Tuesday, March 15, 2016

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - march 26, 2016

So I get the feeling that the universe saw the charts last week, wondered how the hell they could let that much concentrated awful pile up, and sprung into action to correct it. And as a result... okay, it wasn't amazing, but definitely a major improvement. And while I knew Kendrick was going to land a few songs - thankfully enough to compensate for Meghan Trainor - I didn't expect that we'd also get hits from Jake Owen and Shakira, two of the most naturally charismatic performers in the past fifteen years, so we're bound to get an upswing, right?

Well, we'll check in on that in a minute, but first our Top Ten, where there were some significant changes. Not at the top, obviously - 'Work' by Rihanna and Drake is still at #1 thanks to dominant streaming, big airplay, and considerable sales... but it's not at the top there anymore, and it slipped on YouTube again this week. In the face of stronger competition, I can see this taking some hits - and that competition will not be coming from our #2, 'Love Yourself' by Justin Bieber. Losing streaming, peaking on airplay, and only decent sales and YouTube are enough to keep it where it is, but I can see this falling soon. And pretty much a similar case across the board for 'Stressed Out' at #3, only it's even weaker with zero YouTube. This actually gives 'My House' by Flo Rida a bit of an advantage as it's still gaining a lot of airplay with solid sales... only streaming took a hit too, so we'll see if it can capitalize on that advantage. My suspicion is that the gains will go most to '7 Years' by Lukas Graham, which rose up to #5 thanks to ruling sales, and major streaming gains - it might not have YouTube and the airplay gap is considerable, but this'll be a contender in coming weeks, I'd put money on it. Hell, it was enough to leapfrog 'Pillowtalk', by Zayn at #6 despite big streaming, bigger YouTube and real airplay gains... but the sales just weren't there, not a good sign. Then we have 'Me, Myself & I' by G-Eazy ft. Bebe Rexha, which is stubbornly refusing to move at #7 thanks to solid stats across the board, with only slightly weaker sales preventing it from going higher. It did keep it above 'Sorry' by Justin Bieber, which was just flailing this week as sales were miserable and airplay and streaming keep dropping... it might rule YouTube, but that won't be enough to keep it huge forever. It might be enough for 'Cake By The Ocean' to pick up some traction as it went to #9 on good airplay and okay sales, but its streaming hasn't really caught fire and it has no YouTube - thank God. What's more intriguing are the gains picked up by our new top ten arrival - 'I Took A Pill In Ibiza' by Mike Posner, a song that has grown on me a lot this year thanks to that remix. And while it's not picking up huge traction - it does have solid streaming and sales and airplay is moving - with enough weaknesses above it I can see this being a hit, and definitely no complaints there.

And really, for our losers and dropouts, looking to the latter category I'm not really complaining either. Losing 'Antidote' by Travi$ Scott, '$ave Dat Money' by Lil Dicky and Fetty Wap, 'Perfect' by One Direction, and finally 'See You Again' by Wiz Khalifa and Charlie Puth, all of that is fine! The only one I'd be mildly irked by would be 'Lean On' - because yes, it did grow on me a bit - but it's not like DJ Snake doesn't have an inferior replacement for it, so I'll let it slide. And when we cut to our losers this week, I don't have many complaints either. As expected, 'Piece By Piece' by Kelly Clarkson lost considerably to 20 after its big arrival last week, but that wasn't the only mediocre track to take hits. 'Adventure Of A Lifetime' by Coldplay drooped down to 53, 'I Know What You Did Last Summer' by Shawn Mendes and Camilla Cabello continued to slide down to 71, and the only marginally better 'Get Ugly' by Jason Derulo collapsed down to 97. Beyond that, it wasn't a particularly great week for country, as both 'We Went' by Randy Houser slid to 75 and 'Break On Me.' by Keith Urban fell to 81, but it was more a symptom of the country charts starting to change up with the season.

Now this takes us to our returns and gains... and I have to say, I'm kind of worn out on both of our former entries. Taylor Swift is now on her seventh single with 'New Romantics', and honestly, I'm just kind of over all of it, and considering how low it returned, I'm thinking eighteen months after 1989, everyone else is too. Then there's 'Company' by Justin Bieber back at 89 as his fourth single... and really, while the song is okay, we're definitely getting close to album filler territory, and I'm losing interest. But were the new gains any better? I mean, props to Alessia Cara for going to 69 for 'Wild Things' even if I'm not wild about the song, and 'Never Forget You' by MNEK and Zara Larsson continues to roar up the charts to 21 like a force of nature, but beyond that? Well, I guess 'Don't Let Me Down' by The Chainsmokers and Daya was good enough to rise to 63, but I can't say I'm thrilled to see 'Middle' by DJ Snake and Bipolar Sunshine - his worst single to date - continue to rise to 31. And while country held its own with 'Humble And Kind' by Tim McGraw up to 57, I'm not going to say I'm happy that 'Panda' by Desiigner leaped up to 72, 'Exchange' by Bryson Tiller went to 26, and 'Low Life' by Future and The Weeknd rose to 43 basically by being way more underwhelming than it should have been.

Eh, you can't win all of them, so what about our new arrivals, starting with...

100. 'Gotta Lotta' by 2 Chainz ft. Lil Wayne - so 2 Chainz and Lil Wayne teamed up for a collaboration album ColleGrove - although thanks to the legal nightmare of Lil Wayne's career it's technically billed as a solo record from 2 Chainz... and either way, I just don't care. Look, let's be honest, both of these artists have been losing relevance for at least two years now thanks to inconsistent quality at best, and while 'Watch Out' has done okay for 2 Chainz, it's still nothing I'd ever want to hear outside of a club. This... honestly, it's better than I expected. Sure, Lil Wayne's Autotuned warble can get pretty grating, but he sounds healthier and more focused than he has in a while and his hook is pretty infectious against the skittering and watery trap beat, mostly courtesy of a Scatman John interpolation. And sure, 2 Chainz is spraying his usual brand of drug-addled punchlines that get kind of gross - I don't think any girl wants her vagina to smell like codeine, 2 Chainz - but I will say his flow is more on point that I think it's ever been. So yeah, I'm not going to say that this is quality or anything healthy... but I don't hate this, it's not bad.

96. 'Something New' by Zendaya ft. Chris Brown - there's a part of me that feels a little sorry for Zendaya. I mean, this was a girl who started on Kidz Bop, worked her way up through the Disney Channel, looked like she was primed like Ariana Grande to make a big splash... and yeah, her song 'Replay' did okay, but I can't say the production did her any favours, especially considering how glitchy and overmixed it was, even for 2013 Hollywood Records. So even teaming up with Chris Brown this was bound to be an improvement... until you realize that they sampled 'Creep' by TLC. Now as a rule, I really don't like when R&B samples other R&B songs, especially ones as huge as 'Creep' was... even if I was never really a fan of the track. That said, Zendaya did take the best part of that song - the underlying slick horn and bass - and throw on a trap beat... but really, someone needs to put a limit on how much autotune you can drown Chris Brown's voice in, he barely even sounds human here! Outside of that, there's just very little to this that's all that interesting - it's a no-strings attached hookup that's almost played as clinical... and as such, it isn't all that sexy. Go figure.

(nothing available on YouTube)

90. 'Untitled 07' by Kendrick Lamar - and now onto something far more interesting and something you can guarantee will not stick around the charts for long, we have Kendrick's meandering three part and subtle ode to his Hiipower ideology. And while I'd definitely say it wasn't one of my favourites off of Kendrick's untitled unmastered. - it rambles, the opening synth notes against the trap beat doesn't do a lot for me until the song switches into the second segment - it's a prime example of Kendrick doing Drake's minimalist hook-driven eerie sound better than he does. And frankly, that rattling second segment with the grimy cymbals runs circles around so many modern MCs, and yet Kendrick never lets his obvious shots at Drake come across as more than just a desire for real competition and wordplay, for mainstream hip-hop to do better. And while the lo-fi live acoustic outro showing Kendrick coming up with 'Untitled 04' does go long, I really liked how it operated as a natural counterpoint to the rest of the song - he demands his peers do better, and he shows them how he does it. So yeah, while not my favourite, still a damn good song, check it out.

83. 'American Country Love Song' by Jake Owen - it always kind of blows my mind that it's been nearly two and a half years since we got an album from Jake Owen, but with a second single here, it looks like his promotional team finally got a clue to release the record coming into the summer and not in December! And really, if we're looking for a track that should annoy the piss out of me, it'd be this one - Jake Owen is gunning for broad American melting pot universality with every cliche in the book, playing it all completely straight, the writing really is generic as hell! And yet I don't hate this track - the guitar tone has a little more muscle and bass when it's not fluttering to fill out some pretty solid background texture, the real drums lend the song some punch, and Jake Owen remains way too damn charismatic for his own good. On some level, you could argue its heartfelt simplicity is its biggest strength, and while I'll never say this is great, it might be a promising sign that Jake Owen's opting for more organic production on his next album, and that's definitely a plus.

(nothing available on YouTube)

79. 'Untitled 02' by Kendrick Lamar - again, this is not my favourite song on untitled unmastered.... but yeah, I totally get why this was the most successful track from Kendrick's surprise release. The most immediately recognizable chorus, the lyrics that seem to be glorifying wealth and flossing of him and his crew as he sees the debauchery around him with lean and gang violence, Kendrick leaping on Drake's flows against minimalist production that picks up bass from Thundercat and sax from Terrace Martin.. but of course Kendrick's smarter than that. He sets up the entire song for his punchline of showing just how hollow all that wealth seems, serving an audience that doesn't get the real dark underpinnings of that story and only see the flossing. It's the contradiction that has always run through Kendrick's music, and just like with 'Swimming Pools' ahead of it, Kendrick brings it to incredible advantage. Knowing his luck, this song probably will be bigger than 'King Kunta' or 'Alright' because people can't read between the lines... but regardless of that, it's a damn solid song all the same.

66. 'Try Everything' by Shakira - so long time fans know that I'm a Shakira fan - incredible charisma, often distinctively organic production, and lyrics that are quirky and weird enough to lend her music a ton of personality... that is, when she's writing them. This song is actually from the Zootopia soundtrack and was written by Sia and Stargate... so way to absolutely destroy my expectations! Now let me make this clear, the song is not explicitly bad, but arguably that's even more offensive, how bland and sanitized it feels for one of the most vivacious pop stars of the past fifteen years! Would it have killed someone to add real drums to the acoustic guitar and not such a painfully sterile backbeat or a vocal line that would let Shakira use her unique vocal intonation, or lyrics that might as well be cribbed from your standard self-esteem anthem generator? I've said in the past that Sia's writing sounds best when sung by her, but even the rejected Shakira song on Sia's last album was better than this, which is soulless and painfully bland. Thankfully with all of our luck, it'll probably be forgotten by next week, but that doesn't make it any less of a disappointment - next!

54. 'Came Here To Forget' by Blake Shelton - so I'm reaching the point where I have no idea what to think about Blake Shelton as an artist, because right now his high-profile relationship with Gwen Stefani off of The Voice is eclipsing any actual conversation about the music. And since he doesn't write any of his own material as country seems to be following a very '70s-inspired' trajectory with a pronounced split between the new outlaw scene and bad pop calling itself country, I really had no clue what direction Blake would choose to follow. And from the sounds of this song, I don't think he does either, because while it musically falls in the latter direction, this song falls into a weird category. For one, it's surprisingly sour and dark, with washed out hollow synths and skittering backbeats against darker, electric guitars, and I don't think I'd call this 'country', it does have more gravitas than I was expecting. Part of this is Blake Shelton playing bitter anger quite well as he commiserates with the girl at the bar about getting dumped and maybe hooking up... but then again, I kind of wish he actually opted for writing that didn't feel the need for obvious hip-hop cadences and multi-tracking that's more synthetic than it should be on the verses. The song this reminds me the most of is 'Home Alone Tonight' by Luke Bryan, but this at least feels properly framed in highlighting the frustration and ugliness of it all... I just wish it opted for something a little more stripped down and gritty or maybe even acoustic and country, rely on the performance rather than the glitz of the production, it might have been better.

(man, there's just no videos this week...)

11. 'No' by Meghan Trainor - I heard about the controversy about this track long before I actually heard it, and given how many people on Twitter and YouTube were warning me about it, I was preparing myself for the worst. This was reportedly Meghan Trainor's big sell-out move, the pivot to mainstream pop where she put aside the faux doo-wop style that made her famous... but really, I've been expecting this I reviewed her debut album and recognized how much of it was a pose. Well, apparently nobody told the head of her record label that, so after an argument where they told her there was no obvious lead single, Meghan Trainor got mad and recorded this track, sort of analogous to when Sara Bareilles wrote 'Love Song' almost a decade ago. This song isn't like that, and actually has a lineage that goes back further... in fact, it sounds like something that could have been recorded in the heyday of Britney Spears and N'Sync at the turn of the millennium. Now I'll admit I've got a weakness for this sort of material with the hyper-compressed guitars and layered vocals... so how is it over fifteen years later Meghan Trainor has no idea how those songs worked? Why does her dead-eyed delivery have no tightness, where is the melody or punch that relies way more on drum machine and percussion than any interesting layering? How is it that when you crib so much from N'Sync's 'It's Gonna Be Me' you pair it with such a leaden chorus with dinky whistle effects that kills the momentum? And the lyrics... look, I get telling off some douchebag and the importance of being clear here, but what sort of message is this song trying to create where you have her telling women in the prechorus when the guys aren't giving it up to titillate and then play the 'No' game like she's J.Lo on How I Met Your Mother! It's trying for the tease, but given the emphasis on 'No', it'll drive every guy away except those who don't listen to the word! You want a song that does this right and actually is fiery, look up 'U + Ur Hand' by Pink, not the slurry of bad mixed messages from Meghan Trainor - skip it.

But really, aside from that, this was actually a pretty solid week, where the worst and best are fairly easy. 'No' by Meghan Trainor takes the former for continuing to make mediocre retro-pandering junk, with Dishonourable Mention going to 'Try Everything' by Shakira for just being a huge disappointment. And best isn't even a contest - might not be the best songs from the album, but 'Untitled 02' and 'Untitled 07' from Kendrick Lamar take the best and Honourable Mention in that order - damn good tracks. Okay, we're back on track, let's hope for more next week!

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