Tuesday, April 12, 2016

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - april 23, 2016

And to think this week was going to be busy enough. The chart instability is only getting more pronounced, we've got a healthy list of new arrivals - including what looks to be bad signs coming from Drake's lead-off to Views From The 6 - I thought things would be mostly stable. So of course here comes Kanye West with eight new songs from The Life Of Pablo, an album I covered nearly two months ago with one of the most confused release strategies I've ever seen play out. Of course, such is the transcendent power of Kanye's fame and fanbase that the album went to #1 on streaming alone, regardless of middling quality or the fact that it's been out for two months already.

So while I'll be revisiting a record I already reviewed and have mostly ignored since covering it, that'll come later - for now, we've got our top ten, and things are reaching critical mass. 'Work' by Rihanna and Drake is clinging to the #1 thanks to streaming and a slight revival on YouTube, but sales look bleak and airplay has been dropping all week, which places '7 Years' by Lukas Graham in a prime position to take over from #2. The question is whether it'll have enough to get there - sales are strong, streaming is solid, YouTube is picking up, and while airplay gains are slowing, they are still gains. The question will come whether it's too little, too late, because at #3 Meghan Trainor's 'No' is making a play with consistent airplay gains and a big YouTube pickup... but streaming is fading and it's actually lagging behind '7 Years' in sales. Granted, the real collapse in streaming came for 'Pillowtalk' by Zayn at #4, which held onto good sales and slowing airplay even as streaming and YouTube both slipped pretty hard. And this leads us to our newest top ten arrival: 'Panda' by Desiigner, the Future ripoff beating Future to the top. So where's all of its momentum coming from? Well, mostly streaming and sales, although YouTube has given it a bit of a boost too, but I have to wonder without real airplay support whether it can crack any higher. Meanwhile we have our reigning airplay lead from 'Love Yourself' by Justin Bieber, which was still forced back to #6 anyway as it bleeds in every category. Similar case for 'My House' by Flo Rida, which might have had better sales overall but also lost harder on streaming and has never really had YouTube traction as it fell to #7. Now this is a promising sign for 'I Took A Pill In Ibiza' for Mike Posner rising to #8, which had a solid week on airplay and sales - got smacked around a bit on streaming and YouTube, but that's mostly thanks to Kanye than its weaknesses. Similar case for 'Work From Home' by Fifth Harmony and Ty Dolla $ign at #9, which is only not higher because it lags a bit in airplay to support its solid sales and streaming and massive YouTube... though with the gains it picked up this week, that's probably going to change. Finally, we have 'Me, Myself & I' by G-Eazy ft. Bebe Rexha slipping to #10, which picked up more airplay to compensate for weak sales and getting hit on streaming... I predict an airplay peak soon and this falling out fast right after.

On that note, losers and dropouts, and we had a lot of the latter this week. Now to be completely fair most of the one's that matter were heading out anyway: '679' by Fetty Wap and Remy Boyz, 'What Do You Mean' by Justin Bieber, 'Say It' by Tory Lanez, 'Like I'm Gonna Lose You' by Meghan Trainor & John Legend, 'I Know What You Did Last Summer' by Shawn Mendes & Camilla Cabello, and - thankfully - both 'Home Along Tonight' by Luke Bryan and Karen Fairchild AND 'White Iverson' by Post Malone! Yeah, we also lost 'Something In The Way You Move' by Ellie Goulding, but if Post Malone's going with her, I'm not complaining! But it was a bloodbath when it came to our losers as well, and let's start off with country. 'Drunk On Your Love' by Brett Eldredge begins its downward trajectory at 48, 'Beautiful Drug' by the Zac Brown Band continues its exit to 94, 'Heartbeat' by Carrie Underwood continues to stall out early at 95, and 'Noise' by Kenny Chesney proves to be a complete non-starter falling hard to 93. Beyond that, our losses are a mixed bag across the board, notable where momentum just seemed to evaporate. 'Jimmy Choo' by Fetty Wap slid back to 85, 'Try Everything' by Shakira collapsed down to 75, 'Cheap Thrills' by Sia and Sean Paul fell back to 55, and Troye Sivan's 'Youth' continued its slide down to 46. Beyond that... well, then there's the cases of songs that are reaching the end of their run naturally, like 'Hotline Bling' by Drake going to 50 or 'When We Were Young' by Adele sliding out too soon at 70, or the frustration that is 'Sugar' by Robin Schulz and Francesco Yates not getting bigger at 82. But hey, at least they're taking Young Thug's 'Best Friend' out with them at 76, so win some, lose some.

Granted, when you look at our returning entries and gains, the biggest set of winners looked to be from country - which makes a certain amount of sense, given the Academy of Country Music awards that occurred within the tracking period. And given the huge night Chris Stapleton had, it makes complete sense that 'Tennessee Whiskey' came back to 90, or that 'Nobody To Blame' picked up to 68. But he wasn't the only one to pick up traction, as 'Humble And Kind' by Tim McGraw continues its surprising rise to 30, along with 'Think Of You' by Chris Young and Cassadee Pope rising to 41. Of course, they can't all be good, so 'Huntin', Fishin' & Lovin' Every Day' by Luke Bryan went up to 66 after its debut last week, but hey, you can't win all of them. Beyond that, the rest of our gains aren't all that surprising: 'Piece By Piece' by Kelly Clarkson tries to pick up some momentum at 72, 'Needed Me' by Rihanna continues its slow and steady rise to 47, and 'All The Way Up' by Fat Joe, Remy Ma, and French Montana goes up to 81... basically I'm assuming on novelty from seeing a 'comeback, because it's not like anything they're saying is worth caring about.

But really, you're all here for the new arrivals, and make no mistake, there are a ton of them, so let's start off with...

100. 'Record Year' by Eric Church - I should be a little less surprised that Eric Church made this his second single from Mr. Misunderstood than I am... mostly because if you all saw my list of my favourite songs of 2015, this song made that list. And it's hard to point out all the little things that just click for me: the odd looped guitar that opens the track with the spacious touches around the edges that never takes away from the intimacy of the track that breaks into a solid acoustic-touched groove that has the smoky rattle of flipping through boxes of vinyl. Because that's what this song is: in the aftermath of the breakup, Eric Church is burying himself in records and finding album after album to raise his spirits, trying to break out of melancholy with whiskey and music and the mixed thrill of new discovery and knowing that person with whom you'd share it is gone... look, I don't predict this'll be huge, it's a song for music nerds by a music nerd himself.. .but goddamn if it's not a fantastic one.

(no vid because Kanye)

99. 'Feedback' by Kanye West - of the many Kanye songs we'll cover this week, this was one I did not expect to see on the Hot 100, mostly because the instrumentation. The dissonant, warping synths against the thicker crunch of the bass hits, this is something that might have been rejected from Yeezus or maybe Government Plates-era Death Grips, and certainly not something that has radio viability. That said, of the many disconnected idea on The Life Of Pablo, 'Feedback' is one of the few that tries to have a point, following in the line of 'New Slaves' and juxtaposing party gestures and luxury rap with systemic oppression... which might have actually had impact if the final verse didn't dissolve into complaints about bloggers and PETA getting pissed off about his fashion choices and him admitting he cares more than he should. And even that could have worked before the entire song dissolves into an Oprah parody that's funny but doesn't fit with anything else here. I don't want to say this is a bad song - there were worse tracks on The Life Of Pablo, that thankfully did not make the charts this week - but this is easily the one where the lost potential shows through the most.

98. 'Never Be Like You' by Flume ft. Kai - and now bringing together the topic of songs I didn't expect to debut on the Hot 100 thanks to offkilter instrumentation and am more surprised than I should be, we have the second single from Australian electronic producer Flume, featuring vocals from Canadian singer Kai. And it's a weird little track - opening with gentle strings and glimmering fragments which break into a blocky synth and trap percussion progression that barely seems to build to a consistent groove and on the bridge seems to even fall off key. I can't help but feel that it feels like it's way too blocky to really compliment Kai's vocals all that well, which is a shame because she actually sounds pretty solid, singing about trying to find forgiveness and reconciliation as her self-doubt drove the relationship apart. I will say the lyrics push to the edge of melodrama, especially on the self-flagellation on the bridge - but really, the track is so misshapen that I'm less angry and more just confused. Either way, not for me.

97. 'Come And See Me' by PARTYNEXTDOOR ft. Drake - I think someone needs to explain to Drake that PARTYNEXTDOOR is never going to become a thing. Hell, I thought his hype had peaked after he released his debut in 2014 and the public reacted with profound indifference to the entire affair. I say that because wow, this track is boring as tar, coasting off an incredibly muted melody and skittering trap hi-hat at the sort of sluggish lethargic pace that feels twice as long as it should. At least Future has energy, because PARTYNEXTDOOR's moody drone makes him sound half-asleep - which is fitting for a track where he's trying to booty call a girl and yet she's asking him to come see her for once, hoping for something more. And while PARTYNEXTDOOR tries to mumble some sort of apology, Drake decides to embrace passive-aggressive douchebaggery and flip it back on the girl... after all, why can't you take sick days, Drake doesn't even know if your decor is up to his standards, and it seems that all your demands make things feel awfully one-sided. And girls still like this guy - why? Either way, if this is the lead-off single for PARTYNEXTDOOR's next failure, congrats on being just as tedious with a healthy dose of insufferable. Next!

92. 'Real Friends' by Kanye West ft. Ty Dolla $ign - of all of the songs from The Life Of Pablo, this is the one I would have no qualms saying is legitimately great. There's a real sense of melancholy coming the faded backing synth against some great booming drums, Ty Dolla $ign's hook lands well, especially when layered with Kanye, and Kanye actually has bars that connect together! Sure, it's not that far removed from his usual complaints about fame and how it warps people around him, but Kanye's framing extends more broadly, showing how his own neglect of his friends and family leads to it getting worse, only exacerbated by the media that is hyper-focused on Kanye's life thanks to the Kardashians, something with which you can tell he's not all that comfortable. Coupled with a great downbeat melody and outro, it's easily the best song from The Life Of Pablo and a solid Kanye standout, definitely recommended.

84. 'FML' by Kanye West ft. The Weeknd - this is one of those tracks I feel could have connected better with a shade more polish. Don't get me wrong, it mostly works - credit to The Weeknd for really coming through on the hook, acknowledging that for often as he screws up, he's the only one that should own it and care, and for Kanye for making a real commitment to his family and not to the score of women who could ruin his relationship with Kim. There is an air of finality to the track, especially as the mix swells off the low gurgles of synth that break into the drums... before a transition into what sounds like whining looped guitars, a hint of bass, and Kanye's faded rasp through autotune to match Section 25's droning nasal tone and man, this payoff does not nearly end as well as it should. Because with Kanye's very slow, methodical flow for the first verse against the very sparse synth and the increased intensity in his second verse, you'd think the crescendo would actually land better than this. As it is, it's got moments and potential, but not nearly enough to redeem it. 

80. 'Kiss It Better' by Rihanna - seriously, Rihanna, are you just not going to release 'Desperado', a track with actual groove and punch and one of the best things you've ever recorded? Okay, fine, I guess I can tolerate that, especially considering 'Kiss It Better' is probably the best single she's released thus far from ANTI. Riding off a real guitar groove with some gurgling snarl for the hook against the low buzzy synths and some solid underlying swell that works against the overdubbed hook, the lyrics place Rihanna in a situation of trying to win back her broken relationship. But where Kai was deferential, Rihanna is outright aggressive, telling her ex to screw his pride and just take her back already, repair the open wound as if it was plainly obvious. And while I don't think this particular message has, well, any tact, there's a part of me that can see this working, if only because it's a damn good song. So yeah, nice work.

74. 'Wasted Time' by Keith Urban - okay, let's make this clear: I like Keith Urban and I know he's always made pop country that's right on the verge of tilting into all-out pop. So with 'Wasted Time' falling outright into pop with a brittle, buzzy synth lead driving more actual melody than the guitars accenting the song with only the token four bar banjo solo implying any sort of real country touch... look, this is not a country song, and I'm not going to judge it as one. But the frustrating thing is that it's not particularly great pop either - it's breezy to the point of insubstantial, the reminiscence at an old relationship is cute but doesn't have much detail, and I can't be the only one who thinks that the line 'the best days of my life/was all that wasted time' is profoundly sad compared to actually being fun? Add in the flubbed rhymes in the bridge and the complete lack of any real drums and the fact that'll probably get play on country radio regardless... ugh, gross. 

(no vid because Kanye)

71. 'Waves' by Kanye West ft. Chris Brown - I think I like this song more than I really should, especially as it's the Chris Brown/Kanye West collaboration that apparently the world wanted. And here's the thing: it's basically broadly sketched bragging about breaking free and being on top against a choppy gospel sample, ebbing bass with sparse percussion that doesn't quite feel as well-blended as it should, but there's something oddly ecstatic about it, especially in how both Kanye and Chris Brown's autotune blends together, especially as the deeper vocals come in for the bridge. I'm not going to say there's much to this song or that it's aiming to do much, but I dig it, decent song.

(no vid because Kanye)

67. 'Ultralight Beam' by Kanye West ft. The-Dream, Kelly Price & Chance The Rapper - granted, if we want the song that really sticks to the brighter ecstatic feeling, it's this one. It's starts off pretty sparse with the odd ebbing warble of synth against the drums, but when the gospel choirs add some richer body to the vocals and Kelly Price delivers a great verse, you come to realize that Kanye might just be the least interesting thing about the song. And if that doesn't prove it, Chance The Rapper's absolutely killer verse will, just so overjoyed and on top of the world it is as it careens across fragments of melody as the horns touch his final bars. In a just world, this track would be more known for Chance than Kanye, but as it is, it's still a damn good song, I'll take it.

(no vid because Kanye)

54. 'Pt. 2' by Kanye West ft. Desiigner - I can't be the only one who appreciates the irony here that 'Pt. 2' will easily never chart anywhere close to where 'Panda' is right now... and yet you could make the argument that if it wasn't for this song, Desiigner would never have gotten the push he did. In other words, this is basically a carbon-copy of 'Panda' and the only reason you'd listen to this song is for the gleaming gospel transition tilting towards frantic darkness, the odd Imogen Heap-esque outro from Caroline Shaw, and for Kanye's verse... and really, it's debatable how much it fits. The desperate mood, sure, but it doesn't remotely connect with Desiigner's luxury porn. This song is more of a fragment than anything, and unlike some of the fragmented moments on The Life Of Pablo, I'm not convinced it can hold up on its own.

43. 'Lights Come On' by Jason Aldean - you all remember Jason Aldean's last lead-off single? If you don't, I don't blame you, I'm trying to blot out memories of 'Burnin' It Down' too, but I don't think 'Lights Come On' could be more of a pivot away from that sound if he tried, a stab at swaggering country rock that might as well be titled as Jason Aldean's opening song for every concert in the foreseeable future. Seriously, those riffs aren't that far removed from hard rock and it appears that Aldean was at least listening when Kip Moore smacked modern country for not giving their bass guitarist anything to do. Hell, if you pitched out the perfunctory hi-hats and synths around the edges that seem to be more reminiscent of a haphazard Dustin Lynch impression, this song might actually kick some ass. I do wish that Aldean was a more emotive performer or that the lyrics tried a little harder or that the cymbals didn't smother so much of the melody, but overall, I can definitely listen to this and like it, not bad.

37. 'Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1' by Kanye West ft. Kid Cudi - I can't be the only one whose a little amused that Kanye's biggest songs from The Life Of Pablo feature some of his worst ever lyrics, which in this case includes screwing a girl with a bleached asshole and feeling like an asshole if he gets bleach on his shirt - WHY - all through the autotune that frankly sounds far better on Kid Cudi's hook than it does anywhere close to Kanye's verse. I will say I like that hook which coasts off a buzzy low synth, piano, hi-hats, and a background of gospel fragments - nearly of which dissolves beyond farty synths over Kanye's verse - but in the first incident of a track that has actually been revised since the initial release, Kanye overdubs some female vocals over the lead-in to the second chorus and it's actually an improvement - go figure. But again, this is a fragment of a song, and I can't help but feel that even if you did put the two parts together, they're okay - at best.

34. 'Famous' by Kanye West ft. Rihanna & Swizz Beatz - and now we've got the controversial one, the one where Kanye rambles about how there's a chance that he and Taylor Swift might still have sex, because after all, he made her famous! And while I could cue up 'Teardrops On My Guitar' or 'Our Song' or 'Love Story' or the slew of massive hits Taylor had off of her self-titled debut and Fearless, I'm not here to defend Taylor Swift - but the line is hard to ignore because it completely throws the song off its axis in the opening lines from otherwise being a pretty great song! If I'm to believe this song is Kanye's 'breakup' with fame and notoriety with Rihanna playing the role of fame and the ending Nina Simone sample with Swizz Beatz yammering over it as the 'awakening of creativity', why court more controversy right out of the damn gate? And why spend the remaining verses talking about freedom that you only got thanks to your fame? I get that Kanye has always been something of a hypocrite, but come on, this is just sloppy construction - Eminem's '25 To Life', this is not. And if I'm making a negative comparison to a Recovery-era Eminem deep cut and this... man, talk about missed potential. Again.

(no vid because Drake)

21. 'One Dance' by Drake ft. WizKid & Kyla - I heard the negative buzz about these tracks before I actually heard either of them, the real concerns raised by critics and fans that they were far from Drake's usual standard. Now speaking as someone who has been off the Drake hype train for a while now - since at least If You're Reading This, It's Too Late, if not earlier - I wasn't expecting much... and turns out I didn't get much - at all. Now I'll admit I don't mind Drake's singing, but what in the Nine Hells was he thinking pairing it with such a sloppily mixed and stiff dancehall riff, with the lo-fi piano bouncing against a popping beat in between sampled crooning from WizKid and Kyla that's either so badly mixed or lazily delivered to be basically filler. You give WizKid a bridge against a guitar line and bassy synth mixed so low you can barely hear him, or the Kyla sample that's so thin and of such poor fidelity that it doesn't fit whatsoever with the rest of the mix? Coupled with lyrics that are thin at best, I might as well consider it a mercy that the song feels so underdeveloped it ends after barely three minutes. And if this is a sign of what we're getting from Views From The 6... yikes, that's not good.

(no vid because Drake AND Kanye)

16. 'Pop Style' by Drake ft. Jay-Z & Kanye West - first off, I'm not referring to Jay-Z and Kanye West as 'The Throne' - if you drop only two lines, Jay-Z, you're not a partner in crime with Kanye here. Putting that bit of semantics aside... yikes, this isn't very good either. For one, who the hell chose that synth tone against a low gurgle of bass, very muted piano and muddy hi-hats, which only gets better when it picks up a bit of a brighter tone and yet still feels completely submerged. And what the hell is up with Drake's flow, where he sounds completely checked out and proceeds to spit some terrible bars. 'Got so many chains they call me Chaining Tatum'? Justin Timberlake references? And does anyone remotely believe people are out to 'get' Drake besides the inevitable Kendrick smackdown that's only a matter of time? Really, if we're looking for the person who saves this track, it's actually Kanye - his bars aren't great, including a repeat of that stuttered Justin Timberlake reference, but he's at least marginally clever here. But let's get real: the only reason this track has had any traction is because of the names attached, because otherwise is a completely limp track with Drake sounding lazy as hell with a non-hook, and if this makes Views From The 6... again, not good.

So that was our long week, and wow, we've got a mixed bag of quality here that actually lays out best and worst fairly easily. For the worst, you'll find Drake on both for completely different reasons, as 'Come And See Me' with PARTYNEXTDOOR snags the worst for total obnoxiousness and 'One Dance' with Wizkid and Kyla for sheer production incompetence. For best... yeah, no question, 'Record Year' by Eric Church runs away with the best, but Kanye is getting the Honourable Mention with 'Real Friends' and Ty Dolla $ign - it's a great song, I'm not complaining. Let's hope for a bit of a lighter week coming up soon!

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