Five Burning Questions: What's in the Lead For Song of the Summer?

For the first time in seven weeks, the No. 1 song on the Billboard Hot 100 this week -- "Rockstar," by DaBaby featuring Roddy Ricch -- is the same as it was the week before.

Now that the turnover atop the Hot 100 has finally slowed down a little, we can catch our breath for long enough to size up how the Song of the Summer race is coming. Unlike last year, when Billboard's Songs of the Summer chart was dominated by Lil Nas X and Billy Ray Cyrus' "Old Town Road" all season, we've already had three different leaders in the first three weeks of this year's chart, with "Rockstar" taking over this week for the first time.

Does "Rockstar" have the juice to lead the pack from here? What else might give it some competition? Billboard staffers debate these questions and more below.

1. Three weeks, three different Songs of the Summer to lead our weekly chart. Of the three to top the listing so far -- "Rain on Me," "Savage," "Rockstar" -- which seems the likeliest to you to eventually be the ultimate summer champ? 

Katie Bain: It's gotta be "Rain On Me." It's the only song that's felt truly inescapable since its release, sort of entering your field of awareness by osmosis even if you haven't actually sought it out. That's not a dig on the track itself, which is obviously insanely catchy and powerful in its unification of two mega pop stars. (Of course, the same idea applies to the "Savage" remix with Beyoncé.) Is it my favorite Gaga track? Nah. Is it the kind of optimistic pop anthem that's likely helping people get through this tough moment in history. For sure, and I think that's why it will win the summer.

Lyndsey Havens: Oof, it's rare that I'm a massive fan of all three SotS frontrunners, which makes this decision trickier than usual. But... for those who did not see my Twitter timeline a few weeks ago, I have to go with "Rain On Me." The track is such a welcomed release from our increasingly heavy reality, and as Gaga continues to promote Chromatica I think this hit will continue to gain traction. However, I'm often wrong, so let's just wait and see.

Bryan Kress: Who would’ve thought the race for the song of the Summer of Self-Isolation would be so crowded? Though the caliber of each ingenious pairing would make for quite the elite tag-team match in any other year, it feels like “Rockstar” is the only contender able to address the constantly shifting tones of our present. With its airy guitar-driven beat that can easily transition from a spring bop to a summer heater, and now with the addition of DaBaby’s more revealing Black Lives Matter remix, “Rockstar” is a song built for this moment.

Jason Lipshutz: If this was a normal, non-pandemic summer, I might say “Rain On Me,” with Gaga playing massive concerts across the U.S., or “Savage” if Megan Thee Stallion and Beyonce combined for a show-stopping awards ceremony performance. Neither of those things are happening, though, so let’s go with “Rockstar,” a sneaky-great anthem that has received a timely “Black Lives Matter” remix. Also, after 11 weeks at No. 1 with “The Box,” do you really want to discount the staying power of Roddy Ricch?

Andrew Unterberger: I think it's "Rockstar." While "Rain on Me" and the "Savage" remix were both enormous upon impact, "Rockstar" has slowly built over the last two months, gradually proving itself the song of the moment rather than trumpeting itself as such upon its arrival. Can't say it feels wrong right now to have a song with "F--k a cop car" in the chorus as the biggest in the country at the moment.

2. Last year, "Old Town Road" dominated Songs of the Summer for the entire summer, with barely a rival in sight. Do you think we'll see a hit anywhere near that big at any point this summer, or is the world/culture just moving too fast right now for any one song to dominate even half that extensively? 

Katie Bain: At this point, the summer of "Old Town Road" feels like a hundred years ago, doesn't it? I definitely don't think that any one song will reach the same level of ubiquity this season, and not only because our attention is so fractured right now, but because "Old Town Road" had that lightning in a bottle quality of an undeniable track with a compelling backstory that just kept evolving (and thus boosting the song's presence) all summer long, from the charts controversy to the Billy Ray Cyrus remix to Lil Nas X coming out, to the 700 dance music remixes, to the song beating Mariah Carey's Hot 100 record. The song truly rode 'til it couldn't no more (sorry), and I doubt we'll see that kind of storyline again for many summers to come.

Lyndsey Havens: I think the world is moving much too fast for there to be an unrivaled hit at this point. Plus, as parts of the country are just entering the earliest phases of reopening, we have to take into account that no one track can dominate bars, clubs, dancefloors, or wherever else people typically party in the summer.

Bryan Kress: The world may be moving at breakneck pace these days, but it’s never taken longer for songs to permeate the public consciousness. Instead, this summer’s top performers are peaking at a relatively static time thanks to well plotted, slow-building momentum as is the case for Roddy Ricch’s early 2020 tear to Doja Cat’s late “Say So” surge. Though an outside disruptor would just be another fitting twist in these unpredictable times, it's not likely that there's a single capable of grabbing and holding anyone's attention long enough to shake things up.

Jason Lipshutz: We’re already seeing a more competitive Song of the Summer battle than last year, when “Old Town Road” obliterated the competition throughout the season. I have a feeling it will stay that way, unless one artist has something to say about it -- and that artist is Aubrey “Drake” Graham, who wore the Song of the Summer crown in 2016 with “One Dance” and 2018 with “In My Feelings.” Drake has promised a new album coming soon; two years ago, “In My Feelings” was not released until late June as part of his Scorpion album, then proceeded to dominate the second half of that summer. Underestimate him at your own peril.

Andrew Unterberger: I don't think we'll just get one- and two-week No. 1s for the rest of the year, but it is hard to picture one song kinda uniting the culture right now for any extended period of time. But again, it's worth keeping an eye on the song currently in pole position, since if it's still gaining in radio and streaming consumption two months into its run -- a rarity for a song with a big launch in 2020 -- it might have a higher ceiling for pop ubiquity than we previously realized.

3. If you had to pick a currently down-ballot song to potentially contend for Song of the Summer honors, which would it be?

Katie Bain: I've gotta go with the Imanbek remix of SAINt JHN's "Roses." It entered the Songs of the Summer chart after a long run at No. 1 over on the Hot Dance/Electronic Songs chart, where this week it even regained the top position from "Rain On Me." (It's a pretty major accomplishment, particularly given that the remix came out of nowhere from part-time Kazakh producer and railroad worker Imanbek.) That said, for me this is also still the summer of anything Dua Lipa-related.

Lyndsey Havens: In terms of down-ballot songs, I'd like to see either "Watermelon Sugar" or "Break My Heart" enter the race for SotS... But to get really wild and choose a song that's not even on the Hot 100, I personally can't stop playing Haim's "I Know Alone." Its epic production, and the even more epic dance breakdown that unexpectedly fills the last minute, combine for a perfect low-key summer smash.

Bryan Kress: SAINt JHN’s “Roses (Imanbek Remix)” has all the elements of a scrappy underdog success story that’s 5-years in the making, and I’m more than happy to follow along.

Jason Lipshutz: Surfaces’ “Sunday Best” recently hit the top 20 of the Hot 100 but has been on replay in my home for months, both as an amiable pre-dinner soundtrack and a momentary escape from the madness of this year (“Sunday Best” was released before 2020, and with lyrics like “Feeling good / Like I should!,” that certainly shows). I consider it a torchbearer for OMI’s “Cheerleader,” a low-stakes summertime breeze that sneaks its way to the top of the charts. Climb, Surfaces, climb.

Andrew Unterberger: Let's talk about "We Paid," by Lil Baby and 42 Dugg. Lil Baby keeps rising to the occasion as a burgeoning superstar, and ascendant Detroit rapper 42 Dugg -- managed by Baby -- seems only a hit or two away from marquee status himself. "We Paid" is a short, infectious banger motored by the pair's irrepressible lockstep energy and one of the year's most undeniable chorus hooks. It jumped 55-34 on the Hot 100 this week, and seems poised to keep bounding up from here.

4. Not every Song of the Summer contender really comes to define the season in perpetuity. Which top 10 SotS finisher from any of the last ten years makes you most go "...wait, that song, really??" 

Katie Bain: All respect to OVO, but "One Dance" never did a single thing for me.

Lyndsey Havens: I mean, obviously "Blurred Lines" did not age well. Looking back at the other summer 2013 picks, I would have much rather seen Daft Punk and Pharrel's "Get Lucky" or Miley Cyrus' "We Can't Stop" top the SotS chart. But also... Omi's "Cheerleader," really?! No shade to one Jason Lipshutz (who I believe is a fan?), but seeing that as a Song of Summer makes my eyes widen in shock. As I type this slander, though, I can't help but realize the lyrics are still burned in my brain, so I guess the joke's on me.

Bryan Kress: Today I learned that "Rude" by MAGIC! was not only a SotS contender back in 2014, but that it was the No. 1 song on the Hot 100 for six consecutive weeks. I can’t remember hearing it once that summer, but then again I spent most of my time in college living under a rock.

Jason Lipshutz: The entire top 10 of the 2015 Song of the Summer chart feels bizarre to me. “See You Again” was enormous, but the Wiz Khalifa-Charlie Puth ode to Paul Walker and Furious 7 just doesn’t register as a typical summer song. Wow, was the “Bad Blood” remix really that dominant? And then you have The Weeknd’s “The Hills” and Rachel Platten’s “Fight Song,” perhaps the two most dissimilar songs on the planet, bringing up the rear in the top 10. A wacky year, for sure!

Andrew Unterberger: Nothing against Anna Kendrick or Pitch Perfect -- that original minute-long version of "Cups" was totally charming! -- but that Mumfordized, needlessly extended single version turning into one of the top 10 songs of the summer in 2013 still hits one hell of a flat note to me.

5. What song -- from whatever year, of whatever degree of seasonal appropriateness -- seems most likely at the moment to be your own personal Song of the Summer? 

Katie Bain: I've had 2017's "17" by house legend MK on repeat since Diplo included it in his "Black to the Future" playlist of black electronic artists that he posted to Spotify last week. The track is effervescent, uplifting and absurdly catchy -- a vibe that's essentially the opposite of how this summer has felt on a collective level thus far. The pleasures of dance world escapism are obviously limited this season because pandemic has closed clubs and cancelled festivals, but for me this song delivers three minutes and sixteen seconds of that much-needed respite.

Lyndsey Havens: I'm still in disbelief that it's already summer, but I'd say it's a bit of a mixed bag between "Rain On Me," Haim's "I Know Alone" (or "Summer Girl" on a more downbeat day), but also I'm still really into the Imanbek remix of Saint Jhn's "Roses" and also all of Future Nostalgia so, is it too late to opt out of this question?

Bryan Kress: My listening habits lately reflect my quarantine strategy: I’ll poke my head out every now and then to see what’s new, then quickly retreat back to my old comforts. So in the wake of George Floyd’s murder and the subsequent demonstrations across the world, I’ve repeatedly gone back to an album fundamental to my upbringing and understanding of the world, Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On. It’s timeless and essential as a complete project, but the song that resonates most now is “What’s Happening Brother?” -- also recently featured in a singalong scene in Spike Lee's Da 5 Bloods -- where Gaye preaches empathy and open dialogue.

Jason Lipshutz: Much like the winter of 2020 and the spring of 2020, I predict that the summer of 2020 will find me listening to Harry Styles’ Fine Line a whole lot. After cycling through phases of listening to “Lights Up,” “Adore You” and “Sunflower, Vol. 6” on repeat, respectively, now it’s all about “Golden,” and will continue to be so for at least a few weeks.

Andrew Unterberger: My real answer is probably that Hip-Hop Harry "go go go WHO'S NEXT?" video I can't resist watching every time I see it posted in celebration of a statue coming down or celeb getting canceled. Beyond that, Renee Blair's Carly-Rae-goes-country banger "Heatin' Up My Summer" is pretty much as much as I care to engage with this season that I otherwise plan on mostly spending indoors, getting pale and generally feeling lousy. It summers so I don't have to.

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