Tuesday, September 19, 2017

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - september 30, 2017

This is one of those weeks where I'm increasingly unsure where the hell the Billboard Hot 100 is going, and not just because we've got a few albums bombs in the making that are going to be dropping over the next few weeks for further destabilize things. And while part of it is also linked to the headlong race for what'll make the year-end lists, the larger point is that as a whole, songs that you'd expect to not seem fragile feel increasingly perilous, especially when you take a look at the top ten.


So let's consider that group, shall we? Yes, 'Look What You Made Me Do' by Taylor Swift held the #1, but it did so despite losing the top spot in streaming, YouTube, and sales, and her radio traction seemed to sputter. Make no mistake, this track could be unseated very quickly, and the most likely culprit as I predicted last week is 'Bodak Yellow' by Cardi B at #2. Regaining the top spot in streaming in aggregate and with a bit of radio traction, it managed to compensate for more weak sales at #2, but at this point it's a margin's game whether it can make up ground. But then you have '1-800-273-8255' by Logic, Alessia Cara and Khalid up to #3, picking up gains across the board with real momentum on the radio - if Cardi B doesn't pick up her sales, this could make a charge for #1. This leaves 'Despacito' by Luis Fonsi, Daddy Yankee and Bieber in an awkward place at #4, because despite a lingering sense of inertia that keeps it alive on YouTube, every other channel is pushing this down fast. The bigger story is the comeback that caught me a little off-guard: 'Too Good At Goodbyes' by Sam Smith. Yes, our overly stiff white-bread R&B balladeer broke through at #5 this week, and with big sales and on-demand streaming - plus steady radio gains - he looks to have a decent shot at holding a spot in at least the top 20 after the expected debut dropoff. I'll talk more about the quality of the song later, but I will say I'm a little stunned that it got this much traction for a return. It held up above 'Wild Thoughts' by DJ Khaled ft. Rihanna and Bryson Tiller, but considering how atrocious its numbers were across the board, I'm surprised it held in the top ten at all at #6. Granted, our last few songs don't inspire a lot of confidence: 'Unforgettable' by French Montana ft. Swae Lee actually recovered up to #7 thanks to a decent streaming week and radio that wavered but didn't dip, which put it above expected behavior for all the next three songs. First we have 'Believer' by Imagine Dragons, down to #8 on airplay weaknesses backed up by decent YouTube, then 'Attention' by Charlie Puth to #9 relying on pretty much just airplay even as that fades, and then 'There's Nothing Holding Me Back' by Shawn Mendes at #10 with all of Puth's weaknesses but worse!

Of course, that instability only becomes more pronounced as we go down the charts, so let's look at losers and dropouts. In the latter category, nothing was incredibly impressive, but we did lose 'My Girl' by Dylan Scott, 'Most Girls' by Hailee Steinfeld, and 'Reminder' by The Weeknd... overall, none of it looks to have a shot at the year end list, and I'm not all that interested regardless. Where things get more interesting come in our losers, and let's start with the most pronounced ones, namely '...Ready For It?' by Taylor Swift falling out of the top 20 to 21 - sure, it's just for promo, but I can predict this falling harder. Then you have the expected losses: two continued from last week from Lil Uzi Vert with 'Sauce It Up' down to 67 and '444+222' to 100, Billy Currington's 'Do I Make You Wanna' continuing to sputter out to 90, 'Versace On The Floor' by Bruno Mars not turning out as the follow-up single it deserves to be at 83, and 'Transportin' by Kodak Black to 58... well, because it's garbage. On a different note it was also a particularly bad week for Katy Perry, as her collaboration with Calvin Harris, Pharrell and Big Sean 'Feels' took a sudden hit to 37, and her work with Nicki Minaj 'Swish Swish' fell fast to 92 - personally, I'm more inclined to complain that 'It Ain't My Fault' by Brothers Osborne lost all its momentum again down to 94! But the truly ominous story comes with 'These Heaux' by Bhad Bhabie falling to 87 - yes, it dropped, but when it comes to acts making a play off of YouTube memes and reinforcement from terrible vloggers, you normally expect only one week... and this had a second. Coupled with the news she's signed a deal with Atlantic and the disconcerting buzz that Gucci Mane is collaborating with Jake Paul... yeah, none of this is good!

And what's alarming is that I don't see what's stopping it in our gains and returning entries! For some ungodly reason two months after it fell out 'No Complaints' by Metro Boomin ft. Offset and Drake returned to the charts at 97, but it's not like this'll really stick around. What has a better shot are the two gains, both easily explained: 'Bad At Love' by Halsey off the debut last week to 71 - it's got some radio now, joy - and 'Unforgettable' by Thomas Rhett getting a boost off his album dropping to 47. This I don't expect to really stick around, but the song is inoffensive enough, even if again, it doesn't belong on country radio.

So okay, we can't expect the gains to stop that rising tide, what about our new arrivals, starting with...



99. 'Let Me Go' by Hailee Steinfeld & Alesso ft. Florida Georgia Line & Watt - this is one of those collaborations that just looking at the list of people you're bewildered. An actress/pop singer, a Swedish DJ who last crossed over with Tove Lo three years ago, the bro-country duo, and a blues rock songwriter/producer who has been racking up credits behind the scenes for a few years now. So I expected this to be a bit of a mess... and yet to my amazement this actually holds together pretty well! The muted guitar and bass have plenty of room to swell and back against the gentle snapping bounce that compliments Hailee Steinfeld's voice remarkably well, and with Florida Georgia Line toning back their twang, they've got enough personality to play off each other well. Hell, I even like the lyrics, painted from both sides to see the relationship sputtering out without any real animosity, just hoping their future partner will treat them better. I will say I'm not exactly fond of the breakdown tone - it's an blocky, oddly lo-fi bit of whirring synth, and you have to wonder if Watt might have done better to contribute a guitar solo, or if that's his melody not have it contorted the way it is - but beyond that, this is pretty likable, I'll take it.



98. 'Pills And Automobiles' by Chris Brown ft. Yo Gotti, A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie & Kodak Black - you know, at some point people are going to get burned out on promotion, Chris, considering your lead-off single was 'Party' and that was released almost a year ago! Anway, this is just a promo single with a bunch of acts who've had mainstream success in 2017 - it doesn't even look like it's on the album tracklist at the moment - so what does it have going for it? Well, I sure as hell hope not, because for some ungodly reason someone decided to pile so many layers of autotune on his voice that he nearly sounds like Travis Scott, and none of it is remotely flattering against this faded flutter, a by-the-numbers trap beat, and a chorus that consists of one word! And how Chris Brown thinks this'll come close to getting this girl wet I have no clue, with his verse starting with lines how this bitch is wasting his time and playing both sides, Yo Gotti talking about a relationship sputtering out where they both cheated, and Kodak Black mostly holding his flow together as he raps about the girl somehow becoming more glamorous than him and pushing him out of her league. The only one who seems remotely sincere is A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie, which is only really focused on buying her love but at least he seems to care about not breaking her heart or hurting her, and even then it feels kind of out of place against this production. As a whole... yeah, good thing this isn't on the album, it's mediocre at best.



85. 'No Limit' by G-Eazy ft. A$AP Rocky & Cardi B - okay, polling here, who said that G-Eazy was allowed to have any more hits? He had 'Me, Myself & I' in 2016, I thought we all moved on... but this time he brought A$AP Rocky and Cardi B up for relevance - I mean, support! And yet for some bizarre reason, A$AP Rocky only handles the hook... why, G-Eazy, were you concerned you'd get overshadowed by a considerably more interesting and colourful MC? Because here's the funny thing: he's easily the least charismatic presence on the song, as A$AP Rocky rides the stormy backdrop and faster trap beat better than G-Eazy dropping into a very staccato flow, and then Cardi B shows up and runs away with the entire song. Yeah, I'm kind of stunned too, but in terms of ignorant brag rap she's got more flair and groove than anyone else here, and considering this is her first real guest appearance to chart, she set a pretty decent bar for herself and all of her rhymes were on point. So yeah, I like the production, A$AP Rock and Cardi B clean up... I can dig this, definitely, cool track.



81. 'Gucci Gang' by Lil Pump - look, at some point when the first things I find out about an unknown rapper on the Hot 100 are that he doesn't have a Wikipedia page and is primarily based off of Soundcloud, I feel I know exactly what I'm getting. And yeah, this is pretty much exactly what I expected - one highly repetitive hook, your standard cracking trap beat and muted melody, and a general attitude of carefree obnoxiousness. Seriously, the most interesting thing about this is him taking potshots at WestJet for being an asshole on their flights and getting kicked off... and you want me to feel any sort of solidarity with that? This is a guy who brags about selling meth and screwing his teacher, would rather indulge in brand name porn than any sort of real connection, taking medication with his grandmother, and otherwise coming across as a total dickpiston who is coasting on his hook. Again, this song is just over two minutes, we only got one verse... and while this guy is competent as a rapper, he certainly isn't likable. Next!



80. 'Found You' by Kane Brown - so okay, in terms of pop country 'What Ifs' by Kane Brown held up far better than I think anyone could have predicted - seriously, it's got a serious shot at hitting a year end list if it holds up momentum for another month, and I wouldn't mind it. So clearly somebody at his label decided to reissue his self-titled record in October with a deluxe edition to capitalize on this, with a new single to boot. And look, I like the ghostly electric guitar tones... but that's about the best thing I can say about this dreary track, which again is trying to force trap hi-hats opposite guitars with too much compression and a hook that sticks mostly in minor keys. And frankly that's strikes me as a baffling choice: this is a song where he's grateful an old relationship ended and his friends dragged him to that house party where he met the new girl - isn't this supposed to sound exultant or fun, like Billy Currington's 'It Don't Hurt Like It Used To', and not like the percussion isn't a half step away from Sam Hunt? Look, I'm no Kane Brown fan, and this sort of song? It's the reason why.



73. 'I'll Name The Dogs' by Blake Shelton - so we're getting yet another Blake Shelton record and I can't be the only one who feels we aren't far removed from the cycle from the last one... but then again, it's not like he's writing the songs, so what are we getting this time? Well, it seems like he went back into very comfortable territory: a middlebrow, midtempo adult-contemporary leaning song about getting married where she'll name the kids and he'll name the dogs. And here's the thing: this is actually pretty tolerable. The guitar work has a bit of bounce, I like the fiddle and pedal steel accents, and with the exception of the filtered backing vocals and a deeper beat that punches through the bottom a little louder than it should, the production is the most 'country' that Blake Shelton has been in years. And yeah, the guy does have natural charisma so even if the lyrics can feel a tad goofy, he can deliver them. It'll never fit among his best work, but this is workable, I'll take it.



62. 'Love So Soft' by Kelly Clarkson - I think there's a mistaken impression out there that I don't like Kelly Clarkson, and that's not really true - my larger issue is that I've been disappointed with her output for nearly a decade when she left pop rock for something a lot flimsier and less interesting. But fans will know I thought her cover of 'It's Quiet Uptown' from Hamilton actually made my year-end list last year, and thus I had the hopes that if she had good material this would turn out well... and yet I'm not sure this is the best possible pivot for her. Following in Demi Lovato's wake she seems to have made a pivot towards more of a horns-inflected soul and gospel vibe, which Kelly seems to have a better grasp on in terms of delivery and production courtesy of a thicker bass groove, the organ and a better horn pickup. But still, her delivery on the bass-swamped hook is more Meghan Trainor than classic R&B/soul, and the pretty underwritten and generic lyrics don't help this really stand out. So I'll say something similar to what I said about Demi Lovato's recent singles: pop rock was a far better fit for your voices, and while you have the range for soul, your voice doesn't quite have the right texture or subtlety. I might like this more than 'Sorry Not Sorry'... but not by much.



44. 'Dusk Till Dawn' by Zayn ft. Sia - so one of the more fascinating phenomena of 2017 is how well seemingly all of the One Direction members have been in charting hits on the Hot 100, and yet beyond 'I Don't Wanna Live Forever' with Taylor Swift - a song nearly all of you forgot existed until I just mentioned it - I knew it was only going to be a matter of time before Zayn made his reappearance, this time picking up Sia for backup along the way. And on some level it makes sense he's working with Sia - this track shows that with the deep, smoky, reverb-saturated melodies from Greg Kurstin, reliance on heavier percussion, and songs that are on average underwritten, they have pretty vocal chemistry, even if I wouldn't exactly call it sexy or incredibly interesting. I think my problem comes with the hook - Zayn's upper register is so compressed that it just doesn't have the firepower it needs, especially against those drums and Sia's throatier tone. Don't get me wrong, this isn't bad... but just like 'I Don't Wanna Live Forever', I can see myself forgetting it fast.



5. 'Too Good At Goodbyes' by Sam Smith - you know, it occurs to me that I never actually reviewed a Sam Smith record in full or have had much of a chance to give an opinion on him beyond singles... but the truth is that he doesn't inspire much of a reaction from me. Apparently he's phenomenal live but unless he has production that gives him any sort of groove, his delivery and writing can feel overly stately and stiff, not helped by his tendency to drop into a falsetto that just doesn't work for me. So what about this, his lead-off single for a sophomore record a few years in the making? Honestly, I can't really say I'm a fan... and to Smith's credit, it doesn't have to do with his delivery, which has picked up more expressive flow, or the production that balances the strings and choir of backing vocals for a pretty decent melody against the thicker beat. What I don't like is the content: yes, I get being guarded in relationship, especially if you expect things are going to fall apart down the line, but pushing into this brand of melodramatic cynicism just doesn't resonate with me, especially as lines on the second verse imply that he's protecting innocence - if that was true, why are you so damn convinced this isn't going to work, because that implies experience which on the first verse it's implied he has! It's almost like he's so prepared for things to go wrong he's not even considering the possibility it can work, which sucks the air out of any possible conflict, be it drama or melodrama! So yeah, good tune, decent groove and delivery, but I really can't get behind this.

So that's our week... overall, bit of a mixed bag but not bad overall. The worst is 'Gucci Gang' by Lil Pump, easily, but with Dishonourable Mention I'm giving it to Kane Brown for some truly awful production and a completely mishandled mood on 'Found You'. But I think the surprise here is with the best, because Honourable Mention is going to 'Let Me Go' by Hailee Steinfeld and Alesso ft. Florida Georgia Line and Watt, with the Best of the Week going to G-Eazy, Cardi B, and A$AP Rocky for 'No Limit' - yeah, I'm as shocked as anyone, even though I'm inclined to credit Cardi B and A$AP Rocky more than anything G-Eazy does. So yeah, bit of a different week, but we'll see where this goes from here.

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