Tuesday, August 9, 2016

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - august 20, 2016

So I can't be the only one who thinks that the charts are a little unstable right now, am I? Now that the summer lull has faded for good, we might not have gotten many new songs this week but it doesn't shake the feeling it's only a matter of time before everything is thrown into chaos. Keep in mind that we still have a solid fourteen weeks left - there are songs that could debut in the next few weeks that'll make the year end list, and if they debut higher they'll need even less time.

And really, the time is ripe for that because we've got a pretty weak top ten right now. Sure, 'Cheap Thrills' has the top spot for another week - somehow - thanks to dominating airplay and solid enough sales and streaming, but it's not incredibly strong in either category. 'One Dance' by Drake ft. Kyla & Wizkid went back to #2 thanks to streaming dominance, even as both sales and airplay have continued to fall off, and 'This Is What You Came For' by Calvin Harris & Rihanna isn't far behind thanks to massive YouTube and airplay, although sales and streaming took considerable hits. The big sales leader continues to be 'Can't Stop The Feeling' by Justin Timberlake at #4, and sure, it continues to have lousy streaming and airplay is declining, but it isn't quite declining as fast as its competition, which is pretty interesting. Then we have what I thought would be a serious contender for #1, 'Cold Water' by Major Lazer, Justin Bieber and M0, but it actually slid back to #5, as it was muscled back on sales and streaming and while it has YouTube traction, it didn't quite pick up enough airplay fast enough to save it from falling. And it didn't fall harder because 'Don't Let Me Down' by The Chainsmokers ft. Daya is starting to lose traction in its own right, holding at #6 thanks to a slight YouTube boost to balance against weakening sales, airplay, and streaming. Then we have 'Ride' by twenty one pilots at #7... and I don't know if this song is stable or just can't get any momentum, because it was mostly static on airplay and sales, only slipping a bit on streaming... and yet not enough to counteract 'Needed Me' by Rihanna, which also spent the week in airplay limbo, with its streaming still compensating for crap sales, although I wouldn't rely on that for long. Much of that is because of our new Top Ten entry at #9: 'Closer' by The Chainsmokers ft. Halsey. I'll get into the song proper much later, but let's say it's here because of absolutely dominant sales and extremely strong streaming, with even a bit of YouTube trying to compensate with radio struggling to catch up... and I'm not seeing a lot of momentum there yet, so I'm not sure how long it'll last. Finally, we have 'Send My Love (To Your New Lover)' by Adele pushed back to #10 - it might have happened anyway thanks to rough sales and even worse streaming, but it somehow still has radio momentum, and I don't see it dropping out unless that stops.

But on that note, let's consider our losers and dropouts, and the only one in the latter category that anyone will care about is 'Light It Up' by Major Lazer & Nyla, which never got higher than 73 but still lasted a full twenty weeks on the charts. The losers are a much more interesting story, mostly because there were a lot of them. First, you have the complete non-starters: 'Vice' by Miranda Lambert continues down to 71, 'Make Me' by Britney Spears follows its ridiculous video down to 67, and 'Purple Lamborghini' by Skrillex and Rick Ross crashes into a brick wall at 90 - compared to other Suicide Squad tracks, that's not a good sign. Then you have the cases where momentum has abruptly run out, providing it was there to begin with: 'Wherever I Go' by OneRepublic continues its downward slide to 91, 'THat Part' by ScHoolboy Q and Kanye West is abruptly stopped at 51, and the bad week for Kanye continues as 'Famous' ft. Rihanna and Swizz Beats tumbles hard to 89. And last we have the songs that are reaching the end of their cycles naturally and will be gone very soon: 'Dangerous Woman' by Ariana Grande fell to 48, 'Close' by Nick Jonas ft. Tove Lo dropped away to 64, and 'All The Way Up' by Fat Joe, Remy Ma, and French Montana went all the way down to 65.

But don't worry, fan of French Montana, he's easily one of the two big stories when it comes to our gains and returning entries this week... because thanks to the video, he and Drake took 'No Shopping' up to 36. At this point, can somebody just ether Drake and be done with it - Kendrick, Eminem, I don't care who - because this is past the point of overexposure and now just getting obnoxious, especially as with each lazy guest verse Drake seems to be getting worse! Thankfully, most of the rest of the gains are a lot more tolerable, with probably the worst being 'Sucker For Pain' by Lil Wayne and his posse, which got the boost from Suicide Squad. Outside of that... well, 'Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1' by Kanye and Kid Cudi got a bit of a boost to 83 off the re-entry, 'American Country Love Song' by Jake Owen picks up momentum off his album drop to 56, and 'This Girl' by Kungs & Cookin' On 3 Burners got a welcome boost to 77 off its debut, which is a good sign! Most welcome of all, 'Lush Life' by Zara Larsson came back bigger than ever to 75 - it might be a tad too late for it to gain much momentum, as I'm not seeing a lot of traction, but hey, we can hope, right?

And since we have another sparse week of new arrivals, so in the spirit of previous World Hits doing well, let's break out another, shall we?

So normally you can predict a song's crossover potential in the US by the UK or Canada getting the song first - and yet this one strangely seems to have made no traction on either chart. It's gone to #1 in four countries across Europe, and yet it hasn't picked up greater momentum elsewhere - and trust me, if you've seen what's bubbling just beneath the Hot 100, you'd be praying for something like this, because it's easily one of the most sleek and potent, surefire smashes I've heard in a while. First, a bit of background: Imany is a French pop artist who made a pretty solid splash five years ago with her debut album, but it was a splash that didn't quite leave Europe, and even this track took a well-timed remix to truly blow up. But I'm thrilled it did: the sandy tropical percussion plays well off the tight low synth and sharp beat, and that horn-like melody between verses really does stick in your head surprisingly well. But Imany is the real star here: underplaying in her lower range to intensify the sensuality that comes as the mix drops out to let her command it. Sure, the lyrics aren't more than a set of directions to get naked and make love, but with that slight trembling warble in Imany's vocals, it feels all the more intense - you don't need more than that! So yeah, this song rules, please let it cross over to the US - we could some quality right now.

But now to our new arrivals, starting with...

97. 'Chill Bill' by Rob $tone ft. J. Davi$ & Spooks - another week on Billboard BREAKDOWN, another mediocre trap banger... except this time, there might actually be something here. Of course the most obvious component is that whistle, originally sampled from a 1968 film score composed by Bernard Hermann - who worked with Hitchcock - by Tarantino for Kill Bill, before being resampled by dozens of other sources. And really, it makes this song stick in the brain probably more than any of the three rappers or the bog-standard trap beat does. Now that's not saying San Diego rapper Rob $tone or his posse are precisely bad - their bars at least connect, I appreciate the references of ditching lean for weed - even if J.Davi$ doesn't exactly follow suit - and Spooks easily steals the show with the most well-connected bars - but overall it feels maybe a bit too low-key to really catch on or go further. I'd definitely take this over most of the terrible hip-hop we've got clogging up the radio right now... but not by much.

96. 'Starving' by Hailee Steinfeld & Grey ft. Zedd - so it's been a while since we've heard from Hailee Steinfeld, but I'm not surprised by this. 'Love Myself' dropped last year in a summer overloaded with self-esteem anthems, and while I'd probably take it over Rachel Platten's 'Fight Song', it still wore on my nerves enough that I didn't miss it. And when 'Rock Bottom' with DNCE lived up to its title and didn't make the Hot 100 after the first re-release of her debut EP, she re-released a second time about a month ago with this new song, featuring Zedd for the remix. And while the name might get this song more traction, I can't say his contributions make this song anything close to good - we get a decent liquid guitar line anchoring the melody against the fragmented edges of percussion that actually feels brighter than any emotion Steinfeld is bringing to the table... but then we get the pitch-shifted post-chorus with the choppy synth and strings and the song completely loses any impact for me. It's garish, it doesn't remotely fit this sort of song about young love, and if Steinfeld was capable of emoting more, it wouldn't be here. Not precisely bad, but definitely not good either.

84. 'Holy Key' by DJ Khaled ft. Big Sean, Kendrick Lamar & Betty Wright - of all of the DJ Khaled songs to break off of Major Key, this is the best thus far by a mile. The blurry guitars don't quite have the depth to really mesh well with the thinner trap beat, and no, I don't really like Big Sean, but I will admit his verse is much better than average, even if there are moments of clumsiness as he tries to get more conscious and a few ridiculous bars as he tries to prolong his life. But the second Betty Wright brings her full-throated powerhouse of a voice to play to lead into Kendrick Lamar... it's like what happened with 'Control', they aren't even in the same ballpark. Kendrick's verse is layered, ridiculously well-crafted, and while it features his constant struggle between spiritual transcendence and a world that would seek to drag him back, especially the industry that would try and contort his message, the sentiment that if Kendrick wants to rule hip-hop, he remains trapped in that matrix. Yeah, this song was solid back when I covered it last week, it's just as solid now. Perhaps not the most pop-ready track and I don't expect it to stick around if 'Do You Mind' starts picking up any traction, but I'll definitely enjoy it while it's here.

29. 'Setting The World On Fire' by Kenny Chesney ft. Pink - you know, it doesn't happen often, but I miss the days when country music could cross over onto the pop charts without compromising. Of course, the stuff that always got biggest was the more accessible material, but the unnatural bubble of bro-country gave the genre a taste of 'mainstream success' that they've been increasingly desperate to recapture. Thankfully, there's a rising tide of artists who have stood against that, but on the flipside, the newest gimmick mainstream acts are trying is collaboration, rope in a pop or hip-hop collaboration to ride higher - after all, it worked for 'Cruise'! Now to be fair, there are crossovers that work - despite some sloppy mixing, that Brad Paisley and Demi Lovato collaboration 'Without A Fight' had some potential, and Pink's even closer to country than Demi through that folk project she did with City In Colour. Unfortunately, Kenny Chesney is following in the path of Keith Urban to complete pop rock sellout with the heavier drum machine and droopy synths, and you can tell Pink doesn't remotely care about this, even though she probably deserves more of the billing as he handles the majority of the choruses! Yeah, the guitars on the hook have some muscle that had the potential to rise to a soaring chorus, but nothing that actually happens in the song or either of their deliveries match it - they're getting drunk, high, and rowdy, that's not exactly material to set the world on fire here! But at the end of the day... eh, it's passable, but only barely, and again, Pink is capable of so much better.

9. 'Closer' by The Chainsmokers ft. Halsey - so 2016 has been a really good year for The Chainsmokers, with this song being their third top ten hit, but they're also developing a bit of a reputation for taking otherwise disposable pop artists and getting better than expected performances from them. ROZES wouldn't have gotten any traction without her titular track, and 'Don't Let Me Down' is easily the best thing Daya has ever touched, so now The Chainsmokers are taking on a bigger challenge: Halsey, who only ever becomes interesting when her songs are atrocious. She was behind that absolutely humiliating disaster 'New Americana', which remains one of the worst written songs I've ever covered on Billboard BREAKDOWN - in other words, The Chainsmokers had their work cut out for them. And yet I'm not sure Halsey was the issue here - she's a non-presence on this song as The Chainsmokers themselves decide to step in front of the microphone... and man, I'm not sure this was a good idea, mostly because Andrew Taggart's vocal are just as thin, especially when they layer the falsetto over the main chorus and it just gets shrill, not helped at all by that oily synth tone that repeats the same melody line from a cushion of chimes, snaps, and cymbal-heavy percussion. Yeah, the piano playing countermelody is pretty, but I really want to dig into the lyrics, because there's a fair bit going on as this is intended as a song for a hookup with an ex that you run into randomly. And there have been plenty of songs that play in this territory, but midway through this song you get the feeling that the Chainsmokers are also trying to wedge in social commentary about spoiled girls faking the broke college life along the lines of what Pulp did better twenty years ago with 'Common People'. But the framing is what completely throws this song out of wack for me: it's a song where the hook is trying to recapture that moment in time where they thought they could live forever but every detail is needling this girl with how inauthentic and spoiled she is - and worse still, she's taking all of it, because she was the 'insane' one for leaving this dick! And for as much as the writers say they were intending for a vaguely comedic tone as they realize all the reasons they broke up in the first place... well, just like on '#Selfie', there's no punchline here, and it instead rings as the sort of revenge fantasy about getting dumped by a rich girl in college where she comes crawling back years later. And there's a place for those sort of tracks - Avril Lavigne's 'Sk8r Boi' is the biggest example, although I'd throw in 'Lone Star' by Lori McKenna - but by adding Halsey in, it undercuts the vicious catharsis and just feels misaligned. In short, I appreciate what this song is trying to do, but man, there's a lot of miscalculation here.

In other words, it shouldn't be any surprise that 'Closer 'by The Chainsmokers ft. Halsey lands the worst of the week, although I would say it's less bad than confused, trying for something more complex and missing the landing. That, combined with the synth build-up on the hook just grating on my nerves is why it gets there, but Chainsmokers songs do occasionally grow on me, so if that happens... I dunno, put in 'Starving' by Hailee Steinfeld, Grey and Zedd. As for the best.. hell, that's easy, 'Holy Key' by DJ Khaled ft. Big Sean, Kendrick Lamar, and Betty Wright, although the world hit is a tempting option too. Overall, not a bad week, but as things go forward, I get the feeling anything could happen.

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