This time last year, Carly Rae Jepsen was already well on her way to ruling the radio with her unavoidable smash “Call Me Maybe,” spent most of the season at #1 on the Hot 100 and without a doubt won the summer. If there’s a song destined for a similarly unanimous ruling this year, it hasn’t made itself totally known just yet—Macklmore and Ryan Lewis’ two monster hip-hop jams both peaked a little early, as did Justin Timberlake‘s first two 20/20 Experience singles, and no other song appears to really be laying siege to the charts to take over from them. The race for Official Summer Jam status seems as open as ever.
However, there’s no shortage of candidates for the open position. As we speak, songs are gaining momentum, starting to cross over, or even just premiering for the first time, all of which may one day soon lay claim to warm-weather pop music’s iron throne. Here’s our take on the jams most likely to end up the conquering hero.
Big Hits That Are Still Building
ICONA POP, “I LOVE IT”
It’s a little weird to still be talking about “I Love It” being a potential song of the summer, when it was already a big part of our lives last summer, probably defining the season for many whose primary music exposure doesn’t come from radio or TV. But the song’s mainstream crossover has been a gradual proposition, snowballing from its use in an episode of Girls last January, and only finally hitting the top ten a few weeks ago. If the song’s reach still has one more gear to shift up to, it’s not hard to see a song this populist and unignorable being the biggest pop hit of the summer.
DAFT PUNK FEAT. PHARRELL, “GET LUCKY”
Already the biggest-selling hit of Daft Punk’s career, and Pharrell’s first real smash in ages, “Get Lucky” has done an impressive job of hanging around after its record-breaking debut week, lingering on the pop and dance charts. The song’s feel-good disco groove and pro-hookup lyrical hook make it a summer jam no-brainer, and though Daft Punk’s robo-filters have always kept them one level short of mass mainstream acceptance in the U.S., “Lucky” might finally (after nearly two decades) be the song that conquers American radio for the duo.
ROBIN THICKE FEAT. T.I. & PHARRELL, “BLURRED LINES”
Of course, “Get Lucky” might not even the best chance that Pharrell-has here. Robin Thicke’s Pharrell-produced “Blurred Lines” is already well on its way to takeover status, slowly bubbling on radio and on iTunes (and gaining exposure through a RadioShack commercial that basically doubles as a second music video), and with its performance on The Voice last night, the song’s impossibly funky groove appears to have gotten the final push it needs towards megahit status, propelling it to #2 on iTunes. The sound of Pharrell’s voice (as well as the trademark clang-and-shuffle of the Neptunes’ beats) was the unmistakable sound of the summer a decade ago; in 2013, it appears we may have finally come circle.
ARIANA GRANDE FEAT. MAC MILLER, “THE WAY”
Few artists of the last 20 years have a summer jam resume as strong as Mariah Carey, so it would hardly be surprising to hear “The Way”–which calls back to those mid-’90s Mariah classics with disconcerting accuracy, with an assist from Big Pun’s “Still Not a Player”–win this summer for Nickleodeon starlet Ariana Grande. (Of course, MC herself might have a little something to say about that, but we’ll get to her in a minute.)
SELENA GOMEZ, “COME & GET IT”
Speaking of TV celebrities turned pop stars. Surprising for a singer as famous as she is, “Come & Get It” is Selena Gomez’s first top ten hit, up to #6 and still climbing, its Stargate-provided Eastern-tinged groove finding a happy home at pop radio, likely to shed the “TV-turned-music” qualifier from Selena’s pop star credentials for all-time. We already named it our Song of the Month for May, so world domination seems the logical next step.
MARIAH CAREY FEAT. MIGUEL, “BEAUTIFUL”
Yes, Mariah herself has a song with which to recapture her summer-owning status, with her rapturously received Miguel collaboration “Beautiful.” The love song is a little down-tempo by traditional Summer Jam standards, but considering Mariah once dominated the season with an outright torch-song ballad, we’re certainly not gonna disqualify her for that. We’ve already made our case for the song, so now it’s up to you guys to make it happen.
JASON DERULO, “THE OTHER SIDE”
You just knew Derulo was eventually gonna get the formula right with one of these EDM-type rave-ups, and it appears he might have finally hit paydirt with “The Other Side,” which is starting to cross over. The song’s not incredible, but it has all the right elements, and in the absence of a big Swedish House Mafia, David Guetta or Calvin Harris song (though the latter may weigh in with his “I Need Your Love”) to dominate dance-pop radio, the space may be Jason’s for the taking. On the EDM front, though, keep an eye out for Zedd’s long-building “Clarity,” though, which still might be a ways from reaching its commercial peak.
A$AP ROCKY FEAT. SKRILLEX & BIRDY NAM NAM, “WILD FOR THE NIGHT”
It’s hard to know what to do with a song like “Wild for the Night,” since there’s no real commercial precedent for a hip-hop / dubstep hybrid like this, but oftentimes in pop music, great party music will out, and that’s what we have here. “Wild” is slowly creeping up the Hot 100, and if the song gets one well-timed placement in a commercial or a TV show or something to get it over the hump, it’s not hard to envision clubs full of people yelling “I’M GOIN’ WILD FOR THE NIGHT / FUCK BEING POLITE!” across the country this summer.
DJ KHALED FEAT. DRAKE, LIL WAYNE & RICK ROSS, “NO NEW FRIENDS”
The Khaled/Drake/Wayne/Ross dream team ruled the summer two years ago with their unkillable hit “I’m On One,” topping the R&B charts for 11 weeks (and the rap charts for 13). “No New Friends” isn’t quite as awesome, but it does have an equally worthy Drake singalong hook, and the starpower is hard to deny. You could also look at this entry as a kind of placeholder for Drizzy, who should be releasing a trickle of new songs throughout the season leading up to the release of his upcoming third album Nothing Was the Same, any one of whom could easily turn out to be a Summer Jam contender.
FERGIE FEAT. GOONROCK & Q-TIP, “A LITTLE PARTY NEVER KILLED NOBODY”
The Great Gatsby soundtrack is already something of a hit, and has two songs that are selling well, Lana Del Rey’s ballad “Young and Beautiful,” and Fergie’s flapper-stylized “Party” jam. The song’s saloon piano and roaring ’20s sax would be a little out of place on 2013 radio, but the Goonrock-produced build-up-and-drop is much more modern-day-friendly, and lest we forget, there was a time not all that long ago when just about anything Fergie touched went supernova. The song might be just an eye-catching video away from becoming a smash.
Click next to find out the dark horses for Song of the Summer!