Tuesday, November 24, 2015

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - december 5, 2015

We are now beginning the second year of chronicling the Hot 100 charts in detail - starting in December because Billboard is weird like that. And even though this is the week I was prepared to unveil some new changes to the format, we also have to deal with one of the largest ever lists of new songs - because for some godawful choice to split their bases, One Direction and Justin Bieber released their new albums in the same damn week. Now sure enough a whole slew of these songs will be gone next week, but for now, given Bieber's shrewd promotional strategy to jack up streaming, we have a full list of twenty new songs. Now given that I already reviewed both new albums from Bieber and One Direction, I'll endeavour to keep these short unless it's a bonus track I hadn't otherwise covered, but strap in, folks, this'll probably be a long one.

And as usual, we're starting in the top 10. Of course 'Hello' by Adele is still ruling everything with dominant sales, ruling airplay, and crushing YouTube... but it actually slipped on streaming. Now I expect this to be temporary, but for now right behind it at #2 is 'Sorry' by Justin Bieber, which took streaming, held great YouTube and airplay gains... and yet when Adele is outselling you over 2-1, you're not going to overtake her. What you are beating is 'Hotline Bling' by Drake, which slipped to #3 on losses on YouTube and streaming despite pretty substantial airplay gains and solid sales. But how long it'll stand against Justin Bieber is up for debate, because he's got our first new top 10 entry with 'Love Yourself' at #4, which rode huge sales and streaming to snag this spot... just ahead of another Justin Bieber track with 'What Do You Mean?' at #5, which gained even more on streaming and YouTube, had respectable sales, and even picked up some respectable airplay. This forces back 'The Hills' by The Weeknd down to #6, but you could have predicted that: losses across the board and weak sales to boot, it's still where it is thanks to inertia and little else. Not quite the same for Shawn Mendes' 'Stitches' rising to #7, which despite okay sales and respectable airplay, it slipped on streaming and it'll be interesting to see when the peak hits. And after that onslaught of Canadians we come to Fetty Wap and Remy Boyz at #8 with '679', which may have slipped thanks to weak sales and streaming and slipping airplay, but again, it's got enough inertia to stick around. A little shakier is 'Wildest Dreams' by Taylor Swift at #9, which lost YouTube, had shaky airplay, and pitiful sales to slip to #9... don't expect it to stick around much longer. And finally we have our second new top ten entry: 'Here' by Alessia Cara, following in Lorde's wake with another anti-party anthem that swaps out the populism for pissiness and yet still manages to mostly come together. In any case, it's here thanks to okay sales and decent enough airplay, only slipping on streaming thanks to the onslaught of Bieber. And on a side note, Alessia Cara is also Canadian, which means a full 70% of the top ten is Canadian. That's more than the actual Canadian charts right now! 

Now I definitely don't expect this to last, which takes us to our losers and dropouts. What's key to note here is that Billboard brought in a new recurring rule, which states that any song that stays on the charts for 52 weeks - a full year - and falls below 25 is dropped to the recurring list. Now I like this rule - thanks mostly to streaming and long ongoing sales, certain songs over the past five years have stuck around for months longer than predicted, and given that the primary culprit - Adele - is releasing a new album, now is probably the best time to bring it in and at least encourage a bit of turnover - if the song's been going for a year, it's long past the point of overexposure. In any case, the first two casualties of the rule were claimed this week with 'Shut Up And Dance' by Walk The Moon and 'Thinking Out Loud' by Ed Sheeran - and I'm okay with both of those dropouts. And hell, losing 'Cool For The Summer' by Demi Lovato and 'Fight Song' by Rachel Platten is reasonable too, they had at least twenty weeks apiece. What I'm less cool with are the dropouts that are because streaming from Bieber and One Direction forced them out, like 'Levels' by Nick Jonas or 'Ginza' by J Balvin or 'Comfortable' by K Camp. And that's not even touching on the country dropouts like 'Anything Goes' by Florida Georgia Line or 'Save It For A Rainy Day' by Kenny Chesney... which takes us to the elephant in the room with regards to chart shifts this week. Each year, to reflect shifting music listening and purchase patterns, Billboard slightly adjusts their formula and ratios for the Hot 100 - and of course they never say directly how they do it. But if I were to guess, I'd suspect it's a slight pivot to rebalance active vs. passive streaming and a slightly shifted radio pickup list. What becomes immediately clear is that the big losers this week were in country music: yeah, you could argue that Cole Swindell's 'Let Me See Ya Girl' falling to 80, 'Strip It Down' by Luke Bryan sliding to 70, and 'Break Up With Him' by Old Dominion tumbling to 64 were going to happen anyway at this point of their run - and because they suck - or that 'Tennessee Whiskey' by Chris Stapleton collapsing hard down to 66 as the CMA buzz fades, but the drop to 'Smoke Break' by Carrie Underwood is more telling that radio - the lifeblood of country - took a bit of a hit. Outside of that, most of the other losses make sense: 'RGF Island' by Fetty Wap falling to 95 as a non-single that lasted longer than expected, 'Love Myself' by Hailee Steinfeld continuing its drop to 80, and 'Right Hand' falling to 91 and 'Back To Back' sliding to 68, both by Drake respectively as the momentum sputters. And then there are some long-running tracks that haven't quite tracked enough momentum or are just exiting naturally, like 'How Deep Is Your Love' by Calvin Harris & Disciples sliding to 48, 'Downtown' by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis stalling hard to 57, and 'Cheerleader' by OMI finally dropping to 47. And I'd be remiss not to mention 'Liquor' by Chris Brown falling to 79, which was apparently a bad enough sign for the rapper to delay his album scheduled for this Friday a few weeks - no complaints here, that song is hot garbage. The loss that confused me was 'Drag Me Down' by One Direction falling to 40 - maybe it was just so many other new One Direction songs that were better crowding it out, but you'd think it would have gotten a boost.

And on that note we come to our gains and returning entries - yes, folks, this is the first place where Billboard BREAKDOWN is going to change, because I'm folding in the returning songs to this area. It's a smoother fit, I've already covered these tracks before, and it also addresses the case where old songs make a return and easily snag the best of the week, which does strike me as a little unfair. And in this case, the one returning entry 'In The Night' by The Weeknd at 86 would have easily taken the Best of the Week, because it's the best song from Beauty Behind The Madness and is all around great. Can't really say the same about our small list of gainers, all of which can be fairly easily explained: 'I'm Comin' Over' by Chris Young picks up to 33 because of the album release; 'Where They From' by Missy Elliott ft. Pharrell surged to 22 because the internet promptly went crazy for it and spurred the controversy that it was a long-in-coming diss to Miley Cyrus; 'Uptown Funk' by Mark Ronson & Bruno Mars staves off the recurring list because another viral resurgence, and 'Where Are U Now' by Skrillex and Diplo goes up to 34 because the song was included on the album of the guest star Justin Bieber.

But let's make this clear, he wasn't the only one who broke onto the charts this week, and he's not first on our docket as we discuss our new arrivals, starting with...

100. 'Never Enough' by One Direction - oh look, the absolute worst song from Made In The A.M. that thinks the hottest thing possible on a sex song are synths and guitars compressed into buzzy blocks, fake horns, and a grunting vocal line that remind me way too much of 'Hooked On A Feeling' except nowhere near as fun. I could almost appreciate this song in a goofy sort of way if the production wasn't so disastrously bad or One Direction's rougher stabs at rock screams weren't so laughable. Again, not really hateable, but pretty damn embarrassing for sure.

98. 'Trust' by Justin Bieber - okay, now onto the Justin Bieber show - and this is actually a song I didn't cover, as it was one of the bonus tracks. And I can kind of see why it was placed on that disc - it actually shows Bieber using more of his upper range on the intro in a thicker, heavier R&B vein with a pretty dancing piano against the buzzy whooshes of synth. Shame he doesn't stay in that vein but instead in his pitch-corrected mid-range where he tries to croon about how he and this girl should stay together and trust their feelings - after all, they've been together so long, so let's start fresh! So wait, if you want to rely on trust to keep things going - trust which is built on shared experiences - isn't that the opposite of a fresh start? The foundational principle of this song is placing our trust in our feelings for Justin Bieber - and as someone who doesn't have those feelings, this doesn't do much for me. Not bad instrumentation, though.

97. 'I Know What You Did Last Summer' by Shawn Mendes & Camila Cabello - so not to be outdone by Justin Bieber, Shawn Mendes has a new single coming from the rerelease of his debut album Handwritten, this time a duet with Camila Cabello of Fifth Harmony. Now I had no reason to expect this to be good - great, a low-rent Bieber/Ed Sheeran knock-off teaming up with the worst singer in Fifth Harmony taking the title of a terrible Freddie Prinze Jr. horror movie from the late 90s. But a few listens have convinced me this song could have had potential, mostly thanks to an acoustic rollick with decent texture underscoring dark piano fragments and Shawn Mendes actually not doing a bad job capturing the grief that comes with knowing your partner cheated. And hell, there's a moment in the bridge where he dips into his low range where you can see a trace of the anger just beneath it that he can't quite convey in his regular tones just yet. But I'm sorry, Camila's vocals still need a lot of work - she can't stay in key consistently, she slips flat and sharp too many times, and while she's not bad conveying that panicked desperation, the fact that the lyrics don't flesh out the story or describe her motivation to cheat means she's really just intended as the target for Mendes' passion... which he can't quite pull off. I dunno, I think this song could have worked, but not really like this.

96. 'Temporary Fix' by One Direction - and now we get a bonus track from One Direction that I didn't cover - and you know, I have to wonder why this wasn't included on the album, because Made In The A.M. could have definitely used the sort of momentum that this track has, with a solid bassline and an energetic, albeit compressed guitar line that actually makes a decent stab at pop rock... at least until the bridge synth and beat crushes it.Then again, it's a song about one night stands, and when you consider how relatively tame the sexual content was on that album, it's not surprising it wound up on the chopping block. Kind of disappointing, though, because 'Temporary Fix' is not bad at all.

94. 'A.M.' by One Direction - okay, I get why this was cut to the bonus disk - I already wasn't wild about the acoustic ballads on Made In The AM, and one more of them, even if it has a title drop, probably wouldn't get there. But again, I'd easily include this among the upper tier of songs from that record, if only because it has more acoustic texture, a solid if conventional melody line, and plays a basic campfire vibe about you and your buddies just chatting late at night. But there's warmth and heart to the track that feels surprisingly authentic - in other words, it's no surprise Simon Cowell cut it from the main disc. Pretty damn good track, though.

90. 'Get Used To It' by Justin Bieber - we've got our second Bieber bonus track, and wow, that is a brittle synth line. Hell, against some of the faded, ebbing synth effects around it don't sound bad at all - almost enough to disguise that Bieber again fades straight to the background, not helped by vocal effects that make him feel even more anonymous. And yeah, the lyrics are fine enough - it's a song about newfound love that features Bieber making big plans for the future, but am I the only who thinks he's playing things a little fast by implying that this girl should 'get used to' constant checking in and making out. I get it, young love, but it feels presumptuous to me, a little awkward. He certainly has made worse - we'll be getting to them - but it's no surprise this is a bonus track.

88. 'We Are' by Justin Bieber ft. Nas - okay, let's get real here: the only reason most people give a damn about this song is Nas delivering a guest verse, and as such I was a little surprised this wasn't included on the standard issue of the album. Of course, listening through this song gave me the answer - like 'Trust', it's playing much more to the R&B mould and Bieber's using much more of his upper range against a classier piano line and sparse beat. And believe it or not, Bieber's not bad here - yeah, the blatantly disconnected lines and accompanying bitchiness is exasperating, but at least the sentiment makes sense: it's a distrustful song as Bieber tries to maintain stability in the relationship even as the press and his own doubts egg on relationship strife. And it definitely helps that Nas is able to step in, deliver an authoritative, calming verse and calls back to what works instead of focusing on what doesn't - something Bieber doesn't quite grasp in the same way. I still think the track feels a little limp - the airy production against the stiffer percussion, but again, this is good enough for the main album, probably should have made it.

87. 'Olivia' by One Direction - and now we're entering the territory of songs I've already talked about in the reviews, so I'm going to aim to keep this brief. With 'Olivia', it's got a cute lyrical cadence and classy Euro-pop vibe, complete with elegant strings and horns, and even though none of the boys are remotely convincing in their lower range, this is one of the few songs where you can tell they're having an absolute blast getting their Michael Buble on. And even if it feels a bit like a fragment, it's a damn good one. Recommended.

83. 'If I Could Fly' by One Direction - hey, one of the piano ballads that I actually liked on this album, and the strings are a nice touch. Conventional chord structures, sure, but vulnerability and heartfelt harmonies can make up for a lot, and I like the sense of restraint to come to the edge of bombast but never overplay it. It's something I could imagine The Backstreet Boys doing - and for One Direction, that's the highest possible compliment I'll give.

81. 'Been You' by Justin Bieber - and we have our fourth Bieber bonus track, and again, I'm not surprised it was thrown to that disc - although in this case, because it's probably the most conventional electro-pop track here, with the retro bass line and a synth line that alternates between wiry tightness and flabby waves. And sure, Bieber doesn't do much with it, but the lyrical sentiment reflecting on a lost relationship is decent, though I do question how well a mid-tempo rollick works for this type of track. In other words, even despite being more pissy, 'Sorry' is the track that probably replaced this, and for good reason.

74. 'Children' by Justin Bieber - the message to my generation that we should be honest visionaries and do it for the children, be willing to die for them - for some undefined inspirational reason, all against a fragmented chipmunk backbeat that Skrillex could have made in his sleep. Yeah, okay, Bieber, you go first.

67. 'Life Is Worth Living' by Justin Bieber - on this piano ballad, Bieber delves into the sentiment that life is worth living and that we should forgive him because we clearly aren't seeing the real him. You know, the real him where angels send messages with autotuned crooning because only God can judge him. Yeah, okay, get back to me on that when he gets his next DUI charge.

54. 'No Sense' by Justin Bieber ft. Travi$ Scott - okay Bieber, when you hop on a bass-heavy trap beat that even with the change-up to those lo-fi blocky chunks, at least try to sound like you're having fun with your bragging. Instead with the heavy pitch correction and staccato chorus, it would make no sense for this girl to stay with you. And Travi$ Scott, we already have a Future, and most of the time, we don't want him either.

53. 'Company' by Justin Bieber - decent hazy interplay, especially with the plucked fragments on the chorus, solid rollicking groove, and by keeping it as a simple hookup track we avoid the pissiness that has irked me about most of this album. Hell, if you clear out that unnecessary trilling synth and give the lead vocal to someone with more personality, you might even get a great song. As it is, it's one of the better tracks, I'll take it.

49. 'No Pressure' by Justin Bieber ft. Big Sean - Bieber, just because Chris Brown delayed his album doesn't mean you have to emulate his vocal cadence or make a song loaded with guilt-tripping whining where you admit that you originally thought the girl was a golddigger, but now you have feelings it's okay for her to come back - but no pressure, right? Couple it with Big Sean making increasingly corny references to Street Fighter, Empire, and a relationship that I have no idea why he still wants against an acoustic beat with hollow synth toots, and I start losing my patience - but again, no pressure.

43. 'Purpose' by Justin Bieber - the piano ballad title track which Bieber intends as a message right to God about having been given purpose... only to end it with a rambling monologue where he sidesteps any real responsibility because he 'wasn't always in the best position to make the best decisions' because, hey, 'if it ends up happening, it ends up happening'. Yeah, because you just weren't in the right position to not destroy property or drive drunk or behave like a total asshole, I get it now! 

42. 'Mark My Words' by Justin Bieber - hey, this sounds a bit like The Weeknd with the pitch-shifted vocal fragment, faded melody, sparse melody, surprisingly ominous message towards an ex, and limp vocal delivery. You know, the worst kind of Weeknd songs. Thank god it's short, next!

31. 'The Feeling' by Justin Bieber ft. Halsey - hey look, it's Halsey and Justin Bieber, two singers who add absolutely nothing to otherwise decent instrumentation that still has too much hollow pitch shifting to be better. And it's telling how Bieber spends the song negging her instead of focusing on his own hollowness - 'notorious for thinking you're full of beautiful instead of hollow', describing her as a 'jagged pill that's hard to swallow'. Even coming from the guy who called 'New Americana' hot garbage, that's kind of mean Bieber - but again, he probably wasn't in the position to make the best decisions, right?

30. 'Great Is Thy Faithfulness' by Jordan Smith - we finally get a last second breather away from Justin Bieber... and just swell, it's a gospel cover from The Voice from the one contestant that seems to matter this year. And look, I grew up singing in church choir, I'm not going to deny that he sounds powerful, especially in making the right choice in stripping down to the piano and Smith's powerful vocals, but I've never really been fond of the hymn itself, so this doesn't do much for me. If I'm going for gospel this year, I'm sticking with the self-titled Algiers record, and considering Smith doesn't have anything close to raw texture in his delivery, it's probably going to stay that way.

4. 'Love Yourself' by Justin Bieber - is it weird that the more I've listened to this song, the more I simultaneously don't mind it and yet want to hate it a lot more? It's purposefully designed as a diss track that plays itself too cute to actually swear, the guitar tone has barely any actual texture, and the only emotive presence that Bieber includes is the crooning harmony in his upper register. And yet for as bitter as it is, the melody and harmony is well executed, the trumpet interlude is solid, and Ed Sheeran's knack for lyrical cadence shows through in the writing. On top of that, I kind of appreciate how the song at least admits Bieber screwed up by dating this girl, who the song really makes out to be a real piece of work - not even his mom likes this girl, and she likes everyone! So yeah, it's pissy and bitter and will definitely get insufferable if it sticks around, but compared to Bieber's self-aggrandizing half-apologies, this at least feels authentic, and I can respect that at least.

So that was our week, and oh god, it went way too long. For the worst... really, I feel like I could pick a half dozen mediocre Bieber tracks, but I'm going to zoom in on 'No Pressure' featuring Big Sean for the Worst of the Week and 'Children' snagging Dishonourable Mention for being pseudo-inspirational nonsense with chipmunk vocals to boot. As for the best... as I said, if returning entries were factoring in The Weeknd would easily have it, but things have changed... and that means it's a One Direction sweep with 'If I Could Fly' as the Best of the Week and 'A.M.' as the Honourable Mention. Let's hope for better next week, or at the very least a little less Bieber.

1 comment:

  1. Adjusting the returning entries section is probably for the best. Often times they end with you saying "Well that was fast," and you didn't introduce the songs the same way you introduced new arrivals. And I never understood why. I never minded when a returning song made best or worst of the week, though.