by Chris Chafin
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 Turntable.fm, 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.