What's behind a no. 1 summer hit

Singer Carly Rae Jepsen sings during the game between the San Diego Padres and the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium on April 13, 2012 in Los Angeles, Calif. Her song "Call Me Maybe" has already become a summer pop favorite.

Sarah Gardner: Remember this song?

Adele, "Rolling in the Deep": There's a fire starting in my heart.

Isn't that just so July 4, 2011? As is now typical with Top 40 radio, you hear Adele's "Rolling in the Deep" every once in a while, sort of a nostalgic throwback to, well, last summer.

So what's rocketing up the charts right now? And what makes a Top 40 hit into a No. 1 summer blockbuster? Marketplace's Mitchell Hartman got the beat on that one.


Mitchell Hartman: Unless you only listen to the kind of radio we produce here at Marketplace, you have probably heard this song at least once in the last, oh, I don’t know, 59 minutes?

Carly Rae Jepsen, "Call Me Maybe": Hey, I just met you, and this is crazy, but here’s my number, so call me maybe.

Canadian waif-pop-singer Carly Rae Jepsen soared out of obscurity this spring with her bouncy love song “Call Me Maybe.”

Silvio Pietroluongo: The forecast is she may remain at the top of that summer list.

That’s Silvio Pietroluongo, director of pop charts at Billboard magazine.

Pietroluongo: There is some competition there, so I’m not going to say the race is over. But she’s got a great head start.

And who’s nipping at Carly Rae’s heels? Pietroluongo puts the odds on Maroon 5 and their hit, “Payphone.”

Maroon 5, “Payphone”:  I’m at a payphone, trying to call home, all of my change I spent on you.

Pietroluongo also likes “Where Have You Been” by Rihanna and “Wide Awake” from Katy Perry.

Pietroluongo: You know, right now we’re at an up-tempo dance pure pop phase. A few years ago, it was really hip-hop and some R&B songs, so everything has its cycle and right now, we’re at a pure pop cycle.

The cycle itself -- that’s also a big part of the formula, the same songs every hour in rotation.

Brett Andrews: All right 2 o’clock, Brett Andrews radio show checking in with Maroon 5, Wiz Khalifa on the way, Katy Perry.

Brett Andrews is program director and afternoon DJ at Z100, a Top 40 station in Portland, Ore.

Andrews: It is very formulaic, we do have numerical systems in place. The most important thing for us is familiar, familiar, familiar. People like to tune on the radio and hear a song they can sing along to.

But in the case of Carly Rae Jepsen, Americans had barely heard anything from her. Then she got some big assists: Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez lip-synced a tribute video to her song, and it went viral.

Andrews: Even former Secretary of State Colin Powell was caught on-camera singing that song. It’s moved away from just being a fun little pop song, to being this viral, kind of cultural identifier for the summer.

And me? I like a song called “Drive By” by the post-grunge rock band Train.

Well, I like underdogs. Right now, they’re holding at Number 19 on the pop charts.

I’m Mitchell Hartman for Marketplace.

About the author

Mitchell Hartman is the senior reporter for Marketplace’s Entrepreneurship Desk and also covers employment.

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