Tuesday, January 12, 2016

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - january 23, 2016

So let me divulge to you a little secret: for the most part, I'm completely fine with how the charts are proceeding right now. And that's unnerving for a few reasons: first of all, is this possibly an indication that the mainstream public is actually taking steps in a promising direction? Not complaining, but it is surprising. More worrisome is the question without all of the latent insanity I usually cover that a chart slowdown for positive reasons means you'll stop paying attention, but hey, it's not like the drama is the only thing keeping you all watching, right?

So instead of discussing that disquieting detail, let's move on to our Top 10, where there actually was some pretty major changes this week, the first being a new #1 with Justin Bieber's 'Sorry' taking the top spot. Now in a sense this isn't all that surprising - he rules YouTube and streaming, but he doesn't have the top spot in sales... and yet his airplay stabilized in a way that 'Hello' by Adele did not, so while she slipped, he gained and made up the distance to take it. Now 'Hello' is still a powerhouse at #2 - big sales, still topping airplay, and with major presence in sales and streaming, but it's got some stiff competition coming up with the leader in sales right now - 'Love Yourself' by Justin Bieber at #3. Plus the considerable boosts on airplay, huge streaming, and even advances on YouTube are signs it's got momentum to come. What doesn't is 'Hotline Bling', and really, I'm marvelling it's holding up as long as it has: solid streaming and YouTube, sure, but airplay losses and weak sales indicate its time might be running out. And the biggest threat - to my amazement - might be 'Stressed Out' by twenty one pilots which leapt up to #5 on sales, airplay, and even picking up streaming. Again, I'm amazed it got traction at all, but I'm not complaining. It's probably a bit exasperating for Selena Gomez with 'Same Old Love', which did advance to #6 on an airplay recovery and a streaming boost, but those sales are not nearly enough to get higher. It did do better than 'Stitches' by Shawn Mendes at #7, but that song had airplay and streaming losses and only slightly better sales, it was already shaky. Not quite as bad as 'What Do You Mean' by Justin Bieber, though, which is basically being propped up by streaming and YouTube to compensate for weak sales and falling airplay, which led it to slip to #8. Then there's 'Here' by Alessia Cara sliding to #9, which is holding on thanks to airplay gains and a bit of streaming and nothing else, because the sales were pitiful. And finally, holding the line at #10 and going nowhere fast, 'Like I'm Gonna Lose You' by Meghan Trainor ft. John Legend, which with solid sales and a bit of streaming might have some traction, but airplay seems to have peaked... it'll be interesting to see if it holds up over the next few weeks.

And on the topic of not holding up, we've got our losers and dropouts, the latter case being a mixed bag. Yeah, it kind of sucks to lose 'Burning House' by Cam - especially as I don't see any new songs from her charting yet - but if it takes out the rest of Bieber's non-singles and 'Hit The Quan' by ILoveMemphis along with it, I'm not complaining! And on that note, I don't think there's a single loss I'm really all that concerned about either. 'Blase' by Ty Dolla $ign, Future and Rae Sremmurd falling to 99? 'Come Get Her' by Rae Sremmurd dropping to 85? 'Right Hand' by Drake losing its sleeper momentum and skidding down to 78, none of these are all that bad! It does suck a bit that 'RGF Island' by Fetty Wap didn't pick up more and fell to 94, but he got four solid hits off of one album, that's better than he should have ever expected. Finally, there's the complete flop of 'Focus' by Ariana Grande, which was reportedly dropped from radio rotation thanks to abysmal results, which led to a fall to 50 - really not a good sign for Ariana's momentum, given this was supposed to be the lead-off single for her next album.

And yet in the mean time, when we go to our returning entries, we've got Taylor Swift releasing her sixth single from 1989 with 'Out Of The Woods', which roared up to 46 on the release of its video... and look, I like that song, but the video is hysterical, the sort of overdone CGI mess that shows that her video director got way too carried away with the storyboarding. I saw it when it debuted on New Years Eve, and really, when an entire house party can go Mystery Science Theater on your video without a single rewatch, that's not a good sign. Outside of that, 'Ginza' by J Balvin returned at 96 - and will probably be gone again next week - and most interestingly, 'Tennessee Whiskey' by Chris Stapleton clawed its way to 100. We'll talk more about Stapleton in a bit, but it's interesting to see him picking up a bit of traction. Granted, this was a busy week for country regardless, as we saw gains from 'Backroad Song' by Granger Smith rising to 69, 'Break On Me.' by Keith Urban picking up after its debut to 74, and 'Beautiful Drug' by Zac Brown Band going to 71, even in the last case barely being a country song. Beyond that, most of the rest of the gains are fine enough: 'Play No Games' by Big Sean, Chris Brown & Ty Dolla $ign trying to get momentum again at 89, 'Stand By You' by Rachel Platten continuing its surge to 38... and then there's 'Cake By The Ocean' by DNCE completely ruining a good bassline with one of the worst choruses since Maroon 5 said the summer was going to hurt. Look, they can't all be winners, and at least I can mostly enjoy the verses, even if they are a very pale facsimile of everything 'Uptown Funk' does better.

So to switch to something far better, let's look at our new arrivals, starting with...

97. 'Nobody To Blame' by Chris Stapleton - it's exasperating covering Chris Stapleton as a critic who liked but didn't love his debut album, because the expectation becomes, 'Hey, this is the sort of country that should be right up your alley, why aren't you praising it to the high heavens?' Well, in this case it's more of me wishing that Stapleton would release better singles, because while 'Nobody To Blame' is good, he's made better. Yeah, Dave Cobb's smoky production sounds great, especially with that great thicker bassline, ragged fiddle and steel guitar, and a really solid echoing rattling tone for the solo on the bridge. And of course Stapleton sounds great as always... it's just the song itself is a pretty barebones story of him doing something wrong to his girl and then how she destroys his stuff in vivid detail. And there's two factors to why this song doesn't quite click for me: firstly, it can feel a little over the top, especially when we never actually get details of what he did, and more importantly, it can feel a little odd when the backing vocals on this song are coming from your wife - kind of hurts the suspension of disbelief there! At the end of the day, though, this is a solid track and it's easily better than the majority of modern country radio, but it's analogous to getting irked that 'Stressed Out' became a hit - sure, it's good, but you'd have liked to see it for songs that are so much better.

93. '2 Phones' by Kevin Gates - so with these singles actually landing some chart presence, does this mean I have to care about Kevin Gates' upcoming debut album? I liked 'I Don't Get Tired', but 'Really Really' was a real momentum killer. I will say that '2 Phones' is better, but not by much, mostly because it pushes into the hard grind and ruthless work ethic that makes Kevin Gates' material click where most coke rap can get exasperating, especially against a very muted melody and sparse percussion against pretty decent atmosphere. And for the first two verses, he brings that intensity to his flows and backs up a solid hook... and then the third verse blows it as it shows him taking your girl - who he describes as a Barbie doll, so might as well go full-tilt with the objectification - and if she smells fishy, he has her drowned. A little hard to overlook that part even as he starts to see more with this girl... and then promptly disregards her because one of his two phones is going off. And you know, I can see how this track could have worked - frame it as working from an existing relationship and the struggle to keep balance between work and his girl, like what Freddie Gibbs does. Instead... in this lane where Pusha T, Gibbs, and maybe Jeezy have prevalence, Kevin Gates is lagging behind.

87. 'Sugar' by Robin Schulz ft. Francesco Yates - well, it's about time this got here! We've had this song in Canada for months now - mostly because Francesco Yates is Canadian, but also because this song is pretty damn sweet - and yet the elements that make it work are kind of weird. For one, this song samples a mostly forgotten Baby Bash song from 2003 called 'Suga Suga' that featured a far better guitar line and hook courtesy of Frankie J than Baby Bash knew what to do with. So Robin Schulz does the best thing possible - strips the track down to that guitar line, brings in some sandy percussion with real tightness, and lets Francesco Yates bring some real tightness to the vocal line, which works as a razor tight song celebrating a girl who is hot as all hell. Not going to lie, I dig the hell out of this track, even despite that odd Sean Penn reference in the second verse - that's not a flattering comparison to anyone, especially a girl. So yeah, aside from that, this is a great dance track, definitely recommended.

81. 'oui' by Jeremih - so at the end of the year, Jeremih finally released his long-delayed third album Late Nights - and I'll be blunt and say that I really did not care one way or another. I've always considered Jeremih a B-list R&B act at best who like Flo Rida has little personality and is only tolerable when he finds a hook to sample or outright steal - or when his guest star overshadows him completely. And knowing the critics who were giving that album critical acclaim was enough for me to resign to only cover him when he shows up on Billboard BREAKDOWN, with this being his third single from an album that sold miserably. And honestly... this isn't bad. Certainly better than I expected, in that it's a pretty straightforward love song where Jeremih is longing to take off with his girl... because there's no 'oui' without 'u' and 'i' - kind of clever when you squint at it. Honestly, where this track stumbles is in the production, with that rubbery bit of fuzz slathered all over a grainy rattle of a trap beat and burbling keys, to say nothing of the pitch-correction drenching Jeremih's vocals, which frequently shift into incoherent yelping. I honestly wish the performer was more interesting to match the writing, because as it is, it feels more anonymous than it should. Not bad, but in different hands it'd be better.

76. 'Heartbeat' by Carrie Underwood - I can't be the only who thinks that Carrie Underwood's 'Smoke Break' underperformed, right? Especially for a lead-off single and a pretty damn good song to boot, I'm a little surprised it didn't do better, not going to #1 and not selling as well as other lead singles in the past. Well, this was not the way to follow it, because just like Chris Stapleton, she picked a second single that wasn't even close to the best songs on her album Storyteller. And like with Jeremih, it's not the content of the track that bothers me so much as the instrumentation and production. Look, even though the sandier beat has more punch, you're not going to tell me that it's not a painfully thin drum machine on the verses or that the guitars aren't washed out and too liquid to balance well with Carrie's vocals. The larger issue is a matter of groove - for as much as this midtempo song wants to go down easy, it doesn't have that thicker bassline for foundation, and no, Sam Hunt's vocals aren't enough! Look, this isn't bad, but I'm baffled why Carrie chose this as her second single, especially when country right now is starting to tip away from being so slick and polished and she has more interesting tracks in that vein on the album. In other words, I don't see this being even as big as 'Smoke Break' was.

So that was this week... and honestly, it might be one of the few weeks where I'll have a hard time giving a worst of the week, because there really wasn't any terrible tracks. I'll give it to '2 Phones' by Kevin Gates, but even that's more mediocre than bad, and if the third verse wasn't there it'd actually be pretty passable. As for the best... you know, I'm giving it to Robin Schulz and Francesco Yates for 'Sugar', just for being a slick, kickass little song that I really enjoyed. Overall, we're running a few good weeks in a row, so let's keep up that momentum!

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