Thursday, February 12, 2015

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - february 21, 2015

Okay, we've got another busy week on Billboard BREAKDOWN here - multiple new entries into the top ten, a whole load of songs shuffling up and down the charts, and a slew of new chart arrivals, some that were easy enough to predict and some that did seem to come out of nowhere. More importantly to my American audience, the week chronicled by this Billboard Hot 100 corresponds with the Super Bowl, and that meant one artist performing at the Half Time show  managed to make a big impact with two singles surging back to the charts. Here are two clues: it wasn't the headliner, and it was one of the few things interesting about the whole experience before the mother of all bad calls courtesy of the Seahawks. I mean, wow - no matter how many bad songs show up this week, I don't think anything is beating that.

But let's forget sports and talk about our top ten! As usual, the top three are fairly static this week, but it's the details that get a little interesting here. 'Uptown Funk' by Mark Ronson & Bruno Mars holds onto the top, but its airplay gains are slowing significantly and its sales weren't as strong. But note that Ed Sheeran's 'Thinking Out Loud' isn't slowing yet on airplay gains, and its sales weren't far behind. Does it have a chance of overtaking 'Uptown Funk' if it peaks? Well, regardless, it doesn't look like Hozier's 'Take Me To Church' will last much longer, because while streaming is still strong, sales are shrinking and airplay looks to have peaked. And while it holds steady enough, it probably won't last long against 'Sugar' by Maroon 5, which had a good sales week, still is gaining in airplay, and is holding its own in streaming. It certainly did better than Taylor Swift's 'Blank Space', which is dropping in all categories including a particularly bad week in sales.

And now we need to talk about the first of our new entries, 'FourFiveSeconds' by Rihanna, Kanye West, and Paul McCartney. I have to be honest, I wasn't expecting this track to do as well as it did, but keep in mind Rihanna's been away from the charts for a while - hell, so has Kanye, at least on tracks from his own albums. And as I said when I covered this song a few weeks ago, there's a lot to like about it - Rihanna sounds great, the organ and guitars have some ragged texture, and even Kanye sounds a lot better than he usually does. I stand by my criticism that the lyrics really don't match the tone of the instrumentation, but the song works well enough, and the charts definitely have rewarded it, thanks to massive streaming gains, solid sales, and real airplay gains. It's enough to shove back 'Lips Are Movin' by Meghan Trainor and 'I'm Not The Only One' by Sam Smith to 7 and 8 respectively, the former because of weaker sales and what looks like softening airplay, and the latter pretty much in free fall across the board, especially in airplay. It certainly won't last long against our second new top ten entry, 'Love Me Like You Do' by Ellie Goulding coming off of the Fifty Shades Of Grey soundtrack... and look, I get why it's slowly getting airplay, a lot of YouTube, and a really good sales week, and Ellie Goulding does sound good on this track - but really, that's all it's got going for it. The instrumentation is clunky, the writing is sloppy as hell, and for a song soundtracking erotica, it's stunningly unsexy. Rounding our list - much to my surprise - is 'Shake It Off' - and really, at this point it's YouTube and streaming keeping this afloat, because the sales aren't good and the airplay only keep dropping. And with both singles in trouble in the top ten... well, Taylor Swift, that 'Style' video can drop any time.

But before we get to that, let's talk about our losers and dropouts, most of the latter being songs that I've spoken about in previous episodes that were on their way out - 'Dangerous' by David Gutta, 'Perfect Storm' by Brad Paisley, 'Steal My Girl' by One Direction, and with them 'Rude' by MAGIC! finally exits. The one surprise dropout for me was 'All About It' by Hoodie Allen ft. Ed Sheeran - it seemed like it was actually gaining steam and then it suddenly evaporated, what the hell? Our losers are a little more explainable - 'Something In The Water' by Carrie Underwood, 'Heroes' by Alesso ft. Tove Lo, and 'The Hanging Tree' by Jennifer Lawrence all continue their descents to 74, 56, and 53 respectively, all just running out of speed. 'I Lived' by OneRepublic and 'Try Me' by DeJ Loaf could be in similar situations, just losing whatever momentum they have. 'Talledega' by Eric Church dropping to 57 is a little more surprising, because normally country radio tends to be more static, but then again, even despite being the best Eric Church song off of The Outsiders, it didn't exactly light the world on fire. And finally we have 'Throw Sum Mo' by Rae Sremmurd ft. Nicki Minaj & Young Thug and 'God Made Girls' by RaeLynn dropping to 77 and 95 for a very simple explanation: they suck.

Granted, if songs lost out for being crap, our gainers would probably look a lot different. 'Ayo' by Chris Brown & Tyga rising to 36, 'Somebody' by Natalie La Rose & Jeremih going to 59, 'Not For Long' by B.o.B. ft. Trey Songz rising to 80, 'Trap Queen' by Fetty Wap rising to 60, these range from barely passable to outright crap, and yet they're getting kept afloat. To be fair, there are some gains I don't mind: 'Heartbeat Song' by Kelly Clarkson gains strength off its video to go to 34, 'Chains' by Nick Jonas and 'Talking Body' by Tove Lo get a solid start off of their debuts last week to head to 76 and 83, and 'Style' by Taylor Swift continues its meteoric rise to crack the top 20 at 18. As I said, if it dropped a video, it'd be in the Top Ten in a week - and word has it the video's debuting tomorrow, so let's see what happens!

But now we come to our returning entries, and where things really do get interesting...

Already talked about it two weeks ago, and really, nothing's changed. It's still biting way too hard from 'Talk Dirty' in the instrumentation, Kid Ink's verse is completely pointless, and the pre-chorus from Normani is still the best part of the song, and even that is set against hollow, thin vocal production which does nothing compliment any of their voices. People may have criticized my Fifth Harmony review for drawing too many comparisons to Little Mix, but I don't need comparisons to say this song is mediocre, derivative, and only is charting thanks to their albums dropping in close succession, that's it. Next!

So in case you didn't watch the Super Bowl - welcome to the club - Katy Perry's surprise guest at the half time show was Missy Elliott of all people. And that came out of nowhere - Missy Elliott hasn't dropped an album in a decade and outside of scattered singles and comparisons critics made between her work and Azealia Banks, it'd be easy to ask if she was still relevant. But two of her biggest singles returning to the charts imply that people do care, so let's start with 2001's 'Get Ur Freak On'. Now I'll be honest, this isn't one of my favourite Missy Elliott singles - the instrumentation always felt a little bare-bones with the plucked melody and the synths designed to create that eerie atmosphere in the back half of the chorus haven't aged well in fourteen years. And lyrically, there's not exactly much to it in terms of great wordplay or bars. Really, Missy Elliott is the saving grace of the song, simply because she's got a ton of forceful charisma that grabs a lot of attention. Overall, it's not a bad song and I definitely get its appeal, but there's very little that would get me coming back to it.

Man, early 2000s production has not aged well, especially those synth lines - I like Timbaland, but he really came more into his own during the mid 2000s. Well, putting aside, this is one of Missy Elliott's weirder tracks, particularly lyrically in terms of its sexual imagery. And while Missy Elliott's personality is a big positive here, some of the bars here have always felt a little gimmicky to me. The reversed snippet on the chorus, the comparison of a guy going down on her like a 'vulture', the usage of stuttered sound effects to fill up space - okay, that's less gimmicky than sloppy songwriting - all of it present a song with a lot of personality that's memorable, but not one that I'm inclined to revisit. Maybe Missy Elliott just isn't for me, but I'll say this - I find her brand of sexual dominance a lot better executed than whatever Nicki Minaj tries to pull off.

And now onto our newest arrivals, starting with...

100. 'Girl Crush' by Little Big Town - well, it took long enough for this single to get over here, just another part of the roll out of Little Big Town's newest album that feels botched. Pain Killer was one of the weirdest country records of last year, a tough album to market and sell and an even harder one to really like, and yet instead of leading with songs that show off the more eclectic, distinctive sides of the record to set it apart and yet remain accessible - and those songs are there - they chose the utterly vapid 'Day Drinking' and now have followed it with 'Girl Crush'. Granted, it's a better song, taking a guitar melody and organ reminiscent of a watery 'Unchained Melody' and pairing it with lyrics about a girl getting cheated on that spends much more time focusing on the other girl in the picture than the guy. The framing of the song is just odd, and it's one of those cases where I feel like an opportunity was missed in the songwriting - after all, Little Big Town has another female singer with Kimberly Schlapman, they could have had some cool interplay like what Reba McEntire and Linda Davis did with 'Does He Love You'. As it is, I still really quite like the song, but when Little Big Town could have released 'Live Forever' or 'Tumble & Fall' or 'Things You Don't Think About', 'Girl Crush' just underwhelms me a bit.

98. 'Out The Speakers' by A-Trak + Milo & Otis ft. Rich Kidz - okay, this is going to take some explanation, mostly because identifying who all of these people are is a little complicated. The easiest is probably A-Trak, a veteran producer and DJ who is one of the members of Duck Sauce, the duo responsible for that 'Barbara Streisand' song from a couple years ago. In this case, he chose to work with Milo & Otis - two other producers named after a controversial Japanese film from the 80s - and Rich Kidz, a duo of trap rappers. In this case, the only thing they contribute to the song is some sampled, chopped up vocals - which doesn't exactly bother me all that much. But really, a track like this is all about the instrumentals, and I'll say it, that original synth choice before the first change up is great - grand, potent, balanced well against the crisp hi-hats... and then the beat changes, and we get one of the more grating horn presets I've heard in a while. It's not enough to ruin this song for me - it's operating more the vein of 'Turn Down For What' by DJ Snake and Lil Jon, and like that track about half of it really works for me - but I do wish it was a little better.

96. 'Hotel' by Kid Ink ft. Chris Brown - I said it when I reviewed Kid Ink's Full Speed, and I'll say it again: I like this song. The synth lines have good bounce to them, the percussion has the uncanny brittle wobble to it I really like, and despite the influx of too much Chris Brown, I dig the vibe of the song - it's not really slick so much as kind of off-kilter, kind of matching how Kid Ink is trying to balance the situation of having his current girlfriend and his side girl or ex at the same bar and trying to parlay the situation into a threesome. And what I like is that in the first verse, Kid Ink makes it very clear that if his girlfriend isn't down for it, it's over - sure, the song is kind of sleazy and opportunistic, but Kid Ink is juggling it just well enough to make it work, trying to keep the balance in his favour and promising to at least give the girls a good time if they agree. I'm not saying this is anything close to great, but for what it's trying to do, I'll take it.

94. 'A Little Too Much' by Shawn Mendes - so about six weeks ago I discussed 'Something Big' by Shawn Mendes, a song by a Canadian kid from just outside of Toronto that I actually really liked and owed his fame to Vine. But now an album's been announced - and yes, I'll probably review it - and a new promotional track has been pushed to radio, 'A Little Too Much'. And if 'Something Big' was biting hard from Ed Sheeran's 'Sing', 'A Little Too Much' is biting from the back catalog of Ed Sheeran that bores me to tears. I've said in the past that white guys with acoustic guitars exasperate me, and this type of song is one of the reasons why, a song about a girl going through hard times where it's all a little too much that has so little detail that allows any girl to slot themselves into the track where Shawn Mendes will make it all better - it just rings as hollow and a little manipulative to me. Now to be fair, I'm willing to cut Shawn Mendes a break here - he's sixteen, and he plays it more earnestly than John Mayer has ever done it - but talk about really souring my vibe on him, I have to say.

75. 'Lay Me Down' by Sam Smith - well, we might as well tackle this now, because I'm not going to be talking about the Grammys, which has been covered to death and back by now: I'm not a fan of Sam Smith. I'm not saying I dislike him, but if I hear a Sam Smith song on the radio, I change the station. He just bores me - he's got the air of a well-trained singer with a great range that doesn't have anything close to visceral power or emotive presence. For as much as he sounds like a neo-soul singer, he's got none of the fire of D'Angelo or the darkness of Hozier or even the emotional intensity of John Legend when he's trying. Coupled with the bare-bones compositions that are nothing all that special or interesting, there's nothing that grips me with Sam Smith. And 'Lay Me Down' - originally the lead single from his debut that's only now charting in the US - doesn't change that. Yeah, it's pretty with the strings and piano, but melodically it's minimalist and nothing special and lyrically, it's a song about being separated from a lover - by death or more likely by distance - but it's not exactly detailed or descriptive. The one big selling point is Sam Smith's emotional intensity, and I'll give him this, he sounds better here than he does on many other songs, but I will say I'm not exactly fan of the more staccato bridge - it just feels out of place. In other words, Sam Smith's just not for me - not bad, but nothing I'm going to remember or care about in a day or two.

54. 'Blessings' by Big Sean ft. Drake - hey folks, did you know Big Sean was dropping a new album in less than two weeks? Better question: did you care? I've gone on record as not being a Big Sean fan - I think he's relentlessly corny, his voice is gratingly nasal, he frequently has terrible lyrics, he has no emotional intensity, and he's been responsible for songs like 'ASS' and 'I Don't Fuck With You', both songs that straddle the line between being 'So Bad They're Hilarious' and so aggressively obnoxious you wish Kanye would come to his senses and drop him already. Apparently, though, this guy has a fanbase and is now dropping a third album called Dark Sky Paradise, and he used his Drake collaboration card to nab a second single. And you know, for as much as Drake is trying to brag about feeling blessed and having a good time, man, he doesn't sound like it, and the ominous, bass-heavy beat doesn't help matters with the reverb-swollen keyboard line. His flow is a little better than Big Sean, who seems to wobble across different rhyme cadences as he tries to keep a flow steady. And for as much as Big Sean says he's blessed, he opens his second verse that his grandmother died and now he's hustling hard overtime - why would he need to do that if he was really as blessed and set forever as he described? And outside of that and a really odd tinny echo effect on their voices, this song isn't as terrible as I usually expect from Big Sean, but it is forgettable - more bragging that lacks the detail or wordplay to be remotely interesting. And with his album and the Tyga/Chris Brown collaboration dropping in the same week... man, that week's going to blow...

But forget about that, how was the week as a whole? Honestly, I'd say a mixed bag leaning less on the bad than the unimpressive. The best songs are easy: 'Girl Crush' by Little Big Town will take this, with 'Hotel' by Kid Ink and Chris Brown grabbing the honourable mention. As for worst of the week... see, there wasn't any songs I'd brand as outright awful, but for plain mediocrity I'm splitting it between 'Worth It' by Fifth Harmony & Kid Ink for being derivative and bland and 'Blessings' by Big Sean & Drake for being disjointed, sloppily executed, and way too dark to back it up. Let's hope for better next week.

1 comment:

  1. Hi! Any plans to review Love and Thefts new album "Whiskey On My Breath" and/or Blackberry Smokes "Holding All The Roses"? Curious on your thoughts