Thursday, March 19, 2015

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - march 28, 2015

You know, it's rare that I get to be surprised much when it comes to these charts. I mean, sure you get your weird stuff that'll show up every week, but seventeen weeks into Billboard BREAKDOWN, it takes a lot to really pique more interest. This week, however... well, I'm not really going to say I was surprised by everything that happened, but more than a few times I was perturbed enough to wonder if things were slightly out of the ordinary. Granted, going into next week given what I've heard about streaming data, I've got a good idea what's coming, but it's always kind of nice to be thrown off-guard a little.

Want an example? Let's start with our Top Ten, where things actually were pretty busy this week. Well, not at the very top - 'Uptown Funk' by Mark Ronson & Bruno Mars still holds up despite slipping airplay, sales, and streaming, but it's really because it's had such a lead to start. But we do have a new #2 with 'Sugar' by Maroon 5 and I can barely muster the enthusiasm. Truth be told, the rise of this song is mostly because of pure consistency and this week's top spot is likely due to snatching the lead on streaming. It pushes back 'Thinking Out Loud' by Ed Sheeran to #3, which is steadily dropping across the board but is still dominant enough to hold its slot over 'Love Me Like You Do' by Ellie Goulding at #4, which really caught fire on radio and has always done well in streaming and YouTube - even though I'm consistently underwhelmed by it, it'll do well the next few weeks. Next up is 'FourFiveSeconds' by Rihanna, Kanye West, and Paul McCartney, which has always had good sales and streaming and even rose a bit on YouTube, but seems to have slowed to a crawl on airplay. Right beneath it we have 'Earned It' by The Weeknd, and I'll admit, I'm still baffled how this song has stuck around - it's here because of sales and streaming, because it's certainly not getting there on YouTube or airplay. Yet it was enough to push back 'Style' by Taylor Swift to #7, which despite more airplay gains it didn't have a great week on sales and YouTube continues to underperform. Beneath that we've got our first of two new arrivals to the Top 10, Sam Smith's 'Lay Me Down', which owes its success to sales and streaming albeit some good YouTube - but the radio is barely taking to it, mostly because it's a dreary, depressing ballad that is probably Sam Smith's best performance on a single to date but doesn't really grip or interest me much. Still, it was enough to keep Pitbull and Ne-Yo's 'Time Of Our Lives' to #9, which had good airplay and streams, but not great sales and still no solid YouTube presence. And now we've got a final new arrival, one that genuinely shocks me: 'Trap Queen' by Fetty Wap. When I first covered it on this show, I mostly treated as a goofy, lightweight version of trap-flavoured hip-hop, but apparently it's gotten enough streaming, sales, and even airplay to land in the top ten. Granted, I'm not complaining, I'm just surprised it caught on this much. I'll take it over Rae Sremmurd or OT Genasis, though, and I'm happy it's been the one to become successful over those. 

 And speaking of losers and dropouts, we actually don't have many this week. The three I predicted would exit - 'Like A Cowboy' by Randy Houser, 'Try Me' by DeJ Loaf, and 'Sun Daze' by Florida Georgia Line - and then 'Love Me Harder' by Ariana Grande ft. The Weeknd, which dropped on the charts shockingly fast after it left the Top 10. Sucks, but it happens. Outside of that, the losers aren't all that surprising either. Kanye's 'All Day' plummets to 51 because it still doesn't have a video, 'I Really Like You' by Carly Rae Jepsen stumbles to 68 because it hasn't been released to radio yet and hasn't become a viral smash, and 'Make Me Wanna' by Thomas Rhett and 'The Heart Wants What It Wants' by Selena Gomez drop to 75 and 82 because they're songs near the end of their chart lifespan and will likely drop off soon. The last two drops are both from Empire - 'You're So Beautiful' slipping to 70 and 'Conqueror' dropping to 86 - but that's common when it comes to songs from TV. Unless you've got a break-out phenomenon and the network capitalizes on it immediately, they won't stick around. 

 Now we didn't get a lot of big gains this week either, and those that we did get... well, remember what I said about surprises? I already talked about 'Lay Me Down' rocketing up to break the Top 10 - even though rocketing is not a word that should be remotely associated with that song - but the big shock for me was the breakout success of 'Shut Up And Dance' by Walk The Moon hitting 21? Yeah, I know it's Killers-lite, but it's so rare we get songs with this sort of eneergy and spark from the indie scene charting, I'm going to appreciate it while it lasts. And the good news kept coming: 'I Bet' by Ciara gains huge off of YouTube to get to #43, and 'Honey, I'm Good' by Andy Grammer even gets a boost to 77. Of course, YouTube gains don't just help good songs, as 'I Want You To Know' by Zedd ft. Selena Gomez stabilized to 24, and 'Little Red Wagon' by Miranda Lambert got a boost to 55. Most alarming is the growth of 'Watch Me' by Silento to 76 - folks, did you not listen last week? We don't need a song trying to co-opt a half-dozen bad dance trends and somehow being worse than all of them! Can we please consign this to viral novelty status and nothing else? 

But enough of that, let's talk about our solitary returning entry! 

Really, this is back? I'm not exactly complaining - it was one of the songs I actually quite liked off of Jessie J's 'Sweet Talker', but unless it got a surprise iTunes discount, there's not exactly an uptick in sales, airplay, or streaming to explain why this is back. In other words, I don't exactly see this sticking around long. Sorry, Jessie J, you had your comeback hit with 'Bang Bang', but 'Masterpiece' isn't going to get there. 

And that's all we get. Now onto our new entries, starting with... 

100. 'See You Again' by Wiz Khalifa ft. Charlie Puth - okay, remember that song Wiz Khalifa did with Iggy Azalea for the Fast & Furious 7 soundtrack? No? Good, it sucked, but apparently Wiz wanted to take another shot at a soundtrack hit so he teamed up with YouTuber Charlie Puth for a ballad... and unsurprisingly, it's a lot better. I've always liked Wiz Khalifa in his more emotive role, mostly because he can be a surprisingly sincere vocalist. And as a tribute to an old comrade who passed away, with hints of organ to balance out the more aggressive clap beat and with Puth's more soulful delivery with really good falsetto. And Wiz actually seems to have put a fair amount of effort into his writing, with his haphazard flow and rhyming actually taking a solid turn for the better. Overall, while I do think it could have been a little more subdued for the subject matter, it's a pretty good song nonetheless.

99. 'Little Toy Guns' by Carrie Underwood - so for clarification, this is not the lead-off single for a new album from Carrie Underwood. Neither was her last song 'Something In The Water' - both actually turned out to be additional tracks thrown onto her first greatest hits album. And while the 'come to Jesus' vibe of the former track didn't really stick with me, but 'Little Toy Guns' is a darker, nastier song that fits much better in her wheelhouse. Most of Carrie Underwood's best songs are when she get darker or confronts bleaker subject matter, and writing from the perspective of a kid caught in the middle between fighting parents is a natural fit for her, especially when paired with a pretty aggressive melodic groove. I do wish the song was a little more raw and visceral - which has always been an issue I've had with Carrie, she captures the broad strokes of the emotion but can have difficulty nailing the subtler, more intense moments - but overall it's definitely one of her better songs, I'll take it.

98. 'Diamond Rings & Old Barstools' by Tim McGraw ft. Catherine Dunn - and here comes the first of two songs that I didn't expect to be released as singles from their respective album, mostly because they're shockingly good but not lead-off single material. But since mainstream country is so desperate for songs, we've now got the fourth single from Tim McGraw's Sundown Heaven Town, and easily one of the best songs on the album. In this case, we get a pretty basic neotraditional country track with some swampy, liquid electric guitars and a lot of steel guitar. But really, the writing is the star on this song, using a pretty simple dichotomy between the titular objects and comparisons between them - but the comparisons never actually specify which object they're referring to, which adds a refreshing layer of moral ambiguity to the song that I actually found really compelling. Now this is the sort of song that Tim McGraw could knock out in his sleep - and with the pretty basic melodic construction, you could question how much time and effort really went into the instrumentation - but sometimes stripping things back to basics works, and this, for me, is one of those cases.

97. 'Wild Child' by Kenny Chesney ft. Grace Potter - and here's the second song, which is on the charts for pretty much the same reason Tim McGraw's is - a late album single that's better than it has any right to be but would probably be a deep cut that would never get airplay outside of situations like this. Granted, it's not as good as 'Diamond Rings & Old Barstools', mostly because the writing aims lower, instead falling into a pretty basic love song for your archetypal hipster dream girl. And sure, it helps that Kenny Chesney is as naturally charismatic as he is and he actually did get Grace Potter to help with backing vocals, but the song rings a little inert for me, from the kind of limp instrumentation to sketching such a broad picture of this 'wild child' that getting a connection becomes hazy. Overall, it's a pleasant enough song, but it's not one that would have landed on the charts in the majority of cases.

96. 'Bright' by Echosmith - now one of the more perplexing - and controversial - songs to be released last year was 'Cool Kids' by upstart family band Echosmith, and while a lot of people hated the song for playing to the most painfully high school tendencies, I'd argue it was slightly more complicated than that, or at least was trying to be. In reality, the song lyrically was about three or four drafts from being good - which was a shame, because the instrumentation was actually pretty solid. So their follow-up single 'Bright' might be better simply for having simpler ambitions in being a pretty basic acoustic love song with decent enough harmonies that remind me of a less-country, more high school The Band Perry. It doesn't raise a lot of emotions in me - Echosmith are still too timid and safe of a band to really inspire much passion - but it's agreeable and pretty enough, so I'll take it.

95. 'Bills' by LunchMoney Lewis - ...remember when I said this week was full of surprises? This is probably the biggest one, mostly because I'm having a hell of time contextualizing who this guy is and why he's on the Hot 100. Well, this guy has been bubbling around the Miami music scene for a while as a songwriter, following in his family's footsteps because his father and uncle were members of reggae band Inner Circle who would eventually write the awesome 'Bad Boys' song. Plus through a family connection to one of the more important studios in Miami that has hosted recordings for Pitbull and Flo Rida that eventually helped him land a song with Nicki Minaj, it's not surprising that this guy might claw together a song, even though he looks and sounds like a cross between Cee-Lo Green and Biz Markie. And I mean that as a huge compliment, because 'Bills' is a ridiculous amount of fun, with an bouncing retro-R&B piano and organ line and synths that add modern texture without being overbearing against a weedy yet fun horn interlude. And considering the sadsack persona of LunchMoney Lewis as he struggles to find a way to pay his bills that's resoundingly charming, I've got a funny feeling this song and this guy won't be going away any time soon. And you know, the charts will be better for it. More of LunchMoney Lewis!

94. 'Games' by Luke Bryan - so full confession time here: I've never been on a 'spring break' trip. The closest I've gotten to the bacchanal that is Spring Break is Spring Breakers, which if anything seemed tame during its party segments - I've seen worse at university house parties. But the one thing I never really heard in that movie was country music - and yet for some unknown reason Luke Bryan has been releasing Spring Break EPs since 2009 - and when you remember this guy is in his thirties, it just gets, well, creepy. In any case, given that he's thirty-eight and bro-country has effectively sputtered out, he's releasing his final Spring Break EP and this is the lead-off single - and it's a weird one. For one, the mishmash of styles is jarring as hell: the clipped acoustic guitar that sounds like it's been pulled from 'Cry Me A River' by Justin Timberlake, the sad piano line, the heavier guitar line, the synth line crowbarred into the chorus, and all of it has this frustrated sour tone that does fit the theme. Trust me, I get being pissed off at people playing games, but it might work better if you weren't doing the same damn thing in the first verse, Bryan! Once again, he's not taking the high road or doing anything to change things, he's just being pissy about it, and I've got a limited tolerance for that, especially right after 'I See You'. If Luke Bryan wanted to end his spring break era, this song is a way to do it, but probably not the way he was hoping.

45. 'Want To Want Me' by Jason Derulo - I though we were already done with Jason Derulo singles - don't we get a break of a year or something to recuperate - after songs like 'Wiggle' or 'Trumpets', it'd be good for all of our sanities. Well, Derulo's not waiting around because he's got a new single from another upcoming album... and honestly, it's not bad. A lot of critics expected Derulo to move more in the direction of slicker, more sexual R&B like Trey Songz, but with 'Want To Want Me' he pivots back towards to electro-pop, and he manages to bring along a pretty damn tight bass and percussion line, which is a huge plus. Hell, even the lyrics avoid more of Derulo's characteristic terrible lines and instead stick with a pretty basic drive for anticipating hot steamy sex. I just wish Derulo was a more impressive vocalist - his falsetto is a wince-inducing squawk, and while he piles on overdubs, he still doesn't bring a lot of emotional presence and drive to the song. Instead, I'm left in the same state I was when I heard 'The Other Side', just kind of ambivalent. Damn good bass line, though.

31. 'Believe' by Mumford & Sons - most critics tend to give Mumford & Sons a lot of grief for their overwrought pretensions towards folk rock that lack in grit and texture, to say nothing of lyrics that really stick the landing. And on some level, the band can be a little insufferable, especially considering they're plainly taking it all very seriously, but at their best, they can write grooves and melodies that are pretty damn impressive and propulsive. So when I heard the band was dropping a new single for an upcoming album, I was curious to hear where they'd take their sound - and they certainly found a new sound, and it's not folk rock at all. Ditching the banjo, Mumford & Sons have gone electric - and as such have found a sound somewhere between The National, Imagine Dragons, and mid-period Coldplay. So why the hell am I so underwhelmed? Well, maybe it's because the song takes until after the second chorus to kick the guitar into its snarl, with only percussion and a pretty minimal bass line to drive the groove. Maybe it's because the guitars are placed too far back in the mix to bring fire to match the drums, or the washed out guitar that provides the faintest hint of background texture, or the fact that lead singer Marcus Mumford doesn't actually spit fire and power in his delivery. For once, I actually do like the lyrics - a crisis of faith in a relationship - but it's nowhere near as visceral as gripping as it should be. And if this is where Mumford & Sons are taking their sound... well, I might have reason to be concerned about that next album. Yikes.

So that was our week, and overall, for the most part the surprises turned out pretty well. Not all of them: 'Games' by Luke Bryan easily snags Worst of the Week for being a total mess, and I'm giving Dishonourable Mention to 'Believe' by Mumford & Sons for being a lead-off single with no real propulsive energy, which is inexcusable if they're going electric and were at their best with killer grooves. But for best of the week... yeah, Honourable Mention will go Tim McGraw & Catherine Dunn's 'Diamond Rings & Old Barstools', which leaves 'Bills' by LunchMoney Lewis to snag the top spot. Hope to hear more from the guy, and if the charts behave, he could end up having a very good spring and summer!


  1. I'm shocked you didn't comment on Geronimo entering Top 50

    1. Most of the reason that got the jump up was because an album it was featured on dropped, but yeah.

    2. I actually did not know this, thank you.