Tuesday, September 29, 2015

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - october 10, 2015

For all of you who wanted me to cover Drake & Future's surprise collaboration release, you're going to get your wish - because it effectively crushed everything in its path and for I think is the third time this year, turned the Hot 100 into the Drake show. And please tell me that I'm not the only one who's starting to get a little sick of it at this point. Coupled with my suspicions that Views From The 6 will probably still end up dropping this year - and the fact that Drake was responsible for cosigning The Weeknd and helping him become huge - the hip-hop story has been dominated by Drake this year, and yet he got there by making some of the least interesting music of his entire career. And given the somewhat mixed critical response I've seen for What A Time To Be Alive, I'm suspecting we're going to hit the backlash zone any time now, because Drake is reaching dangerous points of overexposure. But apparently the mainstream public disagrees, because we had seventeen new songs this week and nearly half of them had Drake on them.

And that's not even counting the Top 10, where Drake had even more success. But before we get to him, we have The Weeknd holding down #1 with 'The Hills' - even despite not leading in a single category. But the gains in airplay, sales, and YouTube along with continued strength in streaming shows that unless it faces a serious challenger, it might hold the top for a while. In comparison, 'What Do You Mean?' by Justin Bieber surged on radio and still leads streaming and has plenty of YouTube, but this week it slipped just enough in sales to imply interest might be waning early. Meanwhile, 'Can't Feel My Face' by The Weeknd held #3 despite declining at the very top in radio, not great sales, and losses in streaming - although YouTube surprisingly picked up a bit of speed. But right behind it, we see that Drake's got the 'Hotline Bling' riding surges in airplay, big sales, and even bigger streaming to #4 - and that's without even having a video! And look, I still don't see the appeal - it's jerky, Drake's hook is way too clumsy, and a decent melody can only excuse Drake's obnoxious concern trolling for so long. Regardless, it was finally enough to shove 'Watch Me' by Silento down to #5, which despite having a not particularly strong week in sales actually gained on YouTube - folks, isn't this Soulja Boy wannabe played out already? The summer's over, this can stop already! Beyond that, Fetty Wap rides some of the hype from his debut with '679' rising to #6 thanks to streaming gains, decent sales, and even picking up some more airplay, somehow overtaking 'Locked Away' by Rock City and Adam Levine to #7, which despite a good sales week and even better airplay gains doesn't really have huge streaming, and that can be a problem in today's world. Next came the surprising tumble of 'Good For You' by Selena Gomez & A$AP Rocky - I honestly thought that song would have more longevity, but it looked to have peaked in airplay and it took losses in sales and streaming this week. Not quite as bad as 'Cheerleader' by OMI, which fell again to #9 thanks to losses across the board, but especially in radio where it's just in freefall. That makes it vulnerable to challenges from our other overexposed celebrity of 2015: Taylor Swift and her song 'Wildest Dreams', which is making major pushes in sales and airplay, but YouTube didn't quite take off the way her previous singles had and the streaming is painfully weak - she'll have a hard time making more headway to the top without it.

And on the topic of failures, present and future, we have our losers and dropouts. Wow, we had a lot of these across the board, with the most notable in the latter case being 'Loving You Easy' by Zac Brown Band, 'Should've Been Us' by Tori Kelly, 'She's Kinda Hot' by 5 Seconds Of Summer, 'Hell Of A Night' by Dustin Lynch, and finally 'Post To Be' by Omarion ft. Chris Brown and Jhene Aiko. All of which don't really surprise me, given they were on their way out anyway, and most of our losers fall in the same category. 'Honey I'm Good' by Andy Grammer falling to 48, 'Buy Me A Boat' by Chris Janson going to 57, 'Kick The Dust Up' by Luke Bryan, they're near the end of the runs. Hell, I'll even say I'm happy with 'Blase' by Ty Dolla $ign, Future, and Rae Sremmurd falling hard to 96 off the debut last week. But beyond that, I'm seeing a lot of losses that don't make a lot of sense - 'Fly' by Maddie & Tae falling to 72 even despite the fact country radio is bleeding songs and not replacing them fast enough? 'Black Magic' by Little Mix stalling its momentum at 78? 'I Don't Like It, I Love It' by Flo Rida, Robin Thicke, and Verdine White plummeting to 97 out of nowhere? 'R.I.C.O.' by Meek Mill and Drake being the one Drake song that wasn't successful this week going to 100? And most depressingly, 'Alright' by Kendrick Lamar falling to 98? Were all these losses worth the return of the Drake show?

And on that note, one of only two gainers was exactly the one you'd expect: 'Where Ya At' by Drake & Future rising up to 33, even though it was a collaboration that wasn't even on the surprise album but from DS2 earlier this summer! The other surprising boost was for 'Uptown Funk' by Mark Ronson & Bruno Mars of all things going back up to #14 thanks to a sudden resurgence in streaming... okay, I guess that's good, I still like that song, but remember what I said about overexposure? Maybe it's just because I cover the Hot 100 every week, but if Drake's only starting to feel that for me, 'Uptown Funk' crested it about six months ago. Still, damn good song though...

And since we don't have any returning entries and seventeen new songs, we've got no time to waste! Let's start with...

99. 'Hold Each Other' by A Great Big World ft. FUTURISTIC - well, I didn't expect this. Granted, I feel like every time I talk about A Great Big World, the YouTubers turned hit-makers when their collaboration with Christina Aguliera became inescapable in early 2014 and also happened to be a pretty damn great song. This appears to be their newest single teaming up with Arizona MC FUTURISTIC for the hip-hop crossover appeal... and I have to admit, from the 'Roar'-esque high treble keys opening the song, I was expecting something phoned in, especially considering the strings didn't nearly sound as organic as they used to. But really, it's a surprisingly solid triplet of love songs, from the opening heartbreak to newfound love to FUTURISTIC's verse reasserting his commitment with a flow that reminds me a bit of Childish Gambino by the way of B.o.B.. I'm not saying this song does more than be a solidly melodic pretty pop song, but A Great Big World have a pretty damn potent emotive delivery, and that elevates it enough for me. Damn good song.

95. 'Powerful' by Major Lazer ft. Ellie Goulding & Tarrus Riley - this is one of those songs that only surprises me that it's taken this long to get here. 'Powerful' had a run on the UK charts about a month ago and you had to expect Major Lazer would want a follow-up to the smash success of 'Lean On', this time teaming up with Ellie Goulding and Tarrus Riley for an R&B-inspired hook-up jam... and while I do like this a bit more than 'Lean On', I get the feeling I should like this more than I do. The grooves are potent, both Ellie Goulding and Tarrus Riley sound good against this instrumentation that brings enough eclectic vocal fragments and melodies, especially with those synth and horn stingers on the hook, but I get the feeling the hook doesn't quite have the tightness of the rest of the verses. On top of that, I don't think our duo have great chemistry - Tarrus Riley's got raw soulfulness, but Ellie Goulding is much more ethereal and spacey, and even despite the lyrics that are abstract enough to bridge the gap, their voices don't really mesh together on the chorus all that well, and it feels like a bit of a mess. Not bad, but I get the feeling this should be better.

92. 'Die A Happy Man' by Thomas Rhett - so if my luck holds, 'Crash & Burn' will hopefully miss the year-end list so I don't need to shred this thieving pop country hack any more than when I cover his upcoming album - really, at this point, it's just going to be a question not whether the album will be bad, but how bad it is. In the mean time, we've got his newest single 'Die A Happy Man'... and I'll give him some credit, this song is an improvement, mostly because it eases off on the obnoxiousness and brings in some genuine sincerity for a decent enough love song that actually remembers it's a country song. The odd thing is that the muted guitar groove feels a bit too choppy to fit with the production or Rhett's delivery, but the writing is good enough to capture the exhausted euphoria that comes after a great night. So yeah, this is a good song... so maybe Tangled Up won't suck as much as I'm expecting? Let's just hope...

90. 'Runnin' (Lose It All)' by Naughty Boy ft. Beyonce & Arrow Benjamin - anyone else get the odd feeling that Beyonce's been quiet for longer than you'd usually expect? I'm not saying I'm expecting her to pull another stunt like her self-titled album, but I wouldn't be surprised if she did. In the mean-time, she teamed up with UK garage/R&B producer Naughty Boy for this track... and honestly, I kind of hope this is a hit, because this is pretty kick-ass. Speaking as someone who has never been a Beyonce fan, she sounds fantastic on this song in her more soulful lower range and Arrow Benjamin is a great counterpoint to her. Coupled with instrumentation that's anchored in a pretty decent piano line and a mix that gives the vocals a lot of swell and a clattering beat that can match Beyonce's intensity especially with the strings swell and that great subtle guitar flourish on the end of the hook, I'd normally be completely sold on this if it wasn't for the way the momentum kind of dies at the end of the track. Hell, even the lyrics are decent, focusing on coming to grips with a breakup and the reassertion to recommit to herself so she doesn't lose herself in grief and fear. But really, even though I've never seen Beyonce as the electronic dance diva sort of artist, she's far better at it than making trash like '7/11', so I hope she does more, because this is great.

89. 'I'm The Plug' by Drake & Future - and now it's time for the Drake and Future show to begin, and we start with a song that honestly doesn't set me up to expect much. A muted, half-heard melody behind the trap hi-hats and bass-heavy production, with Future droning through his autotune about being the plug for people to boost their hype, with Drake delivering a decent flow for his guest verse but none of his bars being all that interesting. I think my biggest issue - besides the sleepy production and completely empty luxury rap - is how clumsy the bars are, especially Future's on the second verse that don't even come close to rhyming. Yikes, not a good sign.

88. '30 For 30 Freestyle' by Drake - my first thoughts upon listening to this track was what the hell happened to the production - did someone record a warbling vocal warm-up, smother it in incomprehensible reverb and muffled filters, and then slather it onto what was otherwise a pretty decent piano line? Otherwise, Drake goes for an extended, long-winded verse about his life, addressing how Meek Mill and his attackers kind of evaporated once the summer was over, his current legal issues, and a whole slew of people trying to leech off his fame. And... well, for a freestyle, it actually connects a lot more often than it doesn't, and Drake's weariness about the whole unfolding mess does feel legitimate, but I do wish the track had a little more focus on those issues and didn't try to throw in pointless luxury rap bragging, it just didn't fit the mood. Overall, better than the last track, but Drake has done better this year.

86. 'Scholarships' by Drake & Future - granted, Drake's also done worse, and this song is a prime example. Granted, it's got better production than 'I'm The Plug' with the washed out keys and sparse percussion, but then we have Future dropping into his most subdued bars yet as he moan-raps yet again about Ciara dumping him on the bridge before more droning luxury rap. Dude, it's been months, you cheated on her, and Ciara's 'I Bet' is better than the majority of your discography. Aside from that, I can't say that all the balling out of control is remotely believable at least until Drake injects a little fire into his verse with
a slightly off-kilter melodic cadence that actually doesn't sound bad. But again, Future drags this song back into the gutter, and it can't really recover. Speaking of which...

85. 'Live From The Gutter' by Drake & Future - okay, I think I might actually like this - yes, even despite Future's unrepentant bitching about Ciara dumping him again which he tries to play off with his autotuned cackle. But even with that, Future's flow wasn't terrible, the melancholic pianos with the blubbery bass and the noise of the streets echoing around them adds a layer of grimy menace that plays to the song's advantage of reporting straight from that filthy gutter. And while I wouldn't say Drake's raw hedonism is all that interesting here, the ignorance does kind of work with the rougher production. So far I'm not loving any of these Drake/Future songs, but fortunately...

84. 'Confident' by Demi Lovato - I can't be the only who is surprised that Demi Lovato is doing this well. For the most part I liked DEMI when I reviewed it on my blog two years ago, but it seemed to fall into a safe middleground with its hits to be likeable but rarely inspiring the fanbases that would defend Miley's wildness or Selena Gomez's more hip-hop touched melodrama. But with 'Cool For The Summer' as the opening salvo and now 'Confident', the title track of her upcoming album, Demi Lovato seems to have finally found her lane: rougher, more straightforwardly aggressive pop, jacking the escalating percussion straight from 'Black Skinhead' against heavy swells of horns, a potent melody that anchors the groove that sounds half pulled from Muse's 'Uprising' that laser-focuses on a minimalist snap chorus. And yes, there's a part of me that is desperately wishing for a roaring guitar line to fill out the background as Demi starts cutting loose with her rougher and yet carefully poised vocals which very quickly pulls on the dominant BDSM imagery. Well, okay, I buy it here a hell of a lot more than I do from Rihanna, mostly because Demi's got the balance between sensual and harsh a lot better, but it does feel a little too broad, mostly because it's caught between slinkier sexuality and pure rock explosive force, and it doesn't quite nail the sexual poise of 'Cool For The Summer'. Still, Demi's filtering her tendencies for heaviness in the right direction, and she's becoming a more expressive performer with ever song - colour me impressed.

81. 'Digital Dash' by Drake & Future - and we now return to the Drake and Future song... and the worst of the album yet. Who the hell told them that squealing synth line remotely sounded good, somehow cutting through that bassy production to just set my teeth on edge that only gets better when it fades slightly into the fuller keyboards. And then Future barely tries to rhyme his attempt at intoxicated debauchery at once again taking your girl as he returns from a trip from Africa and look at all he's accomplished - I get the sentiment, but wrong song to do it, man. Then we have Drake's verse, which in terms of bragging at least gets interesting as he's now with a woman three times richer than him - possibly Serena Williams - and snapping back again at Meek Mill mostly because he can. Once again, Drake feels like the most interesting part of these songs and really the saving grace, because otherwise, I'm not getting much out of this.

75. 'Big Rings' by Drake & Future - so for the first time this week, Drake actually takes the lead on the hook and verses and actually sounds enthused and energetic. I'm not all that amazed by the content - it's basically celebratory party music with the substance of an empty bucket made of air, where everyone wants really big rings, but the high glossy of the synths driving the melody on a heavier beat actually does lend the song a bit of opulence that can gain some swell, even I do feel the bass can drown it out a bit on the verses. Hell, even Future's mostly on his game on his quick-paced smackdown and even though his technical rhyming isn't stellar, his flow works and his verse is short enough to ignore to get back to the hook. Overall, not really a great song, but I can see the appeal here.

71. '$ave Dat Money' by Lil Dicky ft. Fetty Wap & Rich Homie Quan - okay, how to explain this... okay, for those of you who don't know, Lil Dicky is a rapper/comedian from Pennsylvania with the worst rap name since Titty Boi and whose video went semi-viral as he tried to make the most 'epic' rap video without spending anything. So okay, it's a novelty song and Lil Dicky got Fetty Wap for a instantly memorable hook that kind of fits his more goofy persona and Rich Homie Quan for a verse that went nowhere and was asinine, but I think that might have been the point and was actually the one joke that worked for me. But here's my issue - didn't Macklemore and Ryan Lewis already do this with 'Thrift Shop' and actually made it kind of awesome, or when Weird Al parodied 'Whatever You Like' or Kendrick Lamar's verse on The Lonely Island's 'Y.O.L.O.'? Because this is a lot less funny and a lot of it has to do with Lil Dicky's tone - where those previous songs used populism or went over the top or actually had something to say about fiscal responsibility, Lil Dicky just plays it off as being a cheap dick with a bunch of really forced and unfunny Jewish jokes, especially with that ugly outro that goes on way too long. There's no insight and it seems like they're saving just to save, especially when Lil Dicky's excuse for not wearing clean underwear is because he doesn't have 4.50 in quarters for the laundry, and that's just gross. At the end of the day, this is a novelty comedy song from top to bottom that isn't even as good as three other novelty comedy songs in the same lane, so I'd probably skip it.

70. 'Diamonds Dancing' by Drake & Future - you want to know what my biggest issue with this Drake and Future tape is? With the exception of 'Big Rings', neither of them remotely sound like they're having fun despite all of the flossing, which means five minutes of bragging can lose a lot of impact, especially when both of them are in autotune droning mode, especially with Future trying to reach into his upper range with disastrous results and Drake's extended and generally sour outro with much of the same nonsense I didn't like on 'Hotline Bling'. And at least that song had some good instrumentation - washing out the hollow synth melody that only kicks into gear on the more aggressive percussion on the hook. And really, since the hook is the only thing you're going to care about, it's not bad, but for all of those diamonds dancing, Future and Drake sure as hell sound unenthused. Oh, and Future, you're not remotely believable saying you want substance in your girls on a track like this, given your vapid bridge and every other track on this tape.

61. 'RGF Island' by Fetty Wap - so the fact that I actually didn't hate the Fetty Wap debut surprised some people, but after the onslaught of dreary Drake tracks, I'll say this: at least Fetty Wap sounds like he's excited about his house party on the island where everyone's throwing around money because why beef when you can party? I find it hard to argue with that statement, even if I do think the trap production is a little interchangeable until we get more of a synth melody to flesh out the back half of the chorus. I'm a little irked this was released as the next single and not 'Trap Luv', mostly because Fetty Wap will probably never drop a song that goes as hard as that, but this is still likeable and fun enough in a completely shallow way that I can enjoy it.

54. 'Infinity' by One Direction - in One Direction lasts beyond the next album, I'll be amazed. Somehow 'Drag Me Down' stuck around longer than I think anyone would have expected, but I see this song having even less life. Most of which I can blame on the oddly blurred instrumentation, where the runny guitar tone just blends across with the clumsy vocal layering that again focuses way too much on percussion over any stable or consistent melody, especially for the bridge which takes a load of whispy beats and pairs them with heavy banging percussion and maybe a guitar if you listen closely. And while so many Directioners have suspected this song is about Zayn's departure, the usage of the 'baby' on the chorus makes me doubt that, even though the infinity metaphor might make sense in completely overselling the drama. At the end of the day, it's an okay power ballad, but One Direction have done better, and the clock really is running out here.

52. 'Jumpman' by Drake & Future - so this was the biggest song from Drake and Future this week, the one that's inevitably destined to take off... and really, it seems like the sort of song that's set to hype something that doesn't really happen. Forget the washed out synths, thicker bass, and sparse trap percussion that has been the monochromatic hallmark of this profoundly uninteresting project, the primary hallmark of this song beyond the repetition of words is that Drake and Future are up to something... and then the song provides little to no payoff to that beyond Drake and Future making hit-and-miss references to basketball, luxury brands, and DJ Mustard of all things - and considering Metro Boomin produced the track, it seems like a weird reference if only to imply that you found your tempo. Beyond that, this song does not really interest me, and that's probably my edict on the this entire Future and Drake project. A few decent bars, a few decent beats, but overall a lot of filler that wouldn't be out of place off of Future's last record or Drake if he wanted to make something even muggier than usual. Overall, even by the standards of party bangers, I find it hard to classify What A Time To Be Alive as even all that fun, and for a record that really is just coasting on that vibe, that's an issue.

22. 'On My Mind' by Ellie Goulding - so we finally have the lead-off single for Ellie Goulding's upcoming album Delirium, and considering how much I loved 'Burn' from last year... okay, I wasn't expecting another song in that vein, especially considering how much I found 'Love Me Like You Do' a total slog, but she didn't write that and I had real hopes I'd like this, especially considering it was considered as the counterattack to Ed Sheeran's bitingly revealing 'Don't', which was about the fallout of their relationship. And here's the bizarre thing about it - it might unintentionally be just as revealing about Ellie as 'Don't' was about Ed Sheeran, and just as truthful. What I've always liked about 'Don't' - and what is repeated here - is the framing, because the relationship is treated as the mess of miscommunications that it probably was and both Ellie and Ed are painted in a more realistic light, Ed over-investing when he probably shouldn't have, and Ellie failing to read the signs and playing things with a flightiness that cost them both everything, which is why she's reconsidering it now even though she probably shouldn't. It's funny because both songs are telling effectively the same story pretty well... so why isn't 'On My Mind' nearly as good? Well, I'm putting that down to the instrumentation and production - that brittle guitar line, Ellie trying to go for choppy modern R&B-esque crooning, a mix that oddly feels way too choppy and lumbering to carry a consistent groove, way too light on the verses and too heavy on the chorus. It just doesn't hit with the same punch as 'Don't' and it doesn't really play to Ellie's more ethereal, soaring pop tendencies. It just feels awkward, which might be one of the harshest things I can say about an Ellie Goulding song misfiring, but it's the truth here.

So that was this week, and wow, it went long. Worst of the week is tricky here, because I wouldn't say there was any outright catastrophes, so I'm probably giving the worst to 'Digital Dash' and the Dishonourable Mention to 'I'm The Plug', both by Drake and Future. As for the best... we have some tight competition this week, I have to say, but in a narrow race I'm giving out a tie for 'Runnin' by Naughty Boy, Beyonce, and Arrow Benjamin and 'Confident' by Demi Lovato - really, it's too damn close for me to tell. Let's just hope next week is less overloaded, this was crazy...

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