The song of the summer, in this writer's extremely expert opinion, is “Into You” by Ariana Grande. This is the truth, and you know it (don’t @ me). The reason is simple: “Into You” is the only pop song that’s up to the task of fighting back this year’s wave of Sad-Boy™ jams.
To be fair, 2016 has offered us a rich buffet of Top 40 pleasures. Drake and Rihanna have reunited, Justin Bieber is enjoying some casual hangs with Major Lazer and MØ, and Sia and Sean Paul have the biggest song on the radio. All genres are popping; Robin Thicke is nowhere in sight. And yet, despite all we’ve seen, heard, and been given, we need Ariana. Desperately.
We’ve spent much of the summer basking in the warm glow of J-Biebs’s “Love Yourself," Drake and Rihanna’s “Too Good,” and Shawn Mendes’s “Treat You Better” — all songs characterized by a strange sense of sorrow. Specifically: sorrow at the hands of male singers who just cannot handle their shit.
Hear me out. I know vulnerability and emotions are important, including for young men who suffer from the myths of masculinity. To feel feelings is crucial to the healthy development of a person, and it’s wonderful that the current cultural climate is celebrating the sadness of young men who seem to be reeling from relationships gone wrong and revelations made in their wake. But also: yikes.
Between the likes of Drake, Baby Biebs, Mendes, Sam Hunt (“Make You Miss Me”), and the Charlie Puth/Selena Gomez duet “We Don’t Talk Anymore,” the sad boys abound. As Drake cries over treating Rihanna too well, Justin sets his pettiness to the tune of guitar, Mendes plays his Nice Guy card, and Hunt makes a play for the object of his affection via a gentle “I’ll show you” sentiment. All these tracks explore the male side of a relationship gone awry; they’re also all totally lacking self-awareness or even acknowledgment of the part they played in their undoing. These dudes are bummed out, and they’re relishing in it. And, like, woof.
We need a break. To reflect is one thing, but to lament all over our last days of nice weather is another completely. With summer’s last gasp, we deserve music that asserts itself, boasts confidence, knows who it is (like we do, after weeks of less work and more sun), and goes after what it wants. This is the job Ariana was born for.
From the very first line of “Into You,” Grande lays it all out: “I’m so into you I can barely breathe.” From there, she rides the wave of her flair for declarations. While she admits she’s been waiting for whoever to make a move, she lyrically rolls her eyes, tells him she wants to hook up (so quit talking, pal), and happily repeats her opening sentiment. Girlfriend is confident, she knows what she wants, and she very unapologetically paints herself as a woman who doesn’t need some sad bro on a guitar to melt her heart to make this happen. This is her narrative, and she’s in charge. (“I’ll let you on it.”)
This attitude is even more refreshing when you think of the go-to summer jams we’ve celebrated over the last few years. Because unlike the “I want you so let’s do this” singles from artists like One Direction (“Drag Me Down”), Maroon 5 (“Sugar”), Robin Thicke (“Blurred Lines”), and Jason Derulo (“Talk Dirty”), Grande’s “Into You” flips the narrative by seeing her call the shots, exclusively. Plus, unlike the aforementioned tracks, she doesn’t neg her subject: Aside from calling him out for not making the first move, she doesn’t mention his looks or his moves or anything outside of the “I think you’re a babe” spectrum. In short, she’s here, she’s psyched, and she doesn’t have time for nonsense. It’s perfect.
Perfect as a pop song in general, but also when you contrast it to the Sad Boy personas 2016 is otherwise favoring. For those of us who love my close friend Drake and my baby son Bieber but would also like to sit them down and say, “You need to stop navel-gazing, goddamn it, you are grown men,” Grande and her brand of pop-song-as-confidence-manifesto provide an emotional lift. We get to listen, have fun, or use the song as inspiration to go up to whoever and say, “Hello, I like you” (or not — it’s your call). In the four-ish minutes of “Into You,” we get to pump ourselves up through Ariana’s brazen self-confidence, which serves as a reminder that feeling oneself is not exclusive to Beyoncé and Nicki Minaj collaborations; it can be done at any time, anywhere.
Which — according to every teen movie I’ve ever seen — is what summer’s supposed to be about. If we wanted to sit around feeling sad, we’d follow any guy we see walking with an acoustic guitar and crash the party he’s about to ruin with his rendition of “Wonderwall.” Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but listen: Some of us just wanna dance.