The Search for a Summer Hit
What the dillio? The zenith of Summer ’14 approaches and we still haven’t crowned a summer hit
Around this same time last year Daft Punk, Pharrell Williams and living Chic frontman Nile Rodgers was rocking our iPhones with the ‘70’s disco throwback sounds of “Get Lucky” and Robin Thicke’s dancefloor copycat “Blurred Lines” was making its rounds. For a second, the latter eclipsed Daft Punk’s accomplishments, particularly when late night talk show host Stephen Colbert couldn’t book the helmet-wearing duo on his hit news satire show. Colbert called in Thicke and the pompous title of 2014 Best Summer Anthem went to the Pharrell-sponsored hit. Of course, when you factor in the publicity stunt of Miley Cyrus’s tongue-wagging anarchy at the MTV Video Awards your hit song should soar into orbit. That it did. But the backlash from Thicke’s strong female support system over the misogynic lyrics ate away at any and all of Thicke’s credibility. So strong was that pushback that it eventually pushed his sexy wife Paula Patton away from his bedside, eventually forcing him to publish open letter apologies in the form of an entire album.
Of course, let it be known that Daft Punk got the last laugh. They ultimately swept the Grammys, winning Album of the Year, Record of the Year and several others. Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” was nominated for Best Pop Duo/Group, but Daft Punk came out as the winner on that one.
Now here we are. Desperately searching for this year’s summer smash hit. And we are nowhere near a definite answer on who’s the crowning winner. Let’s set up some important facts for those trying to find a quick resolve to this year’s biggest mystery.
Sales of albums and singles are at a dismal low. It’s not all that terrible, but it’s enough to stress that this year’s biggest sellers are a Oscar-winning Disney soundtrack and last year’s leftovers. That’s not good, especially when a summer hit should always be released in the same year in order to bear such a crown.
That automatically disqualifies Pharrell Williams’s “Happy.” Yep. The funky Motown-sounding throwback was released last summer, just like Frozen’s “Let It Go.” The song definitely broke records. After a very slow climb to the top of Billboard’s Hot 100 summit, “Happy” parked there and rode that tidal wave of success for an incredible ten weeks. It all happened in 2014, many months after its release. Despite currently sitting at a very impressive number 12 pop, that hit record is already disqualified from the deserving honor of this year’s summer smash hit.
So if not “Happy,” what else should we mention? Katy Perry’s “Birthday” is a good choice. In Perry’s fair-sounding album Prism, I clearly noted that this was the sleeper hit and if Capitol failed to release this as a single, then Jesus Christ would be returning very soon. With Perry being raised Christian; she might have postponed the Big One’s return for a few more decades. Prism was released last October and Perry’s “Birthday” being released as a single this April, it stands as a good contender. Only problem is that the single has already peaked and dropped. When the album was originally released, buyers in France and South Korea rushed to the non-single. It managed to chart at number 160 on the French charts, where it sat for one week. In South Korea, it peaked at number 51, selling over 3,000 digital copies. That’s just how amazing “Birthday” was. And this all happened without very little promotion from Perry’s label.
So how did this awesome single peak and drop so soon? Well, there’s a good theory behind the party pooper. Album shelf life is a very terrible low, and for those who already own the albums in some form or fashion (even if it’s being streamed notoriously off of paid streaming services), they aren’t going to jump for joy over a new radio single they’ve already played out in the comforts of their home. Even in the U.S., the single peaked at number 91 one week before Capitol motioned to give the single a release date. On the following week, the single jumped to number 83. Then it went 83-37. The furthest “Birthday” moved was to number 17 pop. It has since dropped and shows no signs of returning. Regardless of how much radio play “Birthday” gets, it needs record sales to keep its livelihood in operation. As of right now, the song is nowhere on the radar. Perry’s dark hip-hop midtempo jam “Dark Horse” is even outperforming it. On the week of August 2, “Birthday” sits at a disappointing number 79.
Paramore’s “Ain’t It Fun” should have also entered the conversation of best summer anthem, but is disqualified for the same reasons “Birthday” has. I raved about the single in the original album self-titled LP review, but record labels waiting to the bitter end to release it as a single (hope you’re listening, major record labels). Despite the album being released last year, February 4 was the official release date for the funky gospel-meets-R&B-meets-rock/pop jam. It peaked at number 10, but has since dropped to number 28. The Paramore single isn’t letting go of its grips like Perry’s “Birthday,” but its reign for the summer seems to be slipping. An act of God is needed for Paramore to maintain its stronghold. Fingers crossed on that one.
Michael Jackson’s “Love Never Felt So Good” is probably the best posthumous track to come out of the King of Pop’s vault. With Justin Timberlake anchored to a memorable Timbaland remix, the song soared 22-9 in the month of May. It’s being heard heavily on Muzak and even on adult contemporary formats. It’s even been licensed for commercial use in summer-teased ads for Jeep (see here and here). So where does that great song sit as the peak of summer quickly approaches? Let’s just say it’s nowhere in the Top 20 (Hey nosy one: it’s at number 63 on the August 2 survey). How unfortunate.
Any other contenders? Look to what’s trending on the Hot 100.
“Fancy,” the Iggy Azalea blockbuster anthem, already peaked at number one and shows no signs of falling by the wayside quickly. With its catchy old-school hip-hop beats and minimalist production rivaling that of Lorde’s “Royals,” the Charli XCX-anchored “Fancy” is putting hip-hop back into the conversation of chart dominance. For most of the month of July, “Fancy” parked at number one. Despite losing to rap queen Nicki Minaj at this year’s BET Awards, Azalea is proving to be this year’s spelling bee champ. She’s also buzzing with Mariah-sounding Ariana Grande on “Problem.” That song is also a healthy contender, since that single is set to be released on Grande’s forthcoming sophomore LP, My Everything. Although it peaked at number two and has since dropped a few slots, it currently sits at number 4.
Iggy’s hook singing partner deserves to be in the conversation of this year’s chart domination with the rise of the synthpop-powered “Break Free” making its desperate climb into the Top 20. It managed to reach number15 pop, but it has since dropped to number 21 as of August 2. Speaking of Grande: The latest girl power anthem, “Bang Bang,” has just been released and might see a major uptick into the Top 40. It features Jessie J and Nicki Minaj and shows enough promise to be a summer anthem. Only time will tell.
AUDIO: LISTEN TO “BANG BANG” – JESSIE J, ARIANA GRANDE AND NICKI MINAJ
Maroon 5’s “Maps” is in the Top 10, but the reggae-lite pop single seems a bit weak of a single to deserve an ultimate summer smash trophy. Sam Smith’s slow, but perfect ballad is just what it is: too slow for consideration. The same applies to John Legend’s career highlight “All of Me.” Too slow. And then there’s Jason Derulo’s “Wiggle,” his best pop effort since “Talk Dirty.” It could be a contender but its crossover magnetism seems to be losing steam since the top slots are already anchored by similar hip-hop beats. And if you’re going to compare those singles in search for what’s better, the girls easily win. Electro-pop offerings from Disclosure (“Latch”) and Calvin Harris (“Summer”) are only in the conversation for pool party happiness. Spine-tingling vibes are there, but shows no real signs of overtaking the number one slot.
Although we aren’t exactly close to crowning a summer hit for 2014, we look to what we already have for a solution. Right now, the finger is pointing at Iggy’s “Fancy.” Let’s hope the drama between Nicki Minaj (and the uproar of T.I. “ghost writing) is over and done with.