Thursday, May 28, 2015

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - june 6, 2015

And just like that, Taylor Swift is back on top.

There's honestly more to this week - a shocking amount more, really, looking at the charts you'd think it was outright chaos - but really, so much of this story revolves around Taylor Swift and 'Bad Blood'. Yeah, Kendrick Lamar plays a pretty major part too, but his verse is peripheral, a part of the machine that gave a new #1 single, a precisely timed marketing push that sent the song surging up radio, sales, streaming, and YouTube to take the top spot. And keep in mind that Taylor's not on Spotify either - the growth of 'Bad Blood' is nothing short of a minor phenomenon, and it really does eclipse most of what happened beneath it - which is kind of a good thing, because of that kind of sucked.

So, top ten, Taylor Swift, 'Bad Blood', the remix with Kendrick Lamar taking her to #1. Crushing sales and YouTube, surging into the top 20 of airplay, and still making a sizeable impact in streaming, it easily takes the top spot, but let's dig deeper into why it was such a smash hit - because it was following an analogous template that Katy Perry used with 'E.T'. when she released the remix with Kanye. Kind of hilarious because, to correct me from last week, apparently this song is about a falling out with Katy Perry and we all remember the hilarious incident with Kanye six years ago, so I can appreciate the irony. But still, two rap verses of middling quality to cross over onto radio stations that'll play hip-hop from a hot MC, an exceedingly well-timed video designed to maximize rotations during the chart cycle, and, of course, using her massive YouTube fanbase to push her overwrought and underwhelming video to the top. This is what I think Taylor gets over many of her contemporaries: she gets that to get to the top, you need to play all of the angles, and it's probably the reason she was able to knock back 'See You Again' by Wiz Khalifa & Charlie Puth to #2, another song precisely calibrated to take the top spot. It still had a solid week this week - took the top airplay spot, had solid sales, still on top in streaming, but just not enough. But let's consider the songs beneath it and ask the question why they didn't take the top spot and probably won't now. Let's start with 'Trap Queen' by Fetty Wap at #3 - sure, great streaming and respectable sales, but airplay looks to have peaked and it never had YouTube. Similar case with 'Shut Up And Dance' by Walk The Moon at #4 - better sales, still gaining on airplay, not great streams but getting better, but again, no YouTube. Beneath it, 'Earned It' by The Weeknd, which finally lost its radio peak and spent this week falling to #5 thanks to hemorrhaging airplay, sales, and shaky streaming - again, no real YouTube. Compare to 'Uptown Funk' by Mark Ronson & Bruno Mars at #6 - it took sizeable hits in airplay and sales this week and its streaming is not solid... but it does have YouTube and thus I suspect might hold on longer than some of its contemporaries. Take 'Want To Want Me' by Jason Derulo at #7 - very good airplay week, but sales and streaming were kind of shaky, and I reckon in the face of competition it'll falter. And we've got some of it with another top 10 debut with 'Hey Mama' by David Guetta, Nicki Minaj, and Afrojack, a song I really wish I liked a lot more than I did. It's been doing a lot to rise up the charts despite its terrible lyrics thanks to gains across the board, with the new video giving it just enough of a push to #8. It knocks 'Sugar' by Maroon 5 down to #9 - and let's be clear, it is losing across the board, but it's losing at a very slow rate - maybe the radio's keeping around so it doesn't have to let other Maroon 5 songs get to the top, but we'll get to that. And finally, we've got 'Nasty Freestyle' by T-Wayne slipping to #10, apparently fraught with controversy. Remember that song 'Nasty' by Bandit Gang Marco - well apparently this song was a freestyle over that beat, which the producer then responded by hurling an arsenal of takedown notices at it. T-Wayne then responded by rerecording it over a slightly different version of the beat to avoid the copyright, but it was enough to hurt the song's streaming slightly to #10. Didn't really hurt the sales, and the radio and YouTube continue to completely ignore it, but it might be a sign that song's on shaky ground going forward. 

And on that note, let's talk about losers and dropouts. On the one hand, the loss of 'A Guy Walks Into A Bar' by Tyler Farr and 'Geronimo' by Sheppard does kind of suck, but they were both at the end of their chart runs, so I can understand it. Similar case for 'Say You Do' by Dierks Bentley and 'I'm Not The Only One' by Sam Smith - but the really great news is the loss of 'Throw Sum Mo' by Rae Sremmurd with Nicki Minaj and Young Thug, with a run my calculations predict will keep it just shy of the year-end list and thank god for that. But really, it was at the end of its chart run too, and that's really the story for most of our losers this week, good or bad. 'Lay Me Down' by Sam Smith continuing to slip to 56, 'FourFiveSeconds' by Rihanna, Kanye West, and Paul McCartney falling to 66, 'Heartbeat Song' dropping to 71, and 'One Last Time' by Ariana Grande taking a big hit to 40, all these songs are steadily heading out naturally. Then you get your non-starters, like the DJ Khaled posse cut 'How Many Times' with Chris Brown, Lil Wayne, and Big Sean, or 'Believe' by Mumford & Sons - although its likely in those cases that both of the songs blow and the public's just responding to it. The surprise for me was the drop on 'Raise 'Em Up' by Keith Urban & Eric Church to 84 - I honestly thought that song would have more staying power than it did, given the collaboration and it being a damn good song, but I guess country radio would rather take another single from Luke Bryan than this. 

But before we get to that, let's talk about our gains. Most are fairly easy to explain - 'The Night Is  Still Young' by Nicki Minaj follows its boost from last week to 51, 'Fun' by Pitbull ft. Chris Brown gets an easy boost to 54, and 'I Need Your Love' by Shaggy, Mohombi, Faydee and Costi rises to 73. And then we have the boosts that surprise me a little more: 'One Hell Of An Amen' from Brantley Gilbert rises to 77 despite being a little more melancholy than one would expect for this sort of early summer single - same case for 'Photograph' by Ed Sheeran, although I'm guessing his performance on The Voice helped there too. Then there was 'Uma Thurman' from Fall Out Boy getting another burst of popularity to 70, its highest position yet - I'm under no illusions it's going to be a hit, but it's nice to see the boost. Of course, it's matched by a track far, far worse: 'This Summer's Gonna Hurt Like A Motherfucker' by Maroon 5, which if not for Taylor Swift would be the biggest gain as it rises to 31. And I have to ask, America: why? The majority of people I've talked to, especially old-school Maroon 5 fans, hate this song - just because the summer is starting doesn't mean you have to support the worst song in three years from Maroon 5 on the basis of its title! And here's the thing: remember 'Pretty Girls' by Iggy Azalea and Britney Spears? It took off nowhere near as they were planning, almost out of the top 40, and it was about as obnoxiously unlistenable as this is, so what gives?

Ugh, in any case, we'll have a fair bit more obnoxiousness to get through in a few minutes, but let's get the one returning entry I can tolerate out of the way before we start digging through the garbage, shall we?

I have to admit, 'Stressed Out' would not make a list of the top ten songs from Blurryface I'd want to see chart, especially when your singles are 'Fairly Local' and 'Tear In My Heart', but it's still quite listenable and I'm happy to see twenty-one pilots actually selling records. It's an eerie little track, especially with the pitch-shifted outro which singlehandedly knocks it back for me, but the lyrics are still well-structured, Tyler Joseph does a good job selling the odd uncomfortable tone, and the melody sticks in your head obscenely well. Overall, considering this week, I'll take it.

This song was absolute crap the first time I talked about it, and I have no idea why it's back on the charts, considering Thomas Rhett hasn't released an actual video for it unlike our other returning entry. Forget the fact that only a few guitar fragments on the second verse barely make this a country song, forget the fact the song is a blatant uncredited rip-off of Sam Cooke's 'Chain Gang', forget that the lyrics have the self-satisfied smirking air of a hapless douchebag, I think the element I can't stand the most about this track is Thomas Rhett himself. His voice has this nasal tone that completely doesn't work in a mid-to-low range - it's got no richness or punch to it, nothing that makes it stand out as he squawks over that elongated syllable over the chorus. It screams of insincerity and makes me want to club him in the face with a tire iron - in other words, I think I might have found an artist on the charts more detestable than Adam Levine! Next!

Now this is where it is thanks to the video, which I honestly expected months ago after 'Bed Of Lies' went nowhere. And I feel like I've talked about this mediocre track three or four times already, and really, nothing's changed. The production is terrible between the incredibly grating synth and the constipated grunts that punctuate the chorus, Nicki's bars are the only redeeming factor, and I have no idea why Beyonce continues to think this ratchet material works for her whatsoever. And I might as well talk about the video, which was made exclusively for TIDAL because they're desperately searching for some way to make it relevant - in short, I'm underwhelmed. Yeah, they filmed it at Coachella. Yes, they eat burgers and fries and act silly, good for them - but does the video remotely fit the vibe of the song at all? That synth is too dark and icy, the beat way too skeletal to fit this sort of technicolor track. In other words, I didn't like it before, and props to Beyonce and Nicki for flossing, but I still don't like it now.

Well, that was a little dispiriting. Let's hope our new arrivals are better, starting with...

92. 'Change My Mind' by Meghan Linsey - so here's a little something ugly about The Voice that people don't tend to know: there are indeed established artists who end up showing up as contestants on the show in order to boost their solo success. Believe it or not, there was a campaign to get Jason Isbell - critically acclaimed country singer-songwriter who worked with the Drive-By Truckers - on the show. Now obviously he refused, but our runner-up Meghan Linsey did not, even though she was once the frontwoman of Steel Magnolia, which actually formed on the second season of the reality show Can You Duet. Yeah, they had a self-titled debut album that has sold over 90,000 copies and a top ten hit on the country charts. Granted, the group is now split up, but I can't be the only one who's a little peeved that a show specifically marketing itself as picking up talent that could be anyone, the new 'voice' of America, is doing crap like this. So why bring up all of this? Well, mostly because the song isn't very interesting. Yeah, Linsey has a solid soulful voice and the choice of a piano ballad where she's dumping a guy is kind of intriguing. But I dunno, to me it falls in the same problem I had with Beyonce's 'Best I Never Had' - it's too stately and elegant, there's nothing that's really fiery about this split, or even anything that suggests she's been burned here. You'd expect with her voice she'd sound more raw, but that didn't really happen. Eh, I guess it's okay, but I'm not surprised she didn't win with this.

88. 'Beautiful Now' by Zedd ft. Jon Bellion - I'm not exactly surprised to see that Zedd was going to be rolling out another single now that his effort with Selena Gomez didn't land as powerfully... and while 'Beautiful Now' is better, mostly thanks to the guitars on the chorus and especially that keyboard progression over the second verse. But I'm not sure what it is, the backing vocals over the chorus holding the melody against the beat, or the fact that Jon Bellion is so autotuned on the chorus, or the fact that the song has an odd element of self-love in its celebration that just doesn't click with me in the same way, but I'm not seeing the appeal. I've been extremely hesitant to cover Zedd's new album True Colors, and with this song, with the exception of the more danceable progression before the bridge, it seems like my choice to mostly avoid it is paying off. I will say the track isn't bad, but he hit the high water mark with 'Clarity', and many of the singers he's tried to recruit since Foxes haven't had the presence or personality to match his synths, and that's really hurt him. Of course, the fact that deep house trends are becoming a lot more dominant in comparison with EDM isn't helping either, but at the end of the day, I'm confident Zedd won't be hurt by it that much. 

68. 'Flashlight' by Jessie J - so Pitch Perfect 2 came out last a few weeks ago. I didn't see it - it opened against Mad Max: Fury Road, so it's no surprise what I chose to see, and I think my show choir phase died at the end of season three of Glee. A lot of people did see it, though, and this led to a hit song from that movie to chart: 'Flashlight', by Jessie J. Now I've stuck up for Jessie J whenever I've reviewed her records: she's got a raw intensity that I think is underappreciated, and the fact that she's often saddled with lousy producers hasn't helped her. Unfortunately, I'm not sure 'Flashlight' was the track she needed to make the best use of that, mostly it's a piano-and-strings driven power ballad that's so bare bones and generic, especially lyrically - that it was hard not to tune out very quickly. Part of it is that Jessie J is spending more time cooing quietly than belting, and that's definitely not a good use of her strengths. It doesn't help that Sam Smith and Sia's writing gives her nothing interesting to work with other than repeating syllables. It's not terrible, but I'll forget about this minutes after I hear it.

63. 'Old Man' by Sawyer Fredericks - so as you all should know, Sawyer Fredericks won The Voice, which means he gets two songs that land on the Hot 100 this week. The first is a Neil Young cover from the early 70s, 'Old Man' - and look, there's actually a fair amount about this presentation I like. For one, Fredericks is finally playing in a good range for his voice and the instrumentation isn't badly done with thicker mid-range tones in the guitars, especially what sounds like a thin steel guitar over the chorus, which does add some personality. But I'm sorry, maybe I'm just a purist for the 70s here, but even at his most polished, Neil Young had a thicker bass tone and more acoustic texture - although to be fair to Fredericks, this is one of Neil Young's more polished and clean tracks, especially with the layering of the backing vocals and pianos. Hell, I'd argue Fredericks is throwing more into the song than Young did on some versions. In other words... eh, fine enough, but Fredericks has had other songs that have done more.

37. 'Please' by Sawyer Fredericks - and now we've got his original track... and of course it's a gentle, midtempo acoustic ballad with country tones  and some very clean organ and piano tones. I guess this is where things kind of come full circle for Sawyer Fredericks and me - look, I can definitely acknowledge he has improved since his debut on the show, but his maturity as an artist takes him to the sort of white-guy-with-acoustic-guitar material that might be earnest, but doesn't rise above it. I listen to this song and I agree that it has polish and sincerity, but there's nothing special about it lyrically that can redeem the barebones presentation, and Sawyer Frederick's voice on this track basically feels like a poor man's John Mayer, and Lord knows we didn't need that. At least on 'Old Man' there was personality thanks to Neil Young's writing, but here... no, sorry.

26. 'Kick The Dust Up' by Luke Bryan - I feel it's starting to become a routine that I hear about a terrible song coming up on Twitter and then I just bide my time until I have to cover it on Billboard BREAKDOWN and indeed discover that it is, in fact, junk. In this case, it's the lead-off single from Luke Bryan's upcoming fifth album to drop in August, and unsurprisingly, it's a strikingly stiff and staccato track that completely feels out of place until we get to the chorus, where it's all crushed together into a mix where the cymbals are left to linger over the mix and completely kill any melody. I think the easiest offender is that attempt at a melodic riff, which is so rigid that it completely doesn't fit with the thicker kickdrums, that terrible synth tone over the first half of the chorus, and four bars of guitar solo that does nothing to redeem the gutless production that cranks the percussion up over any melody outside of that main riff. And the lyrics... look, I get that it's often more tempting to skip overpriced clubs and go out back - I live in Toronto, I understand getting overcharged, and I used to go to raves out in the fields. But are drought conditions so bad in the US that the parties in the corn fields kick up dust? And why the hell did anyone think playing Luke Bryan's smoother baritone over this stiff, awkward progression was remotely close to a good idea? And the worst part of it all is the fact that at the end of the day, the only things that make this song distinctive from any other bro-country track are the pieces that annoy the hell out of me. Skip it.

And that was this week, and wow, it's been a while since I've seen it this bad. So in that spirit, we're skipping the Honourable Mention this week and giving two Dishonourable Mentions, one to 'Feeling Myself' by Beyonce and Nicki Minaj and one to 'Kick The Dust Up' by Luke Bryan - it was saved from being the worst by at least trying to inject a real guitar back into the final chorus. The worst isn't even a contest again: 'Crash & Burn' by Thomas Rhett, which is rapidly rising on my list of not just the worst country songs I've heard this year, but the worst songs period. Seriously, we traded out Chris Young's newest single for this? And as for the best... you know, I'm not wild about it, but I'm giving it to 'Stressed Out' by twenty one pilots. Not nearly the best on their last album, but I'll take it.

1 comment:

  1. You put "Ed Sheeran" in quotes by mistake.

    I don't think you mentioned your best of the week, unless you decided to forgo on it entirely, but I'm guessing it's "Stressed Out".