With summer over — not officially until Sept. 23, but for chart purposes, given that Billboard has announced the season-end 2023 Songs of the Summer chart, which measures performance on the weekly Billboard Hot 100 between Memorial Day and Labor Day — a look at the season’s biggest hits reveals what the average summer smash sounded like this year.
Here is an analysis of compositional characteristics of the survey’s top 10 titles at the season’s close.
To recap, here is a rundown of the Songs of the Summer chart’s top 10 for 2023:
- No. 1, “Last Night,” Morgan Wallen
- No. 2, “Fast Car,” Luke Combs
- No. 3, “Calm Down,” Rema & Selena Gomez
- No. 4, “Flowers,” Miley Cyrus
- No. 5, “All My Life,” Lil Durk feat. J. Cole
- No. 6, “Cruel Summer,” Taylor Swift
- No. 7, “Karma,” Taylor Swift feat. Ice Spice
- No. 8, “Snooze,” SZA
- No. 9, “Kill Bill,” SZA
- No. 10, “Fukumean,” Gunna
Summer of Love
Love was in the air in the summer of 2023. A hefty 80% of the Song of the Summer chart’s season-wrapping top 10 features a love/relationship lyrical theme, with the majority sporting romantic subject matter. Among them, Morgan Wallen’s “Last Night” chronicles his continued desire for his love interest despite their push-and-pull dynamic, while Miley Cyrus’ “Flowers” and SZA’s “Kill Bill” narrate breakups.
Also notably, and logically, the positive songs about love include major-key tonalities, while the more negative ones are complemented by minor-key tonalities.
Meanwhile, only one song in the above 10 leaned toward the platonic end of the spectrum: Taylor Swift’s “Karma” featuring Ice Spice.
Playing Hooky, in the Summer
The biggest summer 2023 hits were earworms, even if they weren’t as fast as might be expected.
While all hits in the season-end Songs of the Summer top 10 feature catchy hooks, largely in their choruses, many bolster their hook presence by hitting the listener with a notable, recognizable hook in their intros (60% of the 10 songs) and/or following their choruses with additional post-chorus hook reiteration (70%).
Meanwhile, when most people think of summer hits, they typically think of uptempo, highly danceable bangers. However, summer 2023’s top 10 includes only three songs at over 100 beats per minute, two of which have a notable dance/club influence: “Flowers” (118 BPM) and Rema and Selena Gomez’s “Calm Down” (107 BPM).
The greatest share of the summer’s top 10 is 80-99 BPM (four titles), including Luke Combs’ “Fast Car,” Swift’s “Cruel Summer” and “Karma,” and “Kill Bill.”
The remaining three songs are under 79 BPM, comprising the R&B/hip-hop hits “All My Life” by Lil Durk featuring J. Cole, SZA’s “Snooze” and Gunna’s “Fukumean.”
Familiar, But Unique
While hit songs possess a host of commonalities that make them familiar to audiences and enable them to easily connect, most also have unique qualities that help them stand out from the pack. The 10 biggest hits on 2023’s Songs of the Summer chart for the season are no exception. Among them:
“Fast Car” has an unusual song structure by today’s mainstream standards. Most hits are based on a core A-B-A-B-C-B form (whereby A: verse; B: chorus; and C: bridge). “Fast Car,” written by Tracy Chapman, who first sent the song to the weekly Hot 100’s top 10 in 1988, features an I-A-T-A-T-A-T-PC-T-B-T-A-T-B-T-A-T-B-T-PC-O form (I: intro; A: verse; T: turnaround; PC: pre-chorus; B: chorus; and O: outro).
“Calm Down” features standout qualities including repetition, more than the other season-end summer top 10s, and the weekly Hot 100’s top 10 in general; hooks combining proper language, slang, nonsensical phrases and Nigerian Pidgin; and an Afrobeats sound, which, despite gaining traction, is still relatively uncommon in the Hot 100’s top 10 and is not present in any of the other top 10 songs of the summer.
Plus, “Flowers” is the only top 10 hit of the summer with a 1970s disco influence and “Kill Bill” features an atypical ‘60s psychedelic influence, while its lyrical hook (“I might kill my ex”) definitely sets it apart.
David and Yael Penn are the co-founders of Hit Songs Deconstructed. In 2022, Hit Songs Deconstructed and fellow song analysis platform MyPart partnered to launch ChartCipher, a new platform analyzing hit songs, as defined by Billboard’s charts.
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