Summer is the season when pop music won’t go away even if you want it to. And this will be the summer when Usher is unavoidable, when Kanye West follows you off the boardwalk and onto the beach, and when some fool at a stoplight in his SUV will want to share just how much he’s into Hoobastank.

iTunes and illegal downloading have only made manifest what has always been so: Summer is a time for songs, not albums. From blockbuster movies to the “Macarena,” summer is about the triumph of simplicity, and stupidity. The good thing about pop songs is that they last 3½ minutes, not 3½ hours. It’s all about hooks that grab you first, and, you hope, don’t annoy you later.

Go ahead and ponder the meaning of important artistic statements such as Wilco’s “A Ghost Is Born,” if you must. I’ve got bigger questions on my mind, such as: Is Petey Pablo the Lou Bega of 2004? What are P. Diddy and Enya doing together on that Mario Winans song? And is Nelly an Eagles fan?

Beginning with the last question: It would seem he is, from “Flap Your Wings,” the St. Louis hip-pop artist’s new Neptunes-produced single. It begins with a threat from the auteur of “Hot in Herre”: “It’s summertime, and I’m back again.”

From there, he instructs, ad nauseam, a member of the opposite sex to perform an act sure to be popular among cheerleaders: “Drop down and get your eagle on, girl!” It’s catchy, it’s formulaic, it’s a modern “Funky Chicken”!

P. Diddy and Enya are together on Winans’ stripped-down “I Don’t Wanna Know” because the Bad Boy impresario sampled the New Age artist’s “Boadicea,” combining it with a rap of his own in which he makes his paramour sound like a hamburger as he boasts: “I gave you extra cheese.” It’s a typical Diddy production: obvious, silly, tough to resist.

Petey Pablo is the Dirty South rapper from South Carolina, who, in “Freek-A-Leek,” follows the blueprint of Bega’s 1999 hit “Mambo No. 5” in listing his conquests, who include Shamika, Sabrina, Felicia, Yolanda and Monique. Cute the first time (in its cleaned-up nonpornographic radio version), the charms of Pablo and partner Lil’ Jon wear thin quick.

Not to worry, ladies: Along with the strutting axe men, there are plenty of women not taking any mess. There’s nothing noteworthy about JoJo’s self-explanatory “Get Out (Leave),” but it will serve its purpose as a bitter soundtrack to summer flings gone awry. “My Happy Ending” is more than that, a mini empowerment anthem that even Avril Lavigne-haters will have to admit is another emphatic, cannily crafted pop song. And then there’s half-Norwegian teen Maria Mena’s “You’re the Only One,” which seems poised for an Alanis Morissette-sized breakthrough: Mena sounds sweet and coy on the choruses, but lands some zingers on the verses.

Among the omnipresent will be old-reliables like the Beastie Boys, whose “Ch-Check It Out” is an instance of a classic act’s sticking with what it does best, and the Roots, whose “Don’t Say Nuthin’ ” is a taut, crisp jam that should finally get the Philadelphia band the respect it deserves from hip-hop radio.

Few of these songs will be heard with the alarming ubiquity of Hoobastank (whose ponderous “The Reason” I’m already declaring the worst song of the summer), West, or R&B heartthrob Usher.

The season belongs to the latter two, and given my druthers, I’ll take West. With “Yeah” and “Burn” still on the charts, Usher’s “Confessions, Part II” finds him fretting because “the chick on the side said she got one on the way.” Like most of Usher’s stuff, it’s slick and pleasant and transparent in its efforts to be scandalous. (“Scandalous,” by Mis-Teeq, is a much better song.)

West, on the other hand, is the most intriguing breakout success story of the year. The producer of Twista’s rapid-fire rap “Overnight Celebrity” keeps turning out hits from his brainy “College Dropout” debut, with two currently in the Top 20 in the slinky “All Falls Down” and the soul-searching “Jesus Walks.” West and Usher are touring together, but you won’t have to buy a ticket to comparison-shop. They’ll be battling it out all summer long, on a radio near you.


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