Tuesday, September 1, 2015

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - september 12, 2015

So we're finally getting out of a lurching, generally incoherent summer and into the fall - in other words known as one of the most clustered and panicked times of the year when it comes to the Hot 100. The last hits of the year tend to debut in these weeks in the gamble they'll snag the year-end list, the album release schedule starts to pile up, and things get all the more busy on my end. And that's not counting any major shifts on the chart like we got this week, or the dropping of surprise albums that come right out of nowhere, which we'll be probably talking more about tomorrow.

But putting all that aside, we've got our Top 10 and a new #1 to talk about! Yep, as predicted 'Can't Feel My Face' by The Weeknd has taken the top spot, swiping the top spot on sales and streaming and even despite losses in airplay, it still has the top spot, and for the majority of that you can point to the opening success of his newest album Beauty Behind The Madness - although I'd argue this track wasn't the biggest gainer thanks to the album. What it did do was force back 'Cheerleader' by OMI down to #2, although the losses were coming anyway thanks to softening sales and weakening airplay and streaming even despite a slight boost on YouTube. Thankfully it held back 'Watch Me' by Silento from getting any bigger, even despite a decent sales week and its rock-solid YouTube presence, and though losses in streaming might start heralding the song's exit. But now we come to the real winner from The Weeknd's success: 'The Hills' at #4, a song that I suspect over the next month or two might just take its momentum even higher, especially as we get closer to the fall and Halloween - let's face it, it's the closest 'horror-themed' pop song we've had in years. And it's got that momentum, with strong sales, major gains on airplay, and even boosts on streaming and YouTube. I just wish I liked the song more than I do, but we'll see if it grows on me. Beneath it, we've got 'Lean On' by Major Lazer, DJ Snake and M0 pushed back to #5 as it continues to rule YouTube and gain streaming and airplay... although the latter numbers softened, especially when looking at weaker than expected sales. It might be facing a challenge from 'Good For You' by Selena Gomez ft. A$AP Rocky at #6 with decent sales and airplay gains, but it also faded a little there and slipped on streaming this week. Its position might be just as precarious when you consider Fetty Wap's '679' swelling to #7 on some gathering strength on airplay, sales and streaming, even despite 'The Hills' jumping over it. And this takes us to the newest Top 10 addition: 'Locked Away' by Rock City ft. Adam Levine, a song I predicted would be a smash the first week I covered it... and honestly, I'm okay with that, the sort of straightforward pop song that proves Adam Levine's gift for sincerity in his lower range needs to be exercised more often! And it's got a ton of momentum too, with big sales, potent streaming, and major airplay swell - could definitely be a contender. What won't be - and yet is somehow still holding on - is 'Trap Queen' still at #9. It's here because of streaming, pretty much nothing else. And yet it held on over 'Fight Song' by Rachel Platten falling to #10, which has sales and declining airplay - if we're looking for a song on its way out, it's this one.

And on that note, losers and dropouts! Quite a few this week in both categories, with a slice of songs exiting naturally after reasonable runs - 'Talking Body' by Tove Lo, 'Like A Wrecking Ball' by Eric Church, and 'Wet Dreamz' by J.Cole - and a few premature exits, with it being a particularly bad week for Chris Brown as 'Fun' with Pitbull and 'How Many Times' with DJ Khaled, Lil Wayne, and Big Sean both exit along with 'Tonight Looks Good On You' by Jason Aldean. As for our losses, it proved to be yet another rough week for country radio, as 'Kick The Dust Up' by Luke Bryan falls to 50, 'Loving You Easy' by The Zac Brown Band falls hard to 70, and 'Young And Crazy' by Frankie Ballard tumbles unexpectedly to 71. Of course, they didn't fall as hard as 'High By The Beach' by Lana Del Rey, which collapsed to 97 and will likely be gone in a week or so. Beyond that, the other losses are 'Should've Been Us' by Tori Kelly underwhelming to 75 and the two songs from Straight Outta Compton falling hard as well, with the title track dropping to 60 and 'Boyz-N-The-Hood' by Eazy-E dropping to 65 - frankly, what's astounding is that they stuck around this long.

But where this week got pretty busy was gains. First we have those following up on positive momentum, namely 'Here' by Alessia Cara jumping to 62, 'Love Myself' by Hailee Steinfeld leaping to 52, and most exasperatingly 'Hit The Quan' by @IHeartMemphis - see, this is why we should have stifled Silento early, it's perpetuating a trend! Then we have the songs revived because of music videos: 'Where Ya At' by Future and Drake surging back to 59 and 'Drag Me Down' by One Direction boosted back to 14. Then we have the two that are just steady gainers all the way, namely 'Stitches' by Shawn Mendes going to 20 and 'Ex's And Oh's' by Elle Kking rising up to 57. And finally, we've got 'All Eyes On You' by Meek Mill, Chris Brown, and Nicki Minaj, which got a surprising boost to 31 and for the life of me I don't know why. It did pick up a bit of airplay but it lost streaming. I guess it might have picked up a bit of a boost on YouTube, or maybe it was just because the Drake beef has finally faded enough for the song to rise on its own dubious merits.

And speaking of dubious merits, let's talk about our solitary returning entry...

As one J.Cole song exits, another comes back - and it's a damn shame we swapped out one of his best for one of his worst. Yeah, J.Cole is still a good rapper and that oily oscillation that fills up the choppy melody isn't bad, the content really sours me on this track, with J.Cole thrashing the current generation of reality show women even as he gets down with 'the baddest bitch' and many of those girls... but wait, it's okay when J.Cole does it because he had no role models and besides, these girls don't want to be saved. As a whole, this song feels monumentally self-serving, with a fragment of introspection in the first verse implying that maybe he has changed for the worse, but he gives himself an exit and it really hits a bad note with me, especially with asinine lines like 'Martin Luther King would have been on Dreamville' or him crooning 'she shallow'. It's just unpleasant, and what's worse is that it's presented well enough that it can almost slip its noxious message in undetected - almost.

So, hopefully onto something a little better, starting with...

100. 'I'm To Blame' by Kip Moore - yeah, I know, it's the most marginally 'country' song on Kip Moore's last album and I honestly don't dislike it. The banjo anchoring the melody with that jagged groove and the hammering crack of the snare drums, it's all exposed edges and fire... and yet it never really explodes as much as you want, mostly because the song is less than two and a half minutes long and desperately needed a solo or a roaring crescendo to really get into gear. But even with that, I'm not sure it would have helped - between the rough filter on Moore's vocals that just sounds compressed and unnecessary and the fact the lyrics really don't build to much beyond rough edged outlaw bragging, there's just not enough to this song beyond bluster that really gets to me, and its shortness only exacerbates the lack of serious impact. Overall, it's listenable, but there are far better cuts from Wild Ones that Kip Moore should choose for upcoming singles, or he might be in real trouble ahead.

99. 'Cecilia And The Satellite' by Andrew McMahon In The Wilderness - it's a telling sign of an act's 'buzz' - or maybe just the people who watch my show, either way - when I hear about an indie pop act and realize that they dropped a debut album a year ago and this is the first I'm hearing about it. Then again, considering how oversaturated indie pop can feel these days, I'm not altogether surprised this is the first time I'm talking about Andrew McMahon In The Wilderness and their lead-off single from their self-titled album. Now Andrew McMahon is a name if you're familiar with emo/pop punk act Something Corporate or his old project Jack's Mannequin, but you'd be forgiven for ignoring them entirely, because with the exception of some slightly above average songwriting, this is basic electronic-tinged piano-driven indie pop complete with a full backing chorus, and while it's not bad in a Walk Off The Earth sort of vein, but I can't help but feel it sounds a little too slick and breezy to really stick with me, especially with the unnecessary reverb piled on the vocals. Overall, it's fine, but maybe it's coming from a Canadian perspective where we have tons of songs in this vein, this doesn't stand out.

98. 'About You' by Trey Songz - so apparently Trey Songz has another record coming sometime this year, but the odd thing is that with the exception of that DJ Mustard collaboration 'Na Na' last year, Trey Songz has been surprisingly successful with the reissue of his 2014 album called Trigga Reloaded. 'Slow Motion' was a bit silly and overproduced, but in terms of R&B ballads, it was surprisingly sensual, to the point where you can overlook the fact that it was cowritten by Charlie Puth. Anyway, this is his follow-up single from the reissue... and honestly, I don't mind this at all. Yeah, it's biting from DJ Mustard's minimalist template for the plinking melody and trap percussion, but the bass isn't so crushing to overwhelm Trey Songz getting his smooth and surprisingly non-sexual game on with a girl who loves his music. So yeah, it's pretty blatant fanservice, especially as it's him making moves on the shy girl even despite rooms full of women, but it's not played aggressively and with the exception of that 'titties' line in the first verse and the odd interpolation of 'You're So Vain' that works way better than it should, I think this is actually a pretty sweet track. Good on you, Trey Songz, maybe I might have more than just one song I can recommend off of that next album.

96. 'Liquor' by Chris Brown - on the other end of the quality scale, did you all know Chris Brown's got an upcoming album called Royalty in the works? Did you want to know? In any case, it might be a sign of how far Chris Brown's star has faded that the lead-off single debuted this low - or it might be because it's terrible. The blatantly autotuned and reverb saturated vocals against sandy cymbals that features a melody so unstable and mixed so low in the mix that it gives the song no flow, the obviously fake snaps, to the lyrics that imply someone slipped something in Chris Brown's drink and he's playing it as a sign of infatuation! You flip the genders - hell, even if you don't - something becomes extremely wrong with that picture! I will admit the song does capture the unsteady feel of having drunk way too much, but again, why would anyone want to listen to that, especially when it's this sloppy instead of suave or energetic? So if this is the next song from an upcoming Chris Brown album... ugh, no hope here.

94. 'Downtown' by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis ft. Eric Nally, Melle Mel, Kool Mo Dee & Grandmaster Caz - so here's the thing: when I first heard this song, I immediately thought it was a complete overblown mess, trying to recapture the magic of Macklemore's biggest singles from his last album, two of which I think are goddamn great and they aren't even the best songs from The Heist. But I think I'm of the rare opinion that I like the Seattle MC more when he's not making goofy novelty tracks about mopeds or thrift shopping and more when he's trying to flex his lyrical muscles or rapping about more serious topics - for as goofy as his sense of humour can be, he doesn't quite have the elastic, expressive delivery in his voice to pull it off well, which is probably my first issue with this song. Do I dig the old school funk of the track with the piano and the bass and horn stings and cowbell, or the fact that he's recruiting a slew of solid Golden Age MCs who sound great on this sort of production, or the overblown bombast of the chorus? Yeah, and it's a ton of fun, and Macklemore even manages to sneak in a couple offbeat lines that are pretty funny. But putting aside the corny lines and the lack of general intensity of Macklemore's rapping, I think my biggest issue is a lack of potent flow, from the clunky instrumental change-ups to Macklemore's surprisingly basic lyrical construction - golden age throwback or not, he's still capable of better than this. As a whole, while I might be amused by this song, it sits in the same category as 'White Walls' as being songs that aren't terrible, but far from his best.

87. 'Levels' by Nick Jonas - what is it with artists and rereleases this week? Because apparently since two singles off of his self-titled album weren't enough - one being pretty great, one being pretty terrible - Nick Jonas has decided to add some tracks and rerelease his self-titled album, with this being the 'lead-off' single. And this... eh, I think I like 'Chains' more, but it's got a tightness to that groove that's kind of hard to deny, especially with the snarled bass rollick, NIck Jonas has raw charisma and is picking up some more texture in his vocals, and the lyrics... well, they don't make a ton of sense, half sex song and half rise to transcendence on shared euphoria, but then again, it's the same template that worked for 'Get Lucky'. Honestly don't have a lot to say about this track beyond liking it, so I'll go with that.

43. 'Smoke Break' by Carrie Underwood - I think Carrie Underwood gets a lot more credit in country circles than she arguably deserves. Yeah, she's got pipes and yes, I've appreciated that she's managed to cram more writing credits onto her albums and yes, I'm not going to deny that she's got charisma or even some good songs for brand of pop country she plays in... but going back through those albums and those big hits with a critical eye outside of the karaoke standards and the flaws become pretty glaring, especially considering Miranda Lambert could run circles around Underwood in songwriting and a more nuanced vocal performance. So on that note, let's talk about the newest single from Carrie Underwood, the lead-off single for her upcoming album Storyteller called 'Smoke Break'... and I think I like this. Sure, it's overmixed courtesy of Jay Joyce, but it does have some snarl and texture to it and I like the sentiment of the people she talks about just looking to take a goddamn break. Of course, in today's controversy-overloaded world, she was immediately accused of glorifying smoking, which is just stupid. Forget bro-country's shameless glorification of meat-headed debauchery, when Carrie goes for populism for people who just need a goddamn break she gets slammed - typical. On the flip-side, though, it's kind of hard for me to listen to this song and not think about 'Blowin' Smoke' by Kacey Musgraves, which was one of my favourite songs of 2013 and did this same sort of song and did it with tighter writing, delivery, and far more subtlety and texture. Overall, I'm just kind of left ambivalent to the song. Far from bad, but not quite as good as I'd like it to be.

So overall, not a bad week, not a great one, but one that seems like several artists are lining up big plans for the months ahead. And as such best and worst are a little tricky as there weren't a lot of huge standouts. Sure, 'Liquor' by Chris Brown runs away with the Worst of the Week, but Dishonourable Mention... I'm going to give it J.Cole for 'No Role Modelz' - sure, it's got more personality, but it's that much more of a disappointment because of it. As for the best... you know, I'm going to give it to 'About You' by Trey Songz this week for having some genuine sweetness and Honourable Mention to 'Levels' by Nick Jonas for being surprisingly tight in the writing. Let's hope for a bit more next week.

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