Music Features

Classic Mixtapes To Get Us Through Summer In Quarantine

Let's revisit some of the great summer mixtapes to help ease the pangs of summertime nostalgia

How Fly

Bonfires with our friends, balmy summer days spent by the lake passing a spliff and sipping on a Corona, summertime love affairs—it all may feel like a past life now.

The rollout for summer 2020 is unlike anything before it. While Americans everywhere try to retain a sense of normalcy, it will be impossible to enjoy summer the way we want to. Bitter nostalgia for the summers of yore is rampant. Luckily, music has remained the one constant. To help unwind in these times of heightened anxiety, it helps to revisit some of the mixtapes that brought us childhood bliss, that pumped us up when school dismissed for summer, that blasted through our car speakers as we cruised with the windows down with our friends in tow. Here are a few of the greatest mixtapes of summers past, in the hopes it will bring back the fond memories that, right now, may feel distant.

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"Hot Girl Summer" vs. "Summertime Sadness": Lies the Internet Told Me

Megan Thee Stallion told us it's hot girl summer, but what happens when you're not hot?

Megan Thee Stallion - Hot Girl Summer ft. Nicki Minaj & Ty Dolla $ign

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)

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.


Lil Nas X’s “Panini” Doesn’t Live Up to the Hype

The song may be catchy, but the production is elusive and repetitive—overbearingly so.

Lil Nas X finally took off his cowboy hat.

After months of teasing the drop of his next single, "Panini," he finally did it—the day before his EP 7's release. Accompanied by a futuristic music video, "Panini" is a heel turn from the chart-topping "Old Town Road."

The lean one minute and fifty-five-second song bops just enough to earn a place on playlists for summertime drives. With a chorus that interpolates Nirvana's "In Bloom," "Panini" seems rushed in order for Lil Nas X to have something to say and a way to say it; in the chorus he directly says, "Say to me / What you really want from me."

Unfortunately, that's a hard plea to answer. After the success of "Old Town Road," many had no idea where he'd go, and judging by "Panini," it seems like he doesn't know either. While the genre-bending artist exploded this past spring and showed prowess in his debut single, on "Panini" he's measured—maybe even cautious. The song may be catchy, but the production is elusive and repetitive, overbearingly so.

This time around, there's no question what Billboard chart "Panini" will be categorized under: rap. Travis Scott's influence on Lil Nas X is front and center with the song's smooth, futuristic production. However, on "Panini," Lil Nas X fails to be as imaginative as he was in its predecessor. He's unfortunately struggling to keep up with expectations to create something new. That's not to say Lil Nas X is a one-hit wonder, but on "Panini" he's only skimming the surface of his potential.


Remembering 'Melodrama,' Two Years Later

If you know, you know: 'Melodrama' changed everything.

Lorde released her sophomore album, Melodrama, in the midst of a blazing June in 2017. With its vibrating synths and searing lyrics, it quickly cemented itself in the hearts of millions of young people (and the young-at-heart), giving voice to the extreme highs and lows of fast-burning summer love.

Yesterday, June 16, marked two years since Melodrama tattooed its neon insignia onto the face of pop music (and onto my freshly broken and wide-open heart). In celebration, Lorde teased a third album via an Instagram post of a screenshotted text. "Feels like I've grown a lot since then," she wrote, reflecting back on her experiences since dropping her second album. "i've been to antarctica, i have a dog now and a cat and i can bake bread and cook dinner and keep plants alive etc. It's a good life you've given me. Thankyou thankyou. Third one in the oven."

The message, with its array of quotidian details, sounds similar to the last statement Lorde released regarding her third album, back in November 2018. In the midst of a social media cleanse following two years of touring and promotion, she posted a newsletter for fans that read, "I haven't started properly on the next record yet, and I'm not sure how long it'll be. But I've been teaching myself how to play piano, and here and there little bits come out. I think this next one will probably be born around the piano in my house, me and my friends, keeping it simple…But know that for now I'm happy here at home, living quietly and simply, eating toast, going for walks, swimming. And you'll hear all about it soon enough."

Based on both of these statements, Lorde seems to be spending time enjoying the pleasures of an ordinary, grounded existence—cooking, hanging out, growing plants. Perhaps, then, her new album will be an ode to relaxing in one's hometown, full of lush, high-drama tributes to sleeping late, making coffee and lounging by the pool. If anyone could make those experiences glitter more brightly than the paparazzi section at the Met Gala, it's Lorde, who's always been an expert at spinning relatable, universal human experiences into dramatic, vivid, and breathtaking compositions.

After all, this is the girl who made an anthem out of her torn-up town on her first album and who turned a single party into a transcendent eleven-song journey on her second, always making common narratives feel fresh and vital. That was the true magic of Melodrama: it cut through cliche, zeroing in on the heady rush and steep plunge at the beginning and end of a night on the town, elevating these experiences to the height of how they truly feel when they're being lived. From "Green Light," which thrillingly celebrated the beginning of a wild night out after a breakup, to the shattering "Liability," which reached straight to the core of everyone who's ever felt like too much, Melodrama gave voice to the simple violence that comes with just being alive in the world, interacting with other volatile beings and dealing with experiences as they come. It's an album that legitimizes all the heightened experiences that come with being extremely sensitive—from the unexplainably perfect moments of euphoria to the tearstained rides home when it feels like the world is ending.

Melodrama came out when I was nineteen, and I listened to it for the first time on a subway speeding beneath Manhattan. Maybe that's why, in addition to the knowledge that it was recorded in Jack Antonoff's Brooklyn studio, Melodrama feels like a fundamentally New York City album to me. It feels handmade for everyone stupid enough to come to this city with a bag full of dreams and an open heart. It's a celebration of all those crazy enough to put their souls on the line for love, love of creativity or love of experiences, despite how they might leave you with scraped knees and bloody palms, drained and wasted and waiting for a delayed subway at the end of the night.

All this is to say that anyone who experienced Melodrama when it dropped—who really experienced it, listened to it as they cried and danced and drove on the highway as the sun set with the top down—truly wouldn't mind if Lorde decided to spontaneously re-release the album. On the other hand, I was a teenager when it came out, and now I'm embarking on adulthood, writing this article on my first day working a full-time job. Though I'm still overly sensitive, full of stupid dreams, and living in New York City, a third album about the importance of watering plants and paying rent could be exactly what the doctor ordered.

Though of course, I'm sure Lorde knows what all of us need better than we know ourselves, because that's what she's best at—along with peeling back every layer of bullshit and tapping into the marrow of the melodrama that is just being alive and feeling every little thing, from the rhythm of the city to the flicker of a quickening pulse—and owning it, spinning those feelings into modern hymns lit by pristine piano and electrifying beats.

If you know, you know: Melodrama changed everything. It's anyone's guess as to what the future, and album number three, will bring, but at least we know that our eternal Lorde and savior will be with us every step of the way.


Push Push Releases Trippy New Video for "INB4"

The video for the South African rapper's latest single builds a delightfully weird pastel world from a methodical electronic beat.

Push Push's psychedelic new video isn't afraid to get weird.

The South African rapper's latest single, "INB4," is a bouncing, electronica-steeped track, part early-hustle story and part breakup missive: "Motherfucker, trust me, I am not bluffing / Loose lips sink ships and I hold grudges," Push Push raps in her clipped flow. There's a warning in there, but the playful computer-beep beat—produced by Moon Bounce, native Philadelphia electronic artist and Push Push's husband—keeps the proceedings light, turning her caustic bars and threats into carefree dismissals.

The new video sets the music against a bizarre pastel world, indulging the track's sparse weirdness with a well-matched visual palette. Push Push dances and plays with mannequin hands in a red-lit room, then strides over more mannequin limbs in an empty pool, even garroting a massive fairground-prize teddy bear. Even with the video's purposefully odd aesthetic, she's always the element that stands out, decked out in latex outfits and sporting bright pink hair. The video gleefully watches her take up space, equally at ease in junkyards full of mannequin bodies and picturesque homes. With the beat humming along underneath the visuals, Push Push makes herself into some kind of color-coded glitch, unresolvable but still present. It's an interesting contrast between the expected and the bizarre, and Push Push seems at home in the center of that contrast.


Lady Gaga's Producer Describes his New Song and Deep Kinship with Armin Van Buuren

"The sound, the lyrics, the vibe, it all just fell into place," van Buuren said of the track

Photo by Denisse Leon on Unsplash

Grammy-award winning pop producer Fernando Garibay's latest collaboration with Armin Van Buuren was born out of a deep kinship and served as a natural return to form.

"In our business, we find that goal-oriented writing is sometimes not the most honest, and definitely not the most fun," Garibay told me. "Instead we focused on a beginners perspective; where every decision is based on what we're feeling, regardless of what we know." "Phone Down," the duo's latest release since their platinum hit "I Need You," is a melodically pristine and infectious pop song. "The sound, the lyrics, the vibe, it all just fell into place," van Buuren said of the track.

The song serves as a powerful ode to lost love. "I can't put my phone down; I can't be alone now, when I close my eyes all I'm seeing is you," the unnamed singer croons over a thick 808. Garibay said that the track evolved naturally alongside Van Buuren, and that "Phone Down" was born from raw emotion. "It's like working by pure instinct, but at the same time trying to forget that your instinct comes from experience," Garibay said. The track itself, while catchy and rhythmic, is incredibly melancholic. I asked Garibay to further describe the headspace they were both in when crafting the song. "We try to ask ourselves the right questions," he said. "What are people going through, and what is it that's genuinely moving us right now?" When asked to elaborate on what those answers might be, he said, "When we get chills, we know we're on to something, and that's where we want the listener to live, in that space where we feel heard, loved and perfectly aligned."

Check out the colorful lyric video for "Phone Down" below.

Mackenzie Cummings-Gradyis a creative writer who resides in the Brooklyn area. Mackenzie's work has previously appeared in The Boston Globe, Billboard, and Metropolis Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @mjcummingsgrady.

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