Tuesday, September 22, 2015

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - october 3, 2015

I can predict a lot of people will be celebrating parts of this week's Hot 100. Not all of it, obviously - there's too much Rae Sremmurd to really get away with anything jubilant - but I can see a lot of people seeing the new #1 and a few of the new arrivals and getting excited. And that only further defines the difference between music nerds who follow the charts and the mainstream population, because I look at this week and I can only wish I'm as excited as everyone else.

Case in point, our top ten. Now for the past few weeks I've predicted that 'The Hills' by The Weeknd would eventually take the #1 spot - frankly, I didn't expect it to happen this fast. I also wish I could look at the song and not see a pale imitation of material The Weeknd did on Thursday and Echoes Of Silence, but that's an issue for three months from now. But going back to chart position, the odd stats would support my hypothesis - sure, big airplay gains and it had real presence on streaming and sales, but it actually slipped on YouTube. It really only has a narrow lead over Justin Bieber's 'What Do You Mean?', which tops sales, streaming, and nearly holds YouTube - it's just behind on airplay, but it's gaining fast, he could retake the top spot pretty soon. Both of these were enough to shove 'Can't Feel My Face' by The Weeknd off the top to #3, and it'll be interesting how long it lasts - sure, it's got strong streaming and decent sales, but airplay is finally declining - it hasn't quite tipped, but that might just be a matter of time. What somehow has stuck around longer than it ever should was 'Watch Me' by Silento at #4, which somehow gained on YouTube and held mostly steady in sales to compensate for streaming nearly dying off. Fortunately, it's got a challenger from 'Good For You' by Selena Gomez & A$AP Rocky at #5, which rose to a new peak thanks to a YouTube resurgence, okay sales, and strong but slowing airplay - I just hope the momentum lasts. But it's got competition too from 'Locked Away' by Rock City ft. Adam Levine rising to #6, which has been picking up tons of airplay and streaming with solid sales and shows no signs of slowing. Hell, even '679' by Fetty Wap and Monty picked up to #7, compensating for loses in streaming thanks to decent sales and modest airplay gains. All of this was enough to push 'Cheerleader' by OMI down to #8, but again, this might have happened anyway: losses across the board, with probably the most strength in radio inertia and a bit of sales. Then comes our newest arrival to the top ten at #9, and one that continues to irk me considerably: 'Hotline Bling' by Drake. It's here because of huge streaming and considerable sales with airplay struggling to catch up - and yet I can't help but look at it as a measurable drop-off in quality from Drake's better R&B tracks - but then again, if we're looking for a phrase to describe Drake's album and mixtape output this year thus far, it would be 'dropoff in quality'. And finally, we've got 'Lean On' by Major Lazer, DJ Snake & M0, clinging to #10 thanks to YouTube dominance, solid streaming, and airplay inertia - it's got no sales, it'll be gone soon. 

And on that note, losers and dropouts! Barely any worth mentioning in the latter category this week, the biggest probably being 'Beautiful Now' by Zedd with Jon Bellion, but I literally keep forgetting that song exists until I'm reminded, so I'm not entirely surprised. Now with the losers there's a bit more I didn't expect, namely how it seems country radio seems to clear the boards entirely when songs hit the last quarter of their chart run. 'House Party' by Sam Hunt dropping hard to 44, 'Crash And Burn' by Thomas Rhett hitting 53, 'Hell Of A Night' by Dustin Lynch dropping to 80 - yeah, I'm not entirely complaining, but at this point I can almost predict when country radio will pitch a song. As for the rest, 'Prisoner' by Lana Del Rey & The Weeknd fell to 96 - although I suspect synergy from Lana's new album will probably give it a boost next week - and 'Should've Been Us' by Tori Kelly plummeted even harder to 91. And finally, the one drop that surprised me, 'She's Kinda Hot' by 5 Seconds Of Summer - is there literally no more market for pop rock in the Blink-182 mold anymore? I know the summer's over, but I honestly thought this would last longer.

And we had even a shorter list of gains this week. First, the bad news: 'Gonna Wanna Tonight' by Chase Rice seems like its getting the radio push, because it went to 76. Even worse, 'White Iverson' by Post Malone somehow got a boost to 71 - okay, seriously, guys, we've had enough bad viral novelties this year, please don't make this another one, I'm literally running out of space on my Worst Of The Year list, I don't want it to be that predictable! Fortunately, to compensate we got the unexpected surge of 'Ex's And Oh's' by Elle King surging to 34, mostly because it's actually picking up some radio. It might be too little or too late to make the year-end list, but it's still nice to see it finally getting some traction.

And on that note, might as well talk about our one returning entry, shall we?

And here's our second example of why I can imagine the mainstream public might embrace this song, but I'm considerably more underwhelmed - mostly because this feels like so much of the folk-inspired indie pop rock that fills up Canadian radio but doesn't really cross over south of the border. I'm not going to deny that piano anchors a pretty solid melody, but the lyrics are bog-standard love song material that really make less sense the more you think about them and for as much as the percussion hammers down, the song feels oddly weightless, especially with all the effects piled on the vocals. I'm not going to say this song is bad, but I'm not going to say it's interesting either.

So on that cheery note, let's dive straight into the new arrivals, starting with...

100. 'Come Get Her' by Rae Sremmurd - you know, I've been asking since the beginning of the year when I covered the atrocity of their debut album what the appeal of Rae Sremmurd is, and with the release of their newest single, we've gotten close to hitting the lowest point. I can start with the oily cascades of backing vocals with the bass-heavy beat as Rae Sremmurd taunt a guy because his girl is supposedly dancing like a stripper for them - and judging by the content of Rae Sremmurd's bars that barely even approach being on key, I have a hard time buying that. And normally I'd be inclined to pitch this into the same pile of shameless mediocrity that most of this brand of hip-hop belongs, but as usual, Rae Sremmurd tips it into garbage thanks to the third verse, where the girl they lured over starts asking questions and they effectively tell her to shut up and keep shaking her ass. So for guys, this is basically Rae Sremmurd taunting them, and for girls, this is them saying that they have no interest in anything beyond your dancing - and people like this? Ugh, can we just ignore this nonsense and hope to God they go away?

97. 'Hide Away' by Daya - I'll admit right out of the gate that the odds are stacked against you if you're a child star. If you're under the wing of celebrity or Disney, you've often been so polished you lose personality, but if you're not the inexperience can definitely shine through. What I've found interesting is that with the rise of YouTube we're getting younger artists who display a fair amount of professional savvy and who can circumvent the typical marketing machine. Hence, we have Daya, sixteen years old, with this being the lead-off single for her new EP. And initially I actually liked her vocal poise and presence with respect to the muted keys that were then supplemented by more of a rougher, buzzing edge for the chorus... but then you delve into the lyrics. Initially I was reminded a bit of 'Here' by Alessia Cara, but at least her antisocial sniping at the party atmosphere felt earned - here, Daya goes at bad girls who go for guys who don't appreciate her and guys who go for 'easy' girls instead of putting in the 'work' to supply Daya with all her heart's demands and wow, this is painfully high school. Not only is it evidence that 'Dear Future Husband' by Meghan Trainor is having ripple effects in pop music, it raises a lot of unfortunate implications about guys wanting drama - which I can speak to is emphatically not the case - and that's before we get to the slut-shaming. Look, I'm willing to put this down to inexperience, but it's not a song I'm inclined to go back to. 

92. 'Firestone' by Kygo ft. Conrad - so here's a fun fact: when I was getting ready to do my list of great songs that have hit the Canadian charts and not the U.S., I had a short list - and this song was on that shortlist, mostly because it's a great example what this sort of house music can deliver when there's restraint and control in the production. Precise, gleaming percussion with the sleigh bells and a muted but prominent popping keyboard melody that never is so obtrusive to clash with the percussion. It's an exercise in balance and elegance, from the production to the abstract lyrics that are still direct enough to make sense to the point where Australian singer Conrad Sewell might be the least impressive piece of the track. He just lacks more of that commanding presence with that poise that you'd get from an Aloe Blacc or Foxes, and his plaintive tones sell the song a bit short. Still, I really do enjoy it.

88. 'Hold My Hand' by Jess Glynne - you know, I think I liked that Jess Glynne debut a lot more than most people, and even though I'd agree this is probably the weakest of my favourite songs on the album, I still really like it. The clarion piano keys, the gorgeous multi-tracking, the great rollick on the drums, the potent lower tones Glynne uses on the chorus, those ecstatic horns that eventually come in on the second half of the chorus - you know, if the first half of that chorus paid off the drama more, it'd hit a little harder, although the bridge certainly makes up for it. And sure, it's a pretty simple effervescent love song lyrically, but when it's this fun and soaring with pristine energy, who the hell is complaining?

87. 'Nothing But Trouble (Instagram Models)' by Lil Wayne & Charlie Puth - well this was a pairing I wasn't expecting. Mostly because after a sincere death tribute with Wiz Khalifa and one of the least sexy songs alive with Meghan Trainor, to see Charlie Puth working with Lil Wayne of all people is weird - especially considering that six years ago, Puth would be looking for relevance from Lil Wayne and not the other way around. Although in this case, the much bigger influence is The Weeknd, because Charlie Puth is trying to imitate him and is failing miserably on a pseudo-gospel trap hip-hop with gleaming synths on the chorus that frankly doesn't do nearly enough to flesh out the low-end of its backing vocals to be remotely impressive. That and the subject matter reminds me a lot of Kanye West's 'Golddigger', but Charlie Puth's airy falsetto has little to no soul and Wayne's autotuned warble about Instagram models is even less impressive. And that's the thing that irks me most about this track: it's a song attempting to add a sense of danger and drama to being seduced by 'instagram models' who want to get 10,000 followers. The stakes just feel so small and inconsequential that the song just feels melodramatic, and not in a good way, because if this is the level of fame it takes to spook these guys... look, just because I have over 10,000 subscribers doesn't mean I'm popping bottles.

86. 'Gonna' by Blake Shelton - by this point, you know Blake Shelton's getting desperate. This is his fourth single off of his not particularly decent Bringing Back The Sunshine, and while 'Sangria' and 'Lonely Tonight' did well, they weren't as big as his earlier work, which has caused him to dig deep for a fourth single, 'Gonna'. And it's by far one of his weakest, anchored in a painfully thin popping beat, gutless electric guitar, tepid synth, and lyrics that barely rise above an avalanche of clunky bro-country cliches. And with the exception of some welcome fiddle, a decent acoustic bridge, and Blake Shelton actually having some charisma, this song would be even more forgettable than it already is. In fact, I think I've already forgotten it - next!

85. 'Blase' by Ty Dolla $ign ft. Future & Rae Sremmurd - I know what a bunch of you are thinking, 'Oh, it's Rae Sremmurd and Future, that's obviously the reason why he doesn't like it.' And that would normally be true, especially considering Future's autotuned drone over the chorus that outright contradicts itself for all its indifference, he still wants things. And believe it or not, I didn't hate Swae Lee on the third verse, mostly because he stuck in his lowest range possible and thus remained uninteresting instead of terrible. Hell, even despite how obnoxious Slim Jimmy's verse was, or the instrumentation that takes a fuzzed out, atonal synth progression with an oscillating buzzy beat that only gives a creeping feeling of dread throughout the entire song, or the fact that barely any of these four can rap a consistent flow without the benefit of the beat dropping out or clumsily filling bars with 'blase', or even that Ty Dolla $ign raps about slinging cocaine when according to my research he's never slung a key in his life. No, my big issue comes in the first verse, where he compares himself to the late Nate Dogg. Uh, fuck no. Nate Dogg was one of the greatest vocalists in g-funk, you're a c-list R&B star whose best accomplishment will be playing backup on a hook to Lupe Fiasco, who I think everyone acknowledged did it better without you. 

66. 'Right Hand' by Drake - you know hip-hop didn't have a good week again when Drake is the one who delivers the most quality... and even then, this is not all that good. Most of the problems I'm going to lay at the feet of the instrumentation, which might worked well enough with the faded eerie synths and that vocal fragment, but the inclusion of that darker, jagged beat with the snap just doesn't compliment it very well. And then there's Drake riding on top of it with a pretty decent flow, hooking up a with a girl who ditched her old boyfriend and now is with Drake... but I have to ask, for as much as this girl is at Drake's right hand, does he sound remotely happy about it? I think back to a song like 'Got Your Back', a middle-of-the-road T.I. song from the late-2000s with Keri Hilson, and it just sounded so much more energetic and fun than this on similar themes. And good for you, Drake, you're not putting her on blast when she gets too drunk - you'd think that'd come as an automatic for a girl you're dating, and not something you'd ever need to brag about! As a whole, this is okay, I guess, but as I said earlier, there's been a drop-off in quality with Drake's material, and this feels like yet another example.

43. 'Same Old Love' by Selena Gomez - you know, I was really close to liking this song... until the chorus. The lo-fi piano with the vintage-inspired backdrop with a bit of fuzz against a snap, Selena Gomez trying to purge out her frustration with an old relationship with vocals that are cracking at the edges but aren't bad either... but then that synth triplet comes over the chorus and it shatters the verisimilitude for me instantly. Yeah, I can appreciate the whistle tries to disguise it, but the oily-soaked Casio tone of it just grates on my nerves, and that's before we get to a bridge, and get a heavily pitch-shifted choppy repetition of the same line that sounds way creepier than it really should. I dunno, folks, I've been trying to keep an open mind for this upcoming Selena Gomez record, but this is definitely a step down from 'Good For You' and all the more signs that the darker and heavier Selena goes, the less consistent her results are, whether it be EDM or hip-hop.

And that was our week, and wow, it's been a while since the choices line up this easily. For the best, 'Hold My Hand' by Jess Glynne runs away with it, with 'Firestone' by Kygo ft. Conrad picking up the Honourable Mention. As for the worst, again, little contest, with Rae Sremmurd showing up on both, first for Dishonourable Mention on 'Come Get Her' and then with Future and Ty Dolla $ign on 'Blase'. I keep saying every week that the pop charts have to get better eventually, so let's hope that I'm not that misguided and we don't get an avalanche of Lana Del Rey next week.

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