Attempting to pick the Song of the Summer before Memorial Day is usually a fool's errand, so you can only imagine the difficulty in trying to produce one. A couple of years ago, NPR's Planet Money did an episode on the creation of what was sure to be 2011's hottest Fourth of July jam. The label started crafting it all the way back in the spring of 2010, and their efforts resulted in … Rihanna's "Man Down," which peaked at 59 on the Billboard Hot 100.
So as you can see, even the best-laid plans don't guarantee success. To figure out what is going to bubble up to the top of the pop charts this summer, let's review what has made it to the summit in the last few years.
(For consistency, I used Billboard's Hot 100 chart; here are the archives.)
2012 -- Carly Rae Jepsen, "Call Me Maybe"
This was the biggest blowout in recent memory, as nothing could touch the Canadian songstress's hit single. Getting an early endorsement (and video) from Justin Bieber and friends, Jepsen's entry gathered momentum during the spring before laying waste to competitors all summer, taking over No. 1 on June 23 and refusing to relinquish the crown until mid-August. If you listened to any radio countdown, attended a baseball game, or just went on the Internet for more than five minutes, you were 100 percent guaranteed to hear about skin showing through ripped jeans and hot, windy nights. Gotye's "Somebody That I Used To Know" put up a valiant effort, but it simply peaked too early to have any chance at the crown, while Maroon 5's "Payphone" just couldn't close the gap late.
There was, of course, a backlash, but if you find no joy watching this video, I don't know why you're even listening to pop music:
2011 -- LMFAO, "Party Rock Anthem"
Adele's "Rolling in the Deep" (which first hit charts in December of 2010) peaked just a little too early, allowing Redfoo and SkyBlu (previously best known for an appearance on "Real World: Cancun") to slide in and wrest the crown away with "Party Rock Anthem." After "Deep" dominated May and June, the top spot became "Anthem's" for the rest of the summer, interrupted by the one-week reign of Pitbull's "Give Me Everything." If you wanted to make the case that it was really Adele who came out on top in '11, I wouldn't fight you, but considering the early release date and how Billboard's metrics went with LMFAO, I will stick with the gentlemen who gave us memorable, carefully crafted songs like "Yes," "Shots," and "La La La." (A special nod to Katy Perry's "Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)," which hung around the top of the charts for most of the season.)
2010 -- Katy Perry feat. Snoop Dogg, "California Gurls"
If you want a case study in how to build the perfect summer song in a musical laboratory, here you go. Take Perry, who already had one summer crown (more on that momentarily), and just randomly insert as many suggestive beach lyrics as you can ("Daisy Dukes/bikinis on top," "sand in our stilettos"). Toss in a candy-themed video featuring your singer in various states of undress and a rap interlude from Snoop, and your dominance is basically assured. Eminem's "Love the Way You Lie" was a game challenger but came on too late; the "Gurls" earworm had already burrowed too deeply into the brains of America to be extracted.
2009 -- Black Eyed Peas, "I Gotta Feeling"
The summer of 2009 featured a host of worthy contenders for the crown, with Taylor Swift ("You Belong With Me"), Drake ("Best I Ever Had"), Jay-Z, Kanye West and Rihanna ("Run This Town"), and a late entry from Miley Cyrus ("Party in the U.S.A."), but none of them came close to touching the Black Eyed Peas, whose "Feeling" sat at No. 1 from July 11 through mid-October. Do you know which artist they unseated from the top spot? Themselves. "Boom Boom Pow" became No. 1 on April 18, meaning that the Black Eyed Peas had the most popular song in America for seven months. What made "Feeling" so ubiquitous, destined to be in the collection of wedding DJs until the end of time? Perhaps will.i.am sums it up best: "It's dedicated to all the party people out there in the world that want to go out and party." Well said.
2008 -- Katy Perry, "I Kissed a Girl"
According to Billboard, only two artists have won Song of the Summer more than once: Mariah Carey (who owns all kinds of chart records) and Katy Perry, whose debut single was No. 1 from early July through mid-August. She fended off some fierce competition from savvy vets (Coldplay's "Viva la Vida") and chart rookies (Lil Wayne's "Lollipop" and Leona Lewis's "Bleeding Love") before finally ceding the No. 1 slot to Rihanna's "Disturbia." The Grammy-nominated track helped propel Perry to stardom and presumably assisted in sales of cherry Chapstick.
So what did we learn?
Mainly obvious insights, but let us lay it out:
- Upbeat will help you win, but you can go a little darker and still compete (Eminem, Adele).
- You need to be No. 1 in mid-July. You can be starting your stay or just about to leave, but that's the only time when all five of the winners occupied the top spot.
- You don't want to be released too early, but if you were released early, you should probably be No. 1 or an Internet sensation at this very moment.
- It doesn't hurt to have an attractive female involved.
Let us cast a wide, vague net and potentially snare the 2013 champion before we even get to May:
Daft Punk, "Get Lucky": The lead single from their new album, "Get Lucky" is already getting rave reviews, is catchy as hell, and can easily be converted into a Michael Jackson song. This is an early, heavy favorite.
The next single that Rihanna releases: I joked about the failure of "Man Down" above, but Rihanna is usually a fierce competitor for the Song of the Summer crown, winning it with "Umbrella" in 2007. "Stay" is rising up the charts, but if she goes with a new single (perhaps "Jump," which features a "Pony" sample) by late May or early June, she could become a two-time champion.
The first single that Katy Perry releases from her new album: Perry is formidable, with two wins and some strong entries that fell just short ("Last Friday Night," "Wide Awake"). She's halfway finished with her third studio album, so we could be seeing a single in the near future ("California Gurls" was released on May 7).
Beyoncé,“Standing on the Sun”: It seemed that it was going to be "Grown Woman" (the one from the Pepsi commercials), but I would guess “Sun” (the one from the H&M commercials) is your likely summer entry from Mrs. Carter, considering A) She’s promoting swimwear in the ad featuring the song and B) It is called “Standing on the Sun.”
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis feat. Ray Dalton, "Can't Hold Us": If "Thrift Shop" had come out later, it would have dominated the season (you'll notice its presence in the trailers for both "Pain & Gain" and "The Internship"). If LMFAO can win it, so can "Can't Hold Us," which is currently sitting near the top of every chart and iTunes ranking.
Considering the above suggestions are almost certainly wrong, what's your pick for 2013's Song of the Summer?