Thursday, March 26, 2015

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - april 4, 2015

So you know how I said last week that I knew something awesome was coming this week? Well, here's a funny thing - when you start hearing press releases about certain artists beating streaming records off of critically acclaimed releases, you suddenly realize that Billboard includes streaming information in its calculations, and that means songs that would never otherwise land on the Hot 100 will suddenly notch hits. And sure, they might not stick around for long, but if they somehow land enough impressions or make enough of an impact with the audience... In any case, by now anyone who follows the music industry should know what I'm talking about: Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp A Butterfly, and by some miracle six songs from it landed on the Hot 100. And it seems like in response the Hot 100 went into a massive panic in response to so much great music injected into it, and all sorts of semi-explicable insanity happened this week.

Except, of course, on the Top 10, where it seemed to be business as usual with few changes. 'Uptown Funk' by Mark Ronson & Bruno Mars still holds onto the #1 slot even despite losing airplay and lower sales - right now, it's coasting on its lead and the fact that nothing's quite close enough to unseat it. Sure, 'Sugar' by Maroon 5 is trying with steady gains across the board, but it's not dominant in any format which is keeping it out of that top slot. It is enough to keep Ed Sheeran's 'Thinking Out Loud' at #3, which, like 'Uptown Funk' is holding its slot thanks to inertia despite dropping airplay. Beneath it is 'Love Me Like You Do' by Ellie Goulding, which had good sales and still sizeable airplay, but it's falling back a bit in YouTube and streaming, and you have to wonder when that peak might come. And on that note, 'FourFiveSeconds' by Rihanna, Kanye West, and Paul McCartney seems to have peaked on airplay and is fading on YouTube and streaming - even despite respectable sales, it's going to be interesting to see if and when it starts falling. What's not falling is 'Earned It' by The Weeknd, which took in some massive airplay gains to counteract slipping streams and its non-existent YouTube presence - I don't know why the radio has picked now to jump on a song tied to a movie that dropped over a month ago and wasn't that good to begin with, but okay. What hasn't been embraced nearly as much - and this is disappointing - is 'Style' by Taylor Swift, with paltry streams and sales and stalling airplay gains - at least it had a good week on YouTube, but I get the feeling it's too little, too late. And I expect it to be eclipsed - and I can't believe I'm saying these words - by 'Trap Queen' by Fetty Wap, the rapper who now has been picked up by Kanye West, because of course he has. The song jumped to #8 thanks to monstrous streaming and not terrible airplay and sales - yeah, I'm as surprised this could be a hit as anyone, believe me! Next up we have 'Time Of Our Lives' by Pitbull & Ne-Yo, which is really relying on sales and still solid airplay presence for its slot, but I don't see either lasting long. And that means it could be replaced by the lone new arrival to the Hot 100: 'G.D.F.R.' by Flo Rida, Sage The Gemini & Lookas - okay, seriously, America? I get why this song is here - shockingly good sales, good streaming and airplay gains - but the song is a third-rate 'Talk Dirty' wannnabe that swaps Jason Derulo for Flo Rida - I honestly can't tell who loses more here besides the public - and 2 Chainz for Sage The Gemini. In the latter case, that's not an upgrade!

But enough of that, let's talk about losers and drop-outs, the biggest of the latter being 'Ghost' by Ella Henderson, which strangely did not really catch fire on mainstream radio. Seriously, I was betting on this being a surefire hit, and it just couldn't stick around. Damn shame, really. But in terms of losers, we had an absolutely crazy week with all sorts of shuffling. Some were expected - 'Make Me Wanna' by Thomas Rhett dropping to 89, 'I Really Like You' by Carly Rae Jepsen going to 87, and 'You're So Beautiful' by the Empire cast falling to 88 aren't exactly surprising, they've been on a downward slide. And songs like 'The Hanging Tree' by Jennifer Lawrence dropping to 100, 'Lonely Tonight' by Blake Shelton and Ashley Monroe slipping to 80, 'Just Gettin' Started' by Jason Aldean stumbling to 70, and 'Mean To Me' by Brett Eldredge are near the end of their chart lifespans and are a sign country radio is looking to rotate in new tracks. Granted, the country they're trying to bring isn't working so well, as 'Little Red Wagon' by Miranda Lambert loses short-term video gains to fall to 72. Outside of that, 'Lay Me Down' by Sam Smith stabilizes out of the top ten at 18 - which is to be expected, it wasn't going to sustain that leap - and 'She Knows' by Ne-Yo & Juicy J is nearing the end of its chart run to fall to 36 - where I'm just amazed such a pale imitation of 'I Don't Mind' by Usher lasted as long as it did. The one drop that did surprise and disappoint me a bit was 'I Bet' by Ciara slipping to 60 - you'd think that a damn good acoustic ballad in that vein would hold a little more steam, but I reckon it'll hold a little longer. And finally, we have 'Believe' by Mumford & Sons dropping to 67 - mostly because it's a complete departure in sound and a botched one at that. Not much to say about this one - mostly because even though I covered it a week ago, its melody left zero impact in my brain.

I can't exactly say the same thing about most of the gains this week, though, where we have a significantly shorter list. Most I don't have a problem with - sure, 'Bills' by LunchMoney Lewis hasn't become the massive hit it is destined to be yet, but 'See You Again' by Wiz Khalifa ft. Charlie Puth going to 82 and 'Honey I'm Good' leaping to 56 prompt no complaints from me - sure, the latter is corny as hell, but it's the sort that I can easiliy enjoy as long as I don't watch the painfully saccharine video. Beyond that, 'Budapest' by George Ezra gets a little boost to 62 and Jason Derulo's 'Want To Want Me' shoots up to 27 off the back of its video. Want to know what other song got traction off of its video and nothing else? 'Throw Sum Mo' by Rae Sremmurd ft. Young Thug and Nicki Minaj only on the hook because we wouldn't want actual talent and charisma to enter the song, would we? This track going to 51 is just painful, and I'm forced to assume this track gaining any sort of traction is only based on balancing for Kendrick's sheer unbridled awesomeness. Please don't let this become a hit like 'No Type' or 'No Flex Zone' - the less Rae Sremmurd I have to hear this year, the better.

And speaking of overcompensating for Kendrick, let's talk about our returning entries!

Fun fact: at the end of every year, I make a habit of cleaning the majority of music that's mediocre, bland, or outright bad off my overloaded iPod. And apparently in that process, well over half of Florida Georgia Line's album Anything Goes that sadly was not a tribute to the musical was pitched. This was one of those songs, mostly because it was one of the same formless, sterile overproduced bro-country songs that the duo specializes in. Now I can usually tolerate more of Florida Georgia Line because they're at least genuine in their persona, but they push my tolerance to the limit here thanks to sloppy appropriation of nearly every cheap rhyme for fire and the fact they're trying to convince a girl not to go back to a 'safe' guy because she's scared of the hell she raises with our dynamic duo here. Which raises so many questions - the majority of which are pointless because you can bet they and their songwriters didn't think that hard about it beyond making another pickup track. As such, it's pretty forgettable - next!

Okay, seriously, did we need the whitest songs possible to come back to compensate for Kendrick, because this is just embarrassing. In this case, it's another song riding the back of its video to the charts, and it's by far the worst song from Meghan Trainor's debut album, mostly because the relationship that she describes is damn close to sociopathic. All of that retro-doo-wop only serves to disguise the fact that Meghan's describing a relationship where she's always supposed to be considered right, her in-laws are a bigger priority than yours, you're supposed to tolerate her even when she's crazy - her words, not mine, which sends all kinds of mixed messages - and maybe when it's all done, you might get... 'kisses'. Now I get the idea of this song - Meghan's trying to present a certain strong confident woman archetype and not be a doormat, appropriating the retro doo-wop style to emphasize the subversion, but the problem is execution going too far and not remotely being a relationship of equals. And keep in mind this is a message to a future husband - I have to ask, who would sign up for this? Either way, this song didn't last long on the charts before, and I can bet it won't last long this time either. Or at least I hope so.

And that's all our returning entries... now the good stuff, starting with...

99. 'Institutionalized' by Kendrick Lamar ft. Bilal, Anna Wise & Snoop Dogg - we start off our list of songs from Kendrick Lamar with one of the smoother, chillier cuts on the album, taking a bubbly and glossy g-funk sound and pairing it with the rougher hooks and interludes from Bilal and Anna Wise, with Snoop Dogg as almost a glorified cameo and doing a surprisingly good job. The song that Kendrick crafts is a lot darker, though, telling a story of how those friends that Kendrick tried to introduce to his level of success don't appreciate it in the same way and begin plotting ways to hustle those rappers flashing money. And the morality of the situation is complicated - yeah, those guys got to the top by luck or selling out, but that doesn't mean they deserve to get jacked. And yet Kendrick can't entirely blame his friends either - sure, they didn't hustle and probably don't appreciate that level of success in the same way Kendrick does, but they're also coming from a system where they do what they can to survive, and what makes those bling rappers more deserving of the wealth than them? Complicated questions, and Kendrick doesn't have any easy answers for it - which makes for a damn great song along the way, although if I'm being honest, not one of my favourites on the album.

94. 'These Walls' by Kendrick Lamar ft. Bilal, Anna Wise & Thundercat - now this is more like it. One of the more abstract and complex songs on the album - that of course opens with sounds of sex - before dropping into a restrained g-funk groove courtesy of Thundercat's basswork with a some great atmospherics and an awesome jazzy keyboard breakdown for a bridge. But what are the walls Kendrick is talking about on this song? Well, initially it seems like he's talking about vaginal walls, those of the woman whose baby daddy killed Kendrick's friend back on good kid, m.A.A.d. city and who is now serving a life sentence. And the parallel runs deeper as the walls of Kendrick's conscience shudder at the abuse of his power - petty revenge that he can get simply because he's a famous rapper, the abuse of power that's reflected in the poems bookending the song. It's one of the moments setting off internal crises that wrack the rest of the album, Kendrick using established walls both of prison and of flesh to get what he wants, not just while he knows its wrong but when also fills his verses with references to demolition of those who would exploit the walls... just like him. With the third verse, one of the smoothest songs on the album effortlessly becomes haunting, easily one of the best on the album.

91. 'Wesley's Theory' by Kendrick Lamar ft. George Clinton & Thundercat - the opening track on To Pimp A Butterfly, and it says a lot about the quality of this album that this probably isn't one of my favourites, because this track is great nonetheless. Opening with a great sample before dropping in George Clinton, Flying Lotus, and Thundercat bringing some sweet bubbling funk, the song has a phenomenally cool groove that's manages to be smooth and a little creepy at the same time. Kind of perfect for the subject matter, too. A song that begins with Kendrick playing the archetypal rapper revelling in his success - after all, he's a star - before the second verse speaks from the perspective of the government and system that feeds into the ego and consumerism, but doesn't give any real respect or the education to sustain any of it, before dropping down the iron first of the IRS. As a quick sample from Dr. Dre emphasizes: the wealth can be seductive, but keeping it is far more difficult than getting it.

84. 'Fairly Local' by Twenty-One Pilots - and now we get our lone new entry on the list that's not from Kendrick Lamar, and of the indie pop groups to land on Hot 100, this is not one I expected. I originally covered Twenty-One Pilots way back in 2013 with their major label debut album Vessel that was pretty damn great but also proved to be a marketing team's nightmare given their total lack of guitars, eclectic blend of instrumentation, and hip-hop inspired cadence. But extensive touring and groundswell finally seems to have given the band enough buzz to land on the Hot 100 for the first time - and wow, the duo took a left turn towards darkness. The synths have gotten heavier and glitchier, almost symphonic with the strings over the chorus, the rap cadence and flow is decidedly modern, and the icy production with thick bass is a surprisingly solid fit for Tyler Joseph's more mature and refined delivery. The sound is still recognizably Twenty-One Pilots, especially when it comes to the smart and well-framed lyrics about accepting emotion as one evolves. In other words, it looks like Twenty-One Pilots picked up some maturity with their shift in style, so colour me seriously intrigued for that next album.

83. 'Alright' by Kendrick Lamar - have to be honest here - of the Kendrick songs I really do like on this album, 'Alright' is not one of my huge favourites. Pharrell's hook is alright against the horn snippets, and the choppy vocal samples in the instrumentals were a little awkward. It's really Kendrick's bars that redeem this track, and our first introduction to 'Lucy', the devil metaphor that runs through the record and tries to tempt Kendrick towards a life of ignorant bliss. The sad fact is that Kendrick's close to accepting it - on previous songs he's exposed his vices and has him reaching for painkillers to blunt the guilt. It makes the slightly off-kilter atmosphere of the song make sense - sure, it'll be 'alright', but what does that really mean for Kendrick, because he knows on some level it's a temptation he doesn't dare accept. There's a fair bit to this track I do enjoy, don't get me wrong... but when it's followed on the album by the much stronger 'For Sale (Interlude)', it underwhelms me a bit. Still damn good track, though.

66. 'The Blacker The Berry' by Kendrick Lamar - you know how I said streaming can lead to some songs charting that would never in any other circumstance? Yeah, this is one of them, the sort of incendiary political song that a sanitized radio station could never play for fear of losing advertisers - Kendrick's venomous growls, the plethora of creepy samples, the aggressively sharp drums, the guitar wheedling deep in the background, and that's not even touching on the chorus and dancehall segments courtesy of Assassin. It's wild, it's dark, it's provocative in a way that Kanye wished 'Black Skinhead' could be, and that's before we get to the subject matter! Let's make this clear, Kendrick wants the listener to be uncomfortable whether they be black or white, by appropriating derogatory racial slurs to lacerate both himself and the racists who hide quivering behind their deep insecurities. It's part black power anthem, the sort that gives the KKK nightmares, but Kendrick also speaks about black-on-black crime and the hypocrisy that comes from those who participate in gang wars and gang bangs and yet want to raise holy hell at the murder of Trayvon Martin. And what Kendrick knows is that internal strife is perpetuated by a broken system designed to perpetuate self-hatred and to keep the black community fighting amongst each other - it's not so much removing blame such as spreading it to all those who deserve it. And the fact that Kendrick places himself the main character of the entire story and himself in the crosshairs adds a punishing visceral element to the framing that sends a chill down my spine every time. Easily the best song on To Pimp A Butterfly and one of the best tracks that will be released this year, it's amazing that this charted at all.. but sadly, I doubt it'll last.

61. 'King Kunta' by Kendrick Lamar - if there was going to be a song from Kendrick's new album that could become a smash hit off of To Pimp A Butterfly, my bet is that it'll be this one. The funny thing is that it's probably the most simple song on the album in terms of concept - Kendrick's running the game against a system that would see him crippled and fighting against the temptations that consume many on his level, be they drugs, sex, or pure unfiltered power corrupting even icons and legends - Richard Pryor, Bill Clinton, and Michael Jackson are all referenced. And the fact that he does restrain himself against those temptations means he has enemies coming for his throat, many of which are easily handicapped by their own insecurities and failures. Oh, at all of that is paired with a funky-as-hell bassline, bubbling and creaking percussion for texture, and a fantastically simple guitar melody to anchor the entire song. Move over Mark Ronson, Kendrick's got a track that could give 'Uptown Funk' a run for its money! And of course it ends with a scratchy, noisy guitar solo because apparently the song wasn't awesome enough yet!

So yeah, the majority of this week kicked all amounts of ass, but that's what you get when you get multiple songs from one of the best albums of the year hitting the charts, and it's honestly hard to pick just two to represent the best. For the worst, it's easy: 'Dear Future Husband' by Meghan Trainor easily runs away with Worst of the Week, with 'Sippin' On Fire' by Florida Georgia Line snagging Dishonourable Mention. But for best... aw, hell, what am I kidding? Honourable Mention goes the song I hope becomes a massive hit in 'King Kunta', and Best of the Week goes to the song that's practically on a different plane of existance when it comes to its quality with 'The Blacker The Berry'. Kendrick takes both slots this week easily, and in a just universe, every new arrival would be as good as the ones we got this week. Let's see if we can get a streak going!


  1. Small typo: In talking about Little Red Wagon, you wrote "short-term video games" instead of "short-term video gains".

    Qualm on reasoning: "Want to Want Me" is not affected by the video yet. Tracking for this week's chart ended at midnight March 22nd, and the video came out the 23rd. Needless to say, expect a gain for it next week: naturally from streams, but also because it should make about a 19-15 move in sales.

  2. Well we also had Shut Up and Dance make the Top 20, surprised you didn't mention that. :o