Thursday, March 12, 2015

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - march 21, 2015

Sometimes on Billboard BREAKDOWN, we can get some pretty rough weeks... but sometimes you the weeks where it all just clicks in some of the best ways possible. The good songs win, the bad songs lose, the new songs kick ass, and even the returning tracks aren't bad. I don't think it's quite possible to ever have a perfect week - simply based on the law of averages I reckon it's impossible to a Hot 100 that's all great music - but you can have great weeks. And folks, we came pretty close here - yeah, we got some rough songs, but we also got a bonafide classic, and I couldn't be happier about that.

But before we discuss that in detail, let's talk about the one place where things were not interesting in the slightest this week: the Top Ten. Mostly because so little changed - I mean, sure, 'Uptown Funk' finally peaked in airplay and seems to slowly be receding, but it's so dominant in the market that its closest competition isn't close. That would be 'Thinking Out Loud' by Ed Sheeran, which also peaked in airplay - and really, it's surprising it held on here, granted it wasn't the strongest in sales, streaming, or YouTube. Also because close behind it was 'Sugar' by Maroon 5 - which has been consistently been gaining across the board like usual - not topping anything, but good sales are helping. Behind it thanks to huge streams is Ellie Goulding's 'Love Me Like You Do' holding steady at #4, although solid airplay boosts are helping as well. Behind it, unsurprisingly, is 'FourFiveSeconds' by Rihanna, Kanye West, and Paul McCartney, which was doing strong in sales and streaming, but YouTube has always been shaky and it looks like airplay may have peaked early for this track, which is interesting. Below that we've got another upward shift for 'Style' by Taylor Swift at #6, which is still gaining airplay well enough to compensate for weaker video performance and a thin sales week, and for 'Earned it' by The Weeknd jumping to #7 thanks to strong sales and streaming compensating for not a lot of airplay whatsoever. Both were enough to push 'Take Me To Church' by Hozier down to #8, which is holding onto decent enough sales, streaming, and YouTube to compensate for steadily dropping airplay. It probably won't last here, and will likely be overtaken by Pitbull & Ne-Yo's 'Time Of Our Lives' pretty soon, which jumped to #9 this week thanks to sales and streaming compensating for painfully weak YouTube and airplay gains. Finally we have 'Blank Space' by Taylor Swift holding onto #10, which is only here because it's still massively dominant in YouTube and that's pretty much it. But even that won't last forever - I can see this one being replaced come next week.

And on that topic, let's talk about drop-outs and losers. As expected this week, 'Bang Bang' by Jessie J, Ariana Grande, and Nicki Minaj finally exits the chart, along with 'Drinking Class' by Lee Brice, 'Often' by The Weeknd, and a whole load of Big Sean songs that weren't going to stick around. But we honestly didn't get a lot of losers this week, and even less that I care about. I mean, the one song I'm a little disappointed to see weaken is 'Like A Cowboy' by Randy Houser going to 82, but it wasn't really catching on so I get why it's dropping. Beyond that, the rest of the drops make sense: 'Sun Daze' by Florida Georgia Line continues its freefall to 81 because it's at the end of its run; 'I Bet My Life' by Imagine Dragons keeps fading now to 59 that the album hype is completely gone; 'Energy' by Drake drops to 51 because Drake's not promoting any songs from that album as singles or releasing videos, and 'Coco' by OT Genasis and 'I Want You To Know' by Zedd ft. Selena Gomez dropped to 55 and 38 respectively because they're lousy songs, plain and simple.

And most of our gains this week are decent enough too. 'Nobody Love' by Tori Kelly and 'You're So Beautiful' from Empire pick up a little traction off their debuts going to 79 and 47 respectively, 'The Hanging Tree' by Jennifer Lawrence gets a final breather to 70, the Zac Brown Band got a welcome boost for 'Homegrown' going to 46 - nice to see a strong single before the album drops in just over a month - and 'Heartbeat Song' by Kelly Clarkson gains a big boost from her album and goes to #21. The only two gains that surprised - and disappointed - me were 'Know Yourself' by Drake going to 65 - now bypassing the greatest success of Migos, whose flows he's biting badly - and 'Watch Me' by Silento, which wouldn't exist without a half dozen bad hip-hop dance songs and somehow manages to be worse than all of them. Heh, go figure.

But really, there wasn't a lot of activity here, so let's talk about our returning entries!

Not surprised to see it back thanks to the release of a full music video, but it's definitely great to see it back. I've already said my piece on 'I Bet' - great acoustic vibe, one of Ciara's better performances, solid writing working as a kiss-off towards Future, with the only element not being great is the usage of Future samples to punctuate Ciara's ascendency, but that's more because I don't want to hear Future period. Still, though, I'm happy to see it back.

Little surprised to see this back - I mean, it's picked up a little airplay, but beyond that I thought the hype for Fifth Harmony was effectively out by this point - the rapid decline of 'Sledgehammer' seems to prove that. As it is, this song is thoroughly unimpressive, Kid Ink's verse is pointless, the best parts of the song are the prechoruses, and the best singers in the group aren't nearly given the time in the spotlight they should be. Next!

Believe it or not, somebody actually took the time to diss me on my personal blog for liking this song - that takes dedication. And yeah, it's corny as hell and pretty damn goofy considering it's about how Andy Grammer is turning down getting free sex from a girl in favour of staying true to his girlfriend, which is not a topic that gets written about often. But honestly, it works here - the groove is catchy as hell, the sentiment is well played, and there's enough broad charisma to work here. Of the songs that came back this week, this is definitely my favourite - hell, it won best of the week a while back. Although this week, it might have some stiffer competition...

And that's our returns... now our new arrivals, starting with...

97. 'Where Are U Now' by Skrillex & Diplo ft. Justin Bieber - I feel like I went through this just last year, when I discovered that Skrillex out of nowhere dropped a debut album that I then covered to the general disgruntlement of everyone, including myself. Well, now that the dubstep bubble has effectively blown over, he's collaborating with Diplo and another soon-to-be-irrelevant music feature - Justin Bieber - for a new song. And... eh, it's okay. Bieber sells the emotion well enough during the verses, and even despite coming across a little more confrontational than he should, it mostly works for this sort of anger at being there for a partner and then getting let down when there's no reciprocation. But my issues come in the production - whether it's the godawful chipmunk voice in the verses or that squealing hook, it just completely sucks me out of the song and does not fit the emotion whatsoever. I guess I can see the appeal, but otherwise... sorry, no.

96. 'Monster' by Meek Mill - you know, there's an art to doing brag and luxury rap right, and that comes in not talking down to the audience. And one of the rappers who has a really bad reputation for doing this for me is Meek Mill, Philadelphia rapper affiliated with Rick Ross. And yet, after three singles from his upcoming album doing nothing on mainstream radio, this track from NYC All-Star 2015 mixtape put out by Maybach Music Group for the NBA All-Star game has landed on the charts... and it's painfully mediocre at best. See, the other criteria I didn't mention is actually being a good rapper, and Meek Mill does not impress me - his bars are sloppy and frequently don't rhyme, his production is only distinctive for having a thick bassline, and his content is completely recycled and generic brag rap that only gets 'interesting' when it's terrible - saying you 'eat pussy like a monster' is never a brag you should make, especially when against this production! In other words, if you need another slice of mediocre, forgettable luxury rap, here you go, but otherwise - NEXT!

94. 'She Don't Love You' by Eric Paslay - I've been talking about this song since February of 2014 - because it's not just a good song, not just a great song, but one of the best goddamn songs of last year. No joke, it reached #3 on my list of my favourite songs of 2014, and it was my favourite country song of the year, a gorgeous neotraditional country track that hits you like a ton of bricks with Eric Paslay's impassioned delivery and damn near perfect storytelling, with a gutpunch in the end that hits all the harder. I was thrilled when I heard Paslay was releasing this as a single, and with the video released it has now started climbing the country charts and subsequently the Hot 100. In a just world, this'll turn into his biggest hit and make Paslay's career beyond the implosion of bro-country where he was initially marketed. Folks, we rarely get songs this great on mainstream radio - and it should get all our support. I can't recommend it highly enough.

93. 'Adore' by Cashmere Cat ft. Ariana Grande - it's pretty much easy to accept at this point that any song with Ariana Grande on it in some way will land on the Hot 100, even she's just featured. In this case, it seems like she's returning the favour to Cashmere Cat for appearing on her recent album on a pretty good modern R&B jam with his newest single... and I'll give him this, it's a more interesting track. For one, Ariana gives a more sensual performance over the verses... at least until the chorus which devolves into barely intelligible fragments. The production changeup from washed out twinkling pianos to acoustic guitar to hollow-feeling flutters does work pretty well from verse to verse, but did he have to use that clank to punctuate all of Ariana's first verse? It really felt out of place. As it is, the song will certainly satisfy for your fix of Ariana if you want more and it is better than her last hit with Cashmere Cat, but she has done better.

91. 'Don't It' by Billy Currington - man, has it really been around a year and a half since I last talked about Billy Currington? For those of you who don't know, Billy Currington broke into mainstream country around twelve years ago and he's been a fairly reliable presence ever since in writing simple, often downbeat stories. Hell, even his stab at more bro-country subject matter in 2013 with songs like 'Hey Girl' - at the age of 39, I might add - were more borne of irascible charisma and some clever songwriting. Now he's got a new lead-off single for a new album... and really, I'm a little embarrassed how much I like this song, mostly because it's amazingly dumb. Trying to match the rhyme scheme's cadence to the groove is always ambitious on songs like this, and there are lines here that do ring as a little forced - 'karaoke, we can microphone it', 'baby, don't say no so quick' - actually, that line's not just forced, it looks desperate and not in an attractive way. But when the groove is this good, the melody and percussion are balanced well, and while the production is a little too clean for my preference, it's not done badly... so yeah, I'll definitely take this.

71. 'New Romantics' by Taylor Swift - if I believed that Taylor Swift actually knew what the New Romantics movement was, the synthpop wave that exploded out of the UK and the second British Invasion in the early 80s, I'd actually be excited for this song. As it is, it's the last of the deluxe edition singles from her album that her label's releasing piecemeal to wring as much money from her fans as possible... and honestly, it's probably one of her better ones. Yeah, it's overproduced, the synths are thin and crushed behind the percussion, and I wish Taylor sounded a little better, but the lyrics are actually decent, playing at '22' but unlike that song, there's more self-awareness at how their wild side could rub off on them in a rougher way, which makes it a lot more likeable. It's not Taylor's best, and I do get why it was a bonus song given its themes, but she's definitely done worse, so I'll take it.

48. 'I Really Like You' by Carly Rae Jepsen - I didn't like 'Call Me Maybe'. Not because it was girly or poorly orchestrated or clumsily written, but because the stakes for the song were so thin - it was a song about meeting a guy, that was it. At least most teenage romance songs go for bombast that fits young love, not something this restrained and lightweight. But after she teamed up with Owl City for the much better 'Good Time', Carly Rae Jepsen seemed to drop off the face of the earth before returning with a new single for her upcoming 2015 album, along with a video featuring Tom Hanks and... wait, is that Justin Bieber again? Well, if anything, it's less impressive than 'Call Me Maybe' - at least that song had a melodic hook in the foreground instead of typical modern production where the percussion and beat is more important. And sadly, it suffers from the exact same problem as 'Call Me Maybe' did: no stakes. Instead of actually playing the love-at-first-contact, it goes on for her to repeat the word 'really' six times to fill up space in one line of her chorus, which isn't exactly the sign of good songwriting. At the end of the day... look, I don't see this being anywhere near as huge as 'Call Me Maybe', and I'm not exactly disappointed by that.

42. 'Conqueror' by Empire Cast ft. Jussie Smollett & Estelle - okay, Empire is on my schedule to watch, I'm working my way to it, but trust me when I say TV has kind of fallen by the wayside in recent weeks. That said, of the three songs from the show I've heard thus far, this is probably the weakest. The beat is pretty leaden across the verses, but when things intensify during the chorus, the compression and pitch correction is so gratuitous that it just becomes annoying and unnecessary. Yeah, I know you get some of that thanks to TV show production times and Timbaland not exactly being a guy known for producing many power ballads in this vein, but man, it is underwhelming, especially for a track trying to emphasize conquering power. Not a bad track - Jussie Smollett still is a strong enough vocalist to save this song and Estelle does a solid job too - but they've done better.

15. 'All Day' by Kanye West ft. Theophilius London, Allan Kingdom & Paul McCartney - you know, I miss the day when a new Kanye track would get me excited instead of a mixture of underwhelmed and irritated. But the more I dug into 'All Day', his first new single where he's actually dropping bars, the less I liked it. I could start with the fact that the production is still swallowed with more pitch correction and 808s than it really needs, especially when there are some great moments: the echoing muffled shout on the back half of the first verse, the ghostly symphonic vocals peppering the song, the organ synth on the first half of the second verse. Hell, I even though Kanye's bars weren't anything special, they weren't bad either and at least were well technically structured. But the hooks from Allan Kingdom and Theophilius London were underwritten and were not all that impressive, Paul McCartney's whistled guitar interlude comes out of nowhere and doesn't do much, and after that transition, we're left with a heavily warped and autotuned ending that doesn't satisfy. Look, for most, this track will be enough - Kanye's rapping again, yay - but while there's a lot going on, I find myself more irritated than actively engaged by this song.

So that was our week... and look, there were weak points here. 'Monster' by Meek Mill easily takes the worst of the week slot, with the Dishonourable Mention sliding to 'All Day' by Kanye and his arsenal of backing vocalists and collaborators. But for best... Honourable Mention goes to Andy Grammer and I shouldn't even have to say what the name of the Best of the Week is. But I will say it anyway, because it's incredible: 'She Don't Love You' by Eric Paslay, one of the best songs of 2014 and now I can only hope it becomes a hit this year. But that's a question for the future.

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