It was easy for me to call a song of the summer. I was able to choose “Ride” by Twenty One Pilots by late July. At that moment, I could pretty much count on hearing “Ride” on any pop or Alternative station I listened to for any sustained period. If my monitoring of the infinite dial covered six stations in a day, I would hear it six times. And because “Ride” was still going for No. 1 on the CHR chart throughout the summer, its CHR airplay is only peaking this week. With “Heathens” climbing the charts at Top 40 as well, that also makes Twenty One Pilots one of the few acts to pull off two growing songs at a time.
But I knew “Ride” was going to be a contrarian choice. And I’ve also enjoyed watching the jockeying between the leading contenders: Justin Timberlake, Drake (also with multiple hits), and Sia. So a few days ago, I threw the question open to readers. “What was your summer song?”
Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop the Feeling” went into Memorial Day with the biggest “presumptive winner” momentum of any song since “California Gurls” in 2010. It went to, and fell out of the No. 1 slot, quickly, thus setting the stage for a Daft Punk vs. Robin Thicke scenario with a late steal by Sia’s “Cheap Thrills.” And for those who follow Billboard magazine’s summer tally, Drake’s “One Dance” overtook Timberlake quickly and remained at No. 1 for much of the summer, until “Cheap Thrills” took over.
There was also not complete enthusiasm about “Can’t Stop the Feeling.” It wasn’t “SexyBack,” it was more a hybrid of “Suit And Tie,” (or one of Timberlake’s other polite ventures into neo-Michael Jackson territory), and the Weeknd’s “Can’t Feel My Face,” last summer’s Summer Song runner-up. I’ve tried to say that subtly all summer. Regular ROR reader Steve Sobczuk was less so. “Too bad that ‘Can’t Stop the Feeling’ is a stale rehash of what Justin was doing better almost 15 years ago with ‘Rock Your Body,’” he wrote.
Even some of the votes on behalf of “Can’t Stop” were qualified in that way. My Edison Research colleague Nicole Beniamini, after saying that “Cheap Thrills” was her personal favorite, still thought Timberlake “hit a broader demo, and while it can be considered vanilla ice cream, I bet vanilla ice cream was still the most popular flavor of the summer.”
But New England radio veteran Steve McVie Solomon writes, “JT for me all the way. ‘Can’t Stop The Feeling’ still packs every dance floor and has been in power all summer, gets requests, and is this summer’s ‘Blurred Lines,’ ‘Uptown Funk,’ and ‘Happy.’”
And when I made my case for “Ride” earlier this summer, WWWQ (Q100) Atlanta OM Rob Roberts encouraged me not to make too much of Timberlake’s early peak, noting, “more than a few stations have moved ‘Can’t Stop’ back into power rotation over the last two weeks. They dumped it too quickly the first time. The song was better than they gave it credit for and it’s still testing like a monster.”
The success of “Can’t Stop The Feeling” also managed to quickly dash the hopes of any other artist who was hoping to launch a Summer Song-driven comeback this summer. When we first handicapped the summer in mid-April, there were new releases from former summer acts Enrique Iglesias, Jennifer Lopez, Iggy Azalea, and Will.i.am. Timberlake was a few weeks from release at that time, but “Can’t Stop” was officially the summer comeback from the moment it arrived.
There was no shortage of enthusiasm for Sia. One industry person who was involved with both contenders (which were both on RCA) wrote, “It just spent its fifth week at No. 1 at pop. That’s longer than any song this year and she did it in July and August. It’s not even close. She upstaged everybody.”
But in the end, the reader feedback was almost 2;1 in favor of Justin. Most of the voting was in favor of one of those two songs with a few scattered votes for everything else. In order, the runners up were Twenty One Pilots, Chainsmokers’ “Don’t Let Me Down” and Drake’s “One Dance.” The latter included reader Josh Hosler who noted that he felt compelled to vote for Drake because it was the unavoidable song that the kids got, but he didn’t. (His personal record of summer, he noted, was the “Hamilton” cast album.)
As for Chainsmokers, it was certainly the record that set the tone for pop radio (with an assist from Major Lazer’s 2015 “Lean On,” which certainly informed both that song and Sia this year). “Probably the strongest follow-up from a relatively new artist in years,” wrote J.D. Garfield of KWYD Boise, Idaho. “That song will be on Rhythmic CHR and CHR stations for years to come.”
Finally, there was the handful of readers who chose a summer song that wasn’t a mainstream radio hit at all. (One reader posted a link to First Class’ 1974 summer song, “Beach Baby.”) I’m still wading through all of your suggestions, but I’ll send you off with this one from my former Billboard co-worker, Comma Music’s Michael Paoletta.