What’s Going to be the Song of the Summer?
Each year in late Spring, the murmurs begin.
“Is this it?” the people ask cautiously, afraid to be heard but too excited not to speak. “It just may be,” others respond, nervously looking side to side.
Over time the rumblings grow louder, each passing day bringing more rumors, intrigue and anticipation. Finally, come the light of the solstice and the heat of the long-suns, the commoners shout “The Competition is upon us! The Competition is upon us!” and there is much rejoicing. For at last, the one thing that brings the elites and the privileged to their knees, groveling at the feet of the everyman, has arrived: The Competition to be the Song of the Summer (#SOTS).
We welcome The Competition not only because it brings the songpeople down to our level as they plead for us to choose them, but because it is so unknowable and so chaotic. One year, we’re embracing the sweet beauty of good advice with TLC’s “Waterfalls,” and just 12 months later we’ve all lost our minds and “The Macarena” is a thing that everyone has to deal with. We give out the title with seemingly reckless abandon — Beyonce and Nelly Furtado have held the honor the same number of times — yet we love it because in its own special way the Song of the Summer Competition is the great equalizer.
But as we kick off Competition Season, I’d like to do my best to remove some of that chaos in order to give you a leg up on the other commoners. There’s nothing worse than putting your money on the wrong song (and ending up with an “Am I Wrong, Song of the Summer 2014” tank that you can’t yet wear ironically), so I’m here to help.
Without further ado, to The List! First off, The Frontrunners. These are the songs to watch, as they all start off in good shape and are in the positions historically most likely to assume throne. After that come the Second Tier songs. They all have a chance, but they’ll need some help, likely from a clever viral marketing campaign (and plenty of #sponsored #content). Finally, the Long Shots. Some of these songs have no business being in the mix, and their inclusion on The List is a testament to the popularity of the song. Others seemed to be primed for a run at the title but have stumbled and need major help. Either way, watch out for the Long Shots — after all, who in the spring of 1992 could’ve predicted the gluteus-centric wave of assthusiasm that carried “Baby Got Back” to the top?
1. See You Again- Wiz Khalifa ft. Charlie Pluth
It’s been #1 on the Billboard charts for seven of the past eight weeks. It’s the biggest hit song from the biggest movie of the spring. It’s got a wildly uncontroversial rapper providing the main vocals. It’s “See You Again” and it’s your likely frontrunner for #SOTS.
But beyond its strong radio, streaming, and download charts position, “See You Again” has history on its side. Much like Puff Daddy’s “I’ll Be Missing You” — the Song of the Summer in 1997 — it pays tribute to a fallen star taken too early. It also uses the now-ubiquitous mix of rap/hip-hop with heartfelt pop vocals that drove previous winners like “Promiscuous,” “California Gurls” and “Fancy” to victory in the last decade.
Yet it’s far from a lock, and this may be as shaky a frontrunner as you’ll see. “See You Again” is tied to a very popular movie, but movies tend to have shorter shelf lives in the immediate public consciousness. And let’s face it: it’s freaking sad. I never even watched the Fast & Furious movies and this song makes me miss the crap out of Paul Walker. While it’s far from unprecedented, Songs of the Summer are usually not such downers.
2. Bad Blood- Taylor Swift
What the hell are we supposed to make of this song? When it first debuted on Swift’s 1989 I thought it was pretty clearly the second-worst song on an otherwise-superb album (behind “Welcome To New York,” obviously). But the song had buzz– it’s apparently about Katy Perry’s decision to hire away Swift’s backup dancers just before Swift’s tour began — and a solidly catchy chorus.
Fast forward eight months and it’s clear Swift is gunning for #SOTS status with this one. She’s reworked the entire song, with Kendrick Lamar now providing nearly all the verses, and gotten literally every famous woman she’s friends with to appear in her brain-melting music video epic. Her all-out push for the crown has been met with some success as the song skyrocketed to #1 for a week, but now it’s back behind “See You Again,” and the question on everyone’s mind (everyone’s) is whether “Bad Blood’s” rise was driven by record-breaking views on the music video or actual love of the song. Swift has surprisingly never had a Song of the Summer, and “Bad Blood” seems less likely than her other hits like “I Knew You Were Trouble” or “You Belong With Me.” But hey, never doubt the power of Taylor Swift.
3. Trap Queen- Fetty Wap
In some ways, this just *feels* like it should be the #SOTS. It’s fast paced with a good beat, it soared up the charts at just the right time, and it’s by the kind of previously lesser-known artist who often takes the crown (see: “All-4-One, Sir Mix-a-Lot, Katy Perry… Evidently, some of them have longer staying power than others). It’s addictive– much more so than “See You Again”– without veering into annoying, and it would represent a major victory for a growing brand of more stylistic hip-hop.
But just because it feels like a good bet doesn’t mean it will pan out. It’s the beginning of June and “Trap Queen” remains stuck at #3 on the charts. And without a big name or an easy pop chorus, it faces challenges that the other Frontrunners do not. Still, it remains in as good of shape as any song to make a run at the title.
4. Shut Up and Dance- Walk the Moon
The first time I heard this song, I thought it would be the Song of the Summer. Little has changed since then in my mind, but its slow ascent up the charts has left me doubting it a bit. Currently at #4, “Shut Up and Dance” is easily the biggest hit of Walk the Moon’s career, and with good reason. It’s a sublime summer dance hit, filled with a romantic storyline, shoutable lyrics and that type of “don’t you dare look back” recklessness that embodies a summer anthem.
Honestly, there’s no reason that this song shouldn’t be the Song of the Summer. And surprisingly, the most deserving song has a strong track record of actually winning it all (“Blurred Lines” and “Fancy” notwithstanding). The biggest obstacle this song faces is the fact that other Frontrunners are good songs with real momentum behind them.
1. Want To Want Me– Jason Derulo
I’ll give him this: Jaysonn Deruuloooo is pretty damn shameless. This song could have been brewed up in a summer smash lab, with equal parts sexual, catchy and summer-centric ingredients. He’s making no effort to hide the fact that he wants to own the Song of the Summer, and with abs like that I’m not really sure he should have to hide anything. Plus, the entire song is about wanting to be wanted, so his desperate #SOTS powerplay is at least on-brand.
That said, it’s hard to see it being enough to power him to a victory. The song itself is fine, particularly for a Justin Timberlake impression. I’ve got no problem with it chilling in the top 10 for a few months, but if Jason Derulo gets to have the Song of the Summer just by virtue of wanting it more, I might just give up.
2. Hey Mama– David Guetta ft. Nicki Minaj
Hey Mama has every right to be in the mix for Song of the Summer, but it’s hard to see how this one pulls out a win. It’s got a good beat and Nicki generally does good Nicki things all over the track, yet there’s still something honestly kind of gross about it. Nicki’s hypersexualized semi-female-empowerment persona seems to be maxing out on the sexual while missing out on the empowerment in this song: “Yes I do the cooking / Yes I do the cleaning / Plus I keep the na-na real sweet for your eating / Yes you be the boss and yes I be respecting.” I probably shouldn’t question the patriarchy, but it still makes me think this song will have trouble finding a massive audience.
3. Honey I’m Good- Andy Grammer
This little song just won’t quit, and although it’s unlikely to be in the mix come August, I think we should just enjoy it while we can. It’s fun, it’s fast, and it’s even got the family-friendly message “Hey Mama” is missing (don’t get drunk and cheat on your sig o, please). But while it’s a hit with the Pitch Perfect crowd, there’s probably not enough buzz behind this one to push it to the top.
1. Where Are Ü Now- Jack Ü, Justin Bieber
Skrillex and Diplo together as Jack Ü is enough to get most trap fans mega hyped bro, but there’s never been an #EDMSOTS and the duo knew they needed more firepower. That’s why they brought in the Biebz. Five years ago, that probably would have been enough, but these days it’s hard to imagine how the fifth most hated man in America is going to power a song to the title. It’s a shame actually, as “Where Are Ü Now” is a really terrific song and one of Bieber’s best efforts in years.
2. Girl Crush- Little Big Town
Much like EDM, country hasn’t had a Song of the Summer since official records started being kept — even Shania in her prime couldn’t bring it home. So what makes me think this mildly homoerotic girl-on-girl man-crazed ballad will do it?
Nothing. This isn’t going to be the Song of the Summer, but it’s looking like it’s got potential to be the breakout country hit of the summer. And with a little luck, maybe it could go even further.
3. Pretty Girls- Britney Spears, Iggy Azalea
NO, IGGY. BAD. You don’t get to do this. You leave Britney alone. She has been through enough.
4. Cheerleader- OMI
What on earth is it about this song? When it’s playing I want it to stop, but when it’s stopped I want it to play. And apparently the rest of the world really digs it, as Cheerleader has performed better overseas all year. If it were three months ago and this song was creeping into the top 20 the way it is now, I’d say it had a great shot at being another what-the-hell-why-not champion. Now it’s likely too late for this earworm, although Shazam begs to differ.
5. Talking Body- Tove Lo
Tove Lo is the person we all have to be aware of now, FYI. She’s had hits with “Habits (Stay High)” and “Heroes (We Could Be),” and penned other smashes like “Love Me Like You Do.” Now, “Talking Body” is moving into position to fill the airwaves for the summer, though probably not at the rate of any of the frontrunners. Still, keep an eye on her if the others stumble.