Tuesday, November 21, 2017

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - december 2, 2017

So we're now starting the fourth year of Billboard BREAKDOWN, and the plan - at least for me - was that we'd start off with a bang, the flurry of activity that you would expect coming from the massive release of Taylor Swift's reputation... and yet as I predicted last week, the impact was pretty muted, thanks to her one-sided war with streaming that led to the album still not up on those platforms. So what could have been a blowout turns falls limp, and the week actually turns out pretty quiet... eh, it happens.


But let's start with the top ten, where as I also predicted, 'rockstar' by Post Malone and 21 Savage is hanging onto #1 thanks to tremendous streaming... but let's get real, it's still very solvent in other categories, with consistent airplay gains and good sales. And I feel I need to stress this because it really comes down to a margin's game between it and 'Havana' by Camila Cabello & Young Thug at #2 - yes, it has more momentum on the radio and much better sales and YouTube, but even though it narrowed the on-demand streaming gap considerably, it just doesn't look like it recovered enough of that margin. And it also doesn't help that making a rebound back into the top ten at #3 we have 'Gucci Gang' by Lil Pump at #3, with absolutely huge YouTube numbers and considerable streaming - although where I would likely put more money what made up the difference came in sales, which picked up considerably in spite of the radio, which seemed much more interested in propping up 'Thunder' by Imagine Dragons at #4, which is now at the top of that format... and yet with sales starting to dip, I do wonder if the momentum will stall out in the coming weeks. It took it above 'Bodak Yellow' by Cardi B at #5, but that shouldn't be any surprise: it's losing in all categories, even streaming, and I can see this falling out pretty fast. Compare this to 'Too Good At Goodbyes' by Sam Smith... which yes, had a good sales week to hold it at #6, but radio numbers were all over the place again and on-demand streaming has never been great. What you can expect to eventually pass it is 'Perfect' by Ed Sheeran at #7, which may have had streaming losses as YouTube ebbed, but on-demand streaming, sales, and especially the radio are all about this track. Definitely puts it above '1-800-273-8255' by Logic ft. Alessia Cara and Khalid down at #8, which still has longevity to show up even as it continues fading in all categories, but maybe it's just not fading as fast as 'Feel It Still' by Portugal. The Man down to #9, where both radio and sales are evaporating. And yet it's still enough to keep it above 'Mi Gente' by J Balvin, Willy William and Beyonce at #10, which may have wavered on the radio but was losing everywhere else.

And on that fun topic, losers and dropouts! And really, I'm not complaining at all about the big ones in this category: 'Wild Thoughts' by DJ Khaled ft. Rihanna and Bryson Tiller, 'Glorious' by Macklemore ft. Skylar Grey, and finally 'Body Like A Back Road' by Sam Hunt. Shame our losers fall into a slightly weirder grouping, with the biggest set of losers falling for 21 Savage with 'Bank Account' falling to 27 and his collaborations with Offset and Metro Boomin both losing, with 'Ghostface Killers' down to 57 and 'Rap Saved Me' to 88. Then we have the losers based off of fading album hype, namely 'Every Little Thing' by Carly Pearce to 72 and 'Questions' by Chris Brown to 91. Of course, we could also bucket the sharp dropoff for 'Call It What You Want' by Taylor Swift into the same category as it fell to 73, but that's just me being cute. Finally, we have 'Lemon' by N*E*R*D and Rihanna dipping off its debut to 79 - and honestly, even despite mostly liking that song, I'm not really surprised. 

Where things get a bit more interesting are in our sparse list of returning entries and gains - and yeah, you're getting 'Too Much To Ask' by Niall Horan back at 98 because of a bit of radio growth, but the real story is 'LOVE.' by Kendrick Lamar back to 41, which looks to be positioned as the next big single with it finally getting a push on the radio and a streaming boost. Shame it came a few weeks too late to make the year end list for 2017, but let's hope it sticks around, it's a damn good crossover tune. Shame I don't really have much good to say about our gains, with the only considerable one coming for '...Ready For It?' by Taylor Swift getting the solitary significant boost off of reputation to 18. Beyond that, though... well, both 'Silence' by Marshmello and Khalid went up to 44 and 'Dusk Till Dawn' by Zayn and Sia went to 70 on what I think was stronger streaming, but even then, I'm not seeing a huge groundswell behind either song, especially not for Zayn at this point.

But this week, it looks like more of our story comes in our new arrivals, so let's get started with...



97. 'Pick It Up' by Famous Dex ft. A$AP Rocky - so we start this year as we ended the last one: with another relative no-name MC picking up a suspiciously big co-sign - which means there's a label involved somewhere - in order to push more bargain-barrel trap rap, joy. Now you might be forgiven thinking this is at least slightly different: the expensive- sounding soul sample that comes in between verses instead of any actual hook... until that drops out entirely for a bassy plucked progression and sparse trap skitter for both Famous Dex and A$AP Rocky to hop on triplet flows and I'm already losing interest. Yes, you can say that Famous Dex is a little more expressive than your average trap rapper, but it's not like he's saying anything that's interesting beyond wifing girls to then delete them, a lot of drug references, and shouting his name at the end of each verse likely on the correct assumption I'd forget who he is otherwise. But the big disappointment here is A$AP Rocky - and look, I'm no big fan of the guy, but he sounds completely tuned out on his first verse and the only real punchline we get out of two verses comes from a sample from the Chapelle Show! Look, I can appreciate personality and a few good samples, but beyond that... look, just not much here.



96. 'The Plan' by G-Eazy - so G-Eazy is set to have another hit with 'No Limit' - and it's not because of G-Eazy himself, as he's by far the least interesting thing about that song or really indeed any song he makes. So if he doesn't have Bebe Rexha or Cardi B or any other supporting artists, why would anyone listen to him? Well, I listened to 'The Plan'... and I have no idea why anyone would find this guy interesting - seriously, I might not like Big Sean, but when you consider how much G-Eazy sounds like him but somehow less interesting, that's a problem! The bass-heavy drowned out warp of keys against the trap beat, and G-Eazy sounding utterly exhausted as he rambles through triplet flows about stealing your girl, and always chasing the money but not the liquor and women... except when he winds up chasing them anyways. And yet somehow I don't remotely believe this a freestyle - it feels way too calculated, especially with the flow switch-ups that might be good but don't make any of the content any more interesting. No, the reality is that this is drab and painfully mediocre, and I'll wind up forgetting this very quickly.



93. 'Betrayed' by Lil Xan - okay seriously, was there a memo circulated that this was going to be the week of mediocre trap - again? This time we have the breakthrough single of Lil Xan, a Soundcloud rapper who looks to be trying to split the difference between the downbeat lo-fi melancholy of a guy like XXXTENTACION and something that's a little more conventional or accessible, with the more defined muted synth tone against your standard trap skitter before the instrumental starts skipping out towards the end. But I will say this song does get marginally more interesting if you consider that Lil Xan was intending this as an anti-Xanax song, given that he had been addicted for years and has finally gotten clean. And my god, I wish he had stuck with more of this topic, because outside of a good hook and a few references to the bad things he's had to do to come up, the rest of his bars are about screwing girls and kicking them out - and of course their pussy tastes like Skittles - because they're all crazy and jealous and even possessed by demons - but of course then there are the lesbians that are also into him and I'm seriously starting to wonder if any of these rappers have actually met a lesbian in their lives! Look, there's a seed of a good idea here, but like with most of the Soundcloud MCs it's compromised by their complete inability to stay on topic without defaulting to the sort of obnoxious, formulaic bragging that doesn't so much add depth but strips it away. Next!



69. 'Female' by Keith Urban - I heard about the controversy around this song long before I actually heard the track. I heard that it was partially inspired by the sexual assault scandals that have been unmasked in ever-increasing numbers day after day, that Keith Urban's songwriters - because of course he didn't write this - wanted to create something that spoke directly to men about this issue because the sad fact is that country radio wouldn't listen or play women talking about this. And then came the backlash, that this was less about empowering women or speaking truth to power and more about Keith Urban presuming to speak for and about women's issues without elevating female artists - and then came the backlash to that backlash, where guys will only listen to other guys anyway and he's clearly trying to be positive and be on the right side, and I can't help but feel like women got explained out of a song that's supposed to be about empowering them. Because a few important factors of context become very important here: one, the primary audience for Keith Urban's pop country trends demographically towards women, and more importantly, this isn't a case like Macklemore's 'Same Love' or Jason Isbell's 'White Man's World' where the song can hold up beyond the message or have the balls to really take the audience to task. For one, the painfully fake beat and snap feels way too thick and polished to fit with the misty guitar line, and when you have a hook that's a word salad of vaguely woman-connected things with no coherence, you're not so much seeing introspection or something to challenge the few guys who'd listen to this, but a fetishization without real depth - in other words, only perpetuates the same system by not giving one of those women a seat at the table. I'm not denying the verses are asking questions in the right direction, but this is the wrong mechanism to ask that question, and I have the sad feeling the audience Keith Urban wants to get this message will even care.
So yeah, this is a pretty big misfire, and if country radio really wants to make a change, I've got a pretty extensive list of women with which you can replace this.



65. 'Wanted You' by NAV ft. Lil Uzi Vert - and now we're back to the trap with NAV, a Canadian rapper who I've heard work with Travis Scott in the past... and with whom I've never really been all that impressed. He put out a mixtape with Metro Boomin earlier this year, but this is from an entirely different project, instead with DJ Khaled of all people on production and Lil Uzi Vert for a guest verse, and... honestly, who wants to hear a song like this, where they're both complaining about getting ditched by girls after spending so much money on them? First off, you chose to spend all that money, you didn't seem like you liked or respected them all that much anyway, and at the end of the day, you seem to treat them as disposable, so there's no emotional catharsis just ugly, Autotuned whining. And when you factor in that oily mess of a melody that neither of rappers can compliment - and the fact that Lil Uzi Vert doesn't know the difference between transparent and translucent - yeah, I can't endorse this, skip it.



58. 'Gummo' by 6ix9ine - and now we have an artist who has plead guilty to Use Of A Child In A Sexual Performance on the charts and do I even have to fucking dignify this? Look, I get there is such a thing as 'death of the author', separate the artist and whatever monstrous acts he's done from the art itself, but considering the whole performative appeal of so much of this art is the rapper's edgy personality, and when you also consider how much of the 'music' shoveled out by acts like XXXTENTACION and Kodak Black has been derivative, asinine garbage, I've got no reason not to take this to task. So, 'Gummo', named after a particularly hard-to-watch Harmony Korine film... and the title is apt, because the focus is on this rapper howling his lungs out against a skin-crawling glassy synth and trap beat as he rages about screwing your girl, shooting people, and stacking cash. And in a twisted way, I could see the appeal - the vocal intensity is there, the production does have some bombast to it - but once you get past that, it's an unbelievably ugly and one-dimensional track with no justifying subtext made by a person who doesn't deserve any more attention. So yeah, skip it.



14. 'Walk On Water' by Eminem ft. Beyonce - you know it's weird, I was reading an article the other day how Eminem makes a real point of listening to as much new hip-hop as possible and that he just doesn't understand the appeal of most mumble and Soundcloud rap - and believe me, having come through the gauntlet of so much of it, I get his frustration, because at least the majority of the time when Eminem was aiming to shock or scare his audience, he did so with the intention to hold a mirror to White America's vices along with his own, instead of just the formless banality that makes up so much of what I covered this week. And yet there have been a lot of people who don't like this, with Eminem taking a very serious tack and bringing on Beyonce for a hook, leaving some hip-hop fans feeling like we're just going to get Recovery Part II with his upcoming record Revival. And I get why people wouldn't like this: the minimalist piano and hints of strings, Beyonce on the hook emphasizing that uncertain atmosphere, and then you have Eminem's flow, which for one of the first times in his career can feel abortive, even hesitant. But that's part of the point, because nobody is a harsher critic of himself than Eminem, aware of the bar he set with his breakthrough records, his obsessive editing process, how even he has a hard time placing himself among the greats in his mind, and a fanbase that can never be properly satisfied and yet Eminem calls out in this song has bought into him for so many of the wrong reasons. And while he should have nothing to worry about and the only person whose opinion should matter is Proof's, Eminem is too much of a perfectionist and even now he's more acutely aware his time in the spotlight may be spent, and that does get to him. I get the impression Em wants more people to see him as the man not the rap god or titan anymore, but he also wants to go out on his own terms with his place in history secure, and I can respect that... even if I will say this works less as a song in itself and more as a fresh mission statement, and it definitely makes me intrigued for what Revival could bring.

And in terms of what we got this week... yeah, no Honourable Mention, this is handily the best of the week. But for the worst... dear god, do I have to pick just one? I think I'll give it to 'Wanted You' by NAV and Lil Uzi Vert for being the least tolerable, with a tie for Dishonourable Mention going to both 'Female' by Keith Urban for nearly completely fumbling a good message, and 'Gummo' by 6ix9ine for living up to the worst of his. No idea what will stick around here, but the sooner most of it is gone, the better.

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