Since starting this site, I’ve reviewed the annual Songs of the Summer chart from Billboard. The Songs of the Summer chart is fairly new, and there’s kind of a naive romanticism to it; was something like “How To Love” really an essential summer hit because it happened to peak between Memorial Day and Labor Day? But, the chart more than justified itself last year with an absolutely stacked list highlighted by the summer-spanning dogfight between “Get Lucky” and “Blurred Lines”. It wasn’t just that those songs (plus “Radioactive”, “We Can’t Stop”, and “Cups”, dear God, “Cups”) were hits, they were inescapable.
I can’t say the same for this year.
It wasn’t for lack of trying. To the contrary, at least two of these were open Summer Hit Bait. But almost none of them have that one it factor that separates cast-offs the “Come and Get It”s from the “Call Me Maybe”s of the world. So, let’s take a look, this is your Songs of the Summer chart for 2014.
10. DJ Snake ft. Lil Jon – Turn Down For What
Of course, all the groaning I just did about this year’s list is rendered mute by Lil Jon’s liquor-soaked shout of “TURN DOWN FOR WHAT”. I’m not calling “Turn Down For What” a classic, but you can’t fuck with this one in terms of balls-out aggression, primal attitude, and the best deployment of Lil Jon that doesn’t involve Usher. DJ Snake’s beat, all punishing bass and overloaded with claps and snares, sounds like something Andrew WK would make if he went EDM. “Turn Down For What” is the audio equivalent of someone daring you to do another shot, and I will always fall for that shit.
9. Calvin Harris – Summer
Grade On Merit of Dethroning “California Gurls” as the Most Blatant Attempt at a Summer Hit: Pass.
Grade On Merit As a Summer Hit: Fail. Katy Perry at least got a number 1 for her trouble.
8. Pharrell – Happy
In a slightly different world, “Happy” would be a clear number one–for summer’s sake, it peaked way too early in the year–but when your March/April #1 makes an appearance in the summer chart, it shows how iron clad “Happy”‘s grip is on 2014. For my part, I don’t hate listening to “Happy” as long as I decide when it’s on, but what I like a lot more is this remix that pairs it with Janelle Monae’s “Tightrope”. They’re basically the same song, and “Tightrope” brings a low-end punch that “Happy” is painfully missing. I’ve embraced “Happy” as the number one song of the year, unless we get any surprises, but I’m not thrilled about the idea.
7. Jason Derulo ft. Snoop Dogg – Wiggle
We were almost rid of Jason Derulo. I thought his career was going to peter out after a few middling singles, but then “Talk Dirty” happened, and I think he released “Wiggle” just to spite us. The only way Snoop’s verse could be lazier is if he rapped his bank account number, and I don’t know about you, and I didn’t need this hook to remind me why I destroyed my recorder in fifth grade. Derulo brings nothing to the table; if he thought a song could get by on “lol, butts”, he picked the wrong year.
6. John Legend – All Of Me
The fact that this song has sustained momentum into the summer after peaking in April and May is a tribute to the unsung power of wedding DJs, beach slow dances, and dentist offices the world over.
5. Nico & Vinz – Am I Wrong
Now, here’s a nice, inoffensive, mildly flavored song that I can’t for the life of me remember ever hearing. It still sounds vaguely familiar, though. If anyone asks what we were listening to in 2014, “Am I Wrong” is a one-stop answer: there’s the electronic underpinnings, horns, sky-high vocals, and Police-y guitar all in one place. That ubiquity made it a hit this summer, but I can’t imagine wanting to sit down and listen to more by Nico & Vinz after “Am I Wrong” reaches its long-sought conclusion. If they change up their style and gain a bit of an edge, I could see them being a pop juggernaut, but as is, their just top ten fodder. Which is, in itself, not a bad thing.
4. Sam Smith – Stay With Me
Take a guy with Adele’s range and ability to wring a teardrop out of every note, her pop/soul/folk affections, take the tempo down a few notches, and you’ve got fellow Brit Sam Smith. Smith’s the kind of singer that looks good on paper and sounds great in recording; not only can he outsing nearly anyone else, but he can package material as limp as “Stay With Me” as a hit. “Stay With Me” isn’t a bad song per se, it’s just so much: it’s a shuffling, choir and organ backed, downtrodden, reflective, devotion-heavy ballad. In terms of self-seriousness, stuff like this is a rung below “We Are the World”. I much prefer “Latch” Smith’s breakthrough hit with Disclosure, where he brings some of that same longing, but struts between octaves like lonely disco king.
3. Ariana Grande ft. Iggy Azalea – Problem
“Problem” is the purest attempt at a Summer Hit this year, with its conspicuous late April release date, airy instrumentation, and soul/bubblegum pop production. That production, Grande’s vocals, and the still-great fakeout at the chorus were good enough to get “Problem” all the way to number 2 on the Hot 100, but Azalea’s mediocre verse and a lack of personality kept it from the top spot. When I talked about songs lacking the intangible to get to number one, “Problem” was definitely on my mind: if it ever went for the throat, or amped up the bubblegum-y side of it (and maybe got anyone else for the verse), it could have gone further. Ah well.
2. MAGIC! – Rude
Instead of expressing my bafflement at this bland slice of nothing’s continued success/eagerness for its inevitable One Hit Wonder status, I’m going to share an anecdote. A month or so ago, I happened to walk by an LGBTQ rights protest that was taking place a few blocks from where I work. One of the female protesters had a sign with “Rude”‘s chorus on it, complete with “I’m gonna marry her anyway!” in big lettering. It was just a sign, but I wanted to give her points for 1. a snappy pop culture reference, 2. cleverness, and 3. finding relevance in what is likely the most irrelevant song of the year. It didn’t quite make up for the numerous times “Rude” has been inflicted on me over the summer, but hey, a chuckle’s a chuckle.
1. Iggy Azalea ft. Charli XCX – Fancy
Well, don’t act all surprised. “Fancy” has lived in the top 20 all summer, complete with a seven week stretch at number one, the second longest of any song this year (“Happy” held the spot for ten weeks). Catchy chorus aside, I’m still not that into it; the beat’s too dull, and Azalea doesn’t wow on her verses. I don’t think I’m alone on that, particularly since Azalea’s only now gaining traction with a second, more decisively bad hit. “Fancy” arguably gave Charli XCX more publicity: the association gave “Boom Clap” a leg-up, and now she’s promoing a new album for October after her critically-liked-but-undersold debut last year.
Sometimes the winners aren’t the obvious ones.
My own Songs of the Summer Top Ten in no real order
1. Disclosure ft. Sam Smith -Latch
2. Michael Jackson – Love Never Felt So Good
3. Interpol – All the Rage Back Home
4. Redbone – Come and Get Your Love (Guardians of the Galaxy‘s soundtrack is that good)
5. Charli XCX – Boom Clap
6. FKA twigs – Pendulum
7. Paramore – Aint’t It Fun
8. Lana Del Rey – Shades of Cool
9. Ariana Grande ft. Iggy Azalea – Problem
10. Joyce Manor – Heart Tattoo