One rarely hears about “spring songs” or “winter songs,” but the songs that resonate during the year’s warmest season are almost their own category. And, in the summer that unofficially ended with Labor Day, Australian newcomer The Kid Laroi rules the roost, according to a song project report Variety pulled from Alpha Data.
Laroi’s “Stay,” which features Justin Bieber, holds a commanding lead on the tally, which ranks songs according to sales and equivalent value of on-demand audio streams. The report reflects activity from the chart week that started June 25, corresponding with the weekend that followed the summer equinox on June 20, through Labor Day. And, yeah, we know that the autumn equinox doesn’t happen until Sept. 22, but come on, most Americans view that holiday weekend as summer’s last gasp.
The notion of a summer song looms large in music, resonating from network morning news shows to radio-specific trades, and there’s any number of ways that various platforms rank them: some poll fans, some poll radio programmers, while others confine these rankings to specific types of songs that percolate during the warmest months. Variety’s, however, is compiled strictly by the numbers, with most of the list’s juice coming from audio streams, the channel of business that accounts for 83% of U.S. music revenue, according to the Recording Industry Assn. of America’s 2020 year-end report.
Variety’s summer songs aren’t confined to a particular release window; all tracks on the market during the 10-week window were eligible, regardless of how early they were released. The described methodology also puts Variety’s recap directly in the hands of consumers, even bypassing the judgment that radio gatekeepers make when they choose which songs to play, a voice found in many other summer song recaps.
The Kid/Bieber collaboration pulled 1.5 million song-project units, with each song getting a value of one, while 150 on-demand audio streams equal to a song download. Runner-up is Olivia Rodrigo’s “Good 4 U,” with 1.3 million, followed by Ed Sheeran’s “Bad Habits,” with 1.04 million. And, to underline just what a driver streams are these days, all but 97,000 of “Stay’s” points come from streams, while sales only account for 64,000 of the “Good” total.
While Kid and Rodrigo stand far ahead of the crowd, one might consider Doja Cat the princess of summer songs. While Rodrigo’s “Good 4 U,” owns the highest ranked song among either solo females or female-fronted groups or bands, Doja is the only one with two among the top 10: “Kiss Me More” at No. 4 (1 million units) and “Need To Know” at No. 8 (770.000). Dip just a little lower and she has three of the 11 most consumed tracks, with “Ain’t Shit” standing just shy of the top 10 (724,000). If you count the Weeknd’s “You Right,” on which Doja is featured (No. 16, 680,000), she owns four of the top 20.
Lil Nas X locks two of the top 10 songs, with Jack Harlow collaboration “Industry Baby” at No. 7 (877,000 units) and “Montero (Call Me By My Name)” at No. 10 (752,000), while Rodrigo has three of the top 20, with “Traitor” at No. 13 (704,000) and “Déjà Vu” at No. 15 (686,000) joining “Good.”
Rounding out the top 10 are ”Levitating” by Dua Lipa (No. 5, 990,000), “Fancy Like” by Walker Hayes (No. 6, 922,000) and “Rapstar” by Polo G (No. 10, 922,000).
Were one to one to rank the summer’s songs by song downloads alone — a product that has lost steam every year since streaming took over the market — only half of the top 10 titles from the overall chart would remain. Were sales the only factor, Hays’ “Fancy Like,” Sheeran’s “Bad Habits,” and Kids’ “Stay” would hold the top three ranks, respectively, while Lipa’s “Levitating” would be No. 7, two steps above Rodrigo’s “Good.”
A sales-only view would put “Lil Bit” by Nelly and Florida Georgia Line at No. 4, with BTS’ “Permission To Dance” and “Butter,” Masked Wolf’s “Astronaut In the Ocean” and Marshmello/Jonas Brother collaboration “Leave Before You Love Me” rounding out the top 10. Remember though, that if sales was the only criterion for that 10-week window, the top 10 songs collectively would only reflect 922,534 sales, representing a far smaller universe than fans who stream.
Half of Variety’s top 10 summer songs would own the top five if the report was instead based on radio plays, as measured by Mediabase, over that 10-week span, but the comparisons would stop there. Based on spins alone, Doja’s “Kiss” would top the list, followed by Lipa’s “Levitating,” Rodrigo’s “Good,” Lil Nas’ “Montero” and Sheeran’s “Bad Habits,” but Rodrigo’s “Déjà Vu” would rank sixth, followed by Bieber’s “Peaches,” the Weeknd’s “Save Your Tears,” Giveon’s “Heartbreak Anniversary” and “Leave The Door Open,” by the Silk Sonic duo of Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak.
In the methodology that Variety employed, five of the top 10 tracks come from pop, four from hip-hop with Hayes representing the only country act in the mix, but there’s a little wiggle room in that breakdown, with pop lurking as a secondary genre for hip-hop acts Kid and Lil Nas, while it wouldn’t be a stretch say that rap is in Doja’s tool kit, and the most consumed version of Lipa’s “Levitating” features DaBaby. Even Hayes manages to cross a border, with Wikipedia citing “country pop” as his secondary genre.
This year’s summer songs lean a lot more pop than the top 10 from last year’s crop, when, using the same methodology for the same weeks, the Jawsh 685/Jason Derulo pairing “Savage Love,” Harry Styles’ “Watermelon Sugar” and the Weeknd’s “Blinding Lights” were the only interlopers in an otherwise all-hip-hop party. Cardi B’s “WAP,” featuring Megan Thee Stallion led that pack with 1.6 million song-project units, followed by tracks from DaBaby, Harlow, Pop Smoke, Juice Wrld (with Marshmello), Drake, and Saint Jhn.
Hip-hop was still the leading ingredient in 2019, when Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” easily led the summer pack with just shy of 2 million song-project units over the comparable 10-week stretch. He had two of the top 10 summer songs then, as did Post Malone, with Lil Tecca and Drake representing rap. Shawn Mendes’ was the runner up for that year’s cast, while fellow pop star Billie Eilish also making the cut, while Lizzo and Chris Brown added a pair of R&B songs to that list.
And, while year-end and mid-year reports from the Recording Industry Assn. of America (RIAA) and MRC Data have shown growth in the past few years, for whatever it’s worth, the song-project units for the top 10 summer songs have declined. The formula of sales plus equivalent value yielded 14.8 million units for the top 10 songs from the summer of 2019, that number slid to 11.5 million for last year’s (down 22.3%). The overall point value of this summer’s 10 most consumed songs yielded slightly more than 10 million project units, down 13% from last year’s assortment, and off 32.5% from the top 10 summer songs of 2019.
Remember, though, that these comparisons only reflect the activity of 10 songs from a universe of more than 75 million from just 10 weeks of consumption, rather than a year’s worth of data. So, it’s probably more instructive to reflect on the year-over-year growth in music consumption of 11.6% in MRC’s recent mid-year report, or the 9.2% growth in revenue reflected in RIAA’s year-end 2020 tally, than to worry about the trends among this tiny sample of hits, especially considering the growth in catalog consumption we’ve seen since streaming moved the industry from counting sales to measuring activity.
Or, maybe we’ve stumbled on the next nugget that will keep music executives up at night, regardless of whether comparisons of such a miniscule subset are meaningful in the long run.