Maintaining relevance in today’s music landscape is no mean feat. Simply making great tunes isn’t good enough anymore, especially if you want to become the kind of pop star that can break records and flog £300 tour tickets. Streaming playlists have to work in your favour, lyrics need to be ripe for TikTok virality, Instagram accounts should maintain an air of quasi-relatability – strategically curated to a hellish extent.
But there is an easier hack pop stars can use to keep them firmly within the zeitgeist year after year: bagsy a season. Taylor Swift, for instance, has always had a loose ownership of autumn. Eight of her 12 albums (that’s including the re-recorded “Taylor’s Versions” of Fearless and Red) have been released between the months of September and November. And with melancholy lyrics about grey skies and rainy cab rides, her songs are a natural soundtrack for the transition from Aperols to pumpkin spice lattes.
In 2014, Swift even penned a Tumblr post pledging her allegiance to the cult. In it, she professed her love for all things autumnal, such as “hats and scarves and kneesocks and wearing tights for the first time in months and when the mornings are all chilly and you can see your breath and draw little pictures on foggy windows and…” You get the gist. Since then, TayTay’s dominance over snuggle-up-and-sob season has been further solidified by her coinage of “sad girl autumn”, which came last November when she released Red (Taylor’s Version), along with a standalone “Sad Girl Autumn Version” of All Too Well.
As a strategy, this has proven to be effective. Swift has now made history by becoming the first artist to occupy the entire top 10 on Billboard’s Hot 100 – on Halloween, no less, one of the most autumnal days of the year. Sure, that’s probably mostly down to her enormous and dedicated fanbase. But even non-Swifties struggle to resist the allure of pulling on a chunky roll neck, cradling a cuppa and looking wistfully out of a raindrop-splattered window, while contemplating lyrics like “Summer went away, still, the yearning stays”.
Let’s not give Swift all the credit, though. After all, it’s unlikely there’d be a “sad girl autumn” without “hot girl summer”. Coined by Megan Thee Stallion fans (AKA hotties, of course) in 2019, and later turned into a Nicki Minaj collab helmed by Thee Hot Girl herself, the term has become so ubiquitous that it’s spawned a million copycats – hot girl walks, hot girl books, hot girl tummy aches, you name it.
But nothing beats the original, mainly because Megan Thee Stallion so brilliantly epitomises the concept. Spending her summers on yachts and palatial villas in Ibiza, she is “hot girl summer” personified, a ray of sexy sunshine who lives it up at any opportunity and encourages others to do the same. Although her latest album, Traumazine, tackled darker themes, Meg’s music is generally best suited for shaking your arse at a pool party, whether you’re WAPing in the water or rapping along to Savage with your best friends by the bar. It’s fun, carefree and unapologetic in its pursuit of a good time.
Paired with a now-trademarked, seasonal catch phrase, “hot girl summer” turned Megan Thee Stallion into a household name, the specificity of her branding setting her apart from her peers as the girl you want to party with. The best part? Every time a poolside selfie with the caption “hot girl summer” pops up on your Instagram feed, you’ll think of Meg.
Of course, no conversation about seasonal branding is complete without mention of the OG, Mariah Carey. At this point, she’s such a festive mainstay that she almost overshadows poor Saint Nick, as All I Want For Christmas is You blasts out at office parties, shopping centres and supermarkets come December. First released in 1994, the song is currently more popular than ever before, reaching number one for the first time in the US in 2019 and the UK in 2020. Across the pond, it went on to bag the Christmas number one spot again in 2020… and again in 2021.
This is no accident. Over the past three decades, Carey has carefully crafted her image as the unofficial Queen of Christmas, releasing two festive albums, two more Christmassy soundtracks, an “Extra Festive” version of All I Want in 2010 and then a “SuperFestive!” remix with Justin Bieber in 2011. She’s gone on Christmas-specific tours and, when gigs were cancelled in 2020, created Mariah Carey’s Magical Christmas Special with Apple TV+, featuring guest appearances from Snoop Dogg and Tiffany Haddish, as well as a new version of 2010’s Oh Santa! with Ariana Grande and Jennifer Hudson. Each year, Carey takes to social media to mark the beginning of #MariahSZN on November 1st, with a video of her transforming out of her Halloween costume and into a skin-tight Santa unitard. All of this is delivered to us via a myriad of memes and even more merch: a scented Christmas candle, a “Naughty and Nice” pyjama set, even a children’s book.
Now that’s how you own a season. TayTay and Meg Thee Stallion are bloody novices by comparison. But while Mimi provided the blueprint, each artist’s seasonal branding has one key factor in common: a shrewd understanding of their fanbase. Carey has always loved Christmas, sure, but she really amped the festive content once she realised her audience multiplies if All I Want is on the setlist. Hot Girl Summer would have never been written were it not for the Hotties crowning Megan queen of the season. “Basic autumn lovers RISE,” captioned Taylor Swift on an Instagram video referencing her original Tumblr post last year, a rallying cry to her legion of Swifties who, like her, just love getting cosy.
All this, however, leaves one burning question: which pop star is going to own spring? That’s the only season left for the taking and we suggest a budding superstar snatches it ASAP, so they can be forever associated with pastels, daffodils and chocolate eggs. What do you reckon, Olivia Rodrigo?