Anointing the song of the summer was going to be a challenge even before once-in-a-generation protests roared to life last month in response to George Floyd's killing by Minneapolis police.
By shutting down so many of the activities that make a song of the summer happen -- concerts, sporting events, pool parties involving people beyond your immediate family -- the COVID-19 pandemic had already interrupted the annual process that led tunes like Lil Nas X's "Old Town Road" and Luis Fonsi's "Despacito" to warm-weather cultural ubiquity.
But the explosive widening of the Black Lives Matter movement only deepened the task at hand: Suddenly, the established hallmarks of the song of the summer -- a casually flirty lyric or a groove to inspire a night without cares -- felt insufficient to soundtrack a season of such righteous discontent.
The Times asked 17 arts and music journalists and industry insiders to pick the song that best embodies the spirit of a summer defined by contradictory imperatives: to stay inside or to take to the streets? That so little consensus materialized says plenty about the different needs listeners count on music to meet.
Ideally, one song could exult, could object, could mourn, could reassure. And indeed, just such a tune appeared last week from Beyonce, whose exuberant "Black Parade" -- released with no advance notice but plenty of symbolic significance on Juneteenth -- celebrates Blackness in its many glories, even as it acknowledges the persistent threats of racism and police violence.
Over a swaggering beat brightened with wind instruments redolent of an outdoor march, Beyonce boasts of looking "pandemic fly on the runway" and of having "made a picket sign off your picket fence." She's rapping and singing with equal command in another display of her mastery of synthesis.
Yet as good as the track is -- and in spite of Beyonce's authority as pop's most clear-eyed thought leader -- "Black Parade" is unlikely to end up as 2020's song of the summer, if only because it came out late in a season that typically starts heating up in the spring.
Often the songs competing in a given year are well known by Memorial Day, which means you can think of the actual summer as the home stretch of a longer race. (Last year, "Old Town Road" began its record-setting 19-week run atop Billboard's Hot 100 in early April.)
This summer, the Weeknd's gleaming "Blinding Lights" and Megan Thee Stallion's "Savage" -- the latter best heard in a remix featuring fellow Houston native Beyonce -- are among the tunes that softened the ground well in advance; ditto "Toosie Slide" by Drake, who claimed the song of the summer in 2018 with the similarly sleek "In My Feelings."
But these songs spent a relatively short time at No. 1 -- just a week each for "Toosie Slide" and "Savage," and four nonconsecutive weeks for "Blinding Lights."