What makes a summer jam? It can’t just be an ordinary hit song — it has to have that brainless energy and sun-dazed bounce we demand from our dog-days radio rotation. Nothing heavy, nothing sensitive and definitely nothing slow. Whether it’s “Gin and Juice” in 1994, “Crazy” in 2006, or “I Got A Feeling” in 2009, we need a song to soundtrack the most ill-advised road trips and house parties and backyard barbecues. Remember that Tri-Delt on Myrtle Beach who sang “it’s getting hot in herre” in your ear for two hours but then just puked on your shoes? Yeah, her. You will never forget that girl or that song. So how do this year’s contenders stack up? Here’s how they rate on a cocktail scale, with the drink equivalent for each tune. (Note: please drink responsibly, because somebody has to walk Snooki home.)
Katy Perry, “California Gurls”
Songs about California make excellent summer jams, and so do songs about girls in their summer clothes. When you put both California and girls in the song title and throw in a Snoop cameo, that’s pretty shameless. But when it comes to summer jams, shameless is a good thing. Katy checks off every buzzword on the Summer Jams Bingo card, to a blatant rip of Stardust’s 1998 disco classic, “Music Sounds Better With You.” The one downside: When Katy mentions “Daisy Dukes” she just reminds you that Daisy was a Southern girl. Tennessee, bitches! But every time Snoop shouts out to Palm Springs, Sonny Bono spins in his grave a little, and nothing wrong with that.
Cocktail rating: Patron Silver mango-rita
The Situation, “The Situation”
In the tradition of Minor Threat, Bad Company and Public Image Ltd, the Sitch arrives on the scene with his own theme song. He also gets some knockoff Lil Jon to chant, “Gucci Prada Christian Dior, LAX and Jersey Shore!” Here’s looking forward to Snooki’s straight-edge band and JWOWW’s album of jazz ballads, Tits Are Coming Out Tonight!
Cocktail rating: A few Smirnoff Ice Watermelons in the Jacuzzi
Lady Gaga, “Alejandro”
The only thing cooler than Swedish reggae? Psuedo-Swedish reggae! This is Gaga’s Ace of Base tribute record, but alas, “Don’t Turn Around” wasn’t even one of the better Ace of Base hits. Next time Gaga should just cover “The Sign.”
Cocktail rating: A chalice of sangria served by the Gimp from “Pulp Fiction” wearing a nun’s habit and a Versace codpiece
Travie McCoy featuring Bruno Mars, “Billionaire”
This is funny, moronic, and greedy, three key items on any summer jam wish list. Also he’s Katy Perry’s ex, which adds a little drama to the competition. He’s kind of like James Cameron to her Katherine Bigelow!
Cocktail rating: Gin and juice, hold the juice
B.O.B. featuring Hayley Williams and Eminem, “Airplanes”
Aw! Everybody feels sad and needs an airplane wish! What is this, poetry or something? Great song and all, but it’s no summer jam — it sounds more like sad back-to-school music, or the song playing in the background on The Hills when Audrina and Justin Bobby have their tearful airport-farewell scene. Bonus: it’s hilarious how B.O.B. talks about “rapping to stay relevant” — dude, this is what, your third single? Staying relevant is already hard for you? It reminds me of “Whoomp! There It Is” (the summer jam of ’93), which began with the line “Tag Team, back again,” even though it was Tag Team’s first hit.
Cocktail rating: M&M McFlurry. Those are totally vegan!
Taio Cruz, “Dynamite”
This is Katy Perry’s biggest competition. It has a very 1991 kiddie-rave sound — the sort of thing that techno snobs used to call “handbag,” because their girlfriends liked dancing to it. And oh, to be a fly on the wall when Taio Cruz was coming up with these lyrics. “Yo, what rhymes with ‘Put your hands in the air’? Hey. . . how about, ‘I’m gonna put my hands in the air?'” Now that’s a summer jam.
Cocktail rating: Whatever mom didn’t lock up