Handicapping the Summer Song of 2008

For the last few years, the songs that have defined pop radio over the summer have come from established artists: Rihanna’s “Umbrella” last summer; Nelly Furtado’s “Promiscuous” and Justin Timberlake’s “SexyBack” in 2006. This summer, there’s a lot of superstar competition, but there’s also a good chance that the summer song will come either from a developing artist, or from a comeback artist.
As has become apparent in previous years, there’s an increasing amount of calculation apparent in the labels’ release schedule. If the list of summer song contenders looks remarkably similar to the fastest-growing songs of the week, it’s because the labels are doing a better job of teeing up songs with the uptempo energy of a great summer hit in the weeks leading up to Memorial Day. There’s less need to go into the stash of songs that should be summer hits but probably won’t get anywhere near radio. And the thematic potential of summer to drive a comeback vehicle hasn’t been overlooked either.
Before we begin, let’s review the ground rules: We’re looking not just for the song that will be ubiquitous on the radio this summer, but the most summery in feel. Uptempo, 4/4 dashboard pounders qualify. Caribbean-flavored songs, even if they’re of the loping, midtempo variety, qualify. Songs that are already hits this week like Danity Kane’s “Damaged” qualify, but they have to seem capable of sustaining their momentum at least until August–not so hard on today’s slower moving charts.
Ballads, no matter how big they are, cannot really be the summer song. (That I remember the summer of 1972 by “Alone Again (Naturally)” just proves the need for such a rule.) So it is now that we must say goodbye to Rihanna’s “Take A Bow,” Mariah Carey’s “Bye Bye,” Jesse McCartney’s “Leavin’,” and even Lil’ Wayne’s “Lollipop” (although Lil’ Wayne is everywhere and, as such, has a good chance of appearing on a massive hit that does qualify).
Two observations this summer: One is that there is not an obvious Caribbean-flavored song ready to go (unless Kardinal Offishal’s “Dangerous” and Colby O’Donis’ “What You Got” count, and it’s a stretch). The other is that there is a clear retro element throughout many of the candidates–although many of the older songs being invoked were, as it happens, not summer hits (not a stopper, but a duly noted irony).
So let’s then start with the obvious lyrical bids for a summer hit:

  • Kid Rock, “All Summer Long” – It’s been just lying in wait on his “Rock N Roll Jesus” album since the end of last summer. It is already off to a good start in medium markets, but as “Picture” showed, Kid always has to scrap his way back on to major-market, rhythmic-leaning Top 40 stations which could take, well, all summer long.
  • New Kids On The Block, “Summertime” – A co-worker who grew up with NKOTB heard this and liked it, but couldn’t help making the comparison to LFO’s “Summergirls,” which is a little like the singer John Wesley Harding’s joke about the Beatles reuniting and sounding a lot like ELO and XTC. And, besides, we’ve now seen them go from Boyz II Men as well. Also took a few weeks to get some major-market momentum, but is picking up this week.
  • Boys Like Girls, “Thunder” – As a power ballad, it’s disqualified. But it belonged on this list because the trade ads have emphasized its “soundtrack of my summer” lyric.
  • Natasha Bedingfield, “Pocketful of Sunshine” - It’s growing slowly now, but if it can hang in there for a few weeks, it will, like “Unwritten,” then hang around for months. And if having a pocketful of sunshine doesn’t quite sum up the national psyche right now, aren’t summer songs meant to alleviate the national mood?

Next, the songs that don’t have a lyrical tie-in but have the feel of great summer hits:

  • Katy Perry, “I Kissed a Girl” – Already shaping up as a massive summer hit. Only being the kind of reaction record that might not last 14 weeks would keep it from being the summer record, but it has the perfect drive and energy.
  • Metro Station, “Shake It” - Will keep the competition within the Cyrus family this summer. Showing gradual growth right now, but if any record will get a boost by sounding better in warm weather it will be this one.
  • Danity Kane, “Damaged” – They’ve already beaten the odds by having a second hit.
  • Duffy, “Mercy” – Amy Winehouse’s “Rehab,” one of my predictions last summer, didn’t stick around long enough to become the summer hit. This one is its less polarizing, even more perfect distillation.
  • Chris Brown, “Forever” – The buzz on him may be “next Michael Jackson,” but this one is Lionel Richie’s “All Night Long,” which was a summer smash. Also seems like by summer’s end, it could also be on some of the AC stations that never thought they’d play Alicia Keys’ “No One.”
  • Alicia Keys, “Teenage Love Affair” – This one, however, recalls the Jackson 5.
  • Miley Cyrus, “Seven Things” – Regardless of whether she grows up too soon in real life, it’s the right place in her musical arc. (The competition for this slot would be Taylor Swift’s “Picture To Burn” if they go after it at Top 40.)
  • Lady Antebellum, “Love Don’t Live Here” - Peaking now at Country and with just enough tempo and (Taylor) Swiftian youth-appeal that taking it to pop radio wouldn’t be crazy.
  • Carrie Underwood, “Last Name” - Not the only potential pop hit on the current project, but the one that’s getting the “Idol” exposure tonight. Nice, also, to see it worked when it’s still a big Country record.
  • Flo Rida, “In The Ayer” – There are other Soulja Boy-type phenomena warming up at R&B and Rhythmic radio (V.I.C.’s “Get Silly” and Hot Stylz’ “Lookin’ Boy,” to name two.) But this is the uptempo party record and the one with a head start at Top 40.
  • Maroon 5 & Rihanna, “If I Never See Your Face Again” - Last spring, Rihanna gave up her usual Caribbean-pop slot for a change-up and ended up with both a career record and the summer’s defining song. This summer, she goes for a ballad, but still makes a guest appearance in the summer song derby.
  • Lloyd f/Lil Wayne, “Girls Around The World”
  • - Happening at R&B, not at Top 40 yet. Of the available product, the best bet for an uptempo Lil Wayne song so far.

And there is, of course, always the question of what else will emerge before the end of summer. Two summers ago, “SexyBack” dropped in mid-June, although last year, the only post-Memorial Day big-name artist release that sounded like a contender, Will.I.Am’s “I Got It From My Mama,” didn’t sustain.
There’s a new T-Pain and a new Ciara on the way. Epic’s Rich Appel also cites “whatever Disney tosses out as the first single from ‘High School Musical 3,’ which should hit in August.” Up until now, the HSM singles haven’t had the radio ubiquity to qualify, but with Miley and the Jonas Brothers having crossed over, that’s no longer out of the question.
And now, your thoughts please on the summer song of 2008.

28 replies
  1. Michael McDowell/Blitz Magazine
    Michael McDowell/Blitz Magazine says:

    Last year’s “Umbrella” will be pretty tough to beat. It’s a shame that “Cruela De Vil” has already been out for a while. That one has summer written all over it!

  2. bob catania
    bob catania says:

    Kasper From The K…Whatchagondo…Amazing sing along quality with pop hip hop feel. Sample of My Obession from Animotion gives it instant famialarity and enhances sing along quality. An indie label sleeper that should get major label attention from radio.

  3. bill scull
    bill scull says:

    Kasper From the K “whatchagondo” This song is the sleeper. It is already out rquesting all of your contenders at 2 chr’s,KWNZ and WMSR. It is also top 5 phones at WJDQ and top 10 at KONN. The Animotion sample of “your my obsession” is loved by adult females! If you have not heard it yet it is up on DMDS and promo only.
    Bill S.

  4. Bob A
    Bob A says:

    I don’t think we can rule out Madonna’s next single, “Give it to me” or “4 minutes” from the equation.
    When I heard Umbrella for the first time, I knew instantly that it would be the sound of summer. I haven’t had that experience with any song yet.
    I think Katy Perry has an excellent catchy song, but the message is muddy – it’s not innocent, revolutionary, progressive, or innocuous. I can’t see it being all over the radio.
    Mariah has an amazing summer song on her album, CRUISE CONTROL.
    My bet is that with the right packaging and music video, Britney Spears can nab the summer title and a comeback with her next single RADAR which is dropping at the top of June.

  5. Justin Tyme
    Justin Tyme says:

    KASPER FROM THE K “Whatchagondo” without a doubt…This song got instant phones and is now our #1 phones…Listeners are requesting it 4 to 1 over Lollipop which is #2 phones. I am amazed by this song..

  6. Russ @ 97.3 KISSFM
    Russ @ 97.3 KISSFM says:

    Sorry, but 4 Minutes is not a hit everywhere. And it’s ready to drop like a brick down the chart.
    Kasper from the K – are you being paid? lol.
    Katy Perry – too polarizing.
    My picks – Miley… or more likely Chris Brown.

  7. Big Benny & The Wake Up Show
    Big Benny & The Wake Up Show says:

    Estelle and Kanye West – “American Boy” – The hook is infectious, she’s a new artist here in the U.S….Kanye will help. The song is uptempo and fun…Perfect recipe to get any party started, to get you turning up the radio and singing along in your car, or while you’re doing your daily workout…exactly the kind of record that 3 months from now we will all hate, but only because it will be everywhere…all of the damn time!

  8. Alex
    Alex says:

    Doesn’t Soulja Boy have an album coming out this summer? The first single he releases off that will probably earn a spot on that list.

  9. Shannon
    Shannon says:

    I teach Zumba and take Dance Trance classes and from the response in the dance fitness classes Flo-Rida always rocks but don’t overlook Natasha and Metro Station

  10. David
    David says:

    Untouched by The Veronicas!
    haha Wishful thinking, I know, but the song is so hot and deserves to be a summer hit!

  11. Chuck Geiger
    Chuck Geiger says:

    Kid Rock is huge on Country here in Fresno. Both KSKS and our station BIG COUNTRY 1027 are playing it and the phones are huge. It’s not a Country song and no one cares.

  12. Alan
    Alan says:

    Kid Rock’s “All Summer Long” will be huge(It’s just starting to catch on at Hot AC). Carrie Underwood’s “Last Name” should be a solid hit thanks to the “Idol” exposure(and exposure beyond the Country format). Maroon 5 and Rhianna look promising as well, also thanks to the “Idol” exposure. 3 Doors Down’s “It’s Not My Time” deserves a mention here as well.

  13. travis
    travis says:

    Zombie from Miser. Already hit #1 at KDGE, KTCL, KFRQ, KEYJ, KCCQ and is currently going strong at alot of other alt stations. Not band for an idie band. Its a cover yes, but alot of people are saying it is done better than the orginal. Should be on DMDS.

  14. cat
    cat says:

    This is a major long shot, but my vote goes to Gabriella Cilmi’s “Sweet About Me,” which is the current #1 single in the teen sensation’s native Australia and is inching up the UK Top 20.

  15. Kasper
    Kasper says:

    Katy Perry “I Kissed A Girl”…total reaction ecord that’s JUST getting started – by the calendar summer kick-off this will have fully sxploded…and it’s got that novelty quality to it to where it’s hard to see it having longtime Gold staying power..making it synonymous with the Summer of 2008.

  16. Momo
    Momo says:

    You forgot “When I Grow Up” by PCD. Flo Rida’s a Sagittarius & Colby O’Donis is a Pisces. So those 2 will climb the top-ten position by ruling planet of good fortune and luck…..jupiter.

  17. Sean Ross
    Sean Ross says:

    Well, that was the big hit of the spring. And the follow-up “Better In Time” will likely eclipse it at some point this summer. But songs do hang in there these days.

  18. lol
    lol says:

    Flo Rida with “In The Ayer” is already #4 on the Billboard’s “Bubbling Under Hot 100″ and currently peaked #16 a couple of days ago on iTunes. Although I still don’t hear it on the radio at all yet,I just don’t get why he’s topping the charts.

  19. Tom Teuber
    Tom Teuber says:

    My vote goes to “I’m Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How to Dance With You” by Black Kids. Single is out now…it has been getting reaction at college radio…..album drops on 7/22….plenty of time to become THE song of the summer of ’08.
    Tom Teuber
    Madison, WI

  20. mark
    mark says:

    In terms of continuing airplay on urban and top 40 and churban stations, the song of the summer is “Lollypop” by Little Wayne. Yes, it came out in the Spring but to me it sounds like the Song of the summer due its continued heavy airplay on multiple formats.


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