“I start to feel it fade awaaaay” yes, it’s the end of the summer here at Ranting About Music! and, er, everywhere else, which means it’s time for that annual tradition of looking at Billboard’s Songs of the Summer list. When the entertainment world of the future needs to reconstruct the sunshiney months of 2017 American life for future movies/shows/brain uploads, they’re gonna use one of these songs to ground the setting. Well, probably; it’s hard to believe that “Believer” or something is going to exist meaningfully after November.
The Billboard Songs of Summer chart describes itself as “The summer’s most popular songs across all genres, ranked by radio airplay audience impressions, sales data, and streaming activity data from online music sources as measured/compiled/tracked by Nielsen and Nielsen Music.” The key word in there is “Summer’s,” which (I think) means that, even though the list updates weekly, the poll itself is cumulative for the summer. This (again, I think) means that, unlike the Hot 100, your ranking on the final chart is the only one that matters–that the weeks before that are just updates on the race. This is why “Shape of You” is well-placed here, despite dropping out of the top ten a couple weeks ago (in the interest of full disclosure, this paragraph’s only really here because this is the first year I’ve understood BB’s methodology behind the chart, and then there was a bit about how dumb it is that the chart doesn’t start until late June, but–). I’ve talked enough, let’s get to the listing.
10. Post Malone feat. Quavo – “Congratulations”
Post Malone’s a newer guy in that “kind of a rapper, kind of not” mold. The songs of his that I’ve heard emphasize melody, hooks, and vibe while the bars themselves are perfunctory, and I don’t mean that as a dig; I really like “White Iverson.” I like “Congratulations” somewhat less since its seams show more: Malone gets fewer pop-trap miles per gallon here, you can tell someone used a rhyming dictionary on the hook (“congratulations/vacation/dedication”), Quavo slightly over-extends himself, and the verses are just kind of placeholders to break up the chorus. “Congratulations” passes at a glancing look, but falls apart under closer inspection, which is about par for the 10th Songs of Summer spot. Makes me crave MGMT.
9. Sam Hunt – “Body Like a Back Road”
How can “Body Like a Back Road” be the 9th biggest hit of summer ’17 if I swear it’s been out for two years already?
No, I mean that. I couldn’t tell you why, but “Body Like a Back Road” feels like at latest, a mid-2016 straggler despite its release this February. If “BLABR” isn’t bro-country, it’s at least some evolved strain of it that’s less overtly obnoxious, absolutely, but just as empty headed. Hunt can sell this better than Florida-Georgia Line ever could, although no amount of barrel-chested conviction can get around a line as terrible as “Now we go way back, like Cadillac seats.” But, since “Body Like a Back Road” is from 2017, this means Liam Payne isn’t alone in trying to bring back those rap “‘ey, ‘ey, ‘ey”s that everyone hated. Good job, guys.
8. French Montana (technically) feat. Swae Lee – “Unforgettable”
Look, French Montana is just fine. On last year’s headbasher “All the Way Up,” he was more than just fine. But on “Unforgettable,” a hazier take on the dancehall beat of “One Dance” that’s matched damn near perfectly by Swae Lee doing some of his airiest singing, his bellowing entrance a minute and a half in just deflates the atmosphere. It’s like watching someone leap into a bouncy house wearing concrete shoes. Not since Pitbull on “Timber” has someone sounded like a guest on their own hit, and at least Mr. Worldwide knew how to adapt to the material. French doesn’t, so he’s a skip on what’s otherwise a killer Sremmlife 3 teaser.
7. Kendrick Lamar – “HUMBLE.”
Here’s a story: in the early part of this summer, I was at a bar in downtown Cincy on a Saturday night. It was one of those places that had a big enough dance floor and soundsystem that it could pass for a club, but still felt like a bar, if that makes sense. Anyway, it was late, and the DJ had (I assume–we got there around 1) already cycled through the hits, so he threw on a “m.A.A.d city” remix. It kept people moving, but didn’t do much beyond the “YAK YAK YAK YAK” call because, y’know, 1 AM. And then, he switches it out to “HUMBLE.” and people start losing their shit. The dance floor swells immediately with kids drunk off vodka-Redbulls, and when it gets to That Point, I swear that everyone there shouted “MY LEFT STROKE JUST WENT VI. RAL.” Truth be told, “HUMBLE.” is like, the 8th or 9th best song off the new record, but seeing Kendrick Lamar connect with an audience on his own shit? That’ll make you look back and say DAMN.
6. Imagine Dragons – “Believer”
If you assume all of those “Rock is dead” pieces are correct, then Imagine Dragons are rock’s undead husk, dragged from a frozen lake, and living a half-life of futile anger and yowl-y vocals.
5. Ed Sheeran – “Shape of You”
There’s a category of pop that I’ve begun to think of as “shopping mall pop.” “Shopping mall pop” is shorthand for the kind of bland, feckless, pop song that somehow manages to be the third or fourth song you hear in every shopping mall, gym, Dairy Queen, and waiting room over the course of a year. It’s too mild to offend anyone, which means that it then ends up sticking around for forever and eventually everyone gets sick of it. “Shape of You” is this year’s entrant in the modern shopping mall pop canon, where it joins the uninspired ranks of “All of Me,” “Sugar,” “Fight Song,” and “Roar” to make your trip to TJ Maxx 40% less thrilling for three and a half minutes.
4. DJ Khaled feat. Rihanna & Bryson Tiller – “Wild Thoughts”
Tracing the arc of the Songs of the Summer chart across the season, just about everything stayed in or near the top 10 for duration, with the exception of “Wild Thoughts,” which didn’t even chart for the first week or two before clawing its way to number four. “Wild Thoughts” marks Rihanna’s only appearance on the 2017 summer chart a year after her presence and influence was so pervasive in the contest that I made a game out of it, and this is…fine. “Wild Thoughts” the sort of breezy summer pop + left–field sample combination that Riri can do in her sleep, but Tiller drags it down by sounding completely out of his depth. That unevenness happens with these DJ Khaled match-ups: sometimes they click, and sometimes one person is clearly doing all the work, work, work, work, work, work.
3. DJ Khaled feat. Justin Bieber, Quavo, Chance the Rapper, and Lil Wayne – “I’m the One”
There’s too little beat and too much Bieber for “I’m the One” to go for nearly five minutes. Bieber, who can sound great, is basically here as a Chris Brown surrogate, but he sounds bored out of his mind. He’s not the only one who comes up short, though, as both Chance and Lil Wayne whiff on their verses, which is a bummer after how jubilant they were together last summer. Quavo alone shines, adapting to something as bright as “I’m the One” without tripping over himself, but otherwise, I get the feeling that this song only charted through inertia; something with this many high profile names on it is going to be a streaming magnet. If I sound cold on “I’m the One,” it’s mostly because it makes me miss “I’m On One,” which is top-tier Khaled.
2. Bruno Mars – “That’s What I Like”
Credit to Bruno Mars: I don’t think anyone else would pull off “That’s What I Like” nearly as well. It’s not my favorite off 24K Magic, but still, Mars was able to flip “That’s What I Like” into an all-ages hit, an impressive feat considering that under the bubbly pop song and cutesy video is a set of lyrics raunchy and ridiculous enough to be come-ons by a Will Ferrell character. Like, it’s not hard to imagine Ron Burgundy propositioning someone with offers of lobstertail dinners and the embrace of silk sheets after a night of exquisite love making by his mahogany fireplace inside his luxury condo. Mars specializes in that glorious over the topness, and as this year’s requisite wedding jam, “That’s What I Like” totally works.
1. Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee feat. Justin Bieber “Despacito” (remix)
I would say congratulations to Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee for topping the Songs of the Summer chart with their record-tying smash “Despacito,” but taking the pole position as a lead artist for Song of the Summer might be on some Defense Against the Dark Arts professor shit as far as curses go. Here’s a Where Are They Now of this decade’s winners; the esteemed company to which Fonsi and Yankee now belong.
-2010: Katy Perry – “Californiua Gurls” Perry might have been safe from the SotS curse in years past, but 2017 has been, ah, witness to her implosion.
-2011: LMFAO – “Party Rock Anthem” In 2013, Redfoo attempted to qualify for the US Open before losing in the wildcard round, and Skyblu performed at Ms. World in 2014. The world has stopped party rocking.
-2012: Carly Rae Jepsen – “Call Me Maybe” Carly Rae Jepsen went on to become the Queen of Cult Smash Pop Music, which is not so bad by most metrics, but she also had the most popular in the world for a while, so it’s kind of a toss up.
-2013: Robin Thicke – “Blurred Lines” Hahahahahaha
-2014: Iggy Azalea – “Fancy” HAHAHAHAHAHA
-2015: OMI – “Cheerleader” Say what you want about Robin Thicke and Iggy Azalea, at least 1. I didn’t have to Wiki-research what they’re up, and 2 there’s information on them beyond 2016.
-2016: Drake – “One Dance” Get back to me in 2022. For now, Drake has a top selling project for the year and is taking some earned time off. If his momentum stalls on the return, you heard why here first.
Well, that’s Billboard, now here are (were?) my Songs of the Summer.
1. Calvin Harris feat. Frank Ocean, Quavo, Offset – “Slide”
2. Drake – “Passionfruit” (bonus Paramore version because YouTube woes)
3. Kendrick Lamar – “FEEL.” (dammit)
4. Jay Som – “Baybee”
5. SZA – “Prom”
6. Lorde – “Supercut”
7. Charly Bliss – “DQ”
8. Future – “Draco”
9. The 1975 – “Somebody Else” (blah blah, “last year,” their Bunbury set was phenomenal)
10. Japandroids – “Near to the Wild Heart of Life”