Barring a sudden run of bad luck this summer, radio programmers think Daft Punk will claim the 2013 Song of the Summer title. But predictions also include remixed country-to-pop crossover “Cruise” by Florida Georgia Line; retro-flavored hits from Bruno Mars and Robin Thicke; and the week one summer song leader Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Icona Pop and others.
Handicapping each year’s Song of the Summer has become a shared experience, a throwback to the days when radio overall and top 40 in particular held immense sway over pop culture. The eventual choice of the summer song always says something about not only public taste, but the climate at radio. We reached out to a cross-section of radio programmers and readers of Billboard Top 40 Update’s “Ross On Radio” column to help handicap the 2013 Song of the Summer.
Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” is clear proof of climate change. During a previous dance music boom between the mid-’90s and early ’00s, the act’s “Around the World” and “One More Time” struggled for radio acceptance. “Get Lucky” came out in April to immediate major-market airplay and has just cracked the top 10 at mainstream top 40 radio. The duo’s “Random Access Memories” spent two weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 while posting the year’s second best sales week when it entered atop the chart two weeks ago.
Daft Punk is the obvious candidate to WBZZ (100.7 Star FM) Pittsburgh assistant PD/music director Scott Alexander and WFLZ Tampa, Fla., PD Tommy Chuck. There’s also international support from John Simon, operations director of the United Kingdom’s Real Radio/Smooth Radio group, Icelandic programmer Rúnar Róbertsson and Sander Schrik of the Netherlands’ OOG Radio.
“If the song of the summer isn’t ‘Get Lucky,’ we’re doing it wrong,” says Leslie Scott, brand coordinator of classic rock KMTT (the Mountain) Seattle. “A dance song about sex with a hook that won’t quit? It’s a no-brainer.”
While “Get Lucky” reflects the current excitement about Electronic Dance Music, the longer incubation period for hit records means that the Song of the Summer candidate isn’t always exactly “the sound of now.” Kid Rock’s 2008 contender “All Summer Long” was a nine-month-old album cut, but required relatively little set-up after becoming a single. Now, marketing plans are often more elaborate. Last year’s winner, “Call Me Maybe” by Carly Rae Jepsen was already a hit before Memorial Day and had been building in Canada since the previous fall. And Daft Punk’s main competitor began its journey at country radio last summer.
That song, Florida Georgia Line’s “Cruise,” now featuring Nelly, was second in reader mentions. Kid Kelly, who’s been playing the song on SiriusXM’s Hits 1 for months, actually calls for PDs to play the original country hit. “If programmers have the sack to play it, they’d see it’s a smash,” he writes. Others chiming in for the song include Premiere Networks’ Tom Garrett and KHTT Tulsa, Okla., PD Jet Black.
Similarly, Icona Pop’s “I Love It,” featuring Charli XCX , needed more than a year to travel from the music blogs to the European charts to U.S. synchs to Summer Song of 2013 contention. The Washington Post’s Chris Richards actually tipped “I Love It” as a left-field candidate for the Summer Song of 2012, but it didn’t begin its long march to the top 10 here until a “Girls” episode in January. For that reason, it’s hard to associate “I Love It” with this summer, but it certainly has the right feel and still sounds like little else on the radio. It gets the vote of ERG Music VP of programming Mike Setlock. This week, “I Love It” is still growing 4-3 on the Pop Songs chart.
A lot of the summer song candidates are also “the sound of then” in other ways. “Get Lucky” is a throwback not only to late ’70s disco, but to international late ’90s hits like Stardust’s “Music Sounds Better With You.” And two of its other competitors have a decidedly retro feel as well.
WWCK Flint, Mich., PD Jerry Noble–who was known for his early support of Kid Rock’s “All Summer Long”–made Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” his Summer Song of 2013 prediction weeks ago. Before Memorial Day, Noble expressed concern that “”It could be a bit too ‘dirty’ for some pop guys,” he allows. “Blurred Lines” this week moves 6-1 on the Hot 100 and lands at No. 3 on the premiere Songs of the Summer ranking.
Thicke’s main competitor in the battle of the grown-and-sexy R&B jams is Bruno Mars’ “Treasure,” with mentions from WBZZ’s Alexander, OOG’s Schrik, and Robbins Entertainment A&R director Matt D’Arduini. Mariah Carey’s “#Beautiful,” featuring Miguel, sounds more like the summer of 1963 than any new song actually commissioned for the movie “Dirty Dancing.” It was the choice of Rawlco Saskatchewan PD Chris Myers, but seems to have lost momentum in recent weeks after an initial Clear Channel radio push.
Rihanna’s “Right Now” is a calculated party jam in the tradition of previous summer hits like Black Eyed Peas’ “I Gotta Feeling,” Pitbull’s “Give Me Everything,” and LMFAO’s “Party Rock Anthem.” Rihanna was a regular summer song contender until her release schedule changed several years ago. “Right Now” got some initial airplay earlier this year, then was throttled back by PDs until summer, not unlike Katy Perry’s “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.).”
Imagine Dragons’ “Radioactive,” which has been scaling the Alternative list for 38 weeks, gets a nod from WEEM Pendleton, Ind., GM Jered Petrey. Because of the length of time that it still takes rock hits to cross at top 40 these days, the obvious summer-flavored song on the group’s Night Visions album, “On Top of the World,” will likely stay there, at least until next summer. Meanwhile, reader Jennifer Durr says that she thought Capital Cities’ “Safe and Sound” “would be the summer jam of 2011,” when it first surfaced on YouTube, “then 2012.”
“Ross On Radio” readers made their predictions in mid-May. Since then, we’ve seen fast-growing new releases from Miley Cyrus, also going the summer party anthem route with “We Can’t Stop” and Austin Mahone, on his way to first-all-ages-hit status with “What About Love.” Zedd’s “Clarity,” featuring Foxes, is more of a pure-EDM competitor than “Get Lucky.” In recent weeks, it has continued to build along the lines of label-mate Elle Goulding’s “Lights.” Maroon 5 had two summer 2012 hits with “Payphone” and “One More Night.” This year, the band’s “Overexposed” album is still going with “Love Somebody.”
Finally, there’s the possibility that one song may be a societal reflection of summer 2013, not just a musical one. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ “Can’t Hold Us” will almost certainly remain a radio staple throughout the summer, taking the first week of Billboard’s Summer Song tally. But “Same Love,” the same-sex equality ballad that has already sold 678,000 downloads (according to Nielsen SoundScan) and become a worldwide pop hit, is already building at top 40, meaning it will almost certainly be the soundtrack when the U.S. Supreme Court decision on marriage equality comes down this month. That makes it the current equivalent of Janis Ian’s “Society’s Child,” the summer 1967 hit that was on the radio when the Supreme Court ratified interracial marriage.