Wednesday, July 6, 2016

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - july 16, 2016

So here's the thing about the summer lull period with the charts: you get out of it basically what you put in. If you have good songs primed to go live in May or June that'll have some momentum, you'll basically have your summer lineup providing there's no big shakeup or surprises. But if you don't... well, basically you're left with most of the Hot 100 right now, which isn't so much outright awful but full of tracks that engender barely a reaction at all. Fellow music critic Todd In The Shadows described these tracks as fragments, but I'd prefer the term hollow: they fill time on the radio, but you're left feeling like nothing sticks in the way some years have, which is bad even for pop.

And nowhere is this evidence enough than our top ten. At last it looks like 'One Dance' by Drake, Kyla & Wizkid is a bit shaky on top, as sales and airplay have started to dip even if it's still a streaming behemoth. The problem is that I'm not sure any song can capitalize on it, because Justin TImberlake's 'Can't Stop The Feeling' might have more sales and better airplay, but its streaming lags hard and I don't see it recovering there. Maybe 'Don't Let Me Dow'n by The Chainsmokers ft. Daya, which rose up to #3 despite only decent sales and streaming and wavering airplay - though it's got a ways to go before it can catch JT and Drake on the radio, but I think that was more because 'Panda' by Desiigner is falling off hard, with streaming, airplay, and sales losses picking up momentum. It'll be passed by 'This Is What You Came For' by Calvin Harris & Rihanna pretty soon, because with airplay momentum, good sales, solid streaming, and dominant YouTube, it's got some traction. But it might face competition from 'Cheap Thrills' by Sia and Sean Paul, which had huge airplay and sales gains and even some pickup on streaming - if it keeps this up, it'll definitely be competitive. Then you've got 'Needed Me' by Rihanna at #7, a song with miserable sales and only okay airplay, but so much streaming traction it barely matters. Whether it'll hold against the more diverse strength of 'Don't Mind' by Kent Jones at #8 is a different question, which has some decent airplay, streaming, and sales to push forward. Of course, we also have 'Ride' by twenty one pilots rising to #9 on decent sales, a bit of streaming, and real airplay traction - it might not be much, but we might have some competition here! And then to round us out, we have the continued collapse of 'Work From Home' by Fifth Harmony ft. Ty Dolla $ign, which spent the week plummeting on airplay with crap sales - only decent streaming and strong YouTube are keeping it afloat, and that won't last for much longer, especially with the superior 'All In My Head (Flex)' rising to replace it.

Now we'll come back to that, but for now our losers and dropouts! Most of the latter aren't all too surprising: '2 Phones' by Kevin Gates and 'Humble And Kind' by Tim McGraw both had respectable runs, and neither 'Kiss It Better' by Rihanna or 'Ophelia' by The Lumineers have been too healthy. My issues come more with our losers: yeah, I'm not complaining that 'No' by Meghan Trainor is finally on its way out at 62, or that 'Pop Style' by Drake is collapsing months too late at 58, or even that Luke Bryan's pandering 'Huntin', Fishin', & Lovin' Every Day' dropped to 52. It's that the rest of our losers are actually pretty decent songs that I'd prefer to stick around. Sure, 'Came Her To Forget' by Blake Shelton at 81, 'Body' by Dreezy & Jeremih at 90, and Kanye's posse cut 'Champions' at 98 aren't great songs, but they've got some quality to them. Much more depressing are the sudden losses to 'Dark Necessities' by Red Hot Chili Peppers to 100 - which you could have expected, it's not like rock will stick to the charts in 2016 - or for 'You Don't Own Me' by Grace ft. G-Eazy to 75. Granted, she'll probably get a boost thanks to her debut album, but you have to wonder if it'll be enough.

And all of this would be a lot less of an issue of our gains and returning entries weren't so inconsistent! Our big returning entry is 'Famous' by Kanye West ft. Rihanna and Swizz Beatz at 71, undoubtedly off the back of the video's controversy which I might as well speak about and say the most I can applaud about Kanye is for stirring up pop culture controversy and drawing attention to himself, not actually making much of a point beyond shock value. It's not so much pop art as it is the same provocation that inspires people to buy National Enquirer or watch TMZ, I'm not all that enthralled by it. What's frustrating is that it's actually one of the few good songs that gained traction this week, the others being 'All In My Head (Flex)' by Fifth Harmony and Fetty Wap gaining big to 40 and 'Broccoli' by D.R.A.M. ft. Lil Yachty continuing up to 48. I guess we might be able to squeeze 'Different For Girls' by Dierks Bentley and Elle King in there too at 82, but beyond that? 'Toothbrush' by DNCE goes up to 70 for somehow sounding more sterile than Maroon 5, 'We Don't Talk Anymore' by Charlie Puth ft. Selena Gomez rose up to 49 on passive-aggressive bitchiness, 'Treat You Better' by Shawn Mendes continues up to 38 on white-guy-with-acoustic-guitar manipulation, and 'For Free' by DJ Khaled ft. Drake rises to 22 because of the Drake feature, even despite being a completely lazy phoned-in fragment of a song.

So are our new arrivals any better? Well before we get to that, let's bring back our semi-regular segment and talk about something different from around the globe...

For the life of me, I'm a little stunned this has not made it onto the Billboard Hot 100 yet. It's been sitting on the Bubbling Under chart for twenty-six weeks - that's half a year - and yet all around the world it's broken into the top ten. In twenty-three countries, to be exact, and going to #1 in three of them. So why hasn't the US embraced the follow-up single to Zara Larsson's collaboration with MNEK earlier this year? Honestly, I have no idea, because this is pretty damn likable, especially as a summer song. The wiry low synths playing off the reggae steel drums, sandy percussion, and a whistle that doesn't completely dominate the track, it's got real groove to it and Zara Larsson's husky delivery is pretty effective, even if it does sound like she's trying to coast in Rihanna's lane. And hell, the lyrics aren't bad either, as she bounces from crush to crush with a nonchalance that works remarkably well as a singles anthem. Again, I'm shocked this hasn't been big in the States, because again, it's a pretty damn solid song.

So that's real competition for our new arrivals, so let's start with...

96. 'Luv' by Tory Lanez - you know that it's never a good sign when the most I've heard about Tory Lanez is not for his music but for all the shots he's taken at Drake. And you'd think that it'd be a bigger deal in Toronto, both of them being from here, but it hasn't really caught a lot of attention... which is surprising as the two of them have exchanged shots and nothing has been quite as decisive as when Drake and Meek Mill had beef last year. Or maybe it's because Tory Lanez is playing in a similar lane as Drake and is just less interesting with his content, which is all the more apparent here on 'Luv', where he plays to the more tropical hip-hop sound and drowns his voice in Autotune without any actual bars at all! It's pretty much a straightforward R&B jam that Ty Dolla $ign might do about falling in love to the point where it's borderline accidental, all against some production that's actually pretty damn lush and melodic with the blubbery bass and damp swells of synth courtesy of some great sampling from Cashmere Cat. It's the sort of potent production that if Tory Lanez had bars I'd probably appreciate this more - as it is, I think I like 'Say It' more, but this isn't bad, it's likable enough.

86. 'She's Got A Way With Words' by Blake Shelton - there are a lot of people who hate this song, to the point where I had heard about the controversy a fair bit before I heard about the actual song, mostly for it being made in bad taste about an ex that also happens to be a powerhouse artist in her own right. Now here's the thing: if Blake Shelton wants to make a sour breakup anthem that functions as a giant middle finger to Miranda Lambert, I'm actually okay with this, partially because it's got some decent mid-tempo modern country production with the steel guitar, partially because Shelton's delivery feels more exasperated than pissy, and partially because if Miranda Lambert ever responds she's going to eat him alive. And hell, I'd argue the lyrical conceit isn't bad either with some decent wordplay, but it's where I discover the roots of two big issues with this track, the first being that if you're going to make a track about pulling words from other words, you need to make sure they at least connect. 'Why' does not go in 'try', and 'her' does not go in 'hurt', even if it is closer. The larger nitpick comes in those thin higher backing vocals - Blake, I know you didn't write this, but it rings in even more bad taste when you try to play it as an anthem instead of keeping it low-key and classy. But again, that's nitpicking on an otherwise decent song, so I'd probably keep it.

80. 'No Limit' by Usher ft. Young Thug - when I saw Usher on the charts this week, my immediate reaction was a mingled blur of excitement and relief. I didn't even care that it was with Young Thug, finally my favourite R&B star has a new single and that could mean his long-overdue eighth album Flawed might have a release date... and man, I want to like this a lot more than I do. I mean, it's not precisely bad... that low wiry synth playing off your standard trap beat is fine, even if I do think the vocal sample that runs through Usher's verses is distracting as hell. And Young Thug's verse is actually pretty decent - he stays on topic with only a few oddball references as he talks about treating this girl, it actually works pretty well. The person I think let me down most here is Usher - dude, you have one of the most expressive and charismatic voices in modern R&B and you stay in your monotone lower register for the entire song? And then the lyrics... look, I get making a tribute to Master P, but the writing here feels completely phoned in - 'shine' does not rhyme with 'destination'. Look, I'm still a fan of Usher, but he's made far better songs and I sure as hell hope it's not a sign for his album. Let's just hope 'Good Kisser' is on that record, really do love that song...

56. 'I Got The Keys' by DJ Khaled ft. Jay Z and Future - so now we've got the second big single from DJ Khaled's upcoming record - and again, I heard about this song long before I actually heard this track. Not only was Jay Z collaborating with Future, but he had bars again, which was definitely exciting... and I guess this is where my general ambivalence towards Jay Z comes through, because I didn't really care for this. Now I didn't think Jay Z's verses were bad - once you wrap your head around the awkward shift in flow on the first verse at the Josh Norman reference, his bragging does indeed feel in a different category, owning his masters, never losing court cases, and holding a certain unassailable status. The larger issue I think comes with the production and hook - sure, it's catchy, but does anyone else think the autotune slathered all over Future makes him sound worse than normal? And what's up with the production that's so damn shrill, playing off klaxons and your standard bass-overloaded trap beat that only builds up hints of deeper synths sporadically in the mid range? In other words... yeah, Jay had bars, but that's not enough to save an instrumental that gets insufferable in record time, so more often than not I'd probably skip this.

32. 'Sucker For Pain' by Lil Wayne, Wiz Khalifa & Imagine Dragons ft. Logic, Ty Dolla $ign & X Ambassadors - and now we've got the big one, the massive collaboration pushed by Warner Bros for Suicide Squad that's the long-overdue introduction of Logic to the mainstream as well as the second team-up of Imagine Dragons and X Ambassadors that nobody wanted after 'Fear'. Now here's the thing: between this track and 'Heathens' I think Warner Bros has no real idea how to properly market Suicide Squad, playing it far more dour and serious than it otherwise needs to be, and as such this song has such a heavy masochistic angle that it kind of overrides any sense of fun or gravitas that could be wrung out of it. And while Logic fanboys will probably go wild that he got a decent if unimpressive verse in, I honestly was much more impressed by Lil Wayne, who sounded healthier and more on point than he has in a while... which is kind of ironic given how all that colourful imagery plays into the various ways he could kill himself. And Ty Dolla $ign did a solid job capturing melancholy too, to the point where Wiz Khalifa's verse basically feels perfunctory. Where this track falls into a weird spot for me is the hook - look, I like Dan Reynolds as a frontman, but it's hard for me to buy him sellling sadomasochism - his voice feels raw, but there's nothing there that implies he's getting anything out of it, with Sam Harris of X Ambassadors even less impressive. And sure, the production is kind of eerie with the organ backdrop and lurking bass and slight crackle around the edge of the mix, especially with the pluckier strings that creep through Wayne's verse, but this is a song that seems like it's trying to be far edgier than it actually is. Hell, I don't even need to point out that Eminem got creepier music on the radio fifteen years ago, when 'The Hills' by The Weeknd is a more chilling and intense track than this is, I can't quite get on board, even if I might want to.

So overall... fair bit of mediocrity and disappointment here, which makes picking standouts hard. If I had my way I'd give it to 'Lush Life' by Zara Larsson, but let's be fair here... honestly, I think Tory Lanez gets it here for 'Luv', entirely thanks to the production. As for the worst... I'm stuck between a disappointing lead performance but okay production and guest verse, or two pretty good verses against terrible production and an obnoxious hook... so yeah, sorry Jay Z fans, even he can't save 'I Got The Keys' by DJ Khaled and featuring Future. Let's hope the charts improve a bit next week - things aren't quite better yet here.


  1. Have you heard in My Blood by The veronicas?it could be a great suggestion for worldwive hit since it is top 5 in australia.

    1. I mean, they're Australian, so getting big there isn't all that groundbreaking. Usually he covers songs that are big multiple countries, especially a swath of Europe, and that song has only charted at all on the one country.