from Spice Girls to Mart Hoogkamer

Summer hits, they get in your ear and they don’t want to get out. You can already see yourself lying on the beach with a cocktail when one passes by. And that often happens, because radio stations can’t get enough of summer hits.

Over there at the radio, Rob Ester is behind the controls. As director of Qmusic, he is responsible for the musical direction of the Netherlands’ most popular radio station. And therefore also for the launch of summer hits. Many factors help a song become a hit, but it starts with:

1. Dance, monkey

“If you want to serve the largest possible audience, you don’t end up with too many extremes,” says Ester. “Pop can be with a guitar or with a beat, calm or cheerful, but it shouldn’t irritate people.” Shrilling heavy metal guitars and pounding happy hardcore beats are delightful to fans, but the masses prefer moderate.

There are exceptions. take the song Dance Monkey, by Australian singer Tones and I. Many listeners were amazed at her childish, shrill voice. “Dance Monkey is basically an annoying song. Still, it became one of the biggest hits of 2019. Once you get used to it, it’s very catchy

2. What do the Spice Girls want again?

Being catchy, grabbing and holding attention is crucial for pop hits. Repetition is a powerful tool. With Dance Monkey it helped to play the song more often, but repetition within the song is also important. Dance Monkey’s chorus repeats the lyrics ‘dance for me‘ and ‘move for me‘ six times each. Such a striking, recurring piece is called the hook

The more repetition, the greater the chance of success, according to scientific research. In 2016 music scientists at the University of Amsterdam (UvA) investigated the recipe for a hit. The catchiest song they found Wannabe by the Spice Girls, bursting with repetition. Just the beginning:

Yo, I’ll tell you what I want, what I really, really want. So tell me what you want, what you really, really want. I’ll tell you what I want, what I really, really want. So tell me what you want, what you really, really want.’

3. Que si? Que no!

The scientists also discovered that the voice should be audible, at least in the most melodic part of the song. Jody Bernal’s summer hit from 2000, que si que no, funnily enough, does not meet this requirement, because there is always a synthesizer blaring through his voice. The number despacito from 2017 passes the test better because one voice sings the hook very clearly.

4. Dèès-paah…

Que sí que no and Despacito are both Spanish speaking. According to music director Ester, this is a trend with summer hits. “People associate Spanish with sun, sea, sand and southern Europe. Qmusic’s top 500 of the summer contains many Spanish-language songs. If you look up when they were originally in the Top 40, that could also be December, but they still give you a summer feeling.” Despacito, the summer hit of 2017, appeared on January 13.

5. Swim Out

From Jody Bernal to Mart Hoogkamer with I’m going zwemme: many summer hits feel a little off. They are ‘guilty pleasures’ that are often in the program at Qmusic the wrong hour end up. “Summer hits are often songs where the penny drops after one listen,” says Ester. “As a result, they work like a charm for a while, but they also burn out quickly.”

How do hitmakers drop the penny quickly? Often by making their song sound like something that already exists. This is how they make it predictable, another proven success factor. “We submit songs to listeners every week to ask what they think,” says Ester. “Most people only want something new sporadically. Unknown makes unloved. That’s why we never play more than one or two new songs in an hour.”

6. Sorry Mariah

Vocals like Mariah Carey’s are absolutely impressive. But in the charts, such antics are the exception. Most hits do not have extremely high or low peaks in the vocals.

7. Didn’t Queen understand anything?

Ester mentions one more well-known principle in pop music. “As a rule, a hit shouldn’t be much longer than three minutes.” This is true in the summer as well as the rest of the year, and many of the hits in this story stick to it obediently. But it does raise a question: why are many songs at the top of the Top 2000 so long?

Bohemian Rhapsody topped the charts in 2021, while Queen’s famous song takes six minutes. It is also not predictable, on the contrary: it is about three songs in one. It’s not for nothing that Queen’s record label was initially against making it a single, and it took time for the song to be picked up on the radio. But eventually it grew into a classic.

Jody Bernal and Mart Hoogkamer should not count on that. “Summer hits are fun for a while,” says Ester. “But most don’t end up on your list of the best music ever made.”

Potential summer hits of 2022 according to Rob Ester (Qmusic):

Willy William – trumpeta

Camila Cabello ft. Ed Sheeran – Bam Bam

La Fuente – I Want You

James Hype, Miggy Dela Rosa – Ferrari

Moon and The Youth of Today – To the moon

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