A few weeks ago, Vulture set out on an ambitious quest to find 2008’s Song of the Summer, a track that would rule the pop charts, be inescapable on the radio and in the streets, and probably wind up on your mom’s iPod sometime in October. It would have to be immediately catchy, evocative of the season, and as universally loved as last year’s de facto warm-weather anthem, “Umbrella” by Rihanna. Annoyingly, a consensus has not yet been reached, and at this point we are still unable to declare a definitive winner. Even so, we felt it our duty as patriotic Americans to name our top summer jams so you could bump something in your ride with confidence over the upcoming Fourth of July holiday.
We’ve ranked each of the serious contenders using Vulture’s patented Summerability Formula™, which quantitatively adds up a track’s radio airplay, iTunes sales, and magnitude of pop-cultural penetration, then multiplies that number by how awesome we find the song’s chorus. After the jump, you’ll find Vulture’s Top Five Songs of the Summer.
5. Usher feat. Young Jeezy, “Love in This Club”
We didn’t love this song when we first heard it, but thanks to the absurdity of its premise (see Wikipedia’s trenchant exegesis) and this excellent YouTube cover performed by a talented band of animatronic zoo animals, it grew on us (also, to the kindly person who mailed us a copy of A Smooth Jazz Tribute to Usher: We certainly appreciate it!). It’s catchy, well constructed, and, lest there be any confusion, literally about having sexual intercourse on a crowded dance floor. And the fact that it’s allegedly built from stock Garage Band samples only makes it better (if not more sanitary).
Summerability Score: 27
4. Lloyd feat. Lil Wayne, “Girls Around the World”
Idolator’s been tirelessly campaigning for this R&B throwback and it’s not hard to hear why. Dangerously infectious and sung in Lloyd’s weightless falsetto, “Girls” sounds like it could’ve been a hit in 1993, 2003, or 2088, the year in which its robot-enhanced, Hype Williams–directed video is set (tragically, in 2008, it peaked at a semi-disappointing 67 on Billboard’s Hot 100). It loses points only because it’s practically impossible to sing along to.
Summerability Score: 265
3. Lil Wayne, “A Milli”
This bass-y earworm benefits from its inclusion on what could very well be the last-ever album to sell a million copies in a week (the fact that its title sounds a little like “a million” was not lost on America’s headline writers). Of all the radio-ready tracks on Wayne’s Carter III, though, we figured it’d be another one, like “Comfortable” or “Dr. Carter,” that broke through this summer. Lead single “Lollipop” looked like the winner, but that was before every rapper ever dropped his own version of this track. We’ve heard “Milli” booming from more SUVs outside our window than any other song on this list, and, additionally, we’ve had the frog-voiced hook (“A milli, a milli, a milli, a milli, a milli,” etc.) hopelessly stuck in our head for the past two months.
Summerability score: 11,593
2. Leona Lewis, “Bleeding Love”
If any song were going to become 2008’s “Umbrella,” we reasoned in May, it would be this world-conquering pop ballad about being stabbed (in a good way?) by the object of one’s affections. It was already a spring hit, and we figured its hook was durable enough to make it a summer smash. Astonishingly, we were right about something for once! It’s ruled the radio, stayed on the charts (it’s currently the No. 4 song in the country), and been covered ad nauseam by indie rockers and YouTube ukulele players alike. Even so, we still like it.
Summerability Score: 270,679
1. Estelle feat. Kanye West, “American Boy”
On paper, this Jay-Z-approved breakthrough hit from our current favorite British person may not look like an obvious candidate for “Umbrella”-size ubiquity (it’s based on a sample from a crappy Will.I.Am solo album, it contains three verses in which Kanye West does little more than espouse the gospel of Kanye West, etc.), and, admittedly, it hasn’t exactly set American radio on fire (it peaked on the charts at 33, sadly). Still, if there’s been a better, more-fun single released this year, we’ve not yet heard it. Eminently hummable, lighter than helium, and generously uncritical of the United States’ foreign policy and obesity epidemic, “American Boy” is everything we could ask for in a summer anthem — we just wish more people agreed with us!
Summerability Score: 7,235,922
Honorable mentions: The Hold Steady’s “Constructive Summer,” Shaquille O’Neal’s “Tell Me How My Ass Taste (Remix)”
Earlier: Vulture’s “Umbrella” Watch 2008