If it were up to me, “One Kiss” by Calvin Harris and Dua Lipa would be the song that never dies. It would come preloaded on every smart phone like that one U2 album, the musical equivalent of the intestine-imploding alien from “Alien.” The song would become the first international anthem. Several decades from now, when pop music scientists crack open “One Kiss” to carbon date the audial fossil, they will determine its half-life to be approximately eternity.
The appeal of “One Kiss” lies in the fact that it is impossibly catchy. It is engineered to get stuck in your head. The chorus consists of a total of four lines — “One kiss is all it takes / Falling in love with me / Possibilities / I look like all you need” — delivered by Lipa with sultry panache.
She’s accompanied by a pulsating house beat that endlessly runs and repeats, rolling over and over, much like crimson and clover. It comes courtesy of Harris, who has built a career on crafting melodies that are narcotically addictive. It’s been a year since this song has been released and I still fill most of my idle moments by humming its habit-forming hook.
Precedent would argue that “One Kiss” is essentially forgettable. It relies heavily on the type of trendy tropical/deep-house hybrid that popular dance music has adopted in the streaming era. Its lyrics make no attempts at being intellectually intriguing, challenging or even very cohesive (they are, basically, a random collection of words that sound good strung together). Still, “One Kiss” has the makings and DNA of a pop classic. And yes, this is the hill I’m willing to die on.
“One Kiss” is a song about being alive right now. Although the “right now” the track captures isn’t a tie to any specific time or place. It is simply meant to evoke the idea of being somewhere at any time, in any place. There are no jabs at modern politics or any meta references on the artists’ personal lives. It is a song that draws entirely upon the abstract yet universal experience of the sort of explosive all-encompassing romances and the mysteries of human chemistry that have populated pop music since its very beginnings. It’s one kiss, and that’s all it takes.
In fact, the song is filled with the kind of catchy quickfire lyrics that sound flirty and clever when you happen to catch them while lounging by the pool or flipping through the racks at Forever 21, but reveal themselves to not really mean anything when you take the time to think about them.
“Passion in the message when you smile / Take my time,” Lipa sings, in what I interpret to be a roundabout way of describing the hypnotic spell of a stranger’s smile taken to accommodate this half rhyme. These are the kind of lyrics that would make for amazing Instagram captions. Nobody (other than me) would be willing to devote the brainpower to analyzing the meaning of any of these lines when they are so catchy and irresistible. In short, they are pop perfection.
Pop music has never had any illusions of being esoteric. It’s a genre about laying it all out there. Pop music brings people to dance floors. It comes on through radio stations whose demographic is anyone with a pulse. Pop music is popular music, and is therefore meant to be heard everywhere, to be recognized by nearly everyone. It would feel parasitic if it weren’t so catchy.
Add to this the fact that there is hardly a pop classic without at least a tangential relationship to the star-making machine that is pop music. Calvin Harris has more summer smash hits under his belt than any one person should have, putting him at the forefront of the marquee DJ explosion of the past decade. Similarly, Dua Lipa has experienced the type of lightning strike exponential rise to fame that music executives salivate over in their search for the next big pop star.
“One Kiss” was a moderate hit in the U.S., reaching the mid-20s on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart and making a brief appearance in the top 10 of the Pop Radio charts. Of course, Billboard’s charts are not necessarily an accurate measure of ubiquity; anecdotally, I remember hearing the song everywhere, all the time. The track was, however, a massive smash in the UK, the country Lipa hails from, topping the country’s charts for eight weeks, making it the longest run at the chart’s peak for a lead female artist in a decade.
Lipa would end up performing the song during the halftime show at the 2018 UEFA Champions League Final at the Olympic Stadium in Kiev, which has a capacity of more than 70,000 people. Lipa and Harris performed the track at the Brit Awards — one of the UK’s biggest music awards — where it took home the trophy for best British single. The night Lipa won the Grammy for best new artist, she performed the song alongside St. Vincent.
In the biggest moments of Lipa’s fledgling career, she brought along “One Kiss” and positioned the song front and center. With all eyes on her, in the moments paving the way towards her rise to pop superstardom, she solidified “One Kiss” as one of her signature songs. She tied herself to the track, making sure you would never again be able to listen to her and not hear her distinct voice over the slick, tropically-inflected opening beats. This is Dua Lipa, and she looks like all you need.
There is hardly anything the world loves more than a signature earworm from one of its favorite pop stars. Years from now, “One Kiss” will belong to the pantheon of pop classics, becoming the domain of wedding DJ’s and fast-casual restaurant speakers around the globe.
Perhaps this longevity is what Harris, Lipa and co-writer Jessie Reyez were referring to when they very strategically selected “possibilities” as one of the 18 words in the song’s chorus. Pop music is amorphous, and it evolves to fit whatever setting it is needed in. It soundtracks the lives of people around the world, in moments both mundane and monumental.
But, probably not. Either way, “One Kiss” has stumbled upon that elusive formula to pop music success and permanency, ensuring that the song will be getting stuck in your head for years to come.