Tuesday, December 1, 2015

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - december 12, 2015

It's the calm after the storm, the time of year where everything seems to fall back into place after frantic reshuffling to make it appear that the onslaught never really happened and all is right with the world.

Why, yes, I'm talking about Adele taking back chunks of the chart from Justin Bieber, why do you ask? Okay, snark aside, while everyone predicted there'd be chunks of Adele's new album breaking onto the Hot 100, it's not as pervasive as you'd expect, and along with plenty of returning entries and chart shuffling, it's more indicative that Bieber and to a lesser extent One Direction didn't have the same staying power.

Of course, that somewhat changes when you look at the Top 10. Of course Adele is still dominant - outside of streaming she's still dominant, outselling her nearest competition two-to-one... and bizarrely not getting any more airplay gains. Now to be fair this isn't her fault - we're heading into the holiday season, which means Christmas music clogs up the radio for the next month or two and prevents most pop from gaining more traction. Of course, it's not stopping a song like 'Hello' from doing well, or a song like Justin Bieber's 'Sorry', which held steady at #2 thanks to huge streaming, great sales, lots of YouTube, and the radio finally picking it up in stride. Not quite the case for 'Hotline Bling' by Drake, which despite stepping up to #3 did it by holding steady on streaming and Youtube despite weakening sales and airplay. Similar case for 'What Do You Mean?' by Justin Bieber rising to #4, which actually lost streaming and airplay this week and didn't exactly have impressive sales. Hell, even 'The Hills' by The Weeknd picked up to #5 and it spent the week losing in every category except YouTube. The only song where the gain might actually make a bit of sense is 'Stitches' by Shawn Mendes going to #6 thanks to streaming gains, but it's slipping in airplay and sales are not solid. Well, all of these gains are because 'Love Yourself' by Justin Bieber, despite having solid sales and great streaming, has nothing else to back it up, so it dropped hard to #7. Beneath it we have Meghan Trainor regaining the top ten with arguably her best song with 'Like I'm Gonna Lose You' at #8 - even though John Legend blows her off the table - and that's thanks to sales and airplay, nothing else. Beneath that we've got '679' by Fetty Wap & Remy Boyz wavering down to #9, because even despite pitiful sales and peaking airplay, streaming got a bit of a boost to prop it up. And finally we've got 'Here' by Alessia Cara at #10, which doesn't have great sales, but gains on streaming and airplay are keeping it steady, and it'll be interesting if this becomes the anti-Christmas music song we all need.

And on that note of negativity, losers and dropouts. And here's the funny thing: Bieber and One Direction already did a number on the latter, and thus there's a certain irony that so many of them exited the charts the next week. Along the way, though, they also managed to push out 'Break Up With Him' by Old Dominion and 'Let Me See Ya Girl' by Cole Swindell - both of which had lost steam anyway, but still a net positive overall! And when we flip over to the losers it's the expected case with nearly every Bieber debut netting serious losses. 'Life Is Worth Living' falls to 89, 'No Sense' with Travi$ Scott drops to 78, 'No Pressure' with Big Sean hits 74, 'Company' slips to 73, 'Purpose' tumbles to 62, 'Mark My Words' stumbles to 60, 'The Feeling' with Halsey collapses to 46, and 'I'll Show You' shrinks back to 31. And in an interesting change of pace, even despite his debut album dropping 'Blase' by Ty Dolla $ign with Future and Rae Sremmurd fell to 76. Outside of all of those, the rest of the losses make a bit more sense: 'Renegades' by X Ambassadors skids down to 38 as people finally seem to be getting as bored of it as me, and 'Tennessee Whiskey' by Chris Stapleton falls to 80 as the CMA sales boost finally ends. The one loss that really surprised me was 'Where They From' by Missy Elliott and Pharrell falling hard to 72 - you'd think that the comeback would have had more long-term viability, but in reality it just didn't catch.

What did catch are our returning songs and gains - and make no mistake, we had a lot of both flooding up to replace Bieber. 'Dibs' by Kelsea Ballerini surging back to 94, 'Ginza' by J Balvin going back to 95, 'Stand By You' by Rachel Platten soaring back to 91, 'Play No Games' by Big Sean ft. Chris Brown & Ty Dolla $ign climbing back to 99, and most interestingly, 'Used To Love You' by Gwen Stefani rising up to 79, which I suspect came from a combination of The Voice and Ellen to give it a boost. As for our gains, the first welcome surprise is how much One Direction managed to consolidate their presence, with 'Perfect' rising to 27 and 'Drag Me Down' jumping back to 30. And speaking of losses, I actually missed the slip after the debut of Coldplay's 'Adventure Of A Lifetime', but it recovered in a big way up to 53, just in time for the album dropping this week... and yes, I'll be covering it soon, don't worry. That sense of recovery also spread to 'In The Night' by The Weeknd, which is almost entirely being propped up by radio as the next single as it surged to 54. I have to imagine it's a similar case for 'Stressed Out' by twenty one pilots rising to 57 - it's doing incredibly well on alternative radio, but pretty much nowhere else. Outside of that we have a selection of songs that are recovering, whether we want them to or not: 'Say It' by Tory Lanez continuing its rise to 37, 'My House' by Flo Rida recovering nicely to 83, 'Hide Away' by Daya somehow sticking around to 61, 'Roses' by The Chainsmokers ft. ROZES boosted to 51, and most distressingly 'Bet You Can't Do It Like Me' by DLOW continuing the trend of bad Vine challenges going to 45 - let's pray this is a tend that dies in 2015 where it belongs. And finally, the one new arrival from last week which picked up a lot of steam: 'I Know What You Did Last Summer' by Shawn Mendes and Camila Cabello, a song that frankly deserves to be in the hands of two more experienced singers to really land impact, at least for me.

Now this will take us to our new arrivals, starting with...

100. 'Rich Sex' by Future - so you knew it was inevitable that Future would eventually try to break onto the Hot 100 with a hit of his own that doesn't feature Drake, which landed here thanks to the video. I was just expecting that it'd actually be interesting. 'Rich $ex, meanwhile, is about exactly what it sounds like - Future screwing some girl covered in brand names and jewellery over a bass-heavy trap beat. I'll give the song the barest hint of credit and say that the backing synth does have a certain elegance to it, but to me the brand name pileup just feels gaudy and a bit tacky, the cheapest way possible to emphasize wealth. Overall, I can't even say it's outright offensive or miserable like some of Future's material, but it is certainly bland and played out, especially coming after a year which had entirely too much Future in it. Next!

98. 'Best Friend' by Young Thug - you know, my opinion on Young Thug really has evolved over the past year, from outright dislike to more of a sense that I should try to like this guy a lot more than I do. I'm not going to deny he's got charisma and an interesting voice and flow, but I keep feeling like he's missing his mark in terms of content and production. The best thing he's ever done is still 'Good Times' with Jamie xx and Popcaan earlier this year, and I get the feeling he's only a shade away from falling into the same lane as Chance The Rapper, just weirder. As it is, it seems like with his frequent mixtape releases he's still being positioned as a successor to Lil Wayne, with this track coming from his September tape Slime Season. And it's... honestly, pretty awful. I think a big part of that is the production with the plucked strings swamped out by the bass and what sounds like screams punctuating the mix - it's way too dark to fit with his rambling free verse subject matter that mostly focuses on screwing girls - both his and yours - and about his newfound success that allows him to be 'forcin' your ho, I can't wait to mislead 'em and beat 'em'... And you know, I'd like to go on about how there are plenty of rhymes that completely don't connect and that the scattershot flow can barely stay on topic, but this is a song where Young Thug is bragging about misleading, screwing and beating your girl. You know, Young Thug, it's apropos you call your crew the S.L.I.M.E. army - because blatant incompetence and lines like that make you out to be pure scum - fine work, you clearly deserve all of that critical acclaim.

97. 'Home Alone Tonight' by Luke Bryan ft. Karen Fairchild - and on the topic of flagrant douchebaggery, we now have one of the worst songs from Luke Bryan's Kill The Lights, a record that oddly seems to have not caught on nearly as well as previous albums have - mostly because you can barely consider it country and it's also pretty damn awful. And really, it's a matter of tone and writing why this song doesn't work - yeah, I could rant about the stiff percussion and gleaming haze completely swamping the sour guitar melody, or how Karen Fairchild sounds completely checked out, but the larger issue is that this is a song about this hookup solely happening for them to send selfies to their ex's in a bitter stab of revenge. And you know, I could almost buy it if this song was framed about two miserable people desperately trying to deal with their losses through sheer pettiness... but there's nothing in the writing that provides any sort of deeper subtext, so we just get pure ugliness all around and not even enough fire or passion to make the melodramatic revenge sex interesting. Plus, you know, this is not country music - next!

87. 'Remedy' by Adele - so here's the reason why we only have four Adele songs this week instead of the full avalanche of tracks we got from Bieber last Tuesday: priorities. See, Adele made it very clear that she was not going to be releasing 25 to streaming - people actually had to buy the CD, so where Bieber flooded the chart with not just streaming but full videos to support each song, these songs hit on the charts entirely on sales and airplay. And we start off with the one I easily find the least interesting, and I blame that entirely on the production. Don't get me wrong, it's nothing bad, especially compared with the three songs I just covered, but Ryan Tedder's airy, clean piano tone just doesn't do as much compared to her other piano ballads. Granted, it is a song that's intended for Adele's baby son, so I imagine if I gave this to my mom she'd probably appreciate it more, but as a whole, while it is a good song, not quite a great one, at least for me.

79. 'Send My Love (To Your New Lover)' by Adele - well, I'm not surprised this charted, as it's easily Adele's most 'commercial' song she's ever done, mostly thanks to getting Max Martin to help on writing and production. And it definitely shows in the writing and composition - the lumpy beat, the awkward rhythm and chorus with the handclap, and lack of melodic focus, the vocal production that doesn't really give Adele more room to breathe, it was easily my least favourite song off of 25. And here's my point: given how Adele was shattering sales records, why would she ever bother to make a song that leans towards the 'mainstream' with production that sounds more fit for Shawn Mendes than her? It's not like she needs this - case in point...

70. 'Water Under The Bridge' by Adele - yeah, you could definitely argue this track is also more 'commercial' with the rubbery guitar rollick against the piano that honestly reminds me a little of the opening riff on Toto's 'Africa', but at least this track nails its groove and hook more effectively, with the vocal production giving Adele more room to breathe with some pretty damn good multi-tracking. Upon repeated listen the heavier drums do feel a little thin and hollow, but so much of that is compensated for by the writing, which shows a relationship sputtering out where Adele knows it's over and yet all she wants is an acknowledgement that it had actually mattered in the first place. Honestly, I really like this sentiment - it shows maturity and yet enough vulnerability to hope that things had been worth it, and when relationships end, in retrospect it's the best thing we can expect. So yeah, this was definitely one of my favourite songs on the album, but not quite on the level of...

22. 'When We Were Young' by Adele - initially, I was inclined to say this was Adele's version of the old-fashioned vintage worship that we normally get from Lana Del Rey, or maybe Taylor Swift's 'Wildest Dreams'. But for this complicated piano ballad reunion, Adele's diving beneath the glamour to the complicated emotions that come reuniting with an old flame unexpectedly. It touches into those emotions that come with having feelings you thought were long buried rush back raw to the surface, a relationship that broke because age was pushing them towards a commitment and while Adele feels herself aging away from that perfect time, for him nothing looks to have changed. And here's the thing: it's clear he has moved on, he is happy with his life, and Adele on some level understands that - she just wants to capture this moment, possibly the last fragment before it all inevitably fades, and that's just heartbreaking. And it's also the sort of track where I really struggle find anything wrong with it - I guess I'm not wild how they fade Adele's raw belting of the first part of the chorus behind the backing vocals, but that's a minor nitpick. Beyond that... if this song sticks around - and I can't imagine why it wouldn't - we've got our earlier frontrunner for my favourite hit song of 2016, because this is something special.

So yeah, this week the best and worst are shockingly easy. Of course Adele's 'When We Were Young' and 'Water Under The Bridge' take Best of the Week and Honourable Mention, whereas for the worst... I was planning on giving it to 'Home Alone Tonight' by Luke Bryan and Karen Fairchild, but they scrape a Dishonourable Mention because Young Thug's 'Best Friend' is taking the worst for sloppy writing, some extremely questionable implications, and production not good enough to save either. And yet even with that, I've got a good feeling about the weeks ahead - things seem to be looking up.

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