Is the Ultimate Summer Bop Happy or Sad? Welcome to Jezebel’s Song of the Summer Tournament

At last, a scientific way of answering the eternal question: Are uptempos or ballads the most summer friendly?

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Harry Styles - “As It Was” (2022)

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Harry Styles - “As It Was” (2022)
Image: L: EMI; R: Erskine/Columbia

In a kind of inadvertent celebration of Christmas in July, Roxette’s “It Must Have Been Love”—originally written as a holiday song and released in 1987 in the group’s native Sweden—was slightly tweaked and reissued for the soundtrack of the 1990 blockbuster Pretty Woman. That movie had a long shelf life (it spent 16 weeks in the U.S. Top 10 after its March 23, 1990 release), and its soundtrack spawned a few hits, including Roxette’s and Go West’s “King of Wishful Thinking.” Lyrically, the pop duo left some frost around the edges (“Leave the winter on the ground”; “It’s a hard winter’s day…”), but Marie Fredriksson’s increasingly impassioned vocal delivery brings the heat. Her ad-libs at the end, including what sounds like an impromptu key change, are as astounding today as they were 33 summers ago. The production, with its big hollow drums and piano/synth tête-à-tête in the break, is the stuff of pure early ‘90s power balladry—emphasis on the power.

There’s a macro and a micro meaning to this chart-topper from Harry Styles’ third solo album, Harry’s House. On first listen, Styles sounds as if he’s feeling sorry for himself about the loss of a former lover, lingering on the specific—yet universal—loneliness that settles in upon the realization that he’s the only one still singing about their relationship’s end: “Seems you cannot be replaced/And I’m the one who will stay.” Hear that chorus a few hundred times, however, and it plays like a melancholy meditation on aging amidst a rapidly decaying world to the beat of 80's-era synth. It’s certainly not the saddest song, but no one’s confusing it with an optimistic little ditty either. No, things are not the same as they were. Someone with two degrees can no longer own a home or retire honorably in the United States.

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