Tuesday, November 3, 2015

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - november 14, 2015

Well, I'd like to say that I called it... but let me be honest here: I didn't call all of it. And really, if you had seen any of the sales data or streams or just simply checked YouTube, you could have predicted this. What caught me a bit off guard wasn't just that we got our new #1, but that we got a new #2 right behind it, a one-two punch we haven't seen this year!

So enough dancing around it, let's get straight to our top 10. As expected, Adele smashed into a #1 debut with 'Hello', four years after her mega-selling album 21 broke the back of the club boom, signalled the return of R&B and soul, and crushed everything in its path. I'll talk more about the song itself later, but as I said, it's no surprise it took the very top - breaking records in digital sales, dominating streaming and YouTube, and roaring up the radio, it was a lock at the top. What caught me off guard was 'Sorry' by Justin Bieber going to #2, falling right behind Adele on streaming, sales and YouTube with solid airplay growth. Again, we'll talk about the song more in a bit, but right now I'm just astounded Bieber's still got a strong enough fandom to support a single with this much surging power that could have easily taken #1 on its own. So now we have to focus on the big loser from all of this: 'Hotline Bling' by Drake, forced back to #3. I talked about this week last week how it blew its chance for the #1, and it's sealed here. Even despite strong sales, still gaining in airplay, and finally picking up some YouTube, it's too little and too late. Granted, everyone's been forced back a bit now - 'The Hills' by The Weeknd tumbles off the top to #4, but that might have happened anyway, as airplay, sales, and YouTube dropped hard. Then there's 'What Do You Mean' by Justin Bieber falling to #5, which had a similar pattern of drops, a little more stability on YouTube and airplay compensating for weaker streaming. Following that 'Stitches' by Shawn Mendes slipped to #6, but it's not because that song is actually weakening - it had a good week on airplay and sales and held steady in streaming, but it just doesn't have the same swell to hold more. Similar case for 'Wildest Dreams' by Taylor Swift - it may have peaked on airplay, but it actually got a boost on YouTube and the sales weren't bad, just not enough. Hell, '679' by Fetty Wap & Remy Boyz falls into a similar category falling to #8, with airplay gains compensating for weak sales, just not enough to keep it higher. What actually held reasonably steady was 'Locked Away' by Rock City ft. Adam Levine - yeah, airplay and sales were weak, but it actually surged on YouTube to only slip down to #9. And finally we have the expected drop for 'Can't Feel My Face' falling to #10 - it lost across the board, it'll be out of the top 10 probably next week, only a matter of time.

And speaking of expected losses, let's talk about losers and dropouts. Lot of them this week, and while I'm annoyed to see 'Lose My Mind' by Brett Eldredge drop out, it did have its twenty weeks. Same with 'John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16' by Keith Urban - respectable run, no surprise that it's gone. But considering along with them, they took 'Flex (Ooh Ooh Ooh)' by Rich Homie Quan, 'Worth It' by Fifth Harmony & Kid Ink, and 'This Could Be Us' by Rae Sremmurd, I'm definitely not complaining! And hell, I'm not complaining about most of the losses either, especially as Drake's bad week continues with '100' with The Game falls to 100 and 'Digital Dash' and 'Scholarships' with Future fall to 90 and 95 respectively. Outside of that, we had a lot of losses but they're a mixed bag - no complaints about losing 'Love Myself' by Hailee Steinfeld down to 48 earlier than I'd expect, but then we have 'Levels' by Nick Jonas falling early to 60? 'Gonna Wanna Tonight' by Chase Rice falling early to 88, sure, but 'Powerful' by Major Lazer ft. Ellie Goulding and Tarrus Riley slipping to 96 as the momentum seems to evaporate? And yeah, 'Cool For The Summer' by Demi Lovato slipped to 57, but it's nearing twenty weeks, and it got its points to land on the year-end list, I'm happy. And finally, 'Perfect' by One Direction slips to 29, but that's to be expected after a debut week like it had.

Where things with One Direction get a little more interesting comes to our gains, most notably 'Home' rising up to 74. It, along with gains to 'Say It' by Tory Lanez to 72 and 'Roses' by The Chainsmokers ft. ROZES rising up to 71 encompass gains from new arrivals, and while they're a little bigger than expected, not surprising. Nor is 'Lay It All On Me' by Rudimental ft. Ed Sheeran rising even more to 62 - it's got momentum, expect it to keep gaining. Next we have 'Don't' by Bryson Tiller continuing to ride out success from his debut - more about this in a bit - as it went up to 54. And finally, Jana Kramer's 'I Got The Boy' going up to 81 - looks like country radio finally saw that if you keep pitching songs out, you have to replace it with something, and at least it's something good for once.

Now to switch gears entirely, let's talk about our solitary returning entry, where 'good' is a lot more qualified...

It was one of the weakest songs from Fetty Wap's self-titled debut, mostly because it feels like one of the most clumsy. Fetty Wap's chorus melody is lower and nowhere near as flattering, especially against those keys that just feel off-rhythm with the hi-hats, and the lyrics are following in the Migos tradition of trying to define a lyrical idea that has less meaning the more you think about it. And Monty's elongated syllables on his verse are annoying enough without the fake horns trying to support them. Overall, if Fetty Wap's personality can redeem the cheap production and basic lyrics at his best, this is highlighting what can happen at the worst, and it's remarkably easy to tune it out.

So that was quick - on to our new arrivals, starting with...

98. 'Exchange' by Bryson Tiller - so when I covered 'Don't' by Bryson Tiller before, I wasn't all that impressed. I understood the appeal - if you want an artist midway between Chris Brown, The Weeknd, and Drake with a vocal cadence that reminded me a bit of R. Kelly, he could deliver, but I already had artists in those veins and Tiller didn't really stand out for me. And really, I could say much of the same thing about 'Exchange' - on the plus side, he got rid of the gratuitous pitch shifting and the vocal sample against the minimalist bass-heavy beat is fine, and while I'm not wowed by Tiller's personality, the lyrics initially seemed fine, with him getting some feelings for an ex and he wants to try again. Okay, fine enough, he can accept he wants to change his ways... until the final verse, where he says explicitly that he's going to screw her over! So ladies, for a guy who had said he was never loyal to begin with, why would you want him back? Yeah, I'm not buying the sentiment here for a second, and all the more sign that I made the right choice ignoring his debut album. Next!

97. 'I Love This Life' by LoCash - okay, just to provide some context folks, you're not listening to Florida Georgia Line, but I can see how you'd get that confused, given the overly synthetic bro-county feel and the fact that none of the duos major labels have pushed have gotten any traction at all. Now if you've been reading liner notes you might recognize these guys as being responsible for Tim McGraw's abysmal 'Truck Yeah', but they've been putting in hard work in the indie scene for the past decade before finally getting traction with their first major label single... and wow, this blows. Might as well start with the fact with the spacey effects do nothing against that painfully fake drum machine and even less against the banjo, but the larger problem is that the song has no personality whatsoever. Lyrically it's a stream of country cliches which I can barely focus on in comparison with how painfully that electric guitar is compressed. Look, I'm not going to begrudge LoCash for finally breaking, but did they have to do it with this? Ugh, no.

93. 'Dibs' by Kelsea Ballerini - so if you follow pop country at all, you'd notice that there's been a push to find that next big female star, that Taylor Swift analogue. And while I'd take Lucy Hale or even Maddie & Tae, the biggest push has actually been from the indie scene with Kelsea Ballerini - and yet you wouldn't know she was coming from that sound because her material is some of the most processed and synthetic pop country you'll hear on mainstream radio. The funny thing is when I reviewed her debut album The First Time I did actually find songs with potential like the title track or 'Peter Pan' or 'Secondhand Smoke'. This, on the other hand... honestly, it's pretty inoffensive. It's a lightweight love song anchored in acoustic guitar and banjo off a beat that's sparse enough to be ignored until it becomes actual drums come in on the chorus. Hell, the worst part is that guitar tone on the solo having absolutely nothing to it. But the larger problem comes in that the song doesn't really do much more than her previous single 'Love Me Like You Mean It' already did, especially from a compositional point of view. Again, it's tolerable, but when she had songs with decent quality, it's disappointing to see this.

84. 'Used To Love You' by Gwen Stefani - you know, I'll say it, I don't whether to feel sorry for or disappointed in Gwen Stefani, because her track record is all over the place. Sort of like her band No Doubt, which were actually halfway decent in the 90s before they sold out. Then Gwen tried to reinvent herself as a pop star throughout the early-to-mid 2000s and while I hated 'Hollaback Girl', easily one of the most annoying songs of the past decade, I actually thought 'The Sweet Escape' with Akon was kind of charming even if the production has not aged well at all. But ever since then... her buzz evaporated, and between No Doubt and solo singles, she's been trying to get traction with no results. Hell, she even got a role as a coach on The Voice and is apparently striking up a relationship with Blake Shelton coming off her divorce from Gavin Rossdale and his from Miranda Lambert, which is just way too much drama. The point is that she's got a new single inspired by her divorce... and wow, I wish this was better. I mean, points to J.R. Rotem for actually giving her a really pretty gleaming synth to work with even the buzzier beat isn't the best counterpart, and Gwen remains a pretty decent songwriter, with all of the acrid bitterness and complicated emotions that comes with the break of a marriage that lasted over a decade. But wow, Gwen doesn't sound good on this song - she's still expressive and I get she's supposed to sound like she's crying, but when her voice breaks and goes flat on the end of the chorus, it sounds really rough and not in the good way. Hate to say it, but Gwen made great slinky vaudeville-esque pop, and this sort of material demands either vocal poise or a rawness that she doesn't really have.

82. 'Used To Love You Sober' by Kane Brown - oh, I've been waiting to talk about this guy for a while now, who because of his viral success has branded himself the 'country Justin Bieber'. Yeah, we'll get to Bieber himself in a few minutes, but I was suspicious of this guy's push for a while now, mostly in how his EP started picking up sales out of nowhere, especially considering that while he has a YouTube channel, this song doesn't have a full video. Either way, Trigger over at the excellent site SavingCountryMusic has done an incredibly detailed dissection of why this guy is getting traction, but let's talk about the guy himself, reportedly inspired by Sam Hunt and Cole Swindell - yes, seriously. And let me start by saying that there are a few things to like here: the six note guitar line is decent, the piano is potent, and the roughness of Brown's lower vocals sounds fine. Hell, even the lyrics aren't bad - getting over a girl in a bottle aren't anything new and 'Painted Blue' by Sundy Best is far more heartbreaking, but this is fine enough. The problem is the production, especially around the chorus and the percussion - it just feels painfully synthetic and doesn't compliment any of the deeper tones that cry out for some real steel guitar. And then there's Brown's mid-to-upper range... and look, it's not bad, but it doesn't nearly feel as raw or organic as his lower vocals. As a whole, this song is okay, a little better than I expected, but nothing great - although you can all expect to see a lot more Kane Brown coming, just warning you.

68. 'Emperor's New Clothes' by Panic! At The Disco - you know it's a bad thing when your band has been hemorrhaging members and yet you're still going to put out an album on your own, but that's exactly what Brendon Urie is doing with his upcoming record Death Of A Bachelor this January. And I've had a bad feeling about this since I heard 'Hallelujah' over six months and thought it was an overblown mess. Either way, this is the newest single, did it restore any hope? Honestly, yes and no - I do like the overblown horror vaudeville theatricality, which is a much stronger fit for this band than any stabs at gospel, and the horns against the cacophonous percussion is pretty potent against the low sizzle of the guitar... shame that so much of it lacks a deeper foundation and Urie's forcing his vocals into some shrieks that can't really can't be excused. But more importantly, I can't help but feel like Panic! At The Disco had already done this a decade ago on 'A Fever You Can't Sweat Out' with better writing, production, and melodies. Again, I'm a sucker for the aesthetic and I get why Urie's going back to the well... but I'm not nearly as excited by this as I want to be. Still a pretty good song, though.

2. 'Sorry' by Justin Bieber - anyone notice that with every legitimate hit Bieber releases, he loses more and more personality? I mean it's not like 'What Do You Mean' is a bad song - it's pleasant, it's got a decent melodic groove, but it becomes background music very quickly for me, and I've got no shortage of better tropical house electronica that I'd listen to over this. In any case, this is his second single and would have been #1 if it hadn't been for Adele... and honestly, this isn't bad. Those fake horns actually blend pretty well against the textured percussion in the deeper mix to give the track some swell, especially off of the warbling vocal sample. Two main problems, though: Justin Bieber is easily the least interesting presence on the song; and the lyrics really run up to the line of questionable. If he wanted to play the song as a straightforward apology, it'd be fine, but he throws in little lines about how she gets angry at his 'honesty' and how there's nobody really innocent - it really looks like he's trying to deflect or lessen his own blame, and it really undercuts the song. But look, at the end of the day, both of the singles from Bieber's new album have made it clear it might not be a bad listen, but it'll certainly be a bland one, and he still hasn't made a better song than 'Maria' back from Believe three years ago.

1. 'Hello' by Adele - and now the big one, the easy best of the week and the lead-off single so many people desperately wanted to hear. And really, when you look back upon the road Adele blazed in modern music - reverb-heavy, huge vocals in the R&B/soul vein that pushed into painfully raw territory, it's hard not to look at 'Hello' in a larger context, especially considering her earlier singles. And look, I loved 'Rolling In The Deep' and especially 'Someone Like You', they were some of my favourite hits of 2011... and I don't think 'Hello' is quite better than either of them. Yes, I like it more than 'Rumour Has It' or 'Skyfall', but for me it's on par with 'Turning Tables' or 'Set Fire To The Rain' - damn good songs, but not quite a game-changer. And believe me, it's not because of Adele herself in her delivery or lyrics - in fact, the lyricism focusing on the complicated situation of her calling an old ex to apologize and quiet her own demons is really quite excellent, and I love how she positions herself as 'from the other side', a great metaphor when it comes to old ghosts coming back. What bugs me is the production - not that it's bad, it's definitely not, but that it doesn't do anything special or different than I haven't heard from reverb-soaked piano ballads produced by Greg Kurstin. I guess there's a slight hint of more warmth in comparison to the chilly hollowness of Lykke Li, and those bells that come in on the final chorus add just enough of a gothic touch to kick ass, but I think I was expecting a bit more in the presentation. Still, excellent song, but I think it could have hit a little harder.

So that was this week, and as I said, Adele runs away with Best of the Week. Honourable Mention, though, is a lot trickier, and even though I'm not entirely on board, I'll give it to 'Emperor's New Clothes' by Panic! At The Disco with some cautious optimism. As for the worst... honestly, nothing really stands out as atrocious, so I'm giving it to Bryson Tiller's 'Exchange' for disingenuous dickishness and Dishonourable Mention to that LoCash song 'I Love This Life' for just annoying the hell out of me. Overall, the arrival of Adele heralded a change in the winds on the Hot 100 last time... let's see if it continues!


  1. Just a thought, but why wan't 'I love this life' a Dishonorable mention? From the looks of it you seemed like you really hate it, haha.

    1. ^^^
      You appeared to be far more agitated by that song than you were by "Jugg" or even "Exchange", was honestly a bit surprised to see that it wasn't the worst of the week or dishonorable mention.