Handicapping the Summer Song of 2015

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It was hard to hand out the Summer Song of 2014 trophy with much brio to any song. In the end, I didn’t. That trick that only works once, but I’m feeling pretty good about this year’s field, and having another pleasant surprise unveiled every few days, all of which could give top 40 back some of the energy it needs.

A month ago, all of EDM and rhythmic pop’s major acts were just starting to take their positions at radio. So it’s interesting that the fastest-growing of those now are David Guetta with the hip-hop “Hey Mama” and his collaborator Nicki Minaj with a dance record, “The Night Is Still Young.” DJ Snake & AlunaGeorge’s “You Know You Like It” and Skrillex & Diplo’s “Where Are U Now” are next in the queue. Zedd, who led a month ago with “I Want You to Know,” has gotten back in line with “Beautiful Now.” (Ed Note: Eighteen months ago, Justin Bieber’s presence on the Skrillex/Diplo song hardly seemed like a compulsory mention.)

Wiz Khalifa’s “See You Again” will almost certainly be the biggest chart record of the summer, and the most phenomenal. If you were willing to give Mariah Carey’s “We Belong Together” the Summer Song of 2005, then the discussion is done. But as far as I’m concerned, “the Summer Song” is necessarily uptempo (or reggae), and if it’s elegiac, it’s only in subtext (see Chic’s “Good Times”).

There are also a number of already-established uptempo hits that will be big summer hits, but aren’t on many shortlists for summer song: Walk the Moon’s “Shut Up and Dance” (only a summer song because it took top 40 nine months to find it); Jason Derulo’s “Want to Want Me”; Tove Lo’s “Talking Body.” Fifth Harmony’s “Worth It” is growing as fast as most of the contenders, but it’s like Karmin’s “Brokenhearted.” I made that a weekly winner a few years ago, based on its ubiquity, and many balked.

But Fifth Harmony doesn’t have to have the summer song – just the radio breakthrough that they’ve been building to for several singles now. In fact, for several of the acts below, summer will propel them to the legitimate hit that they’ve needed as either a breakthrough or comeback (like Shaggy’s “I Need Your Love,” one of those steadily-growing-in-relative-stealth records of recent weeks).

As is usually the case now, a few of the songs that were worth discussing last month have slowed. Carly Rae Jepsen’s “I Really Like You” and “King” by Years and Years are both under a +100 spin gain. I’m not giving up on the latter yet. Having spent some time tuning around internationally, its only competition for this week’s “number one record on Earth” is Omi’s “Cheerleader.”

Maroon 5, “This Summer’s Gonna Hurt – They are the leading act in the format and they have a mid-to-uptempo song with “summer” in the title, albeit a typically cynical Maroon take on it. There’s too strong a field to just give it to them, but it’s as good a combination as an act could hope for. And having interacted with their fans on Twitter recently, I take Maroon 5 very seriously now.

The Weeknd, “I Can’t Feel My Face” – Of those songs not yet released, easily the buzziest, although there’s also a yet-unheard Macklemore and the unconfirmed specter of Miley Cyrus. The last huge summer-song contender that waited until early June was “I Gotta Feeling,” but this will arrive with instant momentum based on PD comments, including the one comparing it to Michael Jackson.

Taylor Swift w/Kendrick Lamar, “Bad Blood – If she’d released “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” or “Shake It Off” a few weeks earlier, she could have had a summer champion already. Like Maroon, she doesn’t have much to prove beyond having the summer single now, and this is the first time she’s gone aggressively after it. And she’s made a “Thriller”-like event out of a fourth single.

Omi, “Cheerleader – It’s dangerous to be an early summer-song contender. But as previously noted, “Cheerleader” is reggae and EDM in a unique package. It’s an antidote to the darkness of Maroon 5 or the forced jolliness of all the “last night of your life” party anthems.

Major Lazer & DJ Snake f/M0, “Lean On – It’s growing steadily, though not exponentially at this moment, but “Lean On” is already a proven international hit. It is also the song that got the largest number of mentions overall from various PDs. And reader Steve Sobczuk predicts, “Huge on Shazam. Radio will catch up in 4-6 weeks.”

Britney Spears & Iggy Azalea, “Pretty Girls – I’ve heard a few suggestions that this will run its course quickly. Had a drop in spins after its first-week event airplay, then recovered. It has the lighter-weight “fun factor” that some complained was missing from “Fancy” (or maybe we just got used to that sound after another nine months).

Adam Lambert, “Ghost Town – Not exactly a feel-good song, but breezy, sort of uptempo, and certainly the truly different-sounding song on the radio. If nothing else, perhaps the real hit that has eluded him for the last four years.

Andy Grammer, “Honey I’m Good – If top 40 had acknowledged this when it first started to sell and react, it would have been a spring hit. Instead, the format is coming on board just in time for summer. Again, it doesn’t have to be the summer song to be an accomplishment for Grammer, S-Curve and Hollywood.

Flo Rida f/Robin Thicke & Verdine White, “I Don’t Like It, I Love It – Same goes for rehabilitating Robin Thicke. This is still just gearing up this week, but already has the early vote of WXSS Milwaukee PD Brian Kelly. It has the right breeziness, plus nice momentum after Flo Rida’s equally uncharacteristic “G.D.F.R.” And as reader Andy Safnauer notes, “Those guys have great track records with big defining songs.”

Elle King, “Ex’s And Oh’s – Currently making its way through alternative, triple-A and adult top 40 in the “fit in where you get in” strategy of breaking a pop record these days. It won’t likely be the song of summer – it will take most of the summer to even get on mainstream’s docket, most likely – but really, it’s fun and uptempo and why shouldn’t it be a summer pop hit?

American Authors, “Go Big or Go Home – Just released but clearly a premeditated summer anthem, and already with some topspin from an NBA sync.

Allen Stone, “Freedom – Capitol’s Patty Morris wrote in a month ago on its behalf. Now moving up the Adult Top 40 chart at a good clip.

Finally, WWCK Flint, Mich., PD Jerry Noble, who has a track record on this topic (early on Kid Rock’s “All Summer Long” and “Blurred Lines”), writes, “Nothing’s hit me as an automatic yet. But I like Owl City’s ‘Verge’; if it survives the graduation pigeonhole, it feels like no responsibilities, windows down, and vacation.”

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