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    Default Handicapping the Country Song of Summer 2023

    From Radio Insight:


    For nearly 20 years, I?ve been handicapping the Song of Summer battle, then choosing a winner before Labor Day. The Song of Summer concept took hold among Country labels and radio relatively quickly. Two years ago, I wrote the first Country Summer Song handicap, in which I ?.

    • Wrote that Top 40, whose product was starting to flow again post-COVID, but had no depth, would still be smart to recognize some Country crossovers;
    • Noted that Country?s notoriously glacial chart was starting to put obvious summer songs, even by non-Rushmore artists, on a faster track, as had happened the year before with ?One Margarita? (and eventually happened in 2021 with ?I Was on a Boat That Day?);
    • Failed to anticipate Walker Hayes? ?Fancy Like,? which was about 10 days away from gurgling up from socials/streaming. Even in an era where streaming sets the agenda at Top 40, I?ve never had a Song of Summer that wasn?t in contention at pop radio by Memorial Day. Country seemed like a far less likely place for that to happen.

    Last summer, ?She Had Me at Heads Carolina? by Cole Swindell and ?Like I Love Country Music? by Kane Brown were fast-tracked to the top. ?Carolina? turned out to have more staying power, but I was happy with the way radio handled ?Like I Love,? getting the most out of it for three months and then deciding whether it would go to recurrent when it was actually time to go to recurrent. It also ended some apparent grumbling about Brown?s multi-format stardom, and set up ?Thank God,? which both went to recurrent and became Brown?s biggest pop hit as a lead artist.

    ?She Had Me at Heads Carolina? also has a footprint in 2023. The hit that brought the ?flip? to Country was Jake Owen?s ?I Was Jack (You Were Diane)? five years ago, but ?Carolina? coincided with the explosion in interpolations of previous hits on the pop side. This summer, Owen is reworking Willie Nelson with ?On the Boat Again.? For now, Owen has Country?s flip side to himself, unlike Top 40, where the rewrite of Haddaway?s ?What Is Love? is finally pulling away from similar treatments of Alice Deejay?s ?Better Off Alone? and Fatboy Slim?s ?Praise You,? while there?s also a Hip-Hop remake battle between Pitbull and Flo Rida.
    In last week?s overall Song of Summer handicap, several readers and programmers also noted the strong possibility that the Country Song of Summer could be the overall Song of Summer, thanks to the CHR and Billboard Hot 100 success of Morgan Wallen?s ?Last Night.? With Brown now established at CHR, Wallen on his second pop hit, and Luke Combs? remake of ?Last Car? happening at both Country and pop, the three artists who have represented a ?back to Country? movement at the format are now also part of a 1981-style crossover boom at CHR and Hot AC.*
    In the 2021 article I wrote that ?Country radio is still in a place that most PDs of other formats would envy, even if Country programmers wouldn?t see it that way.? I?ve come back to that point a number of times, because that?s still how it looks from a multi-format POV. In its Bailey Zimmermans and Zach Bryans, Country has emerging artists and a new body of music that CHR does not.*

    Thanks to streaming, Country also has two artists with two songs climbing the chart at once. We never got to see how that played out in 2020-21 when ?7 Summers? propelled itself into the middle of ?More Than My Hometown?s? chart run. But now there are three growing Wallen songs and two Luke Combs radio singles as well. Two weeks ago, Megan Moroney?s ?Sleep on My Side? was in the TikTok Radio top 10 while ?Tennessee Orange? was still climbing the charts. By comparison, Top 40 hasn?t had an artist with multiple developing hits since SZA earlier this year.
    Streaming is a growing part of Country?s decision-making process, but it dominates at CHR. Besides propelling the multiple-hits trend, streaming is also likely to lead to more crossover because of the advantage that multi-format hits have at a time over the music-breaking power of any single format.
    As we handicap the summer 2023 field–songs with tempo or at least a breezy feel, or appropriate lyrics, it feels like Country has more songs specifically geared for summer than CHR. There’s also Brian Kelley?s ?See You Next Summer,? Luke Bryan?s ?But I Got a Beer in My Hand,? Lainey Wilson?s ?Watermelon Moonshine,? and Chase Rice?s ?Bad Day to Be a Cold Beer.? Swindell?s ?Drinkaby? has been building since January, but deserves to turbo now both lyrically and because of its energy level. Gabby Barrett?s ?Glory Days? comes out June 8, but will enter the race in progress because of its tempo and ?these are the good times? theme. (By my CHR parameters, “Fast Car” doesn’t count as a “summer song,” but it was certainly cited by many of the PDs I asked for being the most phenomenal current title.)
    I?ve created a playlist of Country?s Summer Songs of 2023.Besides the leading contenders, and existing songs that are entering the summer with appropriate tempo or lyrics, there?s also a remake of a summer 1981 crossover in Aaron Watson?s ?Seven Year Ache?; a song that was on the Summer Songs of 2021 list, thanks to Chayce Beckham?s ?23?; and a number of appropriate indie-label entries, including the surprise return of Bertie Higgins, just in time for this week?s spotlight on ?Yacht Rock? as well.*
    What are your Summer Song of 2023 contenders? Please leave a comment.*



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