Tuesday, March 22, 2016

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - april 2, 2016

I've said a number of times in the past that there are deceptive weeks on the Hot 100 - and this is one of them. Sure, only one intrusion to the top ten that everyone saw coming, and only five new songs... but if you take a look at the shifts within the chart, the momentarily lull that comes with Easter disguises some changes that reflects the instability bubbling around the edges. It's coming, folks, give it one week and a surprise release and everything blows up, mark my words.

Want proof? The easiest place to look is the Top 10, where things are a lot more uncertain than you'd think. I mean, sure, 'Work' by Rihanna and Drake seems more solid than ever, picking up its losses on YouTube and strong in streaming and airplay... but it's not dominant in sales in the same way, so it'll be interesting to see if a slowdown there or an airplay peak might break its streak. Certainly seems to be the case for 'Love Yourself' by Justin Bieber, which is clinging to #2 on inertia, but it had losses across the board, and I can see it being overtaken next week. And the victor reaping the spoils will definitely be '7 Years' by Lukas Graham, which went up to #3 on dominant sales, good streaming, and enough airplay swell make it a rising threat for sure. Hell, it overtook 'Stressed Out' by twenty one pilots down to #4, but that might have happened anywhere with losses on airplay and streaming and only okay sales. Similar case for 'My House' by Flo Rida sliding back to #5 - stronger sales, but the airplay peak is lower overall and streaming dropped too. It actually leaves 'Pillowtalk' by Zayn as healthier than I expected holding at #6 thanks to reasonably good airplay and very strong streaming, but those slipping sales and drooping YouTube are not a good sign, especially going into an upcoming debut album. Then there's 'Me, Myself & I' by G-Eazy ft. Bebe Rexha still at #7... and really, for some reason, it still seems quite viable in terms of sales, airplay, and streaming - for a midtier song across the board, it's lasted longer than I would have expected. Then there's 'Sorry' by Justin Bieber - and again, it's here because for some reason it has become a YouTube powerhouse that is being held up on pretty much just that basis, because the airplay and streaming just keep dropping. I'd say 'Cake By The Ocean' by DNCE is a threat... but okay sales are offset by unsteady airplay and dropping streaming, and it's stalled out at #9. And this takes us to our new top ten breakthrough and our big new arrival from this week: 'Dangerous Woman' by Ariana Grande. Now I'll be talking more about the track itself later, but it's no surprise it smashed through this high, with airplay and streaming picking up early momentum to back up huge sales - and considering how hard 'Focus' flopped, Ariana has to be hoping this song can drive some momentum for the upcoming album, she's going to need it.

But now to where the chart really showed a lot of activity: the losers and dropouts. Now in the latter case, the only larger names were 'Watch Out' by 2 Chainz and 'Get Ugly' by Jason Derulo, the latter of which was long in coming. But our losers... okay, let's start with country, because it's the easiest to explain as the season rotates out. And to be fair, 'Break On Me.' by Keith Urban going to 99 and 'We Went' by Randy Houser to 91 were to be expected, but the sudden weakness of 'Backroad Song' by Granger Smith at 89 and 'Home Alone Tonight' by Luke Bryan and Karen Fairchild to 85... well, should be expected, they're nearing their twenty weeks. Hell, you could say that about most of big pop losers too: 'Same Old Love' by Selena Gomez sliding to 45, 'Stand By You' by Rachel Platten going to 61, 'I Know What You Did Last Summer' by Shawn Mendes & Camilla Cabello continuing down to 82, 'Adventure Of A Lifetime' by Coldplay continuing down to 65, and unfortunately 'In The Night' by The Weeknd dropping early to 47. Of course, the real disheartening loss was 'Something In The Way You Move' by Ellie Goulding dropping hard to 72 - I honestly hoped that song would have more momentum, it's a lot of fun. Of course, the biggest drop this week was also one I called: 'Piece By Piece' by Kelly Clarkson losing the rest of its scant virality as it plummeted to 70. Bit of a shame: the song wasn't great, but it deserved a little better than that.

Because really, was it so much worse than our returns and gains this week? The returning song is 'Make Me Like You' by Gwen Stefani at 97 - back thanks to the album's release - but I don't see it having much staying power. For that we need to look at our mixed bag of gains, a few of which definitely caught me off-guard. Not all of them, of course - 'Might Not' by Belly & The Weeknd picking up momentum to 83 and 'Promise' by Kid Ink & Fetty Wap to 75 were predictable enough, same with 'Company' by Justin Bieber to 77 after its return... but the others? I'll admit I was a little surprised that 'Let It Go' by James Bay recovered enough to stabilize at 38 or that country radio actually got on board for Blake Shelton's barely-country 'Came Here To Forget' at 42. But really, those weren't the biggest gains that caught more of my interest. The first is 'Panda' by Desiigner picking up a huge boost to 33 - what's the bet that more than half of its listeners can't tell the difference between him and Future - but the one that surprised me more was 'Youth' by Troye Sivan, which has been quietly gaining but picked a huge boost to 23 this week off of some considerable sales. Not complaining - it's probably the best of the gains this week - but of the YouTubers to gain mainstream traction, Troye Sivan would not have been the one I would have predicted even when I covered his debut album last year, good for him.

Now before we go on, let me get serious for a second and extend my dearest condolence and sympathies to the people of Belgium for the horrible and cowardly ISIS terrorist attack today. My prayers are with the injured, the families of the deceased, and for the government leaders for a reasoned response to this... and thus, in my own little way, I figured for World Hit tonight, I'd highlight a track from the Belgian charts, one that went to #1 and is still holding onto #3 as we speak: 'Be The One' by Dua Lipa.

On the surface, we've seen so many of these artists: they start off making covers on YouTube, get a lucky break, and land a record deal making garden variety modern pop music... and yet this one caught my ear from English singer-songwriter Dua Lipa. Maybe it was the brittle melody carried against the fully formed ebbing synths against the gentle rattle and tight bassline, maybe it was how our frontwoman is able to step to the microphone with a level of poise and real vocal texture, mostly courtesy of her lower range. And the funny thing is that from a lyrical standpoint, it's really not all that complex - another off-and-on again relationship where she still clearly wants things to work, but the interesting thing is that it's never implied that things can't work here. The two just are looking with different perspectives, and I get the impression that something can be salvaged here. It helps that there's a general atmosphere of hope to this song, the generally upbeat vibe never overselling the chorus. In other words, a prime example of how the basic formula can still produce something pretty damn great, definitely recommended.
Now onto our pretty sparse list of returning entries, starting with...

100. 'Fast Car' by Jonas Blue ft. Dakota - so if you know your adult alternative, you know 'Fast Car' by Tracy Chapman - hell, I get the feeling that the majority of people know this song regardless, and probably remember it more than her bigger hit in the States that came nearly a decade later with 'Give Me One Reason'. It's widely hailed as a classic and for damn good reason - so of course, in 2015, we get a tropical house remix that's only now managed to grab the very bottom of the Hot 100. So let me make this clear: this song had a hell of a way to climb to not be automatically dismissed by me as a cheap cash-in. But if you're able to put aside the heresy for a second, this isn't a half-bad cover. For one, the layering on Dakota's husky vocals isn't a bad approximation of Chapman's, and the choice to emphasize more of the melody before the synth loop comes is actually pretty well executed. And while there's a brittle, ramshackle feel to the guitars that this version will never capture in the same way with the very clean production, it doesn't feel the need to overcharge the song and the low key house feel actually works. So yeah, definitely not better than the original, but it does enough to click, pretty good.

98. 'Light It Up' by Major Lazer ft. Nyla - so after 'Lean On' was huge last year and 'Powerful' didn't quite have the swell to stick around, I got the feeling we still hadn't seen the last of Major Lazer. So for this track, he teamed up with Jamaican reggae singer Nyla for this remix with Fuse ODG and... well, that trumpet line is absolutely great, balancing off the rubbery synth, but am I the only one who thinks the autotune is a little overdone on the vocals? I dunno, if this song was going for more of a starkly organic feel, the gratuitous synthetic filters don't help with the texture all that much. I still like this, even I can't help but feel the lyrics are a little empty even for a dance floor track. Pretty good, I can groove to this.

96. 'Ride' by twenty one pilots - so when twenty one pilots made Blurryface, one of the more controversial things they did was pile on the reggae-inspired flows in their composition - and unlike MAGIC!, I'd argue they did it well, with sharply textured organs and potent melodic synths that could careen off of the explosive percussion and Tyler Joseph's tighter vocal lines that could still get explosive when they needed to. Now I'll say right out of the gate that 'Ride' is far from my favourite song from Blurryface - when you have 'Fairly Local' and 'Tear In My Heart' and 'Not Today' and 'Polarize' and 'The Judge', 'Ride' isn't quite on the same level. But it is still a legitimately great song, with a great bouncy melody that pays off a solid crescendo and it serves as a great response to the worries of 'Stressed Out', highlighting how much of the meandering self-doubt was simply coming from within when those forces coming to make him conform really are only in his own mind and courtesy of his own actions. And coming from a guy who overthinks everything, that message to ride it out to whatever might come... yeah, that definitely works for me, great song!

55. 'Like I Would' by Zayn - and I was starting to think we wouldn't get a bad song this week... okay, that's unfair, because Zayn's newest promotional chart entry isn't so much bad as it is just underwhelming. And I entirely blame the hook here - the wiry synths and punchier percussion have a lot of tightness even if the melody doesn't really jump out, but placed in contrast to the reverb-drenched first verse and pre-chorus with the lower backing chorus that actually sounds pretty damn good, it feels underweight. And it doesn't help that the lyrics can ring as pretty damn petulant, encountering an ex that he's plainly not over and whinging about how her new boy won't satisfy her like he would. And you know, dude, I can appreciate you're trying to move on, but it really looks pissy when you're trying to pour salt into it afterwards for her, it really comes off petty. So as a whole... eh, kind of glad this is a bonus track, because it does leave a sour taste in my mouth, but Zayn does have enough charisma to salvage it, so I'll take it.

10. 'Dangerous Woman' by Ariana Grande - let me start off with something that might surprise you: as much as many might laugh if Ariana Grande describes herself as 'dangerous', the more I thought about it the less I was laughing. After all, Ariana has had a surprising knack for playing a more dominant and forceful persona, paradoxically when she underplays her vocals and asserts more subtle control - between knocking The Weeknd off-balance on 'Love Me Harder' to flat dominance fantasy on 'Get On Your Knees' with Nicki Minaj, she's got some skill here. This track... well, it's definitely a shift in the right direction, with the muted bluesy guitar and soulful organ touches around the background that manages to blend in the trap hi-hats and gang vocals just enough so they don't distract from the smoldering waltz cadence as Ariana toys with being a femme fatale. And note I say 'toying with it' because I'm not quite as convinced as I was by, say, 'Cool For The Summer' that Ariana Grande quite has the adult poise to pull off a song like this. Most of this comes in her vocal line - pitch it down a little, play a little more sultry or rough and I would have totally bought it, but I'm not sure Ariana has the bite to her vocals to really drive it home. And I really do wish someone had actually had the guts to give that guitar solo some real sizzle and punch to match the texture. But as a whole... look, it's not better than 'Love Me Harder', but I can see this growing on me a lot this year and it's definitely in the right direction, but for now, as much as Ariana wants to sell herself as having a hard sexy edge, her mask has bunny ears, just saying!

So yeah, overall, this week was pretty much great. Even Zayn's 'Like I Would', which is getting Worst of the Week, it's not so much bad as it is underwhelming and kind of pissy. And since I have so few songs, I'm going to drop Dishonourable Mention... but I do want to keep two slots for the upper tier, and it actually is closer than I thought. Overall, for now I'm giving the edge to 'Ride' by twenty one pilots, but 'Dangerous Woman' by Ariana Grande is getting the Honourable Mention - as I said, it's probably going to grow on me.

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