In Random Tracks, I’m reviewing a random hit song from any point in the history of the Billboard Hot 100 going from the chart’s beginning in 1958. If you like what I’m doing, comment and let me know what random Hot 100 hit song you want me to review.
Surfaces- “Sunday Best”
PEAK: #19 on June 20, 2020
SONG AT #1 THAT WEEK: DaBaby’s “ROCKSTAR” (feat. Roddy Ricch)
Throughout 2020, one term I’ve heard brought up is toxic positivity. Basically, the term means someone who’s down and out being encouraged by others to cheer up and look on the bright side while ignoring reality and the root causes for their feelings. It’s the kind of attitude that while done with good intentions can make someone who’s already going through a traumatic experience feel even more down. In a year dominated by a pandemic, a stressful presidential election, and a renewed reckoning on racism and inequality, being told to cheer up seemed like a cruel joke.
All of this makes, “Sunday Best,” the Top 20 hit by the indie music duo Surfaces a good musical representation of this toxic positivity mindset. It’s a sunshiny song that predates the pandemic by over a year where two young frat boy looking guys sing about never being stressed and how everything will all be fine. In the context of 2020, hearing a song like this can feel almost tone-deaf to what’s going on in the world.
Sunshine driven pop has been a big part of Surfaces ever since its members, Forrest Frank and Colin Padalecki, joined forces in 2017 after Frank, a recent graduate of Baylor University, saw Padalecki’s music he posted online while a student at Texas A&M University. (The #1 song in the US when Frank was born was Madonna’s “Take A Bow.” For Padalecki, it was Hanson’s “MMMBop.”) After spending time together, Surfaces was born and independently released their debut album Surf in December 2017 which gave a good indication of their sound and attitude: carefree feel-good lyricism over sunny beats combining elements of pop, hip-hop, R&B, reggae, and electronic.
Surf and its songs didn’t chart anywhere but it got traction on streaming services and got the duo a record deal with Caroline Records. Their second album, Where The Light Is, was released in January 2019 with “Sunday Best,” a song they wrote in two hours, released at the same time as a single. At first, the song did nothing even after its flashy music video was released later that July. But like many hit songs today, they got their break with the video app TikTok where in late 2019 the marketing agency Flighthouse Media creating a year-end montage video challenge set to “Sunday Best.” After that, they partnered with TikTok creator Ondreaz Lopez to create a viral dance challenge to the song. The challenge mixes the song and the lyric “feeling good like I should” with shouting and gunshot noises as users do dance moves to the beat of it.
This marketing tactic worked in the song’s favor as “Sunday Best” was released to radio in March 2020 debuting on the Hot 100 the week of March 14th at #98. As the world went into COVID-19 lockdown, its upbeat positive message continued to resonate through the spring before eventually getting to its Top 20 peak at the end of June.
I’ve seen “Sunday Best” get a lot of hate from critics including Youtuber Mark Grondin of the channel Spectrum Pulse who placed it as his worst hit song of 2020. Personally, I think the hate is too much but I get its issues. The song radiates this cheap and obnoxious sheen that can be off-putting to some on first listen. The bright and bouncy piano riff, the liquid guitar roll, the churchy organ, and the trap like drum beat that overwhelms the beat aren’t great sounding but not the worst thing ever. The main problem for me are the guy’s singing. Both Frank and Padalecki sound a bit too careless like they’d rather be doing anything else than singing and feel annoying on purpose. But it ultimately comes across as generic fluff like the band name itself.
Despite what I said at the beginning regarding the song’s toxic positivity aspect, the members of Surfaces have said the song was inspired by some dark stuff they went through. Here’s what Frank had to say, “So imagine you go through the darkest stuff of your life, like depression, anxiety or suicide…things that are really tough. It’s like getting out of that and seeing the light of day and accepting who you are and accepting your situation and saying, ‘I’m going to just breathe this air and have a good day.’ And that’s really where that song came from”
That’s a nice sentiment but it doesn’t come across at all in the song. Some lines hint at overcoming past struggles, “E-e-everyone falls down sometimes/But you just gotta know it’ll all be fine,” but for the most part the lyrics are full of basic motivational phrases you’d hear in school or on social media, “Ay, everyday can be a better day despite the challenge/All you gotta do is leave it better than you found it.” The music and performance are incredibly chipper and give off the impression that these guys have never had to struggle with anything so hearing them sing in 2020 “feeling blessed, never stressed” certainly doesn’t go over well.
The music video admittedly has a fun concept to it. A boss is speaking to a worker for not working much and when asked to state what day it is she says Sunday after looking at the calendar which is supposed to say Monday. The boss, frustrated, begins pulling the dates out where each day is a Sunday. Pretty soon, Padalecki and Frank storm in and transform the dull workplace into a bright tropical paradise. Everyone’s now decked out in bright clothes and dancing in the workplace enjoying themselves. You can tell this video was done before the pandemic because if it had been done now they’d probably do it over Zoom to reflect the current state of the workplace.
Since the popularity of “Sunday Best,” Surfaces hasn’t managed yet to follow it up as they’ve released two subsequent singles that didn’t chart including “Learn to Fly,” a collaboration with Elton John, himself a fan of Surfaces. They’ve also still been promoting “Sunday Best” performing on various late-night shows so we’ll see going forward whether they’ll be able to escape the viral stardom of their one sunny optimistic song in a year that was lacking in it.
BONUS BEATS: Here’s “Sunday Best” being used in a 2019 episode of HBO’s Hard Knocks showing Oakland Raiders players at training camp with their families: