What Was Really the Song of Summer 2020? An Investigation

With summer officially in the rearview mirror, a look back at the music that ruled the season.

By Billy Nilles Sep 09, 2020 6:58 PMTags
Watch: Viola Davis' Hilarious Reaction to Cardi B's "WAP"

It's time to say goodbye to summer. 

With Labor Day having come and gone, the season (if not its corresponding heat) is officially behind us. And for music fans, that means one thing: It's time to crown a winner in the race for song of summer. 

In a year like no other, it feels harder than ever before to come to a clear consensus on the track that ruled them all. Our listening habits changed dramatically thanks to social distancing, with concerts and clubs (temporarily) becoming a thing of the past. With all of us listening mostly from the sequestered safety of our own homes, it's certainly more difficult to put a finger on the pulse of the culture. But not impossible.

As always, there's Billboard's route, with the music publication tallying cumulative performance on their weekly streaming-, airplay-, and sales-based Hot 100 chart from Memorial Day to Labor Day. And then there's the less scientific, more intuitive approach.

The Best Music of 2020—So Far

As we look back at the contenders for this year's crown, we'll keep both methods in mind as we endeavor to declare a winner. With that said, let's get to it.

Getty Images/E! Illustration
"Blinding Lights" —The Weeknd

Though this synthpop single off The Weeknd's album After Hours has been around since last November, it's remained a powerhouse throughout summer, coming in at No. 2 on Billboard's 2020 Songs of the Summer chart. Aside from just being a legit terrific track, the song has benefited from major airplay and a viral TikTok challenge.


"cardigan" — Taylor Swift

When Taylor gave her Swifties the soundtrack to their summer with the surprise release of folklore in late July, she gave those hoping to avoid the pep of the sunny season's usual fare the downbeat drama they craved with this lead single. The slow-burning romantic indie-rock ballad debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, becoming her sixth No. 1 in her career.


"Popstar" — DJ Khaled feat. Drake

If we couldn't make it to Turks and Caicos ourselves during this socially distanced summer, we could at least listen to Drake brag about being there on this upbeat, reggae-influenced track from DJ Khaled that debuted at No. 3 on the Hot 100 in July.


"Whats Poppin" — Jack Harlow feat. DaBaby, Tory Lanez & Lil Wayne

This track from the Louisville rapper, originally released in January, benefited greatly from a star-studded remix that dropped in late June. Peaking at No. 2 on the Hot 100, where it spent two non-consecutive weeks, the song would eventually finish at No. 3 on the 2020 Songs of the Summer chart.


"Watermelon Sugar" — Harry Styles

This song off Harry's 2019 album Fine Line was always destined for summer play thanks to its sun-drenched funk-pop vibes. And sure enough, the onetime One Direction star topped the Hot 100 with the track in August.


"Savage (Remix)" — Megan Thee Stallion feat. Beyoncé

In a season chock full of fierce female collaborations, this one—a complete retooling of Meg's previously released track that added a fire-spitting Queen Bey into the mix—holds the distinction of having come first. It also holds the distinction of finishing the season at No. 4 on Billboard's 2020 Songs of the Summer chart.


"Rain on Me" — Lady Gaga feat. Ariana Grande

This collab of Gaga's latest LP Chromatica was the pure pop anthem we needed to get us through this uniquely difficult time, giving us the mantra we've returned to as each new obstacle arose: "I'd rather be dry, but at least I'm alive." 


"Break My Heart" — Dua Lipa

Pop fans kept Dua's excellent second album, Future Nostalgia, on repeat throughout much of the summer. And though this song hasn't charted as high as lead-off single "Don't Start Now"—yet—its early '80s disco vibe is the one that's maintained a constant presence on the Hot 100 through the season.


"Say So" — Doja Cat

Doja's disco-imbued hit has been kicking around since the November release of her album Hot Pink, but thanks to a viral dance craze on TikTok, the song's proven to have quite a lifespan. When the remix with Nicki Minaj dropped in May, it earned both rappers their first-ever No. 1 on the Hot 100.


"Do It" — Chloe x Halle

Released in June, Ungodly Hour—the Bailey sisters' impeccable sophomore studio album—felt like the album of the summer. And this lead single was everywhere, earning them their first appearance on the Hot 100 in their career (peaking at 83) as they delivered inventive performances of the track at just about every "live" event held over the last few months.


"Dynamite" — BTS

A late entry in the race, the first English-language release from K-pop superstars BTS netted the septet their first No. 1 on the Hot 100 in their already impressive history. The insanely catchy track debuted atop the chart, making them the first all-South Korean act and second Asian act to reach the pinnacle ever. Released on Aug. 21, its sales during the final two weeks of the summer period were higher than those of any other song released at any point in the season.


"Roses (Imanbek Remix)" — SAINt JHN

Another song that's been kicking around in one shape or form for quite some time—2016, to be exact—this remix of SAINt JHN's track proved to be powerful as ever this summer. It came in at No. 5 on Billboard's 2020 Songs of the Summer chart. 


"Ice Cream" — BLACKPINK feat. Selena Gomez

This collab between the K-pop girl group and Selena arrived late in the race—on Aug. 28, to be exact—but proved to be a formidable force among Song of Summer contenders. Debuting at No. 13 on the Hot 100, the catchy bubblegum-trap track became BLACKPINK's first single to peak within the top 20 on the chart.


"Rockstar" — DaBaby feat. Roddy Ricch

According to Billboard's math, this is the song of summer, ruling their chart for 13 of its 15 tracking weeks. It's an impressive feat, to be sure, but when we look back on summer 2020 years from now, is it the song that'll immediately come to mind? We're not so sure, especially when you consider the last track on this list.


"WAP" — Cardi B feat. Megan Thee Stallion

For our money, no song released this summer managed to permeate pop culture quite like this filthy, funny and fiercely feminist team-up between the two sex-positive rappers. The reaction to this song, including the way we absorbed its lyrics into our lexicon almost immediately, points to this one being the music event of the season. Something tells us this is the one we'll be remembering fondly—or even at all—in the future.


Now we want to hear from you. Which song ruled your summer? Vote for your fave in the poll below!


Song of Summer 2020

Which song ruled your summer in 2020?
"Rockstar" (DaBaby feat. Roddy Ricch)
"WAP" (Cardi B feat. Megan Thee Stallion)
"Blinding Lights" (The Weeknd)
"cardigan" (Taylor Swift)
"Popstar" (DJ Khaled feat. Drake)
"Whats Poppin" (Jack Harlow feat. DaBaby, Tory Lanez & Lil Wayne)
"Watermelon Sugar" (Harry Styles)
"Savage (Remix)" (Megan Thee Stallion feat. Beyoncé)
"Rain on Me" (Lady Gaga feat. Ariana Grande)
"Break My Heart" (Dua Lipa)
"Say So" (Doja Cat)
"Do It" (Chloe x Halle)
"Dynamite" (BTS)
"Roses (Imanbek Remix)" (SAINt JHN)
"Ice Cream" (BLACKPINK feat. Selena Gomez)
Something else entirely

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