Have Streaming Services Killed the “Song of the Summer”?


Is “Can’t Stop the Feeling” 2016’s song of the Summer? Maybe for you. For decades the idea of the song of the summer seemed vital to our collective pop culture consciousness. This is easy to understand in the context of the 80s or 90s or even early 2000’s. In your car, the radio was still the primary source of entertainment, and your music collection was probably contained on stacks upon stacks of compact disks. And even when portable mp3 players started to become commonplace, the early models were so limited in storage capacity that the files it stored had to be perfectly curated to reflect the musical persuasions of a particular moment in time.

You could argue that this even kept up until the early 2010’s… and then the summer of 2011 happened. In mid-July of that year, the Swedish company Spotify launched on American shores, opening up the doors to unlimited listening of purportedly any artist (there were some glaring omissions at launch, from the catalogs of Led Zeppelin and the Beatles to the absence of well-established records in the hip-hop canon).

When Spotify first arrived, user numbers weren’t particularly impressive. But users, both paying and (especially) free took off, and by 2014 the service had about 25 million free. and just under 10 million paid subscribers. But it didn’t stall— from June 2015 to March of this year, Spotify saw a 50% increase in paid users, bringing the totals of those subscribers to 30 million. Spotify has announced total users are more than 100 million.


Growth of Spotify paid users.

Growth of Spotify paid users.

All to say, there are a lot of people using Spotify right now, in some capacity. But if you don’t mind slogging through ads, even if you’re a free user you’ll be setting up your computer at parties and summertime gatherings to play the music you and your guests love; radio be damned. It’s a tool that turns everyone into a DJ. So if you aren’t enjoying the saccharine synths and bubblegum pop of a particular radio moment, you don’t need to tune it. Fire up some throwback classics instead. From this perspective, maybe streaming audio hasn’t killed the song of the summer but definitely has made it more fluid. If you’re hosting a party in 2016, you can dial it back and play “Hot in Herre”, “Call Me Maybe”, or “Umbrella” without thinking about it.

Because our specific tastes are so varied, we don’t have to be chained to the dominant track of the sweltering months either. If everyone is playing music from their own catalogs at will, then their very idea of what the Summer song is will change. Of course, that doesn’t mean there nominally won’t be one— that’s what Billboard’s data is for, anyway— but why would “One Dance” register as a song of the summer contender when you never really listen to Drake? If you’re listening is dominated by the summer releases of Sia and Schoolboy Q, why is Desiigner even in your discussion?

So many aspects of our lives have become customizable. There are as many different songs of the summer as there are pool parties from sun-up on Memorial Day to sundown on Labor Day.