Wednesday, December 7, 2016

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - december 17, 2016

I called it last week, and now here it is. Folks, this is the week of The Weeknd, because of at this moment, every single song from his album Starboy either entered, re-entered, or rose up the Hot 100 this week. That's a total of eighteen songs - and what's all the more crazy is that he didn't encompass every debut this week, thank you so very much Disney. And what concerns me more than anything is overexposure - that's one of the biggest factors that lies at the roots of how much I turned on Drake throughout this last year... so let's hope this doesn't hit The Weeknd as badly as I might expect.

And as such, we start in the top 10, where unfortunately The Weeknd didn't quite dominate as much as he should have. And again, just as I predicted, 'Black Beatles' by Rae Sremmurd and Gucci Mane held onto the #1. I'm as exasperated as anyone, I wanted 'Starboy' to go to #1, but while it handily beat 'Black Beatles' in airplay and on-demand streaming, it lost out on YouTube and got edged out on sales, which means 'Black Beatles' just barely held the top. And if I'm going to look for reasons why 'Starboy' didn't snag that top spot... I'm inclined to say radio, where it wavered all damn week - given how long it's been out, even the album release sales boost wouldn't be enough to push it higher. From there, though, the rest of the list makes sense: 'Closer' by The Chainsmokers ft. Halsey slipped to #3 because it started bleeding in airplay and streaming to match losses in sales. 'Side To Side' by Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj recovered to #4 on consistent airplay and strong YouTube, despite weakening sales and streaming. '24K Magic' by Bruno Mars slipped to #5 - even though it's a radio darling it did slip a bit on sales and has never been strong on streaming. 'Juju On Dat Beat' by Zayion McCall and Zay Hilfigerrr had the opposite problem, slipping to #6 because sales and airplay have been miserable and it's actually starting to slip a bit on streaming. 'Let Me Love You' by DJ Snake and Justin Bieber recovered a bit up to #7 despite unsteady radio and awful sales... which is really all it has at this point. This unfortunately means 'Don't Wanna Know' by Maroon 5 and Kendrick Lamar rose to #8 on sales and radio - again, who the hell is buying this empty dreck I'll never know. Then you have 'Heathens' by twenty one pilots getting hit hard at #9 as it loses across the board and 'Broccoli' by D.R.A.M. ft. Lil Yachty clinging to #10 because even as it loses radio and sales it's still pretty solvent on streaming.

For songs that are a lot less solvent, though, we need to consider losers and dropouts... and here's the thing with massive chart hits like this: it's a purging process, and what gets hit the worst are songs that might have stuck around a bit longer but now are muscled off. 'Gold' by Kiiara, 'Sucker For Pain' from Suicide Squad, 'Panda' by Desiigner, 'Luv' by Tory Lanez, 'My Way' by Calvin Harris, 'Ain't My Fault' by Zara Larsson, 'Move' by Luke Bryan, 'Vice' by Miranda Lambert, 'Key To The Streets' by YFN Lucci with Migo and Trouble, all are gone, and I wouldn't expect to see them back. And that's before we get to the losers list where we had twenty-two songs pushed back at least ten spots. Let's focus on the ones that might survive this first: 'Do You Mind' by DJ Khaled and his crew going back to 37, 'This Town' by Niall Horan to 40, 'Mercy' by Shawn Mendes to 50, maybe 'Handclap' by Fitz & The Tantrums to 77, they had momentum going in, they might hold when The Weeknd loses a bunch of songs next week. Hell, 'Love Me Now' by John Legend might have fallen to 53 but it'll probably rebound thanks to the album. But this is a crippling blow to a lot of tracks: some, like 'Timmy Turner' by Desiigner' down to 62, 'Used to This' by Future and Drake down to 54, '1 Night' by Lil Yachty down to 75, 'Setting The World On Fire' by Kenny Chesney and Pink down to 81, 'All We Know' by The Chainsmokers and Phoebe Ryan down to 82, 'Fade' by Kanye West to 96, and especially 'A Little More Summertime' by Jason Aldean down to 87, these might not recover. Then there's the newer arrivals that might get stifled early, like 'That's My Girl' by Fifth Harmony to 84, 'Chantaje' by Shakira and Maluma to 90, or even 'Sneakin' by Drake and 21 Savage to 66. And then we have all the rest: 'Sleep Without You' by Brett Young down to 63, 'Too Much Sauce' by DJ Esco, Future and Lil Uzi Vert hit to 73, 'Middle Of A Memory' by Cole Swindell to 74, 'Better Man' by Little Big Town down to 80 - man, country had a rough week here - 'Look Alive' by Rae Sremmurd hit hard to 94, 'What They Want' by Russ down to 95, and 'Capsize' by Frenship and Emily Warren to 97... no way to tell, folks, this could get ugly.

But okay, that's to be expected, what were the songs that came back or got even stronger? Well, pretty much what you'd expect, namely that the only gain that wasn't from The Weeknd was 'Bad Things' by Machine Gun Kelly and Camila Cabello breaking the top 20 at 17, mostly thanks to the video. Beyond that, the majority of the story is The Weeknd, with his collaboration with Daft Punk 'I Feel It Coming' surging to 22 and 'Party Monster' roaring up to 16. Hell, thanks to the returning entries 'False Alarm' made a big comeback to 55 - I dunno if the radio is ever going to take to it, but I have to hope it picks up some traction. Beyond that, the biggest story here is 'All I Want For Christmas' by Mariah Carey making its annual return to #23, but by this point you almost expect that, and it'll be interesting to see what other Christmas songs enter rotation in the next few weeks.

But now we've got the list of new arrivals - and full warning, to keep this brief and because I already reviewed Starboy in detail over a week ago, I'm going to endeavor to keep this pretty brief. With that being said, we're starting with...

98. 'Make Me (Cry)' by Noah Cyrus ft. Labrinth - so, does anyone remember Miley Cyrus? Anybody notice that after that disaster of an album she released last year you've heard little to nothing from her? Did you know she had a sister... and that said sister teamed up with producer Labrinth for her first ever single at age sixteen? Okay, rhetorical questions aside, I didn't really have high expectations for this, mostly because Noah sounds like a huskier version of her sister with less intensity and stage presence... but even that's underplaying the bizarre mess this song is. The lyrics are probably the least interesting element - toxic love/hate relationship, we've seen plenty of them this year - but the instrumentation is a disordered cacophony of random fragments that could have desperately used some cohesion. I'll put aside how instead of the word 'cry' at the end of the hook we get a dripping effect, but when you throw in the blast of a steam train on the first verse that comes out of nowhere against that drippy pattern of bass, the wonky flattened organ melody, and then that bridge with the screechy effects, inert piano, wonky breaking effects that lead to more weird organ leads, with all of the musical punctuation you might as well call it 'emoji: the song'! So no, not really a fan of this, and not promising for Noah Cyrus going forward - next!

93. 'We Know The Way' by Opetaia Foa'i & Lin-Manuel Miranda - so the other big story of this week, that encompasses nearly the rest of the chart, is the debut of songs from the new Disney movie Moana. Now I wasn't really planning to see it - I heard good things, but it didn't really seem to grab my interest, but like with Frozen ahead of it we've got a healthy number of songs breaking onto the list. Now as someone who grew up with the Disney Renaissance, I tend to be pretty hard on Disney tracks... but given this one picked up Lin-Manuel Miranda and I've been marathoning Hamilton probably more than I should be over the past few days, I was predisposed to like this. And surprise surprise, I actually do - Opetaia Foa'i and his backing choir taking more of the lead on this song against gentle acoustics and more textured percussion, and then we get Lin-Manuel's distinctive voice holding the next few verses together. If I were to comment deeper... well, I'd debate how distinctive the lyrics are in terms of content, for while they have a good cadence and flow I wouldn't say much else is distinctive. Eh, we'll see what happens with the rest of the songs, but for now I'm intrigued to hear more.

88. 'How Far I'll Go' by Alessia Cara - so look, I like Alessia Cara probably more than most, of the new "pop stars" I've seen coming up in the past few years, she's probably one of the ones that has a chance to follow in Lorde's wake when she inevitably goes straight to the indie scene and never comes back. That said, I don't envy her in the utterly thankless task of adapting the big movie song for the contemporary audience - most people remember Idina Menzel's version of 'Let It Go', not Demi Lovato's, for an example. And a big problem with that is because pop producers decide to add more modern pop flourishes to make it fit in with the rest of radio, like a sparse empty mix with watery guitars, heavier percussion, and a reverb-swallowed breakdown - at least the key change is preserved, which is pretty much the only point the song comes alive for me mostly courtesy of the flutes that feel completely drowned out behind the sandy beat and acoustic guitar. And that's ignoring that Alessia Cara doesn't really have a voice for Disney - her tone is naturally more textured and distinct, and while she can handle Lin-Manuel Miranda's writing cadence, I get the feeling she deserved better production here... which is pretty much exactly what I said about her last album. Go figure.

85. 'Distraction' by Kehlani - so, now that Kehlani has a set release date for her debut in early January, we're officially into a standard single release schedule, with this being her second after a lackluster start that I think I remember trying to copy Rihanna. This song thankfully doesn't take in this direction and as such tends to be a bit better, along with content where Kehlani's just looking for a hookup that's fun but not serious - you know, just a nice distraction. And it helps that the overall tone and vibe of the song fits - it's brighter, a little looser in the melody against the breezy rattling snares... but look, I can't overlook this, the production itself is pretty damn thin across the board, from the vocals on the prechorus and hooks to that weedy tone driving the melody to those guitars to even the percussion. Sure, there's some bass supporting it, but nothing with significant body, and while I hate to go there, it sounds pretty damn cheap, outside of some pluckier tones on the bridge. In other words, in the hands of better producers I can see this arrangement working, because it is a good song... but not here, unfortunately.

83. 'You're Welcome' by Dwayne Johnson - ...The Rock has a song in the Hot 100. I wish I was kidding here, Dwayne The Rock Johnson has a song on the Hot 100 - yes, it's because of Moana but it's still a little weird here! And here's the thing: Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote the song so The Rock isn't expected to give a huge grandiose performance so much as one that coasts on natural, self-assured charisma, and conveying that in song is markedly different than in voice or acting. And I'm not going to say he nailed this - he doesn't precisely have a conventional singing voice, and against the broad horns, textured percussion, and bigger presentation, a singer with deeper gravitas could have held this more, and you can tell The Rock is struggling to nail some of those higher notes. Now thankfully he's got the personality and cadence down for the rapping patter... but I'm not quite sure it's enough. Still, it's alright enough, I guess - I've heard far worse Disney songs - but I've also heard far better, and there's a part of me that really wishes Disney would go back to hiring trained voice actors instead of celebrities - it'd make stuff like this turn out a fair bit better, just saying.

(no video, because The Weeknd)

72. 'Ordinary Life' by The Weeknd - and now it's time for The Weeknd show and we're starting with the lowest entry - and by far one of the best. Sure, the glossy synths, hollow bass-touched production with sparse vocal fragments, this isn't new for him, but the details are what makes this song work, from his usage of his deeper range to the lyrics reflecting his own depression and damnation even with his girl trying to pull him back towards the light as she blows him in the car. And really, if you're looking to get saved, you can't ask for many better ways. In other words, it's not as good as the title track or 'False Alarm', but it's still damn good - recommended.

(no video, because The Weeknd)

71. 'Love To Lay' by The Weeknd - yeah, it's one of the poppier cuts with the blockier synths and percussion, but the thicker, groovier synth and sparse guitar does lead to one of the better hooks as The Weeknd muses on a girl who seems to have adapted his loose attitudes to sex to the point where even he had to learn the hard way. Again, this is not unfamiliar territorty for him, but again, it's the surprise and the hook that makes this stick, I like it.

(no video, because The Weeknd)

69. 'A Lonely Night' by The Weeknd - shame we have to follow two good songs with a weaker album cut, with The Weeknd getting his Michael Jackson impression on as he deflects a girl's attention after sex... and he actually apologizes? Emotional growth aside, this is still a pretty underwhelming track - the low wiry synths have some groove against the handclap and the bridge has some sparking intensity off the thin rattle of the guitar, but it doesn't quite hit that level to go harder. Not bad, but not exactly great either.

(no video, because The Weeknd)

68. 'Nothing Without You' by The Weeknd - oh, a song where The Weeknd actually admits his love for this girl - and make no mistake, it's still melodramatic, especially against a sparse mix with more hi-hats and pitch-shifted vocals than solid mix balance or intensity, most which the thinner vocal production squashes flat. I appreciate the place of this song in the emotional arc of this album, but otherwise this is pretty forgettable - skip it.

(no video, because The Weeknd)

67. 'Attention' by The Weeknd - oh joy, the worst song on Starboy, full of muted crooning rejected from James Blake in another barren mix before we add on a tapping synth progression that seems to oscillate over levels of compression, nothing which flatters The Weeknd's vocals which feel flattened yet again and that's before the autotuned crooning. And none of this helps the sullen mood of the track, where The Weeknd berates a girl for wanting attention in a relationship when she once was so cool and collected - lovely. Factor in chipmunk vocal fragments on the final hook and you've got below-average album filler - skip it.

(no video, because The Weeknd)

61. 'Stargirl Interlude' by The Weeknd ft. Lana Del Rey - you know, Lana Del Rey could have sounded good here if she actually stuck in her mid-and-low range over this song against the sparse guitar and hollowed groove - it's really that shrill squealing that kills this track for me, even if it is emblematic of The Weeknd nailing her from behind, even if he sounds pretty decent in his fragment before the song ends. Overall, while this could have been worse, it sure as hell could have been better too.

52. 'How Far I'll Go' by Auli'l Cravalho - so this is the big song anchoring Moana, anchored with hints of pan flute and acoustic guitar that breaks into a surprisingly ragged violin for a few moments... before it drops into acoustic guitars for the hook. Sure, it adds in more strings and deeper backing vocals and a bit of bass for the swell on the hook, and Auli'l Cravalho has the swell and gravitas in her vocals to hold against Lin-Manuel's faster writing that indeed captures the emotional swell pretty well... but it's no 'Let It Go'. And indeed, that's going to be the comparison that's made entirely too often in this case when it comes to modern Disney anthems, and this is coming from someone who doesn't love 'Let It Go' either as the poor man's 'Defying Gravity'. The melodies and writing aren't the problem here - hell, I'm a sucker for a great key change - it's the arrangement; it's hard to build tremendous swell and dramatic power off an acoustic guitar line, the instrumentation feels too breezy. It's pretty damn good, let me stress this... but in terms of Disney staples, I can't see this matching up with my favourites.

(no video, because The Weeknd)

48. 'True Colors' by The Weeknd - hey, did you all want to hear The Weeknd work his way through a mid-90s boy band song complete with chimes, a sparse scratchy beat, squealing vocal fragments, and a song where he tries to guilt-trip out the secrets about a girl's relationship history to ensure trust?  And isn't this the same sort of thing that didn't work for Miley Cyrus when she made 'Wrecking Ball'? This song is only not lower because I have a fondness for that time period and production, but otherwise... nope, not for me.

47. 'Secrets' by The Weeknd - yes, The Weeknd, I can see your interpolations extrapolated from The Romantics and Tears For Fears, and that faux British accent you're trying against a more ghostly mix with that wiry synth and cymbals patter mirrored by long acoustic strums that after each hook breaks into this murky swell that you'd expect would build to more bombast and never does. And for as much as this girl is keeping secrets about the guys she's been with, I thought you didn't used to care... and yes, I get the album's arc is that he very much does care now, but the framing of this song doesn't really get there, especially when the song empties out into this barren early 80s new wave bridge. And can you believe this apparently was planned as a country-inspired song? Yikes... no idea how that would have turned out.

46. 'All I Know' by The Weeknd ft. Future - so now we get the song where The Weeknd is trying to smooth over his old reputation against some gothic swell and a bass-saturated whirring trap-touched mix that didn't need to step in that direction... but really, it sounds this way because we have Future on it showing exactly why this girl should still be a little unnerved with the hookup, as he drops into your standard drug-addled and violence-prone verse. Coupled with cooing interludes that aren't nearly as atmospheric as they think they are, lazy rhyming and the girl eating Future's dick like it's an edible... yeah, no.

(no video, because The Weeknd)

44. 'Rockin' by The Weeknd - okay, seriously, did anyone want to hear The Weeknd sing over an electronic house beat that would have been ignored in the mid-90s about just dancing and not trying to spend your life with him? This is lyrically underwritten and recycled even by The Weeknd's standards, and entirely too easy to forget - next!

(no video, because The Weeknd)

43. 'Die For You' by The Weeknd - look, I was willing to give The Weeknd a bit of a pass when it comes to 'die for you' confessions of love - the album is a naked melodrama, he's bound to overcompensate in his first major stab at real love, and when the girl is already hesitant to hook up amidst his own real fears of commitment, overcompensation is understandable. But at the same time, it's not a full pass here, as the stately synths, pitch-shifted vocals, and attempts at greater elegance shows that The Weeknd at least should have some knowledge this could very well be going too far in the other direction, especially when he says he'd kill for this girl. Again, you can justify it within the album, but otherwise... can't really say I'm a fan of this song.

(no video, because The Weeknd)

34. 'Six Feet Under' by The Weeknd ft. Future - The Weeknd takes the one thing that mostly worked about 'Low Life' - the darker beat with the guitar and eerie vibe - and flips it into a far better song, as he describes the sort of golddigger who would go to some ghastly extremes to get that paper. Shame the content feels pulled from both '6 Inch' and 'False Alarm' and even though good production can redeem a lot, it can't redeem Future's unwelcome presence on the hook. Could have been a great song, but merely a good one for now.

(no video, because The Weeknd)

31. 'Reminder' by The Weeknd - okay, it looks like this week is going to end with Starboy's better songs, and 'Reminder' is one of them... even if it's hard not to notice that he already did this with a little more flavour on 'Tell Your Friends' last year, especially when the second verse goes straight for hedonism and pushes away the more wry commentary on the first verse, where he's not the Teen Choice and how so many people are trying to hop on his sound. I will say that I'm not really wild about that off-key tone that runs through the song or how he asserts that true fans already know everything he's saying in the second verse - so why not say something new with actual detail going forward? Again, good tune, but it could have easily been a great one with a little more consistency.

27. 'Sidewalks' by The Weeknd ft. Kendrick Lamar - first things first, yes, it's Kendrick's best verse in some time even with the repeated phrases, and I dig the sharper guitar tones riding against the bass and rougher drums. And hell, I don't even really mind the autotune on The Weeknd's vocals, even if it is gratuitous. And yet... I'm not sure what it is, but I'm not as sucked in by this track as I'd like to be. Maybe it's because they leave the filthier guitar leads midway to the back, maybe it's because, again, it's retracing similar ground to 'Tell Your Friends', maybe because while it's a good Kendrick verse it's not a great one... overall, a strong track, but there are better ones if I'm being honest, and certainly a few that deserved to debut higher.

So that was our week, and by the Nine Hells, that went long. And yet best and worst this week are refreshingly easy: Worst goes to 'Attention' by The Weeknd for being utterly insufferable, although 'Make Me (Cry)' by Noah Cyrus and Labrinth is close for being an complete mess. The best... yeah, 'Ordinary Life' by The Weeknd takes it, but I'm giving Honourable Mention to 'How Far I'll Go' by Auli'l Cravalho - it's a lesser Disney anthem, but still a solid one all the same that I did enjoy. And even with so much from The Weeknd, most of the entries were pretty good, maybe not as strong as the last two weeks but what is? Let's hope a lot of those great songs muscled off last week make strong returns ahead.

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