Every year, Billboard puts out a Songs Of The Summer list, which ranks the summer’s 10 most popular songs across all genres according to radio airplay, pure sales, and streaming. This year’s list is Billboard’s least varied to date, featuring only one song without a primarily hip-hop or R&B artist (shout out to Ariana Grande’s “No Tears Left To Cry”). Drake has three entries, Cardi B and Post Malone each have two, while pop’s biggest names of the past decade are conspicuously absent. Here is a breakdown of America’s most popular Songs Of The Summer in 2018.
As the biggest artist of 2018, Drake leads the list with 3 entries: “In My Feelings” (#1), “Nice For What” (#4), and “God’s Plan” (#9). The massive success of “In My Feelings” really has the Internet to thank. When Drake’s newest album Scorpion (2018) got released, his team, through extensive playlist placement, pushed for “Nonstop” and “Don’t Matter To Me” to be potential new singles—the former being a mid-tempo trap record that would blend right into 2018 urban radio, the latter being a more laid-back R&B track boasting a Michael Jackson feature. Yet the Internet had other plans for Drake, mainly due to a viral dance challenge started by comedian and social media influencer @theshiggyshow. The dance challenge saw everyone from Will Smith atop a bridge in Budapest to uniformed cops on the streets of Miami frolicking to the song’s addictive bounce beat and vivacious samples. Despite not being as ubiquitous as 2017’s winner “Despacito,” this song definitely has as much—if not more—charm; it is the rightful winner of the 2018 Songs Of The Summer race. (Retrospectively, the success of “In My Feelings” should’ve been expected; it combined the viral video content of “God’s Plan” with the captivating New-Orleans bounce style of “Nice For What,” both of which were insanely successful singles leading up to the release of Scorpion.)
“I Like It” (#2) by Cardi B—2018’s hottest new artist—Bad Bunny, and J Balvin was masterfully engineered to be a hit. From the moment it came on during my first listen of Cardi’s debut album Invasion Of Privacy (2018), I knew it would smash on the charts. My initial instinct was confirmed when I saw that “I Like It” was the most streamed and downloaded non-single from the album the week it dropped. The track is built around a catchy salsa sample from a 1960s boogaloo song “I Like It Like That,” and features 2 of latin music’s biggest artists, inevitably seizing the baton for chart-topping but overplayed crossover hit from “Havana,” who had previously snatched it from “Despacito.” Yet the song’s huge success had 2 additional reasons. First, it samples a trap beat—a move that has become increasingly common among pop artists due to the trap sound’s current popularity (see Bebe Rexha’s “I’m A Mess” and Ariana Grande’s “God Is A Woman”). Second, it was endorsed by an industry superpower as part of a cross-promotion campaign for the launch of Google’s own streaming platform YouTube Music, a brilliant move considering how videoplay dominates music consumption behavior amongst latin audiences. As such, the music video has over 500 million views just 3 months after its release, making it one of the most viewed movie videos of 2018.
Coming in third on the list is “Girls Like You” by Maroon 5 featuring Cardi B. “Girls Like You” was the first single released by Maroon 5 after the death of their long-time manager Jordan Feldstein, who has helped Adam Levine and co. navigate the music scene from their Songs About Jane (2002) days, strategically evolving the band’s sound each era to fit the latest trends and doing so with consistently favorable chart results. This pop song—a remix of the album version without Cardi—finds the band boarding the female rapper’s hype train and capitalizing on the popularity and reach of its music video’s catalogue of stars, whom, as their label proudly flaunts on multiple channels, have “500 million combined followers.” “Girls Like You”, despite being one of the few pop hits this year, is arguably the blandest song on this list. Especially in this hip-hop-inclined music landscape, the song’s ordinariness begs the question of whether it could’ve reached #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and be certified platinum if Gal Gadot, Millie Bobby Brown, Ellen DeGeneres, or even Cardi B hadn’t turned up to the party.
To music fans who adore larger-than-life pop anthems, the stellar chart performance of Juice WRLD’s “Lucid Dreams” (#5), Post Malone and Ty Dolla $ign’s “Psycho” (#6), Ella Mai’s “Boo’d Up” (#7), and Post Malone’s “Better Now” (#10) serves as disappointing proof that mellow R&B tunes rule in 2018. In particular, the successes of “Psycho” and “Better Now” were to be expected. Riding the wave of “Rockstar”’s immense success, “Psycho” was the poignant second single for Post Malone’s highly anticipated sophomore album beerbongs & bentleys (2018), whereas “Better Now” has a hook that even Taylor Swift, in her own words, is “jealous of.” Like Post Malone, Juice WRLD who is 5th on the list this summer, has a raspy, melancholy-inflected voice and gained a large following on SoundCloud. The official 2018 re-release of his breakout single “Lucid Dreams” finds him lamenting feelings of abject despair over a wistful sample of Sting’s “Shape of My Heart,” which markedly elevates the track to me. Additionally, the success of this rerelease was helped by a music video collaboration with influential hip-hop Video Director Cole Bennett aka Lyrical Lemonade. Last on this list of standout R&B stars is Ella Mai, whose rise to fame through her breakout hit “Boo’d Up” was most unexpected to me. Perhaps it was the precision with which her lyrics capture the fidgety feeling of falling in love while expressing it in a fun and refreshing manner that caused the song to gain traction organically on Twitter and YouTube. It’s always exciting to see a new artist (especially one born outside the US) resonate so well with the general public. I can’t wait to hear her debut album, which is set for release sometime this year.
Finally, pop princess Ariana Grande spares us during the 2018 pop drought with her comeback single “No Tears Left To Cry” (#8)—a dignified response to the tragic Manchester Arena bombing incident that killed 23 of her fans and wounded 139 more. In a recent Beats 1 Interview with Ebro Darden, Grande confessed in tears how “it changes everything, changes your life quite a bit. You want to be more present and follow happy impulses…” Thus came “No Tears Left To Cry,” the Max Martin and Ilya co-produced lead single to her recent album Sweetener (2018). Ariana is still at a low point—she still has tears to cry—but as she sings in the song, she’s “pickin’ it up, pickin’ it up… lovin’ [and] livin’ [and] pickin’ it up.” Healing is a process both personal and communal. With “No Tears Left To Cry,” Grande doesn’t offer concrete solutions (she doesn’t have them herself), but creates a space of support and solidarity where fans can join her and slowly pick themselves up, one note at a time. In an age where atrocities occur everyday and everywhere, the enormous success of “No Tears Left To Cry” this summer serves as a reminder that however dark it is, love, strength, and resilience will triumph over hate.