Wednesday, July 20th, 2011

Is This a Summer Without a Song of the Summer?

The song of the summer is easy to spot. You hear it in the softer-louder-softer of passing cars, dripping out of clothes stores, wafting up from block parties. It's inescapable. Think of last year's Katy Perry ode to boobs and hatefully nonstandard spelling, "California Gurls." (The Far*East Movement's "Like a G6" would have been the song of last summer, as it was released last April, but the single push didn't happen until late August, and it rode the charts high all through October and November.) Remember Beyonce and Jay-Z's domination of 2004 with their declaration of car-exploding mutual adoration, "Crazy In Love"? And there's the recent mother of them all, Alicia Keys' and Jay-Z's "Empire State of Mind"—it was basically impossible to step out of a door and not be assaulted with that weirdness throughout the sweltering parts of 2009.

This year… well, there are lots of vapid, fun, danceable songs out this summer. And that’s the problem: it’s nearly August, and it seems like the block parties and car stereos of America can’t agree. And so strange things rise: The current Billboard Hot 100 #1, LMFAO's "Party Rock Anthem," lacks panache. It's nothing that anyone wants to blast from their ride. The #2, Pitbull's "Give Me Everything" is… okay. But with half a dozen acts trading the top spot all summer, no real winner has emerged. Time is running out!

In a simpler time, when Sinead O'Connor could have the song of the summer with "Nothing Compares 2 U," Adele’s "Rolling in the Deep" would be the indisputable song of the summer. But these are not simpler times! Adele has kept herself in the top 5 (and certainly the top 10) all summer, and with a recent high-profile shoutout from accidental Allen Ginsberg crush-object Patti Smith, it would seem that Adele is the person with the best claim on our sweltering summer ears. But this is the 27th week on the chart for “Rolling in the Deep.” While on the one hand, that shows the impressive staying power of a true hit, on the other it draws your attention to the fact that it’s less The Song of the Summer than The Song of the Spring That Hasn’t Gone Away Yet.

The early contenders—Katy Perry’s “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)” and Lady Gaga’s “Edge of Glory” are still holding on in the top 10 of at least three charts. But they’ve been in those positions—and not #1—for weeks now. Perry’s is the only one to get close, hitting #1 on the Digital Songs chart, but not any others. (Perry may be undermining herself a little: her other single, "E.T.," is just now rapidly fading down the charts, after 22 weeks of placing.) Still, Perry is on the rise, though the song seems way too tepid to own the sultry, sexy days of summer. And Gaga peaked at #2 on Digital and 3 on the Hot 100.

Beyonce, who might have seemed a shoo-in considering her past dominance, has underperformed with her new album "4," currently in the top 30 with “Best Thing I Never Had,” still on its way up, but only at #20 on the Radio Play charts. And there's two not-very-good Britney Spears songs (“Till the World Ends” and “I Wanna Go”). Rihanna's last, "California King Bed,” never even came close to dominating—after 8 weeks on the Hot 100, her ballad's just hanging in at #47.

Instead, some other, lower-profile acts are keeping these artists from really dominating the summer. The most surprising is LMFAO, last week’s #1 on both the Hot 100 and Digital songs. The LA hip-hop/dance duo also top Gaga and Katy on the Pop and Airplay charts with “Party Rock Anthem” from their just-released “Sorry for Party Rocking.” It’s basically a piece of thumping electronica with some pretty respectable rapping; it's Black Eyed Peas lite. Then there’s Pitbull, whose sorta-house “Give Me Everything” tops Gaga and Perry on any chart you check.

And there are some oddities standing in the way of dominance. Afrojack's "Take Over Control"—released almost a year ago! And also a collaborator on the Pitbull track—is getting constant airplay in dance-friendly regional markets and, though just on the Hot 100 chart for four weeks, is listing at #75.

And burbling around are Lupe Fiasco, Nicki Minaj, and even the possibly-breaking-up Black Eyed Peas. It looks like instead of one bold song with a strong sound powered by a stronger personality, we're stuck this year with several interesting but almost interchangeable dance and rap tracks. And there's no comebacks. Even "Empire State of Mind," which has been ubiquitous since its rise, seems to have gone missing this summer. Is this the dawn of a new multi-polar pop age? A blip in chart dominance? A quirk of monitoring that would change if we included the increasingly relevant online outlets like, Pandora, or the just-launched U.S. incarnation of sleek European import Spotify? Whatever you think, it’s hard not to miss having a single, meaningless bit of pabulum to hang your sparkling summer headband on. Get it together, America. A dumb debt showdown is one thing, but there shouldn't be dissent in the matter of the Song of the Summer, where it really matters.

Chris Chafin writes for a few places about things you can listen to, play or consume. Here's his Tumblr, which isn't super compelling.

64 Comments / Post A Comment

Cord_Jefferson (#2,111)

Carly Simon made this year's song of the summer back in 1982:

becky@twitter (#14,213)

'song of the summer' = 'the song i am so sick of hearing'

KenWheaton (#401)

I vote for Jessie J's "Do It Like a Dude."

I have no earthly idea why.

Bittersweet (#765)

@KenWheaton: "Super Bass" by Nikki Minaj. I actually wish I heard it *more* on the radio, which is hard to pull off.

flossy (#1,402)

@Bittersweet Late to this party, but yes–this.

HereKitty (#2,713)

I feel like I can't go out of the house or turn on the radio (yes, I'm old, I listen to the radio) without hearing "The Lazy Song," by Bruno Mars. Just me?

katherine (#10,025)

@HereKitty A lot of things end up inescapable on the radio just because. Last year's was probably Kevin Rudolf's "I Made It (Cash Money Heroes).

clairedelune (#10,081)

@HereKitty Not just you. If I could cause physical harm to a song for having to hear it so often, it would be that one.

JoshUng (#11,371)

To me, the song of the summer is one I cannot avoid, no matter how hard I try. I managed to not hear either of Lady Gaga's recent singles in their entirety yet, so I don't think they can "be it." I haven't been able to avoid Katy Perry.

Does the song (TGIF) have to be sultry though? For my age, I'd say Fresh Prince's "Summertime" is the poster-child of summer songs, that wasn't exactly a "sexy song." And is TGIF that tepid, she does talk about a threesome in the chorus.

becky@twitter (#14,213)

@JoshUng drums, please!

KenWheaton (#401)

Can we talk about the Katy Perry song? Because I first heard it (and then heard it again and again and again) on the drive between Louisiana and New York. At first I thought it was Ke$ha song, what with all the drinking and threesomes and what not. But the video? Dear lord. Why is this put in a high-school setting? And what's Rebecca Black doing in there? She is 14! And how are her boobs as big as Katy Perry's? Again, she is 14. And Kenny G? What?!?!

Kevin Knox (#4,475)

@KenWheaton I believe the strategy is referred to as "Throw Everything at the Wall and See What Sticks".

Paul B@twitter (#13,135)

Last summer's song was definitely Usher and Will.I.Am's "OMG" I think one night in July we managed to just play that on the radio all night.

Sometimes it just works out that no one wrote an incredibly awesome pop hit that connects to most people on a base level. Kinda like that summer where the biggest movie was a documentary (March of the Penguins.)

@kenwheaton not to mention Hanson as the backyard band. I wouldn't recognize them now but it says it on the drumset.

KenWheaton (#401)

@Paul B@twitter I hadn't caught that. Thanks. I think.

Is this about the 5th year I've read a post somewhere about how there isn't any summer song anymore? Sorry kids but.

davidwatts (#72)

@SarahHeartburn that stings most of all. I definitely hear what you're saying, but . . . somehow it feels really true to me this year? And, I mean, I didn't make up the chart data. So, you know.

ericdeamer (#945)

Because I live in the tri-state and listen to A LOT of Hot 97/Power 105, I just assume that the "song of the summer" has to come from commercial hip-hop radio playlists. That said, there doesn't seem to be a single dominant track taking hold as you say. I actually had high hopes for that Jim Jones/Girl Talk collaboration which they actually did play on Hot 97 and seemed to have such crossover appeal, but it didn't really seem to gain any traction.

davidwatts (#72)

@ericdeamer I've heard that Drake song "I'm One" about 4000 times in the last week, but weirdly it's not anywhere on the charts. Also I don't really like that song.

ericdeamer (#945)

@davidwatts See the thing with Young Money/Cash Money is that they put out so many damn dingles that, though they dominate the airwaves in aggregate, none of them can really seem to take hold individually. There are just so many interchangeable songs with Drake, Rick Ross, and L'il Wayne in heavy rotation right now.

katherine (#10,025)

I'm not sure Afrojack's track is anywhere near enough of A Thing to be a "threat to dominance." It's barely a threat to existence.

I think that the song of the summer is just Bruno Mars's "Dynamite" for a second consecutive summer. It's on all the time. ALL the time. And I still can't help but throw my hands up in the air sometimes when it comes on. Like someone mentions above, there may not be a blockbuster this year, so if it ain't broke, Bruno Mars it.

Joel@twitter (#22,322)

@HeyThatsMyBike Taio Cruz sings "Dynamite".. not Bruno Mars.

semiserious (#2,430)

So basically we have a song that's a horrible pastiche of Dutch House at number one, a song produced by and featuring an actual Dutch House DJ at 2, with a song by said actual Dutch House DJ silently climbing up the charts.

Dear God, its the summer of Dutch House in America. May he help us all.

(anyway, I really need to get started on that article of the recent club-ification of the top 40 I've been meaning to get too)

@semiserious Yes, you should start that article. I was thinking someone should be making the documentary analogue to but involving (arguably) 2010 and tacky eurodance.

hypnosifl (#9,470)

@semiserious I don't know what Dutch House sounds like, but doesn't Party Rock Anthem kind of fall into the category of electro? Is Dutch House like electro-house or something? I need a Venn diagram.

Danzig! (#5,318)

@hypnosifl The glasses and hair are clearly electro. Basically these guys are shitty hand-me-down knockoffs of the French party electro that dominated the college circuit like 3 years ago (and was itself pretty shitty) before falling down into a cocaine-shaped hole. They're the Ke$ha to Justice's Uffie, if that makes sense (hopefully it doesn't).

It's too bad, because there's a lot of really interesting dutch house music that's too good to catch on. The way it usually works is, the kids in the immigrant districts come up with something and the white would-be trance gods take it and make it palatable to Top 40 stations.

hypnosifl (#9,470)

@John Thompson any examples of really interesting dutch house music I could try looking for?

PS "they're the Ke$ha to Justice's Uffie" is grammatically confusing to the extreme, if I knew nothing about the bands I would probably interpret it to mean "LFMAO is to Ke$ha as Justice is to Uffie", but since I doubt you have a very high opinion of either LFMAO or Ke$ha, and since I know Justice is a cool electro band and I learned from wikipedia that Uffie is a chick, I guess it's more likely you meant "LFMAO is to Justice as Ke$ha is to Uffie". But in that case your phrasing is kind of like going from "robin is to batman as jimmy olsen is to superman" to "robin is the jimmy olsen to batman's superman"…I mean that just sounds crazy, batman doesn't HAVE his own superman! Is that really like a normal way of phrasing analogies? I feel like I've heard people say similar things before but I can't believe such a convoluted way of speaking could have become popular.

semiserious (#2,430)

@cricket_pavillion I'm no expert in dirty dutch, but it basically has elements of electro but with that high pitched squeaky wobble.

vespavirgin (#1,422)

How could anyone be Black Eyed Peas LITE?? Wouldn't that be like non-existent?

s. (#775)

The correct answer is Dedication To My Ex (Miss You) by Lloyd ft. André 3000.

theharpoon (#10,705)

@s. Oh god, another relationship thing to worry about! How do I keep my vagina from changing!?!

1901gunner (#14,290)

I dunno what the "official" song of the summer is supposed to be, but my personal one is Foster the People's "Helena Beat." Most infectious chorus of the year (so far, but it'll be hard to beat).

ericdeamer (#945)

@1901gunner Foster the People is a great sort of summer (indie?) pop band. I prefer their lead single "Pumped up Kicks" though.

MsT (#18,229)

@1901gunner (and eric) — I am so with you on your nominations! Both EXCELLENT summer songs! I don't listen to the radio much, so I don't know how much airplay they're getting, but I have Foster the People in heavy rotation goin' on in my world. Then again, I'm more of an indie kinda gal and don't have much interest in the kinda crap suggestions thrown out above. Bad music. Really bad music, but people seem to love it. ??? I don't get it.

LondonLee (#922)

Is 'Go Outside' by Cults too indie to qualify? Or just not dumb enough?

theharpoon (#10,705)

@LondonLee That whole album is my summer song. Well, besides Rave On.

ericdeamer (#945)

That whole Cults albums is so great, and very summery. I guess it doesn't fit my insanely parochial, regional definition of "summer song" i.e. something you can imagine blasting out every single car and building in Brooklyn.

Pandemic Endemic (#3,825)

@LondonLee I've got the same rule for Song of the Summer:
If it ain't simultaneously blasting out of all the hoopties' windows at 23rd and Union and also out of the windows of all of the trust fund hippies living off of Broadway in Seattle then it ain't the Song of the Summer.

spanish bombs (#562)

The Cults just aren't good enough to qualify.

"Empire State of Mind" didn't come out till September 2009. It was the second single or so off of the Blueprint 3, which was released on September 8, 2009.
The correct song of the summer for 2009 was the ubiquitous 'I Got a Feeling" by the Black Eyed Peas.

davidwatts (#72)

@Secondary Lead@twitter I have had this pointed out to me in other venues, and I bow to you, you are correct, sir. Also "Crazy in Love" is from 2003, not 2004.

josh_speed (#97)

i might be off with my timing, and I are in Canada–which makes this nothing more than a report from the hinterland–but Rihanna's What's My Name? and Only Girl in the World are strong contenders up here, yo.

davidwatts (#72)

@josh_speed Different countries have very different charts, at least if you're talking about radio airplay. Australia has a Coldplay song in the top 5! And Maroon Five in the top 10! It's like 2003 over there!

clairedelune (#10,081)

@josh_speed Rihanna still gets tons of play round these Southern Ontario parts, but those two were more popular in the winter, no?

BUT we have Coldplay and Maroon 5 getting serious airplay so I really don't know where that puts us…

Joel@twitter (#22,322)

@josh_speed Here in Nova Scotia "What's My Name" & "Only Girl" are way past their prime. @claredelune is right, they were strong in the fall/winter. Radio stations are playing "S&M" more then both of those though, but not as heavy as they're playing "Last Friday Night", "Party Rock Anthem", "Give Me Everything" or "Superbass".

I was really rooting for Rihanna's "Man Down".. shame it never got a mainstream release.. I mean a reggae song fits the 'Song of the Summer' role perfectly, and Rihanna's already ruled summer 07' with "Umbrella".

what, no love for Martin Solveig's "Hello"?

hazmathilda (#839)

It's not Superbass? (it's Superbass)

spanish bombs (#562)

@hazmathilda we know.

UMDman (#12,325)

@hazmathilda No but it should be…

That Neyo-Pitbull track is the very poor man's Usher-Lil John joint. Pitbull is just terrible. Nice timely Inception reference, Pitbull!

Song of the Summer HAS to be Superbass. Also, I'm way into "Body Work/Fuck My Brains Out" by The-Dream. Don't get how that hasn't blown the fuck up yet.

I would dispute your chronology in a couple of places. First, Empire State of Mind wasn't a summer 2009 jam. The two singles from Blueprint 3 released prior to the album drop (on Sept. 11) were "Run This Town" and "Death of AutoTune." No one had really heard ESoM at that point, and it wasn't released as a single until the Fall.

Also, "Fuck You" was clearly last summer's song.

Joel@twitter (#22,322)

@Peter Finocchiaro@twitter He already admitted his error further up in the comments.

I agree with you though, "California Girls" was a June/July song.. Last August I would have gone with "Teenage Dream", "Love The Way You Lie" or "Fuck You".

El Knid (#10,432)

I would argue that the past few summers have all been without real Songs of the Summer in any traditional sense. I mean, shouldn't there be some sort of standard or threshold for universality? It's no secret that the itunes and pandoras and internets — not to mention the death of MTV as the last arbiter-titan of pop music — has changed the musical landscape. The pie is just being broken down into too many pieces for any one of them to be as large as they once were.

So at what point do we stop awarding the prize to the largest of the minority candidates, the way in presidential elections, we do at 51%? California Gurls may have been the most popular song of last summer, but did it achieve the level of cultural ubiquity to warrant the capitalization as Song of the Summer? When more people can hum the tune of a song in tween girl's vanity-press music video that people enjoyed making fun of on the internet than any of the "Songs of the Summer" in recent memory, isn't it time to admit that we're not talking about the same type of phenomenon anymore? And aren't all these rhetorical questions getting annoying?

The way I see it, the last true Song of the Summer was Gnarl's Barkley's Crazy, and unless there's a huge sea change in media consumption in the future, it could end up being the last ever.

Danzig! (#5,318)

@El Knid "Fuck You" was just as ubiquitous as "Crazy" last year, just… not on commercial radio.

SRyder (#18,235)

Here's the answer: "Party Rock Anthem." I think the writer was trying to pass it off quickly ("It lacks panache" etc.) so that it wouldn't contradict the whole point of the article. But I hear "Party Rock Anthem" all over the place (I'm in LA). And it is a song that lots of people seem to want to blast from their ride. And it's number one on Billboard, so, by definition, it's being played a lot.

Joel@twitter (#22,322)

@SRyder I was just at a concert the other day, and during one of the intermissions they played "Party Rock Anthem" and the whole audience exploded.. It didn't even compare to when the live acts (Pitbull) were performing. That song is just epic.

Joel@twitter (#22,322)

@Joel@twitter But at the same time.. it's missing something.

tumblingwall (#8,185)


dr annabel lies (#14,107)

@tumblingwall YES

Rod T (#33)

I'm too cool for any of this.

markdarky (#18,713)

ya’ll trippin.

“can’t you hear that boom, badoom, boom, badoom, bass?”

yeah that’s that super bass

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