On August 29, I sat on my couch watching the 2019 MTV Video Music Awards, waiting for something to happen. And then it did: a commercial for AT&T and Spotify aired multiple times, advertising some partnership I was too distracted to commit to memory. In the 30-second spot, a handsome boy band mouths the lyrics to a song I can only assume is titled “Summertime Lover,” based on the repetition of the phrase. The joke is that they’re frozen in place, and a narrator describes “boy bands without dancing” as “just okay.” As an avid One Direction fan, I took it as slander against the group, which was chastised for its lack of choreography, and ignorance from the brands for not knowing that.
The commercial aired again. And again. In the weeks that followed, I streamed endless hours of Hulu in hungover moments of self-reflection and heard “Summertime Lover” countless times. The song, it turns out, is actually... kind of catchy.
Advertisements rarely have any power over me, but the track underneath this one did. Perhaps the sponcon was working, because very quickly, without hesitation, I began humming the tune. Perhaps the sponcon also worked, because I’m writing about it now. Perhaps the sponcon really, really worked, because I had a conversation with my friend Jordan about the song on Monday night, when he informed me that he not only loves this song, but that he WORKS OUT to a full-length version of “Summertime Lover,” a track he actively sought out after failing to shake the earworm during a recent AP Bio binge. Apparently, there is more to the song than meets the... ear.
Not long after I was so totally turned off by the 1D hate and turned on by the melody, I learned that others weren’t immune to the song’s saccharine hook, either. Popdust dedicated a blog to asking the universe for a full version of the track, which Twitter users echoed, and enthusiasts made Change.org petitions.
In a since-deleted YouTube video, Los Angeles songwriter Nathan Walters (formerly of the Christian pop-rock boy band Plus One—I didn’t grow up in a household that demanded I only listen to Catholic-friendly music, so I only know them from their song “With All Your Heart” from Pokémon: The Movie 2000) took credit for the 30-second ditty and discussed how the song was written, produced, and performed. (Walters did not immediately respond to Jezebel’s requests for comment.)
Unlike all other things online, that clip of them appears to be gone for good:
In an interview with Ad Age, BBDO L.A. creative director Cooper Olson—one of the many men behind the ad—explained that the boy band in question is named 300 Likes, and that after bombarding the public with the commercial, he saw “tweets about people making 300 Likes their group Halloween costume, tweets requesting 300 Likes as the Super Bowl halftime show, tweets where people type out the full lyrics.” So naturally, his company and another, South Music & Sound, worked to release a full version. Unfortunately, it is absolutely a banger with remarkably vapid lyrics, and I’ve listened to it on repeat since learning about it.
Still, there’s something really dystopic about the fan-created campaign to release a full track. Instead of using that energy to seek out new boy bands and pop sounds, has music discovery devolved into begging for more... advertisements? The conspiracy theorist in me thinks hiring a former boy band man/composer to write a One Direction-style tune was a purposeful marketing play, one that business minds much more refined than my own knew would result in this—hungry, eager fans demanding AT&T and Spotify for more.
Brands ripping on boy-band fandom as a marketing tactic is a tale as old as most college sophomores. In 1999, Jack in the Box’s parodic Meaty Cheesy Boys grew to be so popular, they were invited to perform at the 1999 Billboard Music Awards. They were featured in commercials until 2001, which makes them no Flo from Progressive, but it’s an impressive tenure nonetheless. It also doesn’t make the soggy burgers from Jack in the Box any more appetizing. Then, of course, there’s MTV’s satirical group 2GETHER, whose 2000 single, “U + Me = US (Calculus)” was ubiquitous in the new millennium. (They toured with Britney Spears and released a Spinal Tap-esque movie that same year.) Still, these aren’t acts most people remember; they’re blips on an otherwise occupied boy band radar.
“Summertime Lover” bangs, but not enough to inspire anyone to change their cellphone provider or to abuse Spotify, a platform notorious for taking advantage of artists and instituting patronizing features. It is worth keeping in mind, though, that something that seems as innocuous as a fun song about summertime is really just a tool in a much larger business plan. And I fell for it.