The New Song Of Summer 2013 Brings SexyBack Back

In May, when Ross On Radio readers were asked to handicap the Summer Song of 2013, their only serious competition for Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” was Florida Georgia Line’s “Cruise.” Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” was one of numerous songs—like Bruno Mars’ “Treasure” and Mariah Carey’s “#beautiful”—that got a handful of votes.

“Get Lucky” led “Blurred Lines” in PD mentions by a margin that exceeded 3:1. In those programmer lists of summer song candidates, “Get Lucky” was usually the first song cited. “Blurred Lines,” by contrast, was a second or third mention for all but one PD, WWCK Flint, Mich.’s Jerry Noble—who as it happens, was also an early champion of Kid Rock’s equally left-field “All Summer Long” at the time.

By mid-July, “Cruise” had peaked. A few weeks later, “Get Lucky” peaked at No. 2. “Get Lucky” is a real multi-format hit with an unusual coalition of support that spans from modern rock to rhythmic top 40, and a well-¬deserved payoff for an influential act that top 40 should have supported years ago. But at this point, it’s statistically impossible for anything but “Blurred Lines,” already a five-week No. 1 at mainstream top 40, to be the Song of Summer 2013.

Talk of an upset had started no later than the second week of June. A co-worker texted me from a wedding to say “Blurred Lines” had packed an empty dancefloor. A day later, WWCK’s Noble tweeted that he had heard it at three weddings. A major-market PD tweeted to say it was on all three top 40s at the same time. It had the ubiquity that was the clear marking of the Song of Summer.

Every few years, a dark horse emerges that doesn’t reach critical mass in time to win the title, but has the staying power to become a much more significant hit in the long term. In 2006, it was Justin Timberlake’s “SexyBack” eventually eclipsing Nelly Furtado’s “Promiscuous.” In 2010, Taio Cruz’s “Dynamite” almost caught Katy Perry’s “California Gurls,” definingly a presumptive winner. “Blurred Lines” could have become that song. How, instead, did it take people by surprise? In several ways.

Because it brought “SexyBack” back: When Timberlake’s “Suit & Tie” arrived this spring, it was the sort of polite retro jam that Thicke had been charting with at adult R&B for years. “Blurred Lines,” a considerably less well-behaved retro jam, doesn’t move pop music forward like “SexyBack” did, but it better captures the puckishness of its predecessor. And to the extent that this can be said about a song whose refrain is “We’re up all night/to get lucky,” it also makes Daft Punk’s song sound tame. 

It’s more attention-getting, now: When “SexyBack” arrived amid a similar rush of throwback jams from Christina Aguilera, Jessica Simpson and others, it sounded, at first, like a noisy, dissonant superstar self-indulgence. Then it became irresistible. “Blurred Lines” initially had the same off-kilter feel that made it stand out—but perhaps it didn't immediately sound like a hit to everybody.

It united mainstream top 40 and R&B/hip-hop: In spring, it looked like Chris Brown’s “Fine China” might be the elusive uptempo R&B hit both formats shared. “Suit & Tie” was a multiformat hit, too, but “Blurred Lines” was a rare example of an artist with an R&B base that blurred the format lines, giving it a particularly wide reach. The other side of that, however, was that top 40 PDs might have been slower to pay attention to an artist with an R&B base.

Effective use of a video avatar: A few summers ago, Thicke’s Interscope labelmate Maroon 5 proved that well-placed TV exposure could be useful for mainstream hit records, not just the indie rock favored by music supervisors. “Blurred Lines” brought that lesson to viral video. “Gangnam Style” was a hit video that worked in place of a hit song, but “Blurred Lines” was a hit song that took on another dimension online. The result was that listeners decided whether they wanted to experience the song as PG-13 or R-rated.

ROR will take one more look at the Summer Song battle when it officially wraps up around Labor Day. For now, we thank “Blurred Lines” for giving us our first true upset in years.