"It's really connected with folks in a meaningful capacity," Kevin Weaver, Atlantic Records' president of TV & Film, tells Billboard of "See You Again" in April. The song was written for the powerful conclusion of Furious 7, specifically designed to touch a nerve and provoke repeated listens after the credits rolled. "People should walk out of the theater and want this thing," added Mike Knobloch, Universal Pictures' film music president. "It starts at the movie."
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If it starts there, how has it ended when… well, we don't know when, since "See You Again" is still No. 1? Furious 7 is effectively out of U.S. theaters, having grossed over $600 million domestically and currently showing in fewer than 400 multiplexes nationwide nearly three months after its release. One would have assumed that when the movie started bowing out of the public consciousness, so would its de facto anthem. After all, who wants to listen to a mournful ballad just as summer is getting underway?
A lot of people, apparently. Part of the prolonged success of "See You Again" has been its natural disassociation from Furious 7 after the song started ruling the Hot 100 chart. When Khalifa performed "See You Again" on The Voice and on the Billboard Music Awards, the visual ties to Furious 7 were absent, or at least more muted, than in the music video.
The biggest factor, however, was that radio took time to catch on. "See You Again" hit No. 1 on the Hot 100 concurrently with Furious 7's release in April, but mostly due to its strong sales and streaming numbers. Its radio dominance took more time to develop, as is often the case with hit soundtrack singles: Idina Menzel's "Let It Go" was in the top 10 long after Frozen had bowed, and The Weeknd's "Earned It" remains near the top of the Hot 100 despite Fifty Shades of Grey being out of theaters for months. "See You Again" only made it to the top of Billboard's Radio Songs chart in late May while Furious 7 was in the midst of being replaced at multiplexes. And since there's no explicit mention of Furious 7 or Walker when the song is played on radio, listeners could interpret and appreciate the song's message without necessarily acknowledging its movie tie-in.
"You get that emotional connection to that song no matter what it's related to -- it could be Furious 7 and Paul Walker, and it could be just hearing those words," says Sharon Dastur, SVP of programming at iHeartMedia. "From the beginning, I knew that the movie would be a great launching pad, but it's just one of those songs that I think has always stood on its own."
Still, it's traditionally harder for a song like "See You Again" to stand tall in the summer, when uptempo tracks dominate top 40 -- the last downtempo Song of the Summer happened 10 years ago, when Mariah Carey's "We Belong Together" ruled in 2005. This year's Summer Songs chart is filled with the type of danceable tracks -- Jason Derulo's "Want To Want Me," Fetty Wap's "Trap Queen," Walk The Moon's "Shut Up and Dance" -- that typically burn on radio during the summer months, but the ultra-sad outlier is somehow dominating all of them.
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"See You Again" might still be No. 1 due to a lack of particularly stiff competition. Had the dynamic duo of Khalifa and Puth linked up in another year, their collaboration might have run into a "Call Me Maybe" or "Blurred Lines" and been relegated to the runner-up spot on the Hot 100. As past summer anthems like "We Belong Together," All-4-One's "I Swear," Puff Daddy's "I'll Be Missing You" and Heart's "Alone" prove, however, the right slow song can rule the summer months when it's stacked against a bunch of faster songs on radio. If anything, "See You Again" has made for a nice change of pace when plopped into playlists full of energetic singles.
"Successful pop radio stations offer balance, in not only genres but styles," says Dastur. "People are looking for that upbeat song in the summer, so it makes it stand out even more that there's this beautiful ballad."
The reign of "See You Again" may very well end soon: Taylor Swift's "Bad Blood" (which interrupted Khalifa and Puth's run at No. 1 for one week last month) is closing back in on the song at the top of the Hot 100. While "Again" is still slightly growing at radio, it's slipping in its streaming and digital sales numbers.
Regardless of whether "See You Again" bows out of the top spot next week or ekes out a few more wins, the song will likely hang around the top 10 for multiple frames and stay a radio staple for another four-to-six weeks. Can a tribute ballad tied to an April movie be the song that rules the summer? As long as Vin Diesel doesn't release a video of himself singing "Bad Blood" in the near future, it's got a great shot.