Tuesday, February 2, 2016

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - february 13, 2016

So you know how I've been predicting things were going to get seriously unstable on the Hot 100 for a while now? Well, we've got a big one this week - major shifts in the Top 10 including a new number one, a ton of major shifts up and down, and a big crop of new entries... a shame more of them aren't better, but we'll get to that. Of course, Billboard also exacerbated the situation with a choice to shift their chart formula to better temper the impact of streaming, which they did by slightly shifting the balance in favour of sales. So how did that turn out?

Well, let's start with our top ten, where Justin Bieber becomes one of the few artists in history to replace himself with 'Love Yourself' rising up to #1, and while the shift in streaming inevitably helped - especially with the song doing solidly in sales and not slowing yet on airplay - what probably helped more was the weakness of his other track 'Sorry', which while it holds YouTube took a considerable sales hit and airplay is starting to tip towards a downturn. Where the shift definitely helped was for 'Stressed Out' by twenty one pilots to rise to #3, as sales have always been strong, airplay gains are not slowing down, and while YouTube isn't there, the streaming is pretty significant. Of course, the weakness of 'Hello' by Adele should be recognized as well, sliding to #4 on hard airplay, streaming, and sales losses, with YouTube providing just enough to hold it up a little longer. But the formula shift is definitely not in its favour, and the competition is a lot stiffer now, with the first challenger being our first new top ten entry: Flo Rida with 'My House' at #5. And you know, I should be less surprised this is doing well than I am, because it's got big sales, and is gaining on streaming and airplay, but I'm just baffled that Flo Rida still has a career a good four years after the club boom crashed and burned. But then again, it's not like dance music is going away, because 'Roses' by The Chainsmokers and ROZES picked up to #6, although the gains were a bit more balanced with modest gains in streaming and airplay to compensate for only decent sales. But even that might not be enough to hold off the Selena Gomez double feature, the first being 'Hands To Myself' at #7, which picked up considerable YouTube, sales, streaming, and is only now gaining the airplay it needs - expect this to be around for a while, folks. Don't expect it for 'Same Old Love', though, which slid down to #8 thanks to losses in streaming and weak sales - it's basically being propped up on sliding airplay, and probably not for long. And this takes us to our third new top ten entry, one off an album that dropped out of nowhere that I've already covered: 'Work' by Rihanna ft. Drake. I'll talk more about the song's actual quality later, but suffice to say it's here thanks to absolutely huge sales off of just a few days of tracking, and while the airplay is rocketing up to provide support, it'll be a question of margins to see if it and streaming can catch up. Finally, we have 'Here' by Alessia Cara, which slid down to #10 and probably won't last if airplay and streaming keeps dropping the way it is.

And speaking of losses, we've got a hefty slice of losers and dropouts this week too. Let's blow through the latter category quickly, as most have been long in coming. 'I'll Show You' by Justin Bieber, 'New Americana' by Halsey, 'Lay It All On Me' by Rudimental & Ed Sheeran, 'Come Get Her' by Rae Sremmurd, and 'Right Hand' by Drake, all of these were sputtering out of momentum for weeks now, plus the expected twenty week exit for 'Locked Away' by Rock City and Adam Levine. But where things truly get interesting are the chart losses, which seem to indicate that people might be getting sick of nu-crunk dance songs, because we saw heavy losses this week - although most you can probably chalk up to the formula adjustment. Silento got the worst of it, with 'Watch Me' falling to 39 and 'Dessert' dropping hard to 90, but 'Bet You Can't Do It Like Me' by DLOW lost hard too, sliding down to 78. Others songs that relied on streaming took heavy hits too, with 'Sorry Not Sorry' sliding to 77, 'Back Up' by DeJ Loaf falling to 83, and worst of all 'Focus' by Ariana Grande falling hard down to 89. Beyond that, we had the expected slide for 'Emperor's New Clothes' by Panic! At The Disco going to 96 after its return, but the rest of the story looks at country, where 'I Love This Life' by LoCash fell to 68, 'I Got The Boy' by Jana Kramer dropped to 73, and 'Gonna Know We Were Here' by Jason Aldean went to 93 - looks like country radio is doing a mass replacement with the change of the season, but we'll talk about it more when we come to our new arrivals.

That said, it did show up in our gains this week, with 'You Should Be Here' by Cole Swindell gaining major momentum to 60 and 'We Went' by Randy Houser jumping to 72 - of course, some of that has to do with a refocus on sales, where country tends to excel over streaming. It certainly explains why our debuts from last week did as well as they did here, with '7 Years' by Lukas Graham leaping up to 57, 'I Took A Pill In Ibiza' by Mike Posner surging to 59, and 'Walking On A Dream' by Empire Of The Sun rose to 65, all of which feel a little weird to see on the Hot 100. Hell, it even gave a bit of a boost to songs that haven't really taken off like 'Let It Go' by James Bay to 75 and 'Good To Be Alive' by Andy Grammer to 70. The gain that surprised me the most was 'Watch Out' by 2 Chainz leaping up to 64... lovely.

And since I've already talked about 'Hands to Myself', we might as well talk about our new arrivals, starting with...

100. 'Snapback' by Old Dominion - so I avoided covering Old Dominion's debut album last year - I know, I've made it my mission to cover country records good and bad, but I also have limited hours in a day and time spent on a record that buzz was suggesting was absolutely rancid was time wasted. So I had no expectations that 'Snapback' would be good... and I was half-right, in that it was more forgettably thin and mediocre than the outright offensive 'Break Up With Him'. Because let's be honest: this is just the most modern permutation of bro-country, following in the non-country vein of Sam Hunt with that spindly groove, synth completely lacking in body that blurs together with painfully thin guitars, an overcompressed groove, and a parade of brand names that's anchors its hook in a slang name for a girl's baseball cap. And outside of even more attempts to pander to a younger demographic - selfies and Raybans and converse - from a frontman who has little to no personality, I wouldn't be surprised if I forgot this the day after I finish this episode - next!

98. 'Somewhere On A Beach' by Dierks Bentley - I had heard about the backlash about this song before I had actually heard the track, heralded as the sort of trashy beach fodder that came with plenty of obnoxiousness along the way, the sort of debut song you expect Dierks Bentley is obliged to push to radio since 'Drunk On A Plane became so huge. And make no mistake, this is effectively 'Drunk On A Plane' part two, but where there was a hint of drunken desperation to that track that made it somewhat palatable, there's less to excuse this one. For one, the beach vibe is a lot less novel for country music and just another excuse for Bentley to leer at his new girl, and he doesn't quite have the same affable charisma that Jake Owen does to make it feel less sleazy. Granted, the stiffer percussion, R&B vibe, and thicker fuzz of the guitar aren't really helping, and it just isn't a comfortable fit for Dierks Bentley, he's a lot better than this.

97. 'Bottom Of The Bottle' by Curren$y ft. August Alsina & Lil Wayne - it's weird seeing Curren$y on the charts, if only because he's one of those Young Money artists who could have broken around the turn of the decade and just... didn't. And considering the sheer amount of material he's pumped out, it's a little surprising that this is now his highest charting single to date, driven by a sparse guitar melody and windy percussion, an ass anthem hook from August Alsina, and a surprisingly focused verse from Lil Wayne. And really, a few listens through this track make it clear why he hasn't quite taken off, because there's just not a lot here beyond the instrumental and hook that stands out. It's not precisely bad - the chill vibe of it all does remind me a bit of Lil Wayne's glory days - but it's nothing all that special either.

95. 'Humble And Kind' by Tim McGraw - I get the feeling Tim McGraw has cracked the code to his single releases, at least in terms of subverting expectations. His first will be a stab at mainstream country radio that everyone either forgets or hates, only for the face turn with the second single to go over a lot better in contrast. He did it with 'Meanwhile Back At Mama's' and 'Diamond Rings & Old Barstools' for his last album, and he's doing it with 'Humble And Kind' here. And yet I wouldn't quite say this song is quite on that level, mostly because it runs a little simpler in his entreaties that Tim McGraw gives to kids to basically be good people even when life gets hard. And while it isn't really preachy and the pluckier guitars do have some good atmosphere against the strings, it rings a bit like 'mom music', if that makes any sense. And fine, cater to your audience, but I'd have liked to see him push and actually build a conflict to why one would choose not to be a 'good person'. As it is, without a lot of conflict, it's a bit of a snoozer, albeit a pleasant one.

94. 'Country Nation' by Brad Paisley - I liked a fair few songs from Brad Paisley's 2014 album Moonshine In The Trunk, but it does get a little exasperating when he chooses songs with less momentum and power for his singles, this being the fourth from that album and not one of my favourites. Now don't get me wrong, I like that he included real fiddles and steel guitars to anchor his more restrained guitar work on this song, but this is basically a laundry list of college football teams and blue collar jobs that like country music. And considering Paisley can be a much more clever writer, this just smacks of a lack of effort and a little shameless pandering that doesn't nearly have the swell to redeem it. Overall, I don't dislike this, but I'm also not going to remember it.

91. 'My Church' by Maren Morris - man, there's a lot of country breaking onto the charts this week - if you want an example of how that change in formula to tilt towards sales is going to have impact, it's here. In any case, Maren Morris is a upcoming country artist from Texas and while she had a few indie albums released in her teenage years, this is the first single off an EP with Columbia Nashville to break through. And frankly, I'm amazed she's breaking through with this sort of sound at all, because especially with the hollow, more vintage leaning production, this sounds like the sort of indie country I'd hear from Whitney Rose or Lindi Ortega, just not quite as dusty. The vocal layering is excellent, the guitars balance against Morris' throatier vocals really well, and even the lyrics are solid, finding that spiritual fulfillment in music when real church doesn't always deliver - and yeah, that definitely speaks to me. In other words, make me down for covering that debut album, because while I'd be amazed if Morris sticks around in the mainstream, I'd love to hear more from her.

87. 'I Like The Sound Of That' by Rascal Flatts - for those of you who missed my Rascal Flatts review back in 2014, here's the short of it: I'm not a fan at all. They contributed too much to the watered down pop country of the mid-2000s that pushed me away from the genre, and then have spent recent years trying desperately to catch up with trends. Now this song was actually on their 2014 album Rewind and was cowritten by Meghan Trainor and Dan + Shay, and I didn't remember a damn thing about it... and then I relistened to it and was reminded why, as it's easily one of the worst songs off that album. Yeah, the guitars are prominent - at least until they ebb out for the drum machine and the percussion that overwhelms the entire mix, but keep in mind this is a song where Rascal Flatts is singing about hooking up and it feels so chaste that you almost don't notice the only thing he describes about this girl is that Justin Timberlake has nothing on her the way she sings in the shower. As it is, it's probably more formlessly generic than outright awful, but it's not anything I'm going to care about again - next!

81. 'Something In The Way You Move' by Ellie Goulding - you know, I came down really hard on Ellie Goulding's most recent album for nowhere being close to her best, but I'm not going to deny she has some good songs on that album too. And while my choice for the next single would have been 'Lost & Found' which is all kinds of wonderful, I actually quite like this. And again, even though the premise is that dancefloor hookup we've seen time and time again, it's the details I really like about this: the subtle quick tempo of the thrumming bass, the higher keys with the melodic accent, the great galloping momentum and spacious production from Greg Kurstin, to me this is a damn fine pop song. Again, I don't think it's going to supplant her best, but most of the time, I'll definitely take this.

56. 'Bake Sale' by Wiz Khalifa ft. Travi$ Scott - does anyone still care about Wiz Khalifa? Even on his last #1 hit, 'See You Again', the majority of people cannot tell me that he was the reason you liked that song, or remembered any of his bars. So when you hear that's he's got an upcoming mixtape and teamed up with Travi$ Scott, I didn't have expectations this was going to be all that good... and it's better than I expected. Look, of course it was going to be about weed and Travi$ Scott's autotuned moaning was going to be tedious on the hook, but Wiz was on a few decent flows that actually rhymed! Yeah, low expectations, but it's a sign that Wiz Khalifa can spit with a little more intensity if he wants to, and while I definitely preferred this song when it got darker before the first chorus, there are things to like about this track, enough that I wouldn't mind if it was playing. We'll see where it goes.

(no video because Rihanna/copyright lawyers can't be asked and why not bungle this album rollout even more...)

9. 'Work' by Rihanna ft. Drake - I kind of avoided talking about this song when I covered ANTI a few days ago, and that's mostly because beyond Drake there's very little to it. The patter of the beat is pretty minimalist, Rihanna slurs her entire chorus so it's even more incomprehensible, and she's basically crooning about the sex she's not having. It actually does a fair bit to make Drake's R&B-flavoured verse pretty likable, as he just sounds burnt out himself as he tries to justify his distance, even as he tries to make something work. But if we're looking at Drake and Rihanna collaborations, it's no 'What's My Name' or 'Take Care', both of which are a lot better than this both in their performance and the instrumentation. This, as a lead-off single... I'm really underwhelmed - as I said, nothing really to it.

So wow, that was a week where... well, we didn't really have big extremes one way or the other, which makes picking best and worst tricky. If I'm going for the worst, I'm going to give it to 'Snapback' by Old Dominion for just some godawful production, with the Dishonourable Mention going to 'Somewhere On A Beach' by Dierks Bentley for being such a disappointment. For best, it's a little easier: 'My Church' by Maren Morris takes the top spot while Ellie Goulding's 'Something In The Way You Move' will be our Honourable Mention. I'm not sure how long this turbulence in the charts will last, but it's bound to keep things interesting.

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