You need to be able to dance to it and have sex to it. It needs to blastable on beaches, bodegas, and car radios, and be equally appropriate for when you’re picking your kid up from school or just entering the club. Its lyrics will center on partying or love, or both. It should get stuck in your head for hours on end whether you like it or not. In fact, whether you like it is beside the point, because when it comes on, it will stay on, and you will somehow manage to have good time for three fucking minutes of your sorry life.
These are the rules for song of the summer. And this year, that song is “Scared to Be Lonely” by Martin Garrix and Dua Lipa.
You might not have heard the song, and you might not know the artists. At the moment, it’s sitting meekly at 77 on the Billboard Hot 100, below other Famous Stars like Brantley Gilbert, Dan + Shay, and Rag’n’Bone Man.
But this song is absolutely huge globally. It’s hit the top ten everywhere from Latvia to New Zealand to Portugal to Sweden. It has 173 million Youtube views. And It’s sitting on 300 million Spotify streams, making it more played than ubiquitous anthems we hear everywhere, like Drake’s “Passionfruit,” Kendrick Lamar’s “Humble,” DJ Khaled’s “I’m the One,” and Future’s “Mask Off.”
And aside from pure data, “Scared to Be Lonely” is the song of the summer because it’s the biggest, sexiest, catchiest song of the year. Adrenaline bursts out of every bass drum hit and shimmering synthesizer; the sticky sweet violin riff squirms and melts like a boardwalk sorbet. And the 21-year-old English singer Dua Lipa, on the cusp of superstardom, sounds—and looks—gorgeous in one of her first big leading roles.
Is it formulaic? Of course. “Scared to be Lonely,” like many club songs, is four chords, three builds, three drops, and three instrumental hooks. The lyrics are ostensibly about hooking up, breaking up, and hooking up again.
But “Scared to be Lonely’s” structure and status as a big-ole-dumb-banger conceal a perfect, vivid snapshot of our anxious cultural moment. The song is way, way sadder than it seems: it’s an existential fight against inevitable alienation. “Do we need somebody just to feel like we’re alright? / Is the only reason you’re holding me tonight ’cause we’re scared to be lonely?” Dua Lipa asks forlornly. Her narrative, weaving through the initial “hands on each other” and the ensuing “picking fights, slamming doors,” is a both a endorsement and rejection of the wonders of the Tinder age, as we gain gratification but lose intimacy. We can have anything we want, but our shriveled attention span makes each dopamine rush less powerful than the last. “Are we both losing are minds?” she asks, in a whirl of an onslaught of limbs, a rapid global news cycle, an endless scroll. In an Information Age where everything matters, nothing matters. We can’t get enough and desperately want closure.
Dua Lipa is the perfect voice for this modern angst. Songs of the Summer tend to have a one-note quality and this year is no exception: other contenders include Frank Ocean (detached/cool on “Slide”), Kyle (youthfully thirsty on “iSpy”) and Selena Gomez (petty on “It Ain’t Me”). Dua Lipa consumes all of those; she’s chameleonic in tone and emotion. The verses are hushed and husky, imbued with a quiet pathos. The chorus is yearning, and her central “SCARED TO BE LONE-LAYYYYY!!!”) is jagged and lustful—but quickly turns into Bieber-esque ethereal fluff. You might listen and hear love-at-first-sight desire; you might feel her heartbroken despair. You will be helplessly consumed by whichever emotional blade of her voice you’re feeling at the time.
After the second or third go-round, you might realize that Dua Lipa’s central question never gets answered. It just lingers into Garrix’s violin riff, which doesn’t decisively drop so much as stumble downward blearily. That wondrous, fluid riff is the song’s talisman and core. You try to sing it back, you can never get it quite right. It’s a stand-in for temporary perfection, for desires that always seem to slip out of our grasp. It’s a disposable pop product railing against itself.
And that’s why “Scared to Be Lonely” is the song of the summer.