Tuesday, November 17, 2015

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - november 28, 2015

And now we're here - one year of Billboard BREAKDOWN is completed. Over the past fifty-plus episodes I've covered all the eccentricities of the Billboard Hot 100 charts, and it has been an eventful year! Between a switch in release scheduling, the chart-spanning weeks for artists too big to fail, and especially in the last quarter of this year the dominance of Canadian artists at the top that has tested my running thesis that the Canadian charts are always better. And I'll admit it's been a real learning experience for me too. Billboard BREAKDOWN has done a lot to define my channel, and though there have been many, many late nights where I swore up and down that after one year I'd be done with this, I'm going to leave that decision up to you. If you guys want me to continue with Billboard BREAKDOWN or revise the format at all, please let me know in the comments, I'm always grateful for your feedback and your support, especially as it's been the most consistent draw across my entire year.

But enough tomfoolery, let's get to our top ten! As everyone could have predicted Adele rules the very top with 'Hello', crushing gains in all categories - it'd almost be boring in its dominance if the song wasn't excellent. What is continuing to try my patience is 'Hotline Bling' by Drake at #2, which is still picking up some gains on airplay and YouTube, but it'll be interesting to see how much longer it lasts as the sales start to slip. Next is 'Sorry' by Justin Bieber at #3, which is doing well thanks to great sales and huge YouTube and streaming, but radio has been slow to really pick it up, so I'm not it'll have a serious shot of getting higher, at least not right away. It pushed back 'The Hills' by The Weeknd to #4, but that's not surprising at this point - it might have gained on YouTube and held steady on streaming, but sales and airplay are weakening hard, and it looks like it's starting to head out. What's seeming to be sticking longer than I expected was 'Stitches' by Shawn Mendes rising to #5 - which is weird because it's clearly peaked on airplay and sales and streaming are only decent with no YouTube. It's more inertia at this point against 'What Do You Mean' by Justin Bieber falling to #6, and really, it's just margins, because it's stronger on YouTube, streaming, and sales... but it's falling harder in airplay, and that's enough. This takes us to the revival of '679' by Fetty Wap and Remy Boyz up to #7, which I'd argue is less thanks to its decent streaming and okay airplay and more to weaknesses elsewhere, like 'Wildest Dreams' by Taylor Swift - sure, YouTube got a boost, but airplay is in freefall and sales were pitiful this week. This is allowing tracks like 'Like I'm Gonna Lose You' by Meghan Trainor & John Legend to pick up to #9, really off of good airplay and a bit of streaming - and pretty much nothing else. And this takes us to the long-awaited arrival to the top 10 for 'Ex's And Oh's' by Elle King, and man, it's nice to see some bluesy stomp return to this part of the charts... although I do question its staying power, with good airplay and sales basically being the only elements keeping it up this high. It's nice to see it here, but how long it'll last is a different question.

That takes us naturally to losers and drop-outs, where we don't have much in the latter category: 'All Eyes On You' by Nicki Minaj, Meek Mill and Chris Brown exiting and taking 'Want To Want Me' by Jason Derulo with it. And very few losers this week too, both continuing their downward spiral with 'Levels' by Nick Jonas continuing to fall to 99 - disappointing - and 'Anything Goes' by Florida Georgia Line sliding to 79. And we didn't get a lot of gains this week either, with the biggest going to Justin Bieber's 'I'll Show You' rising to 27. We'll be talking more about Bieber tomorrow, but what's more alarming are the gains for Bryson Tiller, with 'Exchange' jumping to 76 and 'Don't' going to 42. Look folks, just because Chris Brown is struggling doesn't mean we need to replace him with this guy who pulls a bit from Drake as well! At least we have 'Lay It All On Me' by Rudimental ft. Ed Sheeran which continues to pick up gains like a colossus rising to 42 and showing no signs of slowing down. It'll be interesting to see how much traction that ends up getting, and mostly a good sign because it's a decent song.

What won't be gaining traction are our returning entries, starting with...

Okay, that's not fair - although it's only back on the charts thanks to the video, I could see this song charting if only because Sia is an interesting comparison point to Adele. I would say that Sia as a whole is more blunt and raw than Adele, but less complex in instrumentation and writing, not quite as nuanced, which is where I'd probably give 'Hello' the slight edge over 'Alive'. Now that doesn't make 'Alive' any less of a great track with huge power, even if it does take a bit to really get going, but I feel that audiences will sadly end up dismissing Sia's very real appeal under the assertion that they're getting something more reserved and dignified, where as I'd argue there's room for both. Either way, this song is awesome, and I'm definitely curious about that upcoming album.

So with the release of Spectre, this song has returned - and just like the movie, I'm mixed on it. The instrumentation is great, especially with the heavier horns, the verses and pre-chorus are powerful... but that slurred chorus in Sam Smith's falsetto range just sounds nowhere near as good as it should. I have no idea why Sam Smith thought that range was better than his belting tones, which actually have the soulful power a Bond anthem needs. On top of it, I can't be the only one who misses Bond anthems with a bit of an edge to their dramatic swell, which is the other problem here - it's willowy and delicate and has nowhere near the dramatic swell to really drive things home. I'll give them credit for trying something new, but reinventions should keep in mind what's worked in the past before going forward, it'll save them issues like this.

So now onto our regularly scheduled new arrivals, starting with...

96. 'My House' by Flo Rida - I can't be the only one who's amazed that Flo Rida is still releasing songs, can I? Of all the artists who managed to survive the club boom, Flo Rida got through by snagging solid hooks and having as little personality as possible in any of his content, so to hear that not only he released a new EP this year, but that this is the third charting single from it is a little startling. What's even more startling is that it's actually not bad, mostly through a melodic interpolation from 'Impossible' a really solid Shontelle song from 2010 that Flo Rida flips into something more lightweight and fun with a low piano line and a gurgling sizzle of a synth line mimicking horns that's actually not bad. And sure, the lyrics are empty platitudes about staying in and having a house party - which if you know Flo Rida's old club bangers, it's nice to know he found a place when the club couldn't handle him - but again, for this sort of laid back song, it's surprisingly likeable. So yeah, speaking as someone who has given Flo Rida some credit in the past, I don't mind this all, I'll take it.

94. 'Stand By You' by Rachel Platten - I have to admit I was worried about this. Rachel Platten's 'Fight Song' was easily one of the most boring and recycled self-esteem anthems I heard all year next to Jessie J's 'Flashlight', and I had no assumptions that her follow-up would be remotely interesting either. Well, I was slightly wrong there, because this is a bit better than 'Fight Song'. Most of this you can chart to a distant melody that actually tries to anchor a pretty effervescent chorus - even though if you ease off the drums the melody doesn't do anything that Katy Perry's 'Roar' or Sara Bareilles' 'Brave' haven't already done. And as for lyrics... well, I could be cynical and say that Platten is recycling her self-esteem template, but with all of the heavenly imagery, she's positioning herself as more of a guardian angel, which I guess is fine - but again, if I wanted treble keys and soaring melodies, I already have 'Brave', which I like a lot more - just saying.

91. 'WTF (Where They From)' by Missy Elliott ft. Pharrell Williams - you know we haven't had an album from Missy Elliott in a decade? And yet even though I've never been a huge fan of her music, I completely get why people want to hear Missy Elliott come back - hell, that was mostly the reason we gave Azealia Banks a career in the first place! And I definitely get why people like this song too - the bassy hook is ridiculously catchy, the textured percussion gives a lot of flavour, Missy's still got a ton of personality, and while the content isn't much to write home about - especially when you dig into Pharrell's increasingly disconnected references - this brand of hip-house doesn't need to be lyrical as long as the flow and rhymes connect, and Missy's definitely do. Where I find the song loses me a bit is the production - not that it's bad, although it doesn't quite rise to the level of what Timbaland was delivering, but that most of the melody either comes through in sirens or vocal fragments and the volume on Missy's voice seems to be constantly shifting. And that's before we get to the outro, where the tone that bass hit comes through at one of the worst levels possible, just feeling ugly and ragged and completely not matching any of the rest of the song, which strikes me more as a production error than a choice on Missy's part. Overall, I do like the song, but I'm not as crazy about it as some are - but then again, that's always been my story with Missy Elliott. Regardless, I'm happy to see her back.

88. 'Halo' by Jordan Smith - so did you know The Voice was back on television? Better question, did anyone care? What's interesting to note is where on previous seasons of The Voice we'd get multiple chart arrivals, the only one that's shown up is a cover of Beyonce's 'Halo' by Jordan Smith. And look, he's got a fine voice and big pipes, but am I the only one who thinks this arrangement is completely wrong? 'Halo' is already an awkward song for Beyonce, because it's not a song focusing on how awesome she is, but she at least elevated it through huge, bombastic production with drums and strings and gleaming synths to anchor that piano line - so while stripping it back to guitar and a limp piano line isn't a bad choice to match the lyrics, but you lose all the power of the original. Look, I never cared for this song in the first place, but I know why it worked, and this version just doesn't really click. And seriously, what's with this week and songs about angels?

87. 'Traveller' by Chris Stapleton - so with Stapleton now spending a second week at the very top of the album charts, it was inevitable we'd start seeing songs creeping over onto the Hot 100 to match 'Tennessee Whiskey'. So with the title track, we've got our second taste of Chris Stapleton with an original cut... and again, it's not really one of my favourite cuts from the album, but it's definitely a more neotraditional track with the steel guitar anchoring the melody and a ton of acoustic texture. And yes, Stapleton's got a ton of presence and power as a country singer and the troubadour lyrics are an easy sell for me... so why doesn't it quite click as well as I'd like? Hate to say it, but I think it's a two-fold issue, the first being the addition of the backing vocals from Stapleton's wife, which feel a little out-of-place in a song about being a lone traveller on the road. The larger issue comes in the vocal layering - not only does it feel like her vocals are at the same volume as his, they both feel a smidge too quiet against the acoustic and steel guitars, just nestled a shade too deep in the mix to really show off that power and match the great texture everywhere else. Again, I love that Chris Stapleton is making a major splash on country radio and finally cutting through the chaff... I just wish songs like 'Parachute' or 'Was It 26' or 'Outlaw State Of Mind' were the ones doing it, that's all.

65. 'History' by One Direction - I have to admit, I was a little surprised to see this as the next One Direction song to hit the charts, and not just because it's a mostly acoustic finale cut against a surprisingly stiff drum beat that really doesn't compliment the loose hopeful vibe of the guitar groove... which on the bridge becomes electric and seems to be building for an explosive final chorus that just falls a little flat when nothing changes. Come on, as cliched as it would be, a key change would have been killer there, especially as it'd give the guys a chance to show off their upper register in their harmonies a little more. As for the content... look, as awkward as it would be in a relationship song to say, 'Hey, you should stick with us because we have history together' - when it's often because of history the relationship ends - it's a song intended to console fans that One Direction will be coming back. Personally, I don't see that happening... but hey, you never know, I've been wrong before.

61. 'Bet You Can't Do It Like Me' by DLOW - how in the Nine Hells does this keep happening? Trust me, I'll be speaking much more about this 'trend' later this year, but it seems like every other week of 2015 we've been getting godawful dance crazes that recalls the worst parts of mid-2000s hip-hop. And what's infuriating is how much they don't even try to hide they're ripping off other dances instead of showing the slightest bit of creativity - in other words, the very thin rationale for why 'Hit The Quan' is better than 'Watch Me'. This song falls into that pit as well, and I'll give this rapper DLOW for at least having a slightly more assertive and controlled voice that Silento and telling people how to do his dances... but I'm not sure bleak, eerie keys are the best choice for a 'fun' dance song with a final line about hitting the dolphin. And while I could rail against how this song is the furthest thing from unique, the painful part is that this song is set up like a 'challenge' - in other words, it goes viral based upon people trying to beat said challenge. So speaking as a member of the YouTube community, I implore everyone to not do this challenge - seriously, you're only exacerbating the problem by making this go viral... oh wait, that's the only reason why this is popular in the first place! Ugh, let's hope people get sick of this nonsense sooner rather than later, because one year of this was enough - next!

55. 'Adventure Of A Lifetime' by Coldplay - I couldn't have been the only one surprised that Coldplay was back with not just a new single, but an upcoming album only a year after the release of Ghost Stories to massively underwhelming results. Now I was mostly ambivalent on that record as a generally broad break-up album that misfired in any stab at nuance, but I was a lot more worried when I heard about the upcoming A Head Full Of Dreams, mostly because swapping out Brian Eno for Stargate on production struck me as a monumentally bad decision. And then you take a look at the co-stars - yes, Coldplay has been working with pop stars like Rihanna since Mylo Xyloto, and there's a part of me that could see Tove Lo working well with them, but Beyonce? Noel Gallagher? What the hell was happening with this? In any case, this is the lead-off single and let's just agree right out of the gate that more than 'Paradise' or 'A Sky Full Of Stars', this is evidence of Coldplay selling out and selling out hard. Speaking as someone who likes Coldplay enough to have seen them live - they were touring with Snow Patrol and it was awesome - this is a change in sound that strikes me as completely wrong across the board. Chris Martin's at his best as a singer and songwriter on huge dramatic tracks or intimate ballads... this is him trying to play smooth and cool and man, I don't buy it for a damn second, especially considering he's got none of the ironic detachment that Bono had U2 touched dance music on Pop. And it doesn't help matters that his lyrics are still very much in that broad sweeping scope and feel oddly out of place against this instrumentation. Yes, that is a catchy guitar lick that anchors the song and yes, there's a certain rollick to the groove that can mostly work, but the bassline feels leaden and the generally runny tones and lack of tightness prevents this song from having any real funk or kick. In other words, if this is what I'm supposed to expect for that upcoming album... oh boy, definitely not excited now.

So yeah, that was this week... bit of a rough note to go out on, especially considering we got our worst with DLOW's 'Bet You Can't Do It Like Me' and the Dishonourable Mention of Coldplay's 'Adventure Of A Lifetime' right in a row. Fortunately, outside of that we did get some good songs, and the choice of 'Alive' by Sia for the Best and 'Traveller' by Chris Stapleton as the Honourable Mention are pretty easy too. As always, let's hope for better next week as we head into a new Billboard year!


  1. Just as a suggestion, since a good portion of times there aren't many major losses/gains, drop those and just stick with the drop outs. Also one other idea would be to look at #11-15 or even #11-20 and make predictions on what will crack the top ten, that way you can make a little game or experiment based around what's so close but not there

  2. Look man, I love you, but "Halo" was way worse than "Adventure of a Lifetime".

  3. "My house" charted.

    It's not as good as I Don't Like It, I Love It, but as long as Sandor Cleg... Flo Rida can do something that's not Whistle, I'm fine with that. Now it's time to see Zero follow it. Come on you stupid song! CHART!

  4. Hey! I love billboard breakdown! I would love to hear your own recommendations sometime on your channel. I would be cool to hear about great songs that maybe would not make the billboard hot 100.