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Throwing Cold Water On The Summer Song’s Plans posted on August 26th, 2014

By Sean Ross

A few weeks ago, I was ready to give the Song of Summer 2014 to “Rude” by Magic!

It was reggae. It was inescapable, that week. It was briefly part of the zeitgeist. It would have been the third summer in a row for a talented Canadian act (and one that might have had trouble following up). “Fancy” and “Problem,” its competitors, were finally spending themselves out.

I considered Disclosure’s “Latch.” It was the song that remained ubiquitous all summer. Being EDM, but not really, made it the perfect representative of top 40 radio in summer 2014. But that would have been like choosing “Lights” or “Radioactive” or some other long-running hit that was amiably neutral.

But there was no clear winner. And not in that 2012 way when “Party Rock Anthem” won, but “Give Me Everything” or “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)” would have worked as well. Friends and readers asked for their opinion this week are split between the three contenders.

But in the end, the Summer Song of 2014 winner wasn’t hard to call at all.

It was the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.

It had ubiquity. It had the right mix of content and frivolity. Its timing depended on summer – the willingness to participate might not have been quite the same if it was 45 degrees outside and you weren’t already goofing around with your friends on the patio.

Okay, there wasn’t really a song attached, although there were a few that might have been appropriate.  Meme plus song would have been “Call Me Maybe” and made it an easy call. But ever since “Harlem Shake” was allowed to chart off the use of a song snippet in user-generated-videos, the meme/song distinction has been pretty well broken down anyway.

Clearly, the Ice Bucket Challenge is the shared experience that Song of Summer 2014 didn’t deliver this year. This was going to be that moment when radio controlled the cultural agenda again. The U.K.’s holiday No. 1 hit might be TV-driven, but being the Summer Song winner in America required radio’s critical mass.

Too much buildup might have been Song of Summer’s problem, though. Last August, Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” was already the upset winner. This year, the lack of an obvious choice spurred several prominent variants on that journalistic fallback: the “how we didn’t get the story” story. Or at least the “why there is no story” story.

The increased consumer press scrutiny itself probably had something to do with the relative ennui. The Song of Summer coverage didn’t quite draw the type of music writer who never liked mainstream pop music in the first place. But critics are gonna critique. “Blurred Lines” made it through last summer with the public’s enthusiasm mostly intact. “Rude” was under siege before it even hit No. 1 in America.

The Ice Bucket Challenge wasn’t just the summer’s biggest hit song, it was also the biggest wacky radio charity stunt ever. You certainly can’t say that radio drove it, as much as joined in. If anything, it was yet another incidence of morning TV glomming on to radio’s shtick. Or it was proof that some listeners, having already learned to program their own music station online, can now do morning show bits, too. That radio provided the training is, well, cold comfort.

Radio and music people still want the summer song to go out with a big splash of its own. Billboard’s Rich Appel is among those suggesting the real excitement has come at the end of the summer: “All About That Bass,” “Bang Bang,” “Bailando,” “Anaconda,” and especially Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off.” That song actually showed up in the slot that always marked the opening salvo of the Q4 sales season before. But a few people are genuinely ready to give it Song of Summer with two weeks availability.

But that was the summer we had: a half-dozen songs-of-the-fortnight. Like Ed Sheeran’s “Sing,” tipped as a major contender for about two weeks in May until “Problem” hit, Swift’s challenge will be keeping a sustained pace through Q4, which is particularly difficult when your song has just posted a weekly gain of more than 8,000 spins. Maybe the Christmas No. 1, with its three weeks of activity, is right for Americans after all. At least until the “Ice Bucket Santa” videos start showing up.