If you haven't heard, we're in the midst of Hot Girl Summer.
The term was coined by rapper Megan Thee Stallion, who created an alter ego named "Hot Girl Meg" to accompany the release of her debut mixtape, Fever. Following its release on May 17, the term "hot girl" quickly took off online, becoming a symbol of a metamorphosis into an upgraded, more confident version of oneself.
Stallion later elaborated on the phrase's connotations, clarifying that it was meant to be gender-neutral. "So it's just basically about women and men being unapologetically them, just having a good-ass time, hyping up your friends, doing you, not giving a damn about what nobody gotta say about it," she said. "You definitely have to be a person that could be like the life of the party, and … you know, just a bad bitch."
In typical Internet fashion, the term's message of carefree hyper-sexual-liberation didn't hold up for long against the online world's nihilistic bend. Quickly, Hot Girl Summer memes—those quiet, wry expressions of our online collective consciousness—began cropping up. Though many of them featured photos of people celebrating their own radiant auras, more lamented the failure of Hot Girl Summer, revealing the disappointment lingering just beneath the the term's glossy surface. Refracted through memes, the phrase revealed its own fragility: "me tweeting 'hot girl summer' and then sitting in my room texting 'haha hey what r u doin'" read one. Another, more sobering message: "who was I kidding? I was never meant to have a hot girl summer lmaooo likeee I'm too loving." Another: "how am I supposed to have a hot girl summer with $5?"
Apparently, "hot girl summer" can be shattered by a sad album, or by falling in love.
Sure enough, "hot girl summer" has become a polarizing term that feels liberating for some but promises much to others while actually exacerbating their own self-consciousness and uncertainty.
Predictably, several weeks after Megan Thee Stallion set Hot Girl Summer into motion, Lana Del Rey's 2012 hit "Summertime Sadness" returned to the charts.
"Summertime Sadness" offers a marked alternative to the "hot girl" way of life. While "hot girl summer" connotes unconditional self-love and radical abandon, "summertime sadness" permits languorous hours lying beneath one's fan, mourning anything: the state of the world, one's love life, or lack of funds. "Hot girl summer" is exuberant, brash, performative. "Summertime Sadness" is depressed, tongue-in-cheek, firmly planted in the shade. If "hot girl summer" embodies the untouchable glam of stars of the early aughts, like Britney and Beyoncé, "summertime sadness" is the domain of Lana Del Rey, Lorde, Halsey, and their decidedly anti-pop ethos.
Together, these two divergent summertime pathways highlight a contrast that is very specific to the Internet. The online sphere thrives on polarization, and often a single scroll through recent posts reveals both performative ecstasy and equally performative, exaggerated depressive sentiments. The Internet has always thrived on these kinds of contrasts, as by nature it is well-suited to black-and-white thinking. People are either "cancelled" or deified. There is no such thing as "neutral" or "middle-of-the-road." One is either perpetually bikini-clad and living out a Hot Girl Summer or fully surrendering to the rip tide of summertime sadness. There is no in between.
In reality, however, sharp binaries rarely hold up when they exit the screen and join the equally chaotic but much less starkly divided corporeal world. Both Hot Girl Summer and "summertime sadness" are aesthetically beautiful in the conceptual realm; both begin to glitch when used as blueprints for how to live.
After all, no human is capable of existing in a perpetual state of Hot Girl Summer—not even the bikini models, LA hustlers, and influencers whose online profiles embody the term, but who have quietly and consistently spoken out about the falsity, emptiness, and depression that tends to accompany their professions.
Similarly, not even the Internet's self-proclaimed sad girls exist in a perpetual, stagnant state of summertime sadness. When that sadness does arise, it is rarely of the languorous, vintage-styled sort that Del Rey's early career promoted. In this, "summertime sadness" is equally as hollow and ephemeral as Hot Girl Summer.
Lana Del Rey - Summertime Sadness (Official Music Video) www.youtube.com
Viewed this way, the two terms are far more similar than they initially seem. They are both designed to be surreal and cartoonishly dramatic. They both advocate for not really caring about anything, yet somehow simultaneously promote an all-consuming fixation on oneself.
In this, they both reflect social media as a whole. For all of the ways it promises to connect us, social media has become an echo chamber through which we perform and obsess over fixed, simplified, and ultimately nonexistent versions of ourselves."Hot girl summer" is about being single, feeling fantastic, and not giving a f*ck all at the same time; it connotes billboards, consumption, sugar, perma-smiles. "Summertime sadness" is about languishing inside one's own brain, clinging to a lost love, passively accepting a jaded worldview.
Still, both "hot girl summer" and "summertime sadness" have a time and a place, and they each make for great Instagram captions—but neither should suffice as a permanent way to spend one's summer months. Whereas the Internet thrives on isolated circuits of people with similar views, all-encompassing labels, and quick fixes, real life is far more defined by monotonous repetition, complex relationships, and murky questions that lack definitive answers.
In this corporeal reality, no one is a brand. No influencer is solely comprised of makeup and white teeth; most fitness models have cheat days; most online spiritual coaches don't constantly emanate love and incense; and most managers of depression meme accounts do not spend all of their time lying on piles of rotting pizza and dirty clothes (hopefully).
But it's only July; many summer nights still stretch out before us. When we find ourselves at the impasse between Hot Girl Summer and summertime sadness, perhaps we don't have to choose either path. Maybe we can make peace with the fact that we all have a little of both within us.