With summer “officially” over with, Billboard has released their annual list of the top ten songs of the summer (Memorial Day-Labor Day). Normally, I just go through the list bottom to top for suspense, but this year, giving away that “Blurred Lines” got the top spot is like saying “there’s meth” on Breaking Bad. So, I thought I’d go through the list as usual, but look at how the song could have beat “Blurred Lines”, how close its chance was, and ultimately, why it didn’t. Let’s start at the bottom.
10. Selena Gomez – Come and Get It
How “Come and Get It” could have come and gotten it: Gomez, like her former Disney cohort Miley Cyrus, spent the summer announcing her transition from calculated teen pop act to calculated pop star. The two are polar opposites in their approach, though: Cyrus has a shock-tactics heavy, dramatic, rebellious image, whereas Gomez treats “Come and Get It” with the same professionalism she’s given to her music career so far. Goemz seems like she wants to play the pop long game, and “Come and Get It” is part of that: it follows the trends while being listenable on its own, ala Rihanna.
Could It Beat “Blurred Lines”? Nope.
Why the hell not? Sure, the dubstep-tinged production’s good and the hook’s there, but at the end of the day, “Come and Get It” is too by-numbers to be anything more than good.
9. Anna Kendrick – Cups (When I’m Gone)
How “Cups” Could Have Scooped the Top Spot: “Cups” is the only song on the list that comes close to competing with “Blurred Lines” for sheer cultural permeability. Originally from the aca-unbearably overquoted movie Pitch Perfect, “Cups” made it to the charts through sheer force of lovable, quirky catchiness and everyone learning that cups game (…me included). It finally broke through once club mixes started getting radio airplay, but once it hit, it stuck. Anna Kendrick is as baffled as the rest of us.
Could It Beat “Blurred Lines”? Not really, but I want to give it the moral victory anyway.
Why the Hell Not? “Cups”, underneath it all, wasn’t made to exist as a chart topper: it’s a movie tie-in release. At best, it was supposed to sell ~300k units on iTunes, maybe hit the lowest reaches of the charts for a month, and become your school’s a capella group’s hat trick for a few years. The fact that it made its way here is impressive enough.
8. Bruno Mars – Treasure
How “Treasure” Could Have Been the Crown Jewel: Bruno’s last two Unorthodox Jukebox singles went to number 1, so “Treasure” is already going in as a contender. With its retro-soul sound including bouncing basslines and funky rhythm guitar riff, the song’s as deliberately throwback as Mars has gotten in his career, but still in line with current trends (and seriously apes Off the Wall era Michael Jackson).
Could It Beat Blurred Lines: Had a shot, but no.
Why the Hell Not? Picking up steam mid-summer didn’t help, for one, and “Treasure”‘s biggest weakness as a song is that it place genre a little too straight for mass appeal.
7. Justin Timberlake – Mirrors
How “Mirrors” Could Have Reflected Greater Success: “Mirrors” spent some time at no. 2, and might actually outdo “Suit & Tie” by year’s end. It’s one of the stronger tracks off The 20/20 Experience (especially since most radio stations omit the extended outro), and the classic Timbaland production and adoring nature of the song make it feel timeless.
Could It Beat “Blurred Lines”? Close, but not quite.
Why the Hell Not? Like The 20/20 Experience as a whole, “Mirrors” falls just too heavy on the art side of art-pop to get the number one spot, and a long runtime for the song/video didn’t help things.
6. Florida Georgia Line ft. Nelly – Cruise
How It Could Have “Cruised” to number 1: By not being a piece of lowest common denominator country interbred with lowest common denominator hip-hop for a claustrophobic and scholocky remix (I do not like this song). The wide appeal got it this high, but a lack of starpower (and quality) kept it from going any higher.
Could It Beat “Blurred Lines”? Not by a mile.
Why the Hell Not? Lack of “tastemaker” appeal; “Cruise” might have been Middle America’s choice, but it came up short with the “hip” crowd in pop. And it’s a miserable remix of a stooge of a song to begin with.
5. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis ft. Ray Dalton – Can’t Hold Us
How “Can’t Hold Us” Could Have Held the Top Spot: Snack Attacklemore’s first and to date only non-gimmick hit works best when viewed as a four minute workout for producer Ryan Lewis, who produces “Can’t Hold Us” like it’s soundtracking an action sequence. The shout along bridge and outro, galloping beat, stabbing piano, and huge synths make for a great instrumental, and ‘more brings the energy (if not the writing) to his verses.
Could It Beat “Blurred Lines”? If time worked differently, maybe. But as is, no.
Why the Hell Not? If anyone had the intense fanbase and the hype to make it to no. 1, it was Macklemore, and “Can’t Hold Us” was number one for a month. But that month was mid-May to mid-June, meaning it peaked too early to bring numbers for the Summer charts.
4. Miley Cyrus – We Can’t Stop
Why It Might Have Stopped at Number One: For her first All Growed Up single, Cyrus took the “Come for the trainwreck, stay for the controversy” route in promoting “We Can’t Stop”. As a song, it’s a little too tepid, but certainly catchy, and Cyrus hasn’t been…ah, shy about promoting it. As far as controversy and thinkpieces, “We Can’t Stop” only takes second to “Blurred Lines”. And while I’m talking about the song, listen to this lovely doowop cover.
Could It Beat “Blured Lines”? With slightly different timing, possibly.
Why the Hell Didn’t It? Blame it on a (relatively) late release/pick up time, during which “Blurred Lines” had already insulated itself. Now with “Roar” and “Berzerk” ahead of it, it looks like number 1’s escaping Cyrus again.
3. Daft Punk – Get Lucky
How It Could Have “Gotten Lucky” with the charts: If one of these songs was going to top “Blurred Lines”, everyone put their money on it being “Get Lucky”, the other blast-from-the-past disco-y funk jam with Pharrell Williams on vocals. With stellar production, great instrumentation, the trademark Daft Punk robot vocals in the mix, a percussion based breakdown, and a great/super catchy melody, this was the one people thought would do it.
Could It Beat “Blurred Lines”? In a fair fight? Almost definitely. In reality? Well…
Why the Hell Not? This one comes down to promotion. While true “Get Lucky”, to me at least, is just a touch too repetitive for its own good (does it want to be a pop song or a dance song?), the clincher was “Blurred Lines”‘s lightning rod of a music video. Bad press is still press, and Daft Punk’s entire promotional campaign for “Get Lucky”/Random Access Memories ended the day the album dropped without “Lucky” ever getting a video. It’s not a clean win, but oh well.
2. Imagine Dragons – Radioactive
How It Could Have Gone Nuclear at Number One: Number one songs need mass appeal, and “Radioactive” certainly has that down pact. Filtering dubstep through a typical band setup means that damn near everyone is going to jam to your music, and indeed, “Radioactive” feels ready to sell every product you could possibly need. “Radioactive” has had the longest incubation time of anything on the Summer Chart; it’s been ubiquitous on your town’s pop station, rock station, and other rock station for almost a year. The song made it this high on the summer chart with a slowburn in the top ten; ironically, it’s charted higher here than it ever made it on the Hot 100 (#3).
Could It Beat “Blurred Lines”? I don’t think so, not more than “Mirrors” or “Get Lucky”.
Why the Hell Not? “Radioactive” was a song everyone knew, but no one really loved; it just didn’t have that “wow” factor like a great solo or breakdown that made it anything other than fun to hear on the radio. It arrived as-is, and did its job without wanting more.
1. Robin Thicke ft. T.I. and Pharrell – Blurred Lines
How? “Blurred Lines” was part of pop culture site Grantland’s Battle for the Best Song of the Millennium a few weeks ago, and as that tournament wound down, someone quipped that it was going to be a “battle of the wedding songs”. Yeah, it’s a zing, but weddings are great ways to measure a song’s mass appeal because it’s the lone place where you have to cater to everyone’s taste. And “Blurred Lines” does that: the melody is kinda doofy, the beat is incessantly danceable, and it’s catchy. Even though he’s on the right side of “featured”, this one’s success does to Pharrell for that beat.
At the same time, the shitstorm around the song’s tacky video and repulsive-when-you-say-them lyrics poisoned its quality, but gave it a ton of media coverage that “Get Lucky” wouldn’t see unless the members of Daft Punk kicked a kitten. The controversy was more advertising than Thicke ever put into the song, so combine that with the song’s own catchiness, and of course it stayed around for the summer. It’s a polarizing pick–I still find “Blurred Lines” seven shades of gross and still jam out whenever I hear it, but it’s the pick: here is your song of the summer.