Monday, January 5, 2015

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - january 10, 2015

So one would think upon my return from vacation to take a look at the Hot 100 that things kind of went a little crazy this week. Not in the new arrivals to the charts - if anything, we have the least number of new entries to date, which hopefully means this episode will be a little shorter this week. No, the change was in what gained steam this week, because there were a ton of gains this week that seemingly came out of nowhere. Not only that, they were for songs that came out in 2014, some that had even fallen off the charts altogether! What gives?

Fortunately, there's actually a reasonably simple explanation for that, but before we get it, let's talk about our Top Ten. Unsurprisingly, Taylor Swift still rules the top with 'Blank Space' and airplay still increasing, but she owes her spot at the top mostly thanks to Christmas sales, which were absolutely huge this week in terms of singles, and it's not just the only Taylor Swift song to get that boost. More on this in a bit, but we also have our new #2 as I predicted last week with 'Uptown Funk' from Mark Ronson & Bruno Mars, which also benefited from increased sales and streaming even as its airplay gains seems to be leveling off. Part of this is a factor of 'Take Me To Church' by Hozier at #3, which despite gains in sales and airplay doesn't have quite the same lead in streaming as it used to have. Beneath it we have the slight increase from Meghan Trainor's 'Lips Are Moving' rising to #4 mostly thanks to consistent gains across the board, especially in digital sales. And yet the big surprise for me was Meghan Trainor's other hit 'All About That Bass' with a massive rebound to #5 mostly thanks to streaming, but also getting an airplay boost too.

And go into the next five and things get even stranger. Sure, you have 'I'm Not The Only One' by Sam Smith holding steady at #6 thanks to consistent streams and airplay, but watching Ed Sheeran's 'Thinking Out Loud' drop back to #7 even despite solid streams, airplay, and sales seems mystifying. And below that you get sudden airplay boosts for 'Animals' by Maroon 5 to keep it at #8, or the even larger gains by 'Shake It Off' by Taylor Swift to hold it to #9? It was enough that despite stronger airplay and streaming, Ariana Grande and The Weeknd's frustratingly low sales were enough to get it kicked out of the Top 10 by 'Jealous' by Nick Jonas, which is just wrong in every sense of the word.

So what the hell happened here? Well, while this Hot 100 is technically for January 10th, 2015, it represents a week a little earlier, and the massive sales boosts do show some last-minute Christmas or after-Christmas shopping, the place where these older hits and so many others made up their gains was in radio - and that's because many radio stations love playing year-end lists to give one last shot of airplay to the big hits of the year before they disappear completely. It doesn't account for everything, and we still have songs that drop to recurring regularly: the generally mediocre 'About The Money' by T.I. ft. Young Thug; Pitbull's stab at remaking 'Walk This Way' with 'Fireball' ft. John Ryan; and the generally enjoyable 'Girl In A Country Song' by Maddie & Tae. And the losers list isn't all that surprising either - 'Feeling Myself' by Nicki Minaj & Beyonce mercifully dropped to #59 and Nicki's collaboration with Skylar Grey 'Bed Of Lies' fell to #80, but that's because they're songs that owed their success to The Pinkprint's release. And Pentatonix's 'Mary Did You Know' dropped to #67, but that's not surprising now considering the Christmas season is over - hell, 'All I Want for Christmas Is You' by Mariah Carey fell off entirely. The last two are a little more surprising, but explainable, as 'Close Your Eyes' by Parmalee falls back to #85 and 'Til It's Gone' by Kenny Chesney drops to #81 just because they're kind of forgettable late singles from albums I forgot a week after reviewing them.

But it's the gains that need to be discussed, and oh boy, we've got a lot of them - and really, many of them can be explained pretty easily. 'Rude' by MAGIC! going to 35, 'Steal My Girl' by One Direction going to #51, 'Try' by Colbie Calliat going to 66, the '***Flawless' remix from Beyonce and Nicki Minaj going to 75, 'In Your Arms' by Nico & Vinz suddenly getting a second wind to 79, even the execrable 'God Made Girls' by RaeLynn that I discussed in depth shot up to its newest peak at #61. When you think about these songs, it's likely they'll be most associated with 2014, and I don't exactly see their gains lasting. Others, though, are a little trickier. I get some long-coming support for Kid Ink's 'Body Language' with Tinashe and Usher at #72 or the much worse 'Homegrown Honey' by Darius Rucker I talked about a few weeks ago suddenly rising to #85 - they've got albums coming, it's clear where the push is. And Lee Brice singles like 'Drinking Class' always take a long time to rise up the charts, going to #60. And songs like 'G.D.F.R.' by Flo Rida ft. Sage The Gemini & Lookas going to #58, 'Time Of Our Lives' by Pitbull & Ne-Yo shooting up to #46, and 'Lonely Eyes' by Chris Young rising to #77, those are natural growths as the songs gain traction. And sure, 'Night Changes' by One Direction could be following the same path that 'Story Of My Life' did with slow but respectable gains - which is good, because the song is great. But how do you explain the terrible 'L.A. Love' by Fergie somehow getting a mild resurgence to #38, or 'Often' by The Weeknd, a song not supported by an album but suddenly rising to #65? The most baffling surge for me - certainly one of the biggest - was 'Sledgehammer' by Fifth Harmony soaring to #40 - I mean, why? It's not a particularly memorable or interesting song, and outside of the fact that their long-delayed debut album seems to finally have a release date in late January, does anyone really care? I guess some of it must be due to Christmas sales and actually getting an airplay boost, making this their biggest hit - one of the biggest of any girl group since the Spice Girls, as a matter of fact - and it's for this? Outside of ripping off a title from a classic Peter Gabriel song, 'Sledgehammer' is not all that interesting, just saying.

And yet it's not just our gainers that show signs of the last gasps of 2014, which takes us to our recurring entries, starting with...

Okay, seriously, what is this doing here? I thought we and polite society decided to forget that the Michael Bay-produced disaster of a reboot for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles ever existed and throw it deep into the memory hole of terrible pop culture remakes like those Robocop and Total Recall remakes you all forgot about. And the fact that we needed three rappers and two producers to create this overcooked disaster of a track speaks volumes, especially when only Juicy J seems to have the slightest clue what he's rapping about. Wiz Khalifa's verse is better structured than normal, but nothing all that special, and Ty Dolla $ign contributes barely anything worth remembering. And the production doesn't help - the overlayered siren-like synths, the beat that always seems underweight, the vocal effects that try to lend this song some grit and heft that it doesn't have, it reminds me of a louder, clunkier version of that other Wiz Khalifa soundtrack song with 2 Chainz 'We Own It' from last year's Fast & Furious movie and yet at least that song had a melodic hook that had some punch. I will say 'Shell Shocked' is probably the least offensive thing about the TMNT reboot, but that's not saying much.

I already said my piece on this song when I reviewed Blake Shelton's mediocre Bringing Back The Sunshine - it was lousy then, it's lousy now, featuring a thicker twang that just doesn't fit well at all with the stiff drum machines, and Blake Shelton's songwriters showing even more laziness with the needless repeated words to fill up space. Just another reminder that Blake Shelton's biggest successes this year came from The Voice. Next!

Okay, I need to explain this, and to start we need to talk about Vine. Now I've been of the opinion that the majority of Vine's contributions to pop music have sucked, especially for mainstream hip-hop. And yet Shawn Mendes somehow has parlayed his success on Vine to charting hits - most of which are huge up here because this kid is also Canadian and from just outside of Toronto, so he's now in the Top 20 in Canada. And keep in mind this kid is sixteen - he's eight years younger than me. So surely the only reason 'Something Big' is huge preteen girls who are already sick of 5 Seconds of Summer, right? Well, it might be more than that... because this song is actually pretty good. Yeah, I can't believe it either, I was prepared to say this sucks, but for a simple pop song about catching that moment of anticipation and pure adrenaline, it works pretty well with the punchy squonk of the horns, well-layered acoustic guitars and jangling percussion, a pretty solid bridge, and Shawn Mendes bringing a surprising amount of raw charisma to the table. Yeah, he's biting hard from Ed Sheeran's template with a smattering of Mumford & Sons in the backing chorus, but he's got a knack for melody that's pretty sticky and likable. Just another sign of one of the universal truths of pop music: whatever's on the Hot 100, the Canadian charts are always better.

Already talked about this song on my very first week of Billboard Breakdown, and I'm still mixed on it, although the problem like all the rest of Jessie J's Sweet Talker is the production - dear god, put this woman on some pop rock where she can bring some raw fire, because this and 2 Chainz just isn't a great fit for her. Next!

Also talked about this song, just two weeks ago. Still one of the better songs from Taylor Swift's 1989, and at this point it's just missing that video to blow up even bigger. And putting aside the fact that it's likely the next single, it's not really getting huge promotion and is only charting because her album was absolutely huge this year and radio programmers were probably jumping the bandwagon early or including her in the 2014 send-off. Granted, if you want a bigger example of that...

Anyone else reminded a lot of Avril Lavigne with this song? And I mean that a lot - the prechorus features Taylor imitating Avril's vocal delivery, the fragments off acoustic production reminds me a lot of 'Here's To Never Growing Up', her massively ridiculous hit from 2013 that I actually unironically think is pretty great. And really, that's Max Martin coming through a lot more here, given that he's the common element between these songs, as the lyrical tone is a fair bit different. Now granted, I like Avril Lavigne and the influences aren't bad, but this is a deep cut from 1989 and it shows - the abuse of percussion, some obvious sloppiness in the songwriting, it's a weaker song, and while I can enjoy it, it doesn't reflect some of the elements of 1989 I really didn't like as much. Still, it's decent enough.

I talked about it for the December 13th week of Billboard BREAKDOWN, and if anything, the song's gotten more and more grating. Thank god it's only barely catching on - the charts already have too much Meghan Trainor as it is.

And that's it for the recurring entries, now onto the new arrivals, starting with...

100. 'Title' by Meghan Trainor - okay, seriously, is Meghan Trainor trying to release every song on her debut EP as a single before she drops it? Well, now we've got the title track, and to her credit, there are elements I kind of like. The steel drums, some of the horns and doo-wop elements, and there's something of a groove here. But It's also such a blatant retread of 'Dear Future Husband' with a few more hip-hop touches and an outright awful bridge that it makes me wonder how much variety Meghan Trainor can really bring to the table. It's not exactly a bad song, but it is redundant.

98. 'Can't Stop Dancing' by Becky G - so I sparked a bit of controversy by saying I actually liked 'Shower' by Becky G, so much so it landed on my Honourable Mentions on my year-end list of my favourite hit songs of 2014. I wish I could say I liked 'Can't Stop Dancing' as much as I liked Shower, because there are things to like about the song. For one, it shows Becky G playing to her Latina side, which with some of the Caribbean flavours in the acoustic guitars and backing vocals does give the song some unique flavours. And yet, it doesn't stick with me as much - maybe it's the slower tempo, the more washed-out, brittle production, or maybe it's how Becky G is expected to coo sexual entreaties when she's seventeen that reminds me way too much of the late-90s pop diva scene, but this isn't really working for me. For a song where she can't stop dancing, this makes me want to find a spot against the wall.

95. 'Bad Bitch' by French Montana ft. Jeremih - wow, pairing a third-rate Chris Brown wannabe with one of the worst rappers to have gotten popular in recent memory... and it turns out exactly how you'd expect. The sad thing is that I actually kind of dig the beat and instrumentation on this song - sure, it's dark and the bass line is leaden, but those synth arpeggios on the second iteration of the chorus and outro are pretty cool and the guitar and snaps aren't bad either. Shame neither artist on the song has anything worthwhile to say, and the autotune smeared over both of their voices makes them sound even more anonymous. Really, this instrumentation deserved better rappers, or at least a bad one that said something memorable.

93. 'Stuck On A Feeling' by Prince Royce ft. Snoop Dogg - I'll admit not being incredibly familiar with Prince Royce, mostly thanks to my lack of familiarity with a lot of Latin and Spanish-language music outside of, well, Shakira and Enrique Iglesias. I do recognize a few of his songs, particularly 'Darte Un Beso' which was his highest charting hit in 2013 on the Hot 100 and actually had some pretty damn sweet instrumentation. Granted, Prince Royce's crooning tenor wasn't exactly all that interesting to me, but I got its appeal. His new hit with Snoop Dogg 'Stuck On A Feeling', however, takes a very similar path that Enrique Iglesias did to darker nightclub pickup tracks, and I can't say I dig it all that much. Sure, the tight guitar lick and wobbling beat were fine, but that incredibly high thin synth on the chorus got grating really quickly, and Snoop Dogg's verse is something he could dropped in his sleep. Overall, I can't exactly say it's a bad song - for what it's trying to do, I can certainly think of worse tracks - but the hook is a little bare-bones and it does lack some real personality, at least for me.

49. 'Earned It (Fifty Shades Of Grey)' by The Weeknd - you know, I've always been a little surprised it's taken this long for The Weeknd to really break, but if anything, with R&B's resurgence and his dark, explicit brand of it playing well to the reverb-saturated eeriness that's popular in the indie scene, it's an ideal time for him to break. For me, I've never loved his stuff - for as much debauchery as he engages in, I've often found him to be a bit of an underwhelming presence as a singer and was rarely able to wring enough pleasure out of the hedonism to make it seductive or the insight to subvert it. It's why he worked so well in the sexual frustration of 'Love Me Harder' with Ariana Grande, which was one of my favourite songs of 2014, period. So to hear that he's showing up on the Fifty Shades Of Grey soundtrack made all too much sense - sure, take some badly rewritten Twilight fanfiction, turn it into a Secretary ripoff, and show a painfully shallow understanding of BDSM that's borderline offensive! And yet, despite how much of a perfect fit you'd think The Weeknd would be for something like this, I'm really underwhelmed by 'Earned It'. The songwriting is stunningly thin, blowing the opportunity for some potent explicit lyricism, the vocal production is sloppier than it should be especially with the autotune and layering on the falsetto, and as for the instrumentation? Well, it's trying to play it very classy and reserved and romantic with the strings and pianos - and as such, feels completely neutered for me. Compared to what The Weeknd could have done with this sort of track, this feels shallow and thin and not nearly as sexual - or believable. Talk about a letdown - but then again, considering The Weeknd is writing the soundtrack for a high budget, badly written BDSM porno that was made for people who have no idea what BDSM really entails, this song makes perfect sense. Jesus, when Rihanna made 'S&M', she got it better than this!

Okay, putting that aside, this week was kind of lousy in terms of songs. For the worst, it's a tossup between 'Bad Bitch' by French Montana & Jeremih or 'Shell Shocked' by Juicy J, Ty Dolla $ign & Wiz Khalifa. For best... not much of a choice, but I'd either give it to 'Style' by Taylor Swift or 'Something Big' by Shawn Mendes, both of which are better than they have any right to be. Eh, you get these weeks occasionally - let's hope for better next week. 

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