Thursday, January 15, 2015

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - january 24, 2015

This week, things finally seemed to get back to normal - and to be honest, I was expecting the charts to get a lot worse this week thanks to an injection of new album tracks from reviews I did last week. Instead, it seems like the opposite is true, as no additional Rae Sremmurd tracks landed on the Hot 100 - thank God - and Meghan Trainor had losses across the board. In fact, for the first week ever on Billboard BREAKDOWN, we have no returning entries, just brand-new songs - granted, with more Chris Brown than is healthy for anyone, but hey, we're getting Jhene Aiko, another Fall Out Boy single, and a punk cover of Taylor Swift, I'll take it!

But before I get to that, let's start with our Top 10 - and with things returning to a more normal state of affairs, there isn't a lot of surprises. 'Uptown Funk' by Mark Ronson & Bruno Mars easily holds onto #1 for a second week thanks to strong sales, crushing streaming, and steadily gaining airplay, and with the added bonus off his album dropping this week, it looks like that lead is going to stick around. 'Blank Space' by Taylor Swift holds onto her spot at #2, although it's going to be interesting how long it lasts, considering it looks to have come close to peaking in airplay and sales are slowly starting to drop off. It's enough to make you wonder whether 'Take Me To Church' might have a long shot at reclaiming its higher slot, considering the streams and sales have remained somewhat consistent and it's still slowly gaining airplay. As of yet, it's still at #3, but you never know. Although what's more likely is Ed Sheeran taking that slot with 'Thinking Out Loud', which had a great week thanks to sales, streams, and even faster airplay growth. The surprise for me comes with our new #5, 'I'm Not The Only One' by Sam Smith, who probably owes his slot to his still growing airplay and good week on streams, although it's more likely it's because those above him all took some body blows. 

The one that probably fared the best was 'Lips Are Movin' by Meghan Trainor, which dropped only one slot to #6, hanging on mostly thanks to still gaining airplay and decent enough sales and streaming. Hell, Nick Jonas' 'Jealous' owes the majority of its success to airplay and maybe streaming - certainly not sales, as it climbs to #7. And in its long-awaited return - by me at least - 'Love Me Harder' by Ariana Grande ft. The Weeknd returns to the Top 10 at #8 - even despite abysmal sales and seemingly peaking in airplay, good streaming and YouTube still gives it plenty of life. Beneath that, however, are songs that are definitely on their way out, 'Shake It Off' by Taylor Swift which is steadily losing airplay and shrinking in sales to #9, and 'All About That Bass' dropping even faster in all categories to come in at #10.

Honestly, most of this is good news for me - the Top 10's starting to get a little stale for me right now - and the good news keeps coming with our dropouts, because 'Trumpets', 'Anaconda', and 'Lifestyle' are all gone from the Hot 100! That's right, three of the worst songs of 2014 are finally out of here. And if you look at our losers this week on the charts, it would almost seem like the American public decided to get rid of 2014's crap en masse. 'Neon Light' by Blake Shelton drops to 99, 'Dear Future Husband' continues its downward spiral to 95, 'Close Your Eyes' by Parmalee and 'Dangerous' by David Guetta remain forgettable and outdated at 86 and 81 respectively, 'LA Love' mercifully takes a hit to 55, Iggy Azalea's rip-off of herself 'Beg For It' stumbles to 44, and finally 'Rude' by MAGIC! falls down to 38. All of these songs suck to varying degrees, and to see them all getting the boot is wonderfully cathartic. As for the rest of the losers... eh, they can be explained. 'Bang Bang' by Jessie J, Ariana Grande, and Nicki Minaj dropping to 25 and 'Steal My Girl' by One Direction continuing its plummet to 69 are just the remainders of 2014 getting dropped off, and thanks to neither song having as much replay value as expected. And then 'Only One' by Kanye West and Paul McCartney dipped to 54, but that's not exactly surprising either - as I said last week, it's a curiosity at best, and without a video, I don't exactly see it sticking around for long.

Now to be fair, it's not like all our gains were stellar - Cole Swindell's atrocious 'Ain't Worth The Whiskey' and Sam Hunt's pretty awful 'Take Your Time' both gained traction to rise to 89 and 75. But going outside of that, the rest aren't bad. 'Stuck On A Feeling' by Prince Royce & Snoop Dogg continues its rise to 63, and 'I Lived' by OneRepublic goes to 34, the latter thanks to huge digital gains, and I can tolerate both songs. Hell, 'Outside' by Calvin Harris & Ellie Goulding has actually grown on me a bit and it followed its return to the charts last week by rising to 76. But of course the gain that put a big smile on my face was 'Ghost' by Ella Henderson going up to 28 - not a perfect song or even the best on her album, and Syco Records production isn't helping her, but dear god, she's a superstar in the making, and I sincerely hope this song keeps rising and is as dominant as it was in the UK, because it's great.

And that's all of our gains, and with no returning entries, let's get straight to things with...

100. 'All About It' by Hoodie Allen ft. Ed Sheeran - okay, this is a little surreal, and here's why - my buddy Jon over at AlbumReviewTV interviewed Hoodie Allen last year, and now thanks to a welcome boost from Ed Sheeran, he's broken onto the charts. Now I have to be honest, I missed covering People Keep Talking last year because of scheduling, so this is my first real exposure to the guy outside of Jon's review... And you know, I dig it. Hoodie Allen and Ed Sheeran have some solid interplay and the song has the sort of lightweight, chill vibe that it needs that doesn't really take itself that seriously. Neither of these are trying to go hardcore, and while there are some corny lines - that leak shit double rhyme from Sheeran was just... no - overall Hoodie Allen does deliver with one of the more interesting comparisons between himself and a combination of Larry David and Miles Davis, which is the sort of lyric that really hits the sweet spot for me, especially with the heavy air of self-awareness around Hoodie Allen and his fanbase. It helps that the production is pretty damn great thanks to the scratchier beat, thicker horns and guitars, and pretty damn great harmonic interplay. Overall, if these are the sorts of artists that Ed Sheeran is helping to pull into the Hot 100, I definitely can't complain.

98. 'Post To Be' by Omarion ft. Chris Brown & Jhene Aiko - okay, the surprises continue, because until I heard this song, I had no idea that Omarion had decided to drop another album, let alone that he did it last December - mostly because I got precisely zero requests for it. For those of you who don't know who this guy is, Omarion originally came to fame with B2K, one of the few boy bands that managed to survive the late-90s by managing their transition into slightly sleazier R&B. Eventually, Omarion broke away and began releasing solo albums in the mid-2000s, but timing looked to be against him, because between R&B receding and Chris Brown stealing all of his market share, it's not surprising popular Omarion's career didn't last long. So nearly a decade later and teaming up with old friend Jhene Aiko, Chris Brown, and DJ Mustard for a hope of airplay, how's the song? Honestly, it's lousy. The bassline is formless, the breathless panting replacing gang vocals is not flattering, and everyone on the track comes across as assholes. Jhene Aiko probably fares the best by at least being original to flip the gender binary when it comes to stealing boyfriends, but when you break it down, it's still catty. Better than Chris Brown braying about killing it with his penis, but still. If this is the comeback single Omarion was hoping for... man, talk about a misfire.

96. 'Not For Long' by B.o.B. ft. Trey Songz - okay, seriously, can somebody explain to me the appeal of these songs about stealing other guys' girlfriends? Sure, I can see the melodramatic appeal if you amp up the atmosphere, but most of these tracks have the exact same style of production and sound as any other song. And what's worse is that we get a track like this coming from B.o.B., who used to be a favourite rapper of mine, began his career with songs full of genuine, earnest love like 'Nothing On You' and now is making crap like this with Trey Songz. The sad fact is that for the most part, the rest of this song really is on point - Trey Songz finally seems to have developed some restraint, the melody is prominent and well-balanced against the drums, and B.o.B. has recovered a little bit since the disappointing disaster that as Underground Luxury. But you can't really ignore it that in the chorus and verses, this song is entirely about the presumption that the girl won't be long for these guys' beds, and it's the smugness that absolutely kills it for me. I will say that B.o.B. has been worse, but goddamn it he's been a lot better too.

90. 'Blank Space' by I Prevail - so whenever we get a huge single blowing up everywhere - especially in the age of YouTube - you can bet that within hours, dozens of covers will have flooded the internet, all of them hoping for that moment of breakout success that came to guys like Justin Bieber. And I'll be blunt: the majority of them suck and even more have no staying power, going viral for a quick moment before petering out. What's telling is that most of these short viral hits are pretty bare-bones, not as much of a full band performing the song. That changed when post-hardcore punk group I Prevail chose to cover Taylor Swift's 'Blank Space' and... well, it's interesting. It might one of the first times a post-hardcore song has broken onto the Hot 100 in months if not years, and I Prevail don't do a bad job with the song, taking the already well-written lyrics and morally ambiguous framing and using a minor key in the pianos to take it a fair bit darker. And while I do prefer this brand of instrumentation to much of the underweight 80s synthpop Taylor used, the vocals on the second verse was where it almost approached self-parody. As it is, I can't see this cover being anything more than a brief novelty that landed on the Hot 100 thanks to YouTube, but hey, if it helps open the long-sealed floodgates on heavier music for the Hot 100, that can only be a good thing. 

87. 'Best Friends' by Sophia Grace - well, that's a transition for you! For those of you who don't know, Sophia Grace originally came into prominence thanks to a cover of Nicki Minaj's 'Super Bass' that she performed on Ellen, and now, just over three years later at the age of eleven, she's got a pop song of her own! And look, if it wasn't for the Internet, this girl would never have been able to clock a hit, because 'Best Friends' is not the sort of song that really belongs on the pop charts. For one, despite a lot of energy, Sophia Grace can't exactly help the fact she sounds eleven. And normally that'd mean I'd throw her into the Kidz Bop category, but that wasn't pairing her with the thick low synth and snap percussion and gang vocals and she's trying to sound hard - and I can't believe I'll say this, but her flow isn't terrible. I'm serious, give her five or six years of practice and seasoning after school and she could potentially be something behind the microphone. Sure, there's way too much messy autotune on everything to make this song remotely salvageable, but at least her more innocent subject matter matches her delivery, which is kind of cute. In the end... yeah, 'Best Friends' is not a good song, but I can't hate it because it's the sort of viral novelty that doesn't belong on the Hot 100. And besides, she's eleven - considering how I sounded at that age, I'll cut her some major slack.

77. 'Irresistible' by Fall Out Boy - so to answer all of your requests, yes, I'll be covering Fall Out Boy's newest record American Beauty/American Psycho, it's on my schedule, which is getting more and more crowded every day. As of yet, I haven't listened through it, but I will say I wasn't exactly a huge fan of 'Centuries', mostly because it was so strikingly reminiscent of 'Ms. Jackson' by Panic! At The Disco, another song that didn't really impress me. That said, what about 'Irresistible'? Well, just like 'Centuries', the production is still overstuffed and way too percussion-heavy, but it's definitely better, mostly thanks to that prominent horn melody. But strangely, for as busy as the mix is, it doesn't feel like we're getting sense of depth that would come with a good chugging guitar riff or heavier bass, which means the song never builds a substantial groove for me. And lyrically... well, the first verse is sharp as hell, but there are just nitpicks I could make with the songwriting in the second and third verse in some of the double rhymes and stuttered syllables. I don' t dislike the song, and it gives me more to look forward to with the new album, but something's missing here, and I can't quite put my finger on it. Granted, it took a while for Save Rock And Roll to grow on me, so maybe I should just give it a little more time. As it is... eh, it works.

45. 'Love Me Like You Do' by Ellie Goulding - if you were going to mention an artist contributing to the Fifty Shades of Grey soundtrack, chances are one of the artists you wouldn't mention would be Ellie Goulding. Mostly because the majority of her appeal - ethereal, borderline-Manic Pixie Dream Girl except a fair bit less manic, not exactly a sex goddess - doesn't fit anywhere into the softcore Secretary-ripoff that doesn't understand it's porn that this movie appears to be. And as such, 'Love Me Like You Do' doesn't work at all, but for entirely different reasons. For one, whoever's idea to crank the drums as high as they could in order to replace a melody was a major problem, and when the second chorus kicks in with the full backing chorus, it sounds less like a sex jam and more like a hyperbolic anthem. Which could work - there needs to be a place for those moments of euphoria - if the songwriting wasn't kind of lousy. All across the chorus, stuttered syllables to fill up space - I'm sorry, but that's just sloppy and lazy songwriting, and I know Ellie Goulding is capable of a lot better. Still, this was trying to pair Ellie Goulding with Fifty Shades of Grey - the fact we got something listenable at all is the surprising part. 

40. 'Ayo' by Chris Brown & Tyga - oh, don't tell me Chris Brown and Tyga are going to be remaking 'Ayo-Technology' by 50 Cent and Justin Timberlake? That song might not have been all that good, but it's been less than a decade! Well, let me reassure you, Chris Brown and Tyga didn't do that - because it's worse. Oh dear god, it's worse. So who here remembers Tyga, who's on Young Money, had 'Rack City' in 2012 and really hasn't been relevant since? Did you know he's dropping an album later this month? Better question, did you care? Because one listen through 'Ayo' was an easy dissuasion for me to avoid checking it out, because this song blows. Not content with a pretty basic low-rent DJ Mustard ripoff for its plinking synth melody - which to be fair isn't terrible - Tyga continues to spew the same bargain basement luxury rap he's been using for years now, with lyrics that compare him to Richie Rich and wishing he could be himself when staring in the mirror - uh, I've read A Man For All Seasons, and Richard Rich was a perjuring piece of shit who betrayed a close friend, so nice work Tyga. I actually think Chris Brown's verse might be better with the one kind-of-clever line 'If I motorboat, she's gon' motorbike'. And then Tyga comes back to make things worse to brag about his car smelling like ammonia - ew - and then saying he's tatted up like Mexicans - WHAT? And of course the song is all about taking some other guy's girlfriend. Look, I don't hope for much on the Hot 100 for a new year - if you've seen enough of this show, you see how crap comes and goes - but could we please, please consign these guys to the trash heap already, because the only way they differentiate these songs is getting more insulting with each track. Gross.

17. 'Elastic Heart' by Sia - finally, the big follow-up single from Sia after 'Chandelier', and riding a wave of controversy thanks to a video featuring the one and only Shia LeBoeuf, who seems to have spent his past year completely losing his mind - and at this point, I think it's gone past the point of performance art. But musings on Shia LeBoeuf aside, 'Elastic Heart' was actually one of the songs I liked from Sia's 1000 Forms Of Fear. The choppy sample, the tighter groove of the production, Sia's more aggressive delivery, the slightly more prominent melody, and some of better lyrics illustrating the frustration and anger at trying to force love to work. Hell, catch me at the right time and I'd say this song probably works better than 'Chandelier'...

Alright, fine, you all want me to talk about the video and the controversy over the supposedly pedophillic undertones. For me, the video is a prime example of a potent idea that was slightly mishandled in execution - it's obvious that Maddie Ziegler is a Sia stand-in, and if it was Sia and Shia LeBoeuf in that cage, it'd probably be a more accurate representation of the themes discussed in the song. And I'd even argue that Ziegler worked in the 'Chandelier' video because the unhinged dancing from someone so young only emphasized the innocence in her mind crumbling around her. But put her in the video with a plainly adult male... well, put aside the controversy, it also doesn't work as well thematically in the song. The age difference suggests a relationship not of equals, and while the song implies that might well be the case between the lines in the chorus, it doesn't fit, overemphasizing that male presence. It almost seems like Ziegler was recast because she was recognizable from 'Chandelier' instead of being a proper fill-in here, which doesn't help matters. As such, it's hard not see that unfortunate subtext.

So that was our new chart arrivals, and wow, that didn't turn out to be all that great of a week. For best, Hoodie Allen and Ed Sheeran's 'All About It' easily snags the top, with probably Fall Out Boy's 'Irresistable' slipping in for the Honourable Mention. And yet for worst... Jesus, there are some duds here. And yet Chris Brown manages to snag both the worst and the Dishonourable Mention for his collaboration with Tyga for 'Ayo' and 'Post To Be' with Omarion and Jhene Aiko respectively. Ugh, let's pray for better next week. 2015's starting to heat up a bit, folks!

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