Handicapping The Summer Song of 2018


For Top 40 radio, there’s a lot riding on the Summer Song of 2018 candidates. The mother/daughter coalition is beyond frayed. Tempo is negligible (I heard a major-market CHR segue this week from Post Malone, “Rockstar,” to Max, “Lights Down Low”). April PPM ratings were dismaying even for some stations that had withstood the format downturn. The format needs its moment in the sun.

So make it count, radio. As has been the case for the nearly 15 years that we’ve been writing about the summer song, this isn’t a listing of every likely summer hit. It’s songs with some degree of tempo or tropicality. Drake’s “Nice for What” is a hit, but it’s not his “One Dance”/”Passionfruit”-type entry. There are also at least 2-3 major titles likely to drop over the next 14 days. And at his current rate of productivity, an uptempo Drake song is probably on the way, too. But among the candidates so far:

Calvin Harris & Dua Lipa, “One Kiss” — Ever since naming a song “Summer,” he’s been a reliable entrant in the Summer Song derby. But at this time of homogeneity, Harris has also been surprising, going from “This Is What You Came For” to “Feels” to “One Kiss.” In the U.S., it’s top 15 already. In the U.K., it’s this week’s sales No. 1. And among Facebook friends who weighed in on the topic, it’s one of the most mentioned. (There were also votes for Lipa’s solo “I.D.G.A.F.”)

Ariana Grande, “No Tears Left to Cry” — A year ago, after the Manchester Arena bombing, I asked “what then do people need the Summer Song to be in 2017? Does it need to take on the weight of its surroundings? Or will it be a vessel through which people keep calm and carry on?” This month, Grande, whom I already admired immensely for returning to Manchester for the One Love concert, answered that question herself. “No Tears Left” is already top 10 and the No. 1 single in the U.K.

Selena Gomez, “Back to You” – This time a year ago, the Gomez-produced “13 Reasons Why” was propelling the unlikely “The Night We Met” by Lord Huron into pop culture (if not CHR radio). This year, its powers are being harnessed for Gomez’s own Summer Song entry, which goes into Memorial Day with a nearly 3,000-spin increase.

Backstreet Boys, “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart”Summer has long been a vehicle for artist comebacks; now we’re at the comebacks-within-comebacks stage. Eight years ago, Pitbull powered Enrique Iglesias and Jennifer Lopez back to the forefront. Now, Iglesias and Pitbull are hoping to help each other on “Move to Miami,” while Lopez is going straight to DJ Khaled and Cardi B in her quest for “Dinero.”

On one hand, a Backstreet Boys comeback would be the wildest of them all. But late ‘90s gold from Backstreet, ‘N Sync, and Spice Girls have all re-emerged at AC radio to some degree since last summer. And when CHR is at a crossroads, PDs often embrace comebacks. There’s also room for BSB to reclaim a category they helped reinvent 20 years ago. Charlie Puth, “Done for Me”; BTS, “Fake Love,” and 5 Seconds of Summer, “Youngblood,” are pursuing the title, but Shawn Mendes went for something more sober, a year after “There’s Nothing Holding Me Back.”

Cardi B, “I Like It” – The success of “Despacito” last summer led to a boomlet of reggaetón crossovers during the fall. As this summer begins, many of the similarly flavored contenders are coming not from Latin radio, but bespoke collaborations such as the cleverly concocted Liam Payne/J. Balvin, “Familiar.” This one serves an additional purpose. As CHR continues to wrestle with acknowledging streaming-driven Hip-Hop superstars as more than featured artists on pop singles, it’s the most accessible record Cardi B  could have possibly provided. For several readers, the favorite of those songs not already confirmed hits.

Childish Gambino, “This Is America” – It’s not summer song frivolity; it is (among many other things) a comment on summer song frivolity. “This Is America” is a column unto itself, but it will be a phenomenon that takes place during the summer. Rich Appel writes, “The first time I heard/saw it, it reminded me of the first thing I heard in another near-song-of-summer, Edwin Starr’s ‘War.’”

There are a few titles already on the U.K. charts worth flagging. WILI New London’s Kevin Pilz mentions Anne Marie’s “2002,” also channeling nostalgia for that era. Years & Years’ “If You’re Over Me” draws from both their usual late-‘80s Euro-inspiration and the acoustic whimsy of the early 2010s.  And finally …

George Ezra, “Paradise” — Nothing seems more unlikely at this moment in CHR’s travails than finding an uptempo summer hit on the Triple-A chart. But “Feel It Still” was an unlikely crossover, too, until it wasn’t. So think of “Paradise” as the U.K. pop hit that just hasn’t come over here yet. And although he wrote this himself, if Ezra had deliberately teamed with Max Martin in search of the bubblegummiest possible version of what he does, would it not sound like this?

Tiesto & Dzeko f/Preme & Post Malone, “Jackie Chan” – I heard this for the first time about eight hours after this column was first posted. “If every Post Malone single or feature could have tempo like this, CHR’s issues would be over.” There was a rapid chorus of agreement. I’ll be writing about any songs that drop after Memorial Day in subsequent weeks, but this list felt incomplete without a late addition.

And now, your comments on the Summer Song of 2018 are welcome.

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  1. Sean Ross says

    Besides Rich Appel’s nod for “This Is America,” I also wanted to mention a few others at the outset that came in from readers and Facebook friends. Keith Mitchell mentioned Lovelytheband’s “Broken,” certainly the song that most parallels where “Feel It Still” was last year (both as an Alternative #1 and apparently in the band’s naming convention).

    Anthony Easton and Rob Reinhart both cited Pharrell Williams x Camila Cabello, “Sangria Wine.”

    Steve McKay chimed in for Panic! At The Disco’s “Say Amen (Saturday Night).” “I want a band from 12 years ago to get it,” replied one commenter. But the field this summer is BSB and Enrique. So no sense in closing the (obscured) door on Panic.

    There were also a lot of overall “I haven’t heard it yet”-type comments, including Jerry Noble, the man who brought us Kid Rock’s “All Summer Long” in the early days of this column. As I look over the field (and this slightly shorter than normal column) I feel good about several of the contenders. But I don’t necessarily see the depth. But hang in there, because…

    “A big record is supposed to drop next week, but I haven’t heard it yet,” says music industry vet Michael Becker.

    1. Eric Jon Magnuson says

      Is that “big record” the official World Cup anthem (performed by Nicky Jam, Will Smith, and Era Istrefi, and produced by Diplo)?

  2. Theater of My Mind says

    Jennifer Lopez – Dinero f/DJ Khaled & Cardi B. – Dinero.
    This one’s got that same kind of Latin & Spanglish crossover appeal that propelled Despacito onto the chart for the entire summer last year. It’s got a superstar lineup, marks the return of J.Lo to CHR — and she’s never sounded better. It’s infectious as hell and just sounds like summer. I don’t know what else is coming but at this point this sounds like the one to me.

  3. dplantz says

    I’ve felt for about a year or two now that a fusion of future bass and alt-pop would make a good, summer song production formula.

    Think Chainsmokers meets Gin Blossoms. I think you could consider both to be “Modern AC” (Of their respective eras) with the Chainsmokers / future bass pulling in the daughters and the nostalgic, slightly jangly alt-pop (Gin Blossoms) pulling in their moms.

    Something kinda like this: https://soundcloud.com/user-808279687/thirty-something

    1. elcartero says

      I think you’ve identified where Country is going to go next.

      1. dplantz says

        I agree to some extent. I’m not an expert on the format but feels like it’s approaching its own “Jewel to Tool” situation and I wonder how much leeway the core audience has for that much EDM influence. Considering Maren Morris’ future bass-heavy “The Middle” was farmed to pop, I don’t know if the core, country crowd would go for it? Yet, FGL with Bebe Rexha performs really well… So I dunno.

        I guess, by the time the country audience comes around to Future Bass as ‘acceptable’, my assumption is that the EDM crowd will be another genre or two down the line (Thus not being able to capitalize on the mother/daughter coalition). I think that’s why I look to successes like “Something Just Like This” from Coldplay and seeing opportunities for alternative artists to jump in.

  4. radiomaverick says

    The first song that came to mind when I saw the title of your article was, One Kiss by Calvin Harris & Dua Lipa. Right now, this is the only stand out. But who knows. Something can really blow up in the next month or so.
    The problem lately for CHR is, the lack of great ‘direct to CHR’ songs. And some CHRs are not always willing to go to those big hits from other formats like alternative that their audience does know, like Broken by Lovelytheband. Too often not doing their own research, or waiting to see if the record reps are going to give you the green light.

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