It was impossible to escape 'Flowers' by Miley Cyrus this summerFlickr

Gazing out my window upon yet another dreary English summer day, I picture this: walking to the beach past cars with their radios cranked up, people screaming along packed within them. Ambling through the sand while groups of friends huddled in circles laugh, soundtracked by music blasting from their JBL speakers. However, there is one thing I can’t quite imagine: what song are they all playing?

“A song of the summer is both addictive and replayed beyond the point of annoyance”

Previous summers have been defined by a single song dominating the charts. Replaying in all shops and continuing to grow from May until July, such songs become almost inescapable. Years later, they can transport you back in time, the way ‘Call Me Maybe’ is inseparable from the bubblegum pop of 2012 and ‘Despacito’ became practically unavoidable in 2017. A song of the summer is both addictive and replayed beyond the point of annoyance. For instance, the viral success of ‘Old Town Road’ by Lil Nas X secured it the number one spot on the Billboard Hot 100 for a record-breaking 19 weeks in 2019.

Although the concept of one song being so ubiquitous feels relatively modern, the search for a specific earworm to capture the zeitgeist has been around for over a century. As Vox uncovered, the New York Tribune referred specifically to a “look out for the summer song” in 1910. While Harry Styles’ ‘As It Was’ may have been the biggest hit in 2022, the anthem of 2023 is much harder to pin down, with multiple contenders vying for radio dominance. From five of the front runners, we can see what makes or breaks a 2023 summer hit.

‘Flowers’ – Miley Cyrus

This standout hit from an otherwise disappointing new album by Miley Cyrus quickly became the fastest song ever to hit 1 billion streams on Spotify. No one can deny this fresh and empowering take on Bruno Mars’s 2012 ballad ‘When I Was Your Man’ has been a massive success for Cyrus. However, while replayability is a key element of any summer anthem, the punchy and defiant chorus of ‘Flowers’ began to fall flat as summer reached its peak.

The Barbie Movie Soundtrack

Peppered with hits, from the irresistible dance track ‘Dance the Night’ by Dua Lipa, the addictive comedy of ‘I’m Just Ken’ by Ryan Gosling, the raw vulnerability of ‘What Was I Made For?’ by Billie Eilish to the highly stylised production of ‘Barbie World’ by Nicki Minaj and Ice Spice, the Barbie Soundtrack seems perfectly positioned to define the summer. However, when the popularity of these songs is so directly attributable to the record-breaking success of Greta Gerwig’s film, it’s hard to see how they can hold any distinct value as “summer songs”. Surely, if you ask someone about Barbie’s impact in 2023, they won’t immediately think of the music.

‘Cruel Summer’ – Taylor Swift

After the neatly packaged and promoted remix of ‘Karma’ featuring Ice Spice quickly rose and fell within the charts, Swifties unearthed an underappreciated track from Swift’s 2019 album ‘Lover’, catapulting it to viral success.

As The Era’s Tour became a cultural phenomenon with enough power to boost the US economy, ‘Cruel Summer’ was bound to be a triumph. Featuring one of Swift’s strongest bridges and catchiest choruses, it has all the ingredients to be a perfect summer anthem.

Yet, the virality of ‘Cruel Summer’ feels more like a product of Swift’s dominance in the industry, a necessary hit to fully capitalise on fan demand. Like the Barbie soundtrack, the success of ‘Cruel Summer’ appears to transcend the song itself. So, while 2023 may be remembered as the year of Taylor Swift, ‘Cruel Summer’ likely won’t stand the test of time.

‘Kill Bill’ – SZA

The irresistible and carefully crafted storytelling of ‘Kill Bill’ has cemented SZA as an unstoppable talent in R&B and pop. Despite its January release, the song has had impressive longevity but sadly no longer feels as shiny and new as when it first dropped.

‘vampire’ – Olivia Rodrgio

Achieving almost unparalleled success with her debut album SOUR, Olivia Rodrigo seems to have the rare and exceptional ability to deliver countless commercial hits whilst still offering a unique sound. The appeal of her raw anger in ‘vampire’ raises the question: can the song of the summer be sad? Although looking back we may associate 2023 with Oliva Rodrigo’s highly anticipated return, it’s doubtful ‘vampire’ has the upbeat and addictive quality necessary to be the defining musical moment.


Mountain View

The Eras Tour comes to Thursday MASH

With so many of these singles tied to larger moments in pop culture, each song defines this summer for a specific audience rather than the majority. Your Swift-obsessed friend will gush about ‘Cruel Summer’ and anyone who’s seen Barbie more than once will applaud its soundtrack. However, while many will shrug at both, it’s proven hard to compete with the sheer spectacles these songs represent. Looking back in years to come, it seems that we will have to consider more than one song to truly capture the summer of 2023.

Honourable mentions

‘Paint the Town Red’ - Doja Cat

‘Sprinter’ - Dave, Central Cee


‘fukumean’ - Gunna

‘Boy’s a liar pt. 2’ - Ice Spice and PinkPantheress

‘Rush’ -Troye Sivan

Click to show