Thursday, May 21, 2015

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - may 30, 2015

So we’re now at the halfway point of the Billboard Hot 100 year, so let’s take stock of the situation – and while I wouldn’t quite say it was a disappointment, it certainly is interesting to see how certain trends have oscillated. R&B and neo-soul are fighting pop for dominance – with pop arguably gaining the upper hand – country has mostly stayed quiet to flush the last dregs of bro-country out of its system, all sorts of off-beat, weird tracks have fought their way up from both electronica and the indie scene, and hip-hop continues to marginalize talent and wordplay in favour of the lowest common denominator. Sure, I might lament the failure of a few promising pop and country tracks, but the rise of nu-crunk and the prevalence of Vine have driven more than its fair share of forgettable garbage to the top – and the alarming thing is that it keeps happening.

We’ll get to more of this soon, but for now, let’s take a look at our top 10. Unsurprisingly, ‘See You Again’ by Wiz Khalifa and Charlie Puth continues to ride huge streaming and solid airplay gains against steadily shrinking sales to the top spot. At this point, it’s looking to take over the airplay peak completely, and unless it suddenly slows down, it probably will. Behind it we’ve got ‘Trap Queen’ by Fetty Wap, which looks like it might be stuck at #2 because airplay peaked and even despite good sales, huge streaming, and finally breaking on YouTube, I don’t see it getting enough of a push. In the case of ‘Earned It’ by The Weeknd’ at #3, the push is effectively over – serious drops in airplay, not great sales, only where it is thanks to radio inertia and huge streaming, and I see it falling soon, potentially dethroned by ‘Shut Up And Dance’ at #4, which despite slowing airplay gains and no YouTube, it had streaming gains and still great sales. This pushes ‘Uptown Funk’ by Mark Ronson & Bruno Mars to #5, which is losing in all categories except YouTube, but not as quickly as you’d think, it’s got some inertia on its side. Probably enough to hold off ‘Want To Want Me’ by Jason Derulo for a bit longer, as it rises to #6 thanks to radio gains, solid sales and some decent streaming, but I’m not quite sure the growth is enough. It was enough to push back ‘Sugar’ by Maroon 5 to #7, which took hits across the board except, again, on YouTube, and ‘Love Me Like You Do’ by Ellie Goulding to #8, which had worse sales and streaming but isn’t losing airplay that quickly. Of course, this leaves a gap which means ‘Nasty Freestyle’ by T-Wayne is back in the top ten at #9 – once again, it’s here because of streaming and sales, and as soon as one burns out, I don’t see this having longevity, because the radio sure isn’t jumping onboard. And to round out our group, ‘Thinking Out Loud’ by Ed Sheeran – not a lot to say, losses across the board except YouTube, and particularly bad in sales. Once again, as soon as we get stronger competition, I don’t see this lasting.

And on that note, let’s talk about our losers and dropouts. Hefty chunk of both this week, with drop-outs like ‘Lips Are Movin’ by Meghan Trainor and thankfully ‘Ain’t Worth The Whiskey’ by Cole Swindell on their natural path out, and ‘American Oxygen’ by Rihnna and ‘Nobody Love’ by Tori Kelly just losing all traction. Seems to be a common story when it comes to most of our losers too. ‘Ayo’ by Chris Brown & Tyga mercifully falling to 51, ‘FourFiveSeconds’ by Rihanna, Kanye West, and Paul McCartney sliding to 56, ‘Say You Do’ by Dierks Bentley dropping to 80, and even ‘Lay Me Down’ by Sam Smith are all fading naturally. The rest of our list… well, the surprise for me was ‘Renegades’ by X Ambassadors dropping to 95, but then again, maybe people really are just sick of the whole Mumford & Sons’ sound, even if it’s not from them. ‘Get Low’ by Dillon Francis & DJ Snake is a total nonstarter falling to 96 – but then again, DJ Snake’s got more charting songs, so he’s fine. Last is ‘Baby Be My Love Song’ by Easton Corbin going nowhere to 89 and ‘She Don’t Love You’ by Eric Paslay regrettably dropping to 91 – but then again, it’s really a miracle it lasted this long.

Slightly less miraculous are our gains this week, even if most were fairly predictable. Unsurprisingly Nicki Minaj’s ‘The Night Is Still Young’ jumped up to 66 from its debut last week – unsurprising as it’s the ‘pop’ hit from the album – and ‘Cheerleader’ by OMI continues its rise to 31 because it’s one of the most lightweight summer songs to grace the chart in a while. Of course, it all can’t be good news, because ‘Lean On’ by Major Lazer, DJ Snake, and M0 jumped up to 36, and ‘Nasty’ by Bandit Gang Marco ft. Dro going to 41 proves that nu-crunk might not be going away any time soon – let’s hope that it at least gets better if it sticks around. The gain that surprised me the most, though, was ‘Fight Song’ by Rachel Platten leaping up to 28 – I mean, really? It’s not a bad track, but in terms of pop music, it feels like yet another done-to-death inspirational song that wouldn’t be out of place on Kelly Clarkson’s last album that I’ve already almost completely forgotten. And the video only just dropped a few days ago, it wouldn’t have impacted the charts yet, so what’s the appeal here?

Eh, the song’s inoffensive enough, and odds are I’ll forget about it by the end of this episode, so let’s talk about our single returning entry, and whoo boy, it’s a doozy…

So let me explain late-album singles. If you’re an artist like Taylor Swift, you and your marketing team will realize pretty quickly that after the first few solid hits, you start getting into shaky territory by the time you hit single number four. So, you overcompensate. You go over the top, hype the video to no tomorrow, perhaps bring in a guest star, and just like Lady Gaga and especially Katy Perry before her, Taylor Swift’s ‘Bad Blood’ is both underwhelming as a song and completely ridiculous for everything else – it’s her brand of ‘E.T’, with Kendrick filling in for Kanye. As a track, it’s really not all that impressive – production is cavernous and percussion-saturated and only get interesting when the terminally underweight guitars come in, and Taylor doing her best Avril Lavigne impression, which honestly was the reason I kind of liked the song in the first place. Of course, the remix amps up the percussion and icy synths even further, completely gutting the guitars, and on top of that we’ve got Kendrick Lamar dropping two of the laziest verses he’s ever written. Still competently structured and they do mostly fit with the song’s breakup theme, but let’s be honest on what this is, from Kendrick’s appearance as the only guy all the way to the video that looks like a combination of Sucker Punch and TRON 2: a monumental display of ego. Taylor got a slew of her female friends in music, art, and fashion together and made a ‘sexy’ empowerment fantasy. And that’s fine, guys do it all the time, but pairing it with a sour breakup song and a video that features a lot more posing for cameos than Taylor actually being awesome and using all of that advanced hardware to kick Selena Gomez’s ass strikes me as missing the mark. And really, when you have walls of explosions with no roaring metal guitars and then cut to black right before the fight starts… yeah, talk about underwhelming.

So that’s our one returning entry, now onto our new arrivals, starting with…

94. ‘A Thousand Years’ by Sawyer Fredericks – so yes, I know that Sawyer Fredericks won The Voice. Considering he’s the only contestant who has any chart presence for a while, I’m not precisely surprised. Now given that these charts are approximately a week behind for The Voice, what we get here is one of his semifinal songs, the terminally vapid ‘A Thousand Years’ by Christina Perri, a song that will forever be associated with Twilight in my mind thanks to its ubiquity in the films and ridiculous shallowness. Now to his credit, Fredericks has been getting better, and this is probably his best performance yet, mostly thanks to the sliding the song to a better key and playing it more acoustic, which actually turns out to be a pretty good fit. I don’t think I’ll ever be a fan of his shaky warble, but the song keeps him out of his painfully weak upper range, and he does do a lot to sell it. Overall… eh, I wasn’t really expecting anything better, but it’s passable.

93. ‘Beautiful Life’ by Nick Fradiani – hey, did any of you remember that American Idol was a thing this year? If you followed the pop charts, you sure as hell wouldn’t, because in researching this song, it was the first time I was even aware American Idol had run for another season, let alone that we had a new winner. Anyway, this is the original song we got for him… and wow, I completely get why American Idol is going off the air, because I’m not impressed at all. At least The Voice has a better grasp on its live recordings than this, because the mix balance is completely skewed, with the guitar buried and the shouty backing vocals nearly on the same level as Fradiani’s. As a presence behind the microphone, he’s got energy and a good enough voice, but it’s a bad sign I’m reminded most of Chris Daughtry and the fact he never really rose above the flavourless mush American Idol thinks is ‘powerful’, which coincidentally is exactly how I’d describe the lyrics, complete with references to the haters that don’t belong anywhere near this sort of track. I kind of feel bad for Fradiani – he’s clearly trying – but The Voice eclipsed American Idol in terms of relevance a while ago, and while none of their stars have really stuck the landing, it’s not like this new winner is going to do much either. Sorry.

92. ‘Photograph’ by Ed Sheeran – so remember what I said about late album singles back with Taylor Swift? Well, Ed Sheeran has opted for the route that has a bit more dignity, but will likely bring a lot less success. I have to be honest, I would have preferred that Ed Sheeran released one of his darker singles from x than this – hell, ‘Bloodstream’ actually charted in the UK, and he had songs like ‘Afire Love’ he could have chosen that were a lot better. Instead, following in the path of ‘Thinking Out Loud’, he gives us a pretty straightforward sentimental love song that confines Sheeran to his dignified falsetto, which is fine enough but is nowhere near as interesting as his full-throated soulful voice. And sure, the song does have some swell and presence, but from a compositional standpoint it’s nowhere near interesting. At least if this is a hit, it’ll unseat Nickelback’s hold on this song title, but I’d almost prefer Chad Kroeger’s howling incompetence to this, which is pleasant but will be forgotten a few hours after I’m done with it.

77. ‘Fun’ by Pitbull ft. Chris Brown – so in the first of our appearances from Chris Brown on the charts – yep, for some reason America decided we needed more Chris Brown in our lives – he’s paired with Pitbull to try and recreate the power of ‘International Love’ on a song called ‘Fun’ that owes its chart appearance to American Idol. And honestly, he doesn’t miss the mark by much, because I actually kind of like this song. Now I’m not going to say the writing is anything special or close to good – as much as Pitbull’s interjection of some humility at not being the boss is not a bad idea, there’s too much clumsiness in the construction of his verses or Chris Brown’s chorus to be ignored. But really, the star of this song is the instrumentation, especially that textured percussion and African-inspired pan flute interlude, which is easily the most interesting part of what was otherwise another slice of retro-disco with the horns and guitar. But like with many stars of this week, Pitbull’s stretching to find a late album single, and he might have found one of the best of them, but it's still not much.

74. ‘How Many Times’ by DJ Khaled ft. Chris Brown, Lil Wayne, Big Sean – you know, this might be one of the first times I’ve ever really talked about DJ Khaled, even despite the fact that he’s become a near-permanent fixture of mainstream hip-hop for nearly a decade now, first with Terror Squad and then on his own ‘solo’ hits, which of course are overloaded with guest stars. This time, he scoops up Chris Brown, Lil Wayne, and Big Sean for a song complaining how many times it’s going to take to get your girl to come over and have sex with them. Now, maybe it’s just me, but I wouldn’t brag or complain that it takes so much effort on your part to get laid, doesn’t that completely fly in the face of your image as always being able to steal my girl? Now to Lil Wayne’s credit, he actually stays on topic and sounds genuinely aggrieved he’s not getting any reply, but then we have Big Sean come in with his run-on sentence flow that frequently falls off the beat, only gets energy midway through the verse, ventures completely off topic to steal your girl, and then joins Chris Brown in jacking the Migos flow. Oh, and Chris Brown raps – I thought we all remember from ‘Look At Me Now’ that that should never happen anymore? It’s really that verse that knocks this song from forgettable to painfully mediocre if not worse – and as usual, DJ Khaled plays the hype man shouting ‘Live life!’ For that, he got the main credit on the track… yeah, no, this is lousy. Next!

67. ‘This Summer’s Gonna Hurt Like A Motherfucker’ by Maroon 5 – so here’s something you probably don’t know about me: since I spend so much time listening through full albums, I don’t tend to hear terrible songs that pop up on the radio first, instead thinking that if I wait to cover them on Billboard BREAKDOWN, they’ll inevitably show up. And so when I started hearing the buzz that the newest single from Maroon 5 was absolute garbage, I bided my time and knew I’d have to talk about it eventually. And it turns out I wasn’t wrong, because we might have the most unpleasant Maroon 5 single I’ve heard in a long time. I’ll give it this, it does evoke images of summer for me, most notably the swirling headache I get when I sit out in the sun too long. Mostly because the production is a runny, smeared-over mess, that has none of the band’s old trademark tightness thanks to being dominated by percussion and hazy synths that somehow barely have a melody, that are then complimented by Adam Levine’s caterwauling that has nothing close to driving energy, which you need when you have such an monumentally unpleasant and limp melody line. And that’s before we get to the lyrics, which are straight in the ‘One More Night’ role of describing a miserable situation that still involves Adam Levine getting laid and then relentlessly insulting the girl as vapid – this coming from a guy who titled his song ‘this summer’s gonna hurt like a motherfucker’ – now that’s poetry! No, this is easily the worst Maroon 5 song since ‘Payphone’ and in a just world will burn away the last of ‘Sugar’s good will and take the band with it. Since we don’t live in a just world… man, this summer is really going to hurt.

57. ‘I’m Comin' Over’ by Chris Young – man, it’s nice to get something good to round out the week, and from a country artist I’m so happy to see with a new lead-off single. I was way kinder than most to Chris Young’s last album AM, mostly because it took bro-country clichés and probably made the best possible songs out of them by telling more stories and kicking the instrumentation into heavier territory. Plus, you had Chris Young, who sits in the same category as Randy Houser as some of the best male country vocalists in terms of raw charisma and power. In any case, it seems like Chris Young was one of the very few people who paid attention to where country seemed to be trending, because ‘I’m Coming Over’ does a lot right. Washed out steel guitars to the front to present a melody over the gentle beat paired with real drums, production that has more of a rock edge and could use a little more texture but maintains a good flow, and a pretty solid guitar solo to round it all out. Hell, even the lyrics aren’t bad, capturing the back-and-forth that comes when there’s still an attraction in a relationship that has to end – yeah, Blake Shelton did something similar with Ashley Monroe on ‘Lonely Tonight’, but Chris Young is such a better presence in front of the microphone. Yeah, it’s nowhere near the best thing he’s ever recorded, and I do miss the heavier, more defiantly country tones, but in a week like this, I’ll take what I can get.

So that was the week of our halfway point, and wow, most of it was mediocre and forgettable at best. For the worst, Maroon 5’s ‘This Summer’s Gonna Hurt’ easily takes that, with DJ Khaled, Big Sean, Chris Brown, and Lil Wayne taking the Dishonourable Mention. For the best… well, Chris Young runs away with it for ‘I’m Coming Over’, but Honourable Mention is really a tossup between three… and I think I’m going to give it to ‘A Thousand Years’ by Sawyer Fredericks, and believe me, I never thought I’d say that. But with an underwhelming remix and bland guest verse hobbling ‘Bad Blood’ and sloppy writing knocking back ‘Fun’, I might as well commend Fredericks at least as the most improved. Hell, he might have a good song charting next week before I never end up seeing him again!

No comments:

Post a Comment