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Meet the 2015 Song of the Summer Dark Horse: OMI's 'Cheerleader'

Scott Schatek
OMI photographed in 2015.

The international reggae-pop hit is rapidly invading America. Embrace it now as your go-to summer jam.

2015 is one of those years where we're 10 days away from Memorial Day and still don't have a firm handle on the Song of the Summer.

Some summers start off with an obvious front-runner: in 2014, Iggy Azalea's "Fancy" (feat. Charli XCX) clearly had the inside track, topping the Hot 100 chart beginning in the last week of May and eventually spending seven straight weeks at No. 1. Other Songs of the Summer, like Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines" in 2013 and Carly Rae Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe" the year before, have made their chart push in the spring and climbed atop the Hot 100 in mid-June -- which is the likelier scenario this year. Wiz Khalifa and Charlie Puth's "See You Again" is still going strong in the top spot (and remains the Song of the Summer favorite right now), but began its run in April, is tied to a movie (Furious 7) that will no longer be in theaters soon, and is the sort of somber ballad that needs to be washed down with a ice-cold glass of silly summer dance anthem.

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There are about 20 pop singles currently jockeying to be that anthem, and take hold of the Hot 100 within the next six weeks. Fetty Wap's "Trap Queen" is the Little Viral Rap Hit That Could, Jason Derulo's "Want To Want Me" wants to talk dirty to you all summer, Walk The Moon's "Shut Up And Dance" has rock fans following its titular command, and Azalea is looking for a repeat performance with her Britney Spears collaboration "Pretty Girls." Taylor Swift is bringing out the big guns for "Bad Blood"; One Direction could follow the hashtags and make "No Control" an official single. It's a crapshoot, really. But there's one Song of the Summer dark horse that's going to be the frontrunner in a matter of weeks: OMI's "Cheerleader." All OMI needs is an exclamation point at the end of his name to be this year's MAGIC!.



Let's begin at the beginning: who is OMI? OMI is the stage name of Omar Samuel Pasley, a singer-songwriter hailing from Clarendon, Jamaica, who has been a minor reggae star since 2012. That's when "Cheerleader" was originally released -- in summer 2012, way back when Mitt Romney was vying for the presidency and Taylor Swift was prepping her Red album -- and became a hit in Jamaica and Hawaii.

Two years later, producer Felix Jaehn got his hands on the track and swapped out the original's humble reggae strut for some woodblock percussion, blinking saxophone and a more streamlined house tempo; the "Cheerleader" remix (released through Ultra Records) became an unlikely hit in Australia and Europe, including in Jaehn's native Germany. Pop blogs began to take notice of the reinvigorated "Cheerleader"; a video of Simon Cowell deadpanning the song's lyrics for Capital FM went viral. New videos for the Felix Jaehn edit starring OMI were released in both November and April (the clips have 88 million combined views to date), and earlier this month, "Cheerleader" rose to the top of the U.K. singles chart. The song just logged its second week at No. 1 across the pond, while Khalifa's "See You Again" sits underneath it at No. 2.

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Like Nico & Vinz with their slow-burning 2014 hit "Am I Wrong," OMI now has his sights squarely set on conquering the U.S. with an international hit -- and is rapidly doing so. "Cheerleader" (officially listed on Louder Than Life/Ultra/Columbia in the States) debuted on the Hot 100 two weeks ago at No. 95, jumped 32 spots last week, and climbs 16 spots on this week's chart to No. 47. During a talk last week, Shazam's VP of product Cait O'Riordan declared that "Cheerleader" is going to be the next Hot 100 ruler based on the data gathered from the song identifying app's active users. In the U.S., an increasing number of people are buying "Cheerleader" each week (the song moves 44-33 on the Digital Songs chart), and radio is starting to catch on (the song debuts on Pop Songs at No. 39 and Rhythmic Songs at No. 37 this week). Right now is like the moment in Jurassic Park when the cups of water start rumbling in the Jeep: we can feel "Cheerleader" stomping toward us, and there's no porta potty in which to hide.



And really, there are worse fates than staring down a reggae-pop Tyrannosaurus Rex in mid-May. The revamped version of "Cheerleader" transforms the original track's inoffensive bop into a more dynamic tropical burner, with OMI's buttery warble abetting the arrangement instead of being tasked to drive it. After one listen, it's clear that "Cheerleader" just makes sense as 2015's Song of the Summer. Reggae crossover tracks have a surprisingly robust summer songs history in the U.S., from UB40's "Can't Help Falling In Love" in 1993 to Sean Kingston's "Beautiful Girls" in 2007 to MAGIC!'s "Rude" last year, and "Cheerleader" also fits in with the downtempo trend in dance music, after pensive hits like Robin Schulz's remix of Mr. Probz's "Waves" and Jack Ü's "Where Are U Now." Do you miss Iyaz, Jay Sean and hearing the words "Beluga Heights" at the end of radio hits? Even if you don't, "Cheerleader" will harken back to a simpler time ruled by Jamaican pop -- 2009, to be specific -- while nicely coinciding with the contemporary dance tracks that don't necessarily inspire spastic movement.

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One final reason why OMI's late-breaking smash is going to be inescapable over the next few months: like any modern Song of the Summer, it's going to inspire a lot of thinkpieces. After all, the lyrics of "Cheerleader" pair its positive message of fidelity with absolutely archaic depictions of gender norms, as OMI sings about his romantic beau catering to his needs "like a genie in a bottle" and praising himself for not straying in his relationship because he's "found [him]self a cheerleader" to worship him. As more people digest "Cheerleader," more condemnations of its head-scratching portrait of male-female power dynamics are going to surface (a few already have). Of course, courting controversy has become a positive aspect in the Summer Songs race: Robin Thicke's scandalous "Blurred Lines" video and Iggy Azalea's hip-hop synthesis on "Fancy" certainly got people talking, and that mixed chatter didn't slow down their chart runs one bit.

"Cheerleader" is still a long way away from the Top 10, and a whole lot can happen between now and Labor Day; for instance, Rihanna could drop a banger any minute that wipes out all other summer song contenders. I'm putting my money on the Felix Jaehn edit of OMI's "Cheerleader" early, though, and would be shocked if the song didn't at the very least finish in the Top 5 of the 2015 Song of the Summer cumulative chart. Resistance is futile, America: embrace our next inevitable Top 40 overlord, and know that it's pronounced OH-mee.