Thursday, November 27, 2014

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - december 6, 2014

For our full-length debut episode of Billboard BREAKDOWN, we actually have a pretty damn busy week on our hands, as it's the start of the Christmas season - which means in addition to our usual chart circulation, we also get a deluge of Christmas songs. Now I normally, by rule, never talk about Christmas music and albums, mostly because it never evolves or changes beyond a very standard formula - until now, mostly because the highest debuting song on the list is a Christmas song - from YouTubers too!

But before we get to that, let's start with the top 10. Coming in at #1 for its second week at the top is 'Blank Space' by Taylor Swift thanks to serious airplay gains and actually being a song where Taylor Swift shows a modicum of self-awareness, which knocks it up a small notch for me. It widens its lead against 'All About That Bass' by Meghan Trainor at #2, which is somehow holding on thanks to streaming but won't be for long against 'Take Me To Church' by Hozier rising to #3, an absolutely fantastic song from one of the best records of the year that is absolutely crushing streaming and doing well in sales, but is taking a fair bit of time to climb airplay. That's mostly because the radio is ruled by Maroon 5's 'Animals' at #4 and is doing solid on streaming despite pretty weak sales. Coming it at #5 is 'Shake It Off', which is still selling well, but it's likely peaked at radio and will likely begin a slow descent down the charts. 

Tove Lo's 'Habits (Stay High)' dips a bit to #6, holding on thanks to streaming but also having likely peaked at airplay and sales. #7 goes to 'I'm Not The Only One', a song that's been dominating the UK charts over the past few weeks and is only now rising here thanks to radio gains and streams and some respectable sales. Just below that is the absolutely terrible song 'Jealous', which is rising thanks to airplay, streaming, and slightly less solid sales, and giving me all the incentive in the world to keep ignoring his album. Below that are two returning songs to the top 10, 'Love Me Harder' by Ariana Grande ft. The Weeknd, easily the best song from My Everything and a contender for my list favourite songs of the year, period, and 'Don't' by Ed Sheeran, another strong track from the singer-songwriter. Both songs owe their success to streaming, with Ed Sheeran's considerable radio play holding against Ariana Grande's massive streaming boost.

Now for the big movers on the charts this week, and let's start with our losers. At the bottom is Roller Coaster' by Luke Bryan dropping to 93, on its last weeks of the chart and after next week will probably disappear. 'This Is How We Do' by Katy Perry will likely have the same fate a few weeks later, dropping to 91 this week, one of Katy Perry's worst-performing singles - mostly because the song was complete garbage. 'Body Language' by Kid Ink ft. Usher and Tinashe loses most of its meagre gains and drops to 89. The last two songs are long hits from the last Billboard year and will likely drop off the charts next week, Florida Georgia Line's admirable attempt at depth with 'Dirt' and Pharrell's 'Happy', a song that absolutely ruled the year and will probably end up being the top song on Billboard's year-end chart. 

For our gains, we have 'Yellow Flicker Beat' that shows off Lorde being weird at #65 and likely owes most of its gains thanks to the new Hunger Games movie, being an interesting if not exactly great song, and a sign Lorde might stick around past her first album. Rocketing up from the bottom of the charts to #52 we have 'Ghost' by Ella Henderson, a massive hit for the X-Factor contestant in the UK that's finally going to get traction here - which is good, because the song is pretty damn good. Another UK hit finally gaining traction is 'Thinking Out Loud' by Ed Sheeran, a pretty straightforward love song that wouldn't have been my choice for a new single from x, but I guess I can see its appeal. Iggy Azelea shoots up to #35 with Fancy Part 2 with 'Beg For It', swapping out Charli XCX for M0, and yet it's a lot less tight and interesting - it'll probably be a hit thanks to pure inertia, but it's definitely her weakest single to date. Meghan Trainor's 'Lips Are Movin'' at #19 seem to me like the classic misfire of a potential one-hit wonder, with references directly to her previous hit and a instrumentation that amps up the tempo but doesn't really vary all that much and loses the social commentary and populism of her original hit. Still gained a lot thanks to streaming, but I don't see it lasting. Finally, we have 'Uptown Funk!' from Mark Ronson & Bruno Mars, which continues Bruno Mars' career of recreating classic genres with a pretty damn funky take on the titular genre and is gaining in airplay, streaming, and especially in sales. Mark Ronson is a UK producer has been fighting to get his US breakthrough for nearly a decade now, and 'Uptown Funk!' will probably be the song that gets there - not quite sure it gets there for me, the production is a little busy and could stand to be a little tighter, but it's still pretty damn solid.

And now we have our chart entries - the best place to start being the five songs that are returning to the charts.

'G.D.F.R.' means 'goin' down for real', and wow, it's been a while since I've seen a ripoff this blatant, most specifically of 'Talk Dirty' by Jason Derulo ft. 2 Chainz. I might not like that song or either of the artists on it, but it's a damn sight better than this, which tries to fuse the horn line with trap production and it's nowhere near as fun, mostly because said horn line isn't as tight or punchy. On top of that, Flo Rida co-opting Migos' flow and doing it badly and Sage Gemini delivering a verse that feels basically unfinished seems like definitive proof this song is destined for the scrap heap. 

I've already talked about this song when I reviewed Jennifer Lopez's album 'A.K.A.' months ago, and a music video trying way too hard hasn't improved it. It's J.Lo making a song about her ass, and while I prefer Iggy Azelea on the track to Pitbull, it's still nothing I find listenable with the chintzy Indian riff, bubbling noises, and J.Lo's voice drowned in sloppy multi-tracking. Also, Iggy Azalea, probably not a good idea for you to reference 'Jenny From The Block', given both J.Lo and your reputations of saying tasteless, racially inappropriate nonsense.

I remember being way nicer to this song when I reviewed 'Sweet Talker' by Jessie J a while ago, but a relisten reveals a lot less to like about this song. I still think Jessie J sounds way better over rock instrumentation, and the watery guitar line and handclap percussion is just underweight for her voice. I still like the crescendo and build-up, and 2 Chainz's verse is just ridiculous enough to save it, but I can see this song grating on my nerves if it sticks around, and I can't see it being the huge hit Jessie J needs to follow 'Bang Bang'.

Another song I already covered when I reviewed the self-titled debut from 5 Seconds Of Summer - I didn't like it then, I don't like it now. Sure, it's got the Blink-182 teenage appeal, but it's still about girls cheating on their boyfriends with the band and I still don't like the fundamental idea of the chorus - 'good girls are bad girls who haven't been caught'. Talk about taking the 'Madonna/Whore' complex society shoves down teenage girls' throats and making it all the more complicated - and while I'm inclined to dismiss higher thought about this song when you realize 5 Seconds Of Summer is grounding their  'good/bad' girl in pretty tame terms, it's still a pretty underwhelming pop rock song that for some reason buried the interesting guitar leads at the back of the mix when it deserved a solo.

It's a song that owes its reappearance thanks to the American Music Awards, and shows Imagine Dragons' decline towards forgettable adult alternative with their worst hit yet. Forget the smoother instrumentation that decides to add bombast courtesy of the strings, the interlude that goes nowhere and hammers the loud/soft dynamic to the breaking point, Dan Reynolds singing through the back of his throat and losing all of the rich power of his voice, no, the real breaking point for me is the lyrics. It's a reconciliation song Reynolds wrote to his parents, but the first two verses add enough detail to exactly why this guy might not be as sincere as he should be. He's supposedly a 'slave to the night' that 'breaks her down to tears', 'gave her hell through all the years', and now, even though he's 'told a million lies' but now he tells 'a single truth'? Yeah, I get the power of a family bond, but when you make your narrator this unlikable and the instrumentation and language this hyperbolic, it becomes a lot harder to like.

And now for the reason you all came here, the new entries to the Billboard Hot 100. Starting with...

#99 - 'Stockholm Syndrome' by One Direction - I've already talked a little about this song when I reviewed Four a week or so ago, and honestly, I'm ambivalent to it. The disco vibe is pretty solid even if you can tell several sidelong glances were taken at the song 'Shadows' by Bleachers, but it's the lyrics that sink this song for me. I'm really not a fan of using Stockholm Syndrome as a theme in love songs, especially when the target of said affections is in another relationship and One Direction is blaming the girl for the fact he's now found himself obsessed. But at the end of the day, it's a song that's only charting because Four dropped recently, and it'll probably be gone by next week.

#97 - 'I Don't Mind' by Usher ft. Juicy J - I've gone on record as being a huge fan of Usher and I still think it's damn near a crime that 'Good Kisser' didn't take off the way it should have on the charts. And it'd be a shame if 'I Don't Mind' was the hit, mostly because it's nowhere as fun. Most of it is a factor of the instrumentation - heavy 808s, a reverb-saturated minimalist melody, the gang vocals, it creates a much more lonely atmosphere than the song really needed that isn't quite intimate. And Juicy J doesn't help matters, his guest verse all lecherous sex and his backing shouts punctuating Usher's verses being completely unnecessary - but thank god Usher saves this song by having impossible amounts of charisma and making the entire premise that he's not being a judgmental ass that she's choosing to strip. And while it's a far cry from Usher's best, it's nowhere near his worst.

#92 - 'Take Me To Church' by Matt McAndrew - okay, I don't watch The Voice, and the Billboard Hot 100 tends to get a few songs from the show that pop up, especially if the track is hot. And it helps that 'Take Me To Church' is one of the best songs on the Hot 100 right now - it's hard to do a lot of damage to a great song, even despite the fact that it's an incredibly difficult song to sing well. And I'll give Matt McAndrew this, he tries his damnedest to make it work. But his voice is a little too prim and clean to match the raw power of Hozier - it's played more towards rock instead of soul and gospel, and I do feel it's a misstep. Still, solid try though.

#78 - 'Baby It's Cold Outside' by Idina Menzel & Michael Buble - this song has a bad reputation among Christmas songs, especially in recent years because it can comes across as more than a little creepy, a guy plying a girl to stay with liquor that can easily be interpreted as something more. Idina Menzel and Michael Buble try their best to sanitize the song by casting the video with kids and swapping some of the lyrics to make it significantly more innocent. Of course, by getting Michael Buble you're already getting a sanitized lightweight version of the song, but overall they do a serviceable job of it. I do feel they could have turned up Idina Menzel's vocals a little bit, but the two have decent interplay and the video is indeed adorable. Overall, I can't see it being a hit, but it is cute.

#77 - 'Coco' by O.T. Genasis - this is a joke, right? If you don't know who this guy is, apparently he's affiliated with Busta Rhymes and has done collaborations with Juicy J and French Montana, and thanks to his video going sort of viral, he's got himself a hit all about his love of cocaine. And I feel like I owe Rick Ross an apology, because I haven't seen a more formulaic and painfully dumb cocaine anthem from hip-hop in a while. The trap beat sounds cheap and lifeless, the Jamaican accent adds flavour but nothing else, and the lyrics are so painfully thin that you can't take it as anything beyond just dumb glorification. In a just world, this song will likely sink like a stone, but given these are the charts that have given Rae Sremmurd and Young Thug hits, I have no high hopes. Keep your 'coco', OT Genasis, I'll be sticking with coco from Cal Chuchesta.

#70 - 'Bed Of Lies' by Nicki Minaj ft. Skylar Grey - so far I've avoided most of the lead-up singles for Nicki Minaj's upcoming release The Pinkprint after hearing 'Anaconda' one too many times and deciding on principle to avoid listening to 'Only' until I review the album, but 'Bed Of Lies' is innocuous enough. Most of it is the dreary, washed-out listless style that has come to be iconic of Skylar Grey songs, but Nicki Minaj does do a fair job capturing the bitterness in her verses that come after dumping a manipulative asshole even when there might still be feelings there. It's a shame they felt the need to bring in some chipmunk backing vocals for the ending of the bridge and the final chorus, and I don't like some of the cliched lyrics, but overall it's okay, nothing all that special.

#63 - 'Do They Know It's Christmas' by Band Aid 30 - okay, let me start by saying that I get why charity singles are made - they appeal to a certain emotional sentiment, can draw a lot of traffic, can raise a lot of money, and I don't doubt that many of the performers behind them really believe in the cause they're supporting. However, these songs also tend to be overwrought, poorly articulated, even more poorly produced, and can be seen as transparent acts of self-promotion even when the song is good.

'Do They Know It's Christmas' is one of the bad ones. Originally written by Bob Gedolf of the Boomtown Rats in 1984, it was a charity single in the UK released to help Africa in the vein of 'We Are The World', and if anything, it's even worse, a song that comes across as massively condescending and ignorant towards Africa, and it's aged pretty damn badly. And with a lack of any self-awareness, Bob Gedolf got a grab-bag of modern UK-based musicians together to remake it, including Ed Sheeran, Sam Smith, One Direction, Ellie Goulding, Bastille, Chris Martin of Coldplay, and - of course - Bono, among others. And the best thing I can say for it is that the production is marginally better courtesy of Paul Epworth, but it doesn't redeem the absolutely wretched lyrics or the fact it's always felt underweight and with no connection to its audience. Yes, ebola in Africa is still very real even though the mainstream media isn't covering it, and there are many ways of supporting it, but don't do it through this song. I could spend another half hour talking about how terrible this is, but we're coming up on the end and some songs I actually like. So on that note...

#55 - 'Night Changes' by One Direction - I don't really have a lot to say about this one - I covered it thoroughly when I reviewed Four - but I will say this: this is probably the second best song One Direction has ever made behind 'Diana', a legitimately great track that is the best possible pick for a second single. That said, I need to single out the video as one of the most ingenious bits of pandering to one's fanbase I've ever seen, a song shot from the first person where each member of One Direction quite literally takes the viewer on dates. Sure, they each go spectacularly wrong, but really, doesn't that just add to the appeal? Oh, One Direction, you'll never change.

#26 - 'Mary Did You Know' by Pentatonix - I've gotten a number of requests to cover Pentatonix's Christmas album, and since I don't cover Christmas albums, this'll probably be the one chance I get to talk about them - and honestly, I don't have a lot to say. 'Mary Did You Know' is not a religious Christmas song of which I'm all that fond, but Pentatonix does a pretty damn good job with it. I do wish they could have downplayed it a little more than they did, as I don't think the production always supported their belting and louder ranges, and the song does better with a more hushed, reverent tone, but that's personal preferences, and overall it's still a solid tune.

So at the end of the day, a mixed bag of new entries, with most of the returns leaning on the worse. For the worst of our arrivals, I was inclined to give it to 'Coco', but 'Do They Know It's Christmas' is more outright offensive and they tried to get Ellie Goulding to belt with disastrous results, so it's easily the worst of the week. For best, 'Night Changes' by One Direction, although Usher's 'I Don't Mind' was close behind. Let's hope for better next week.


  1. So... Where's the Leighton Meester album review? And it's a shame you won't review Nick Jonas' album It's not that bad actually.

  2. Two major notes

    One, This is actually Meghan Trainors third attempt at a hit. The first one was title which made a puddle before flopping out completely, followed by Dear Future Husband which has been fighting it's way on and off the Hot 100. Unfortunately, this is the song that is sticking, so time will only tell

    2, as someone who watches the charts every week and someone who started a weekly article, there will be times that doing this will exhaust you, not only for how rarely the top 10 actually moves but how often the bottom moves. I hope you are ready bro