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Will Fall Be the Season for Taylor Swift’s ‘Cruel Summer’ at No. 1?  

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The Contenders is a midweek column that looks at artists aiming for the top of the Billboard charts, and the strategies behind their efforts. This week (for the upcoming charts dated Oct. 28), Taylor Swift could finally be in line to top the Billboard Hot 100 with her revived “Summer” hit, but may end up neck-and-neck with hits from several other big-name artists, including an old labelmate and chart competitor.  

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Taylor Swift, “Cruel Summer” (Republic): Have you gotten your ticket for the Eras Tour movie? Plenty of Swifties already have, since the film debuted last weekend (Oct. 13-15) to a $92.8 million opening – already making it fairly easily the biggest concert doc ever after just a few days of release. And although Taylor Swift‘s fans hardly need another reason to consume her catalog in greater numbers, wouldn’t you know it: She has seen a bump in streams and sales since the film’s release, including for her current top song, the resuscitated Lover highlight “Cruel Summer.”  

It’s not an enormous streaming bump for “Cruel Summer” (likely not even a double-digit percentage gain week over week), but the song has spiked in sales. “Summer” even returns to the top of the real-time iTunes sales chart this week, as fans are newly inspired by the song’s prominent placement in Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour — or perhaps just sense an opening on the Hot 100 for the longtime fan favorite, originally released in 2019, while it’s a relatively slow week and Swift has an additional boost in momentum. (Also helping: Swift discounting the single to $0.69 on iTunes for the last couple days of the tracking week.)  

Will it all be enough to raise the song — which has thus far peaked at No. 3 amid proper single promotion that began in June, and falls to No. 9 this week (on the chart dated Oct. 21) under an avalanche of Drake For All the Dogs debuts – all the way to No. 1? It’s certainly possible, with Drake’s songs naturally receding in their second week, and nothing else in the top 10 poised to make obvious gains. Radio could be key: “Cruel Summer” fell out of the No. 1 spot on Billboard’s Radio Songs listing two weeks ago but has been holding strong at No. 2 since; if it can keep from further slippage there, it may have just enough in an all three Hot 100 components for a real run at the chart’s apex.  

Drake feat. J. Cole, “First Person Shooter” / Drake feat. Yeat, “IDGAF” (OVO/Republic): Taylor Swift clearly got under labelmate Drake’s skin last November when her newly remix-boosted Hot 100 conquerer “Anti-Hero” blocked his and 21 Savage’s new “Rich Flex” from debuting at No. 1 on the chart: Might it be time for him to return the favor? Drake will have the advantage of incumbency on the chart, as his J. Cole-featuring “First Person Shooter” bows atop the listing this week, making for his 13th Hot 100 No. 1 (and Cole’s long-awaited first). The song is expected to drop significantly in streams this week, however, so it might need a boost from a new video (or fan meme) to have much shot at holding the top spot. 

That said, it’s not Drake’s only contender in the chart’s top tier: The Yeat-featuring “IDGAF” has passed it on the daily charts on Spotify and Apple Music for about a week now – currently ranking No. 1 on both listings — and seems likely to take over as his top-charter on the Hot 100, as well. The song’s presence in digital sales and on radio is still fairly minimal however, so it will really have to score big in streaming to have much chance at holding off Swift’s surge for a belated No. 1.  

Doja Cat, “Paint the Town Red” (Kemosabe/RCA): Remember this one? “Paint the Town Red” has already spent three weeks at No. 1 on the Hot 100, and even amid the Drake surge this week it’s still holding strong at No. 4. Doja‘s smash ranks No. 3 both on Billboard’s Radio Songs and Digital Song Sales charts this week, and though it falls to No. 20 on Streaming Songs, it’s still the second-highest non-Drake entry (behind Zach Bryan’s Kacey Musgraves-featuring “I Remember Everything”). There’s not much about the song that’s still new or growing at this point, but with that kind of consistency across chart components, “Paint” might be every bit as much the single to beat this week as “Summer.”  

IN THE MIX 

Bad Bunny, Nadie Sabe Lo Que Va a Pasar Mañana (Rimas): Let’s not forget that one of the biggest pop artists in the world also released a 22-track new album on Friday (Oct. 13). Nadie Sabe Lo Que Va a Pasar Mañana is almost certainly aiming for a No. 1 debut on the Billboard 200, but a bow for one of its tracks atop the Hot 100 may be tougher, as Bad Bunny’s radio support and song sales have never been particularly robust, and he’s already ceded his spot atop the daily DSP charts back to Drake. That said, “Monaco” is the best-performing of its new songs so far, and may not debut too far away from the top spot – which the global superstar has still yet to capture on an unaccompanied solo single.  

SZA, “Snooze” (Top Dawg Entertainment/RCA): Another one for the “so close, yet so far” file: Like “Cruel Summer,” SZA’s sublime ballad “Snooze” has taken a winding path to the Hot 100’s top five, and reached a No. 2 high the two weeks prior to Drake’s current onslaught. The song sits at No. 7 this week – blocked by her own Hot 100-topping Drake collab “Slime You Out,” among others – but holds for a second week atop Radio Songs, and may well at least return to the top five next week after some of the Drake entries fall out. But with the song’s video and Justin Bieber-featuring remix already out, there might not be another card left to play for SZA’s slow-burning hit to get over the top. Maybe she should release her own SOS Tour documentary. 

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