Cardi B, Justin Bieber, Drake
Pop

Way-Too-Early Song of the Summer 2021 Breakdown: The Best Bets, Long Shots & Question Marks

In 2020, Billboard’s annual Songs of the Summer chart started off as an exciting showdown between multi-star collaborations like Megan Thee Stallion and Beyonce’s “Savage” remix and Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande’s “Rain On Me,” before DaBaby and Roddy Ricch’s “Rockstar” eventually took charge. Yet something very apparent was off: with the coronavirus pandemic closing down clubs, concerts and gatherings of all kind, the annual song of the summer race inevitably felt as deflated as a punctured beach ball.

Hopefully the summer of 2021 will include a return to some sense of normalcy as vaccines continue to roll out nationwide, as well as more opportunities to safely experience the biggest songs of the season outside of our living rooms. Until then, we can start guessing about what those biggest songs might be.

Although it’s only March, the biggest song of the summer of 2021 may very well be out in the world by now: “Rockstar” was released in mid-April 2020 before going on to rule the following season, while in 2019, Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” captured the song of the summer award after being released way back in December 2018, and first reaching the Hot 100 in the following March. Although the Songs of the Summer chart doesn’t start until Memorial Day Weekend and conclude until Labor Day Weekend, we can already predict many of the songs likely to become contenders -- and which artists we haven’t yet heard from who could end up making some noise.

Below you’ll find five front-runners for the 2021 song of the summer crown; five outside shots, which may rise into contention later this spring; and the to-be-determineds, better known as artists who haven’t yet released a summer jam but could easily factor into the competition based on pedigree. As we anxiously await warmer times, here’s the way-too-early breakdown of the songs that may define the 2021 song of the summer showdown:

The Front-Runners

Silk Sonic, “Leave The Door Open”

The team-up between Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak has been a staggering success in its first few weeks, as their throwback-soul jam “Leave The Door Open” has already pushed to No. 2 on the Hot 100 following a flashy Grammys performance, and is still gaining at radio. Could Silk Sonic unveil something more uptempo -- and befitting of summertime -- in the coming weeks? Maybe. Until then, the duo’s down-tempo debut single is such a hit out of the gate that “Leave The Door Open” could simply persist well into the dog days and casually overshadow any high-energy competition.

Cardi B, “Up”

Cardi B’s latest hit just reached the top of the Hot 100 this week after being released in February, so it would have to stay at or near the top of the chart for a very long time to have a shot at Song of the Summer supremacy. Don’t rule out a sustained run, though: when it comes to streams, sales and radio airplay, “Up” is... up across the board, with room to grow in all three metrics. If “Up” dominates into June and spends the back half of the summer in the Hot 100’s top 10, Billboard’s reigning woman of the year could be capturing her first song of the summer title.

Justin Bieber feat. Giveon & Daniel Caesar, “Peaches”

Although the majority of Justin Bieber’s new album, Justice, focuses on marital bliss in a fairly serious tone, “Peaches” lets the pop superstar roam into lighter territory, as the rhythmic pop track boasts an effervescent hook and soulful contributions from R&B stars Daniel Caesar and Giveon. “Peaches” received a carefree music video on the day of Justice’s release, and has been performing well on streaming services since, suggesting a high Hot 100 debut next week; if pop radio picks it up as a top-down anthem, it’s easy to picture the song soundtracking nighttime drives and outdoor hangs alike.

Lil Tjay feat. 6lack, “Calling My Phone”

After blasting into the top 10 of the Hot 100 upon its February release, this moody team-up between Lil Tjay and 6lack has settled into the top 20 of the chart, where it continues to collect millions of streams and soundtrack melancholy TikTok clips. “Calling My Phone” may be too downcast to truly compete for summer supremacy, but that impossibly catchy hook has already helped the single put impressive numbers on the board, and it can’t be counted out.

Masked Wolf, “Astronaut in the Ocean”

Consider “Astronaut in the Ocean” this year's version of Tones And I’s “Dance Monkey”: originally released in 2019, this idiosyncratic banger from Australian rapper Masked Wolf has recently gone viral, hitting No. 1 in multiple European countries and streaking into the top 40 of the Hot 100. “Astronaut in the Ocean” contains the breakneck energy and beat drops of Travis Scott’s biggest hits, with lyrics about anxiety and mental health that have already resonated with listeners around the globe; time will tell exactly how high “Astronaut” can float in the U.S., but chances are solid that it keeps rising as the weather heats up.

The Outside Shots

Kali Uchis, “Telepatía”

The shape-shifting American-Colombian singer-songwriter has scored an unexpected hit with her Sin Miedo single, which hit the top 40 of the Hot 100 earlier this month after taking off on TikTok. “Telepatía” has an undeniable shimmer that makes it ripe for pool-party season, and could keep rising with the right type of momentum boost -- a buzzy TV performance, maybe, or a remix that opens up the track to an even wider audience.

Coi Leray feat. Lil Durk, “No More Parties”

On this week’s Hot 100, “No More Parties,” the glow-up anthem from New Jersey rapper-singer Coi Leray, leaps 13 spots to No. 26, boosted over the past few weeks thanks in part to an official remix featuring Lil Durk. With a sumptuous chorus and focus on triumphantly escaping hardship, “No More Parties” could turn into a rallying cry as the U.S. slowly opens back up from quarantine (“I gave you money through the pandemic when you was just stuck in the house,” Durk brags on his verse). It also helps that Leray -- the daughter of Benzino, who catches some heat on “No More Parties” -- shows off a startling amount of charisma on the track.

Glass Animals, “Heat Waves”

Commercially, “Heat Waves” has already opened some impressive new doors for British indie-pop band Glass Animals: the touring stalwarts now have their first Hot 100 hit and first top 10 entry on the hot rock & alternative songs chart with the slippery hum-along, which was featured on last year’s Dreamland album. “Heat Waves” has already conquered alternative radio, but is now also creeping up the Hot 100, reaching No. 56 on this week’s tally; its oversized hook suggests the potential for a “Feel It Still”-esque pop crossover. And hey, it’s the only song in this round-up with a title that’s already a summer tie-in.

Riton x Nightcrawlers feat. Mufasa & Hypeman, “Friday”

Earlier this year, British producer Riton and Scottish house collective Nightcrawlers teamed up with social media stars Mufasa and Hypeman for a track that revives the MK remix of Nightcrawlers’ 1992 track “Push The Feeling On.” Got all that? Even if you never memorize the backstory of “Friday,” you’ll want to dance to it: the reworked sample makes for a combustible groove, and it’s already reached the top 10 in the U.K. while scaling the Billboard Global 200. Keep an eye on “Friday” in the U.S., because once it invades the States, the track could become ubiquitous in no time.

Tiësto, “The Business”

Speaking of songs that sound primed to command the clubs whenever they reopen, Tiësto’s “The Business” is also gaining steam, jumping eight spots on this week’s Hot 100 to No. 69. After releasing the thumping track last September, the veteran producer seems to have picked up on the momentum, releasing a new version with Ty Dolla $ign as well as a Clean Bandit remix. Tiësto has been a household name in the dance world for two decades, but remarkably, has never climbed higher than No. 49 as an artist on the Hot 100; “The Business” could clear that hurdle in the next few weeks, and become a summer smash for the fist-pumping crowd.

The To-Be-Determineds

Drake

If you’ve made it this far, you might be thinking, “Wait, what about Drake’s ‘What’s Next,’ which was No. 1 on the Hot 100 last week?” Although “What’s Next,” as well as “Wants and Needs” and “Lemon Pepper Freestyle” from Scary Hours 2, could certainly stay near the top of the Hot 100 after last week’s debuts, Drake’s long-promised Certified Lover Boy album still looms -- and with it will likely come an enormous hit or three. In 2018, Drake released his Scorpion album at the end of June, and “In My Feelings” ruled the back half of the season to take that year’s song of the summer trophy; depending on the timing of his next album release, he could lock up 2021’s chart achievement in similar fashion, with “What’s Next” serving as a springtime appetizer.

BTS

Will the world-conquering K-pop collective have something new in store for the summer? Although BTS hasn’t announced an official follow-up to last November’s Be, or a single to grab the torch from recent No. 1 hit “Life Goes On,” the group has been so prolific over the past two years that it’s difficult to imagine them sitting on the sidelines until the fall. And if BTS does release a new single, it’s got a fair shot of immediately powering itself to the top of the Hot 100 -- just as “Life Goes On,” “Dynamite” and their remix to Jawsh 685’s “Savage Love” all did in 2020 -- thanks to the BTS Army’s fervor. A pop group this consistent in its release schedule and visits to No. 1 can’t be discounted.

Demi Lovato & Ariana Grande

Next week, Demi Lovato will return with her first album in four years, Dancing with the Devil... the Art of Starting Over, which will feature “Met Him Last Night,” her first-ever team-up with fellow SB Projects client Ariana Grande. Aside from uniting two of the most towering voices in modern pop -- as well as a Disney alum with a Nickelodeon grad -- “Met Him Last Night” could become an instant chart contender, with Grande now one of the Hot 100’s most bankable stars and Lovato a top 10 mainstay when she’s releasing official album singles. If “Met Him Last Night” takes off, Lovato could secure her first career Hot 100 No. 1, and Grande could notch her first song of the summer crown.

Lil Baby & Lil Durk

If you’re looking at the blueprint of last year’s song of the summer, “Rockstar” by DaBaby and Roddy Ricch, and wondering what 2021 song could replicate that plan to the top, look no further than the upcoming joint project from Lil Baby and Lil Durk, two of the hottest artists in modern hip-hop. Lil Baby is coming off a year in which his My Turn album bumped him up to rap’s elite tier, while Lil Durk has been dishing up key assists on top 20 hits like Drake’s “Laugh Now, Cry Later” and Pooh Shiesty’s “Back in Blood.” With the right single, the pair could harness their growing fanbases and produce a summer-owning hit.

Taylor Swift

Last year, Taylor Swift released a pair of surprise albums, Folklore and Evermore, and scored No. 1 hits with their respective lead singles, “Cardigan” and “Willow.” Swift may not necessarily drop some brand new music in 2021 after those two opuses, but she will deliver some unreleased older tunes: Fearless (Taylor’s Version), the re-recording of her blockbuster sophomore album, arrives Apr. 9, along with six previously unheard tracks she originally worked on for its 2008 release (the first, “You All Over Me (From The Vault),” comes out this Friday). In all likelihood, a song that Swift originally dreamed up a decade ago probably won’t become the 2021 song of the summer... but just a few weeks after Swift became the first woman in history to win a third album of the year Grammy, we’re a little hesitant to bet against her.

Rihanna

Yup, that’s right: even a stray Instagram comment about one song possibly coming soon will get Rihanna placed on this list.

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