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What The 2017 Summer Song Won’t Be

In Germany, the Summer Song 2017 battle is already decided. On Billboard, “Despacito” has been No. 1 for so many weeks that it would seem like they’re only holding off on the coronation to try and keep the suspense going.

I’m still not ready. I like that a Spanish-language hit could be Song of the Summer (as has been happening around the world for years, see that German list). I like seeing Luis Fonsi have an English-language hit after nearly 20 years. I don’t like that the title translates to “Slowly,” in this summer of tempo deprivation.

But we have reached the point where a lot of the songs that were contenders at summer’s outset have peaked or fallen away. Some of them were records I would have much preferred to do better. And the list says something about the current state of pop music.

Selena Gomez, “Bad Liar” – Pity, because it was the most interesting, most different sounding record in recent memory. And unlike some of the other candidates, you can’t say it didn’t get its shot in terms of major-market support. I’m not entirely giving up hope that people will finally get it, and it will start to test posthumously (see Adele, “Water Under The Bridge”). But that won’t make it Summer Song 2017.

Calvin Harris, “Slide” – He helped define today’s EDM-inflected pop. Then he steered away from it in favor of retro-flavored R&B. But not “Can’t Stop The Feeling”-type retro-flavored Michael Jackson-channeling R&B. If nothing else, he deserves credit for moving on from songs like “Sweet Nothing” when that sort of melancholy became epidemic in pop. But I hope “Feels” will kick in soon. (It did go 22-3 in U.K. airplay this week.)

Iggy Azalea, “Switch”; Katy Perry, “Swish Swish” – Two former queens of summer. Two artists whose projects were already experiencing difficulties when these songs appeared in May. Two relatively fast casualties.

Paramore, “Hard Times” – It attempted something difficult, acknowledging the tenor of the times, but in a fun, playful way with a little “Hollaback Girl”-style goofyness. I first heard it on a “Jukebox Jury” panel at Canadian Music Week where it quickly became clear that PDs didn’t know what to make of it. The irony was that the panel had just spent ten minutes bemoaning the lack of tempo at their formats.

Miley Cyrus, “Malibu” – Nobody can say she didn’t get her shot from radio, either. As a radio record, it was always more intriguing than delicious—happy, but never quite fun. Personally, I liked that there was no twerking or posing provocatively with construction equipment involved. It saddens me to think that a truly grown-up Miley may not have been what people wanted. 

Drake, “Passionfruit” – It didn’t have the shock-of-the-new that “One Dance” did last summer. But a few weeks ago I went to a market where it was still a hit, and it sounded pretty good.

Kendrick Lamar, “Humble” – But it will be the song of the summer at Urban radio, where it’s still No. 1 this week. And its musical footprint will be far bigger than its pop chart showing.

Camila Cabello, “Crying In The Club”; Fifth Harmony, “Down” – “Crying in the Club” has already peaked. “Down” is still building, but not fast enough to dominate what’s left of summer. It says something about the musical times that both halves of the act responsible for “Worth It” would choose mid-to-down records for their crucial first post-split singles.

Train, “Drink Up” – Next to “There’s Nothing Holding Me Back,” this was the most obviously calibrated summer single of the year: the energy of “Cake By the Ocean” grafted on to a lyric about partying. It could have given Train (yet another) “All Summer Long”-type comeback. But it didn’t go to Hot AC until summer was nigh. So even if it had exploded on contact, a journey to CHR in time would have been difficult.

Jax Jones, “Instruction – I’m actually not writing this one off yet; instead, I’m bugging you again. It’s fun. It’s up. It’s a party anthem. It goes through changes and does quirky little things throughout. But it’s still meandering around the U.K. charts. And it sounded great on KNHC (C89) Seattle, which has found a radio edit.

Meanwhile, I’m giving Week 7 to Shawn Mendes, since “There’s Nothing Holding Me Back” does have both tempo and momentum this week. So the count is now:

  • Week 1 – DJ Khaled, “I’m The One”
  • Week 2 – Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee, “Despacito”
  • Week 3 – Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee, “Despacito”
  • Week 4 – Drake, “Passionfruit” (because I was in a market where it was still very much a summer smash). I designated “I’m The One” as the runner-up at the time, although it could have been  either that song or “Despacito”
  • Week 5 – Shawn Mendes, “There’s Nothing Holding Me Back”
  • Week 6 – Shawn Mendes, “There’s Nothing Holding Me Back”
  • Week 7 – Shawn Mendes, “There’s Nothing Holding Me Back”

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

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