Thursday, May 14, 2015

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - may 23, 2015

So after last week, I was hoping for a bit of a breather this week – and believe it or not, I got it. After the storm comes a sort of calm, and we might have one of the least active weeks of the year thus far, thanks the album release schedule slowing down to give us all a breather. And considering I used most of this week to catch up on releases I wouldn’t have otherwise covered, it’s kind of nice that Billboard BREAKDOWN also feels a little easier.

And interestingly, that trend continued into our top ten, where things were actually pretty slow this week, or at least not all that surprising. Unsurprisingly, ‘See You Again’ by Wiz Khalifa & Charlie Puth ruled the week, again with the sizeable airplay gains compensating for the shrinking sales and still ruling streaming, and considering that the song hasn’t shown the slightest signs of slowing down, I reckon unless something smashes from out of nowhere, it looks like it might have some longevity at the top. Right behind it at #2 we have ‘Trap Queen’ by Fetty Wap, which has been seen as the closest challenger with strong sales and absolutely huge streaming, but airplay did slow this week, and I’m not sure it’s got the swell to take it right to the top. Next ‘Earned It’ by The Weeknd regained its peak at #3 thanks to still holding radio dominance, but I get the feeling its less because of its strengths and more due to weaknesses lower down the charts, because even though it did have a good sales week, streaming has been mostly static and airplay has been wavering. It took over the spot of ‘Uptown Funk’ by Mark Ronson & Bruno Mars, which might have a lot of dominance on YouTube and still respectable streaming, but that’s about it, as sales dropped even further and airplay has been steadily falling away – it’s really only as high as it is thanks to extended radio inertia. But where things get interesting is ‘Shut Up And Dance’ by Walk The Moon, which was nearly matching ‘See You Again’ for radio airplay gains, is right behind it in sales… and yet feels stalled out because streaming hasn’t picked up in the same way. It’ll probably take ‘Uptown Funk’s spot in a week or two or maybe beat ‘Earned It’ if the airplay collapses, but probably not much higher. Beneath it is ‘Sugar’ by Maroon 5 somehow holding steady at #6, which slipped in every category except YouTube, but didn’t do so quickly enough to fall faster. Looks to be a similar case with ‘Love Me Like You Do’ with losses across the board, really relying on airplay to prop up against painfully weak sales numbers. And yet that airplay was enough to hold off ‘Want To Want Me’ by Jason Derulo at #8, which did have gains all week across the board… and yet, bizarrely, streaming has been inconsistent, not quite enough to really shove it over the top. Then we have ‘Thinking Out Loud’ by Ed Sheeran rising up to #9 – and let’s make this clear, it wasn’t because it had huge gains – yeah, a better than average sales week, but airplay and streaming were stalled or continuing to fall. Similar case with ‘G.D.F.R.’ by Flo Rida, Lookas, and Sage The Gemini re-entering at #10, as it lost hard this week across the board. Nope, the reasons these songs came back is because T-Wayne’s ‘Nasty Freestyle’ dropped out as streaming started to slip and radio gave it nothing – in other words, while it might have gotten high, I don’t see it lasting much longer.

And on that note, let’s talk about our losers and dropouts, of which there was not a lot this week whatsoever. I mean, our biggest dropouts were ‘Centuries’ by Fall Out Boy, which was on its way out naturally, and ‘Legend’ by Drake, which shouldn’t have lasted as long as it did anyways. As for our losers, most aren’t all that surprising: ‘Say You Do’ by Dierks Bentley is reaching the natural end of its chart run sliding to 66, ‘Homegrown’ by the Zac Brown Band drops to 57 as the hype around its album is starting to fade, and ‘Nobody Love’ by Tori Kelly takes a sharp drop to 95 because, well, it hasn’t really caught on the way that I expected it would. The one drop that did surprise me in hindsight was ‘I Want You To Know’ by Zedd & Selena Gomez – yeah, it’s been slipping for the past few weeks, but considering Zedd’s dropping a new album, you’d think it’d have been given a little more of a push.

And believe it or not, we had even less major gains. The first was ‘One Hell Of An Amen’ by Brantley Gilbert gaining a little traction to 85 – no surprise, Gilbert’s been missing a hit on the radio since ‘Small Town Throwdown’ left, and of his singles, this is probably the best of them. Then you had ‘Believe’ by Mumford & Sons surge up to 54 – which is no surprise, the album had a very solid opening sales week, although significantly weaker than its last album. Not exactly a surprise, because
Wilder Mind is a lot worse, but you can bet the public’s response is more to the change in sound and less to any actual standard of quality. The third, and most intriguing, is ‘Cheerleader’ by OMI, which continued its rise to 47. And even though I’m kind of ambivalent on most of the song, it’s lightweight enough that I can see this easily cracking the top ten as it already has in Canada for a while now.

But that’s just a matter of time to determine, so let’s go to our returning entries… and there was none of them. Only six new songs this week, as a matter of fact, so let’s go!

99. ‘Shine On’ by Sawyer Fredericks – you know it’s not a good season for The Voice when you only have one new song from the show landing on the Hot 100, and it's the Top 6. And it's even worse when said song is from Sawyer Fredericks, easily one of the least impressive contestants I've seen on the show in a while. Now granted, it probably didn't help matters that the song is from relative unknown Daisy May Erlewine - overall a pretty solid alternative country folk song that honestly has some pretty solid melodies and textures, at least on the versions I've heard. And thus of course Sawyer Fredericks strips it back even further, neutering some of the more strident country melodies and tries to replace the pretty bare-bones harmonies with choirs. And while I do like the addition of more fiddles and Sawyer's voice is playing in a much more comfortable range, I miss the more prominent melody line and ultimately this version does feel underwhelming. Not precisely bad - even on the few weeks Sawyer's been on this show and I've repeatedly lambasted him, he's gotten better - but it's nothing all that special outside of giving some attention to an artist who could use it. Props for that, but otherwise... meh.

93. ‘The Night Is Still Young’ by Nicki Minaj – well, took it long enough! By this point, it's a fairly regular process with Nicki Minaj records, she leads with the rap singles and just when the hype starts to fade she throws on the lightweight dance single to grab everyone's attention. Now, like with most of her hip-hop singles, I tend to have mixed luck with her poppier hits, and this song is another example of that. Keep in mind my favourite of these songs that Nicki has put out is 'Pound The Alarm', and mostly because it's the brightest and one of the more aggressively stupid songs she made - and I mean that as a compliment. This is more measured and restrained, but it suffers for it - by playing her vocals in a lower range, with a slower tempo, and a much quieter melody, even with the solid bass and guitar lines, the 'party' vibe of the song is more muted and desperate. And even if you'd argue that tone was intentional - and there's really not much in the lyrics to support that - it doesn't exactly click as well as, say, 'DJ Got Us Fallin' In Love' by Usher or 'Die Young' by Kesha. Instead, this oddly reminds me more of 'We Can't Stop' by Miley Cyrus, a party song that ultimately feels more like the opposite. Not quite as bad as that track, but still nothing I can really recommend.

89. ‘Classic Man’ by Jidenna ft. Roman GianArthur - ladies and gentlemen, you thought DJ Mustard would be the one to create the new version of 'Fancy', but I give you the most blatantly obvious ripoff yet. Seriously, listen to that synth tone, percussion, and gang vocals - you lay those two tracks on top of each other, and most people couldn't tell the difference! And it's a damn shame it's coming from Jidenna, affiliated with Janelle Monae of all people and who is just about as unconvincing as Iggy Azalea was 'Fancy'! As much as people hated that song - and I wasn't one of them, overall just pretty indifferent - at least Iggy was trying to make a rough-edged track and she had a decent flow. Jidenna, on the other hand, with his singtalk cadence and completely lazy attempt at rhyming, wants to sound like a 'classic man', elegant and old-fashioned - and this is the instrumentation he chooses, paired with lyrics about slinging cocaine and behaving like a classic gangster? No samples of retro-soul or jazz or from a mafia movie or even west-coast G-funk? No, I don't buy this for a damn second, and the fact that the ripoff is so blatant and obvious means that this'll hopefully be pretty disposable. Next! 

87. ‘I Need Your Love’ by Shaggy ft. Mohombi, Faydee & Costi - okay, seriously, is this 2001 or something? Do we really have a new song from Shaggy on the charts? For those of you who don't know, Shaggy may have had initial success with 'Boombastic' in 1995, but he hit it huge with the double header of 'It Wasn't Me' and 'Angel' at the turn of the millennium - and then promptly dropped off the face of the earth. Well, that's not quite the case, because believe it or not, he's continued to drop records for the past fifteen years, most of which have done nothing. For this non-album single, though, he rounded up Mohombi - which if you're from anywhere except the US you know him from 'Bumpy Ride', which is a damn fun song - Australian/Lebanese singer Faybee, and Romanian Costi for this track, which opens with an oscillating guitar before breaking into a thicker, deeper, punchier progression that's actually kind of ridiculously catchy and anchored by a pretty solid backing melody, even I do feel it'd be nice if the song actually settled on a decent groove and stuck with it. It's also a little weird that the song opts to be a song where both Shaggy and Mohombi are pleading for their girls not to leave them and promising to be more attentive - and I'll give them this, they do sound good on the track, certainly more memorable than the other two singers. But as it is, it feels a little overstuffed and could have done a little better to emphasize that guitar line a little more if it was trying to be this year's 'Bailando'. Although, I can predict this: if 'Cheerleader' blows up huge, I wouldn't be surprised to see 'I Need Your Love' following it.

78. ‘Coffee’ by Miguel - now this is more like it! Miguel's Kaleidoscope Dream back in 2012 won him a lot of critical acclaim for having enough imagination and good wordplay to support a vocal presence that wasn't really as distinctive. And his newest single is a prime example of that again, as Miguel's understated performance could easily be overlooked if it wasn't plain he's knocking the song out with an effortless poise that's admirable in its own way. But that's not even touching the instrumentation, which beefs up the synth with an incredibly tight distorted bass with just enough tasteful reverb to intensify the understated 808s and skittering keyboard line. The song just builds to this breathless energy that fits the young recklessness of the lyrics so damn well - it's kind of hyperbolic for sure, but it's so damn sincere and balances restraint with raw exuberance so damn well that it's incredibly infectious. Dear God, I liked 'Adorn', but with 'Coffee' Miguel has brought something that's so much my alley with R&B that I'm definitely hyped for the album. Please, America, for some reason you're not going to make 'King Kunta' or 'Bills' huge hits, but 'Coffee' is the sort of song that deserves it.

29. ‘Pretty Girls’ by Britney Spears & Iggy Azalea - I've been asked to cover this song ever since it dropped, and I've been delaying that effort ceaselessly because - to be honest - I really did not care. Right now Iggy Azalea has been fighting for anything that might bring her the slightest hint of relevance after the backlash hit her follow-up singles after 'Black Widow', and Britney Spears' career is a good four years past its expiration date, if not longer. And yet, I knew I'd be covering the song when I landed ont Billboard BREAKDOWN, and... oh god, I'm glad I avoided this, because this might be one of the more grating and obnoxious songs I've heard since 'Bitch Better Have My Money'. Can we start by the fact that low-synth barely passes for a melody and trying to pair it with a twinking high line sounds more creepy than enticing, especially with explosive blasts of snap percussion and blocky chunks of pitch-shifted hi-hats to match the gang vocals? In other words, I thought we already had 'Fancy' Mk. II this week! Then we get to our performers, where I'd actually argue Iggy comes out ahead in sounding slick and poised where Britney's trying to make her lower range emote with as much autotune piled on as possible trying to imitate Charli XCX's vocal inflection. Instead it sounds insufferably obnoxious, at least until we get to the verses where the multi-tracking at least helps. And lyrically... what is there to say about this? It's a song that has the substance of 'Valley Girl' trying to fuse with spacey imagery to try to make it remotely interesting - except when Frank Zappa made that song, he was spoofing this sort of vapid behavior instead of celebrating it. And it's not even hyperbolic in a ridiculous way like 'Tik Tok' was - Kesha at least understood if she was going to make this sort of song, she'd emphasize the trashiness in a way that stood a chance of being populist or at least self-aware. This song, on the other hand, is so inssufferably pleased with itself that it makes my skin crawl.

So yeah, that was this week, and really, it was pretty good, at least in terms of my workload. For the Best of the Week, 'Coffee' by Miguel easily runs away with it, but 'I Need Your Love' by Shaggy, Mohombi, Faybee, and Costi is pretty solid too. For the worst... oh, it's not even difficult, with both of our 'Fancy' wannabes snagging the slots, with Jidenna and Roman GianArthur at least rising to Dishonourable Mention for having a little more restraint. 'Pretty Girls' easily takes the worst, and good riddance. Knowing our luck, it'll probably end up sticking around thanks to the combined star power of both artists, but we can hope for better.

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