Thursday, February 26, 2015

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - march 7, 2015

At this point, I'm starting to wonder if I shouldn't have even covered that surprise Drake album - because if the radio is going to decide to play the entire record, I'm going to end up covering all the songs anyway. I would say that, except that none of the songs I actually thought were great from If You're Reading This It's Too Late have made the Hot 100. I will note this: for as much as many critics hypothesized that there didn't seem to be an easy radio hit off of Drake's new record, not since Taylor Swift have we seen this many album tracks crack the Hot 100. And speaking of her, she's got another single - and even though I reviewed her album, it's not one I've heard yet... interesting.

But before we get to that, we have our top ten! Lot of surprises here, the first big one being in our top two. I expected 'Uptown Funk' to get overtaken this week thanks to slowing sales and airplay, but it held up just enough to hold onto the number one for another week - although I'd argue it was less its strength and more the sudden weakness of 'Thinking Out Loud' by Ed Sheeran, with softening airplay and getting edged out on streaming and sales. That shift was courtesy of the sudden powerhouse 'Love Me Like You Do' by Ellie Goulding, and at this point, it has to be a confluence of factors - steady airplay gains, topping streaming and very strong sales, plus the residual boost of Fifty Shades of Grey that gave it just enough traction to rise to #3, holding back Maroon 5's 'Sugar' which otherwise could have likely snagged it thanks to consistent gains all across the board. It certainly did better than 'Take Me To Church' by Hozier dropping to #5, which has started its airplay decline and had a particularly rough week on sales and streaming. Enough of a drop to prevent 'FourFiveSeconds' by Rihanna, Kanye West, and Paul McCartney from remaining in the top 5 - it was pushed back to #6 even despite strong sales, airplay, and YouTube by not really picking up the streaming it needed. 'Blank Space' by Taylor Swift holds onto #7 despite weak sales and steadily dropping airplay, and I predict it's only a matter of time before 'Style' unseats it - solid enough sales, good YouTube, and pretty sizable airplay gains. And now we've got our first new Top 10 entry: 'Earned It' by The Weeknd. I'll admit to being surprised a bit - I thought the Fifty Shades bubble would have been mostly reserved for Ellie Goulding, but sales, streaming, and airplay gains would prove me wrong here, which is enough to give The Weeknd another top ten hit beyond 'Love Me Harder', albeit with a song nowhere as good. And to round out our list, 'Lips Are Movin' by Meghan Trainor drops a spot to #10 - weak sales, slowing airplay, low streaming, I predict if there are any strong movements below it next week, it's gone.

Speaking of movements, it was a turbulent week on the charts, so let's start with our losers and dropouts. As expected, 'Shotgun Rider' by Tim McGraw, 'Something In The Water' by Carrie Underwood, and 'Heroes (We Could Be) by Alesso ft. Tove Lo exit, but the surprise comes from Ed Sheeran's 'Don't' dropping from 38 straight to the recurring list. It's a pretty steep drop for an otherwise damn great song, but with a week this busy, it doesn't surprise me. And most of the losers this week fit a similar bill. 'Little Red Wagon' by Miranda Lambert going to 93, 'Only One' by Kanye West & Paul McCartney slipping to 74, 'Lay Me Down' by Sam Smith dropping to 72, and 'Chandelier' by Sia falling back to 30 are all evidence of the Grammy bump fading away. And 'Try Me' by Dej Loaf sliding to 90, 'Sledgehammer continuing its freefall to 87, 'Talladega' by Eric Church still dropping to 80, and 'The Heart Wants What It Wants' by Selena Gomez dropping to 44, these are all songs that the charts are effectively done with and are on their way out. There were a few surprises here, though - it seems like 'Stuck On A Feeling' by Prince Royce and Snoop Dogg has stalled out in the crossover market and fell off to 75, for example. 'Blessings' by Big Sean and Drake also took a hit to 68, although I suspect that'll change the second Big Sean drops a video of the full remix of the song with Kanye when the album impacts the charts in a week or so. The drop that makes me the most happy is 'Coco'  by OT Genasis finally starting to fade out to 36 - it still probably won't be enough to prevent the song from landing on the year-end Hot 100, but the less I have to hear awful trap-flavoured hip-hop, the better.

Now the gains on the charts are where things seem to be picking up. For one, as many song as Drake debuted last week, only three had significant impact, mostly thanks to streaming: '10 Bands' rose to 58, 'Legend' went up to 52, and 'Energy' smashed into the top 30 at 26. From there, the other gains following last week are pretty explainable - Ariana Grande's 'One Last Time' goes to 34 because it's Ariana Grande and the video's pretty interesting, and 'What Kind Of Man' by Florence + The Machine gets a little steam to 88 - which, knowing their luck, they'll promptly lose in a week or so, but it's good while it lasts. Then we get the songs that owe their boosts to releases, with 'Post To Be' by Omarion, Chris Brown, and Jhene Aiko rising thanks to the video and Imagine Dragons' 'I Bet My Life' continuing its wild chart oscillations thanks to some residual gains from 'Smoke + Mirrors'. And finally, you get the songs that are rising thanks to momentum, with 'Chains' by Nick Jonas surging to 42 and - for no adequately explained reason - 'Somebody' by Natalie La Rose and Jeremih breaking the top 30 at 27. Sure, I know it's got a video, but its gains are not stellar across the board, and it's still hasn't gotten any more interesting.

Eh, whatever, let's get to our returning entries, starting with...

Not surprised this is back - it's a pretty good song, probably got a fair boost from build-up to the Academy Awards. Watch next week, though, the boost it gets will probably be even bigger. Oh, and if I'm going to talk about the Oscars, I'll say this - it's absolutely no surprise that this beat 'Everything Is Awesome!', even though I do like that song more and the performance was absolutely wonderful. Major props to Common and John Legend, though, for having the balls to get political during their acceptance speeches - they definitely weren't the only ones this year, and really, I should have seen it coming, but in a year where Selma got snubbed as badly as it did, their words were definitely relevant and welcome.

I am a little surprised this is back, though. Granted, the release of the video probably has a lot to do with it regaining some traction, but then again, I'm not exactly displeased to see it here. As I said, for a slow-burn R&B jam, this is a pretty good one, really only let down by production that doesn't let this song be as slick, sensual, or organic as it should be. It does show that Trey Songz might be on the right track to finding better production, which is definitely a good sign, so I'm optimistic.

Well, that was quick. Now onto our new arrivals, starting with...

100. 'Go Hard Or Go Home' by Wiz Khalifa & Iggy Azalea - okay, when I heard these two were making a song together with that title, I couldn't help but chuckle - can you think of two rappers who have less in common than these two - but thinking about it more, it makes a warped sort of sense. Iggy Azalea's probably looking to find her lane now that her chart presence is effectively gone, and Wiz Khalifa's been looking to branch out of his weed rap lane since the disaster that was Blacc Hollywood. So why not leverage Wiz Khalifa's connections and get another song for The Fast & Furious series? The sad fact is that when placed in sharp contrast to 'We Own It' with 2 Chainz, it's just nowhere near as good, and that's a pretty low bar. The majority of the problem is the beat and production - the tempo's slower, there isn't as much punch, the strings and piano are trying to recapture the bombast but then the hook is this gummy horn preset that just sounds awful. And when you pair it with Wiz Khalifa's sloppy rhyming and Iggy Azalea's better constructed but sloppy punchlines that proves she doesn't really understand golf or really has much to do with the Fast & Furious franchise and more about her being awesome, the song just doesn't impress me. Even when you consider this is an obvious cash-in - it is - for both artists who desperately need a hit to stay relevant, this is a bad one, and if it gets any airplay at all, it'll be tied to the movie, not because this track is good. Next!

97. '6 Man' - hey, look, now we have five - that's right, five - Drake songs to talk about! Just for all of your reference, guess how many Drake songs we Canadians got this week? That's right - one. So that gives us a total of two and the US charts a total of ten - again, the Canadian charts are always better. But to be fair, at least the US is getting the good Drake songs now, so let's start with '6 Man' - which, honestly, I do like. The entire song has a curdled darkness to it that kind of fits Drake's sing-song flow with off-kilter references and some of his better bars as it fades into mournful pianos. And maybe it's just me, but I actually think the chorus is kind of clever in its subversion - the night shift is rarely ever pleasant or attracts the attention it deserves, so even though Drake is stacking cash, it's by slogging away in the murk. It's a sludgy, creepy little track - and I kind of like it.

95. 'Now & Forever' by Drake - now I've gone on the record saying I like more of Drake's R&B side, and this song takes a pretty simplistic concept of Drake's exodus from Cash Money and pairs it with some damn solid production. The echoing metallic melody, the hazy swirl paired with the hi-hats, Drake's weariness and despair at having to leave what was comfortable into the uncertain future. It's really Drake's performance balanced against the hazy production that makes this song work for me - he does a really solid job balancing his regret with the necessity of his exit - and if it wasn't for the completely unnecessary gunshot sound effects, this probably would have been one of the best songs on the album. Still damn good, though.

83. '6 God' by Drake - yeah, it's not '6 PM in New York' but for as much as I have issues with some of Drake's rapping, this is one of the better examples. The thicker bassline backing against Drake's extended verse where he's actually sounds engaged in his colossal arrogance, it's got a couple solid punchlines that work well enough for what the song is. What doesn't work here is Drake's flow - I'm sorry, but pairing that whole elongated syllable nonsense he does with a very staccato, Young Thug-inspired delivery might sound more coherent for Drake than Young Thug, but it's an example of him biting other styles rather than defining, them, which is a definite disappointment. Not a bad song, but nowhere close to the best on this record.

81. 'No Tellin' by Drake - I referenced this song when I reviewed the album, but didn't discuss it in detail - to be frank, it's not one of the better ones. I don't dislike the production - the eerie keyboard line, the thicker bass line - but the character that Drake presents is just not remotely attractive. Bringing a knife when he goes to meet up with women, not helping police, making references to that terrible 'Tuesday' track he did with I LOVE MAKONNEN, dissing other rappers for wearing last-season's wardrobe, trying to brag about being the biggest boss after Rick Ross, if it wasn't so ridiculously transparent, it's just kind of dickish rather than being intimidating or threatening or remotely impressive. Coupled with the usual problems with Drake's flow, even the punchlines that I like on this song just aren't good enough to redeem it.

70. 'Know Yourself' by Drake - ah, so the song where Drake hopped on Migos' flow is nearly charting higher than Migos ever did - I don't know whether to be impressed or revolted, because this song isn't much better than most Migos tracks. Brand name bragging, a jerky half-shouted chorus, trap percussion, a very staccato delivery that doesn't sound good at all coming Drake, and all of it is capped off with the line 'I don't like how serious they take themselves'. Uh, Drake, if you're intending this as a joke or to be fun, do you want to pick a better melody line than that washed-out, dreary keyboard that leeches the energy from everything around you? Once again, Drake is one of the few rappers on the radio who has ever been able to lodge this many songs from an album in this quick of a time - and yet he's getting there by biting other rappers' flows, styles, and content, instead of defining his own. And sure, you can argue that album/mixtape was a throwaway, but Drake's in the position where even his throwaways will chart - and it's an easy way to blow a good reputation when said throwaway tracks are nowhere near your best.

51. 'Wonderland' by Taylor Swift - so there's a reason that I never covered this song: it was from the deluxe edition of 1989, which I did not review. And like most deluxe edition singles, it's being packaged as a marketing gimmick, moving one song at a time from the deluxe only available at Target to iTunes. And to start we've got her fourth single 'Wonderland' - and while I will say it's better than 'Shake It Off', it's not by much. For one, if you're imagining what a Taylor Swift modern pop sell-out would sound like, 'Wonderland' would be it - way too percussion heavy over what is actually a pretty good tinkling melody with fragments of guitars, an abuse of reverb, and that crushing leaden bass drop that does absolutely nothing to evoke images of Wonderland - yes, even the TIm Burton version. Now to give her credit, Taylor works her ass off to save this song with her exaggerated theatrical delivery and lyrics that play the whole adventure into wonderland as an obvious metaphor for a crazy relationship, but did we really need the stuttered ay-ay chorus that feels swallowed up by the pummeling drop? In other words, it's a bonus track being pushed as a single - and as such, it's one of her weakest and most forgettable singles from 1989 to date. Skip it.

So that's our list, and really, I'm not left with a lot of choices here for best and worst of the week. Well, worst is pretty easy - 'Go Hard And Go Home' by Wiz Khalifa and Iggy Azalea easily takes that, with 'No Tellin'' by Drake right behind for Dishonourable Mention. But for best... see, there's a part of me that doesn't want to give the top to 'Glory' given how obviously it was marketed for Oscars, but that ignores the fact that it is a genuinely powerful song - not as sharp as Common or John Legend's best, but it does have a certain majestic swell to it that's hard to deny. Beneath it, Drake's going to snag the honourable mention this week for 'Now & Forever' - not the best on the album, but I'll take what I can get. Let's only hope next week we don't have another episode of the Drake show. Granted, knowing my luck, we'll just get an onslaught of Big Sean.

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