Summer of 2013 was a great one for fun and inspirational hits. We "Got Lucky" when Daft Punk returned to the studio with a live band, Nile Rodgers, and Pharrell Williams. Same Love. Blurred Lines.
Did you know that Billboard has been tracking the Top 10 Songs of the Summer since 1985? They even have a really dry definition:
The summer's most popular songs across all genres, based on cumulative performance on the weekly Billboard Hot 100 chart from Memorial Day through Labor Day.
Looking at last year's results had one performer/producer with a clear win: Pharrell. Featured in the #1 summer song, "Blurred Lines", and also in the #3 song, "Get Lucky".
So what's the best way to predict the winners? It's hard to say what factors necessarily conspire to make a song the earwig that you want to hear for three months. Out of curiosity, and obsession, I collected information and independent variables that I thought structurally contributed to a song's likelihood of being a summer hit.
- Who produced it? With so many top hits being produced by a handful of producers, there's a reason why the bulk of the Top 40 hits sound alike.
- When was the single released? Since the rise of LPs and Albums, singles are used as a promotional vehicle for a full album, instead of a standalone product. Selling a lot of $1 songs does not make a happy label; using a single to sell millions of $10 albums
- When was the full album released? I tracked this to see if labels used the single to bring an older album back, or if they were creating hype for a soon-to-be-released album
- When did the song hit the Billboard Top 100? Since we're looking at chart performance during summer months as our dependent variable, using historic performance might be helpful as a predictor.
- How well did the single perform before Memorial Day? Furthermore, using pre-Memorial Day Billboard statistics, will we discover any new insights about when summer chart-toppers break?
With this information, I can start to see patterns.
Treating Mackelmore and JT as outliers (both released 100+ days before Memorial Day), on average summer hits are released 41 days before Memorial Day. This means, that on average, summer hits should be released sometime around April 19. Since most records are released on Tuesdays, watch for singles to be released between next Tuesday (April 15) or the following week (April 22).
Let's answer some of the questions about the 2013 summer chart-toppers.
- Unless you're Pharrell, there does not seem to be a dominant producer for summer songs. However, I'd be curious to see if the Billboard Hot 100 represents the supermarket aisle; with only a few majors being responsible for the majority of products on the shelf (e.g. Unilever, P&G, Dannon, Pepsico, Coca-Cola).
- There does not seem to be a unifier of single release times. Certainly there are averages, but there are too many outliers having been released years prior, and re-released as a remix to gain traction (see, for example Cruise by Floriday Georgia Line).
- Album release date does not seem to a useful predictor. Some chart-toppers are promoting old albums, current albums, or upcoming albums.
- Given that our "dependent variable" is Billboard chart performance, it would make sense that a chart-related factor could influence how a song does. My hypothesis is that top-charting songs prior to the summer months will probably face some listener burnout by the time June arrives. 2013's data seems to hold this to be true: with the exception of three songs (Cruise, Cups, and Radioactive), most summer chart-toppers debuted on the Hot 100 after March. Additionally, Miley Cyrus had the latest debut on June 22's Hot 100. This likely means that we lock in our summer playlists before July.
- Finally, only four singles did not reach Top 20 status before Memorial Day. Two debuted on the Hot 100 in June (Treasure, We Can't Stop), one had a rapid ascent in about 6 weeks (Blurred Lines), and the last was a slow-burner (Cups). The remaining 6 peaked in the Top 20 before May 31.
Next Wednesday, let's reconvene and attempt to predict which singles will be rocking our playlist 4-weeks later.