Tuesday, December 22, 2015

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - january 2, 2016

I'll be blunt and say it - if this week didn't have The Voice, the charts would be significantly less interesting. And if I actually took some of you up on the suggestions to just avoid covering hits from The Voice, it'd actually be a pretty short week, but considering this was another deceptive week where things do not appear all that interesting outside of it thanks to the holiday slowdown, I might as well discuss it in more detail - it's not like the other new entries appear that much better.

Of course, a big part of that is the continued stasis of our top 10 - I suspect things will be disrupted next week, but for now not much is changing. One thing to note is that 'Hello' by Adele might be reaching the end of its run at #1, as airplay finally peaked this week and while it still holds the top in sales and YouTube, it's slipping on streaming, which is never a good sign. I suspect 'Sorry' by Justin Bieber at #2 will be the one to replace it - solid sales, continuing gains on airplay, absolutely dominating streaming, and close on YouTube - it's going to be tight here. What isn't remotely close - again - is 'Hotline Bling' by Drake at #3, because while it's holding steady on streaming and YouTube, it spent the week losing airplay and the sales were pretty soft. It's definitely vulnerable to 'Love Yourself' by Justin Bieber sneaking up to #4 thanks to streaming gains, very strong sales, and airplay and YouTube finally starting to catch up. It trades spots with 'What Do You Mean' by Justin Bieber slipping to #5, but that might have happened anyway, with streaming and YouTube propping up drooping airplay and painfully weak sales. I'd argue it's also vulnerable, in this case to 'Same Old Love' by Selena Gomez which jumped up to #6 on streaming and sales gains, but the biggest were on the radio, where she made a big impact. Granted, she might have got the position regardless, because 'The Hills' by The Weeknd slipped to #7 on a really haphazard week, with weak sales and sliding airplay and YouTube somehow compensated by streaming gains, where it landed a bit of traction. What held steady was 'Here' by Alessia Cara at #8, which seems to be wavering - gains on airplay, but tough sales and sliding streaming are not a good sign. It was even worse for 'Stitches' by Shawn Mendes falling to #9, as it lost on all categories. And finally we have 'Like I'm Gonna Lose You' by Meghan Trainor & John Legend, which had a fairly mild week, with modest gains across the board - I don't see it going much higher, but this will stick around.

What won't are our losers and dropouts, which actually was fairly quiet this week beyond the expected. In the latter case, we only had two big ones: 'Renegades' by X Ambassadors finally completing its run, and 'Liquor' by Chris Brown finally sputtering out. And that failing momentum does characterize a fair few songs that lost traction this week, most notably 'Lay It All On Me' by Rudimental ft. Ed Sheeran stumbling to 75, 'Used To Love You' by Gwen Stefani dipping to 67, and Rachel Platten's 'Stand By You' abruptly sliding to 77 - I honestly thought it'd have more life around this time of year. The next few were on their way out naturally, with 'Downtown' by Macklemore, Ryan Lewis, and collaborators falling to 89, and country radio continuing to clear the benches with 'Smoke Break' by Carrie Underwood sliding to 97 and 'Nothin' Like You' by Dan + Shay hitting 85. Then we've got our regularly scheduled Bieber losses - the majority of his tracks are gone, so we only have the two with 'Purpose' falling to 100 and 'The Feeling' with Halsey sliding to 82. Finally - and I want to make a special note of this - the cover of 'Somebody To Love' by Jordan Smith fell to #99 this week, and this is noteworthy because it's rare these songs have staying power beyond one week at all. I'll agree he did a great job with it, it's just interesting to note. 

What's also interesting to note - and telling about the holiday slowdown - is that we had precisely zero returning entries this week - it doesn't look like the charts are reloading before the new year, so we're stuck with a pretty modest collection of gains. And really, it's kind of hit-and-miss - yeah, it's dispiriting to see 'One Call Away' by Charlie Puth rise to 60 and 'Down In The DM' by Yo Gotti go to 57, but if in return we get Adele's 'When We Were Young' surging up to 55 - that's a win, at least for me. The other gains are reasonably understandable - 'Cake By The Ocean' by DNCE goes to 47 because people are desperately thinking of tropical escape, 'Burning House' by Cam rises to 29 thanks to her debut album actually being decent, and Selena Gomez's ode to groping 'Hands To Myself' goes up to 62 off its debut and because Selena's got a surprising amount of momentum right now, especially considering how lacklustre that last album was.

Regardless, it's time we talk about our new arrivals, starting with...

98. 'Hollow' by Tori Kelly - of all the artists set to make a big splash in 2015, I'm a little surprised that Tori Kelly didn't do better. Yeah, I wasn't interested enough to cover her album - there were a lot of big releases around that time, just sort of lost track of it - and it seems like the charts did the exact same thing, with every boost she got quickly fading from memory. I can see that happening with this song too, but honestly, it might be one of her better performances to date. Yeah, it's not like we haven't heard reverb-saturated piano ballads before with thicker percussion - I swear over half of the pop albums I covered this year fell in that mold - but Kelly's vocal delivery shows more poise and power without being overstated. Where things kind of go off the rails are in the lyrics, and the first thing to note is that with many of the 'feeling hollow' and 'fill my cup' references, I was expecting this track to be about sex - that's the most logical symbolic connection. I later discovered that Tori Kelly was indeed singing about love - except it was of Jesus. Yeah, this is a religious song - which kind of fits the very chaste vibe of her delivery and the video - but look, I remember when Madonna made 'Like A Prayer', and it wasn't all that more overt than this is. But with that in mind, the charts are not kind to anything nominally Christian, don't expect this to be a hit. 

95. 'Sorry Not Sorry' by Bryson Tiller - so on the other side of morality we have Bryson Tiller, who seems to be charting many songs as possible playing his Chris Brown/Drake combination of being a total asshole. Now, initially 'Sorry Not Sorry' actually seemed promising - the Street Fighter sample was a nifty choice against the bleak synth line and drill-like percussion, it actually had momentum and seemed nasty enough to fit for an anti-golddigger song. And you know, I'll give Tiller credit for not playing the song as a whiny revenge fantasy and while his content is not stellar, his assertion that he only wants to be with girls who have their own money is respectable at least, especially when this girl is cheating on her boyfriend to go for Tiller now that he's famous. All of that would have worked until we get to the final verse, where he decides to nail her anyway, but she's going to not get any money from him. So congratulations, Tiller, for continuing to reinforce my impression of you - ugh.

90. 'God Only Knows' by Jordan Smith & Adam Levine - okay, let's establish right out of the gate that coach/contestant team-up songs on The Voice are basically a crapshoot when it comes to quality, and especially when it comes to Adam Levine who can't bear to be out of the spotlight. Not only that, the choice of 'God Only Knows' by The Beach Boys is an odd one - The Voice likes showy performances, and 'God Only Knows' is restrained and quirky and features a lot of subtle harmonies. I say all that because they really kind of nailed this - the backing instrumentation is the closest this show will ever come to mimicking Brian Wilson's brilliant composition, and Jordan Smith and Adam Levine really show a lot of restraint and chemistry with this track. If I were to point out a flaw, it'd be in the vocal volume - as usual, Adam Levine is turned up higher than Jordan and he kind of ends up dominating more of the song than he should, the balance is uneven. But outside of that, this is a damn good cover, definitely recommended.

86. 'Good To Be Alive (Hallelujah)' by Andy Grammer - I'll be talking more about Andy Grammer soon when I put together my year-end lists, but I am a little surprised this took so long to get here, especially considering how successful 'Honey I'm Good' was. It's also a song that completely confirms the majority of my suspicions about the guy - namely that he's the sort of straightforward, uncomplicated male pop star that calls back to a very different time, with a ton of energy and a very earnest smile. And that's pretty much what this song is - he's been grinding for a long time, he's finally found success, and he's just happy about it. That said, the biggest turn-off about Andy Grammer is that his energy can feel a little too 'full-force', especially considering so much of the instrumentation is trying to call back to gospel with the organ swell and backing choir, and it can be a jarring shift to then drop to a very percussion-and-bass heavy chorus that might be a tad too dark for the rest of the song. I can appreciate the energy and the sincerity, but it's also an exhausting listen, and not one I'm completely on-board with - good, but he's done better.

72. 'Climb Ev'ry Mountain' by Jordan Smith - okay, confession time: I like The Sound Of Music. I grew up with it, it has held up surprisingly well upon revisiting it, and it's generally a powerful film anchored on great performances with some iconic songs. 'Climb Ev'ry Mountain' is not one of them, at least for me - it has power, but to me it's a lesser track in the score, especially considering how incredibly strong that score is. That said, while I don't really care about the song, Jordan Smith does absolutely kill it - he's a vocal powerhouse, this song plays to his strengths, and the backing orchestration does a really good job making it have impact. I think I would appreciate this version more if I actually cared about the composition, but as it is, this is good, I'll take it.

69. 'You Should Be Here' by Cole Swindell - one of the things I'm both eagerly anticipating and yet kind of dreading is the upcoming few releases from bro-country artists, and I suspect it's going to hit some of them way harder than others. Now I couldn't stand Cole Swindell's self-titled debut for being badly produced and painfully bland, but I did suspect not having much personality might lead for an easy pivot to mainstream country. And in the instrumentation, that's certainly true, although to give him credit this is easily better produced than most Cole Swindell songs, the reverb-touched piano and percussion tones against a spacey backing guitar. It's still pretty thin, and I do wish the melody had a little more body, but really that's not why this song works. That comes to the writing, where you could easily say Cole Swindell hasn't evolved much beyond typical bro archetypes - except this song is framed as a tribute to his late father, who passed away just after he got signed. And there's an emotional core and well-framed authenticity to the writing that really gives this song a shocking amount of punch, more than anything Cole Swindell has ever done. In other words, yeah, this got to me - congrats Cole Swindell, this was enough to get me to check out your next album, and I'm genuinely sorry for your loss.

64. 'Back To Sleep' by Chris Brown - so after that heavy moment, let's talk about a loss that doesn't hit me nearly as hard: Chris Brown's career. Yes, I've been getting a lot of requests to cover Royalty, and I'll be blunt: not only do I not have time before the end of this year, I already covered Chris Brown once with Tyga and I have zero interest in doing this again. And with 'Back To Sleep', yeah, I'm okay with continuing that policy, because this song does nothing for me. Yeah, it's better than some of his recent singles - still slathered in autotune with vocals layered so heavily you can barely make out some of the glossy synths and sparse beat, but it at least is trying to be a little romantic. But I'm sorry, the entire premise of this song is for Chris Brown to come in extremely late, and 'fuck you back to sleep' - to bang her into unconsciousness. I'm sorry, but I don't know what to do with that - this song plays itself so broad I don't find anything sensual that could possibly redeem the bluntness of that statement. In other words... yeah, definitely not for me here.

56. 'Burning House' by Emily Ann Roberts - so I can imagine part of the reason Cam got such a huge boost was thanks to the additional help of The Voice giving the composition a little more airtime thanks to the runner-up finalist. And while it's a good song, it's not a good sign when I get more personality from Cam than Emily Ann Roberts, who is a pretty singer with good pipes and with the inclusion of a slightly more full backing orchestration does get some power... but I'm not exactly enthralled by this. I can see why she snagged the runner-up spot, but overall, I'll take the original - I think the more stripped back presentation works better. Decent enough, though.

24. 'Mary Did You Know?' by Jordan Smith - okay, I don't think anyone was remotely surprised that Jordan Smith won The Voice, but now that we're at the end of it, I don't really have much a strong opinion on him. Incredible vocal talent, but nothing that really grabbed me more deeply, which makes him performing a pretty good Christmas song kind of ambivalent for me. I'll confess, I've been heartily sick of Christmas music for a while now, and even though, again, Jordan kills this song, it doesn't really raise much a response any more. The orchestration is good, Jordan has a little more control on his gospel runs and doesn't overinduldge - it's a fine cover, but when you have him covering 'God Only Knows', that's what stands out for me this week.

So now this takes us to the best and worst of the week, and I'll be honest: I'm a little thrown by my choices. Sure, 'God Only Knows' with Jordan Smith and Adam Levine is going to take my Honourable Mention, but the best... it's going to 'You Should Be There' by Cole Swindell, which hit me way harder than I ever expected and shows genuine promise - not too proud to admit that. The worst though... okay, honestly this week was pretty damn good, but the worst is going to 'Sorry Not Sorry' by Bryson Tiller for just getting on my nerves, with Dishonourable Mention to 'Back To Sleep' by Chris Brown, because while it is an asinine concept for a romantic song, he's at least the 'genuine article'. In any case, Billboard BREAKDOWN will resume after Christmas as scheduled, so if you watch is this, I'm Mark, you've been watching Billboard BREAKDOWN on Spectrum Pulse, have a happy holidays, and I'll see you next time!


  1. This may seem silly, but I'm relieved to find someone else who didn't outright hate Good To Be Alive. My Twitter timeline's been full of people blasting it all day. But yeah, overall I'd say it's a pretty good week outside Bryson Tiller and Chris Brown.

  2. You wrote 'January 2, 2015'when it should be 2016. Also I eagerly await your year end lists, particularly the top albums.