Wednesday, January 20, 2016

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - january 30, 2016

So yeah, Billboard BREAKDOWN is late again, and while it might have been late regardless thanks to a blown lightbulb that I couldn't replace last night at the right wattage and luminescence, in this case the charts were delayed because of Martin Luther King Day, which is a holiday in the United States. And that's fine, the holiday is very relevant, but the fact that this happened and will continue to happen throughout the upcoming months - the delays of charts because Billboard shifted their timelines last year - is just another example of how Billboard doesn't think before they make changes. Remember when they added YouTube streams in the middle of the Harlem Shake, or the absolute disaster that were the charts in the late 90s? In comparison with that this is a minor inconvenience, mostly for folks like myself, but it's still exasperating.

Anyway, enough of me ranting, onto the top ten, where things were actually fairly interesting in that they seem to reflect some coming shakeups. Sure, 'Sorry' by Justin Bieber holds onto the top spot for a second week, dominant in streaming, but it's not in sales and it's peaked on airplay - it's only clinging to the top thanks to YouTube, and you have to wonder how long that'll be enough. Honestly, I think 'Hello' by Adele might stick in the top 10 longer. Sure, airplay is most certainly dropping and sales and streaming aren't stellar - it's also being propped up by YouTube - but it's got enough of a lead that its slowdown might just take longer. But primed against it is 'Love Yourself' by Justin Bieber at #3, and it's making a push - topping sales and roaring up airplay and YouTube, it's probably got a serious shot at taking the next #1... but what's closer than I think anyone expected is 'Stressed Out' by twenty one pilots rising to #4, as it took in big streaming gains, considerable YouTube and sales, and is steadily closing the gap behind Bieber. What's also picked up a position was 'Same Old Love' by Selena Gomez at #5, but I've got a lot less faith in that track, as it's losing airplay, sales, and only barely gaining streaming with very weak YouTube - it's rising on the weaknesses of other songs. I'd say the same for 'Here' by Alessia Cara, which jumped up to #6, but it actually may have gotten a second wind, because even though the sales aren't worth mentioning it actually picked up airplay while streaming and YouTube aren't terrible. Where this wasn't good news was 'Hotline Bling' by Drake, which slipped down to #7, which is hemorrhaging airplay and is basically held up on streaming slipping hard and YouTube barely compensating for nonexistent sales. Then there's 'Stitches' by Shawn Mendes falling to #8, as airplay spent the week wavering against weak sales and only okay streaming and YouTube. This unexpectedly led to a position gain I didn't expect - 'Like I'm Gonna Lose You' by Meghan Trainor and John Legend moved up to #9 - and really, it's not because of anything that song did - because while it lost it nearly every category, it didn't lose as fast as 'What Do You Mean' by Justin Bieber, which fell to #10 thanks to being in freefall in everything except YouTube and streaming... and at this point, it's probably not enough.

In other words, the top ten is unstable, and while the charts didn't pick up a lot of new tracks this year, the shifts and losses were significant. So let's start with those, as we had 'Smoke Break' by Carrie Underwood, 'Top Of The World' by Tim McGraw, 'Downtown' by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis and his posse, but the two big ones were 'Where Ya At' by Future ft. Drake and 'Where Are U Now' by Skrillex, Diplo, and Justin Bieber. Honestly, none of these are that surprising, or even that objectionable, and that trend continues when you look at our losers this week. Of the group, I'd say Andy Grammer's 'Good To Be Alive (Hallelujah)' skidding back to 81 and maybe 'Used To Love You' by Gwen Stefani dipping back to 80, but beyond that? I'm not going to complain about 'Gonna' by Blake Shelton falling to 92 as it nears the end of its run or as Drake's sleeper success finally fades a little more with 'Right Hand' going to 91. And I'm certainly not complaining that Rae Sremmurd's 'Come Get Her' falling to 96 or Halsey's 'New Americana' abruptly losing its momentum to go to 76 - if the American public is finally getting sick of them, I'm definitely not complaining!

And hell, I can't complain if you look at the gains either. The worst of them is probably '2 Phones' by Kevin Gates following its debut to go to 71, but turn it off before the third verse and it's actually tolerable. Hell, 'oui' by Jeremih might be poorly mixed but it was better than expected and I don't mind it going to 64, and as many issues I might have with G-Eazy being a boring MC, 'Me, Myself and I' does have a pretty damn good hook by Bebe Rexha, and I've got no problem with it breaking the top 20 at 19. What was a pleasant surprise for me was 'Sugar' by Robin Schulz and Francesco Yates gaining so much traction so quickly, netting impressive sales to leap up to 68... and if sales trends are anything to go off of, I expect this to get a lot higher. Of course, the much bigger story this week is the return of some old classic songs thanks to the tragic passing of David Bowie, and while I'll discuss how his new tracks from his final album penetrated the charts against all odds, I'm not going to lie that it made me smile to see 'Space Oddity' return to 42 and his collaboration with Queen 'Under Pressure' back to 45, which if I were still looping the returning entries into the best and worst of the week would just stampede over everything else.

And on that note, I think it's a perfect time to step outside of our established borders and consider another song from around the world - while in this case it's showcasing two American artists on a single that's been cutting some traction on the dance charts but only now has broken through in the UK, Australia, and New Zealand. So who is this group? Well, have you ever wanted a version of 'Here' by Alessia Cara that was less abrasive and more well-framed? If that's the case, I've definitely got a song for you.

Outside of the electronic scene, you probably haven't heard of Snakehips, a PBR&B/electronica duo from the UK, but if you know modern R&B and hip-hop you'll recognize Chance The Rapper and Tinashe, two artists who I've felt haven't quite lived up to their potential in recent years and yet at first glimpse you wouldn't imagine would work well together. And yet Snakehips brings them together in a near-perfect marriage of tone and function, taking some subtle melancholic organ, faded vocals, and a rubbery snap with only hints of a late 80s-inspired damp synth that perfectly balances the heavy multi-tracking on the instantly sticky hook. Throw in Tinashe delivering a more sombre, self-aware turn as she taps into the loneliness that can come in the club, especially when you've left your partner behind, and Chance The Rapper dropping some extremely well-connected bars about the abuse of painkillers like alcohol, Xanax, and MDMA, and you'd think this song was skidding towards PSA territory... but the framing swerves, by showing everyone singing along with the hook, and not shying away from placing themselves within that crowd, not talking down but relating. I can definitely see this track striking a chord with some audiences, so I'd expect to see this blow up in the US very soon.

So now onto hopefully something that'll be a little more upbeat - spoilers, it's not - let's talk about our new arrivals, starting with...

98. 'Bang My Head' by David Guetta ft. Sia & Fetty Wap - you know, with the release of 'Hey Mama' last year, I at least had the hope that David Guetta's music would start developing more texture or personality beyond his ability to somehow make his guest stars boring. And considering this is a track trying to bring together Sia and Fetty Wap - two of the most distinctive voices in mainstream music - making a track tedious requires work, and yet 'Bang My Head' gets there. Aside from being your standard empowerment anthem against a surprisingly monochromatic synth and midtempo beat that only piles on snaps and surprisingly thin synths and vocal layering that builds into an okay melodic groove, it does nothing to highlight the huge raw voices and personalities, especially considering Fetty Wap's verse is surprisingly heartfelt. But really, the thing that irks me most with this song is Sia's hook - I get that her lyrics are supposed to be more driven on metaphor than actual words, the challenge of this song is for someone to bang her head against the wall, and though she'll be light-headed, she'll rise above it... or, you know, the concussion hasn't quite kicked in. Because unless Sia is trying to batter down the wall with her head, the premise of the song seems a little shaky if you ask me. But really, it's more a boring song than outright awful, only dipping towards that territory because everyone here has done better elsewhere - next!

94. 'Drunk On Your Love' by Brett Eldredge - this is one of those tracks where I'm surprised it took this long to get to the radio, because I've been hearing it at country karaoke night for weeks now! And just like the last Brett Eldredge song that charted on the Hot 100, 'Drunk On Your Love' is a bit of a weird specimen, although not nearly as good as 'Lose My Mind'. For one, it's playing off snap percussion and an accordion for its melodic foundation with what sounds like bongos contributing to the glossy finish of the track that eventually brings in some lower guitars to provide foundation and then slips in some synth to match the much thicker backing vocals. And sure, Eldredge is a big presence behind the microphone, but the lyrics... look, one of the things I've never liked is the repetition of words to fill up space, especially on the hook, and even if this song is intended to sound a bit intoxicated, this is just sloppy writing. And while on some level it makes sense, Eldredge has definitely done better.

78. 'Blackstar' by David Bowie - you know, it's sad that a song like this would never have charted if it wasn't for David Bowie's death, although I'm amazed this is charting at all. David Bowie's final record was not mainstream-accessible, and the title track is a prime example of why. For starters, it's ten minutes long, rides on an unstable drum progression against a very liquid, eerie guitar line and wiry synth, ghostly backing vocals against Bowie's own haggard voice, and then we get into the multiple horn solos and swells of strings, all of which are intended to create this feeling of uneasy, creeping dread. Things lighten a bit after the windswept and haunted interlude with the brighter swells of strings and horns and the pan flute that flutters over the outro, but it's not like the lyrics get any less chilling and oblique, drawing in occult imagery to further intensify that creeping doom that comes with knowing the blackstar legacy Bowie holds and owns upon his passing. The song is haunting as hell, but if I'm being completely honest, I would say it drags a bit and wouldn't be my favourite off of David Bowie's final release - this is.

40. 'Lazarus' by David Bowie - it's tricky to describe why this song works so damn well. The sparse guitar against the sharp percussion as the bass stalks relentlessly forward against a mournful sax line and a jagged riff that punctuates Bowie's cryptic sentences, it's the song that replaces the creepiness of 'Blackstar' with an incredible balance between grief and real danger as Bowie feels himself slipping away from the world beneath him. And yet midway through the song, there's an odd feeling of exaltation that creeps through, a feeling of blessed release that will come with no longer being the undying man who died and was reborn time after time. It's such a delicate balance of emotions, between grief and anger and melancholic resignation in the face of that next end, and as the sax solo that ends out the track flutters away into the darkened guitar line that is split by the riffs that echo through the mix... you get the feeling the soul has finally made its exit, leaving the hollow world behind. 

In other words, you don't get tracks this potent and impressive on the pop charts, and without question it's the Best of the Week. As for the Worst... again, there wasn't really an outright bad song on this list, but I'm giving it to 'Bang My Head' by David Guetta, Sia, and Fetty Wap for just feeling formless and generic. Let's hope next week is a little less bleak, although with the talent on display, it's hard to complain!


  1. I came up with a theory that Lazarus is to Bowie what Hurt was to Johnny Cash...would you agree?

    1. And what "Keep Me In Your Heart" was for Warren Zevon! =)

  2. I have to confess: I was hoping you would provide commentaries on the handful of Bowie catalog entries that charted this week (just as you did for Mariah Carey's "All I Want For Christmas Is You" and Michael Jackson's "Thriller" in previous installments).

    Hundreds of millions the world over will still hold "Under Pressure", "Space Oddity" and "Heroes", among others, to critic-proof high regard.................but I honestly still want to hear, in your words, your assessment of his classics that charted this week! ^__^