According to Billboard, we are right around the midpoint of the summer; their version of the season goes from Memorial Day to Labor Day. That means the race is on to find out what will be 2019’s “song of the summer.”
And while it’s only halftime, it’s likely already time to call it. Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” featuring Billy Ray Cyrus has been in the number one spot of the Billboard charts for 13 weeks. Clocking in at barely two-and-a-half minutes, the country/rap fusion has been almost impossible to avoid. Open Twitter, and someone will have retweeted a video of Lil Nas X performing it for a group of schoolchildren. Turn on the TV: there he is, performing with Cyrus at the BET Awards. Or there’s Jimmy Fallon, doing a parody of the song as Bernie Sanders, for some reason. Whether it’s a younger, genreless generation making a statement or the natural endpoint of Billboard taking streaming into account on its charts, this is Lil Nas X’s summer.
But the term itself is a sort of moving target. Billboard declares a winner every September, based on its charts. Some years it matches with the general musical landscape (“Despacito” in 2017), and other years there seems to be a disconnect between the numbers and the listeners (“Blurred Lines” over Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky”? Seriously?).
We grabbed Billboard’s songs of the summer from the last 20 years and ranked them with a complicated algorithm involving quality of the track, its “summerness” and a healthy dose of personal bias. Here’s what we found.
20. “Party Rock Anthem,” LMFAO feat. Lauren Bennett & GoonRock, 2011 — The video for this currently has 1.6 billion views on YouTube, confirming what we’ve always suspected: the internet was a mistake.
19. “Blurred Lines,” Robin Thicke feat. Pharrell and T.I., 2013 — Putting aside the creepy lyrics and the question of whether it was “inspired” by Marvin Gaye or just ripped him off, Thicke’s vocals aren’t very good. Why stream this when you can stream Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up”?
18. “Bent,” Matchbox 20, 2000 — Destiny Child’s “Jumpin’ Jumpin’” was released on July 4, midway through the season (as measured by Billboard) which must be the reason that Matchbox 20’s perfectly-acceptable song won the summer. Right?
17. “Cheerleader (Felix Jaehn remix),” OMI, 2015 — The tropical house boomlet of the past few years got its biggest boost here, with German DJ Jaehn remixing the Jamaican pop-reggae star’s local hit and turning into a chart-topper around the world.
16. “Fancy,” Iggy Azalea feat. Charli XCX, 2014 — That hook jumped right into your head, didn’t it? It’s fantastic. Remember Iggy’s part? A little foggy? You’re not alone.
15. “I Kissed a Girl,” Katy Perry, 2008 — Perry’s ode to drunken bi-curiosity isn’t even the best song with that exact title; folk-pop singer/songwriter Jill Sobule’s 1995 effort has more heart, while Perry’s effort has the appeal of two women kissing in a bar, hoping to get attention.
14. “Genie in a Bottle,” Christina Aguilera, 1999 — Aguilera has matured into so much more interesting an artist than this original foray would indicate. It’s not bad, per se, just a cookie-cutter teen pop track.
13. “In My Feelings,” Drake, 2018 — It’s less of a “summer song” and more of a meme; its boost to the top spot was, at a minimum, assisted by the viral “In My Feelings” dance challenge, as started by social media comedian Shiggy.
12. “We Belong Together,” Mariah Carey, 2005 — In almost any other summer, Gwen Stefani’s “Hollaback Girl” would have taken the summer here. But Carey’s “comeback” song topped the Billboard chart for 14 weeks, and what Mimi wants, she gets.
11. “Confessions Part II,” Usher, 2004 — Maybe the best example of a “song of the summer” that has absolutely nothing to do with the season, this one faced pretty weak competition; “Slow Motion” by Juvenile and Soulja Slim finished second, and Usher’s previous single, “Burn,” was third.
10. “I Gotta Feeling,” Black Eyed Peas, 2009 — Give them credit: for one full summer, the Peas had drunks at pool parties yelling “Mazel Tov!” How catchy does a song have to be to pull that off?
9. “U Remind Me,” Usher, 2001 — It gets the nod over “Confessions Part II” thanks to a faster tempo and slightly (but only slightly) less depressing lyrics.
8. “One Dance,” Drake feat. WizKid and Kyla, 2016 — The dancehall-lite track feels a lot more like summer than “In My Feelings.” It was a change of pace for the Canadian rapper/sort-of-annoying Raptors fan, one that gave him his first-ever Billbard-topping single.
7. “Promiscuous,” Nelly Furtado and Timbaland, 2006 — This Furtado/Timbaland team-up is addictive, dance floor ready, and has a shout-out to Steve Nash. What else could a listener want?
6. “California Gurls,” Katy Perry feat. Snoop Dogg, 2010 — Maybe the biggest summer beach hit, Perry and Snoop Dogg’s ode to their home state can transport anyone on the F train right to Malibu. Bring flip-flops.
5. “Call Me Maybe,” Carly Rae Jepsen, 2012 — It’s the song that turned Jepsen into a massive star, it went nine times Platinum even before the RIAA started paying attention to streaming services, and turned the summer of 2012 into the season of YouTube lip-sync parodies.
4. “Umbrella,” Rihanna feat. Jay-Z, 2007 — Be honest: Have you been able to say the word “umbrella” since without adding the “ella, ella, ella, eh, eh, eh”? It might be the biggest earworm of the top five.
3. “Hot in Herre,” Nelly, 2002 — It’s been 17 years, and DJs still spin this summer classic. Thankfully, we’ve moved past the bandaid-under-the-eye trend.
2. “Despacito,” Luis Fonsi feat. Daddy Yankee, 2017 — Call it recency bias, but the inescapable jam of the summer of 2017 sounds like the kind of song that will have a long shelf life. Maybe more importantly, it started to unlock the U.S. market for Latin pop music.
1. “Crazy in Love,” Beyoncé and Jay-Z, 2003 — The solo launch of Queen Bey features a guest verse from Jay-Z, an undeniable chorus and, 30 seconds into the music video, a dance move that might have shattered the knees of anyone who tried it at home.