Our Thoughts On: Summer 2016 Energy

What is it?
is it back?

By the music team

You’ve seen the memes, the TikToks, the articles. People are declaring (or just hoping) that “Summer 2016 Energy” is back for Summer 2022. Summer 2016 was a transformative time for the COPY music team in ways that go deeper than hearing Views by Drake for the first time. We were moving between different chapters of our young lives, our music keeping us company as we followed winding roads. In this installment of Our Thoughts On, we take a look back on that now-iconic season. What feelings did the summer of 2016 contain? What it has come to symbolize? Why are we chasing it today? 


I’m sure I listened to other albums that year, but all I can remember is Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book. This was the year I started college, and every single Welcome Week event had at least one of the album’s songs on its playlist. This whole album, but specifically “All We Got” and “Angels,” makes me think of running around the East Village with new friends and using my shitty fake ID.


I think my perspective on Summer 2016 is completely skewed because I wasn’t having a good time in my life, but it definitely seemed from my perspective like everyone else was. I was 16 years old, felt completely unheard and unrelatable to mostly everyone around me, so my taste in music began to reflect that heavily. We’re talking the Mountain Goats, the Districts, and Daniel Johnston, and I can pinpoint the specific album by the group Atta Boy, Out of Sorts. Yeah, for a look inside the way I felt during that summer, listen to that album, immediately followed by some Mountain Goats or Neutral Milk Hotel. I’m not sure if Summer 2016 energy is coming back, but in my case, I hope it isn’t. I am healing, dealing with the traumas that fractured my young spirit. Maybe this summer I’ll get really into mainstream pop. That would infuriate the person I was at sixteen.


Summer 2016 was my first summer in NYC and it was a doozy: I was acclimating to a city that reeked of shit, piss and this frenetic yet always hopeful energy. I vividly remember when Frank Ocean’s Blonde came out and I listened to “Nikes” on a Tinder date with some dude who worked at Vice while drinking a bottle of wine at the Chelsea Pier. I felt hopeful but utterly heartbroken by the not-yet-lovers I had left behind in Boston. I was determined to be open to this city that never slept. I also had Preoccupation’s debut album Viet Cong in my ears in preparation for their self-titled album’s release later that summer. Their song “Anxiety” was a blistering addition to my morning commute (in good company with Bon Iver’s “22 (OVER S∞∞N),” also out that summer) that made becoming a sardine on the A Train more bearable.


My 2016 summer playlist, “Sum Sum Love,” is a whiplash of pop, folk, and rap, highlighting the transition period from sharing the kitchen speakers with my parents to hosting college dorm pregames. One moment, you are calmly listening to “Turn Me On” by Norah Jones, then you’re sucker-punched by “Broccoli” by Shelley FKA Dram and Lil Yachty. I spent the summer as a camp counselor at my childhood all-girls camp in rural Virginia. When I think of the last of my childhood, it is this summer and the transition from camper to counselor, from living with my parents to moving 17 hours away for college. Towards the end of the summer, I became obsessed with “What Would I Do Without You” by Drew Holcomb & the Neighbors. The first time I heard it, I was driving through the Blue Ridge Mountains and burst into tears at the line, “A decade goes by without a warning.” I had spent exactly 10 summers at camp. I had been living in the same house for 10 years. I had been going to the same school for 12 years. This is how I remember the summer of 2016—consciously toeing the line between childhood and the rest of my life. Everyday moment had the purest taste of bittersweet. It makes perfect sense to me that now is the revival of the summer of 2016. As we try to recover from the pandemic, everything seems slightly bittersweet. Every crowded concert, smokey bar patio, and sunny park day leaves me thinking, “This will not be mine forever, but I will love it today.”


I would give anything to go back to being 18, the world at my fingertips and everything within reach. Most visceral in my head is the road trip to Canada I took with my best friend, Max, and the playlist that never ended as we drove eight hours day after day. We got our first legal drinks on this trip, left behind budding romances who we couldn’t contact for most of the time, and, amid the turbulence and transformation of the summer before going to college, were present with one another.

Without cell reception for much of our time in the Canadian wilderness, we were left with whatever was downloaded on our phones. Zedd’s True Colors ended up on repeat, blaring through our Prius speakers at maximum volume. Predictably, the legendary Selena Gomez collaboration “I Want You To Know” was our favorite, a beat so lyrical we always sang along to whatever instrument. Of all the life-changing music to come out in 2016, this certainly wasn’t the most innovative or critically acclaimed.


Thinking back on Summer 2016, I mostly remember making art. I was 17, about to go into my senior year of high school. I spent a couple weeks taking a photo class in Chicago—painted my classmate gold for a portrait, ran away when another classmate spilled hundreds of ladybugs in the studio, ate bagels for dinner because I couldn’t take care of myself yet, etc. Back home, I took portraits of childhood friends—in the ocean, in my mom’s bedroom, in a marsh on the side of the road. One of my biggest inspirations was Florence + the Machine’s 2016 short film The Odyssey, directed by Vincent Haycock to accompany Florence’s 2015 album How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful. My favorite part was the music video for “Delilah” (my most-streamed song of 2016). I let summer afternoons slip away as I organized stills from the video on my Pinterest board. I wanted everything I made to look like it—deep shadows, mythological imagery, eerie hallways, artificial light. I don’t know if I was happy or carefree that summer (as evidenced by my obsession with the “Delilah” music video), but I had a head full of dreams and an iPhone Notes app full of artist manifestos.


There was a restlessness I carried at 18 that manifested itself in emotionally reckless ways. But I remember finding peace that summer while sitting in the passenger seat of my best friend’s car and going on long, senseless drives around our suburban hometown. We would listen to Flume’s “Never Be Like You” a stupid number of times to sonically color what we would later proclaim to be the time of our lives. I’m now six years older and wiser, but there indeed was a time when I foolishly believed youth was worth dying for.