Saturday, January 10, 2015

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - january 17, 2015

So once again this week we're dealing with the last fragments of 2014, even as the new hits of 2015 begin to rise up the charts. And yet even despite the turnover to a new #1 - trust me, we'll get to it, I'm as excited as anyone - I can't help but look down past the justly deserved gains and see a whole load of crap bubbling up to the surface. Folks, there are some bad songs that dropped this week, and believe me, it's not going to be pretty cleaning them out.

But before we deal with the garbage, let's talk about our top ten and the big news: a new #1! Yes, as expected, the replacement for Taylor Swift is the smash hit 'Uptown Funk!' from first-timer at the top Mark Ronson and consistent hitmaker Bruno Mars. And really, it's been a long time coming - Ronson's been fighting to get chart success for years, and while Bruno Mars has spent a considerable amount of his career recreating classic retro genres, this is probably one of his best. I still don't think it's his best song - his collaboration with Cee-Lo and B.o.B. 'The Other Side' from back in 2010 looms pretty tall - but it's definitely welcome thanks to impressive swagger, a killer bassline, and synths and horns that balance sleaze with a ton of charisma. Coupled with the fact that it's a genuine funk smash hit like we haven't had in decades, even though I'm still on the fence with it being a great song, I can definitely enjoy it.

So how did it snatch the crown from 'Blank Space', which is sitting at #2? Mostly a combination of little factors - 'Blank Space' seems to have finally reached a peak on airplay, and despite its YouTube dominance, 'Uptown Funk' had slightly stronger sales and streaming, giving it just enough of a lead. It helped that it edged out 'Take Me To Church' by Hozier just enough as its airplay seems to have slowed even despite a good sales week, which keeps it at #3. Shame the song isn't destined for #1 now, although if Hozier were to drop 'Jackie & Wilson' as his next single, he might have a shot keeping his buzz going. 

But my fond hopes aside, the rest of the Top 10 didn't surprise me all that much. 'Thinking Out Loud' by Ed Sheeran justly snatches back its #4 slot thanks to strong sales and finally catching up a bit in airplay, which forces 'Lips Are Moving' by Meghan Trainor back to #5 even despite good sales. The next two, 'All About That Bass' at #6 and 'Shake It Off' actually rising to #7, owe their success to year-end radio airplay and in Taylor's case a surprisingly strong sales week. This has pushed 'I'm Not The Only One' by Sam Smith back to #8, which despite still not peaking in airplay doesn't quite have the sales or YouTube to really push it higher. The last two are probably simplest of all, with 'Jealous' by Nick Jonas rising to #9 simply thanks to being healthier across the board than 'Animals' by Maroon 5, even despite the latter song's slight year-end airplay boost.

This takes us to our losers - and honestly, it's a bit of a dry week. The last of the Christmas songs dropped out from Pentatonix and Ariana Grande, and from there, there wasn't any longtime dropouts, just tracks not finding enough traction like 'Break The Rules' by Charli XCX or 'Masterpiece' by Jessie J. Hell, even our chart losers this week aren't all that interesting: 'Bed Of Lies' by Nicki Minaj & Skylar Grey drops to 91 because there's no video for it yet and the song has little-to-no momentum; 'Earned It' by The Weeknd plummets after its debut last week to 87 because it's an underwhelming and disappointing take for Fifty Shades Of Grey, especially coming from The Weeknd; 'Dear Future Husband' by Meghan Trainor drops to 84 but you just know it'll rise the second Meghan Trainor's album is released, presuming no delays, and 'Trumpets' by Jason Derulo drops to 40 because it's a song on its last legs and by now people probably started thinking that a lyric "is it weird that your ass reminds me of a Kanye West song' is stupid in every possible way!

Really, where things get more interesting is in our gains, most of which are 2015 songs gaining or regaining their traction. In the latter case, 'Close Your Eyes' by Parmalee and 'Til It's Gone' by Kenny Chesney rose to 74 and 68 respectively because country radio is desperately searching for something to fill time, which is the same reason Randy Houser's pretty damn good 'Like A Cowboy' went up to 83. Hell, if I'm being honest, most of the gains are actually pretty damn good: 'Something Big' by Shawn Mendes goes to 80, 'Style' by Taylor Swift goes to 71, Pitbull & Ne-Yo's collaboration 'Time Of Our Lives' continues to rocket up and breaks the top 40 at #33, and despite the fact that it's very much Killers-lite, 'Shut Up And Dance' by Walk The Moon regains traction to 77. But even the songs I'm not as much of a fan of aren't bad, and Prince Royce & Snoop Dogg's 'Stuck On A Feeling' to 78, 'She Knows' by Ne-Yo ft. Juicy J, and 'Prayer In C' by Lillywood finally rising to 60 to start matching its UK success, those are all passable songs.

And hell, when you look at the returning songs, most of them look passable too, starting with...

Already talked about it a couple of weeks ago, and while I still don't love 'Geronimo', I've got no issue with more songs in the folkier side of pop rock getting airplay, and this is a pretty good one, especially with the vocal interplay and low piano chords and guitar groove. I'll take it.

I've gone on record for not being a Calvin Harris fan - like, at all, especially when Armin van Buuren, Tiesto, and Avicii exist - but there are elements to like about 'Outside'. I like the defined edge of the ragged strings, the frustrated feel of the lyrics and Ellie Goulding's delivery that might not be as raw as the song needs but is still workable - but I honestly think part of the problem is the beat. For as prominent as the melodies are - which is definitely a good thing - the beat just feels a little underweight and lacking in driving grooove. Overall, it's a passable song and by Calvin Harris standards it's definitely one of his less grating tracks, but I get the feeling it should be better.

And that's all the returning songs, and you're all thinking, 'Well, that's not that bad, right?'. Well, strap in folks, because to start...

100. 'I Mean It' by G-Eazy ft. Remo - man, I can't help but feel that I should like this song more than I do, because G-Eazy isn't a bad rapper, at least on a technical level. His rhymes are at least well-constructed - it's just a shame that the subject material is entirely recycled around screwing some guy's girlfriend and getting money. It's not helped by Remo on the hook doing his best Future impression - easy way to lose points with me - and hollow-feeling pseudo-trap production that's actually pretty damn good with some subtle melodic interplay I did like. And yet probably my biggest issue is G-Eazy's delivery - it sounds almost like he's reading his lyrics, his cadence is so flat that I have a hard time really getting a solid vibe. Overall, it's not terrible, but man, it should be better.

99. 'Ain't Worth The Whiskey' by Cole Swindell - you've got to be kidding me. I thought we were done with bad bro-country last year! Is the country music scene so desperate and bankrupt we're getting a third single from Cole Swindell? In case none of you know who this guy is - and believe me, that wouldn't surprise me, considering I reviewed this guy last February and it was one of the worst albums of 2014 - Cole Swindell started out in the same frat as Luke Bryan before selling merch for him on tour and then later striking out as a songwriter. And for some strange reason, we've got a third single from him on the Billboard Hot 100, and it's the worst one yet. And yet on first glimpse, it might not seem that bad - the guitars have some polish, and even though the cymbals are muddy, Cole Swindell does have a bit of energy. But it's the lyrics that really piss me off - see, Cole Swindell's at a bar pounding whiskey... and yet it's not over the ex who he constantly references throughout the song, it's for a good country song or old friends, because the girl 'ain't worth the whiskey'. Yeah, kind of hard for me to buy you aren't over her when you spend the verses mentioning her or if her friends see you drunk off your ass, and the song just comes across as unbelievably pissy. But then he tries to drag the troops overseas into this, and this songs tips into the outright awful territory, because it smacks of the cheapest form of country pandering and attempts to garner sympathy where none is deserved. Where Jake Owen managed to nail this sort of nuance with 'Life Of The Party', Cole Swindell fumbles it in the worst possible way, and the fact this is charting over songs like 'She Don't Love You' by Eric Paslay lower down on the country airplay charts is a goddamn crime. Next!

98. 'Take It On Back' by Chase Bryant - part two of bro-country, and really, you can only go up after Cole Swindell. And Chase Bryant's 'Take It On Back' is better, even despite distinctly more electronic and stiff production and weaker technical songwriting. It's the backing vocals that really bug me here - they sound way too synthetic and high-pitched to fit with the twang of the country rock vibe. But at the end of the day, Chase Bryant making a song overloaded with country cliches is only just kind of bland, and at least it has a guitar solo in the outro - I'll take it over obnoxious any day.

97. 'A Guy Walks Into A Bar' by Tyler Farr - okay, what the hell, is this c-list bro-country singles debut week or something? While some of you might remember Cole Swindell, I guarantee even less of you remember Tyler Farr's ode to being a stalker and completely missing the point on the title track of his generally mediocre album Redneck Crazy. He followed it with 'Whiskey In The Water' which was a bit better, so what do we get from his debut single from his as-of-yet untitled sophomore release?

Well, much to my complete shock, a pretty damn great song. I honest to God did not expect this from Tyler Farr, but not only did he move more towards the spacier country production of Dierks Bentley, Dustin Lynch, and Brad Paisley, it's probably one of the best songs he's ever performed. And I've got to give a lot of credit to Tyler Farr's delivery - the thick rasp in his voice which I've always liked is a fantastic fit for the frustrated anger of this song of taking the cliche of the bar hookup that eventually sputters out and just being sick of the bad joke that it is. Tyler Farr, I originally thought you were destined to be forgotten when bro-country flamed out, but if you're going in this direction... okay, I'm on board, because this song is stellar.

95. 'What We Ain't Got' by Jake Owen - okay, I was originally planning for this song to be my solitary reprieve from the onslaught of bad bro-country, but then Tyler Farr came the hell out of nowhere. But yeah, if you saw my Jake Owen review way back in 2013, you already know this song is stellar. Jake Owen apparently fought to make this his new single to avoid being typecast as a party guy - which he could have avoided if he released 'Ghost Town' or 'Life Of The Party', but that's besides the point - because 'What We Ain't Got' is the rare country piano ballad that knocks it out of the park. And while this song could have coasted on Jake Owen's great performance - seriously, this guy should be a A-Lister by now, the man has star-level charisma and emotional power - it's the songwriting that hits home capturing the grief that comes with a painful breakup. Gorgeously melodic and with a ton of real emotion, I can only pray this catches on, because Jake Owen kills this. Beautiful song.

93. 'Take Your Time' by Sam Hunt - and just like that, we're back to the junk. To be fair, for our next bro-country song on the list, it's arguably the best performed - Sam Hunt does have a good voice, and there's a good melody backing this song even despite in the influx of drum machines and stiff production. But while I don't mind the half-rap/half-sung delivery, once again it's the lyrical content that sinks this track. And once again, on first glance, it doesn't seem all that bad - a supposedly sensitive guy trying to not be like the other guys and saying he doesn't want to go home with the girls, he just wants to 'take their time'. But really, it's the bridge that makes the song feel so incredibly disingenuous - if he just wants to be alone with this girl and he's so incredibly nervous and her girl friends are coming over to ward him of,  he's full of shit and is playing at self-awareness for his edge only 'taking her time' because he can't get the green light for anything else. As a pick-up maneuver, it's just so see-through and dishonest, and combined with the most blatantly pop production yet... I'm sorry, no.

92. 'Throw Sum Mo' by Rae Sremmurd ft. Nicki Minaj & Young Thug - well, I should have seen this coming. Pushed as the third single, it's easily one of the worst songs on SremmLife partially on the basis of blown potential. Interchangeable trap production with one of the most pathetically limp keyboard lines Mike Will Made It has ever provided and only placing Nicki Minaj on the hook instead of actually giving her a verse, it places our duo at a strip club where Slim Jimmy plans to buy the stripper by emptying the ATM and Swae Lee spends the majority of his verse in a drugged out haze before trying to steal a girlfriend - wait, if this girl is at the strip club with her boy, do you honestly think you have a chance in hell of breaking that up especially considering you're treating her like all the other strippers? And then there's Young Thug's verse, which has some of the sloppiest flow on the song about screwing girls in the kitchen - dude, that's gross, that's how you get yeast infections - getting them to make out with each other, and then saying it's okay for him to lie to them because, and I quote, 'my swag's the truth'. Yeah, because that'll make the girls come back to you. I think at this point I can say it: this song is trash, and in a just world would get no more attention - next!

35. 'Only One' by Kanye West ft. Paul McCartney - god, it feels like I'm coming up for air for a song that doesn't blow ass. And putting aside the oddness of the collaboration or the fact that Kanye has chosen to return to the spotlight with one of the more interestingly framed songs of the career, how is it? Honestly, I'm not quite sure. The lyrical idea - speaking from the perspective of his deceased mother to try to lend Kanye some form of solace despite his insecurities and neuroses - is innovative, but despite how heartfelt it is, it still feels a little self-serving, with the usage of Autotune creating the same separation from his emotions that fueled 808s & Heartbreak to such powerful effect, yet this time speaking from the perspective of another because he can't cope with how raw his emotions might run. That's potent stuff, but I dunno, him singing from his mom's perspective just rings as a little off for me, just a bit self-aggrandizing. It'd probably help if the production and instrumentation was better - the stripped back fuzzy piano melody is agreeable, but the oscillating binaural autotune production really doesn't help the vocals, and I really would have liked to hear more from Paul McCartney beyond some backing vocals. Overall, it's not a bad song, but I feel it becoming a curiosity more than the smash some of his other autotuned songs have been.

So that was this week, and honestly, while there was a lot of crap this week, it did turn out a shade bit better than I was expecting. For the best, Jake Owen takes it this week with 'What We Ain't Got', but an easy runner-up comes courtesy of Tyler Farr's 'A Guy Walks Into A Bar', which really is better than it has any right to be. As for worst... I'm giving it to 'Throw Sum Mo' because it's a disaster of incompetence and mismanagement all the way through, but 'Ain't Worth The Whiskey' is damn close for just offending all of my country sensibilities in the worst possible way. Still, have to hope for better next week - although considering next week will probably feature even more Rae Sremmurd, I doubt it.

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