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Why Radio Is the Last to Play the Biggest Song of the Summer

PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- When the most popular song of the moment isn't necessarily the one on the radio or anything being sold in stores or even online, what makes it the definitive song of the summer?

Increasingly, you do.

There used to be a simple formula to this: Release a single to radio sometime in spring, make a video shortly thereafter, let it ferment for a few months and then watch the money roll in just in time for a summer tour. Katy Perry's people at Capitol Records have mastered this method and dropped I Kissed A Girl in April 2008 to make it that summer's biggest single, then held off until early May 2010 to launch that summer's gigantic California Gurls.

In 2009, The Black Eyed Peas and Interscope Records waited until May 21 to release I Gotta Feeling and it still took over the summer charts by the Fourth of July. Even now-defunct LMFAO and Interscope managed to pull it off after releasing Party Rock Anthem in early March 2011, only to see it sell 7 million downloads by July and appear in a hamster-laden commercial for the Kia Soul by August.

But last year was different, and it threw a crowbar right into the machine. Carly Rae Jepsen, by rights, was nowhere close to the U.S. charts the winter before. Her little earworm Call Me Maybe was released on a small label in Canada in September and, while it performed admirably there in Jepsen's home market, it took some well-placed tweets from Justin Bieber in January 2012 to give it some momentum. Jepsen's modest video for the song started racking up hits on YouTube just before Bieber, then-girlfriend Selena Gomez, Disney (DIS) kid Ashley Tisdale and Nickelodeon band Big Time Rush put up their own YouTube video for the song that February.

Call Me Maybe climbed slowly up the U.S. charts through March and April, but got a big boost in may when the Harvard Baseball Team posted a lip-dub version of the song in May. A version with Jimmy Fallon and The Roots on NBC's Late Night followed. By the time the Crystal Palace football club, the U.S. Swim Team, the Miami Dolphins Cheerleaders, The Chippettes, members of the U.S. military and Cookie Monster released their versions in July, the song was in the middle of a nine-week stint on Billboard's Hot 100.

So what? So Jepsen and her backers made it happen largely without the major label infrastructure, the radio airplay or the traditional video (seriously, Jepsen's original is a tragedy compared with the various interpretations). It got some big, Bieberian help, sure, but it carved into summer pop territory usually reserved for Perry, the Black Eyed Peas, Diddy, Christina Aguilera and other major label money piles. It put Jepsen up with Aguilera and Mariah Carey as the only women to make their debut with the biggest hit of the summer (Carey's 1990 hit Vision of Love and Aguilera's 1999 single Genie In A Bottle).

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