There are certain unchangeable laws governing life in our universe. There are also certain unchangeable laws -- just as important as Newton’s -- governing eligibility for Song Of The Summer. A successful SOTS candidate must have a danceable beat (extra points if it actually moves you dance). It’s gotta be playable whether you’re in the middle of a morning shower or a weekend pregame. It’s gotta offer you some form of escape. If you have a 4 minute ride in your friend’s car to the bar, it’s the song you make her put on. All of this is temporary, though, by definition. Summer ends, and the SOTS often fades as the leaves change.
Fetty Wap’s “Trap Queen” satisfies these laws, I’d say, though it hasn’t faded yet. In a year or two “Trap Queen” will be “Get Lucky” though, just wait. Another strong candidate is Jamie xx’s “I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)”, an unlikely yet fluid collaboration between Jamie, rising star Young Thug, and Jamaica’s Popcaan. To quote a text Porter sent me, it’s an excellent song about absolutely nothing. It also has maybe the funniest line ever to start off Thugger’s second verse. These are both classic summer bangers.
On the other hand, Jamie xx’s “Loud Places” does not satisfy the SOTS laws. It will never be the song of this summer or any other summer in this universe.
It’s way too good.
At first listen, the deliciously simple beat punctuated by hand claps and a repeated guitar riff can fool the passive listener into thinking this song has SOTS potential. Don’t fall into that trap. Steady yourself against the harmony in the chorus and ringing piano chords. This song is more serious than it sounds.
“Loud places” is, most generally, a song about the fallout of dating. “I go to loud places / to search for someone / to be quiet with / who will take me home,” Romy, Jamie’s bandmate in The xx, admits as the song opens. This single thought pretty much summarizes what we do when we go out. No one really wants to be out just for the sake of being out, unless it’s your 21st birthday or you’re an alcoholic. Yeah, going out with friends is great, but they’ll be the first ones to support your endeavors to meet someone else. Of course, there’s also the inherent irony in trying to make a sparkling first impression via small-talkish conversations unfolding in a sea of noise, which Romy clearly understands. I guess that’s why we lean on alcohol initially, and then ask for dates in quieter places. “You wanna get lunch/dinner/coffee sometime?”
The song’s full scope comes into sharper focus as Romy concludes the first verse. “You go to loud places / to find someone who / will take you higher than / I took you.” Oh, okay, she’s trying to get over a breakup. She’s trying to put herself in his head, but she lacks the self-confidence to put herself in a powerful position within his head, even in her own fantasy. She’s allowing herself to think that she wasn’t good enough.
The spiral continues downward. Romy returns to the places they’d go together and laments at the quietness and her own loneliness. Meanwhile, her ex-man moves on to different loud places with different people. She’s lost touch with him and hates that he apparently moved on without much trouble. From Romy’s perspective, she’s losing the breakup. And that hurts.
This self-doubt reaches its zenith in the chorus. Romy’s statements of perceived fact give way to desperate questioning. “Didn’t I take you to higher places you can’t reach without me?” she asks, undoubtedly replaying the relationship’s highlights in her mind for the 10,000th time. The pain of happy memories. Crucially, a male voice responds to her question: “I have never reached such heights / I feel music in your eyes.” Is this coming from her ex? Is he saying he’s never reached the heights he reached while he was with her? Or is he saying he’s never reached the heights Romy is asking him about, with her or with anyone? The answer is pivotal: does he miss her, or was she just another girl? Does Romy really want to know the answer? Communication from the other side doesn’t always bring clarity, and clarity can be painful.
The song leaves us with Romy approaching a crucial juncture in the breakup cycle. She digs up all the reserves of strength and confidence she has when she whispers “You’re in ecstasy without me / when you come down / I won’t be around.” It seems she’s saying this as much to herself as her ex, trying to make herself believe she’s really capable of leaving him behind.
At first, I thought of “Loud Places” as the song which most accurately -- painfully accurately -- chronicles what it means to be 20-something-years-old and dating in 2015. I have my stock rotation of loud places. I’ve been on both sides of everything in this song. I’ve won and lost breakups, and you have too. We all know what this song is about; it applies to all of us. It’s a beautifully subdued but remarkably precise millennial breakup anthem.
Except it’s much more. Take a step back with me and realize that none of this ties itself to millennials. It’s bigger than us. This song is about me now, a 22-year-old in 2015. This song will be about my future children, who will be 22 in God knows what year. (Definitely not 2037.) Hell, this song will probably be about me in 2020 as much as it’s about a 27-year-old in 1920 or 2120. Technology changes our world quickly, but won’t people still be going to bars to meet other people in 100 years? Won’t people still have to face the internal struggle inherent in failed relationships? Haven’t we always had to do that? The only thing timestamping this song as contemporary is how it actually sounds. Its message and content reach timelessness. Infinity.
This timelessness simultaneously disqualifies “Loud Places” as a Song Of The Summer candidate and elevates it to a level far higher than any song currently in contention. “Loud Places” is also very clearly not an escape. On the contrary, Jamie xx calls to memory some of the most personal experiences a human can have, experiences which can make us feel smallness with high intensity. People who would play this song at a pregame or on the way to the bar either have a ton of friends with a high level of music appreciation or don’t get what the song’s about. It’s not for that, anyway. “Loud Places” is too much for Song Of The Summer. It’s a song of a lifetime, irrespective of time. It’s a song of life, and we’ll all live it.