Tuesday, October 25, 2016

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - november 5, 2016

Well, it couldn't last. The past few weeks on Billboard BREAKDOWN, while not perfect, have at least shown a little more potential, but this week shows that crap has its own certain inertia - even though there are some positive signs, a lot of this week feels for every two steps forward we're taking one step back.

Want proof? Look at our top ten, where 'Closer' by The Chainsmokers ft. Halsey somehow has notched its tenth week at the top of the Hot 100. Okay, I get why it's there - it's still dominant across every category, but why at this point? Why are people still buying this basic, catty bullshit with two of the least interesting vocal performances in 2016? It finally got a music video beyond just the lyric video and that looks about as lazy and sloppily edited as the drop was, so I have to hope that its traction won't hold for that much longer... but then again, it might not matter. 'Starboy' by The Weeknd is making a valiant effort for another possible Halloween smash - it's got strong sales and streaming and real airplay momentum, but it just might be too far back unless 'Closer' peaks on airplay... which didn't happen this week. Hell, it didn't happen with 'Heathens' by twenty one pilots either, and it's easily got the airplay and streaming to make up for slightly weaker sales. Then there's 'Let Me Love You' by DJ Snake and Justin Bieber - again, huge streaming, airplay momentum compensating for weak sales, I don't really see this going away either. Fortunately, we have 'Broccoli' by D.R.A.M. ft. Lil Yachty clawing back up to #5, which seems to be taking its sweet time going up the airplay charts while letting its huge streaming do all the work and compensate for sales too. It held here enough to even eclipse '24K Magic' by Bruno Mars which slipped to #6, but I don't see that lasting: the sales are good, the airplay momentum is enormous, it's only lagging a bit on streaming and that can pick up fast. Of course, none of that is good for 'Cold Water' by Major Lazer, Justin Bieber & M0, which is basically clinging to residual streaming and airplay as it's falling hard. It'll probably be taken over by 'Side to Side' by Ariana Grande ft. Nicki Minaj at #8, which finally has some airplay momentum to match its good sales and better streaming, so it's only a matter of time here. Of course, then we come to our newest arrival in the top ten: 'Don't Wanna Know' by Maroon 5 ft. Kendrick Lamar. I would repeat all of my questions from 'Closer' here - the radio loves unthreatening dreck like Maroon 5, but who the hell is buying this and why - but to be fair it is a new song. To also be fair it's complete garbage and doesn't remotely deserve to be in the top 10. And on that subject, 'Treat You Better' by Shawn Mendes is at #10 - it peaked on airplay, the sales are miserable, it's only here thanks to inertia, and let's pray it's gone soon.

And on that note, losers and dropouts! Now here's it's a bit of a mixed bag: sure, I'm not complaining that 'Just Like Fire' by Pink is gone, but she took with it 'Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1' by Kanye and Kid Cudi, 'Peter Pan' by Kelsea Ballerini, 'You Don't Own Me' by Grace & G-Eazy, and 'Perfect Illusion' by Lady Gaga... overall, that's a net negative. And it's a similar case for our losers too - I'm not complaining that 'Rock On' by Tucker Beathard got rotated off the radio and fell hard to 91, but when you pair it with the continued losses for 'I Met A Girl' by William Michael Morgan down to 94, 'This Girl' by Kungs & Cookin' On 3 Burners to 75, and 'This Town' by Niall Horan down to 65... again, this isn't a net positive.

Now I would say that this could be compensated by our gains and returning entries - and we had a lot of both this week - but really, you're only looking at the latter category. For some godawful reason 'Lockjaw' by French Montana and Kodak Black rebounded to 97 and 'All Eyez' by The Game & Jeremih went up to 79, but that song at least has the excuse of the album dropping for its traction. Thankfully, 'Goosebumps' by Travis Scott and Kendrick scraped back to 100, 'Why You Always Hatin' by YG, Drake & Kamaiyah muscled back to 88, and best of all, 'False Alarm' by The Weeknd roared back to 68. Now I don't have a ton of faith this song will grab more momentum - it's the sort of wild, unhinged dance track that the mainstream often has no idea what to do with, especially with more distortion and an actual guitar line in 2016 - but if it turns out to be a smash, we might have some hope. Granted, it's a lot harder to have hope when you take a look at our gains this week: sure, 'All Time Low' by Jon Bellion picked up off its debut to 59, but 'Don't Wanna Know' broke the top ten of its debut! Our consistent gains... well, 'Fresh Eyes' by Andy Grammer's not bad at 74, but you're balancing it with 'Song For Another Time' by Old Dominion up to 69. And yeah, 'Wanna Be That Song' by Brett Eldredge is decent as country radio tries to fill slots at 76 - similar case for rock radio and 'HandClap' by Fitz & The Tantrums at 67 - but beyond that? The best of them is probably 'Capsize' by Frenship & Emily Warren up to 78, and the rest... when the best of them is 'Black Beatles' by Rae Sremmurd and Gucci Mane hitting 22, you've got problems. 'Gangsta' by Kehlani somehow got another small boost up to 90, 'Money Longer' by Lil Uzi Vert rose to 58, and 'X' by 21 Savage and Metro Boomin ft. Future went to 54. 

So look, none of this is promising, so maybe our new debuts might have something, starting with...

99. 'How I'll Always Be' by Tim McGraw - if you've been following country for some time, you can tell that the wind has shifted back towards neotraditional sounds - and in a sense, you can also tell that Tim McGraw has been looking to jump ship back to that sound since at least 2014. Granted, this particular song doesn't quite fall into that mold beyond the lyrics - the spacey touches of steel guitar and sharper guitar grooves accented by the pianos are defiantly a modern tone in country - but it does tap into a more authentic spirit that Tim McGraw has hit in the past, and you can tell that even though he didn't write this song, he buys into it. And like I said when I reviewed Damn Country Music last year, it's a tad tough to buy into his rejection of trendy crap, especially if you're familiar with his bro-country pivot a few years ago, but if he wants to overcompensate to make a point, this is a pretty decent song to do it with. Not better than a track like 'Here Tonight', but still good regardless, I'll take it.

98. 'My Shit' by A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie - okay, you're going to have to follow me on this one: this guy is a New York MC who picked up a big cosign from Drake a few months back behind this song and his debut mixtape. And while I'd usually drop this guy into the same slot of the mediocre trap MCs who have one song and are then immediately forgotten - the short track length, bland lyrics, and incredibly underwhelming performance plus Autotune makes it easy to assign that label - this isn't really a trap banger in the same way. Instead it's got these low strings off a sharper staccato piano line and a very sparse popping beat that play off traces of organ, otherwise trying to add a little more class and flavour... which unfortunately translates in the lyrics to your standard brand name dropping. But again, I have a hard time caring about songs like this: the content is so empty and vacant that I can't help but tune out. It's not anything good, but again, I'm not going to care about this either, and I've definitely heard worse.

95. '80s Mercedes' by Maren Morris - of the big debuts this year, I don't think I'd find one who disappointed me quite as much as Maren Morris, especially because 'My Church' was such a damn good song to lead things off. And yet it's very telling it's taken this long for her to chart a second song, mostly because HERO was much more of a pop record than it was country and that's not the direction the wind is blowing in country, especially right now. Now by the standards of pop, is '80s Mercedes' bad? Well, not precisely: the fuzzy beat against the wiry synths plays off some solid spacey melodic effects pretty well, the guitar on the bridge was very welcome and the hook is indeed catchy. And hell, I don't mind the fact the song is a pure ego trip celebrating Maren Morris and a classic Mercedes - hell, my dream car is a Mercedes! But living in downtown Toronto means I don't need a car, and I sure as hell don't need this on a country record. As pop, it's fine, but it's not anything I'm going to care about later.

93. 'Alone' by Marshmello - oh, I knew we were going to be talking about this eventually - frankly, I'm just surprised it took this long to crossover to the United States. But those of you who don't know, Marshmello is a future bass producer who has been building a ton of buzz internationally for the past year or so off of his Soundcloud remixes and the fact he's another masked DJ whose identity remains a 'mystery'. He actually dropped an album in early January last year that I got precisely zero requests to cover, but that hasn't stopped him from dropping huge singles, including this one which has accumulated a good 105 million hits on YouTube in three months! In other words, this is the sort of track that has international swell and attention... and I kind of get why. The low wiry synths that lead to the airy gloss of sandy bounce lead to a song with a fair amount of EDM swell, and the sharper staccato feel of the drop is one of the more controlled and well-balanced that we've seen in the mainstream this year, although I definitely prefer the first drop to the second. I can't say I'm always wild about the heavily pitch-corrected vocals - and I'd definitely question how the song is about feeling alone, which doesn't remotely fit with the brighter tones - but overall, it's not bad, I'll take it.

80. 'Bad Things' by Machine Gun Kelly & Camila Cabello - you know, there was a time when I remember Machine Gun Kelly having some significant hype behind him. Not hype I really cared  about, but I remember around the turn of the decade his name did come up as he landed on the XXL Freshman list in 2012. Now he definitely got eclipsed by a lot of names on that list - Macklemore, Iggy Azalea, Future, Danny Brown, Hopsin, French Montana, Kid Ink, holy shit, XXL got it right for one year at least - but I reckon it was more his underwhelming sophomore project General Admission late last year that slammed his momentum into a brick wall. Now on the one hand, he didn't seem to care all that much, instead focusing on a bunch of acting work... but on the other hand, it looks kind of desperate when to notch a comeback single you team up with a member of Fifth Harmony. Now sure enough, it's now his biggest ever single, but that doesn't mean it's all that good... or much of anything altogether. Truth be told, I have no idea how I feel about this track - the piano and unsettled low swells could work against the sparse flutters of the percussion and hints of guitar, but then you get to our performers and... well, you can tell they recorded their material at separate times, because the chemistry falls completely flat. Part of this are the performers - MGK's flow doesn't remotely work with any sort of seductive or enticing vibe that he's trying to cultivate in his bare-bones content, and any menace of the 'bad boy' is kneecapped by the attempted crooning on the prechorus. But it's not like Camila is helping here - she's trying to play the seduced bad girl, and it's very telling how weak and thin her vocals are on the hook - this sort of delivery is just out of her range, and I just don't really buy it. In other words, I'm reminded a little of Camila's collaboration with Shawn Mendes 'I Know What You Did Last Summer' - there's potential, but you need much better performers to pull this off well.

73. 'Dirty Laundry' by Carrie Underwood - so now we've got the newest single from Carrie Underwood's album Storyteller from last year... and man, I really wish I liked this as much as I did 'Church Bells'. I could go on about how Carrie Underwood has gone through this territory too many times of thrashing some guy stupid enough to cheat on her, but in this case her retribution is hanging out his dirty laundry as a sign of his infidelity... well, it seems weak. The idea is a public shaming but how many people would catch all the little details implicating him, and when you combine it with a flubbed rhyme in the first two lines of the song, it's not precisely a good sign. And while I get what Jay Joyce was trying to do with the windswept production, echoing guitar line against the sharper percussion, but instead of building to dramatic swell, the tones feel muffled and blurry, which leads to an oddly tepid feel to the track, not helped by the clipped record scratching on the outro that doesn't belong anywhere near a song like this. Not even the guitars on the bridge pick up real swell, and for a Carrie Underwood track... sorry, this is disappointing.

72. 'Blow Your Mind (Mwah)' by Dua Lipa - so I've talked a bit about English pop artist Dua Lipa before, months ago when she showed up on World Hit with 'Be The One', which was a pretty great pop song thanks to a pretty tight groove on the verses that flowed into the multi-tracked blur of the hook and Dua Lipa's natural charisma. So with this is her big crossover to the United States... and yeah, it's sadly not as good. And it's tough to find the exact place where it doesn't click as well - I would point to the hook where her husky tones remind me a lot of Jessie J, or how that kissing sound effect steps into the sort of obnoxious territory that I'm not sure she can back up, or how the hook doesn't have the same flow or punch as 'Be The One', riding another pretty tight rolling groove on the verses and prechorus only to hit a blocky synth that gets weirdly choppy on the hook and postchorus. Or maybe some of it is the lyrics, where the verses are enticing and the hook is confrontational and frustrated, only offering a 'reprieve' in the final lines. Structurally it seems off - normally the hook resolves the problem of the verses, not the other way around. So it's not a bad song per se, but I can see it wearing on my patience pretty fast, and even if I do like Dua Lipa as a performer, I'm not sure this is her best introduction to the rest of the world.

So yeah, this was our week, and wow, not a lot of real quality here. Skipping Honourable and Dishonourable Mentions this week, mostly because they're both a tossup two different ways, with the best going to 'How I'll Always Be' by Tim McGraw for being at least a consistently good song, and the worst to 'Bad Things' by MGK and Camila Cabello, less because it's actively bad and more because it had the potential to be a lot better than it is. So yeah, not really a great week here, but hey, at least 'False Alarm' is back, let's hope it gets some traction!

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