The Science of the Summer Song

Using concepts from the science fair to determine what makes a Song of the Summer


Science fair projects were stupid. Yeah I said it. And this is coming from someone who was a teacher AND worked at the Union of Concerned Scientists. I learned nothing of substance from doing those quasi-“scientific” experiments. I take that back, I did learn one thing, That was that it’s totally worth spending the extra money for the peal off adhesive letters instead of the perforated letters that you had to glue on. That’s it.

Now don’t get me wrong, science itself is amazing. So as a favor to the school subject that gave us dry ice cocktails, I’ve decided to use the scientific method taught to me by my 3rd grade teacher to help solve two of the greatest non-Trump mysteries of 2017. What makes a Song of the Summer? And what was the Song of the Summer in 2017?

Let the science fair presentation begin.



What are the essential elements that elevate a popular song to the category of “Song of the Summer” (henceforth knows as a SOS)



In order to better understand what makes a SOSs special, I’ve pulled research from the 2017 volume of the acclaimed scientific journal, USA Today. I focused on a specific research article that documented the phenomenon of SOSs since 1997. I will only be using the observations from the past five years which, according to their findings, are as follows:

2017: TBD*

2016: One Dance – Drake featuring WizKid and Kyla

2015: Cheerleader – OMI

2014: Fancy – Iggy Azalea featuring Charlie XCX

2013: Blurred Lines – Robin Thicke featuring T.I and Pharrell (arguably the greatest SOS of all time)

2012: Call Me Maybe – Carly Rae Jepsen

*Since the article was written in the first half of 2017 they could not calculate 2017’s SOS, so we will use the results of this experiment to determine what was the SOS of 2017.



Based on the research of the previous section, I believe that the 2017 SOS will be either “Despacito” by Luis Fonsi featuring Daddy Yankee and (sometimes) Justin Beiber or “Wild Thoughts” by DJ Khaled featuring Rihanna and Bryson Tiller.

Those are literally the only two choices available. Nothing else even comes remotely close.



Based on my research of the previous SOSs, I have determined that these basic elements are extremely beneficial in helping a popular song to evolve into a SOS. Preferably these songs have:

  • Positive lyrics preferably about partying (12, 13, 14, 15, 16)
  • A dynamic baseline that contributes to the melody of the song (13, 14)
  • About a relationship/sex (12, 13,15,16)
  • From a “relatively” unknown artists (12, 13*, 14, 15)

* Robin Thicke was a name in R&B circles but was by no means a well known pop star before Blurred Lines



In order to determine if a song is truly an SOS, I have created four absolutely, scientifically sound, real-world test. The first two tests observe the musical quality of the song. The last two observe the universal popularity of the song. They are as follows:

The PCH test

The SOS has to be a song you can cruise to while driving around in your drop top. While “cruisabilty” isn’t a scientific metric you can quantify, I have created a test that can qualitatively capture essence of “cruisability.” It’s called the Pacific Coast Highway, or  PCH, test. Basically, we have random people listen to a song and rate (from 1 to 5) how clearly they can picture themselves driving the along the Pacific Ocean while listening to it. 5 means that they can almost smell the sea salt. 1 means that they might as well be yodeling in the Alps. Any sound that averages under a 3.75 is automatically disqualified.

The “Turn It Up” test

This is a neurological test that measures the spike in people’s brain activity the moment they hear the potential SOS. We do this but studying the electrical signals in the brain’s frontal lobe that control important functions like impulse control and comprehension of social cues. An increase of activity in this region is likely to suggest that people will automatically turn the song up to it’s highest volume whenever they hear it, much to the annoyance of everyone in their general vicinity.

The Saturday/Sunday test

This is another qualitative measure but is probably the most important test of the four. This test is the purest confirmation that the potential SOS has truly reached popularity with ALL demographics of society. The test is simply the answer to a basic yes or no question, “Can you hear this song being played at both the club on Saturday night AND at your niece’s 5th birthday party on Sunday afternoon?”

The BBQ Playlist test

Finally, we have the Outdoor BBQ test. This test is very simple. Can the song make it onto the playlist of a Black BBQ. A new song getting on this list is a tough task considering that 75% of the playlist will automatically be dedicated to artists from the 70s and 80s like Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye and Frankie Beverly & Maze. When you consider that another 20% of the playlist will be dedicated to established dances (The Casper Slide, The Cupid Shuffle, The Wobble, etc.), you only have 5% left. That means there are 2, maybe 3, open slots for current music…and none of Beyoncé’s songs have even been considered yet. If your potential SOS is popular enough to be chosen to be in that mix, it’s something special.



Now is the time to analyze the results of both “Despacito” and “Wild Thoughts” to see which is truly the SOS of 2017. After running the gambit of test the results were incredibly close. Let break them down by the winner of each individual test.

The PCH test: Despacito

Despacito wins this one hands down. I’m not saying that you can’t cruise to “Wild Thoughts.” You absolutely can. The song is chill as fuck. All I’m saying is that I could have sworn that “Despacito” was a song in one of the Fast and Furious movies. It’s the perfect song for the end of every F&F movie where Vin Disel sipping a Corona on the beach is inevitably challenged by Paul Walker to one final race.

The “Turn It Up” test: Wild Thoughts

Wild Thoughts gets the nod here because Rihanna is one of the biggest stars out there. She’ll automatically get that “Turn Up” respect regardless of the song. Rihanna literally made a song where she just repeated the word “cake” about a dozen times at that song made the Billboard charts.

The Saturday/Sunday test: Despacito

This one is tough because both songs strongly encourage that slow, intense grinding that basically simulates the conception of the five year old whose bitrthday you are attending. However, what gives Despacito the edge is that the song is in Spanish. Lyrics like “Let me trespass your danger zones/Until I make you scream/And you forget your last name” are OK in a foreign language. It’s a lot more likely that someone shut down “Wild Thoughts” when your five year old niece starts signing “I wanna see you naky-naky-naked.”

The BBQ Playlist test: Wild Thoughts

What helped Despacito in the previous test hurts it here. The song’s Spanish lyrics give it a tough loss at the Black BBQ. Remember, the curator of the playlist is usually some Old Head that thinks “Lionel Richie’s “Hello” was the last great song ever made. While the younger generations may be more accepting of diversity in their playlist, the old people are going to wall of the Latinx song in ways that the Trump Administration can only dream off. Also “Wild Thoughts” samples Santana’s “Maria,” so there’s a high probably  that it gets added onto the playlist accidentally due to a senior moment.



At the end of the day, what makes a SOS is its universality. It is a song that can be enjoyed by everyone, everywhere, for every reason. Going to a baseball game? It’s playing after the seventh inning stretch. Watching Ellen? It’s the song she dances out to. Going to church? The pastor references it in their sermon.

The SOS is just an upbeat song we can all just dance to and temporarily forget our troubles.

If we’re looking with pure objectivity, using the rules of the science fair, then it’s clear that Despacito fits this criteria the best. But like I said at the beginning of the column, science fairs are stupid. I’m not going to give Despacito the title SOS because of one, totally non-scientific reason. Its the fact that the song that was popular in America wasn’t the original, but the remix featuring Justin Bieber. They took what was a sexy, shot of Puerto Rican Espresso and turned it into a watered down, artificially sweetened Cappuccino for the American audience. Unforgivable. So in conclusion, that’s why I’m giving the title of 2017 SOS to Rihanna (yes, I waited the whole article to make that reference).

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