Thursday, April 30, 2015

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - may 9, 2015

So here's the odd thing - remember when I said last week that the charts tend to become more unstable when there's a big change at the top, as the old hit tumbles and plenty other songs jockey for its place? Well... that's not really happening, and from what I dug up this week, it lends all the more evidence to the fact that if 'See You Again' hadn't shown up, 'Uptown Funk' would have broken 'One Sweet Day's record, or at least would have gotten a lot closer. As it was this week, it was all about what song would manage to make that big push... and the push didn't happen yet. Meanwhile, a bunch of songs fell off the charts because of longevity and were mostly replaced by... well, you'll see.

But of course, let's start with our Top Ten. Unsurprisingly, 'See You Again' by Wiz Khalifa ft. Charlie Puth held on tightly to its #1 slot, with expected sales drops compensated by massive airplay gains, and still topping streaming and YouTube charts. But the surprise is that 'Uptown Funk' by Mark Ronson & Bruno Mars stayed at #2, because it did not top sales by a considerable margin, the strongest streaming is on YouTube, and it still lost airplay this week... but not at the speed it did last week. This'll become important in a minute, but rising up a few slots to #3 was 'Trap Queen' by Fetty Wap, with solid sales, still a ton of streaming presence, and slowing but respectable sales - although like with 'Uptown Funk', it's less that it was strong and more about its competition. In a slightly similar category was 'Earned It' by The Weeknd, which may have taken the top in airplay and with good streaming, but the sales are nothing special, only losing to 'Trap Queen' thanks to that song's stronger streaming and sales. But both are where they are because 'Sugar' by Maroon 5 had a rough week. It dropped faster in airplay than 'Uptown Funk', only tied 'Earned It' in airplay, and only rose on YouTube because people are more tired of Taylor Swift than Maroon 5 at this point and they had to get sick of 'Blank Space' eventually. Next up was 'Love Me Like You Do' by Ellie Goulding... and really, given its rough sales, airplay peak, and weak streaming stats, I'm surprised it has stuck along as long as it has. It certainly won't stand much longer against 'Shut Up And Dance' by Walk The Moon, which rose another slot thanks to very strong sales and consistent gains on airplay and even streams... but it doesn't have YouTube, so the question of how high it'll get remains up to debate, even though I'd love to see it crack the Top 5. It took the place of Ed Sheeran's 'Thinking Out Loud' falling to #8, which just had a terrible week in everything but YouTube, especially in sales. Beneath it was 'G.D.F.R.' by Flo Rida, Sage The Gemini and Lookas... and again, it looks iffy. Sales were decent, but airplay and streaming were all over the place this week, and this song's wavering fortunes have been weird all week. Finally, we have a new Top 10 entry, the new Jason Derulo track 'Want To Want Me'... and say what you will about his hits last year, but at least they had personality. This doesn't, going for modern lightweight synthpop and Jason Derulo desperately trying to pull of an Autotuned, Prince-like falsetto and failing painfully. In other words, even despite good sales and streaming and modest airplay gains, I don't see this lasting.

And speaking of tracks not lasting, let's talk about our dropouts and losers! This week we had a couple major dropouts, most of which I'm happy to see gone. Losing 'Jealous' by Nick Jonas and the atrocious 'Only' by Nicki Minaj, Chris Brown, Drake, and Lil Wayne is only a good thing, and I'm not exactly displeased to see 'Stay With Me' by Sam Smith exit the charts either - not a bad song, but it's been around forever. Beyond that, we also lost 'Prayer In C' by Lillywood & the Prick remixed by Robin Schulz, and 'Lonely Eyes' by Chris Young, but in both cases they were on the wane anyways, not surprising. What was surprising - and disappointing - was the loss of 'Bills' by LunchMoney Lewis, which I view as a result of poor marketing and management, as viral success can only last you so long until you start making a more aggressive push to radio or streaming. Beyond that, we didn't exactly have many losers this week - 'I Really Like You' by Carly Rae Jepsen's brief burst of virality is spent as it drops to 65, the posse cut 'Ride Out' drops to 97 because with the exception of 'See You Again', Furious 7 hype is fading, and 'Trouble' by Iggy Azalea and Jennifer Hudson is proving that everyone is just about tired of Iggy Azalea, dropping to 98. Beyond that, 'Outside' by Calvin Harris & Ellie Goulding slips to 62, but given how erratic it's been, I have no idea where it's going to wind up next.

And on the note of shifts that seem erratic or make no goddamn sense, let's talk about our gains. Sure, we got the few boosts that you could predict - 'American Oxygen' by Rihanna going to 78, 'Be Real' by Kid Ink and Dej Loaf rising to 85, 'Bright' by Echosmith climbing to 60, and 'Sangria' by Blake Shelton getting a sizable boost to 64, but there were a few surprises. 'Love Me Like You Mean It' by Kelsea Ballerini, for instance, getting a boost to 82 - maybe pop country is on the upswing, but considering Lucy Hale already did this sort of material a lot better, I don't know why we're giving this airtime. Then DJ Snake & AlunaGeorge got a solid boost for 'You Know You Like It', which I suspect will be the deep house inspired crossover that the mainstream will get as it goes up to 39. But we need to talk about 'Nasty Freestyle' by T-Wayne surging up to 17.... okay, in a world where a badly made no-budget dime-a-dozen on YouTube freestyle breaks the top 20 and LunchMoney Lewis delivering one of the best hooks and instrumentals of the year is forced off the charts, something is seriously wrong here.

Thankfully, we do have something from our one returning entry that does make me feel a little better...

You know, it's odd how little of 2014 Forest Hills Drive has stuck with me over the past four months or so since I covered it. And it wasn't a bad record either - not a great one, but it was certainly passable. And thanks to the video, J.Cole managed to bring probaby my favourite track on that album to the charts with 'Wet Dreamz', with the beat and flow so damn good that I don't even mind the pitch-shifted elements peppering the song about his first time, an intensely personal story about losing virginity with enough details to make it pretty intensely relatable. Damn good song, happy to see it back.

So now onto things that are a little less great, we have our new entries, starting with...

100. 'Iris' by Sawyer Fredericks - yay, it's my least favourite contestant from The Voice ruining one of my favourite Goo Goo Dolls songs that I listened to in high school! Now keep in mind I was never a huge Goo Goo Dolls fan - they had their place in adult alternative rock, they were always hit-and-miss to me, a little too slick and polished - and looking back on it 'Iris' isn't exactly a great song from a writing standpoint. But John Rzeznik had raw pipes and presence, and Sawyer Fredericks just doesn't. Sure, making it the live cut doesn't help, but that trembling warble is nothing close to the raw howl Rzeznik had. Coupled with that, emphasizing the strings isn't a bad idea, but crushing the electric guitar to the back is not a good option when you've bumped the key of the strings to such a high squeal they have no presence. As of yet, Fredericks hasn't gotten eliminated, but God I hope it's coming, if only so I don't have to hear him ruin great songs anymore. Next!

99. 'I Don't Get Tired (#IDGT)' by Kevin Gates ft. August Alsina - so every year a lot of music critics get asked about the XXL Freshmen list, a list of up-and-coming hip-hop artists that XXL thinks are going to be hot stuff in upcoming years thanks to underground buzz, hot verses, or great guest spots. For music critics, it's functionally pointless - chances are, since I regularly see not just the albums but the Hot 100 on a regular basis, unless there's a mixtape that's straight fire and comes out of nowhere, I can easily call most of the list. Also keep in mind that it's a list of who's hot, not a list of quality. In any case, southern MC Kevin Gates has actually been around since the mid-to-late 2000s, dropping mixtapes since 2007, but it's only in the past year thanks to digital sales that he's developed a following, with my most recent familiarity on him coming from when I reviewed The Game's last record Blood Moon: Year Of The Wolf last year, where he was featured with Jeezy on one of the better tracks and actually dropped a pretty good verse. In any case, this is a track from his second Luca Brazi mixtape, and honestly, it's pretty good. Of course he bites the Migos flow for the chorus and I can't say I like the synth line - at all - but the more melodic delivery from August Alsina isn't bad in a Chris Brown sort of mold. As for Kevin Gates' bars about not getting tired in his hustle, he certainly brings some impressive energy to his relentless crescendos in his flow about fighting his way out of the hood to break in without unnecessary gloating. Overall, yeah, I'd take another few songs from Kevin Gates - although a man doing six jobs and not getting tired either isn't working hard, has very easy jobs, or is going to drop dead of exhaustion soon, so he'd better be careful.

96. 'Flex (Ooh Ooh Ooh)' by Rich Homie Quan - I'm starting to think that Rich Homie Quan got a career sort of like Jeremih did: nobody cared enough to say no so he kept churning out hits. So let's rectify that for a second: NO. In a change of pace, let's actually do a comparison between this track and the one we just heard from Kevin Gates. From an instrumentation perspective, I actually like the bass-heavy beat and deep low synth more than the synth line on 'I Don't Get Tired', but the difference comes down to the MCs. Namely, can enunciate his words - he raps quickly, but you can understand what he's saying. Rich Homie Quan seems to belong to the Young Thug school of thought that if you slur your words enough, people will think you're deep instead of incompetent. More important is the difference in content - Kevin Gates raps about working hard to get to the top, whereas Rich Homie Quan raps about giving your girl ecstasy to have sex with her and brand names, while presenting zero class, sophistication, or wordplay that hasn't been done to death. Keep 'flexing', Rich Homie Quan - or not, because you might want to hold onto that cash when you're irrelevant in two years.

95. 'Cheerleader' by OMI - well, it's about time you guys got this - we've been hearing for over a month and it's nearly cracking the Top 10 in Canada - because, like always, the Canadian charts are always better. Believe it or not, this song has been around since 2012 by Jamaican reggae and hip-hop artist OMI, but a remix last year sent it to #1 all across Europe and now it's only starting to penetrate the Hot 100. As it is, it's the instrumentation that's what makes this tune - pretty understated pianos to support the solitary trumpet and gentle island percussion, automatically puts me in the mind to go to the roof of my building and sit in the sun. Sadly, OMI himself is pretty unremarkable, with the autotune trying to add personality to his voice and not exactly succeeding and the lyrics themselves confining the girl to the position of 'cheerleader' - sure, we can appreciate that other girls are tempting and yet you're choosing to stick with her regardless, but calling her a cheerleader feels a little marginalizing to me, only keeping her as someone to make you feel better about yourself. As I said, the Canadian charts are always better... but sometimes, not by much.

84. 'Make It Rain' by Koryn Hawthorne - I swear I've covered this song three or four times already on Billboard BREAKDOWN - hell, once from The Voice too! Well, this particular cover is from Koryn Hawthorne... and honestly, it might be my least favourite version of this song that I've heard yet. I get that blues songs like this are popular right now, but Koryn's smoky alto doesn't quite have the same visceral fire that Ed Sheeran or Matt McAndrew brought, mostly because her voice is just a more natural fit for rock or maybe something a little smoother. She's not really a howling belter, and trying to play one isn't the best fit for her. Not bad, but I've heard better.

83. 'Nasty' by Bandit Gang Marco ft. Dro - you want to know something funny? Back in the mid-2000s during the crunk boom, people jumped on southern flows because they were massively popular and successful, cracking the Top 10 if not higher. But everyone hopping on Migos' super-staccato flow... you know they haven't even cracked the Top 40, right? Just because it's popular on Vine doesn't mean it's translating to actual success, and nowhere is that proven more than 'Nasty' by Bandit Gang Marco, this remix featuring Dro. Fun fact, there's also a remix that featured Kevin Gates and Young Thug from 2014, so we could have had that instead of this. Either way, I have no idea why you'd want either, because it's goddamn terrible. An gutless piano line, terrible synth, underweight trap hi-hat and leaden bass, all paired with the grimy Rae Sremmurd reject Bandit Gang Marco who is even less interesting than they are. Dro tries to get on the track with a similar flow, delivers not a bad verse about violence, gangs, and bad bitches, almost saves the song, but it's still bad. I think I'm going to coin a term for this sort of stuff, in the vein of nu-metal acts that dominated near the turn of the millennium: nu-crunk. Make it happen, folks, we need something that gives a label to this dreck that it heartily deserves.

77. 'Nothing Without Love' by Nate Ruess - I should be less surprised to see a song by Nate Ruess here than I am. Like it or not, he's been the member of fun. with the most mainstream success on his own - yes, Jack Antonoff and Bleachers is awesome, but it barely cracked the charts, whereas Nate Ruess has high charting credits with Pink and Eminem. So I guess it shouldn't be surprising he's trying to make it with a solo release for his debut album Grand Romantic. And with his leadoff single... well, where Jack Antonoff pulled from John Hughes soundtracks, Nate Ruess goes for the bombastic, heavily love songs of Freddie Mercury and Queen during the 80s. And look, Ruess is a fantastic singer who's got a ton of presence... but people tend to forget that Queen was more than Freddie Mercury, and I listened through this song thinking that man, I wish Brian May would deliver a kickass solo to crank this to eleven. And really, the lyrics are fine, but aren't up to the level of detail that Antonoff brought to the table on his projects, or what Ruess normally delivers with fun. Now look, I'll take Queen-lite over the majority of what I got this week, but if you gave me 'I Wanna Get Better' or 'Wild Heart' or 'Reckless Love' instead - or really anything from Strange Desire - I'd take them over this.

40. 'Hallelujah' by Panic! At The Disco - you know, at this point Panic! At The Disco is barely a band. with half of the old line-up quitting after Pretty Odd and their drummer Spencer Smith leaving just a few weeks ago - in other words, it's become a Brendon Urie solo project under the Panic! At The Disco name, sort of in the same way that Passion Pit is really just Michael Angelakos with touring members at this point. And yet we've got a new single from an upcoming fifth album... and sadly, I'm a little underwhelmed. Don't get wrong, the retro-gospel touches were nice, and Urie's lyrics were intriguing, focusing more on the visceral emotions of the now having more power than satisfaction or contentment - which yeah, I can buy that. But my issue here is the production - it goes for a wall of sound, but between the blasts of percussion, drums, claps, fragments of keys and electric guitars, and full brass - there's basically one melodic loop that repeats throughout the entire song and it's a complete cluttered mess. This was the direction that I was worried Panic! At The Disco was moving after their last record - but this is simply more overwrought than it can support, especially considering the gospel framework feels severally lacking in the lower end of the mix without more of a real bassline or organ. Just saying, they've done a ton better.

So that was this week, and man, most of it sucked, to the point where I'm having a hard time picking a best... okay, I'll give it to Nate Ruess for 'Nothing Without Love' and the honourable mention to J.Cole's 'Wet Dreamz', but the worst... man, it's hard this week. I'm giving it to 'Flex (Ooh Ooh Ooh)' by Rich Homie Quan if only to send the message that this guy should not have a career let alone another hit, and Dishonourable Mentions to both 'Nasty' by Bandit Gang Marco & Dro for another forgettably bad nu-crunk hit and 'Iris' by Sawyer Fredericks for completely failing to handle another good song. Dear God, let's get better next week!

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