Tuesday, March 8, 2016

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - march 19, 2016

So remember last year when there was a major push behind songs that were linked to the Academy Awards and John Legend and Common rode 'Glory' to some reasonable chart success? Yeah, this year served as the rebuttal to that on the charts, because while the Academy Awards had some impact on the Hot 100, they didn't nearly have as much impact as last year, mostly because 'Writing On The Wall' has been generally panned by everyone except the Academy. But much like everyone else, I'm choosing to ignore Sam Smith and that song... but unfortunately the option is instead to focus on this week, and yikes, it's been a while since I've seen things this bad. Strap in, folks, this gets ugly.

So let's start in our least-impacted area, the top ten. As expected, 'Work' by Rihanna and Drake continues to ride out its number one with huge streaming and sales and big gains on airplay, but it did slip a bit on YouTube, which did surprise me given how consistently strong it is otherwise. It's not going to impact its position - 'Love Yourself' by Justin Bieber might be secure at #2 thanks to ruling airplay and solid YouTube and streaming, but the sales aren't there to regain the top spot. 'Stressed Out' by twenty-one pilots isn't in any position to challenge either - airplay has been unsteady and even though it picked up streaming its sales have been slipping and it has no YouTube as a buffer. That makes it vulnerable to a challenge from 'My House' by Flo Rida which rose to #4, and you can see why: strong sales, stable streaming, and airplay gains that are not slowing down any time soon. It was enough to shove back 'Sorry' by Justin Bieber to #5, but that might have happened anyway, because despite dominant YouTube it's losing streaming and airplay and the sales are pitiful. That also gives 'Pillowtalk' by Zayn a considerable chance at #6, because with considerable sales, strong streaming and YouTube, and real airplay traction, it's definitely a contender. Then we have 'Me, Myself & I' by G-Eazy & Bebe Rexha, which has airplay, strong streaming, and solid sales, but it's mostly static at this point, I don't see it getting higher. And then we have our first new top 10 entry - and brand new to the chart this week courtesy of an American Idol performance that went viral - we have 'Piece By Piece' by Kelly Clarkson at #8. And to me it's got all the hallmarks of a large viral hit: huge sales... and that's pretty much it, but when it has such a big margin, it's going to leapfrog other songs and then plummet, especially when the streaming, YouTube, and radio haven't caught up. A track that'll last in the Top Ten is our second new arrival, '7 Years' by Lukas Graham, which has risen thanks to big sales, considerable streaming, and even a bit of airplay traction that I hope continues - it's a solid track, I'd like to see it do better. And as I predicted, it was enough to shove back 'Cake By The Ocean' by DNCE to #10, which might have some airplay presence but is slipping hard on sales and streaming... it's not going to last much longer.

And on that note, losers and drop-outs, and it was a bad week for Taylor Swift of all people, as both 'Wildest Dreams' and 'Out Of The Woods' fell off the charts, along with the non-starter single 'Dibs' from Kelsea Ballerini and the entirely forgettable 'I Love This Life' by LoCash. Granted, it wasn't a good week for country overall, as 'Backroad Song' by Granger Smith stumbled after his album came out and made zero impact, along with 'Break On Me.' by Keith Urban skidding back to 65 after gains last week. And he wasn't the only one: 'Something In The Way You Move' by Ellie Goulding collapsed to 53, 'Lost Boy' by Ruth B lost momentum after its debut to 86, and 'Let It Go' by James Bay finally lost its Grammys momentum to 52. Outside of that, the other two losses came for 'I Know What You Did Last Summer' by Shawn Mendes and Camilla Cabello continuing down to 61 and 'Get Ugly' by Jason Derulo continuing not to break out at 77 - seriously, I'm surprised that Derulo's singles aren't doing better, because both 'Cheyenne' and this song probably deserved better than where they landed.

And on the flip side, if we look to our gains... well, not a lot deserved better here. Yes, it's not surprising that 'Never Forget You' by Zara Larsson and MNEK picked up big to 34 - this song will be huge, mark my words - and even 'Wild Things' by Alessia Cara getting a boost to 80 isn't that objectionable - it might be generic but the girl has real talent as a writer and singer I want to see honed. But beyond that... yikes, did we really need Dierks Bentley's 'Somewhere On A Beach' rising to 68? Or 'Back To Sleep' by Chris Brown rising to 20, which likely picked up most thanks to the Usher and Zayn remix where both of them manage to blow him off the stage? I would hope that our returning entries would balance them out... except that we have no returning songs this week, just new ones. Okay, about time we get a shorter episode, let's start with...

97. 'Head Over Boots' by Jon Pardi - if you've followed this series for a while - and by that I mean my reviews going back to early 2014 - you might remember that I covered the debut album from country artist Jon Pardi... and that unlike most of the indie country press who saw him as a bright spot in mainstream country's dim future, I didn't really care much for that record. It was clumsy, a little too broad in delivery and presentation, and while some found it charming, I found the flaws in the framing to be hard to ignore. In any case, he's now back with a sophomore album, and this is his lead-off single... and it's a little dispiriting to see that the clumsiness hasn't quite gone away. Don't get me wrong, this is certainly passable - there's enough fiddles and steel guitars to support the groove to win me over on the instrumentation and I like the real guitar electric solo that's got a little more sizzle than I was expecting, but the writing is so broadly sketched and bog-standard that it just does not stick with me beyond the hook. And it's frustrating, because it's clear Pardi's got his heart in the right place, but for as much as he worships neo-traditional country, he's missing the flair for detail that made George Strait and Alan Jackson distinctive and memorable. In other words, while I don't mind this, I find myself wishing it was better.

95. 'Till It Happens To You' by Lady Gaga - I've been waiting to talk about this song for months now. Hell, I'm surprised that it took being nominated for an Academy Award and the live show to get it on the charts, because I've been getting requests to discuss it since the fall of last year. But then again, I'm not surprised it took so long to get here... because this is a song about sexual assault. And since Gaga herself has gone on record about her own sexual assault and clearly drew upon the mingled rage and pain to inform her performance... yeah, there's no easy way to talk about this song, period. And that's frustrating because while the message is powerful, the song itself doesn't really connect as strongly as I was hoping. Part of this is Gaga's choice to sing in a much lower tone which adds more theatricality and fury to her delivery, and while I get the artistic decision to reassert and reclaim her power, it doesn't really fit well with the lyrical sentiment, which is about how nobody can relate or understand her pain until they've experienced the same. And that is very true - such emotional trauma doesn't translate - and you could make the case that many of the support messages given in this song are brusque and dismissive, it pushes everyone else away as a consequence of its framing and direction - for as much as it is a survivor's anthem, it's directed outwards not inwards. As such, while I can appreciate the power of the song, I also feel a little distant from it, respecting its quality more than outright liking it. But I can say this definitively - it should have won the Academy Award over goddamn Sam Smith, no question there.

92. 'T-Shirt' by Thomas Rhett - talking about Thomas Rhett makes my skin crawl. Okay, for those of you who don't follow country music... you probably still wouldn't recognize this guy, so to bring you up to date, Thomas Rhett is a plagiarizing, sorry excuse for a 'country' singer who owes his career to nepotism and the fact that country radio has gotten so desperate they'll play anything. Because let me ask you this: what is 'country' about this song? A rubbery guitar groove that seems to forget you need a bassline to make any of this work, record scratching that would fit more in bad late-90s pop rock, vocal effects that would have been rejected outright from that genre, and an attempt at a squonking bridge that completely lacks groove. And yet even if you could get past all of that, you still have to deal with Thomas Rhett's lazy drawl calling this girl over and basically re-enacting Justin Bieber's 'What Do You Mean' with none of the frustration that made the song compelling and all of the leering douchebaggery that inspires lyrics, 'It's hard to unlock the door when making out'. There's nothing clever or remotely redeeming about this, it's just bro-country pandering minus the country, and at least when hair metal or country rock made meat-headed anthems, they had more balls and power than this - next!

79. 'Hello Friday' by Flo Rida ft. Jason Derulo - so for those of you who have been following the continued career of Flo Rida... well, congratulations for having more time on your hands than me, but what you'd probably notice is that he hasn't released a full-length album since 2012 with Wild Ones. All those big singles he's had in the past few years have been from his EP My House released eleven months ago. But now it looks like he's finally got a big single ready to go with Jason Derulo... and wow, that hook sounds strikingly like the opening lines to 'I Took A Pill In Ibiza', with the breezy tropical house vibe... except instead of an elastic synth line on the hook, we have Flo Rida, a notable downgrade for more reasons than one. Forget the fact that it's less melodic with the sharper trap hi-hats and that the mix chooses to drown Jason Derulo in autotune and make no use of his oddball personality, the lyrics here try to show Friday as the moment of relaxation... and yet on the weekdays it describes a lot of similar partying with the obvious ILOVEMAKONNEN reference, so what makes Friday so different? And while I could thrash the second verse for making the asinine reference to Limp Bizkit's 'Nookie', but the larger issue is how much Flo Rida describes how he's addicted to the party and you come to the stark realization the song isn't all that fun - but, no, I'm still not over the Limp Bizkit thing, what in the Nine Hells where they thinking?

59. 'It's You' by Zayn - I'll admit I'm surprised to see a follow-up single this quickly. 'Pillowtalk' is still comfortable lodged in the Top 10, so to see him rolling out another promotional single before the album's release in about two weeks seems a tad rushed. And regardless of that, why release this? Yes, the willowy falsetto sounds really good and the piano against the sparse beat on the hook is pretty and has some real swell to it... but who told him that drowned guitar fragment sounded good, or that off-key shifting synth over the verses remotely worked? And the lyrical subject matter... look, I get how this is more of a song focusing on exposing his pain after the breakup he's plainly not over, but the writing rings as very accusatory when the delivery doesn't nearly have the intensity to match it. If anything, this song feels unfinished and underwritten, and while I didn't mind 'Pillowtalk', this is not a good sign if the rest of the album is going to be in this vein.

12. 'Work From Home' by Fifth Harmony ft. Ty Dolla $ign - and on the topic of controversial things I've said about certain acts, I'm sure many of you remember the last time I talked about Fifth Harmony in detail when I reviewed and panned their debut record Reflection, with their big hit 'Worth It' being a continuous headache throughout 2015. They're looking to follow up that success with 'Work From Home', the lead-off single for their sophomore album with Ty Dolla $ign - which is an upgrade from Kid Ink - and wow, Fifth Harmony are just going to keep ripping off popular songs, aren't they? This time the obvious comparison is 'Work' by Rihanna, especially with the hook, but at least Rihanna blended her patois into a melody and not a thuddingly staccato monotone! And that's not even counting the chintzy twinkle of a melody against the bassy synth that's as flagrant of a DJ Mustard rip-off as you can find, or the lyrics where they describe sending so many nudes as to get the guy fired from his job... but don't worry, when he gets home 'he's the boss' - which gets exponentially more creepy when you realize the majority of the songwriters are dudes! And how is it even possible that Camilla's autotune is more blatant and badly layered than Ty Dolla $ign's? To be fair, he's the only thing remotely tolerable on this song, as he comes across with some charisma as he asks the girl to shake her ass for him, but he's too good for this, and there's not even a tolerable prechorus that saved 'Worth It' from being worse. Everyone has said these girls are the Pussycat Dolls Mk. II, but at least they weren't peddling this retrograde nonsense - next!

8. 'Piece By Piece' by Kelly Clarkson - I'll admit that I came down really hard on Kelly Clarkson's last record, with this song being the title track - and to be fair, I had good reasons, most of it courtesy of painfully bland production and songwriting that slipped harder than it should. But on the other hand, the title track was one of the better tracks, mostly courtesy of Kelly's heartfelt delivery and a decent groove, even if it felt resoundingly colourless in how wind-swept and reverb-saturated it was. And while I do appreciate Kelly Clarkson taking a hard stand against her father who walked out when she was young and now wants a piece of her life, I can't be the only one a bit skeeved out that to quote her chorus, it's her husband who is 'filling the holes you burned in me'. I get the sentiment, restoring her faith a guy can stand up and be a good husband and father, but putting aside the underlying implications, the writing could have been refined a little here. Overall, I appreciate a powerful performance, but again, Kelly Clarkson has done a lot better.

So wow, this week sucked, to the point where I can't in good faith give an Honourable Mention. I'm giving Best of the Week to Lady Gaga's 'Til It Happens To You' even despite my reservations, but really, it's head and shoulders above the rest in terms of content and delivery. And since I'm only giving one Dishonourable Mention - 'Hello Friday' for being a shameless rip-off with some truly baffling lyrical choices - we've got a tie for the worst of the week: 'T-Shirt' by Thomas Rhett for being leering and obnoxious across the board with some godawful non-country production; and 'Work From Home' by Fifth Harmony & Ty Dolla $ign for being an even more blatant shameless rip-off that hates good taste, modern gender norms, and you. Dear God, let's get better songs next week!


  1. Yeah, this was a rough week. But I'm glad we finally got Lady Gaga's new song on the charts.

  2. Surprised Piece By Piece didn't even get an honorable mention, i personally think it's great, had it used better writing, i would take it over 'Til it happens to you. Otherwise, Thomas Rhett had a bad song, fifth Harmony had a bad song, flo rida and Zayn had mediocre songs... yeh, normal

  3. Yikes. o_O I do like Piece by Piece to a degree, though. Wonder if this was a worse week than 6/6/15? Because I remember him hating that one.

  4. I ain't exactly looking forward to next week either...and most of that's thanks to the new single Meghan Trainor just dropped not too long ago. It's probably gonna debut pretty low though, so that's some kind of plus, at least.