These days there are two types of people in the world: Those who accept the conventional wisdom that Iggy Azalea’s breakout hit “Fancy” is the Song Of The Summer, and those desperate to find something, anything, to replace it.
Here’s the problem: Nobody really likes “Fancy.” It’s the chilly inverse of Gwen Stefani’s “Hollaback Girl” (SOTS runner up, 2005). Everything about it seems synthetic and joyless and blank. America often comes to regret its SOTS, usually by Christmas. We have successfully agreed to pretend the Black Eyed Peas (SOTS 2005 and 2009) never existed at all. But never have we so collectively disliked a Song of the Summer while it was happening.
There are obvious alternatives: It’s not too late for Ariana Grande, who has three songs in contention (including a part on the new “Bang Bang,” wondrous and sparkly), or “Rude,” the cheerfully-terrible track by Canadian reggae titans Magic! It could have been the summer of DJ Snake and Lil Jon’s nu-metal/hip-hop banger “Turn Down For What,” if that song hadn’t peaked too late (way too late; it’s like the reanimated corpse of Kid Rock’s 1999 hit “Bawitdaba”).
There are less obvious alternatives, too. So we’ve compiled a list of Song of the Summer underdogs, also-rans and alternate universe smash hits. These are catchy, at least semi-danceable songs that barely grazed the charts. Earworms and growers. BBQ-friendly singalong songs and late-night jams. All guaranteed to be better than “Fancy.”
Note: Some of the songs below feature explicit language.
Grimes featuring Blood Diamonds: “Go”
Grimes’ transition from elusive electro-gamine to pop-star-in-waiting continues with this slinky, mainstream-circling jam. Like all great songs, this was written for — and rejected by — Rihanna.
Benjamin Booker: “Violent Shiver”
This New Orleans garage-blues rocker doesn’t even have an album out yet, but he’s already opened for Jack White and laid waste to Lollapalooza. Rock songs are seldom SOTS-friendly, but this will appeal to anyone who misses the early, rawer incarnations of the White Stripes (a clear influence) and the Black Keys.
Drake: “0 to 100/The Catch Up”
Kanye West recently admitted to GQ that summer hip-hop now belonged to Drake, except he wouldn’t actually say Drake’s name, because he’s proud like that. Kanye is always a little right: This summer has brought three superlative Drake-related jams. He co-wrote and guested on “Believe Me,” the best Lil Wayne song in years; dropped something called “Draft Day” which we’ve forgotten about already but was probably really good; and issued this six-minute-plus, formless but addictive mid-fi track, which features some of his most dexterously rapped verses. It sounds a little like “Started from the Bottom” if that song had no hook, and Drake had recorded it in the bathroom at a Chili’s.
AGNEZ MO featuring Timbaland and T.I.: “Coke Bottle”
Get past the accompanying video, in which the Indonesian pop star lip syncs awkwardly while wearing an adult diaper, and you’ll find one of the year’s greatest trunk rattlers.
Ben Khan: “Youth”
This Prince-channeling funk track from London-based singer Khan’s debut EP “1992” could be a worthy successor to last year’s British SOTS candidate, Disclosure’s “Latch.” It’s a similar exercise in sublimely glitchy electro-R&B.
Miranda Lambert with Carrie Underwood: “Somethin’ Bad”
Bro-country dominates for the second summer in a row, but 2014 hasn’t produced anything near as undeniable as last year’s “Cruise,” just second-tier hokum like “Drunk on a Plane.” That leaves an opening for this arch, “Thelma and Louise”-style ditty, even though Underwood and Lambert display so little in the way of chemistry or identifiably human emotions that they seem less like two of Nashville’s biggest stars, and more like two sassy robots with hair extensions.
FKA twigs: “Two Weeks”
This assured, bass-heavy slow jam may be the track that finally breaks the British R&B/pop singer stateside. It also has a video that tries really hard to make you think of Aaliyah in “Queen of the Damned.”
Afghan Whigs: “Matamoros”
Once Pavement got back together, people lost interest in reunions of once-beloved ’90s bands. The Whigs’ reunion may have been largely overlooked, but they’re one of the few nostalgia acts to have returned with a compelling album of new material. This track is one of a number of stick-in-your-head songs that would have been a hit on alt-rock radio, back when there still was an alt-rock radio.