Clockwise, from left: Taylor Swift, Olivia Rodrigo, Luke Combs, Miley Cyrus and Morgan Wallen.

Clockwise, from left: Taylor Swift, Olivia Rodrigo, Luke Combs, Miley Cyrus and Morgan Wallen. (AP photos; Illustration by Sean Moores/Stars and Stripes)

With Labor Day coming and going last week, we have officially unofficially said goodbye to summer. Where did it go? I’m not exactly sure, but wherever it went, it went there fast. So fast, in fact, that it seems like it was just yesterday we ran a story speculating on what the song of the summer would be. There were lots of ideas that spread across lots of genres. There was hope. There was anticipation.

But here’s the thing about those yearly “Let’s predict the song of the summer!” articles: Rarely do we see a follow-up. Writers and commentators look at the release schedule for the upcoming handful of months, pick the biggest names, throw in a few tracks already bubbling underneath the top tier of popular culture and call it a day. It makes no sense to refuse to look back on what happened after you already made such a fuss over predicting it before it unfolded.

And so, here’s a quick look at … well, at what could have been the song of the summer. Everyone’s experiences are different – I wouldn’t dare speak for anyone who made memories while hitting the repeat button on one tune for the last three months. As for a consensus, though, I thought it might be worth it to take a look at what dominated the charts and the airwaves of summer 2023 and try to make sense of what may just have been the song of summer 2023.

Literally any Taylor Swift song. Like, honestly. Really. Any one of them.

It was the summer of Swift, no matter how you cut it, and not only did she redefine what it is to be a mega-star and tour football stadiums in North America, but she also set a template for future superstars to work smarter and not harder. Parachute into a city for a weekend, take the following week off, rinse, repeat. It worked – and it worked to such a degree that the “Taylor’s Version” of both “Speak Now” and “1989” dominated headlines at varying times throughout the season (the former was released in July while the announcement of the latter was made on one of her last tour stops of the summer). You can pick “Anti-Hero” if you want. There’s also “Karma” with Ice Spice. And don’t forget “Cruel Summer.” The woman owned the summer. Any of her songs, new or old, could hold this spot.

Luke Combs – “Fast Car”

Awesome: Tracy Chapman is getting paid in 2023 for a song she wrote decades ago. Not entirely awesome: It’s because a watered-down male country star appropriated it for a new generation without really displaying that he has an imagination. OK, so maybe that last part is a bit harsh, but there’s no denying the unexpectedness of how successful this cover turned out to be. Combs was loyal to its original incarnation, for better or worse, and it’s wild to think that Tracy Chapman’s songwriting expertise was somehow prominently featured on pop radio in the year 2023. My only worry? None of these kids will take the time to check out the brilliant mind that actually wrote the song in the first place. It’s to those people, I say, get off my lawn.

Miley Cyrus – “Flowers”

I had high hopes for this, if only because of how much I liked it. Sure, that’s selfish, but it also speaks to how light the song was and still is. With such a nice, laid-back summer-filled dance groove and a hook that’s both self-loving and catchy as hell, I was hoping to see this reach higher heights than it did. That’s not to say none of us heard it on the radio – and rest assured that it definitely belongs in the song of the summer 2023 discussion. But, man. This song bums me out because it didn’t take over the world and it had every bit of potential to do so. Ah, well. I’ll just go buy myself flowers and write my name in the sand.

Olivia Rodrigo – “Vampire”

While the edited version can go pound sand … my goodness, does this young lady know how to cuss. I’m not sure why it feels unexpected that the first single off her sophomore album would be so epic – “Drivers License” is teenage melodrama at its best – but you won’t hear a complaint from me. Rodrigo’s anger is matured here, a step up from the naivete that made her debut so charming, and as some of her contemporaries will settle for today’s predictable pop formula, Rodrigo approached this one with movements, coming across as more Meatloaf than Miley. Here’s hoping she can find a second single on “Guts” that will up her game even more than she already has.

Morgan Wallen – “Last Night”

Love it or hate it (here’s a hint: I don’t love it), you have to respect its longevity. I don’t know what this guy’s deal is, and he doesn’t appear to be particularly likeable, but he fully inhabited the “Uncle Kracker” space in the summer of 2023 pop music. The song is simple, twangy and all about a messy night with a romantic partner – all things to which the majority of the music-loving population can relate. It’s hard to tell what’s next for him, but it sure is clear that he knows how to sing a song that people can dig in the summertime: While spending 31 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100, the song was as high as No. 3 as recently as last week. And as we head into autumn in earnest, it appears that perhaps he wasn’t wrong when he said it ain’t over yet.

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