Thursday, April 23, 2015

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - may 2, 2015

So here's the funny thing about when songs fall off the very top - it can take a bit of time for everything to start breaking down and getting interesting, or at least allow a little more instability into the charts. And while last week was the one that got all the big headlines, this week is where things started to shake up a little. Coupled with the Academy of Country Music having its annual awards - even though they were a complete joke - we got a couple surprises on the charts this week, even if the quality of said surprises remains to be seen.


So let's start with the Top Ten! I have to admit, I am a little surprised 'See You Again' by Wiz Khalifa & Charlie Puth still at #1, but the sales were strong, the streaming and YouTube kept him on top, and they even gained impressive airplay - once the radio picked up on them, they really picked up. It helped matters that 'Uptown Funk' by Mark Ronson & Bruno Mars started to slip into freefall this week, losing a significant chunk of airplay, streaming, and sales - although not quite enough to drop it further beyond #2. At this point, unless 'See You Again' has a cataclysmic collapse, and I don't really see that happening, 'Uptown Funk's shot at the record is effectively over. But it's also worth considering that as great as the sales are for 'See You Again', they won't last forever... which is where 'Earned It' by The Weeknd comes into play, jumping a few slots to #3. As much as I can't stand this track, the radio still loves it, which pushed it to top the airplay charts with a fine boost in streaming as well. In this case, it'll be the lack of serious YouTube or massive sales that'll keep it from the top, but it was enough to shove 'Sugar' by Maroon 5 back a peg to #4. Granted, that was bound to happen anyway, given it finally peaked in airplay and began losing sales and streaming - nothing huge, but enough to push it back. It also pushed back 'Trap Queen' by Fetty Wap to #5, although I suspect that pushback will only be temporary, as it gained in airplay and sales to balance out its huge streaming - still nothing really in YouTube, but it is compensating for it. Next up we've got 'Love Me Like You Do' by Ellie Goulding at #6, which did regain a slot this week but I'm not sure it's because of that song's strengths or others' weaknesses - it may have gotten a boost in streaming, but airplay and sales are both slipping against stronger competition. And it couldn't have hurt that 'Thinking Out Loud' by Ed Sheeran had another rough week, dropping across the board and only thanks to inertia staying as high as it is. Beneath it, 'Shut Up And Dance' had another strong week rising to #8 with great sales and still gaining on airplay... it just doesn't quite have the streaming or YouTube yet to get to the top, but it is slowly getting there. It was enough to stall out 'G.D.F.R.''s momentum and push it back to #9 - it may have had a good week in airplay, but streaming was iffy and sales took a hit this week, especially as Furious 7 hype seems to have faded a bit. And thus, even despite weaker sales and no signficant YouTube, its gains in airplay and streaming were enough to push 'Somebody' by Natalie La Rose & Jeremih back into the Top 10. Joy.

And speaking of songs that grate on my nerves, let's talk about our losers and dropouts, most of which I have no problems with whatsoever. '7/11' by Beyonce, 'Homegrown Honey' by Darius Rucker, no issues whatsoever with them leaving the charts, and while I've softened a little on 'I Don't Fuck With You' by Big Sean and E-40, it still is too inconsistent and grating to make sad it's gone. Beyond that, our losers were generally a mixed bag. I mean, I'm not exactly distressed that godawful songs like 'Feeling Myself' by Nicki Minaj & Beyonce or 'Ain't Worth The Whiskey' by Cole Swindell took hits respectively to 95 and 65 respectively. And 'Lonely Eyes' by Chris Young is on its way out naturally, dropping again to 78. Beyond that... well, 'Heartbeat Song' by Kelly Clarkson continues to underwhelm at 44, 'Legend' by Drake slips to 90 on an already overlong chart run, and 'Get Low' by Dillon Francis & DJ Snake and the posse cut 'Ride Out' fell to 74 and 84 thanks again to Furious 7 losing more of its hype. The one track I'm disappointed to see slip was 'King Kunta' by Kendrick Lamar dropping to 68, but then again, I'm not surprised. If radio isn't grabbing it by now - and it really needs to be added to more formats to pick up steam, and I don't see that happening - then this being the mainstream smash it should be will be unlikely.

Now our gains actually seem to be a little better, or at least easier to explain. Of course, the big gain came with 'I Really Like You' by Carly Rae Jepsen, because everyone's least favourite Canadian Justin Bieber seems to be trying his damnedest to make the thing go viral. And while YouTube hasn't quite latched onto it, it reentered the streaming charts, mostly thanks to its maddening ability to lodge itself in your head and never leave. Just a damn shame it's not written better, because that retro-80s sensibility works decently for the rest of the song. As for the rest of the gains, DJ Snake continues his chart ascendance on both 'Lean On' with Major Lazer and M0, and 'You Know You Like It' with AlunaGeorge, and David Guetta is riding the meteoric success of 'Hey Mama' with Nicki Mina & Afrojack, which seems destined to be a top 10 hit the way it's selling. The big news, however, came with our country gains - of course 'Girl Crush' rose to 25 off of the ACM Awards, but 'Wild Child' by Kenny Chesney & Grace Potter also got a welcome boost to 73. The real surprise for me was 'She Don't Love You' by Eric Paslay suddenly gaining some traction to rise to 79 - I know better than to think it'll be a hit, no matter how amazing the song is, but I can at least hope.

And on the topic of the ACM awards, let's take a look at our one returning entry!


This song owes its chart return and its highest charting spot to date to Lee Brice's performance, but even with that I'm struggling to really care. Have to be honest, I didn't cover Lee Brice's most recent album I Don't Dance last year because as a country singer he doesn't interest me all that much. He got his start writing songs for other country artists, and most of them, like 'Crazy Girl' by The Eli Young Band, tended not to be that interesting or good. And thus there's a certain twisted irony that he didn't write 'Drinking Class' and it's probably one of the few Lee Brice songs I actually like, mostly because he's a great singer with a ton of raw, authentic power and he does have a taste for anthemic swell that works well with populist anthems like this. I do feel the mixing on this track is a little too slick for my tastes and that injection of steel guitar near the end of the song doesn't quite flow as well as it should, but otherwise, the track is fine enough. Can't complain.

Well, that was fairly easy. Now onto the rest, starting with...


100. 'House Of The Rising Sun' by Kimberley Nichole - hey look, The Voice is back on television and that means nearly every week we're going to be getting more songs than usual from everyone's favourite music talent show. I mean, we all remember that country guy who won last year that I even covered on this show... No, seriously, I don't remember, and to some extent that's the problem. Say what you will about American Idol, it's at least turned some of its winners into stars, if only for a short time - The Voice on the other hand has only had success boosting the success of its hosts, as we'll discuss in a few minutes. So in this case we have a cover of the massive hit from The Animals 'House of the Rising Sun' by Kimberley Nichole reinterpreted as an eerie soulful gospel number that's honestly got some pretty impressive low guitar sizzle. If The Voice is doing something right, it looks like they took a cue from Hozier's most recent album in bringing as much grit back to this brand of track as they could get for a live track, and Kimberley's fiery rawness is a great fit for it. Now let's make this clear, the original is to some extent untouchable mostly thanks to a killer guitar melody and early psychedelic organ progression that this version can't emphasize as well, but still, Kimberley NIchole is a find, and even if the only time I'll hear her is when I do Billboard BREAKDOWN, I'm looking forward to more.


99. 'Renegades' by X Ambassadors - so here's the frustrating thing about the Billboard charts - they ultimately reflect what gets popular in America, and the mass public doesn't tend to care where the music comes from so long as its good - and since so many companies license music from artists for commercials, it can sometimes lead to a breakthrough. The funny thing is when this starts to happen more than once, and this takes us to X Ambassadors, who originally lodged a very low charting hit with 'Jungle' thanks to a whole load of promotional material from the WWE to Battlefield: Hardline to a slew of TV shows, and 'Renegades' owes its success to being featured in the ads for the new Jeep Renegade. But that being said, I do think this might have some staying power, if only to serve as a replacement for Mumford & Sons' overly slick redesign. Sure, X Ambassadors use synths as well and the acoustic grooves are nowhere near as potent, but the stomping percussion, choral vocals, and anthemic presentation actually lead to a pretty solid song. Of course, there's a certain irony of a song about 'living like we're renegades' licensed for car commercials, but it doesn't make the original song any less good, and I can take this pretty well.


98. 'Imagine' by Sawyer Fredericks - see, this is the sort of cover from The Voice that annoys the piss out of me. Not only does it completely remove the rich piano line that was the backbone of John Lennon's song, but instead replaces it a formless guitar line and a singer who plays the song with so much overwrought tremulous presence that it becomes hard not to notice how much he can't quite hit those high notes. It doesn't help matters I'm not the biggest fan of 'Imagine' anyways - forget The Beatles, when Lennon wrote songs like 'Instant Karma' or 'Working Class Hero' on his own, 'Imagine' can feel a little underwhelming. But this version tries to translate the elegance of the song and completely ruins it - definitely not a fan. Next!


96. 'Be Real' by Kid Ink ft. DeJ Loaf - before we get to Kid Ink, I've been asked in the past to give my opinion on DeJ Loaf on a couple of occasions, so here it is: I don't get the appeal. She sounds, quite literally, like a little kid, and while some of the huskier edges in her voice aren't bad, I find it hard to treat her as much of a presence, especially on icy, DJ Mustard-produced tracks like this with twinkling keyboards and that thick low synth line. Granted, I'd prefer her over the pitch-shifted tone over the verses, but it's a mid-album cut produced by DJ Mustard, you can't exactly expect quality. As for Kid Ink... look, for as much as I've defended the guy for having a solid flow with the occasional good line, it's rare he rises above competent, and this is one of the songs on the album that barely reach that point. I mean, at least tracks like 'Faster' had interesting guitar and percussion interplay or 'What It Feels Like' was biting from Kanye's style in a way that was at least interesting. This... isn't. Next!


93. 'Sangria' by Blake Shelton - so as I said, the true 'success stories' from The Voice have been the reinvigorated careers of the judges, and nobody has been more successful in this vein than Blake Shelton, who rode the bro-country wave at precisely the right time to huge success and then promptly tried to transition back to his usual safe brand of country with Bringing Back The Sunshine last year when bro-country flamed out. And I'll be blunt: I was probably too easy on that record, because the majority of it was sucked, and this song... well, there was worse on the album, but it's not one of the great tracks. As a track, it tries to go for the slightly washed out, steel-guitar touched adult contemporary sex song... and as a whole, I'm just left kind of ambivalent. I'm not saying country in this vein can't be sexy, but Blake Shelton doesn't really have that subtlety in his vocals to pull this off well, and considering the song is more about the whirling heady feeling of getting drunk on sangria, it's odd how stilted the chorus feels, not quite flowing as well as it should. As a song, it just feels a little 'off' to me - not precisely bad, but nothing I'd go back to either.


91. 'American Oxygen' by Rihanna - so I think at this point everyone should be able to admit that Jay-Z's big Tidal experiment was a colossal screwup in marketing and execution. Putting aside the terrible optics of trying to promote an artist-focused streaming platform by shoving a collection of millionaires to the front stage instead of indie artists, putting aside the fact that nobody aside audiophiles care all that much about high fidelity music or can even tell the difference, putting aside the fact that Tidal is a much higher drain on one's data package than Spotify, putting aside that exclusive releases on Tidal puts out an attitude of elitism that most of the public will ignore anyways, at this point the market responded and Tidal has plummeted off the app charts. So in a move that shocked precisely nobody, certain songs initially packaged as 'Tidal exclusives' eventually landed on YouTube anyway, so now we've got 'American Oxygen' by Rihanna. Now after 'Bitch Better Have My Money' anything would be a step-up, and this is... but the more I listened through it, the more I realized I had no idea what this song was trying to do. Lyrically, it's pretty straightforwardly patriotic, implying people will say/do anything to achieve that American dream, but the minor keys and tone of the track are heavier and imply a bleaker future, where said dream would backfire or not be all it's cracked up to be even if you're breathing that 'American oxygen'. Now some of you will say, 'well, no wonder it's not resonating with you that strongly, you're Canadian' - and that's true, but I'm pretty damn patriotic when I want to be, and going past that to a production standpoint, this track doesn't do much for me. The smudged dirge-like piano melody is fine enough, but Alex da Kid's production with the clattering percussion, twisted swirl of mid-range warped rattling, and pummelling low end bass completely overtakes the melody and makes it feel lumbering and overweight. So that's if you want to call 'American'... yeah, okay, you can have it.


80. 'Fight Song' by Rachel Platten - do any of you remember the D12 track 'Fight Music'? Hell, do any of you remember D12, Eminem's old rap posse that dropped two incredibly uneven albums that really haven't held up all that well in retrospect? Well, for as nasty and ridiculous as 'Fight Music' was - seriously, that howling guitar and strings was actually pretty awesome - it was a track that you could imagine as a track to soundtrack an actual brawl. 'Fight Song' by Rachel Platten, on the other hand, is a Kelly Clarkson-esque self-esteem anthem that actually does bring some punch with the drums and Platten's energy and some decent charisma, but it's nothing close to a legit 'fight song'. But putting aside that complaint, there's honestly very little I can say about this track - sure, the guitars have texture when you can hear them, but it's not as if I haven't heard a dozen variants of this sort of anthem by every American Idol winner or wannabe, especially lyrically, where her sentiment that nobody believes in her is a little undercut when in her second verse implies they are concerned. And once again, emphasizing percussion over melody means this track just does not stick in my memory whatsoever. Not a bad track, but far from a great one.


43. 'Nasty Freestyle' by T-Wayne - I think I can say this definitively: one of the worst things to ever happen to mainstream hip-hop is Vine. Last year may have been when it started, but throughout 2015 it has kept happening, which is probably why those who only listen to the radio give me confused looks whenever I say hip-hop has been goddamn great this year! In any case, this is T-Wayne, a producer and MC who has been around the edges of the mainstream for a while now, and from what I can tell from his YouTube channel he's sort of affiliated with Waka Flocka Flame and has been releasing mixtapes and dance videos for years now. And while he's had scattered success, 'Nasty Freestyle' is his first real breakout hit... and man, it's lousy. The best thing I can say for it is that there are snippets of wit, in that half are cribbed from Lil Wayne's leftovers including a bad toilet reference and half are just asinine. And I'm sorry, but a poor man's T.I. impression, a meandering piano line, a minimalist trap beat, and a terrible oily synth line that puts my hair on end does not impress me whatsoever. In other words, while he might be following in the footsteps of Fetty Wap's 'Trap Queen', the difference is that track at least had a lightness of tone and pretty decent production, whereas this is just a mess. Skip this.

So that was our week and wow, not a lot of great new material - but not really a lot of standout crap either. For the best, I'm giving it to Kimberley Nichole's genuinely potent cover of 'House of the Rising Sun', with 'Renegades' by X Ambadassors getting the Honourable Mention. For worst... it's trickier, but I'm giving the worst to Sawyer Frederick's terrible cover of 'Imagine' and the Dishonourable Mention to 'Nasty Freestyle' by T-Wayne. Let's hope next week actually gives me something to really talk about.

2 comments:

  1. "which pushed it to top the airplay charts"

    *near* the top. This week, Love Me Like You Do slivered the #1 on Radio Songs, while Earned It took the Mediabase #1. Next week, it should top Radio Songs as well, but it'd be hasty to claim it did so this week.

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  2. I guess i am the only one who is scared of watch me staying at the same and doing better on other charts...

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