Tuesday, May 16, 2017

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - may 27, 2017

So we're now at the halfway point of the Billboard year - and wow, 2017 has been something, that's for damn sure. I'm still not quite sure how to evaluate it as a whole. One thing's for sure is that it's been a turbulent year thus far - Ed Sheeran might have held the top for a measurable time, but ever since then it has been song after song seizing the #1, showing the sort of turnover that you'd more expect on the UK charts than the United States.

Of course, this sort of turnover I view as a plus as a whole - it's not bad to encourage a healthy spirit of competition, and of the past five unique songs to hold the #1, this new one might have the most historical weight: 'Despacito' by Luis Fonsi, Daddy Yankee, remixed with Justin Bieber. This is the first Spanish-language song to top the charts since the 'Macarena', the first #1 in the states for both main artists, and what's more impressive is that it got here mostly organically. Sure, of course radio is taking its time to catch up as it steadily picks up momentum, but you can't deny huge sales and streaming... although when you break down the streaming data, it's not entirely dominant. We'll come back to this, but in the mean time, Bruno Mars' 'That's What I Like' holds #2, pretty much entirely thanks to airplay... which peaked this week, and while it might have better US YouTube, its sales are weaker and streaming is slipping. This takes us to 'I'm The One' by DJ Khaled and crew, shoved off the top even as it rockets up the radio with meaty sales and good streaming... just not good enough at this point to move past #3. Then, for some reason we have 'Shape Of You' by Ed Sheeran actually rising a spot to #4, but that's more because of weaknesses below it, because airplay is in freefall and even good weeks on streaming and YouTube won't save it for long. Next is 'HUMBLE' by Kendrick Lamar down to #5 - this I chalk most up to radio gains not being as quick as they could be, because it is still dominant in on-demand streaming and it has good sales, even if YouTube isn't what it once was. Where that's not the case is 'Mask Off' by Future, where the video is giving the song a lot more longevity than I expected, even as sales are weak and radio is still hesitating to get onboard, so it's up to #6 over 'Something Just Like This' by The Chainsmokers ft. Coldplay, which despite radio traction that will not die, its sales are slipping and streaming has never been strong. Then we have the streaming and YouTube propping up 'XO Tour Llif3' by Lil Uzi Vert - again, its the only here for those reasons, and it only gained a slot to #8 thanks to weaknesses below. This takes us to a return to the top 10 for 'Stay' by Alessia Cara and Zedd at #9, but I don't expect it to stick around, because sales and streaming are a little weaker, especially compared to any sort of radio momentum. Finally, to round things out clinging to #10 is 'iSpy' by KYLE and Lil Yachty - it's losing in all categories, don't expect this to stick in the top 10 much longer.

And on that note, losers and dropouts. And while I could call attention to 'Party' by Chris Brown, Gucci Mane and Usher coming to an end, along with 'Selfish' by Future and Rihanna and (finally) 'Call On Me' by Starley, the biggest news comes to 'Can't Stop The Feeling' by Justin Timberlake finally leaving the Hot 100 after a full year! You might not love the song, but that is impressive all the same. The rest of our losers are a little less impressive, so let's start with the ones on their way out naturally: 'Paris' by The Chainsmokers is down hard to 37, 'Chained To The Rhythm' by Katy Perry and Skip Marley continues down to 87, 'Down' by Marian Hill hits 100, and after a very respectable run, 'I Feel It Coming' by The Weeknd and Daft Punk hits 44. Then we have the two country songs that are fading, 'Any Ol' Barstool' by Jason Aldean down to 82 and 'Hometown Girl' by Josh Turner dropping to 72 - I'm actually more surprised it got that high. Then there's the scourge of boring white rappers taking hits, with 'Good Life' from G-Eazy and Kehlani going to 73 and 'At My Best' by Machine Gun Kelly and Hailee Steinfeld sliding to 78 - not a good sign in the latter case for that album that just dropped. And finally, we've got the singles that really should be doing better but... aren't, like 'Shining' by DJ Khaled, Beyonce and Jay Z going to 85 and 'Thunder' by Imagine Dragons off its debut to 92... honestly I expected a bit more there.

But where we got a lot more came in our gains and especially our returning entries, so let's start with the latter. In particular it was a good week for Migos, as their song with Gucci Mane 'Slippery' came back to 56 off the video, and they even brought back that Lil Yachty collaboration 'Peek A Boo' back to 99. Beyond that, we also had the returns for 'Everybody' by Logic to 71 - back thanks to the album, and I still like this song - 'Gyalchester' by Drake to 98 - I have no idea who cares about this - and 'Moves' by Big Sean to 95 - which is roughly passable and has stuck around a lot longer than I'd expect. The big story comes for the return of 'Galway Girl' by Ed Sheeran, pushed off of the single, and it'll be telling if Sheeran gets this up the Hot 100 - outside of demographics that like this kind of folk like myself, it can be a tricky crossover stateside, so I'll be very interested to see if his push does well. But where things got more complicated came in our gains, and there were a fair few of them. For one, a lot of new arrivals got legs and traction... shame the majority of them suck, as 'Magnolia' by Playboi Carti went to 63, his collab with Lil Uzi Vert 'wokeuplikethis' rose to 80, and the nauseating 'Privacy' from Chris Brown went to 77. At least 'Slow Hands' by Niall Horan picked up a bit to 52, but it's also following with '1-800-273-8255' from Logic, Alessia Cara and Khalid to 47, which isn't a great song but I'd prefer it to Chris Brown! Then we have our returning entries gaining traction: on the one hand we got 'Flatliner' by Cole Swindell and Dierks Bentley, but on the other we have 'Human' by Rag'n'Bone Man... could be worse? Well, provably so, as 'Craving You' by Thomas Rhett and Maren Morris got a sudden boost to 70, probably off of the video, and 'Attention' by Charlie Puth also picked up to 53. Thankfully, the highest charting gains are also the best of them: 'Unforgettable' by French Montana and Swae Lee to 29 - yeah, I'm surprised I still like this song as much as anyone, but it is good - and 'Sign Of The Times' by Harry Styles roaring up to 18 off the video. Expect a surge for this next week thanks to the album, but again, I'd be curious to see how many songs from that record manage to break through, especially given how little they'd fit with what's considered mainstream radio, it'll be fascinating to hear.

But all of this disguises the fact that we only had four new arrivals this week, and they're all some variant of country song! But before half of my audience clears out, I figured I'd try to call out a world hit... only to discover that 'Despacito' is absolutely ruling the European charts right now. So here's a song that's had some success in the UK and Canada and I'm bewildered hasn't crossed over yet...

Well okay, on some level I'm not that surprised - Zara Larsson has struggled to cross over a number of times, and you could argue that the best songs from So Good were already released as singles, but 'Symphony' tends to feel more like a Clean Bandit song anyway. The glittery keyboards, rounded synth, an influx of strings to coast off them, and beats with a defined but gentle melodic groove, Clean Bandit have a knack for making impressively refined and polished production, which for Larsson's natural earnest charisma can be a solid fit. If I were to criticize anything, it's that the lyrics can feel a little flimsy - a set of musical metaphors to describe how in love our protagonist is, and that's about it - but they're well-executed, and Zara Larsson is a good enough performer against this production to make it work, I'll take it.

So now onto the list proper, starting with...

97. 'Drinkin' Problem' by Midland - okay, so one of the biggest regional country stories has been the steady revitalization and commercial success of the Texas country scene, which many would argue was sidelined or outright ignored by country radio and Nashville throughout the bro-country boom. But with country currently in a state of flux, there have been several acts out of Texas making moves, and one that has been picking up buzz is a trio called Midland, which are being marketed as a rough-edged neotraditional act, trying to ply a more authentic side of country... and note the use of the word 'marketed'. Kyle Coroneos over from Saving Country Music - if you're not reading that site daily, you should be - did a pretty stellar investigative piece into the band and found this was a band signed to Big Machine, with production from Josh Osborne and Shane McAnally - not a dealbreaker - but also that a lot of the namedropping in their backstory really referred to a bunch of white flight neighborhoods given folksy names to deceive audiences who don't dig deeper to discover that, say, their bassist Cameron Duddy was directing music videos for Bruno Mars, Jennifer Lopez and Fifth Harmony, or that their frontman Mark Wystrach was on an NBC soap opera! Now again, none of this is, on the surface, a bad thing, but it struck me as unnecessary marketing when the music should stand up on its own - and on some level, it does! For one, this sounds like neotraditional country in the best sense of the word - pedal steel, organic production, good harmonies, a song about drinking with some well-structured lyrics that doesn't shy away from framing the whole scene as kind of miserable and lonely, even if it doesn't provide much actual detail why this guy has a drinkin' problem. If I were to pinpoint any real issue, it'd come in our frontman: namely, I hear more impressive singers at country karaoke every week, because his mushy delivery and weak delivery doesn't convey much charisma - as much as some sites have tried to claim it, this guy is no George Strait. But whatever, this is passable enough, and I'm willing to overlook the deception of the marketing for good music, but when I can rattle off a good ten to fifteen other Texas acts who have slogged it out for years and are a fair bit better, that can get irritating - just saying.

89. 'Either Way' by Chris Stapleton - you know, it's funny, many people could point to Chris Stapleton on some level and call out how much he's a country industry 'insider' too - if you look through the songs he's written for other artists, it's not hard to see it - but if Midland are overmarketed by Big Machine, Mercury Nashville seems to have no damn clue how to manage Stapleton's career, and 'Either Way' is the biggest example why. Don't get me wrong, this is a great song, one of the best of the album - the barebones acoustic line, the intimacy and loneliness of the writing that highlight a relationship burned out for good, Stapleton's commitment to how utterly miserable the situation is, strung to the point where he doesn't give a damn if she leaves or stays, the love's not coming back. It's a harrowing track, and a daring choice for choice for a lead-off single - but that's the point, it's an album cut, and knowing the mainstream country market, it's a stupid choice when you have the option of 'Broken Halos' instead! Gah, whatever, the song is still great, let's enjoy it while we can, because I would put money on this not sticking around.

79. 'Every Time I Hear That Song' by Blake Shelton - okay, so calling back to country karaoke, it can be a little discombobulating to hear that a song is only now crossing over to the Hot 100 that I've been hearing for months now! Such is the case for 'Every Time I Hear That Song', which came off the album Blake Shelton dropped a year ago, and one that I remember more for the main line on the hook than anything else. Well, that and the fake snapping beat that opens up against the ghostly mix before the actual country instrumentation clicks in. And from that point, outside of the upper end of the acoustic guitars feeling a tad tinny at spots - when you can hear them - it's an okay song, trying to capture the wistful memories when you hear that one song... the problem is that this is pretty pedestrian territory when it comes to country and it's not like Blake Shelton provides enough detail to make it feel all that distinct or interesting. Again, if it wasn't for the hook, nobody would remember or care about this song - let's keep it that way.

64. 'Malibu' by Miley Cyrus - ...does anyone remember 2013? That was the year Miley Cyrus, fresh off of a shedding her Disney image with 'Can't Be Tamed' a few years earlier and failing as an actress came back to pop in a big way with Bangerz. And while that album is a mess in its weird fusion of styles, including the infusion of more hip-hop influences than was otherwise wise, it felt on some strange level authentic in the way other pop starlets' flirtations with black music hadn't, that she was owning her weird, crazy persona. And on the surface, Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz should have confirmed this assumption, given how utterly unpleasant and not-mainstream-friendly it was - yes, the album was borderline unlistenable but it seemed to come from an authentic place. But if you all remember that review, the focal point of my rage was that there were glimpses that this was more of an act than it seemed, that the incoherent screams for meaning might only be real on the surface. And thus, now that she's had her fun with psychedelic rock and hip-hop and dismissed them utterly - UGH - she's decided that she wants to make rootsier music that takes her closer to acoustic or country roots - except not like Ed Sheeran or John Mayer, she's not that granola. Hate to say it, Miley, but after listening to 'Malibu', I can say you are absolutely that basic, because this is exactly the sort of utterly tepid acoustic music that's a terrible fit for your voice and energy. For one, who thought that weedy electric guitar line was a good idea - you keep expecting it to actually have smolder or muscle, but it's so sloppily blended with the bass and kickdrum that it feels more like a slapdash demo than anything else, only picking up quality thanks to the acoustic strums on the second hook. What's more galling is how bland the lyrics are - I get it, you got back together with Liam Hemsworth, but there's nothing here that shows anything beyond placid mellow contentment, which when you pair with a raspy voice that's a far better fit for belting, it's jarring. But I don't like this song more for what it represents, a backslide in quality, because if you take one of the more interesting personalities in mainstream music and you have them make this? What a goddamn waste.

So if you can't tell, 'Malibu' is easily the worst of the week, with best easily going to Chris Stapleton's 'Either Way' - and with our luck, it'll end up gone next week while 'Malibu' sticks around. Eh, we'll see.

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