Every summer there’s a debate about what the “song of the summer” will be. You know, that tune you’ll play over and over with the windows of your car rolled down; the one that inspired the title of your latest Facebook photo album.
It could be a party anthem like last year’s “Turn Down for What” by DJ Snake and Lil Jon or a peppy and triumphant breakup tune. But more often than not, the chosen song will be about a summer fling or even what you could call a one-(midsummer)night stand. It’s this line of thinking—that the more hookups you have, the luckier you are—that has been leading the narrative in pop music songs for a long time.
Maybe that’s why the message in some of this summer’s chart toppers is so refreshing. This summer, Andy Grammer and OMI have chosen to sing about a lover they want to stay true to for all four seasons. We hear songs about people in happy relationships all the time, but rarely do the songs explicitly reference the temptations to stray.
“Do you need me?/Do you think I’m pretty?/Do I make you feel like cheating?” the girls coo at the singer in the Caribbean jam “Cheerleader,” which spent some time as No. 1 on the Billboard Top 100. OMI bluntly responds, “No, not really ’cause/Oh, I think that I found myself a cheerleader/She is always right there when I need her.”
Of course, OMI isn’t oblivious to the charms of these ladies: “All these other girls are tempting,” he admits. But he prioritizes his girlfriend’s support as more important. He even talks about bringing her home and marrying her: “Mama loves you too, she thinks I made the right selection/Now all that’s left to do/Is just for me to pop the question.” Cue the bongo beat and trumpets.
Then there’s “Honey, I’m Good” by Andy Grammer, which is also in the top twenty on the Billboard list. The song tells the story of a man who meets a beautiful woman while out at the bar one night. He can’t deny that she’s attractive—“You look good, I will not lie”—but knows that he wants to stay true to the woman he’s made a commitment with and chooses to not put himself in the line of temptation by continuing to drink. As Grammer sings, “I could have another, but I probably should not/I’ve got somebody at home, and if I stay I might not leave alone/I’ve gotta bid you adieu, and to another I will stay true.” How refreshing to hear the realistic acknowledgment that alcohol can ruin even the best of intentions.
Arguably the best part of “Honey, I’m Good” is the music video, a compilation of couples singing along while holding up signs of how long they’ve been together, from two months to sixty-nine years. Trust me, it’s worth a view.
Another recent chart-topping song that captures both a genuine sense of humanity and the realities of infidelity is the much less chipper song by the multi-award-winning singer Sam Smith. In his latest hit “I’m Not the Only One,” Smith paints a powerful picture of how devastating infidelity can be, not only for the relationship but also for the self-esteem of the cheated person. “Maybe I am just not enough,” Smith croons in the most heartbreaking song on airwaves since Bruno Mars’ “When I Was Your Man.” “You’ve made me realize my deepest fear/By lying and tearing us up.”
Lest we think infidelity only hurts the cheated person, Rihanna’s 2006 throwback “Unfaithful” captured the regret of failing to stay true: “I don’t wanna do this anymore/I don’t wanna be the reason why/Every time I walk out the door/I see him die a little more inside/I don’t wanna be/A murderer.”
The urge to cheat will always exist, as will the appeal of proving one’s prowess by having a Casanova-like black book of lovers. But if you ask me, these indiscretions are more like self-love (or self-obsession) than love of others. It all comes back down to the wisdom in Aesop’s fable of “The Dog and the Bone” (let’s just pretend there’s no pun there). By reaching for something he covets, the dog loses what he already has.
What all of these songs capture, and why I believe they’re so popular, is because they touch on this enduring truth: Among the cheater, the cheated person, and the third party, we’re fooling ourselves if we think infidelity does anyone any good.
In Taylor Swift’s album Red, she sings a song called “Girl at Home,” which is about a man who puts himself in situations where he could easily cheat, such as turning off his cell phone to spend time alone with other women. “You chase down the newest thing/And take for granted what you have,” Swift sings. Unlike that man, the singers in “Cheerleader” and “Honey, I’m Good” cherish their significant others. Their songs are fun—because true love should be fun—and honest. Just as Sam Smith sings of sad carnage, the result of broken trust, OMI and Andy Grammer celebrate the triumph of commitment. If the elderly dancing couples in the “Honey, I’m Good” music video are any indication, the payoff is worth it.