Tuesday, December 8, 2015

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - december 19, 2015

This is one of those weeks that I can imagine seems slow - the top ten barely moved, only a few new songs, and we even got the return of Christmas songs which imply that the annual winter slowdown is coming into place. But the more I delved into this week, the more I'm seeing some shifts that have real implications down the road - the 2015 charting trends seem to be fading faster than I expected, with the new ones - good and bad - creeping up to replace them.

Now here's the thing: if you looked at the Top 10, you wouldn't think anything was out of the ordinary. Adele is still handily outselling her nearest competitors and combined with airplay and YouTube dominance she easily holds #1 with 'Hello', but 'Sorry' by Justin Bieber is close behind at #2, only picking up more airplay, ruling streaming, and lodging significant impact on YouTube and and sales - if 'Hello' starts to waver, Bieber's got a real shot at the top again. Beneath it we've got 'Hotline Bling' by Drake... and really, I'm not sure how long this is going to stick around - yes, it gained on YouTube and had solid streaming, but sales were not great this week and it's actively losing airplay - I can see this track being held up by streaming longer than the radio. Similar case for 'What Do You Mean' by Justin Bieber holding steady at #4, except with slightly stronger streaming propping up even weaker sales and airplay. Next we get 'The Hills' maintaining more longevity than I expected at #5 - mostly because it actually picked up gains on YouTube and streaming, because while sales aren't worth mentioning, it's not losing airplay quite as fast as its competition. And yet I still imagine 'Stitches' by Shawn Mendes will probably unseat it as it holds at #6 - sure, no YouTube, but gains on streaming and okay sales are probably propping up airplay losses - unless it drops faster, it's got a shot. Then we've got Justin Bieber's 'Love Yourself' - and let's make this clear, it's here on streaming and sales and nothing else. Unless it starts getting radio I don't see this sticking around for long because its numbers are slipping and you can't rely on weaknesses to hold your position. Case in point: 'Here' by Alessia Cara rising up to #8. Yeah, sales aren't worth mentioning and there's no YouTube, but it's actually gaining on streaming and airplay, it might actually have some expanded longevity. It was able to shove back 'Like I'm Gonna Lose You' by Meghan Trainor & John Legend down to #9, which despite having good sales and airplay is only now catching up on streaming. And finally, cracking into the Top 10 we have 'Same Old Love' by Selena Gomez - and if we're looking for a track that might stick around, it'd be this one: momentum in streaming and airplay, and solid sales - it might not have YouTube, but I can see it holding a little more traction, especially if the top tracks falter.

And on that note, our losers and dropouts. And while I could go on about how it kind of sucks that both Chris Stapleton's 'Tennessee Whiskey' and so many Adele songs left the charts, the big news is that finally 'Uptown Funk' by Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars has exited after well over a year of being dominant. And it's telling how much of a sea change that feels like, because there were reflections of that loss in other 2015 songs that took hits. Most welcome were the hits to both 'Hit The Quan' by ILoveMemphis down to 35 and 'Bet You Can't Do It Like Me' by DLOW down to 58, and you could probably add 'Come Get Her' by Rae Sremmurd falling early to 76 for the same reason. That goes along with our expected losses to 'Downtown' by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis to 67, 'Smoke Break' by Carrie Underwood to 71, and 'Strip It Down' by Luke Bryan to 75 as they naturally start their exit - along with the unfortunate losses for 'When We Were Young' by Adele to 69, unfortunately not gaining the traction as the inevitable second single that I expected. And, since we didn't lose everything from Justin Bieber last week, here's his list of drops: 'The Feeling' with Halsey down to 57, 'No Pressure' with Big Sean down to 88, 'No Sense' with Travi$ Scott down to 90, 'Purpose' down to 74, 'Mark My Words' down to 80, and 'Company' down to 83.

Now what gets interesting is what replaces these songs, and we had a lot of big gains and a few returning arrivals this week. In the latter category, since it is Christmas, we get the perennial holiday track from Mariah Carey 'All I Want For Christmas Is You', which hammered in at 26. The other returns are far lower... and really, the only one worth talking about is 'Irresistible' by Fall Out Boy at 95, presumably because of the solid remix with Demi Lovato. The other two... okay, maybe Parmalee's 'Already Callin' You Mine' to fill country radio time, but does anyone really want 'New Americana' by Halsey coming back? I have yet to see a critic defend the ridiculous lyrics on that song, most of which are already consigning them to 'Worst Of' lists! But even with the return there, the other gains are more intriguing. Of course Gwen Stefani is regaining momentum with 'Used To Love You' rising to 52, but what caught me off-guard was the sudden rebound for 'Where They From' by Missy Elliott and Pharrell - guess the novelty comeback actually might have staying power after all. Beyond that, we had our continued gains for 'My House' by Flo Rida rising to 70, 'Stressed Out' by twenty one pilots going to 45, future smash hit 'In The Night' by The Weeknd surging to 37, and 'Roses' by The Chainsmokers & ROZES rising to 36. Unfortunately, the rest of our gains aren't nearly as good, and let's start with the new arrivals getting a boost with 'Best Friend' by Young Thug rising to 86 and 'Home Alone Tonight' by Luke Bryan & Karen Fairchild rising to 84 - you know, two of the worst songs to hit the Hot 100 in some time! In comparison, the obnoxious mediocrity of 'Cake By The Ocean' by DNCE going to 82, and the turgid dullness of 'Exchange' by Bryson Tiller rising to 60 is relatively minor. Then there's 'Me, Myself & I' by G-Eazy ft. Bebe Rexha going to 66 - honestly, I'm still debating whether I should bother covering G-Eazy's upcoming album, given that he remains a profoundly uninteresting rapper and the hook is the one thing I actually liked about the track.

And yet on that topic, I think it's time I roll out a new segment for Billboard BREAKDOWN. Now in taking a look at all of your feedback, one of the comments is that I should highlight more charts than just those in the US - and here, we're going to do just that. In this segment, if I've got time and a song that has recently debuted somewhere across the world that has sparked my interest, I'm going to highlight it - and just to keep things fair, it will not count towards best/worst of the week. So to start off our World Hits category, we have a song that's gone #1 in Australia and debuted at #5 this week on the UK singles chart: 'You Don't Own Me' by Grace ft. G-Eazy.

Now here's the thing: this is not entirely a new song, in that it's an interpolation of an old Lesley Gore song from 1963. And it was a hit too - peaked at #2, landed on the year-end Hot 100 list in 1964 at #36. And for the most part it was for good reason - backed by smoky horns and production from Quincy Jones, it opted for strident empowerment in the mid-60s, which is important because second wave feminism was only just starting to expand out of the underground. So when Australian singer-songwriter Grace opted for a modern update, she did the obvious and roped in a hip-hop artist to further accentuate the contrast, but also brought in Quincy Jones to further punch up the production. And the shocking thing is how strong of an update this is: the track already has a rock solid, smoky chorus in the guitar line, so punching up the retro-glam in the strings, thicker percussion, and balancing it with darker synths and deeper beats to intensify the horns crescendo is a powerful choice. And hell, G-Eazy actually works pretty well on this track, playing off his own alpha male posturing to want an equal, initially surprised but then rolling with it. In other words, while it's not enough to get me interested in that new G-Eazy album, it's a refreshingly considered update of an old classic that feels relevant both then and now, and it's got the attitude and punch to work impressively well. Definitely recommended.

But now onto our new arrivals, starting with...

98. 'Girls Just Wanna Have Fun' by Madi Davis - yay, we're at the point of The Voice where other candidates might actually matter! Yeah, we'll get to Jonathan Davis in a moment, but first we have to talk about another person who thought a downbeat R&B-flavoured cover of Cyndi Lauper's classic. And I'm sorry, this is a pet peeve of mine: I hated it when Cory Monteith took it in a folk direction for Glee on top of being in an infuriating episode in season 3, and while this is better, it still completely misses the point of the original. Yeah, the horn and liquid guitar is a nice touch to highlight a pretty solid melody and yeah, Madi Davis is doing her best with the reinterpretation, but the song strips out the bright bouncy optimism for melancholy, and it just doesn't fit the lyrics. Hate to say it but there are very few songs that can handle that sort of shift - the first one that immediately jumps to mind is 'Die Young' by Kesha, but there was a desperate core in the writing of that song that made it work. Here... no, I appreciate the effort and Madi Davis intrigues me, but she's doing it with the wrong song.

97. 'Daddy' by PSY ft. CL - okay, every so often I get questions about why I don't talk about more k-pop, and my usual answer is that as a genre, it's not normally my thing. Putting aside the language barrier - and I'm a critic who appreciates songwriting - listening to k-pop feels like snorting pixie sticks: a decent sugar rush quickly followed by a splitting headache. Now PSY actually managed to subvert some of this when he released 'Gangnam Style' and broke the Internet in 2012 by framing it as commentary, but he wasn't really able to follow it up with real staying power. Well, now he's trying again with a new album, teaming up with CL from 2NE1 to repurpose one of will.i.am's solo hits into a workable new banger. And look, I like the synth loop and the chorus has some punch, but that vocal snippet comprising the melody on the verse gets grating in a hurry. And that's not even touching on the lyrics, like in the second verse if you translate the Korean it says 'You are a masterpiece and I am a generous buyer' - and I'm sorry, am I the only who thinks 'I got it from my daddy' sounds simultaneously awkward, creepy, and incredibly gay? No perjorative in the last case, but PSY might have managed to tap into a new market entirely by accident with this pseudo-joke song - but while I can tolerate this more than 'Gentlemen' and 'Hangover', don't expect PSY will land another hit - just saying.

92. 'I'd Love To Lay You Down' by Barrett Baber - and now we've got our second Voice cover, this time of a 1980 Conway Twitty song that went to #1 on the charts and most well-known for being a decent if kind of corny 80s country track and key changes that went down instead of up. Barrett Baber, on the other hand, you can tell has been listening to a lot of Chris Stapleton with the soul touches, organ, because it plays a lot looser with the groove... and incorporates none of the key changes. So great, you take the most immediately recognizable part of the song and pull it out, and for as much as this guy wants to avoid Twitty's potent baritone, Stapleton's got a much wilder, more powerful voice than Baber, and he's just out of his depth. Again, it's listenable, but of The Voice covers I've heard thus far, it doesn't do much for me.

89. 'One Call Away' by Charlie Puth - you know, the more I listen to Charlie Puth the less I find anything to really like about the guy. He doesn't have a ton of vocal personality, his fusion of retro-pop with modern beats has no real texture or soul or groove, and his compositions are incredibly basic - and no more so than this. Yeah, it's not as bad as 'Marvin Gaye' - trust me, I'll have words for that in a few weeks - but Charlie Puth's 'One Call Away' just does absolutely nothing. It's about how he's always one call away whenever this girl needs to be saved or needs a friend or set free and wow, it was fortuitous timing I covered 'You Don't Own Me' this week because it offers a far better refutation to the blandness of this than anything else. At least in this case I've got no expectations it'll actually become a hit.

87. 'Down In The DM' by Yo Gotti - it's weird seeing Yo Gotti on the charts. If you know your hip-hop, you'll recognize him as a mostly decent gangsta rapper who sits on the edge of commercial viability. Now this is the big lead-off single for his upcoming record in 2016... and look, I can only do so much with this. Aside from I swear is a washed out sample from the Legend of Zelda in the melody and your standard trap beat, the lyrics basically operate as a chance to fuse as much modern smartphone lingo into a track about stealing your girl - because, after all, it goes 'down in the DM'. And yet for as much as I tried to give this song a chance - Yo Gotti hammering on the ugly side of snapchats that come with screenshots... and yet the rest of that verse is him bragging how much he loves Instagram and then bragging about following Angela Simmons. And look, if this track banged with any sort of energy I'd be inclined to like it more, but between the limp production and painfully weak rhyming, I just can't get behind this. Yo Gotti, you're capable of better than this.

61. 'Hallelujah' by Jordan Smith - okay, can we call for a moratorium on 'Hallelujah' covers? I liked Leonard Cohen's and maybe Jeff Buckley, but beyond that, the song rarely ever captures Cohen's unique grit and atmosphere in favour of making it lighter and sweeter. And thus of course that's the direction that Jordan Smith goes in - and look, he's got a great voice and the arrangement is solid enough, actually using guitar and strings with a bit of rattle, and Jordan Smith's interesting interpolation of the vocal melody actually goes in a distinct direction... but look, Leonard Cohen brings vocal personality and depth to the song that's damn near unmatched and isn't afraid to have bite and humanity. So with Jordan Smith... honestly, he did more with the song than I'd otherwise expect, but again, a pet peeve here.

But that pet peeve might not factor to much, because now we've got to discuss best and worst and I'm really at a loss.... okay, 'Worst of The Week' going to 'Down In The DM' for sheer sloppiness is a given, but Dishonourable Mention is a tossup - I'm giving it to 'One Call Away' by Charlie Puth, but it's really more for just being insufferably bland than bad. But when it comes to the Best of the Week... well, I would give it to 'You Don't Own Me' by Grace and G-Eazy, but instead it's going to split between 'Hallelujah' by Jordan Smith and 'Girls Just Wanna Have Fun' by Madi Davis. Neither arrangement is anything close to perfect or even great, but they at least try to make them work and if it wasn't for my own pet peeves they'd do just fine here. Let's pray for more tracks next week...

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