Tuesday, January 5, 2016

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - january 16, 2016

You know, after how rough last week was, it's nice to see things pivot back to something pretty damn agreeable. Part of this was the exodus of Christmas music, which triggered a lot of re-entries and boosts, and sure, there are definitely questionable songs and trends there, but I'm not quite as angry about it as I expected, mostly thanks to our new arrivals and one specific entry into the Top 10 that I would never have expected.

Now it's a shame that's the most interesting thing that happened to our top 10, because for the most part things didn't change that much. Adele's 'Hello' clings to the top for another week, mostly thanks to a considerable airplay and sales boost that comes with losing Christmas music... gains that 'Sorry' by Justin Bieber didn't really claim at all. Yeah, even though it had strong sales and ruled streaming, airplay seems to have peaked, a sign it might not have the same staying power as its competition beyond the holiday. The closer competition is probably 'Love Yourself' by Justin Bieber at #3, which has considerable streaming and sales but can support it with real airplay momentum. What doesn't really have that is 'Hotline Bling' by Drake, which might have some traction on sales and streaming, but airplay is slipping a fair bit. And that's before we get 'What Do You Mean' by Justin Bieber at #5, which has just as shaky airplay, slipping YouTube, and only decent sales. The track that capitalized most on this is 'Stitches' by Shawn Mendes, which rebounded up to #6 on boosts in streaming and airplay - plus a good sales week - but if I'm being honest I don't see it lasting much longer. It was enough to elbow back 'Same Old Love' by Selena Gomez down to #7, which had weaker than expected sales and shaky airplay, but what hurt it more was the loss in its already weak streaming. It also pushed back 'Here' by Alessia Cara to #8, but that might have happened anyway - weakening sales, streaming losses, uncertain airplay, it might not hold for long. But now we have to talk about the new top ten entry at #9: 'Stressed Out' by twenty one pilots. Now there's a lot to unpack here: why this song managed to crack the top ten when its companion rising up the charts 'In The Night' by The Weeknd seems to have lost momentum, why it somehow picked up enough sales to push Blurryface back to #3 on the Billboard 200, why despite being the worst song off of that album it somehow had enough streaming and shaky airplay to get here. Either way, I'm not sure how long it'll last, but even despite being a weak track off of its album it's still pretty damn solid all the same, so I'm pretty happy its here. And finally - as expected, not going anywhere - 'Like I'm Gonna Lose You' by Meghan Trainor and John Legend sits stubbornly at #10 on very solid airplay and pretty decent sales - and pretty much nothing else.

Where things aren't nearly as solid are our losers and dropouts - and there were very few worth caring about this week in the latter category, with the most important being the seasonal exit of Christmas music. Hell, there weren't even many losers this week, with the biggest losses coming from Chris Brown's songs having no traction, with 'Zero' falling to 95 and 'Liquor' sliding back to 89. Beyond that, we've got the continued failure of 'Lay It All On Me' by Rudimental & Ed Sheeran to grab American radio as it falls to 88, and then - bizarrely - 'You Should Be Here' by Cole Swindell falling to 97. Granted, the more I think about it the more it makes a certain amount of sense - even though I'd argue framing the relationship he had with his late father through bro-country writing might feel authentic to how they actually were, mainstream audiences probably just heard a typical country tune that doesn't rise above the cliche, and that's a damn shame. As I've said in the past, bro-country can be done well, and Cole Swindell proved with that song he's got potential.

Granted, it might just be because country had a pretty busy week on the charts, which takes us to our returning entries and gains. In the former, we got two comebacks that I expected with 'Smoke Break' by Carrie Underwood returning to 87 and 'We Went' by Randy Houser stepping up to 98 - along with 'Jugg' by Fetty Wap clawing back to 96, but I don't predict that really lasting, especially when 'RGF Island' jumped up to 74. It's the gains this week that were considerably more numerous, and the easiest explanation for most comes with the end of the year. A lot of radio stations like to replay the biggest hits for their own personal year-end lists, so it's no surprise that 'See You Again' by Wiz Khalifa and Charlie Puth went back to #30 and 'Downtown' by Macklemore, Ryan Lewis, and their collaborators rebounded to 72. Then we had our country gains: 'Beautiful Drug' by Zac Brown Band rebounding to 81 despite barely being country and 'Dibs' by Kelsea Ballerini actually sticking a little closer to 76. And then we had the somewhat odd trend of white people making very 'white' music with 'Stand By You' by Rachel Platten leaping to 50, 'One Call Away' by Charlie Puth surging to 36, 'Hollow' by Tori Kelly picking up to 80, and 'Good to Be Alive (Hallelujah)' by Andy Grammer surging up to 62... look, most of these tracks aren't bad, but can we not have this become a trend, I don't want to enable Meghan Trainor having potentially more chart success. Of course, it's already enabling the most clueless and insufferable of our entries, with 'New Americana' by Halsey going to 60 and 'Hide Away' by Daya rising to 31. But then again, they're probably here to counterbalance against the ugliness of 'Really Really' by Kevin Gates going to 79 off its debut and 'Sorry Not Sorry' by Bryson Tiller rising to 77. And on the topic of ugly, Jason Derulo's 'Get Ugly' took off this week to 70 off its debut, and you know it's not exactly a great thing when it's in the upper tier of gains. Of course, at the top of that list is 'Irresistible' by Fall Out Boy, likely still gaining traction thanks to Demi Lovato as it rises up to 55. And finally, we have 'Right Hand' by Drake rising up to 66, mostly thanks to picking up a fair amount of streaming as a sort of sleeper hit. I'll repeat what I said last week - I'm kind of burned out on Drake at this point, and this song doesn't do enough to be more than just kind of forgettable - skip it.

So now onto our pretty sparse week of new arrivals, starting with...

99. 'Confession' by Florida Georgia Line - it's going to be interesting if history judges Florida Georgia Line's Anything Goes as either a success or a failure, because despite being a slice of straightforward bro-country, a fair few of their singles have hedged against it, most notably their lead-off single 'Dirt' and especially this track. And honestly, I'd say this is a pretty smart choice, because Florida Georgia Line can actually write halfway decent mainstream country when they try and this is easily their best track off of their 2014 album. Yeah, you're still going to get a mix that feels a little overdone thanks to Joey Moi's production and a tad too synthetic thanks to a bit too much reverb and massive chugging riff - it's honestly pretty overstuffed for a song that's supposed to focus on quiet contemplation - but I do like the sentiment behind this track, just a desire to take off for a bit to sit back, think, and work over one's issues. And sure, it's nothing that deep or confessional - the duo kind of dances around the real revelation, but it's telling that they might not even have a firm grip on their own emotions, which kind of makes this song work for me. So yeah, I liked it over a year ago, still like it now - good track.

94. 'Break On Me.' by Keith Urban - okay, who among you guys remembers Lonestar? They were a pop country act in the late 90s and early 2000s, and they had a #1 hit called 'Come Cryin To Me' that always kind of bothered me. Yeah, it was catchy, but it was also kind of condescending in its approach to winning this girl over, how when she's at her worst, she can always come to him, and the very upbeat, peppy tone of it all didn't help matters. Well, it looks like Keith Urban pretty much remade that song, and I'm honestly not certain if it's better. Granted, I like the more understated tone with the great acoustic texture against the muted bass, faded background textures, and sparse percussion, but when you place those warbling background vocals against lyrics that if anything are more explicit about this girl falling apart, I just can't enjoy this song as much as I'd like. I'm not doubting that Keith Urban is sincere in the premise of providing comfort, but the framing of the track just rubs me the wrong way. I get why people might like it, but I don't think I do.

92. 'Mr. Misunderstood' by Eric Church - well, took it long enough. It's rare that a song that wasn't just on one of my favourite records of the year, but was close to making my list of my favourite songs of the year hits the charts, and yet Eric Church's title track off of his excellent return to form has finally landed and I couldn't be happier. And the key to why this song works is the framing: normally, these sorts of anti-bullying tracks can ring as ham-fisted or pandering, but Eric Church is a sharper writer than that, and it's entirely in how he positions his own story. Sure, he had those rock star dreams, but he then spends the next several verses articulating the long harrowing journey he took to get there - and thus when he looks back on that weird kid at the back of the class, it isn't sympathy or 'it gets better', it's understanding, which is a much more honest and powerful message. Coupled with fantastic lyrical detail - including some great singer-songwriter shout-outs - and a melody that calls back to Wilco and Don McLean without ripping them off with great acoustic texture against smoky guitars and the tempo changes... yeah, this song is goddamn great. I'll admit it's country music for music nerds and it might run contrary to all of the posturing Church has delivered in the past, but it feels far more authentic and honest than all of that - in other words, please let this become a hit!

85. 'Watch Out' by 2 Chainz - you know, it's been a while since we've heard anything from 2 Chainz - for a few years he seemed to be inescapable and yet for 2015 stayed mostly underground, dropping a pair of mixtapes, the latter of which spawned this track. And wow, this feels like mixtape material, because this is absurd. Now to give 2 Chainz the smallest hint of credit, he's always been more listenable than the current crop of lean-swilling rappers and his rhymes have gotten marginally better... but man, that's not saying much when the production is this bad. A dinky piano line with clunky bass and percussion hits, it doesn't exactly cultivate any sort of atmosphere and instead places focus on what 2 Chainz is saying... which is never a good idea. And look, it's debatable how much of this you can take seriously - the asinine video ripping off Drake, the basketball references, how 2 Chainz has so much money he has a hard time keeping his pants up, how he used to be so crazy he talked to a stove - yes, I get it's a reference to slinging cocaine, but come on, does any one really buy that? And really, when the hook is him calling the audience his lil bitch with some oddly hollow vocal production - across this entire track there's nothing that accentuates his sharper delivery, not helped by how much he slurs over his bars - I have a hard time getting behind this even as a joke. So no, 2 Chainz, it's not exactly a thrill to have you back, and this track doesn't exactly make your case.

So that was it for this week - and yes, I was planning on doing a world hit, but I honestly didn't spot any songs that really grabbed my interest, so I'm going to take a short week for once. And since we've only got four songs - best easily goes to 'Mr. Misunderstood' by Eric Church and worst to 'Watch Out' by 2 Chainz. But overall, I have a good feeling going forward - let's hope next week pays off.

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