You know the first time I heard 2014s Song of Summer declared? In October of 2013, when reviewers of Katy Perry’s Prism began calling “Birthday” a sure-as-heck Song of Summer.
While we admit that Prism is an album bankrupt of almost anything creative or interesting, let’s grant that Perry did in fact release “Birthday” as the album’s fourth single, with an accompanying music video in which she plays dress-up, and… it hasn’t done inordinately well. By Katy Perry summer standards, it’s performed execrably, peaking only at number 17 on the Hot 100.
We’re told a lot, like secretaries taking dictation, what is going to be big. You know what no one said would be big in Summer 2014 back in October 2013? “Am I Wrong,” by Norwegians Nico & Vinz. Or “Latch,” from Disclosure, featuring the golden voice of Sam Smith – a voice which is about to own your life.
By pure happenstance (no one planned this aside from maybe T.I.), an Australian rapper everyone downplayed for years has essentially wrapped up the Song of Summer crown in June, and she’s joined in the Top 10 by a Canadian reggae group, the aforementioned Norwegians, a Scottish DJ who has only sung on one of his own hits once before, and a French DJ who got Lil Jon to shout 12 words. The only person who could potentially dethrone Iggy Azalea? Herself, as the featured rapper on Ariana Grande’s “Problem.”
There are American acts in the top 10 as well, but for the most part, they are remarkable to this summer narrative for being hearty holdovers from months ago – a time that already feels like a bygone era. John Legend’s “All of Me” has been in the top 10 since early March. Pharrell’s “Happy” has been up there since February, soundtracking our lives, following us into dark corners and ordering us to feel jubilant. And, though “Birthday” has thunked off the goalpost, one Katy Perry song is aiming to be as ubiquitous in summer as it was in winter; “Dark Horse,” has been in the top 10 since January.
That’s some remarkable stagnancy!
Which brings me to the World Cup: Why is it so fun to follow, even in a country that is infamous for completely ignoring a sport the rest of the world loves? You could say soccer, I guess – there are, like, some people, in America who actually like it! (I see you on my Facebook feeds.) For most of us, let’s not front, we care about the World Cup because of the countries – there’s a certain fervent, almost insane nationalism that we get to watch from a fútbol-questioning distance (a heart-racing last second goal or too aside). Essentially, we get to see everyone lose their minds while draped in their national colors, and it’s so much fun.
The competition for Song of the Summer has never felt more like that than in 2014. I’m sort of ambivalent to what we ultimately designate the summer champion (“Fancy”… It’s going to be “Fancy”). See what feelings these past summer champs stir in you now: “Party Rock Anthem,” “Blurred Lines,” “California Gurls,” “I Gotta Feeling,” “Call Me Maybe.” Okay, I still love “Call Me Maybe.” The rest of that list isn’t exactly inspiring, right?
But I love trends. And this summer is trending distinctly Australian. And Scandanavian. But towards which is it trending more? Which Scandanavian country is leading the surge? (For once, maybe not Sweden…) And are they really crowding out the traditional U.S-U.K power dynamic like I think they are?
Well I didn’t just want to ask. I wanted to find out.
In Round 1 of the Song of Summer World Cup, 16 countries will face off. Each country has two players on its team (a player can be a solo artist or a band). In later rounds, to up the challenge and reward depth, we’ll add more players. I stuck with birthplaces to determine eligibility; if I’d used first-generation immigrants, there’d be a lot more Latin American countries on this list, but it became too difficult to justify. The teams are broken into four groups (Group A, Group B, Group C, and Group D). I seeded the teams by (rather unscientifically) looking at Youtube views for the artists in question, than attempting to account for collaborations and also the fact that “Happy” and “Team” didn’t get all those views this summer (and yes, if an artist has more than one song in play right now, they get all dem views.) Without further ado, here are the Groups, the players, and their eligible songs.
Australia (Overall Top Seed)
Lorde – Team
Broods — Bridges
Psy – Hangover (ft. Snoop Dogg)
Exo – Overdose
Denmark (Overall Bottom Seed)
Scarlet Pleasure – Windy
Notes on Group A: Australia is the number one seed overall? Over the U.S. and Britain? Yes, and it didn’t even need Sia’s millions of views for “Chandelier” to do it. Take this year’s boy band du jour and combine them with the supernova that is Iggy Azalea circa June 2014 and you get a maelstrom that even Pharrell can’t deal with. Australia finds itself in the easy breezy bracket thanks to its seeding. Fellow Oceania resident New Zealand has a problem: were it to come to an expanded team, the island nation has no one to back up Lorde and Broods; as it is, adding Lorde was pushing it, as none of her songs have been especially big this summer. South Korea would have been better off with two cream-of-the-crop K-Pop songs that had no real U.S. exposure – a truly terrible song by Psy is likely to kneecap any chances the typically effervescent pop powerhouse would have. Denmark is a complete afterthought, the Scandanavian country that’s here because of how good Scandanavia is at making pop music.
United States (Overall #2 Seed)
Ariana Grande – Problem (featuring Iggy Azalea)
Pharrell Williams – Happy (with an attempt to only count its impact on summer, and not the past… forever that it’s been the song); Come Get It Bae (ft. Miley Cyrus); (featured on) Move That Dope; (produced and is featured on) Sing
Nico & Vinz – Am I Wrong
Mr. Probz – Waves (Robin Schulz Radio Edit)
Mexico (Overall #15 Seed)
Jesse & Joey – Mi Tesoro
Camila – Decidiste Dejarme
Notes on Group B: If I counted every view for Pharrell’s hit “Happy”, the United States would be the first seed about twenty times over. That wouldn’t really be fair. Part of the key to this is going to be figuring out how much the U.S. main attractions like John Legend and Katy Perry (as well as New Zealander Lorde and British band Pompeii) factor in to the summer battle since their hits had much more sway in the spring. As it is, only one American artist has truly owned summer (and only summer); Ariana Grande. Is it a problem that she seems swallowed up on her own track by All-Star Iggy and Big Sean’s whispering? We’ll see. Normally Sweden would be our fiercest competitor in the dance sphere, but this year, both Norway and the Netherlands jumped into higher seeding than the Swedes based on the pretty predictable success of Tiësto and the completely unexpected Top 10 success of Nico & Vinz’s African-tinged “Am I Wrong.” On the Latin charts, even as a World Cup approaches in Brazil, it’s Mexico that owns some of the highest spots; both these songs sound great but can Mexico do anything without a lick of American airplay?
United Kingdom (Overall #3 Seed)
J Balvin – 6 AM (ft. Farruko)
Magic! – Rude
Chromeo – Jealous (I Ain’t With It)
Ireland (Overall #14 Seed)
Hozier – Take Me To Church
The Riptide Movement – All Works Out
Notes on Group C: The United Kingdom is going to be fun to work with because it’s forming it’s own insular universe of new stars collaborating on each other’s songs. And while Sheeran has found incredible success moving away from balladry on “Sing,” it’s Sam Smith, who is the most popular kid in school right now (everyone wants him to hang out on their song), that will make Britain a fascinating contender. Canada is the most intriguing lower seed contender, riding a big chart hit and a big radio airplay hit into a field where an expanded field and a late-breaking Drake hit could only help them. Columbia gets the closest thing to an actual World Cup bump from Shakira; if I’d totaled it’s results one day later it would have likely been a top three seed, since Shakira’s World Cup song appears to have jumped millions of views overnight. And Ireland has one gorgeous song from Hozier that’s been very big on Spotify, which is unlikely to do much for them.
France (Overall #4 Seed)
DJ Snake – Turn Down For What (ft. Lil Jon)
Klingande — Jubel
Milky Chance – Stolen Dance
Cro – Traum
South Africa (Overall #13 Seed)
KONGOS – Come With Me Now
Die Antwoord – Pitbull Terrier
Thoughts on Group D: I can say with confidence I did not expect France to have enough views to get a top seed. I underestimated two things – how much people love the video for “Turn Down For What,” and how many views European DJs can amass. I guess the one question France has to answer in a bracket where Robyn and Lorde would be more than happy to kneecap them is this: how much of DJ Snake’s success is his own, and how much of it is Lil Jon’s? Similarly, Germany features shockingly high YouTube views for two songs Americans will likely have never heard, showing that European acts get immense support from their constituencies. As for a country that usually has the most consistent constituency, Sweden has a deep bench of role players waiting for future rounds if it can make it out of a round where it’s two biggest hitmakers are putting out great songs that aren’t exactly… hits… yet… Having a bigger impact this summer, surprisingly, is the last World Cup host, South Africa. With a crossover hit from KONGOS, South Africa has the best chance to advance of the lowest seeds, even with a strange song like “Pitbull Terrier.”
Looking over all this, I’m not sure I can root for the United States. That would mean rooting for an album like Prism, and for Jason Derulo. That’s a tough ask. I’ve found myself much more partial to the dance hits I hear on BBC Radio 1, and to the perfect boy band confection that is 5 Seconds of Summer. I also find myself rooting for France and Canada to ride buzzy singles and quirky DJ-driven music to success. Pharrell may ultimately be able to single-handedly help the U.S. do what the U.S. Mens National Team can not (Jurgen Klinsmann said so…). But it’ll be an interesting journey, even if it does win the Song of Summer World Cup.