Radio Rant: Billboard’s Songs of the Summer 2016

Of all of Billboard’s silly charts, none draws me year after year like the Songs of the Summer. For one, it’s a good tip-off to how the year-end is going to look because whoever runs the summer will place generously there, but mostly I enjoy it because its only purpose the futile exercise of quantifying hype. Most of Billboard’s other charts are rooted (however dubiously) in the hard numbers of sales, streams, and airplay. The Songs of the Summer chart is made of, “the most popular titles based on cumulative performance on the weekly Billboard Hot 100 chart from Memorial Day through Labor Day,” which (I think) means that it takes however the songs are doing on the Hot 100 and rejiggers them into a new list…somehow. Cumulatively? Who knows! It gets even kookier because Billboard doesn’t do one final list for the entire summer anymore and instead issues the chart week by week, meaning wherever you rank in mid-September is supposed to reflect the summer, leading to wonky claims like “Send My Love (To Your New Lover)” magically coming in at the 10th song of the season despite never being that popular. Thank goodness for cumulative ranking!

So instead, I made my own list with Billboard’s data. Using their 20 spot Summer Song  weekly chart, I gave the number one song 20 points, the number two song 19 points and so on each week (if a song didn’t chart for a week, it got 0 points), and then averaged each song’s points out for what’s basically a pop music DVOA. The top ten highest point-earners are below. And, if you’re so inclined, you can click here for the breakdown.

The last thing I’ll say is that this year solid enough, but it was pretty homogeneous. Most everything that ranked high had a sultry, electronic, dancehall tinge to it. In other words, it all sounded like Rihanna. So then, part of today is going to be a game called “Sounds Like Rihanna,” where we’ll appraise each song on how much it does or doesn’t evoke the ANTI singer. Let’s begin.

10. Kent Jones – “Don’t Mind”Hola como esta Kent Jones? Long time, no see. I still maintain that “Don’t Mind” is a mindless song, but at least the chorus is mindless fun instead of mindless dumb like the verse, and that’s enough to make it harmless coming in at number 10. I don’t know, this is still low quality radio filler, so there’s not much to say. The Pitbull remix fits “Don’t Mind” like a glove, though (this is a compliment).

Sounds Like Rihanna: Very low. It’s just so damn perky that I think she’s sneer at it over her sunglasses.

9. Mike Posner – “I Took a Pill in Ibiza” (Seeb Remix)
In which Mike Posner capitalizes on what the rest of us have known since 2010: fuckin’ nobody wants to be Mike Posner. There’s potential for a song like “ITaPiI” that so nakedly grips with being a wash-up, but Poser’s too self-pitying to really make it work outside a line or two. The Seeb remix is uninspired sub-DJ Snake EDM pop, and jamming in the club to “I Took a Pill in Ibiza” is “getting drunk to ‘Swimming Pools’” level Missing The Point.

Sounds Like Rihanna: Musically, not really, but “I took a pill in Ibiza” is definitely a thing she’s done.

8. Sia ft. Sean Paul – “Cheap Thrills”
“Cheap Thrills” landed on my personal Songs of the Summer list, so it’s gold to me. It’s just a fun listen because Sia, Sean Paul, and Greg Kurstin know their way around mercenary, breezy pop music like few others do. And, speaking as part of a friend group where invariably one of us checks their mobile banking app on the sly before we all go out, I can appreciate a song about partying on the cheap. “Cheap Thrills” is just an honest good time, and the fact that one of our summer hits is by a pair of 40-somethings only made the happy hour booze that much sweeter.

Sounds Like Rihanna: “Cheap Thrills” was literally written for Riri, if that answers it.

7. Rihanna – “Needed Me”
When ANTI came out in January, I wanted “Needed Me” to be a hit, but I never thought it would actually happen. It’s not structured like a pop song. It neither slaps nor bangs. It has a surprisingly raw Rihanna. It has DJ Mustard’s iciest beat made of stretched and twisted synth buzz and reverby drums. None of these are knocks–in fact, I’d call “Needed Me” one of Rihanna’s best songs–but it doesnt’ scream “radio single,” even with an eye-catchy video. Still, though, it happened. What I like about “Needed Me” in pop context is that it’s basically just Rihanna on this thing: it’s not weighted down by a guest verse, it’s not anchored by a big name producer doing his trademark work; it’s just her front and center. Also, Rihanna curving a tuxedoed Drake in front of millions has to be a “Fuck your white horse and a carriage” moment.

Sounds Like Rihanna: It’s not just Rihanna, it’s Peak “Maneater DGAF” Rihanna.

6. Fifth Harmony ft. Ty Dolla $ign – “Work From Home”
Fifth Harmony have the same problem that Ariana Grande had last album cycle: here’s a pop act with decent material, but lacks that one intangible to send it home. And “Work From Home” is fine, really. End of the day, I think I slightly prefer the brassy attitude of “Worth It,” but I can respect the way “Work From Home” taps current trends and churns out a good application of them. If you like songs on the radio, you’ll probably like this one, but you probably won’t love it. There also, y’know, that other song.

Sounds Like Rihanna: “Work From Home” is the The Amazing Spider-Man to “Work”‘s Spiderman.

5. Calvin Harris ft. Rihanna – “This Is What You Came For”
The easy bag on “This Is What You Came For” is that the song’s behind the scenes drama between producer Calvin Harris and pseudonymous writer/Harris’ now-ex Taylor Swift is more interesting than the song itself. I’m not gonna fight that exactly, however, “This Is What You Came For” is a solid dance track. It features some relatively restrained and smooth Calvin Harris production (check the way that chorus synth/handclap combo just bounces and the post-chorus glides), and even if she’s doing a light Taylor Swift impression, I’d rather hear Rihanna on this than T.Swift herself. And c’mon, was it really surprising that Swift wrote this song? Doesn’t “Lightning strikes every time she moves” scream “Taylor Swift lyric” to anyone else?

Sounds Like Rihanna: If Rihanna hadn’t gone artistic for ANTI, its first single would have sounded like “This Is What You Came For.”

4. The Chainsmokers ft. Daya – “Don’t Let Me Down”
This is still a song I will never give a shit about, and Daya seems poised to have a legit career, but the most exciting thing that’s happened between now and the last time I looked at this C-minus of a hit is The Chainsmokers’ bro-tastically unself-aware Billboard profile. In the profile, the guys talk about: being inspired by characters in Entourage, starting an investment club in high school, pin that awful VMAs performance on Halsey, a “tip-to-tip” measurement of their combined dicks, describe their first meeting as “a man date,” mention how “even before success, pussy was number one,” and I’m only lying about one of those. Enjoy it while it lasts, broskis, but remember that Mike Posner was once you. And some day, you’ll be him.

Sounds Like Rihanna: Daya continues the chart’s “Rihanna imitation, Actual Rihanna, Rihanna imitation, Actual Rihanna, Rihanna imitation” pattern.

3. Desiigner – “Panda”
“Panda” is still too long by a stretch, but not since seeing DJ Esco and Metro Boomin weave through “Where Ya At” has my opinion of a song been so buoyed by seeing people dance to it. You couldn’t choreograph that kind of shit to “Don’t Let Me Down.”

Sounds Like Rihanna: “Panda” and Rihanna both appear like, 40 seconds apart on The Life of Pablo, but that’s about it.

2. Justin Timberlake – “Can’t Stop the Feeling!”
I’m of two minds with “Can’t Stop the Feeling!” On one hand, this is some aggressively middle of the road, people pleasing, disco-pop by numbers, craven capitalist (Don’t forget to see Trolls in theaters!) bullshit. “Can’t Stop the Feeling!” is like Justin Timberlake’s Michael Jackson self-insert fanfic last year without Michael’s take there to shine things up. On the other hand, I fucking loved “Love Never Felt So Good,” and if anyone’s going to dedicate themselves to making this fizzy pop song work, it’s JT. And most of my knocks against “Can’t Stop the Feeling!” seem like they’re by design: this is a song that’s supposed to color inside the lines and please people. It’s the all-ages banger for the summer. I don’t have to like it, but for weddings? It’s time to dance, dance, dance.

Sounds Like Rihanna: Not at all, to the point that it’s sort of a defining feature. “Can’t Stop the Feeling” is trend-averse, silent majority kind of pop.

1. Drake ft. Wizkid & Kyla – “One Dance”
A large part of why the Songs of the Summer chart feels so doofy and unnecessary is that the actual song of the summer is always a forgone conclusion. We’ve been so thoroughly shellacked by the season’s biggest song by mid-September that our reaction to it has calcified into grudging indifference, unbridled joy, or deep, unending rage. “One Dance” falls squarely in the “grudging indifference” category: it’s passable, maybe even good if you squint at it, but completely underwhelming, no matter the context. It’s hard to pin down exactly how “One Dance” did so well; there was no unstoppable video, it’s not super quotable or joke worthy, and it’s barely a song. Maybe Drake’s just too big to friggin fail at this point. With “Controlla” and “Too Good” bubbling under in recent months, we shall see. If those songs really take off, he can rule the rest of the year. Otherwise, this is just that summertime sadness.

Sounds Like Rihanna: Sort of? I feel like she probably laughed at “One Dance” the first time she heard it.

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About bgibs122

I enjoy music and music culture; I hope you do, too.
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2 Responses to Radio Rant: Billboard’s Songs of the Summer 2016

  1. Okay, just to save myself the shock/disappointment, what’s the likelihood that we’ll see ITAPII and Can’t Stop The Feeling on your worst list at the end of the year?
    (Sidenote: both are top 3 best list material for me and would’ve been the top 2 had Into You not been a hit)

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