Thursday, February 19, 2015

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - february 28, 2015

I was expecting the Billboard Hot 100 to be busy this week. Coming off of the Grammies, it always is - you get performances that remind people that certain songs exist and they start rising again or ever return to the charts. Big award shows are like that, and even though most of the critical public treats them with professional disinterest - well, at least until one of our favourites wins like with St. Vincent this year - the public puts a lot of stock in them regardless. That was the plan... and then a certain Canadian rapper decided to drop an album out of nowhere and suddenly - and I hate that I'm saying this - but the radio turned into the Drake show. Let me stress this was US radio - where you guys got five new Drake tracks charting - and not even the best ones, at that - guess how many we Canadians got? One - once again, proving the universal truth that the Canadian charts are always better.

But putting aside that for now, let's talk about the top ten, which also happened to be pretty damn busy - except, as last week, not for the top three. 'Uptown Funk!' by Mark Ronson & Bruno Mars holds onto the top by a thread, mostly by streaming and an ever-shrinking airplay gap, but 'Thinking Out Loud' by Ed Sheeran was damn close, having stronger airplay gains all week, better sales, and was only a fraction behind in streaming. The surprise is that 'Take Me To Church' by Hozier remained at #3 - sales and airplay fell off significantly, really only buoyed by significant streaming. It must have somehow been enough, though, because 'FourFiveSeconds' by Rihanna, Kanye West, and Paul McCartney shot up to #4 with great airplay gains and sales, but just not picking up enough in streaming to get higher just yet. It was enough to knock Maroon 5's 'Sugar' down to #5, which had the streams and airplay gains, but not quite strong enough of a sales week, another close race. But then we have our second major contender with Ellie Goulding's 'Love Me Like You Do', a song that continued to ride out the Fifty Shades Of Grey hype train - we'll get to this a bit later, don't worry - and used YouTube and good sales to compensate for slightly softer airplay and streams to rise to #6. All of this was enough to knock Taylor Swift's 'Blank Space' back to #7, and really, I'm surprised it didn't fall harder given its weak sales and dipping airplay - might just not have been enough to unseat it just yet. Below that we have Sam Smith's 'I'm Not The Only One' at #8, which is barely holding on in sales and doing surprisingly well in streaming to compensate for free-falling airplay, and 'Lips Are Movin' by Meghan Trainor dropping to #9, which looks to have peaked in airplay and lost a fair amount of streams and sales. Rounding it out at #10 - told you this was coming - is our new arrival, 'Style' by Taylor Swift - and honestly, I'm surprised it's not higher. But sales were not stellar, airplay takes time, and even though the video debut and streaming helped, the reception has been a little lukewarm, even though I'd argue it's her best video yet! One thing's for sure, it's going to be a fight for the top spot next week, no serious blockages in the Top 10 this year!

Now we have our drop-outs and losers, the former a group of songs I can't exactly complain much about. I mean, I'm not complaining that 'God Made Girls', the 'Flawless' remix with Nicki Minaj, Iggy Azalea's 'Beg For It' or Fergie's 'LA Love' are gone from the Hot 100. The one loss that does disappoint me a fair bit is 'Waves' by Mr. Probz - it's one of the unfortunate songs that gets caught between years on the charts and probably won't have lodged enough points to land on a year end list - which kind of sucks, it was a great laid-back sleeper hit I really did like. As for our losers, we've got a mixed bag of songs that are on their way out - 'Talledega' by Eric Church going to 68, 'The Hanging Tree' by Jennifer Lawrence dropping to 73 - and a few songs that just didn't catch on in the same way. 'Not For Long' by B.o.B. & Trey Songz dropping to 90 and 'Heartbeat Song' by Kelly Clarkson fading to 44 both seem like cases of lost momentum, and 'Sledgehammer' by Fifth Harmony seems to be in free fall to 72 now that the album's out and the hype is fading fast. The one song that surprises me a bit in its slowdown is 'The Heart Wants What It Wants' by Selena Gomez dropping to 34 - but then again, it kind of makes sense, because even though it's not a bad song and easily Selena's best in a long time, it's also not a song I really care about or think about, so I'm not surprised it's fading away.

What does surprise me are some of the gains we have this week. Not all of them, mind you: 'Talking Body' by Tove Lo up to 70 and 'Chains' by Nick Jonas to 56 are both good songs gaining more traction, 'Only One' by Kanye & Paul McCartney rising to 45 and Chandelier shooting back up to 20 are thanks to the Grammies, and Sam Smith's 'Lay Me Down' rising to 58 is because of a video that's destined to get a huge audience on the more progressive side of YouTube and Sam Smith getting tons of Grammies. But can somebody please explain to me why 'Somebody' by Natalie La Rose and Jeremih is rocketing up the charts to 37? Okay, sure, it got a video, but the most that is interesting in that song are the parts borrowed wholesale from Whitney Houston - that's it! At least I can kind of see 'Trap Queen' by Fetty Wap getting popular - the production's decent, it's a fun track, and hell, hood dudes need a Valentine's Day song too. I'd take it over 'Earned It' by The Weeknd, which continues to ride out the Fifty Shades Of Grey hype vehicle, and I might as well deal with this now. Look, I was considering doing a Special Comment on that movie and the difference between art and pornography in framing, but from the sounds of it the movie played everything so tastefully and with a lead actor roughly equivalent to a sentient block of wood and really just turned out as more boring and mediocre than outright offensive crap. Apparently it made money so we're going to get sequels where some of the more screwed up stuff happens, but they'll pitch that too. Look, folks, I can't muster up the energy to care about this anymore - you want good BDSM stories? Go look up the graphic novel Sunstone or the 2002 movie Secretary with James Spader and Maggie Gyllenhaal - they're all a lot better than Fifty Shades Of Grey.

And now since I've supplied you all with kinky reading/watching material, let's get to our returning entries and new arrivals, starting with...

Already talked about Imagine Dragons just a few days ago, and this song only a week or so earlier. I'd still only describe it as a pretty damn good song and not a great one or Imagine Dragons' best, but it's easily one of the best from the album and I'll repeat what I said when I gave it a top slot - the charts are better with more songs that sound like U2. Just wish the album had gone more in that direction.

...okay, the returning songs are determined to make up for all the Drake, because you're giving me the one of the most fun songs Fall Out Boy ever wrote, have already praised extensively, and frankly needs a video ASAP. Seriously, Fall Out Boy - I know you're intending this as the next single, but you need to strike while the iron is hot and make a damn good video for this one - and don't bother with Wiz Khalifa, he does nothing for the track - because I want to see this clean house on the charts, it's amazing.

Well, that was quick. Now onto the busy part of our week, the new songs, starting with...

100. 'What Kind Of Man' by Florence + The Machine - I've talked a little about how there are some indie acts that should have gotten huge and just for some reason never got the momentum they deserved, and one of the bands near the top of that list is Florence + The Machine. 'Dog Days Are Over', 'Shake It Out', these songs weren't even the best from their respective albums and they should have been so much bigger than they were. Hell, they even got bumps from Glee and they just didn't stick to radio whatsoever. But now they're back for a third try with the lead-off single from their upcoming third album dropping in early June, so what did we get? Well, for one, it's definitely a nice touch to see a prominent guitar lick driving the track, and I definitely dug Florence's potent belting that fits the frustrated fury at the indecisive dude in the song - it's not showing the emotive subtlety that I wish she'd eventually bring to the table, but broad strokes to work for her. If I were to nitpick, it'd be that the overall flow and groove of the song takes a while to really materialize - don't get me wrong, the melodies pushed to the forefront, that chunky riff, the horns, it's all good, but maybe a thicker bassline could have given this album some real galloping power. As it is, it's good, but it is a step below 'Shake It Out' in terms of lead singles, at least for me.

99. 'Keep Your Money' by Empire Cast ft. Jussie Smollett - okay, I might have mentioned in previous videos that my February has been insanely busy, and part of that means I've haven't gotten around to watching Empire yet, which seems like the sort of over-the-top music industry soap opera that I'd absolutely love. Trust me, it's on my list to watch, but until then, this is my first introduction to the actual music on the show - and it's okay. The production does show the shortcomings of coming from a TV show - not as much texture you'd expect, those hi-hats were obviously created by a computer, and that synth line isn't stellar. But the harmonies were pretty damn solid and I did like the forceful sample driving the track forward. Really, I've heard a lot worse in modern R&B - and really, the reason the track sounds as good as it does is courtesy of Timbaland, who they actually called in to handle all the music. And while it's nowhere near his best, he's got limited time to refine these beats, and he's still turning in sticky and memorable songs. This might be the first time I'm seeing Empire songs on the Hot 100, but I suspect as the show gains major traction, it won't be the last.

97. 'I Put A Spell On You' by Annie Lennox - so remember when I said the Grammies allow songs to chart? Prime example: Annie Lennox performed with Hozier in one of the best showings of the night, and it was enough to get her lead-off single from her 2014 album to chart. And really, if we're looking for an 80s icon to get a comeback, I'll take Annie Lennox over Madonna any day - nothing against the former Queen of Pop, but Annie Lennox has aged a lot more gracefully and her soulful dark cover of the blues standard 'I Put A Spell On You' originally by Screamin' Jay Hawkins is goddamn excellent. The organ, twinkling pianos and swells of strings against that razor-edged guitar line and Annie Lennox's witch-like voice gives the song a gothic class that's almost reminiscent of the fine line Nick Cave walks with songs like 'Red Right Hand'. In other words, the track is awesome, and in a better world, it probably wouldn't be gone after one week. Which I originally thought... until I discovered it was the lead song from the Fifty Shades Of Grey soundtrack. And from a quick look at that track list, it's easily the best song there. Frankly, I'm still baffled it's here - it might fit the tone but it seems like the soundtrack director didn't get the email that it was a male dominant and overloaded the soundtrack with witch-like tracks. Whatever, I'll take what I can get, next!

96. 'Honey, I'm Good' by Andy Grammer - you can tell a lot about an artist by what he describes as his influences. And when singer-songwriter Andy Grammer said that he was most inspired by 'guitar guys' like Jack Johnson, John Mayer, and Jason Mraz, 'piano guys' like Coldplay, The Fray, and OneRepublic, and hip-hop acts like Common and Kanye, I just had the feeling this guy made the whitest music imaginable. This guy originally lodged a minor hit off of his 2011 self-titled album with 'Keep Your Head Up', which wasn't a bad track in terms of technical songwriting and the organ, but it sure as hell wore its influences on its sleeve. And that's definitely true about his follow-up single 'Honey, I'm Good' - but not to any of the acts I previously mentioned. Nope, this song is much closer to Maroon 5, especially in the falsetto vocals - but if I'm being honest, 'Honey I'm Good' is a hell of a lot better than anything Maroon 5 has released recently. The organ makes a welcome return, the handclap percussion gives the track a lot of momentum supported by the quick-paced writing that almost reminds me more of a bluegrass or old-school country stomp than Kanye. And that's definitely supported in the lyrics, which are all about a guy deciding to ditch a friend who is clearly trying to seduce him for his girl back home. And yeah, it's corny as all hell, but Grammer's owning it and has enough charisma and intellect to not put on airs or be someone he's not. Yeah, it's kind of dorky and it still is white as hell, but when it's this much fun, who cares?

95. 'Where You Belong' by The Weeknd - so it appears I'm still not done talking about Fifty Shades Of Grey, because they hired The Weeknd to do a second song for this soundtrack - and you know, it's actually better. The thicker fuzzy beat, the waves of hi-hats, the oily production, that greasy guitar that came in in the back half, lyrics that actually have a BDSM feel to them, they have none of the pretensions to chamber pop that made 'Earned It' so insufferable for me. If I'm going to find a weakness here, it'd be with The Weeknd - and look, I can tell he's trying, but his voice is too thin and reedy to be convincing here. You get Annie Lennox singing a song like this, I'd buy it hook, line, and sinker, but I'm not quite convinced here. Still, the production and lyrics do the trick, so I'll take it.

91. 'Used To' by Drake ft. Lil Wayne - and now we start with the wave of Drake tracks, and let's begin with the absolute worst of them. It should be noted that this song isn't technically Drake's - it was originally on Lil Wayne's Sorry 4 The Wait 2 mixtape, and as such shows the same lack of quality - except Drake apparently had to the good sense to keep Riff Raff off his version of the track. Regardless, the song still isn't anything close to good - sure, the song might be about getting used to being at the top and dealing with those taking shots at him, but his double rhymes and elongated syllable nonsense kills any enjoyment I might get from this track and his punchlines are nothing special. Lil Wayne's verse isn't anything special either - the sheer number of flubbed rhymes, inconsistent topics, and still bragging about getting screwed up on purple drank shows us he's learned nothing over the past three years. I'm not saying it's a terrible track - trust me, I've heard worse from Drake and Lil Wayne at this point - but it's pretty damn far from good, especially from two rappers who are supposed to be at the top.

88. '10 Band' by Drake - I didn't really talk about this song when I reviewed the album, and honestly, I'm kind of ambivalent on it. There are a couple solid lines and the percussion has punch, but I'm always left wondering what kind of mood this song is trying to cultivate. For as much as Drake's bragging, he spends most of the song isolated in his own house with all the phones unplugged and not knowing how much he's making off of his deals. It's the same issue I had with that line from 'Started From The Bottom', 'I wear every single chain even when I'm in the house' - why would you need to show off when nobody's around to see it, are you that insecure? And here, he seems to actively be isolating himself in a house of his own ego - I'd make the Citizen Kane comparison, but nothing on this song gives me evidence Drake has a deeper secret or obsession, which means the song lacks weight and purpose for me. Not a bad track, but he had better on that album.

86. 'Legend' by Drake - and see, here again, instead of getting one of the better songs from the album, we get the album opener which... well, I liked the Ginuwine sample, but that's about it, and that muffle squeak that sounds like downtuned bed springs in the background gets distracting. Quite simply, Drake hasn't really impressed me that he'd be a legend in rap beyond local fame, and this song doesn't really do much beyond that. His rapping tempo is pretty slow and languid, none of his bars are impressive, and if he barely sounds like he cares about his success, why should I? Not terrible, but outside of a mostly memorable hook, I don't really care for it.

85. 'Preach' by Drake ft. PARTYNEXTDOOR - believe it or not, I actually kind of like this song - and believe me, that surprises me more than anyone. The obvious thing that might alienate me is PARTYNEXTDOOR, given the obvious Future comparison, and I'd be lying if I said that his forced rhymes don't annoy me - and Drake doesn't drop a stellar verse either here, let's be honest - but what saves this song is the instrumentation. Not the majority of it throughout the song, but the changeup in the last 30 seconds - it suddenly shifts into a plucky synth and harp sample that has a brittle stuttered bass and it's surprisingly elegant - not stellar, but considering this is trying to be more of a party jam, it works pretty well, I can dig this.

80. 'One Last Time' by Ariana Grande - so it was inevitable that Ariana Grande would try to find another single to follow 'Love Me Harder', and it was inevitable that it'd suffer in comparison. It also wouldn't help matters that said single's writing was handled by David Guetta, who has a reputation for some of the blandest music in the industry. But to be fair, 'One Last Time' is solid enough. The obvious comparison is to 'Stay The Night' by Zedd ft. Hayley Williams, but I like 'One Last Time' more, mostly because it lets Ariana Grande stick more in her more restrained range to balance against the muted keys and steady gallop of production. Nothing great, but the song is well-framed in setting Ariana as the one desperate for forgiveness, and it works pretty well, I'll take it.

76. 'Little Red Wagon' by Miranda Lambert - oh, I knew as I heard this at the Grammies that it'd jump on the charts, and while I could say that there are better songs from Platinum that deserve chart success, 'Little Red Wagon' has its own collection of issues, especially in the production. For one, it's a song that's plainly biting from Kesha's 'Gold Trans Am' and isn't nearly as heavy as it thinks it is, thanks to more of an acoustic focus and the odd squealing guitar tone and that terrible synth tone smears all over the track, none of which is enough to balance well against the drums and cymbals, which like usual is way too high for Miranda Lambert. I do like that the song was trying to go for more of a ragged plucky focus, especially considering Miranda Lambert managed to snag the only bleep at the Grammies - which is kind of sad in a certain way - but really, it's a lot messier than it has any right to be and just lacks a lot of impact with me, especially considering this sort of trashiness isn't a great look for Miranda Lambert, at least not in this form. It might work if the song had a little more fire, but as it is, this little red wagon sputters out.

49. 'Energy' by Drake - well, I'll say this: our last Drake song on debuting on the charts is probably the best of them - not the best from the album, but the radio wasn't about to play '6PM In New York' or 'You & The 6'. As it is, 'Energy' is fine - Drake still rhymes words with themselves and that elongated syllable nonsense, but his ratio of better lines is higher, he brings more energy, and the eerie, warped piano line gives the song something of an imposing vibe. I'm not going to say it's anything that gets me hyped, but it's fine enough, I guess it works.

And that's our new arrivals, and putting aside the Drake, this was actually a pretty damn great week, both in new arrivals and returning entries. For the worst, Drake unfortunately snags the worst with 'Used To' and the Dishonourable Mention with 'Legend'. As for the best... see, it's tough this week, because Andy Grammer, Annie Lennox, and Fall Out Boy all put up a pretty damn solid fight. But considering I've already given Best of the Week to Fall Out Boy and will likely praise the song plenty later, I'm giving best of the week to Andy Grammer for 'Honey, I'm Good' for just being a ridiculously fun bouncy pop song, with Honourable Mention slipping to Annie Lennox for her cover of 'I Put A Spell On You'. And yeah, part of it might have to deal with the fact that Fifty Shades Of Grey taints everything it touches, but it's still highly recommended. Let's see how much Drake will actually have staying power next week - my bet is for not much.


  1. Apparently the video you linked for "Used To" has been yanked for 'spam, scams, or commercially deceptive content'.

    I find that hilarious given how much crap you said the song was.

  2. You have no taste.

    Honey, I'm Good has about as much fun as a mentally-deficent hick will slap his knee to. It's an annoying fucking song, and fuck you.

    1. No, it's you have a different taste, not "no taste". Taste is different for other people, and no one should to conform to your thoughts on music. Note this is coming from someone who hated "Honey I'm Good".