Summer has many sounds, and infinite possibilities; it can be ferocious, feverous, over-ripe, boozy, forlorn. Because it’s also a season of exception and indulgence, we broke our own rules and gave the Summer Music Issue four cover stars: Ty Dolla $ign, Lana Del Rey, Popcaan and Sam Smith. They all have disparate sounds, but each artist embodies various traits of summer itself: restlessness, nostalgia, lust, love.
As a rapper and singer, Ty Dolla $ign is readymade for radio. His lyrics drip with sexual bravado, but beneath his hyper-masculine facade is a multi-dimensional talent who’s setting out not to create music for music’s sake, but to save his incarcerated brother’s life and name, and to provide for his daughter.
There’s nuance to Lana Del Rey, too. She’s heavy on nostalgia, from her wistful and sweep-ing arrangements to her love for old Hollywood, but she’s up to more than simply romanticizing the past. As her own Lolita, Lana explores identity progressively and controversially; she sexualizes men in the way women are often sexualized. Still, there’s an undertow of melancholy in her art. That’s the summertime sadness seeping in.
On the precipice of possibility, there’s Jamaican dancehall artist Popcaan; he represents renewal in a genre marked by the violent legacy of predecessors like Vybz Kartel. Tough yet tender, Popcaan’s music bridges the feuding dancehall neighborhoods of Gally and Gaza, partly because he forgoes allegiance to either and partly because his songs are so damn good. The future of a more united Jamaica may very well be ushered in by Popcaan’s voice.
And then there’s Sam Smith—his pipes are of another kind. Smith’s capacity for pop stardom is as far-reaching as his soulful scale, which is to say, seemingly infinite. His is a kind of fame that will be built on that voice alone, though—one that aches and mourns and craves all of love, even if it’s unrequited. And in our candid interview, he finally reveals who he’s singing about.
The journalist Charles Bowden once said, “Summertime is always the best of what might be.” That’s the through-line with each of these artists: the potential. My summer through-lines, meanwhile, are usually regrettable trysts and tan lines. At least this year I’ll have the perfect soundtrack.