Handicapping The Song Of Summer 2017: Who’s The One?


Seen one way, the Summer Song 2017 race is starting off as Bieber vs. Bieber. That’s hardly surprising, since Bieber has been competing with himself via features and multiple singles from his own projects for nearly two years. And there’s a reported collaboration with David Guetta on the way. And much of Bieber’s competition is from the former teen-idol ranks as well, including Selena Gomez.

But if you go by the lead artists, the battle between I’m The One and Despacito is DJ Khaled (f/Bieber, Quavo, Chance the  Rapper and Lil Wayne) vs. Luis Fonsi (with Daddy Yankee and Bieber), which is awesome.

Khaled, who came to prominence as a personality on WEDR Miami, has been the DJ/impresario behind a string of R&B and Rhythmic hits for more than a decade. Fonsi has been successful at Spanish-language radio for more than 15 years. There was a brief attempt to work him to CHR on the heels of Ricky Martin, Marc Anthony, and Enrique Iglesias. Now, he’s outlasted even Iglesias’ multiple CHR comebacks.

“Despacito,” already a No. 1 Billboard Hot 100 hit, is also yet another recent vote of confidence for reggaeton — dismissed as a fad in the early ‘00s, but never really gone. It’s also And for the “Danza Kuduro”-type Latin smashes that have found a summer audience in Europe for more than five years. (It’s also not the only representation of a Latin chart hit or hitmaker in contention this summer, joined by songs from Play N Skillz and J. Balvin. 

There is a returning entrant in Drake, whose “One Dance” was a major summer song, and who has made his R&B (as opposed to rap) songs a category unto themselves, continuing with “Passionfruit.” There are two intriguing entries from Calvin Harris: Slide and Rollin’.”  If I were going to waive the tempo requirement, it would be for Harris’ latter foray into ‘70s-style jazz/R&B fusion, which feels not just like summer, but Summer Madness.” 

And there are a lot of artists who grew into the format from teen act status.

  • Selena Gomez, whose Bad Liar is my favorite by her since “Same Old Love,” and a different sounding record at a time when different is at a premium, especially in the summer song race. At this writing, it’s the fastest growing record at CHR.
  • Shawn Mendes, There’s Nothing Holding Me Back — Also made different by its power-chords, which haven’t been heard on the radio recently, and give it the energy missing from other recent hits.
  • Miley Cyrus, whose Malibu sports a Lana Del Rey-ish title and feel, but a much sunnier disposition.
  • Liam Payne f/Quavo’s Strip That Down, the most obvious candidate of offerings from four One Direction members at the moment;

So far, the Summer Song field hasn’t done much to fix pop radio’s tempo issue; there’s nothing at a “Can’t Stop the Feeling”/“Get Lucky”/”Blurred Lines” energy level. In making each year’s handicap more than a survey of this week’s “most added” songs, I’ve always depended on “uptempo or breezy/reggae/tropical” as a qualifier. But a lot of songs qualify as reggae/tropical-inflected now; it’s joyful that’s in short supply. I’m enjoying the success of Kendrick Lamar’s Humble, but is it up/fun? Is Camila Cabello’s “Cryin’ in the Club, which would certainly fit on the ex-idol list?

The left-field battle is particularly interesting because competing for the Summer Song means competing with almost anybody who has ever had one, or been a finalist. These days, the veterans start queuing up in March or earlier. Sometimes, their first attempts are gone by Memorial Day and they’re starting again. Switch is the second single in formation from Iggy Azalea. Katy Perry, who won with “California Gurls” and contended with “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)” from the same project in consecutive years, is already on the third single from her still forthcoming project with Swish Swish.” 

Also worth mentioning:

  • Sir Sly, High – The fast-breaking Alternative hit is up. It’s different. It’s the most attention getting record in a long time. Could it get to Top 40 with that title and subject matter? It’s not like summer songs are typically about moderation. For instance, there’s …
  • Train, Drink Up  It’s been available for months, but it’s just scaling the Adult Top 40 charts now. Lots of calculation here, but also tempo.

I could rail here about how, especially after “Can’t Stop the Feeling,” much of the field feels even more informed by previous summer hits than ever. That’s not necessarily a stopper by itself. When “Every Breath You Take” came out, everybody noted with amusement the part that sounded like “More Than I Can Say” by Leo Sayer, and then moved on to make it a defining all-time summer song.

Finally, I understand that some people may not be up for a discussion of the summer song in a week marred by the atrocity of the Manchester Arena concert bombing. I felt that was a topic unto itself and wanted to address it here. I have long been thinking about what people want from music at times like these. The two most topical summer songs come from very different places:

  • Paramore, Hard Times – Being accepted more quickly at Alternative than Top 40, so far, but I never hear that distinction with them the way that radio seems to. And it wins points for both tempo and creativity.
  • Chris Janson, Fix a Drink – Just getting started at Country (which always has its own Summer Song battle) now. Like Paramore, one of the songs that both tries to address the tenor of our times and salve it.

So what are your thoughts on Summer Song of 2017 and the contenders so far?

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Sean Ross is author of the Ross on Radio newsletter and VP of music and programming of Edison Research.

1 Comment


  1. Once it breaks at Alternative, I think some attention should be payed to Misterwives “Coloring Outside The Lines” for a big summer and crossover success. Seems like the kind of Alt crossover that has done well in past years and looks like they’re being groomed for stardom.

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