Summer ’16 is officially under way; I’ve spent it indoors, reading about horrible things happening on the other side of my A/C unit. Earlier this week, I caught the tail end of ABC World News Tonight while waiting for Jeopardy to come on. “Is this just the summer of misery?” a grim David Muir asked in complete earnest. Apparently we are destined for ungodly temperatures, and children have been getting electrocuted in lakes. The Earth is falling apart, Kevin Durant will never win an NBA championship, Donald Trump is running for President, and Harambe the gorilla is dead.
And that’s why Fifth Harmony’s 2016 update of “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” during which Camila, Lauren, Normani, Dinah, and Ally touch on everything from credit card scams to the problematic Bob Marley Snapchat filter, is exactly what we need right now.
Just kidding! This summer's cumulative weight is exactly why we need trop-house bangers, and lots of them. The kind you don’t have to overthink or even break a substantial sweat dancing to. The kind that don’t inspire public fist-pumping or trigger a spontaneous anxiety attack in the Forever 21 changing room because everything happens so much and you’re just trying to buy a swimsuit. And on their second album, America’s dopest girl group has delivered exactly that: an album full of airy, often Carribean-inspired summertime pop. Like their fun, feminist debut, last year’s underrated Reflection, 7/27 doesn’t aim to break molds, content to toy noncommittally with radio trends — and that’s OK! In fact, the album’s ephemerality makes it the perfect soundtrack for summer’s fleeting bliss, and the perfect counter to a year of high-concept Event Pop. Even its length — a modest 41 minutes, and that’s the deluxe version — feels like a sigh of relief.
Here at MTV News, experts have been working to identify the precise algorithm for a banger in 2016. A mere handful of years ago, a banger could be easily identified in the wild. Did it have a drop? Banger. Airhorns? Banger. But these days, the process of banger identification isn’t so cut and dry. “A banger in 2016 doesn’t need to announce that it’s a banger — that’s so 2011,” explains MTV News's own banger scholar David Turner, who recently received the first-ever doctorate in Trash EDM. “No, instead you just need to give a song a single listen and imagine what combination of drugs or proximity to a festival stage will elicit maximum response.” He’s speaking primarily of EDM, but the trend toward an ever-chiller definition of a banger extends beyond just the dance charts. And if there’s one (non-Rihanna) pop song to set an early tone for the sound of Summer ’16, it’s “Work From Home,” 7/27’s lead single and probably the best thing Fifth Harmony have done to date. Subtle it is not — the entendres are very much single, and Camila twerks on a cement mixer in the video. But part of Fifth Harmony’s genius is their ability to do the most and the least at once. As with 7/27 at its best, “Work From Home” balances 5H’s strong voices and campy lyrics with barely-there beats inspired by soca, dancehall, and, yes, tropical house — the bastard genre we hate to love, whose name is at once meaninglessly vague and completely on point.
Where Reflection delighted in the parlance of 2015 pop — Derulo-esque horns, ’90s throwbacks, and DJ Mustard–inspired minimalism — 7/27 doubles down on the balmy vibes. “Write on Me” and “Squeeze” pair Swedish pop titans Stargate with tropical-house golden boy Kygo for the latter’s first big-deal production and songwriting credits. “I Lied” builds into an appropriately epic trop-house chorus, all gentle finger-snaps and synths that sweat like a Corona Lite bottle left out in the sun. On “Gonna Get Better,” Stargate helps the group revamp Vybz Kartel’s wistful “Gon Get Better,” a concept that could reasonably strike fear into the hearts of dancehall and reggae purists but turns out to be straight fire. Best of all is “Scared of Happy,” a shimmering soca-lite anthem that bubbles out of the aftermath of a fight. It’s no coincidence that it hits the same sweet spot as Bieber’s “Sorry” — they’re both co-written by Bloodpop.
Which brings me to a quick disclaimer: It’s not so much tropical house’s aesthetic qualities that make it a tempting target for critics, but the ease with which the purposefully vague “tropical” designation can be divorced from its roots. So no, trop-house didn’t “revive” its Caribbean-inspired touchstones, as much as Drake didn’t “bring back” dancehall and “Sorry” didn't revive soca; these are thriving cultures that were sustaining themselves long before America decided they were cool again. (And if “Gonna Get Better” is your introduction to Vybz Kartel, please make Kingston Story your summer listening assignment!) But armed with sufficient context, you are free to embrace 7/27’s breezy trop-house and dive into the summer of the chill banger. Shit, next summer we’ll probably have a new Taylor Swift album where Max Martin revisits the late-’90s swing revival; hold on to the chill vibes while you can.