Summer has officially started in parts of the world, but the jury is still out on its official soundtrack.
The top of the charts is a grab bag, with Harry Styles’ subdued “As It Was” currently at No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100. Further down is Kate Bush’s “Running up that Hill” (1985), which made and then climbed the charts after being featured in Netflix’s Stranger Things. Lizzo’s upbeat “About Damn Time,” a muse for TikTok choreographers, is also a favorite, as is Jack Harlow’s Fergie-sampling “First Class.” Beyonce’s new single “Break My Soul,” or anything from her forthcoming album Renaissance, could also be contenders.
But what if there is no song of summer? At least not in a traditional sense. Given larger shifts in music consumption, the top of the Billboard charts, which has historically kept the pulse of musical trends, may no longer be a good yardstick for a song’s success.
What the Billboard charts miss
The diversification and digitalization of music discovery means traditional charts may lack the nuance to capture what’s popular now. For example, pop and reggaeton top Billboard charts at the moment, but Twitter is all about Kpop, and indie jazz and electro are big sellers on Bandcamp. The charts can also miss or underemphasize trends in music streaming, a challenge that Billboard itself has acknowledged. Streaming drove 23% of year-on-year music revenue growth in 2021, accounting for 83% of sales, and a reported 63% of Gen Z stream music daily on platforms like YouTube, Spotify, and Soundcloud—platforms that can also be manipulated to inflate a song’s popularity.
Then there’s TikTok, arguably the most important new player in determining a song’s virality, and a music-discovery engine that has influenced everything from how long songs are to which album tracks become popular to the all-lowercasing (and all-caps-ing) of song titles. Billboard often fails to pick up viral meme songs, like Louis Theroux’s “Jiggle Jiggle,” which has wiggle-wiggled its way into every corner of the internet. Ironically, physical music is also making its first comeback since 1996, with 2022 vinyl sales hitting modern highs—but the top vinyl titles are completely different from what’s being played on the radio.
Music consumption in the digital age is ultimately becoming more diversified, more personalized, and faster-paced. That means the ease of identifying a single summer bop may be a thing of the past—today’s sound of summer may just depend on how and where you’re getting your music fix.
In honor of this trend, Quartz has put together its own 2022 songs of the summer playlist for your poolside enjoyment. Happy listening!