Tuesday, July 12, 2016

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - july 23, 2016

...well folks, it's the summer lull. High temperatures and vacation means that the charts have fallen into a torpor, with nary a major shift in sight. In other words, we got another slow week - and no guarantee that it's going to be any better.

Want proof? Our top ten, where even despite some shifts behind the scenes nothing much moved here. 'One Dance' by Drake ft. Kyla and Wizkid remains on top, but it's anybody's guess for how much longer, as airplay was up and down all week, sales have continued to shrink, and there's still no video. Sure, it's here because of titanic streaming, but eventually that will fade - it's been on top for quite a few weeks, and I don't see this track having the staying power to challenge for the #1 record. Granted, most of that is because of 'Can't Stop The Feeling' by Justin Timberlake continuing to do well, with top sales, gains on airplay and streaming, and even a bit of YouTube, and with any weakness I can see it taking the top. But again, there's competition: 'Don't Let Me Down' by The Chainsmokers ft. Daya is picking up streaming and has strong airplay - even if sales aren't what they could be it's still holding #3. And then there's the gains picked up for 'This Is What You Came For' by Calvin Harris ft. Rihanna at #4 - it rules YouTube and has strong airplay... but it did slip on streaming and sales are only okay, so it might be losing momentum here. What isn't losing momentum is 'Cheap Thrills' by Sia ft. Sean Paul, which has picked up to #5 on big airplay, a lot of sales, and even some streaming - it might have slipped on YouTube, but the only reason it's not higher is the margins, that's it. All of this has pushed back 'Panda' by Desiigner down to #6, but that might have happened anyway - it's finally losing streaming as airplay and sales are in freefall, I predict this falling out of the Hot 100 soon. You'd think 'Needed Me' by Rihanna might have passed it, but it remained at #7, picking up streaming but with miserable sales and haphazard airplay. More gains went to 'Ride' by twenty one pilots, which is actually picking up more streaming to match its surging airplay and only okay sales. It actually managed to jump past 'Don't Mind' by Kent Jones which fell to #9 on streaming losses, only decent sales, and airplay gains that kind of felt all over the place. Last we have 'Work From Home' by Fifth Harmony ft. Ty Dolla $ign, which I expected to fall out of the Top 10 entirely thanks to losses on streaming, airplay, and nonexistent sales... but it's got strong YouTube, which will slow its descent and might keep it above other competition.

And on that note, our losers and dropouts. We have a pretty reasonable list of both this week, with our dropouts including 'Really Really' by Kevin Gates and 'Try Everything' by Shakira finally losing their second winds, 'Father Stretch My Hands Pt.1' by Kanye West and Kid Cudi and 'Grammys' by Drake and Future lasting longer than expected, and 'Think Of You' by Chris Young and Cassadee Pop ending a respectable run. And our losers are just as sensible - not particularly objectionable either. 'Hype' by Drake continues to fade to 97, 'Sucker For Pain' by Lil Wayne's posse for Suicide Squad falls hard off the debut to 80, 'Huntin', Fishin' & Lovin' Every Day' by Luke Bryan continues its exit to 62, 'No' by Meghan Trainor continues to decline to 78, and 'Wild Things' by Alessia Cara ends its run at 77 - expect it to be gone next week, the pretty decent second hit that really lasted longer than I think anyone could have expected.

Now I say all that because our returning entries and gains are - once again - kind of all over the place. I don't exactly mind that 'Ophelia' by The Lumineers is making its fifth return to the Hot 100 at 96, but I'm not wild that it brought along 'Messin' Around' by Pitbull and Enrique Iglesias to 88. And as for the gains... actually, I like a fair few of these. The worst is probably 'Toothbrush' by DNCE continuing up to 52, but the rest aren't bad, with 'Luv' by Tory Lanez rising to 84, 'Unsteady' by X Ambassadors surging up to 44, and the expected revival off the debut for Grace and G-Eazy with 'You Don't Own Me' up to 58. The last gain is for 'Hymn For The Weekend' by Coldplay with uncredited vocals from Beyonce... and yeah, it's not a track I love or anywhere close to Coldplay at their best, but it has grown on me, so I don't really mind seeing it go up to 61.

But can our new arrivals hold up the quality? Well, before we get to the five of them, let's talk quickly about a world hit from Australia that's recently picked up some traction - for good reason!

Again, you're going to have to follow me on this one and it involves a bit of pop history. The Veronicas came to the forefront in the mid-2000s with the wave of female-fronted pop rock that spawned acts like Avril Lavigne, Pink, and Kelly Clarkson, but very quickly the sisters proved willing to step more towards pop like 'Untouched' in 2007, a song I guarantee the majority of you haven't thought about in ten years but will remain stuck in your head for days after you hear it. And yet despite making some pretty sleek pop music and even breaking into the global market from their native Australia, the rapid shift towards the club boom and the duo's desire to get more creative with their music brought them into label conflicts, which led to their third record getting shelved by Warner Bros. and a label shift to Sony for a release late 2014, a good seven years after their sophomore release in 2007. Now though I didn't review that record, it wasn't a bad slice of pop rock, but you could definitely make the argument that The Veronicas had gotten left behind. You definitely could not say that with their newest lead-off single 'In My Blood', which goes straight towards breezy EDM that you would never know they were once a rock duo. And look, while I'd probably prefer their rock material, this is far from bad either. In fact, it's quite good, with the layered keyboards, sandy percussion and tightly linked vocal harmonies, especially with the higher strings touches on the hook, with a sound somewhere between Jess Glynne and Kygo. Again, I'd probably take more of their rock material, but if this starts getting summer airplay, I wouldn't complain - it's a pretty damn good track.

So can our new arrivals compete with that? Let's start with...

100. 'Flexicution' by Logic - so it looks like the floodgates are finally open for the Hot 100 and finally - finally - Logic's going to start getting traction. And it's about damn time too - I might not have loved his sophomore album The Incredible True Story but I've always maintained he's got a good flow and the sort of ambition to make potent but mainstream accessible music. At the same time, it's a little worrisome that Logic's first solo charting song is coming from a mixtape, one even he described as a holdover... and you can kind of tell. Now let me stress that this isn't a bad track - I was initially worried that the obvious Drake influence would render the track stale for me but then the second verse happened and I'm fairly certain Drake could never pull that off! And hell, the production has some punch too with the massive bass, piano, and touches of horns and strings, and that's not counting a pretty gorgeous vocal harmony on the outro. But when your song is about forty percent hook and you're not bringing a lot of interesting punchlines or content beyond bragging that's not that colourful or distinct, it feels like Logic isn't living up to the potential that he delivered on his early mixtapes and debut record, which I still hold as his high water mark when it comes to content and storytelling. This... well, if it's what he needs to break into the mainstream, I guess I'll take it - and it is a pretty decent song, I'll say that - but I've definitely heard better.

98. 'Lockjaw' by French Montana ft. Kodak Black - granted, if the alternative is French Montana and Kodak Black, I'll take Logic any day of the week! I still have no idea why French Montana is famous - you'd think with his lack of anything interesting to say his career would have been over, but thanks to a featuring credit on 'All The Way Up' I guess we're stuck with this guy for a few more months, which is the second single for his upcoming sophomore album - not counting his twenty mixtapes since 2007. Seriously dude, you have never had that much to say, and this song is all the more proof of it, where on the hook he's bragging because he's getting lockjaw because of cocaine and molly abuse and that his pants keep falling down! Now the latter line is from Kodak Black, a rapper who is proof that the XXL Freshman list does not care about quality so much as hype, because this guy sucks, with a lazy nasal flow and the unsettling ability to make French Montana seem interesting in comparison! And when you pair it those bleak synths, ghostly backing vocals, bass-heavy percussion, and grinding rattles of chains, it's not even fun. Hopefully the rest of America picks up on that, but knowing my luck... ugh.

94. 'Brand New' by Ben Rector - so one thing you don't tend to see much on the Hot 100 are independent acts that build their groundswell more naturally, without the major push of a label - and yet this week we have both Logic and this song from pop rock singer-songwriter Ben Rector. And Rector might be even more of an outlier case, because while Logic has Def Jam behind him, Rector has been pushing his albums on his own label out of Nashville called Aptly Named and has been doing quite well as a result. In fact, if you dig through his liner notes and note the list of underrated cowriters from country music - to say nothing of the fact he's based in Nashville and has a fairly accessible smoothly acoustic-touched sound - I'm shocked country radio hasn't tried to snatch him up. Granted, with this song he wouldn't belong anywhere near country - although since when has that stopped them before - basically playing in the middle ground between OneRepublic's better material and Frank Turner's more anthemic cuts from his last album, and as such it's pretty enjoyable. The songwriting is nothing special - he feels brand new and revived when he's with his girl - and the production feels too slick to really give those guitars any muscle to fill out the background, but the quicker pace of the percussion, the backing organ on the final hook, and Rector's exuberance does a lot to push this into good territory for me, even if it does end pretty abruptly. It's not really a great track, but it is good, and for the most part, I'd take it.

85. 'Bored To Death' by blink-182 - you know, I've been getting a fairly continuous string of requests to cover California by blink-182, so let me get this out of the way: I've never really cared about this band. Hate to say it but I wasn't really listening to a lot of pop punk in the late 90s, and while I heard the big singles like everyone else, I never developed the connection to the band that so many kids around my age did. It's not that I didn't like them - the big singles from Enema Of The State mostly hold up - but when they went on hiatus and then reformed and then Tom DeLonge left the band, I didn't really care. So with this being their biggest hit since 2011... can I say this isn't really doing anything for me and just move on? The only thing with any edge or spark is Travis Barker's drumwork, because someone decided to throw a thin synth gloss over all of the guitar with further mutes their lack of greater bite, and it's not like Matt Skiba is adding that much as a co-frontman here. As for the lyrics - the best thing about it is the dick joke in the hook, because everything else about the writing feels tired and drained, where even on the bridge he phones in the encounter with the girl. And while some fans are trying to interpret this song as being about when Tom left... yeah, that's one hell of a stretch, especially when it's more likely it's about a disillusioned guy trying to hook up and not wanting to see the same cycle go over and over again. And sure, there's a place for music like that, but blink-182 used to at least have a knack for making their angst connect, and it doesn't happen here. I'll appreciate Travis Barker, but like most blink-182 songs, at the end of the day I just don't care.

34. 'M.I.L.F.$' by Fergie - I feel like I hear about the controversy on these 'hits' before I actually hear the song itself, this song being the newest comeback and lead-off single for Fergie's long-delayed second solo album after 'L.A. Love' was discarded - and thank god for that, that DJ Mustard-produced 'Rack City'-ripoff annoyed the hell out of me. But this... I literally do not know where to start here, half because it's one of those tracks that seems on the precipice of being such a disaster it turns around to become at least interesting. Now part of this is perspective: if you go back and listen to most of Fergie's hits from the mid-2000s, you're dealing with a lot of garbage, and there's a part of me that'd rather listen to this than 'London Bridge' or 'Clumsy' or even 'Fergalicious'. But that's not excusing the fact this song is a disaster, a misshapen pileup of noise that feels part 'Milkshake' by Kelis, part that godawful Webbie song I covered earlier this year with The Double Agent as a part of our Worst Hit Songs of 2008 - did not see that comeback - part 'A$$' by Big Sean, all of it swamped in droning bass, clattering and squealing sound effects, and a chipmunk voice to round it all out! So why don't I hate this track more? Well, it might be the bridge, where Fergie drops into this raw soulful shout that shoots right past the obnoxiousness of the rest of the song partially thanks to the backing vocals... and then the song has no idea how to pay any of it off and sputters out, not even reaching three minutes. And that's probably the biggest reason why this song doesn't hit that 'So Bad It's Good' territory, along with the lyrics being so ratchet it's painful and Fergie trying to push the MILF concept into comically overdone territory. For now... I don't really hate this, but I can imagine if it gets extended traction I'll get sick of it in record time.

But what this means when it comes down to best and worst, it's not getting worst of the week. I'm giving that to 'Lockjaw' by French Montana and Kodak Black for having no redeeming qualities whatsoever, at least 'M.I.L.F.$' had that bridge. As for the best... again, not really any standouts, but I'm giving it to Logic over Ben Rector for that second verse and outro really having some punch and showing that he is indeed capable of doing more if given the opportunities. Let's hope the summer lull gets broken soon, I'm not sure how much more of this I can take.

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