Why Do We Brand the Summer?
As trees open their blooms, the predictions come on like an allergy attack.
The song of the summer will be by Ed Sheeran. The drink of the summer will be the Hugo Spritz. Feral Girl Summer is over and Married Girl Summer has arrived. Get out your toenail clippers, because Barefoot-Boy Summer is on its way.
Summer is coming, and with it the yearly onslaught of attempts to label a season that has not yet happened. Media outlets one-up one another’s outrageous guesses, and influencers compose mood boards for their followers to emulate. Themes pile up on social media, where almost no activity is safe from being named a seasonal microtrend. Just lounging outdoors in a lightweight dress? Welcome to your Amy March Girl Summer.
Many of these declarations are not meant to be taken seriously, and plenty will not succeed (see: Hot Vax Summer and, less consequentially, The New York Times’s endorsement of the Dirty Shirley). But all arise from a desire to identify some distinct flavor of each summer that can be captured and stored like strawberry preserves.
“No summer ever came back, and no two summers ever were alike,” wrote Nathaniel Hawthorne, who died 155 years before he would have been able to listen to Megan Thee Stallion’s “Hot Girl Summer.”
Winter always gets to be winter. The pumpkin spice latte is barely tweaked from one fall to the next. So why do we subject summer to this premature, and perhaps futile, exercise in branding?
Adjective, Noun, Season
For one, there’s the tantalizing possibility of getting it right.
“I don’t think you could think about summer without thinking about ‘Hot Girl Summer,’” Megan Thee Stallion told The Times Magazine in 2020. The rapper, who had released the song in August 2019, conveyed a message of self-assurance with flaming album art and a kinetic beat.
The song captured, and perhaps influenced, the feeling of the late days of that summer, said Charlie Harding, a host of the music podcast “Switched on Pop.” “So many people took up that moniker of feeling hot and feeling good,” he said.
Its title was a handy three-word Mad Lib — adjective, noun, season — that almost anyone could use to outline goals for the season.
The phrase was used to express hope for a Hot Vax Summer of swab-free debauchery in 2021. Meghan Markle was having a Single Girl Summer when she met Prince Harry, according to their Netflix documentary. The meme even expanded its seasonal footprint into Christian Girl Autumn and Short King Spring.
E.E. Holmes, 41, a writer in central Massachusetts, sees versions of the phrase roll across her Twitter feed every May. In 2021, she scrolled past posts about Hobbit Girl Summer (living in a shire, eating potatoes) and “Gone Girl” Summer (disappearing mysteriously).
Ms. Holmes added her own to the canon: “Golden Girls” Summer. “I’m thinking, the chilling and the cheesecake and the girlfriends and drinks on the lanai,” she said. “I don’t want to have to shave too much.”
‘The Apex of Living’
Making such predictions may be a way of dealing with the immense expectations of the season.
Beginning in childhood, Americans look forward to summers off from school, from which they might return with bangs or new boyfriends. The season is often the backdrop of coming-of-age stories, from Edith Wharton’s “Summer” to the film “Wet Hot American Summer.” It can also be a time of social upheaval, as in 1967, when nationwide riots against racial injustice coincided with San Francisco’s freewheeling Summer of Love.
There is a pervasive idea that “summer is the apex of living,” said Sheila Liming, an associate professor at Champlain College in Burlington, Vt., and the author of “Hanging Out: The Radical Power of Killing Time.” It is a season of exposure, especially in the Northeast, where warmer weather and more hours of daylight are welcomed after a chilly winter.
“Summer is the season in which we actually live out in public,” Professor Liming said.
Gazelle Mone’t, 29, a stylist, said she felt more pressure to socialize in the summer. “In the winter, it’s cool if you’re just inside,” she said. “In the summertime, it would be fun to kayak, like, not alone.”
Ms. Mone’t began telling people that she wanted to have a Soft Woman Summer, hoping to find others who might skip the club scene and go paint in the woods. She recently took a road trip with friends from Seattle to Joshua Tree National Park, in Southern California.
Angela Neal-Barnett, a psychology professor at Kent State University in Ohio, said that announcing a plan for the summer ahead of time was a form of visualization. “I have to commit to it, because people are going to come back and ask me, Did you do the Hot Girl Summer, or the Hot Margarita Summer, or whatever it is?” she said.
‘Come On Now’
Media outlets and companies have also, unsurprisingly, taken to branding the season.
Brandy Jensen, a former deputy editor at Gawker, said she had noticed a series of absurd summer trend predictions in recent weeks. A Rolling Stone article declared 2023 the summer of the “side chick,” citing Kerry from “Succession,” Queen Camilla and Raquel Leviss from “Vanderpump Rules.” The Cut decreed a Barefoot-Boy Summer because the actor Jacob Elordi and a member of the singer Shawn Mendes’s entourage had both been spotted shoeless.
Ms. Jensen said she found both stories entertaining — but she is not slipping off her shoes just yet. “Websites want clicks,” she said, and nesting three recent pop culture moments under a “trend of the summer” label is easy but not always accurate.
“Are we really having a Barefoot-Boy Summer?” she said. “Come on now.”
Brands have also tried to place their own products at the center of summer’s purported theme. Spotify offers a Sad Girl Summer playlist with an image of a melting Popsicle. Wendy’s tried to declare its lemonade the official drink of Hot Girl Summer in 2019.
Megan Thee Stallion has noticed. “I saw other companies were using it, and I was like, ‘Thank you for your support, but I have to secure this, because this is mine,’” she said. She was awarded the trademark for Hot Girl Summer in 2022.
But if the past few weeks are any indication, the song’s title may remain a blueprint for our best — and worst — theories about the season to come.
Cristel Antonia Russell, a professor of marketing at the Graziadio Business School at Pepperdine University, said she would not be surprised if the phrase continued to be used for years. It reminded her of “Got Milk?” — the 1990s dairy industry advertising campaign — in its simplicity and adaptability.
“It sounds so timeless,” Professor Russell said. “Who doesn’t want to be hot, and a girl, in the summer?”
Callie Holtermann joined The Times in 2020.
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