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Beyond 'Old Town Road': 3 Catchy Songs Tap Into 2019's Summer Spirit


This is FRESH AIR. Summer's almost over, but that hasn't stopped musicians from releasing summertime music. Rock critic Ken Tucker's been listening to songs that qualify as catchy, hot-weather fun, and he's chosen three of them to close out the summer season. Here are his reviews of new music by Alessia Cara, Megan Thee Stallion and Bon Iver.


ALESSIA CARA: (Singing) Got me feeling like the elephant in every room I'm walkin' into, yeah. We started out innocent till I got pulled right into your issue, yeah. I'm tired of sending hugs and kisses, oh. I'm tired of all your burning bridges. It's like, damn, why you got to be so cold in the summertime, summertime? I was really rooting for you, yeah. I was really rooting for you, yeah, yeah. It's like, damn...

KEN TUCKER, BYLINE: Alessia Cara gets to her point early on in her new single "Rooting For You." Addressing a friend who's not being nice to her, she sings, why you got to be so cold in the summertime? The warm weather has not inspired warm feelings. With its acoustic guitar rhythm over a synthesizer beat, "Rooting For You" is a catchy piece of contradiction. Its positive title is revealed to be the reverse. Hey, fickle friend, I'm not rooting for you anymore.


CARA: (Singing) Now I see you're having so much fun with everyone you had so much fun making fun of. Did you go and bump your head? Did you forget where you came from? I'm tired of sending my well-wishes. I'm tired of all your burning bridges, yeah. It's like damn...

TUCKER: When it comes to trying for a seasonal hit, song titles don't get more on-the-nose than this one called "Hot Girl Summer." It's a new single by the rapper Megan Thee Stallion.


TY DOLLA $IGN: (Singing) It is what it is, this some five star - she a big ol' freak, it's a must that I hit. It's a hot girl summer, so you know she got it lit. Real a** b****, know she got it lit. Hot girl summer so you know she got it lit. Real a** b****, know she got it lit. Hot girl summer so you know she got it lit, yeah, yeah.

MEGAN THEE STALLION: (Rapping) Hey, hey, hey, look. Handle me? Who gon' handle me? Thinking he's a player. He's a member on the team. He put in all that work. He want to be the MVP. I told him ain't no taming me, I love my [expletive] equally. Working 9-5 [expletive] with that superstar D - superstar, now I got him balling. I caught a jet to get that neck. I told him call, don't send no - tell them you with me when they be asking where you at. I can't read your mind, got to say that [expletive]. Should I take your love? Should I take that [expletive]? Got a whole lot of options 'cause you know a girl's popping. I'm a hot girl, so you know [expletive] ain't stopping...

TUCKER: Megan Thee Stallion has made one of the best hip-hop albums of the year called "Fever," a collection that is also so explicit it can't be played on the radio. A college student currently completing a degree in health administration, Megan is helped out on "Hot Girl Summer" by guest star Nicki Minaj in a playful back-and-forth about female empowerment. By contrast, you might say that my final summer song is about male disempowerment. It's from the new album by Bon Iver and the song is called "U (Man Like)."


BON IVER: (Singing) I will see you off now down the back of the ridge. There's just something that I got to show you. There is domer and there's rot and the common case. It ain't nothing what you say is true. With your long arms, try and just give some time. Presently, it does include my dues. Ain't your standard premonitions, all this phallic repetition. Boy, you tell yourself a tale or two. Man like you. Man, improve.

TUCKER: "U (Man Like)" - the title is an inversion of the phrase, man like you - is an elegantly stark piano ballad with a soaring vocal chorus. Bon Iver's mastermind, singer-songwriter Justin Vernon, has cited Bruce Hornsby among his influences. And Hornsby sings a line on that song. "U (Man Like)" is a high point on Bon Iver's uneven new album called "I, I." This has been a season dominated by the massive success of Lil Nas X's country rap "Old Town Road." But songs as various as the three I've played here are a necessary expansion of the sounds of summer to accommodate all kinds of sounds and all kinds of moods.

DAVIES: Rock critic Ken Tucker - coming up, John Powers reviews the new Netflix documentary "American Factory," the first in a series produced by the Obamas. This is FRESH AIR.


Ken Tucker reviews rock, country, hip-hop and pop music for Fresh Air. He is a cultural critic who has been the editor-at-large at Entertainment Weekly, and a film critic for New York Magazine. His work has won two National Magazine Awards and two ASCAP-Deems Taylor Awards. He has written book reviews for The New York Times Book Review and other publications.