Tuesday, December 29, 2015

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - january 9, 2016

So here's the thing about the Billboard Hot 100 around the holidays - it's basically a crapshoot. We're right after Christmas, most people are still in the regular holiday torpor and don't give a damn about new music, or are still partying in the lead-up to New Year's, which means that the 'hits' that can cater to that impulse are given one last shot on the radio. As for artists, it means that any act dropping a record right now can net a quick buck simply because there's little to no competition beyond late album singles. And the only artist who tried to leverage this dead zone, the one so many of you have asked me to cover... yep, it's Chris Brown. Wow, not a good sign.

But sure, it can't be all bad, look at the top 10 - where basically nothing happened. And what's more exasperating is that we're on the cusp of more changes. Adele's 'Hello' is still at #1, but peaking on radio and losing ground on streaming is not a good sign, even still dominating sales and YouTube. 'Sorry' by Justin Bieber is still right behind, as it continues to rule streaming, has huge YouTube, and spent the week gaining airplay - and yet it was outsold this week by 'Love Yourself' jumping up to #3, which picked up a lot of traction across the board and shows real signs of jumping its competition. Hell, it did so with 'Hotline Bling' by Drake, which fell to #4 basically on airplay losses as the other categories held mostly steady. I'd say 'What Do You Mean' by Justin Bieber might be a threat at #5... but it's losing airplay too, has weaker sales, and is only a shade stronger in streaming and YouTube, it's not going any higher on its own. What might get bigger is 'Same Old Love' by Selena Gomez holding at #6, which gained tons of airplay and sales - but it lost a lot of streaming and it's never had YouTube, which might be indicative of saturating the market. More on this in a bit, but rising to #7 we have 'Here' by Alessia Cara... basically because it hasn't lost ground, with good sales and airplay keeping it afloat. Compare to 'Stitches' by Shawn Mendes, which spent the week stumbling in airplay and streaming with only okay sales - not a good sign. It was even worse for 'The Hills' by The Weeknd sliding to #9, as the only category not falling was YouTube, and even that feels shaky. And finally we have 'Like I'm Gonna Lose You' by Meghan Trainor & John Legend holding up the #10 slot basically on airplay and sales, with only a bit of streaming to hold the edge. Again, don't expect this to go away any time soon.

What did go away are our losers and dropouts, and in the latter category, they were numerous. Most are fairly obvious, as 2015 rotates out and takes 'Drag Me Down' by One Direction, 'Good For You' by Selena Gomez & A$AP Rocky, 'Cheerleader' by OMI, and 'Back To Back' by Drake with it. It was a particularly rough week for country, as 'Smoke Break' by Carrie Underwood, 'Strip It Down' by Luke Bryan, and ''Nothin' Like You' by Dan + Shay all rotated out, and our losers this week aren't exactly promising. When 'Dibs' by Kelsea Ballerini falters early to 97, with 'Gonna' by Blake Shelton stumbling to 74 and 'Burning House' by Cam sputtering out of momentum at 50, that's not a good sign. Elsewhere, the losses are what you'd expect - 'Where Ya At' by Future and Drake finally starts fading down to 45, 'Where Are U Now' by Skrillex, Diplo & Justin Bieber slips down to 49, and 'Adventure Of A Lifetime' by Coldplay continues to underwhelm down to 55 - I wouldn't expect most of these to last much longer.

Where things get weird are in our returning entries and gains, mostly because Christmas can only explain so much. Sure, 'The Christmas Song' by Nat King Cole to 38 and 'Jingle Bell Rock' by Bobby Helms to 47 coming back, that's to be expected, they'll be gone in a week or two. And even 'Liquor' by Chris Brown returning to 77 - he dropped an album, this was supposed to be the lead-off single, I'll give him that. Hell, I'll even give it to 'Ginza' by J Balvin, who I feel has gotten the short end of the stick by the Hot 100 for too long as it makes a comeback to 89, or 'RGF Island' by Fetty Wap as one of the better songs from his debut jumping to 86. Where things kind of go nuts are in the gains, mostly because there was a lot of them of them and most don't make a lot of sense. Some do - 'I Know What You Did Last Summer' by Shawn Mendes & Camila Cabello going to 33, 'My House' by Flo Rida continuing to rise to 37, 'Back To Sleep' by Chris Brown building off his debut to 53, and 'Irresistible' by Fall Out Boy with Demi Lovato rising to 75, these all make a ton of sense. Hell, I'll even give it to 'Stand By You' by Rachel Platten rising to 66, mostly because it made no sense that it lost ground before. And look, I don't get why 'Best Friend' by Young Thug is becoming a hit - mostly because it's atrocious, but it's at least got momentum rising to 63. But where things get iffy are tracks like 'Hands to Myself' by Selena Gomez - I get why it's rising, but I didn't expect it to go up to 39 this quickly. Sure, the video helps, but I have the suspicion that people aren't exactly looking for multiple Selena Gomez songs to be huge, which is why the losses in streaming for 'Same Old Love' are pretty interesting. What's less interesting and more infuriating are the next three gains: 'Hit The Quan' by ILoveMemphis rebounding to 34, 'Bet You Can't Do It Like Me' by DLOW surging to 48, and worst of all 'Dessert' by Dawin ft. Silento going to 75. If I were to hazard a guess why these three atrocities regained energy, I'd say it's the season - people like dumb party music near the holidays, I can only hope the momentum will sputter out in a week or two. And finally, 'Right Hand' by Drake went up to 79 - and I have no idea why. Seriously, no video, no meme that jumped out, it just picked up momentum late in its run and there's no explanation I can find. It's the end of the year, folks, and I'm honestly so tired of Drake at this point that I'm just going to roll with it and forget this song exists.

Not that it looks any better when you see our new arrivals, starting with...

100. 'Get Ugly' by Jason Derulo - I've gone on record saying that many of Jason Derulo's creative decisions make zero sense - so why he'd release this as his next single and not 'Try Me' with Jennifer Lopez or 'Painkiller' to ride off of Meghan Trainor's baffling popularity is a complete mystery to me. That said, 'Get Ugly' is actually a pretty solid song and by far not the worst thing he could have picked. For one, that bassline is pretty damn awesome and the synth interweaving with that whipcrack gives the track some real punch, even if it can feel a little overmixed. And then we have the 'diddly' backing vocals that sound like we're listening to a R&B song featuring Ned Flanders, but to be fair, Jason Derulo actually sounds pretty solid here. But let's get real - the conceit of the lyrics is that he wants this girl to be uglier so he can feel more confident banging her. And really, what more is there to say than that? Ladies, why do you like this guy again?

99. 'Stick Talk' by Future - well, if your answer is, 'He's better than Future'... well, you're not wrong. And really, if the spectrum for Future spans boring to asinine, this is much more in the latter category, because this is awful. The best thing I can say is that Future sounds marginally engaged and the production isn't bad, taking an ominous guitar loop with your standard trap beat and then throwing in a bunch of squeals for good measure. The big problem is that we have to hear Future rap, and this song is one of his worst, with clumsy unfocused bragging about slinging drugs, buying cars, stealing your girlfriend, and putting his thumb up her butt - really. And at this point he's not even trying to hide his gaping flaws - riding in a car he can't even pronounce, lying under oath, comparing the money he's stacking to the Taliban! Look, I get this song is supposed to glorify his worst possible impulses, which was Future's one saving grace on DS2, but this is just incompetent, badly conceived with even worse writing - skip it!

98. 'Let It Go' by James Bay - I covered James Bay very late this year, not expecting that he'd ever have any crossover to the radio. Well, turns out one of his singles has made it over - and just like Shawn Mendes ahead of him, we got the sour midtempo track instead of the upbeat, genuinely excellent song instead. So yeah, 'Let It Go' is no 'Hold Back The River', but the bigger problem is that it's only decent on its own. Yeah, the liquid guitar melody is fine, and James Bay's delivery most can walk the line of frustrated and heartbroken, but the lyrics really bug me on this track. I get the desire for a mutual breakup - it's not working for either of them, it's turning them both into worse people - but if it's this bad, why don't you just end it instead of asking her to 'let it go' to let 'you be you' so 'I'll be me'? It's just a limp sentiment that feels kind of disingenuous, and none of the sentiment matches the instrumentation, which just feels a shade too bright to really work with it. In any case, it's okay, but it's not ever a song I'll seek out.

94. 'Really Really' by Kevin Gates - look, I don't dislike Kevin Gates - he's a decent rapper, I actually quite liked 'I Don't Get Tired', I've long had the thought he should be bigger than he is. That said, this is goddamn awful, mostly because it takes some decent organ swell with bells, pairs with one of the more limp hi-hat beats I've heard in a while, and then we watch Kevin Gates completely squander his potential in your standard track about hustling, stacking paper that he wants to use as Kleenex, and treating your girl like garbage. And sure, you get these tracks all the damn time, but Kevin Gates really seems to go out of his way to be an asshole, taking away her cell phone when they hook up and then promptly dumping her if she catches feelings. Coupled with lines about eating out Jhene Aiko - 'Post To Be' is now turning one of my favourite female R&B stars into a punchline, fantastic - and the asinine premise of him chanting 'Really Really' in order to convince us he's doing all of these things, and that I feel I've covered hundreds of songs exactly like this, this is disposable garbage. Kevin Gates, you're better than this.

91. 'Little More (Royalty)' by Chris Brown - you know it's not a good sign when you're hoping for a Chris Brown song to improve matters, and this is the first of two we got on the charts this week off of his not-particularly well-received new album dropped a week or so ago. And the funny thing is that is actually probably the best song I've heard from it yet. I'm still not wild about the effects piled onto Chris Brown's voice and the song feels a little overmixed, especially on the chorus with the skittering hi-hats, but that thin synth driving the verses is actually pretty solid, at least until those chiptune fragments begin cluttering the edges. And you know, I appreciate how he wrote a song about his daughter, which he actually sells pretty well - and yet I can't help but wish that the lyrics weren't so vague that you could easily misinterpret them to being about one of the girls he's hooking up with. It's a song that could have rung as more heartfelt if he had been more specific, but as it is, I don't mind this.

81. 'Hallelujah' by Lindsey Stirling - I'm sure it frustrates a lot of her fans that Lindsey Stirling isn't as big in pop culture as she is on YouTube, but it's not all the surprising. The more I've become a YouTuber the more I've realized that it's very much a self-contained ecosystem that the rest of the world is really only just tapping into when they're not actively disparaging it - thank you so much, mainstream media! As such, I'm always inclined to give Lindsey a lot of props when her YouTube can notch her real charting presence. Well, it appears she's just as aware, because the video for this song is kind of heartbreaking, as she goes in disguise to a subway station and plays as a busker... and nobody recognizes her or gives her the time of day. Which is really goddamn sad, because not only is she awesome and this strings cover of 'Hallelujah' is beautifully arranged, but it's also lends her more religious undercurrent of the song - how many people really gave a damn when Jesus was born - some real pull to it. In a week as painfully rough as this one was, this is the soothing moment of beauty we needed - and Lindsey deserves to be so much bigger than she is.

80. 'Zero' by Chris Brown - and now back to Chris Brown, and a song that I expected would show up on the Hot 100 a long time before now. And yet in the same way 'Cheyenne' by Jason Derulo didn't really last, this song playing the same lane took a while to get here... and it's honestly not as good. Part of this is Chris Brown - look, it does nothing to enhance any unique personality when you pile on the vocal filters and effects, and on a track which has a pretty slick bass groove and synth texture, to say nothing of a pretty good hook, it's just not needed. It's a bad sign that the filters clear away when he raps the bridge - you know, in his most nasal tone that annoys pretty much everyone. And while I could go on about that robotic voice that bookends the chorus, the real issue is that as a kiss-off track, it doesn't really come together, mostly because if you really were thinking 'zero' about this girl, you never would have made this song. And wait, how can you tell if she's looking at your Instagram - you can't directly track that. Regardless, the instrumentation is strong enough for me to think this song is okay, but it's also not one I'd seek out.

And on that note, let's talk about best and worst, and really, there's few weeks when it's been simpler. Worst is easy: 'Really Really' by Kevin Gates takes that spot if only for being such a disappointment, with 'Stick Talk' by Future grabbing the Dishonourable Mention and being saved by decent production. Best of the week is easy too: 'Hallelujah' by Lindsey Stirling runs away with this, but Honourable Mention... I'm going to give it to Chris Brown for 'Little More (Royalty)' - it's not good enough that I'd check out the album, but it's been over six years and if he's turning over a new leaf and growing up, I'll give credit where it's due. Please, let something better happen next week!

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