer for 2012 was almost indisputably “Call Me Maybe,” Carly Rae Jepson’s upbeat pop-ballad that revels in restraint rather than indulgence.
Things can change a lot in a year.
Of course, summer doesn’t “mean” anything in any objective sense, besides the obvious weather-related implications. All of the other things we associate with the summer are cultural in nature, the results of our own experiences being reinforced and recreated in media.
Every year, we discover the “song of the summer,” a typically joyful cultural moment for everyone involved, if for no other reason than the fact that these songs aren’t complicated. “Call Me Maybe,” “Party Rock Anthem,” and “I Gotta Feeling” are simplistic and naive anthems about joy, happiness, and love. Even the more scandalous songs like “I Kissed a Girl” and “Promiscuous” only flirt with sexual immorality; they’re scandalous songs crafted for a clean-cut crowd.
This year, though, it’s clear that the crowd has changed. The song of the summer is Robin Thicke’s aptly titled “Blurred Lines,” a song that collides with the barriers of a conservative sexual ethic and ends up somewhere on the border of rape culture. And the worst part: It is hugely popular.
What is clear is that the song has no concern for the old institution of marriage or the sacred nature of sex: “Okay, now he was close, tried to domesticate you. But you’re an animal, baby, it’s in your nature. Just let me liberate you. You don’t need no papers. That man is not your maker.”
And that leads to the inevitable and culturally tired refrain, “I know you want it.” Thicke sings this phrase in low, knowing tones, repeating, presumably, until he’s given the go ahead. Later, he adds the helpful clarification, “I hate these lines,” and it’s clear from the rest of the lyrical content that he is not the one drawing the lines in the first place. Whether the lines are drawn by the woman herself or the institution, the message is the same: restraint is over. It’s old news. It’s for the squares.
“Just let me liberate you,” sings Thicke. Meanwhile, background vocals validate the message with echoed refrains and repeated “Hey, Hey, Hey,” giving the impression that the masses are on the same page. Or put more directly, “Everybody’s doing it.” And the majority, for good or ill, is music to our ears.
We want to belong to something. We don’t want to feel alone. If we’re in the middle of the dance floor at our cousin’s wedding and this cynical, soulless shadow of last year’s “Call Me Maybe” comes on, we’re likely to go along with the crowd. We won’t protest. It’s in our nature.