Thursday, December 11, 2014

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - december 20, 2014

For this episode of Billboard BREAKDOWN, we've actually got a bit of a slower week as the holiday season comes even closer and major releases begin to slow down. This leads to a bit of an odd week, with major chart movement linked most to old songs being rotated out, the shift back to equilibrium after the American Music Awards last week that gave several songs a boost they subsequently lost, and the creeping dominance of The Voice as it heads towards its final episodes.

But before we get to that, it's time for the top ten, and while Taylor Swift sits at the top with 'Blank Space' thanks to massive sales and still increasing airplay, the big news is that Hozier has finally overtaken Meghan Trainor for the #2 slot with 'Take Me To Church', mostly thanks to absolutely crushing streaming while maintaining steady gains in airplay and sales. 'All About That Bass' drops to #3, being held aloft mostly by Youtube having already peaked in airplay. And it's not the only one that's taking blows: 'Animals' by Maroon 5 holds onto #4 pretty much on airplay and a bit of streaming, but right beneath it is 'Uptown Funk' by Mark Ronson & Bruno Mars, breaking into the Top 5 with respectable gains driven most by streaming and sales.

Now this drives Taylor Swift's 'Shake It Off' down to #6, which is holding on mostly thanks to YouTube, but the track is dropping in airplay and probably won't be long for the top 10. Beneath that we have 'I'm Not The Only One', still at #7 mostly due to respectable stats across the board. Beneath that is our brand new arrival to the top 10, 'Lips Are Movin' by Meghan Trainor at #8 thanks to strong gains in everything but airplay, which always tends to lag a bit behind anyways. It's a shame the song grates on my nerves, which amps up the tempo and does feature some good horns and organ leads, and while Meghan Trainor does have the personality to nail the kiss-off to a lying, cheating boyfriend, the songwriting could use some work, between the stuttered ending to lyrics and the fact that it requires her to rap... and I'm sorry, I'm not buying it here. It doesn't help that right beneath it is 'Jealous' by Nick Jonas reentering at #9 thanks to solid gains across the board, an absolutely insufferable song that does its best to justify being a jealous, possessive asshole when Chromeo released a far better song with the same title that at least added morally ambiguous framing and a solid bass line. Thankfully, the top ten is rounded out by 'Love Me Harder' by Ariana Grande ft. The Weeknd, which remains awesome and yet stuck thanks to some low sales numbers despite great stats everywhere else. A shame, really.

Now onto our major changes. This was a week where more of the old hits of 2014 fell to recurring - 'Break Free' by Ariana Grande ft. Zedd, 'Roller Coaster' by Luke Bryan, 'Fancy' by Iggy Azalea ft. Charli XCX, and - thankfully - 'This Is How We Do' by Katy Perry. And those that didn't fall out still lost plenty - 'i' by Kendrick Lamar dropped to #96, 'Neon Light' by Blake Shelton dropped to #93, 'Day Drinking' by Little Big Town dipped to #82, and 'Steal My Girl' by One Direction plummeted to #63. It was a bad week for One Direction as a whole, really, with their much better song 'NIght Changes' dropping twenty slots to #51, but that was thanks to charts readjusting from the aftermath of the American Music Awards, because there were a lot of losers there. 'Fireball' by Pitbull ft. John Ryan drops to #72, 'I Bet My Life' by Imagine Dragons goes to #68, Beyonce's '***Flawless' remix with Nicki Minaj thankfully drops to #67, and 'Yellow Flicker Beat' by Lorde drops down to #59. The only loser that surprised me on this list was 'Santa Tell Me' by Ariana Grande dropping over twenty five slots to #92 - I mean, come on America, who doesn't want to hear Ariana Grande asking Santa for advice about sex? Maybe it's because her primary inspiration jumped back to the charts, but we'll get to her later.

As for major gains, this week was a fair bit quieter. It was a welcome pleasure to see 'Shut Up And Dance' jump to #75, a slightly less welcome pleasure to see 'I See You' by Luke Bryan rise to #70, and I was completely unsurprised that 'Mary, Did You Know' by Pentatonix regained much of its steam and jumped back to #38. And of course, Ed Sheeran's romantic ballad 'Thinking Out Load' vaulted up to #24, although not his most surprising move this week. Again, we'll talk about that later, but first... Internet? I thought we discussed this last week. I don't care if Vine is a thing, but you've got to stop it with this lunacy - because 'Coco' by O.T. Genasis just cracked the top 30 at #28. It was tolerable with Bobby Shmurda, it was infuriating with 'Lifestyle' and Young thug, and now... are you trying to give me heart palpitations here? 

I'll save my inevitable rant if that piece of garbage ever cracks the top 20, so instead, let's talk about our returning entries!

I already talked about this song two weeks ago - it was a worthless rip-off of 'Talk Dirty' then, and nothing has changed. Next!

I didn't really talk about this song when I reviewed Jason Aldean's album - mostly because there isn't a lot to really say about it. Old Boots, New Dirt was a better album than I expected, but it wasn't because of this song, mostly because it's more interchangeable and forgettable bro-country cliches where the change is that the girl seems to be hungry to tear things up. It's a slightly different lyrical twist, but it unfortunately doesn't redeem the issues in the production - oily guitar textures that no amount of steel guitar can fix, and obvious drum machines that no amount of cheap real drum production can disguise. But my biggest issue with the song is the tone, which has always been my issue with Jason Aldean on bro-country tracks, in that he never sounds like he's having any fun, and yet his colourless guitars are never heavy or prominent enough to let the song kick any ass. I'm not going to say the song is terrible, but it's definitely mediocre, and when Jason Aldean could have released the exceptionally strong 'Don't Change Gone' instead and dropped this... I'm sorry, there's no excuse.

I've gone on record saying that I'm not the biggest Mariah Carey fan - she's made some great albums, she's made some duds, but when it comes to holiday music, 'All I Want For Christmas' is a welcome addition to the canon of popular Christmas songs. Admittedly, the production hasn't exactly aged well - mostly because stars like Mariah dropping a Christmas album in the 90s was often done to fill up contract obligations with the least amount of effort possible. But it's loose, has a ton of upbeat energy, and while it's probably not the best display of Mariah's talents, it's definitely a prime example of why she was one of the best R&B stars of the era, mostly because she makes it look so easy and she sounds like she's genuinely lovestruck.There's a reason this song recharts every year, and that's because it's pretty damn good. Over most Christmas songs, I'll take Mariah Carey any day.

Wow, that was quick. So now onto our new arrivals, starting with...

#100 - 'Royals' by Taylor John Williams - okay, as I've said, I don't watch The Voice. Apparently this guy was eliminated earlier this week in the semifinals, but I can't say I enjoyed his cover of 'Royals' all that much, which jettisons the prominent and tight percussion for wheedling strings and guitar - in other words, there's none of the tight restraint and control that gave Lorde's version so much definitive power and presence. Williams' vocals didn't exactly impress me either, mostly because he tries to add a lot more minor keys to the song and it loses that quiet, tempered defiance to the established system that made the original so potent. This... this is just a mess. Skip it.

#98 - 'Like A Cowboy' by Randy Houser - you know, among country music circles, Randy Houser's name doesn't tend to come up, and I haven't really talked about him. Basically, he was one of many country stars who started off as a songwriter before cutting off on his own and quietly racked up a respectable number of hits off Stony Creek, an offshoot of the indie country label Broken Bow most known for Jason Aldean. I've never found him to be a great songwriter - he was one of the cowriters to Trace Adkins' 'Honkytonk Badonkadonk' - and he can occasionally write some boring songs, but his strengths have been more in his rich vocals that recall a lot of Ronnie Dunn with a ton of real power. And his fourth single from his 2014 album, which was dropped six months ago and is only now charting in the mainstream - and in a nice change of pace, it's actually pretty damn good. Most of it is courtesy of Houser's incredible voice and a solid rock-flavoured neotraditional country sound, but the lyrics are actually pretty damn good too, a road song about him getting precious moments to spend with his wife before needing to get back on the road. It's heartfelt, and maybe played a little broad, but yeah, this works for me.

#95 - 'Lonely Tonight' by Blake Shelton ft. Ashley Monroe - let's face it, 2014 has not been a good year at all for Blake Shelton. Sure, he's got The Voice, but his album Bringing Back The Sunshine sold miserably for a country star with his clout and only barely rose above mediocre. That said, 'Lonely Tonight' was one of the better songs on the album, a duet with Pistol Annies member and critically acclaimed country star in her own right Ashley Monroe, and they do a pretty solid job with 'Lonely Tonight'. It's very much in Blake Shelton's vein of lightweight pop-flavoured country, but he and Ashley do a solid job with their vocal interplay and their lyrics about two exes reconnecting for some mutual support is well done. I do think the song could have afforded to play a little darker, more in the vein of 'Need You Now' by Lady Antebellum, but that would involve taking a bigger chance than Blake Shelton has taken in his entire career, so in the end, it works.

#90 - 'Geronimo' by Sheppard - well, here's an interesting specimen. An Australian indie folk pop band about an Apache tribal leader with a sound that wouldn't be out of place in late 2012 or early 2013 in the vein of Mumford & Sons. This song was released back in February and has only now charted here. And honestly, I don't quite think this song is for me - I tend to prefer my folk with a little more lyrical heft and instrumental texture or at least more backing melody - but it's got flavour, with the biggest asset being male/female interplay that does lead to a pretty sticky and memorable chorus. Lyrically, it's about taking the step to reunite with an old love and taking that brave next step to make it work, and it does earn its bombast... but I dunno, I wish the guitars were a little higher in the mix because the melody line is pretty damn good. As it is, it's a good song, but not quite a great one.

#87 - 'Prayer In C' by Lillywood & Robin Schulz - one of the long-established truths about pop music across the world is that it tends to get popular in the UK long before it ever sticks in the States, and thus I've been aware of 'Prayer In C' for months, where it spent two weeks at #1 on the UK charts back in September. Note that 'being aware of' doesn't exactly mean liking, and 'Prayer In C' is one of those tracks that doesn't quite land right with me. A song originally written by French-Israeli indie pop duo Lillywood & The Prick and then remixed by German DJ Robin Schulz, it's got a pretty memorable guitar melody and some good sandy production that reminds me a little of Cascada, but the tone of the song is weird, with the vocals bringing a certain amount of bitter contempt that the production does not match at all. Admittedly, I kind of appreciate the spiteful tone in the lyrics, especially the final subtle shift that implies the neglectful ex will never be able to forgive himself in the end, but overall the song just strikes an odd chord and doesn't really work, at least for me.

#40 - 'The Blower's Daughter' by Matt McAndrew - you ever have one of those songs that might be pretty decent up until the final lyric? Yeah, this is one of those cases: Damien Rice is an Irish acoustic singer-songwriter who crafted a decent enough song about pining over the ex... up to the final lyric where he says he can't take his mind of her until he finds somebody new. Maybe it's just me, but that kind of undercuts the entire emotional sentiment when you imply there's someone else you're looking for! But considering it's a pretty stripped down song, Matt McAndrew does a fine enough job with it, even if it does come across as a little overstated. Not a lot that's all that distinctive from the original, of which I'm not that big of a fan, so I could take it or leave it either way.

#34 - 'Make It Rain' by Ed Sheeran - so I don't watch Sons of Anarchy, but from what I know of both Ed Sheeran and the show, I was surprised he was tapped for the finale. The other thing to note is that this song is a cover, originally written by Foy Vance, an Irish singer-songwriter who has done some touring with Ed Sheeran. And you can tell it's a cover, because this song has jagged edges and bite to it and a sense of almost biblical drama in terms of its lyrics. Which, unlike most Ed Sheeran songs, are a little vague - implications of extreme pain that might come from taking a grave chance or a desperate choice, sketched in arch imagery that might not land the most impact for me but does have some potency behind it. The big surprise for me here was Ed Sheeran himself - he's not an artist who throws himself into his material with visceral passion very often, and yet he's shockingly good at it, which made 'Make It Rain' quite potent. Overall, I dug this.

And that's all we have for this week. A bit of a lighter week, but that's nice to see on occasion. For the best... you know, I'm going to give this to Randy Houser for 'Like A Cowboy' - he did enough with that song to win me over and get me interested in checking out his next album, and that's saying something, and I'll put Mariah close behind. For the worst, I didn't have a chance to put 'G.D.F.R.' on the list two weeks ago, so it's coming up here now, with the runner up being Jason Aldean's mediocre new single. Overall, something of a sleepy, acoustic-guitar driven week, but it might just be the best on average that I've covered. Nice to see steps in the right direction.

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