Everything slows down in the summer. Students are out of school. Most sports are in offseason. Our favorite television shows go off the air. New video games stop coming out. The theaters are full of three-hour blockbusters designed specifically to keep us from being bored all day. Responsibilities are at an all-time low...
The music industry operates in the same way. But, while we're probably not going to see a major record release this summer, we will see a whole lot of singles jostling for top radio position. This is a tradition that reaches back to the very beginnings of pop music, so it's necessary to take a look at the songs currently angling for the marquee spot of summer 2014.
So far, we haven’t had a 'Blurred Lines' or 'Get Lucky'-like titan, but there are plenty of newcomers (like recent Ariana Grande and Red Bull Sound Space performer Iggy Azalea) and veterans (Paramore and Lil Jon) who are certainly making things interesting this summer. We won’t know who truly wears the crown until September or later, but here are some thoughts on the early favorites.
10. Nico & Vinz – 'Am I Wrong'
- Current Billboard Hot 100 Rank - 4
The fact that this song is in the top 10, and seems to be sticking around, is really confusing. Can people still get behind Sting guitar? It sounds like a poorly-executed version of Disney-channel Maroon 5 cheese. It does, however, win the award for the most abstract lyrics in the history of summer jams:“That’s just how I feel, trying to reach things that I can’t see.” What? Well, don't think too hard about it - it's summer!
9. Dierks Bentley - 'Drunk On A Plane'
- Current Billboard Hot Country Songs Rank - 5
If you want more proof that country has permanently infiltrated the pop industry, look no further than the first few frames of this Dierks Bentley video, where our hero is happily clad in a pair of Beats headphones. This is a power-ballad about a very hip-hop thing: getting loaded on a plane. Bentley’s voice continues to be a gorgeous mahogany, and he generally seems like the smartest frat boy around the keg. There are few songs in this world that actually make me want to be at a house party somewhere in Auburn, and this is one of them.
8. Calvin Harris - 'Summer'
- Current Billboard Hot 100 Rank - 8
You can see Calvin Harris’ agenda right in the name of the song. His usual starry-eyed blend of synth and mysticism. A cigarette scorched croak of a voice. A video full of women and muscle cars. This is his trade. He knows what he’s doing. It’s a cynical, but remarkably efficient jab into summer-jam ubiquity. As someone who lives near a college campus, I hear this song every night of my life from passing cars and rooftop parties. Calvin Harris speaks to people, and the people speak right back.
7. Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood - 'Somethin' Bad'
- Current Billboard Hot Country Songs Rank - 1
Miranda Lambert has been kicking ass for so long, you almost forget she’s barely into her 30s. And it makes me really happy that she is thriving right now. She does vengeful better than anybody in the world, and when you pair that with a sleek, sexy, 'American Hustle'-ish video, she really looks to be in her element. She's stealing diamonds while singing about being giddily hungover, and doing all of this great stuff with a former 'American Idol' winner. Carrie Underwood!
6. Paramore - 'Ain't It Fun'
- Current Billboard Hot 100 Rank – 14
A couple years ago, there was this groundswell of a bunch of indie-rock people taking the venerable pop-punk lifers Paramore very seriously. I didn't get it at first. I heard the singles, but I was left unaffected. It wasn’t until 'Ain’t it Fun,' from last year's self-titled album, 'Paramore,' made its way to radio when Hayley Williams and her band started to make a lot of sense. It’s a song about growing up, which is the exact sort of thing that makes the dying embers of high school ragers so full of pregnant moments and choked-back tears. I’ve never heard a song that goes so stridently after that last-summer-before-college dollar, and that makes Paramore heroes, right?
5. Sam Smith - 'Stay With Me'
- Current Billboard Hot 100 Rank - 5
Sam Smith is the golden voice behind Disclosure's 'Latch,' but this really could be his summer. He’s got a successful solo debut with 'In The Lonely Hour,' and a genuinely effective, how-do-people-relate-to-each-other? ballad in 'Stay With Me.' It's a song that wallows in its selfishness until it realizes there aren’t any easy answers. That seems heady, but a voice like Smith's, and a go-for-the-throat piano melody like this, usually add up to the same thing. Maybe I’m just a sucker for anything with a chorus that includes the words “This ain’t love, it’s clear to see.” He is this summer’s Drake. Think about it.
4. DJ Snake and Lil Jon - 'Turn Down For What'
- Current Billboard Hot 100 Rank - 9
It's hard not to be happy about Lil Jon unwittingly stumbling into the next phase of his career: the loud, obnoxious guy who screams over angry, physical dance music made by a Diplo affiliate (in this case Red Bull Guest House performer DJ Snake). 'Turn Down For What' is fairly standard stuff: a raunchy, Looney Toons beat that ping-pongs around the oscillator with no regard for human life, and a slogan so perfect and meaningless it’s become a crucial part of our modern lexicon. It’s butt-shaking music - it's music for butts - and in 2014, that’s way more than enough.
3. MAGIC! - 'Rude'
- Current Billboard Hot 100 Rank - 2
I like to think the Tao of Sublime is a self-fulfilling prophecy. That every couple of years, a bunch of seemingly useless guys from the uglier parts of North America will suddenly stumble into an undeniably perfect reggae-fusion jam. This is MAGIC!’s moment - RIGHT NOW! - and it might very well be the last time we ever hear from them. 'Rude,' however, a song about the burdens of courting a woman with mean parents and then getting married, will be swerving through the airwaves forever, as brisk and easy as its checkered two-tone guitar.
2. Ariana Grande and Iggy Azalea - 'Problem'
- Current Billboard Hot 100 Rank - 3
Like most average dudes in their 20s, I had no idea who Ariana Grande was. I’ve slogged through enough atonal Disney stars clogging up pop radio (I'm looking at you Selena Gomez!), so when Grande showed up and blew the doors down with 'Problem,' I felt a little bit cured. This song is a banger of 'Crazy in Love' proportions. It reminds me of that summer when Amerie dedicated her career to screaming out the demons of the music industry. Guest artist Iggy Azalea is great too. But it's that sax-loop that has made Ariana a star. Grande's voice is the most impressive thing on the charts right now.
1. Iggy Azalea and Charli XCX – 'Fancy'
- Current Billboard Hot 100 Rank - 1
No question about it, this is the early frontrunner. A cold-as-ice synth burp adorns Azalea’s chiseled verbiage gracefully. Internet swagger? Soundcloud musicology? A video with 'Clueless' nostalgia? Yes, please! I love how Charli XCX snarls the chorus. And I love that, amidst accusations of appropriation, Azalea still sounds like she’s having so much fun rapping. This is like the virtuosic millennial pop song, and it will continue to sound awesome in cars until humanity transcends its current form. I can’t wait to hear 'Fancy' at a 2010s-themed party sometime in the distant future, and this is always the mark of a great summer jam.