The Song of Summer died for the first time on July 21, 2015. The cause of death was Spotify, or SoundCloud, or possibly the withering orange husks of morning radio DJs. "Could it be that the advent of streaming services and decline of the once omnipresent radio have shifted to dilute the possibility of the anthem which has defined the season since the 1910s?" Lauren Duca wrote for HuffPost. "Is everything just terrible?"
In 2016, like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the Song of Summer died for a second time. Vulture’s Dee Lockett eulogized it thusly: "Every summer in recent memory seems to question when we’ll do away with the Song of Summer and its tired tradition of trying to select a one-size-fits-all song to please the nonexistent monoculture."
Rumors of the Song of Summer’s demise have, as they say, been greatly exaggerated. The monoculture is mostly over, but cultural pervasiveness persists: Studios have doubled-down on the summer blockbuster, Bachelor contestants are now bona fide Us Weekly celebrities, and Game of Thrones still promises to dominate watercooler conversation during its 10-week run. Similarly, a majority of Americans — LeBron James included — found themselves swaying along to Drake’s "One Dance" at some point during the sweaty doldrums of 2016. In the era of Peak Everything, some cultural institutions still manage to rise above the cacophony.
The Song of Summer — yes, it’s just one, capital Song, capital Summer — is one of those lucky few. By its purest definition, the Song of Summer is America’s on-repeat anthem for the period from Memorial Day until Labor Day. It traditionally has been decided by the Billboard Hot 100, a sentient Brontosaurus skeleton that declares the 100 most popular songs in America on a weekly basis. The chart is widely considered imperfect, unable to keep up with the shifts of the "stream, steal, or buy" music economy. Measuring cultural consensus has become next to impossible in the last few years; achieving it has proved even more elusive.
We at The Ringer still believe in the power of a unifying summer anthem, but the methodology of arriving there is desperately in need of a modern update. To account for that, we’re presenting The Ringer’s Official, Mathematical Guide to the 2017 Song of Summer.
It is important to establish this now: The Song of Summer is not necessarily your favorite song to listen in any given summer. You may never want to hear it again after September rolls around (here’s to you, "Fancy") — or it may make you drop everything and dance a decade later (respect to "Crazy in Love"). But the Song of Summer, regardless of personal preference, is a relentless earworm and a shared guilty pleasure. It will be drunkenly belted out in sweaty karaoke rooms the nation over; it will be all over your Facebook News Feed. It’s the song you’ll hear decades from now and instantly flash back to what you were doing in 2017.
Put another way, the Song of Summer is a measurement of ubiquity as well as plain chart performance. The longest-running no. 1 song from Memorial Day to Labor Day is not automatically the Song of Summer; there is a complex (if previously arbitrary) alchemy at play, based on cultural reach and engagement, and it has changed along with the way in which we consume and measure music. The charts matter, but in this age of streams, memes, and classic-or-trash instant reviews, the Hot 100 doesn’t tell the whole story. So after consulting with music aficionados, Spotify playlists, the blogs, and various other expert sources, we’ve devised the following formula. It’s an attempt to identify the song that will feel inescapable this summer — on the radio, on your running playlist, at the bar, and yes, on Twitter. Each of the following four categories will be given 25 percent weight in our calculations.
Hot 100: Despite its flaws, the Billboard Hot 100 remains the most visible barometer for popularity in the music world. Much as Drake’s "One Dance" was a thoroughly whelming Song of Summer, you can’t deny that it was everywhere, and its 10 weeks at no. 1 reflect that. Critics of the Hot 100 like to point out artists like SoundCloud phenom Lil Yachty as the type of popular music Billboard can’t possibly account for using its current math. This is true, but it can also be true that Yachty hasn’t reached the cultural saturation point necessary to have a Song of Summer. No one is racing to the wedding dance floor for a track off of Summer Songs 2.
The Hot 100 melds radio airplay, track downloads, and digital streams to form its rankings, but the exact formula is a mystery. Still, it is fair to say that any song in the top 10 has reached some level of ubiquity via traditional forms of music consumption. We’ll award points to the songs that chart in the top 10 each week — one point for no. 10, two points for no. 9, and so on — with double points (20, to be exact) awarded for every week spent at no. 1. This accruing total will be converted to a percentage of maximum possible points, and that percentage will be applied to a 25-point scale, in order to account for one quarter of the overall score.
Bloggability: Any great Song of Summer is accompanied by a compelling narrative. "Crazy in Love" was about whether Beyoncé would sink or swim as a solo artist; those wrong guesses are now infamous. "Call Me Maybe" was dominating the radio in Canada before Justin Bieber and Scooter Braun helped make it an all-time Song of Summer juggernaut in the U.S. A legendary lip-sync battle between Jimmy Fallon and Emma Stone put Iggy Azalea’s "Fancy" on the map in late April 2014. We spent more time talking about "Blurred Lines" than listening to it, thanks to the controversial lyrics and the NSFW video and the Marvin Gaye lawsuit and T.I.’s soft-shoeing. If a pop song can’t spawn a thousand thinkpieces, social media memes, and breathless music video recaps, did it even have an impact? We’ll measure how many hits each song gets on Google News in one-week intervals throughout the summer, keeping track of its average as we go. Every 4,000 hits is worth one point, up to 100,000 hits. (For example, a song with 65,000 hits would get 65 percent of 25 points, or 16.25 points.) Songs that exceed 100,000 hits get props for being megaviral but no additional points.
Playlist Prevalence: Streaming services have slowly transformed from celestial jukeboxes into something akin to radio thanks to the popularity of playlists. About half of music consumption on Spotify now happens via playlists, and a lot of that listening is coming through lists curated by the company’s music experts, such as "RapCaviar" and "Today’s Top Hits." These people, who also play key roles in powering services like Apple Music and Tidal, are a new breed of tastemaker that can help launch a song. A track that’s landing on different playlists across multiple streaming services probably has cross-genre appeal. And if it remains on these constantly updating lists throughout the summer, that means it has staying power with listeners as well. We’ve picked out 25 playlists on Spotify, Apple Music, and Amazon that cover genres such as pop, hip-hop, dance, R&B, and rock (as well as some popular lists that vaguely gesture toward the zeitgeist, such as Apple Music’s "All Day Dance Party" and Spotify’s "Teen Party.") We’ll measure how regularly these songs land on this crop of popular playlists on average in two-week intervals throughout the summer. A song’s appearance on each individual playlist is worth one point (up to 25 points total).
Quality: A Song of Summer has to be catchy, but it also needs to tap into the boundless potential that the world possesses when the days are long and the nights are warm. A good Song of Summer is enhanced when played just before the first quenching sip of a margarita, or on a road trip with the windows rolled down, or at a house party that’s spilled outside but is suddenly refocused on the dance floor when the iconic opening notes hit. (It better have iconic opening notes.) It must also be, on some level, universal — not in the grating way of purposefully bland Top 40 hits, but in the cross-generational, cross-cultural, "I can’t believe grandma is dancing to ‘Trap Queen’ at this wedding," kind of way. They are songs best enjoyed in the company of others. These are qualities that are difficult to measure empirically, so we’ve left it to our summer-loving colleagues here at The Ringer to rate the candidates on a 1-to-10 scale based on how essential these songs are to their summer playlists. We’ll apply the average score as a ratio to give each song a score out of 25 points (for example, a 7.5 song would earn 75 percent of the 25 points possible).
Based on the above, we at The Ringer feel confident that we will be able to objectively identify the true Song of Summer by August 2017. But, as you may have noticed, it is currently May, and half the fun of Song of Summer is in predicting and debating the contenders ahead of time. To that end, we’ve identified two key indicators that might help with your betting:
Indicator No. 1: Release Date
For the last 20 years, Songs of Summer have followed a uncannily uniform pattern; it’s so formulaic that some artists have attempted to manufacture success. Listen to the first few seconds of this promotional video of Justin Timberlake introducing "Can’t Stop the Feeling," his 2016 single from the animated film Trolls and a clear push for the Song of Summer title. "This will be the song," he declares, surrounded by his A-list squad. "This is coming out May 6th."
The date might seem early, given that summer doesn’t technically start until June 20, but Timberlake was highlighting a key indicator: release date. In the recent 20-year history of Songs of Summer, nearly 50 percent of the most popular tracks have been released in April or May, with the overall average release date being May 11.
Timberlake timed his song perfectly, but he was unlucky on the next step, which is …
Indicator No. 2: Peak Date
"Can’t Stop the Feeling" debuted at no.1 on the Billboard Hot 100 dated May 28, 2016. It immediately dropped out of the top spot, but hung around the top five for most of the summer — and stunningly, it remained on the chart nearly a year later.
That sort of dominance is extraordinary by any normal standard, but the Song of Summer requires a different level of chart excellence: timing. Among the summer songs we surveyed, the average peak chart date — meaning the moment that the song hit no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 — was June 25, and the average number of weeks at no. 1 was five. This timing perfectly positions a single to ride the wave of the July Fourth holiday and beyond.
Last year, Drake’s "One Dance" reclaimed the no. 1 spot from Timberlake on June 4 and parked it atop the Hot 100 for the majority of the summer. By any measure, both of these songs were culturally ubiquitous. So, for that matter, were Desiigner’s "Panda" (which hit no. 1 in May — too early) and Sia’s "Cheap Thrills," (which hit no. 1 in August — too late). But "One Dance" peaked at the crucial moment, and it maintained the top spot for a majority of the summer.
With all of that in mind, we now present the early contenders of the objective 2017 Song of Summer crown.
"Despacito," Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee Feat. Justin Bieber
Hot 100 Ranking: 1 (25/25)
Bloggability: 248,000 articles (25/25)
Playlist Prevalence: 7/25
Quality: 6.47 (16.18/25)
Isn’t it about time that we got a bona fide Spanish-language crossover hit that wasn’t attached to a cheesy dance? (Looking at you, "Macarena.") "Despacito" topped the Hot 100 this week, and while it’s possible that the song peaked a bit early, its danceability factor could help it ride the wave through the summer equinox and beyond. "Despacito" has one thing working against it in the Song of Summer race: The car sing-along factor is low, in the sense that actual vocal skill is required. Upon hearing the news that he’d gone no. 1, Luis Fonsi remarked, "Language isn’t a factor. Music unites us!" Isn’t that the goal of the Song of Summer?
"Humble.," Kendrick Lamar
Hot 100 Ranking: 5 (7.5/25)
Bloggability: 60,000 articles (15/25)
Playlist Prevalence: 8/25
Quality: 8.16 (20.4/25)
After a couple of years of meditative, jazz-infused introspection on his last two projects, the return of the trash-talking lyrical assassin now known as Kung Fu Kenny has been a big hit with fans. "Humble.," built off a towering bass line by Atlanta-based hitmaker Mike Will Made-It, became Kendrick’s first no. 1 single back in April, and it’s remained in the top five throughout its six-week run, showing impressive legs. It also continues to lead Spotify’s U.S. charts in daily spins, indicating it’s connecting with the all-important youth. It’s rare that a snarling rap song captures the summer zeitgeist, but then again, Kendrick Lamar is a rare artist.
"I’m the One," DJ Khaled ft. Justin Bieber, Chance the Rapper, Quavo, Lil Wayne
Hot 100 Ranking: 3 (10/25)
Bloggability: 55,000 articles (13.75/25)
Playlist Prevalence: 8/25
Quality: 7.05 (17.63/25)
This is a classic summer song recipe: Put the current hot rapper whose every feature turns to gold (Quavo) with an artist who’s impossible to hate (Chance) and a beloved veteran (Lil Wayne). Add a pop star whose hooks are undeniable (Bieber) and get him to turn half the chorus into a yodel chant so that even the drunkest inhabitant of the dance floor can sing along to. Mix it all with a syrupy, faux-nostalgic beat that evokes vague memories of childhood, and you’ve got a track that’s too big to fail. The song’s only problem may be that it peaked too early, debuting at no. 1 in early May but falling to no. 3 in its second week on the charts.
"Slide," Calvin Harris ft. Frank Ocean, Migos
Hot 100 Ranking: 28 (0/25)
Bloggability: 21,200 articles (5.3/25)
Playlist Prevalence: 9/25
Quality: 7.7 (19.25/25)
"Slide" is going to become a perfect song for weddings, New Year’s Eve parties, and other celebratory activities due to the way it begins. The opening piano chords are somber enough for the unsuspecting listener to think they may be signaling a ballad, but a discerning fan will realize, "Oh, shit, ‘Slide’ is about to play." Calvin Harris, benevolent man that he is, then grants the listener 37 entire seconds to corral as many people as possible to the dance floor to wait expectantly for the beat drop, which arrives with the same euphoric force as the final bell of spring classes. "Slide" is a sunbeam wrapped in the velvet of Frank Ocean’s voice wrapped in an electric guitar lick wrapped in chandelier wind chimes feat. Migos. It’s opulence on the go and it deserves to dominate the summer charts. "Slide" has been a slow burn since its February release, but this week it reached a new peak at no. 28. It’s just one rare Frank Ocean live performance or perfectly timed movie trailer away from leaping into the top 10.
"Loyalty.," Kendrick Lamar ft. Rihanna
Hot 100 Ranking: 57 (0/25)
Bloggability: 17,900 (4.48/25)
Playlist Prevalence: 5/25
Quality: 7.68 (19.2/25)
Unlike Kendrick Lamar’s left stroke on "Humble.," "Loyalty." hasn’t gone viral yet. But it’s only a matter of time until Lamar’s most radio-friendly track off of Damn. gets some shine — likely by way of a splashy, Rihanna-backed music video. The song’s backbone is a luxuriously slow sample of Bruno Mars’s "24K Magic," layered with an earworm of a chorus and bars (!) from Rih. "Loyalty." is currently languishing in the mid-tier of the Hot 100, but the ideal peak date is still a month away, and this track has serious potential to sneak its way up the streaming charts and dominate through July and August. It’s the sonic embodiment of a long sip of sangria by the pool, and it’s about to have its moment in the sun.
"The Cure," Lady Gaga
Hot 100 Ranking: 49 (0/25)
Bloggability: 61,600 articles (15.4/25)
Playlist Prevalence: 4/25
Quality: 3.37 (8.43/25)
"The Cure" is the most saccharine pop concoction Lady Gaga has put out in years, or possibly ever. While "The Cure" doesn’t pack the wallop of "Bad Romance" or the winking wordplay of "Poker Face," it is soft and accessible enough to make it an instant entry into playlists of wedding DJs everywhere. Gaga — who knows a thing or two about how to create buzz — gave her new single a surprise debut at Coachella, sending its bloggability score soaring. The only question is: Did the song’s producers rip that high-pitched whistling sample directly from "Where Are Ü Now" or create their own?
The Dark Horses
"XO TOUR Llif3," Lil Uzi Vert
Hot 100 Ranking: 8 (3.75/25)
Bloggability: 2,240 articles (0.56/25)
Playlist Prevalence: 6/25
Quality: 5.67 (14.18/25)
It’s rare that a Song of Summer candidate has a nocturnal quality — but "XO Tour Llif3" isn’t even a song for the night so much as it is one for the aimless void. Peep Uzi, blunt in hand, driving listlessly to nowhere in the music video. The latest young crop of rappers have caught hip-hop between nihilist trap music and candy-coated nostalgia rhymes; Uzi’s biggest hit as a solo artist is perhaps both the bleakest and catchiest song yet in the former subgenre. And it seems to be connecting with Uzi’s young brethren, climbing steadily up the charts over the last month. The song’s title is an easy-to-misspell mouthful, which may explain its low bloggability score. But if Uzi has his way, this year’s summer anthem will be straightforward: "All my friends are dead."
"Attention," Charlie Puth
Hot 100 Ranking: 53 (0/25)
Bloggability: 21,700 articles (5.43/25)
Playlist Prevalence: 6/25
Quality: 2.89 (7.23/25)
Here’s a fun exercise: Take the chorus from Puth and Selena Gomez’s 2016 hit "We Don’t Talk Anymore" and sing it over the chorus of "Attention." One melody is essentially a fun-house mirror version of the other. Puth knows what clicks, and he isn’t messing around with the formula that brought him massive success via a legion of YouTube fans. "Attention," his latest release, is an infectious post-disco tune with a throbbing bass line that will thrill the same crowd that raced to the dance floor for "Get Lucky" in 2013. It’s early days for the track, which was released in late April, but the intent is clear: Puth got a taste of Song of Summer glory with his longing hook on Wiz Khalifa’s "See You Again," and this time he’s gunning for full glory.
"It Ain’t Me," Kygo, Selena Gomez
Hot 100 Ranking: 11 (0/25)
Bloggability: 33,500 articles (8.38/25)
Playlist Prevalence: 3/25
Quality: 2.74 (6.85/25)
This song sounds remarkably similar to "Let Me Love You," the 2016 dance song by DJ Snake and Justin Bieber. Maybe that means that DJ Snake and Kygo are locked in a bitter rivalry over which electronic DJ will control European nightclubs. Maybe that means Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez are locked in a bitter rivalry over which former child star will control European nightclubs and also the other person’s heart. "It Ain’t Me" recently dropped from 10 to 11 on the Hot 100, but it hasn’t peaked yet and the general rule of cultural artifacts featuring Selena Gomez is: Don’t count them out.
"iSpy," Kyle ft. Lil Yachty
Hot 100 Ranking: 10 (1.25/25)
Bloggability: 4,420 articles (1.1/25)
Playlist Prevalence: 5/25
Quality: 4.21 (10.53/25)
Occasionally a song by a relative unknown can come to dominate summer many months after its debut. Carly Rae Jepsen’s "Call Me Maybe" was released nine months before it hit no. 1; Fetty Wap’s "Trap Queen" came out a full year before it peaked. "iSpy" has the same potential. The song, from the ascendant rapper Kyle, was released in December 2016 but remains a fixture near the top of the Billboard charts and multiple major streaming playlists. The track hasn’t yet hit no. 1, meaning it hasn’t yet been overexposed despite its age. And it also features Lil Yachty, who has already pulled feature duty on at least one summer anthem, even if he’s yet to produce a bona fide solo hit. Most importantly, this song takes place on an actual beach. It’s bound to perform better as the weather heats up.
"First Time," Kygo and Ellie Goulding
Hot 100 Ranking: N/A (0/25)
Bloggability: 17,700 articles (4.43/25)
Playlist Prevalence: 6/25
Quality: 2.94 (7.35/25)
Instead of pouring all of his energy into one perfect summer track, Kygo produced two mediocre ones. But hey, it landed him on our list twice. His brand-new release follows up the wistful "It Ain’t Me" by amping the nostalgia factor up to 100. It’s a love letter to teenage romance: "Getting drunk on a train track / Way back, when we tried our first cigarettes," Ellie Goulding sings in her signature breathless lilt, "your dad’s black Honda was a Maybach." The song never seems to get where it’s trying to go; the chorus fizzles out just when it feels like it’s about to erupt into a dance-floor banger. It’s perfect late-August road trip fodder — and apparently fodder for several Spotify new release playlists — but not exactly obvious Song of Summer material. You never know, though.
"Believer," Imagine Dragons
Hot 100 Ranking: 20 (0/25)
Bloggability: 23,100 articles (5.78/25)
Playlist Prevalence: 1/25
Quality: 2.26 (5.65/25)
"Believer" has only an outside shot at becoming the Song of Summer, since rock songs can no longer achieve that culture-consuming level of ubiquity unless they they hail from a subgenre that is apparently called "Canadian reggae fusion." But if by some chance Billboard begins including sports hype videos on YouTube in their Hot 100 calculations, I could see "Believer" rising to the top.
It’s Not Going to Be
"Sign of the Times," Harry Styles
Hot 100 Ranking: 18 (0/25)
Bloggability: 178,000 (25/25)
Playlist Prevalence: 4/25
Quality: 5.16 (12.9/25)
It should be acknowledged that Harry Styles’s massive fan base is attempting to game the system to propel him to the top of the Billboard and Spotify charts. It’s a sophisticated effort by the Stylers (VPNs are involved!), but one that’s unlikely to have much effect on the Song of Summer race, even if it’s successful. "Sign of the Times" is bloggable and rising quickly up the Hot 100, but any song that’s too slow to play during a SoulCycle class is immediately DQ’d. Sorry, Harry.
Thanks to Ringer intern Daniel Varghese for research assistance.