Thursday, July 9, 2015

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - july 18, 2015

...ever have those days when everything you expected just goes wrong in spectacular fashion? You'd think that I'd have more of those days, considering that I have this show and attempting to predict the evolving tastes of the American public - or at least what the music industry thinks the American public wants - is an exercise in guesswork at best. But I thought after thirty weeks doing this show, I thought I had a reasonably firm grasp on it - and boy, did this week prove me wrong. And that would have been fine - I generally like surprises - except it went wrong in the worst possible way.

Want the big example? Let's start with our Top Ten, where 'See You Again' by Wiz Khalifa & Charlie Puth somehow holds onto a twelfth week at #1 - but I doubt it'll get another one. It's losing streaming and airplay and had pretty weak sales - at this point, it's clinging to the top thanks to YouTube and little else. But what could replace it? Well, a lot of smart money would have been on OMI's 'Cheerleader', which went up to #2 this week - sure, a little slip on YouTube, but it ruled sales, held steady on streaming, and spent the week gaining airplay, you'd think it'd be an easy shot for the top. But in complete defiance to everything I said last week about this being a fad, 'Watch Me' by Silento jumped up to #3 with gains in sales, airplay, smashing onto YouTube, and surging in streaming - and remember how I was more dismissive than angry last week? Yeah, that's not happening again - America, what the hell is wrong with you? I know 2007 was eight years ago and half the kids on Vine making this song popular still probably hadn't learned to use the toilet effectively, but you all remember Soulja Boy, right? You remember how 'Crank Dat' was a thing for like ten minutes and then became a national embarrassment? Do we really need to go through this bullshit again for a song that's far weaker and doesn't even have the weak benefit of originality considering how much it steals from other terrible dance songs? I might not have been the biggest fan of 'Bad Blood' by Taylor Swift and Kendrick Lamar before, but I sure as hell will take it now - because it was forced down to #4 even despite a solid week across the board. Hell, even despite leading streaming 'Trap Queen' was forced back too down to #5 - yeah, part of it was weaker sales and losing airplay, but I'd still take it over 'Watch Me'! What then surprised me was 'Can't Feel My Face' by The Weeknd stuck at #6 - potent streaming, strong sales, heavy airplay gains all week... but perhaps with YouTube, it just wasn't enough to smash get any higher. It did mean 'Shut Up And Dance' by Walk The Moon slipped down to #7, even despite streaming gains, but that's not all that surprising, given it's steadily slipping in airplay and sales and never had real YouTube. And speaking of YouTube, we have our first new arrival to the Top 10: 'Where Are You Now' by Skrillex & Diplo, featuring Justin Bieber. It's one of those songs that I don't really care about one way or another and it's only here because of the video, because despite modest gains on sales, streaming, and airplay, it wouldn't be enough without it. 'Hey Mama' by David Guetta, Bebe Rexha, Nicki Minaj & Afrojack is a similar case - even despite a sharp drop in streaming and really weak sales, decent airplay gains and rock-solid YouTube keeps it at #9. And then we have our second new entry to the Top 10: 'Fight Song' by Rachel Platten. Seriously, are we really so desperate for Kelly Clarkson-esque self-esteem anthems that we'll take the shallowest of bland rip-offs instead? It doesn't have YouTube or strong streaming, getting there almost entirely on excellent sales and airplay gains, which gives me the feeling we might be seeing more of this for a while - not a good sign. 

So do things get any better when we look at our losers and dropouts this week? Well, for dropouts definitely - losing 'Dear Future Husband' by Meghan Trainor, 'Pretty Girls' by Britney Spears & Iggy Azalea, and 'Energy' by Drake are net positives, even if we did lose the pretty solid 'One Last Time' by Ariana Grande and 'Wild Child' by Kenny Chesney & Grace Potter along the way, even through they were near the end of their chart lives. Which is pretty much true for all of our major losers this week, the vast majority which are in country music. 'Smoke' by A Thousand Horses drops to 92, 'Don't It' by Billy Currington slides to 83, 'Little Toy Guns' by Carrie Underwood' stumbles to 65, and most disappointingly, 'Diamond Rings And Old Barstools' by Tim McGraw & Catherine Dunn slides down to 74. Outside of country, both our losers do surprise me, with 'Budapest' by George Ezra dropping hard to 49 - I thought it'd have more longevity - and 'I Really Like You' by Carly Rae Jepsen' sliding to 90 - I thought the album would have bought it a little more time on the charts.

But we have even fewer gainers this week too, most of which debuted last week and picked up boosts. 'Yoga' by Janelle Monae & Jidenna went up to 79 - might not love the song, but I'll take Janelle Monae getting a boost - 'I Don't Like It, I Love It' by Flo Rida ft. Robin Thicke & Verdine White rose to 63 - no complaints there - and 'All Eyes On You' by Meek Mill ft. Nicki Minaj & Chris Brown leaped up to 32, most of which I suspect was driven by Meek Mill's album release. We'll talk about him more a bit a later - along with Nicki Minaj and Chris Brown - but none of it has made the song grow on me all that much. And finally, we have 'Bitch Better Have My Money' by Rihanna jumping up to 15 because it finally got a full video. It doesn't make the song any less completely unbelievable and terrible, especially considering the video is a hysterical revenge fantasy that relies more on cheap provocation and warped, technicolor cinematography to draw interest than the actual song. Ugh, I'll be happy to see this gone.

And on that note, let's turn to the two unequivocal positives this week: the returning entries!

I've already raved about this song multiple times on this show, but I completely get why it keep slipping in and out of the Hot 100, this time back because of Wildheart's release. It's a slow-burn that relies more on skittering keys, smoldering guitar, and atmosphere than most of modern R&B. I do wish it'd stick around a little more, or that some of the other singles from Wildheart could land some traction, but I wouldn't be surprised if 'Coffee' only sticks around a little longer, so I'll appreciate it while I have it.

I'll be bluntly honest: if I was picking songs from To Pimp A Butterfly that I'd like to see Kendrick Lamar release as singles, 'Alright' probably wouldn't be high on my list. 'How Much A Dollar Cost' and 'The Blacker The Berry' all strike me as far more hard-hitting tracks. But 'Alright' is probably the one with the most hard-hitting mainstream appeal thanks to the sticky chorus courtesy of Pharrell, horns and cleverly subversive lyrics that could easily be seen as gangsta glorification when it really does the absolute opposite - something that FOX News completely missed when they took time to castigate Kendrick for the video his fiery performance at the BET Awards. It's going to be interesting to see if this takes off with the added boost from the controversy, because Kendrick's got much darker songs waiting in the wings from To Pimp A Butterfly that would cut far deeper - and I kind of want to see them chart because of it.

So from that high point, on to our new arrivals, starting with...

100. 'Brother' by NEEDTOBREATHE ft. Gavin DeGraw - okay, how to explain this... I may have gone off pretty hard on Christian music on my last video reviewing Owl City's Mobile Orchestra, but I really don't care all that much about the subgenre. The fact is that the Christian rock market is a pretty small niche and rarely, if ever, crosses onto mainstream radio... except this week, where the most recent single from Christian rock band NEEDTOBREATHE snagged a guest appearance from adult alternative artist Gavin DeGraw to grab a slot on the charts. And you know, I'm kind of glad it did, mostly because it's actually a pretty decent song. I don't want to oversell it - I like they're going for more gospel touches, but Algiers' brand of gospel is much more my speed - but I like most of the lower guitar and organ touches, even if the production is way too slick to gain any earthy power or match either vocalist all that well. But the lyrical sentiment focusing on brothers supporting each other is solid - granted, Avicii did it better with 'Hey Brother' and without the unnecessary religious undertones, but I'll take what I can get. Overall... yeah, this song's fine by me.

98. 'My Way' by Fetty Wap - I'm actually surprised we haven't heard more from Fetty Wap before now, with 'Trap Queen''s surprisingly melodic bounce and lyrics that honestly were pretty decent, if a bit corny and a little sloppy near the end of the track. Since then, his fortunes have brightened considerably, which leads to two singles of his popping up the Hot 100 this week, this being the older one that dropped back in 2014. And honestly, I might like it more than 'Trap Queen'. Yeah, obviously Fetty Wap isn't really a great singer, and you could definitely make this argument his warbling flow is more than a little basic, especially with the tinkling, pseudo DJ Mustard production paired with some pretty processed hi-hats and a surprisingly deep mix. But like Young Thug, Fetty Wap actually has charisma and his actual content isn't bad, trying to woo over a girl and snap at assholes who try to steal her away. I think that might be the element about Fetty Wap that's actually kind of novel - his odd sense of hood chivalry. He doesn't steal girlfriends, but tries to woo them when they're single. Yeah, Monty's guest verse is pointless and in the end it's all pretty shallow, but it's done well, I'll take it.

96. 'Bad For You' by Meek Mill ft. Nicki Minaj - I think this week is trying to punish me for not caring enough to cover Meek Mill, because he shows up twice on this list, the first with his girlfriend Nicki Minaj. And I'll easily take this over their last hook-up track 'All Eyes On You', for several reasons. For one, Nicki takes the hook and there's no Chris Brown - an easy plus right out of the gate, and while I find her assertions that she's a 'good girl' a little ridiculous given her past career, in the context of this song minus a verse from her it works. I suspect any verse was omitted because she'd blow Meek Mill off the stage, but to his credit his bars are pretty decent here. He's still a clumsy rapper who has a hard time sustaining a consistent flow, at least until the second verse, and I think the washed-out pianos still play the song as a little dour, but I can mostly buy what he's doing here.  Still not enough to convince me that reviewing his album would be a worthwhile usage of my time, but not bad all the same.

86. 'Do It Again' by Pia Mia ft. Chris Brown & Tyga - I should have every reason in the world to dislike this song. For one, it pairs a starlet I've never heard of with Chris Brown & Tyga, the two men responsible for releasing that godawful collaboration album I reviewed earlier this year. For another, it jacks a chorus from reggae singer J Boog that's actually a damn solid song and definitely has more texture and personality than this. But really, I can't get more than exasperated at this song, mostly because it's an overproduced and gratuitously autotuned track propping up an Ariana Grande wannabe. Actually, that's probably unfair, because the one big positive is that Pia Mia has a genuinely great voice that could probably do well with more soulful or rich production than the buzzy synths from about 2010 imported for this track. In other words, if you gave Pia Mia better supporting stars, better instrumentation and production, and a song that wasn't a blatant rip-off of a more interesting reggae tune, I could groove to this. But as it is... no, not for me.

84. 'Play No Games' by Big Sean ft. Chris Brown & Ty Dolla $ign - and here comes the crap. I'll admit there were tracks off of Dark Sky Paradise that I actually liked, but this sure as hell wasn't one of them, and if Chris Brown wants me to take them seriously, I'll do just that and say the best thing about this song is easily the production - the dusty R&B background lends this song some desperately needed class that none of our performers possess. Big Sean treats his girl with casual disinterest even though she apparently 'respects him like a father figure' - ew. But what's worse is the casual disinterest about Big Sean's delivery, which unfortunately applies to his lazy rapping skills - yeah, he's got flow but little else - and yet runs completely in the opposite direction of Chris Brown's chorus, which cares way too much to outright insult the girl by insisting she doesn't see the big picture. I haven't revisited this song since I covered Dark Sky Paradise, and it turns out a few months of distance only made it worse. Video is pretty funny, though. Next!

57. 'R.I.C.O.' by Meek Mill ft. Drake - so this is Meek Mill's second chance to win me over, this time with a collaboration and lead-off verse from Drake... and it's one of those songs that kind of rings a little weird for me, mostly because I have no idea how serious I should take it. You'd think that the hollow keys and sputtering beats would imply something aggressive, but the tempo is so slow and languid that it relies on the rappers to carry the momentum. But Drake's verse is just... no, I'm sorry, I don't buy him as a serious hustler meriting a RICO case to take down, and that's before he compared himself to both Elvis and attempted to usurp Michael Jackson's title. Dude, just because Madonna made out with you and probably sucked out some of your soul doesn't mean you're the 'king of pop', even if I did like the 'never-never-land' line. Meek Mill actually fits a fair bit better, if only because he's got the sort of assertive punch in his voice that can overcompensate for the minimalism, but outside of a few good sports references it's nothing all that special. So ultimately, I'm just kind of lukewarm on the song at best - a little amused, but nothing I'm really about to return to, or anything that inspires me to review the album.

36. 'Cool For The Summer' by Demi Lovato - it's odd that I have a soft-spot for Demi Lovato, considering if we're looking for singers that make it look like work and yet don't have a raw edge in their voice to really back it up, Demi Lovato would probably be my choice. And yet of her Disney cohort, Demi at least tries to add dramatic urgency to her tracks through the production and writing, which is one of the reasons I actually liked her last album DEMI. In any case, this is the lead-off single for her newest album... and whoa, I wasn't expecting this. For one, it appears that at some point Demi decided to pick up some dramatic range and production that's not just driven by a solid melody, but transposes that melody across piano and the nastiest electric guitar you'll hear on the pop charts right now. Yeah, it's a little bizarre how it's married to much of the same reverb-swallowed 80s-inspired synthpop that's popular now, but if we're looking for a singer who has the pipes to match it, it would be Demi. And this takes us to the lyrics, where Demi has come under some controversy for apparently flirting with curiosity about being with a girl as being 'cool for the summer'. And there's a fair number of people who are making the 'I Kissed A Girl' by Katy Perry comparison, but I wouldn't go that far, mostly because where Katy was playing it very cute and insubstantial, Demi's playing it straight, which suggests it might well more mean more. But putting discussions of Demi's potential bisexuality out of the picture, the song has an edge and is pretty awesome, definitely recommended.

34. '679' by Fetty Wap ft. Remy Boyz - so this is our second Fetty Wap track... and it's not as good as 'My Way'. Mostly because of the instrumentation - the oily synth and snap percussion just feels awkward, and while he's got personality on the chorus, it's unfocused and the few good lines he has just don't do enough. Hell, I actually thought Montana Bucks was fine on the second verse with his more singsong flow, but the big issue with this song is the tempo. Just for kicks I kicked the song up a bit when I checked out the video and it actually had some momentum for it. As it is, it's just kind of underwhelming, with not a lot to it - I wouldn't call it bad, but I would say it's a little too simple and basic, and doesn't really do enough to rise above its own vapidity. I'd probably skip it.

So that was this week... and believe it or not, I actually expected this week to be a lot worse than it was. Maybe it's the benefit of lowered expectations, but I actually liked the vast majority of the songs that dropped this week, to the point where I'm actually skipping the Dishonourable Mention this week and giving the worst to 'Play No Games' by Big Sean, Chris Brown, and Ty Dolla $ign. This opens up the space for two Honourable Mentions to match 'Coffee' as the returning Best of the Week, which I'm giving to 'Alright' by Kendrick Lamar - obviously - and 'Cool For The Summer' by Demi Lovato, which I'm honestly a little surprised I liked as much as I did. Let's hope for more of this next week, I could do with more like this.

1 comment:

  1. Hey! I've been reading your reviews for a while now--particularly these Billboard Breakdowns--and I just want to say that you're awesome! You have really interesting insights and you back them up so, even if I don't agree with the conclusion you came to (e.g. this album is great, this album sucks) I get where you're coming from, and it's like a learning experience to see it from a very articulate point of view.

    It's really cool to read these. Keep it up! ^^