Summer is a state of mind as much as it is a season. If it’s a meagre 57 degrees out but you’re driving around with nowhere to be⁠—radio crackling, sun prickling the skin on the one arm you’ve got hanging out the window, large Coke sweating into the cup holder⁠—that’s summer. If it’s the height of July and you’re itching in a polyblend uniform, working too much to even step foot outdoors let alone consider the possibilities of the evening ahead⁠—that’s not summer.

Summer is about being optimistic and aimless. It’s sensory pleasures; the smell of sizzling onions wafting across a park, the sound of rushing water spilling through the open window of someone having a 5 p.m. shower. It’s sending messages like “what are you up to later?”, and the anticipation that fills the gap between clocking out and ordering a beer so cold it hurts to hold the bottle.

There are cultural artifacts, too, that fill you with the urge to go tops off even when there’s four feet of snow outside. The sensations of summer are bottled in the sweltering tension of Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing, in Elena Ferrante’s bronzed, blissed-out Neapolitan Novels, in every second of every note Lana Del Rey has ever sung. But there’s one song in particular that has the power to switch your brain to "summer mode" more than anything else. I’m talking, of course, about “Steal My Sunshine” by the Canadian alt-rock band Len.

“Steal My Sunshine” is a hit of raw happiness. To hear it is to feel your chest split open and time slow down, as those opening house chords and woodblock hits demand you clear the next three minutes and 46 seconds of your day to listen to it. This has been the case since it was released 23 years ago, and it will be the case 23 years from now, because “Steal My Sunshine” is the people’s hit single. It made its way into the charts not by canny marketing, but by sheer force of vibes, and has held an essential place in pop culture ever since.

The song initially came out on the soundtrack to the 1999 ecstasy caper Go, and received so much airplay that Len’s label (EMI subsidiary The WORK Group) were forced to bring the release of their third album You Can't Stop the Bum Rush forward by several weeks. “Steal My Sunshine” was its lead single, out in June 1999, and a few months later, it went stratospheric. The song became a top 40 hit in eight countries, was nominated for a Juno Award, and prompted hundreds of remixes that continue to thump out of sound systems at functions around the world. Arguably its biggest achievement is being certified platinum in the U.S., Australia and the U.K.⁠—making it one of precious few songs that all three countries can agree is the perfect soundtrack for chewing your lips off.

Now into its fourth decade as a cultural touchstone, the legacy of “Steal My Sunshine” shows no signs of withering. It’s been covered by Cherry Glazerr and Portugal. The Man, the Goon Sax, Charly Bliss and Bikini Trill in the last few years alone, and the Maine smashed out a version for their covers album in 2016. Perhaps more than anywhere else, its influence can be detected in the feel-good slacker energy of present-day Lorde, who referenced Len directly—alongside A Tribe Called Quest and S Club 7—in a list of early 2000s “sun-soaked” bangers that inspired the title track from her 2021 album,  “Solar Power”. (Listen to a mashup of the two songs and it’s clear how much DNA they share.) It’s an oddball one-hit wonder with remarkable legs, considering it first appeared on a film about a drug deal gone awry. Its existence only becomes more peculiar the more you pull it apart.

“Steal My Sunshine” is a hit of raw happiness. To hear it is to feel your chest split open and time slow down, as those opening house chords and woodblock hits demand you clear the next 3 minutes and 46 seconds of your day to listen to it.

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