Thursday, September 8, 2016

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - september 17, 2016

So let me give you all a quick recap of my past few days. I get home from vacation, put up my big recap video, get ready to set up the Travis Scott review and then Billboard BREAKDOWN today... and then my editing computer loses multiple cores and experiences systemic hard drive failure. Now I've been having computer troubles for the past few weeks so I knew this was coming - hell, I've got a new machine in transit right now - but given the insane album release schedule of the next few weeks, I was hoping to save the transition for a slower period and not have to work with a machine that's on its last legs. No such luck - hell, I'm just thankful Billboard BREAKDOWN seems a little slower this week, giving me a little more time to prepare for the shift.

But whatever, you don't care about my tech issues, let's get into the top ten... and even despite a lackluster VMA performance, 'Closer' by The Chainsmokers and Halsey doesn't seem to be going anywhere. The sales are monstrous, it rules streaming and YouTube... the only category it isn't dominating yet is airplay, and given how fast its rising, it's only a matter of time. Shame I don't like the song more, but it looks like it's going to stick around, especially given its competition is wilting away. 'Cold Water' by Major Lazer, Justin Bieber and M0 is making an effort with stronger airplay and considerable streaming, but it's not close enough to approach YouTube or sales. And below that, it stops being close: 'Heathens' by twenty one pilots might have better sales which took it to #3, but without more streaming or airplay - to say nothing of slipping YouTube - I don't see it getting higher. And then we hit 'Cheap Thrills' by Sia and Sean Paul at #4, which is finally slipping on airplay and yet has lost enough streaming, sales, and YouTube to reflect its downward trajectory. Hell, it might even get passed by 'Don't Let Me Down' by The Chainsmokers ft. Daya, which picked up thanks to a brief streaming revival that only barely conceals both airplay and sales weakness. Granted, with 'This Is What You Came For' by Calvin Harris ft. Rihanna also weak in sales and streaming and losing airplay hard, you can tell it's only at #6 thanks to plenty of YouTube. Similar case for 'Ride' by twenty one pilots, which slid to #7 as airplay and streaming drops mirror its weak sales. It could be facing competition from 'Treat You Better' by Shawn Mendes, which actually has momentum across the board... just not quite enough to rise above #8 at the moment. It was enough to jump 'One Dance' by Drake ft. Kyla & Wizkid at #9, which is basically being propped up by streaming and radio inertia and nothing else - it's on the cusp of falling harder and its only a matter of time. Finally, re-entering the top 10 we have 'Needed Me' by Rihanna, which oddly seemed to pick up a small second wind this week only to slip away to balance with sales and streaming... but again, I don't see it lasting.

And on that promising note, our losers and dropouts! In the latter category... well, if you discount the slew of songs from Frank Ocean that vanished off their debut, the one big dropout was 'Love Yourself' by Justin Bieber making its long-overdue exit - not really complaining here, even if the song did grow on me a little bit. Our losers on the other hand are a considerably bigger mixed bag: on the one hand, I'm not complaining Kehlani lost all the Suicide Squad momentum with 'Gangsta' falling to 54, or that 'Wicked' by Future fell hard to 86, but the rest? Most of this is a factor of country radio rotating tracks off after fifteen weeks, which meant 'Church Bells' by Carrie Underwood fell to 99, 'From The Ground Up' by Dan + Shay fell to 60, and most sadly, 'Record Year' by Eric Church fell hard to 91. Then 'You Don't Own Me' by Grace and G-Eazy lost all of its Suicide Squad momentum to 75 - it's really been all over the place this year - and then after returning last week, 'Cool Girl' by Tove Lo collapsed to 100 - joy.

Granted, when we look at our gains and returning entries... I'm even more confused. For some bizarre reason 'Famous' by Kanye West ft. Rihanna and Swizz Beatz is back yet again at 90 - not a bad song, so I'm okay with that - but then with our gains... again, very much a mixed bag. The big boost came to 'Make Me...' by Britney Spears ft. G-Eazy up to 17, but that's driven off of the album, I predict a major drop soon, but the rest are just... well, odd. The one consistent gain came for 'In The Name Of Love' by Martin Garrix ft. Bebe Rexa at 57 - solid boost, solid song, I'm on board - and 'Chill Bill' by Rob $tone, J. Davi$ & Spooks got another quiet boost up to 65. But when you compare that to 'Mama Said' by Lukas Graham annoying the piss out of me up to 36, or the bland emptiness of 'Too Much Sauce' by DJ ESCO, Future & Lil Uzi Vert up to 82, or that overdone disaster of 'Move' by Luke Bryan up to 89 coming in for the fall... ugh, not good. Thankfully, right above it at 88 is 'I Met A Girl' by William Michael Morgan, easily one of the most promising talents for mainstream country I've heard in a while, so I have some hope that country's push for a more neotraditional sound might gain a little more traction.

And yet when I look at some of our new arrivals... eh, you'll see in a second. Let's start with...

97. 'I Know Somebody' by LoCash - so does anybody remember these guys? They had a decent-sized hit last year on the country charts with 'I Love This Life' that did okay on the Billboard Hot 100 but really wasn't anything good courtesy of production that was way too slick and generic lyrics? Well, they actually dropped an album last June that included that song and their newest single 'I Know Somebody'... well, it's got all the same issues as 'I Love This Life'. A prominent fake drum machine and handclap, cheap inorganic production, and nothing with any muscle or punch to match the otherwise okay vocals. Even the lyrical sentiment feels generic - he knows somebody to give this girl a good time, and guess who it is? And you know, I think I'm going to start coming down harder on this sort of thing - some critics are giving it a pass for 'stretching country's boundaries', but when we have a solid core starting to reemerge, even in the mainstream, there's no excuse for something this thin - pass.

95. 'Scars To Your Beautiful' by Alessia Cara - god, I wish I could root more for Alessia Cara. Go way back to late last year when she released 'Here' and that song has a fair amount of personality in the writing, even if that personality was antisocial and occasionally tough to like. And yet even though I liked 'Wild Things', it wasn't striking enough to stand out and you could see her audience abandoning her for Daya - who for the record is markedly worse. Thankfully, she tilts towards her sharper writing with 'Scars To Your Beautiful', a song that tackles self-image and isn't afraid to get a little darker into both anorexia and self-harm and her perceived inability to match that image. And there are some potent lines here like 'she prays to be sculpted by the sculptor'. I just wish I could praise the instrumentation as much, because the oily underlying warble against the blocky percussion and snap already is starting to feel dated, especially as it doesn't give any instrumental melody line more swell. Look, I'm rooting for Alessia Cara... but as I said when I reviewed Know-It-All, I really do wish I liked this more.

87. 'Wyclef Jean' by Young Thug - at this point, I have no idea how to feel about Young Thug. I think my biggest issue is that for as much as he can be an interesting performer, his actual content or production is rarely as weird or fascinating enough to draw my interest - a lot of image and personality, not a lot beneath it. In any case, he dropped a new mixtape called JEFFERY that has been getting rave reviews, and I figured I might as well dig into the lead-off single that's not 'Pick Up The Phone', called 'Wyclef Jean' - although, bizarrely, it's not the actual song that features Wyclef on this album. And this... okay, this is closer to a Young Thug track I might see myself liking, mostly because it gets a little kookier all around. The lyrics aren't much to write home about, but the interrupted sex in the first verse is kind of funny and I was amused that Young Thug was bragging more about his kids' success than his own on a pretty decent flow. What I think I enjoyed more was the production - diving straight into reggae with the prominent guitar, liquid bass, more textured percussion to augment the trap beat, and those cute horn embellishments. So look, I'm not sure I'm ever going to be a fan of this guy... but this isn't bad, and catch me at the right moment I might even say I like it. Next!

85. 'Ooouuu' by Young M.A. - another week, another generic trap-leaning banger, this time from up-and-coming Brooklyn MC Young M.A., with this being her biggest buzzing single. And really, it's not a good sign when the fact that the novelty of her being an openly lesbian rapper might be the most interesting element of this song, because I really didn't get a lot out of this, partially because outside of pretty decent hazy production with a grainy beat, rough ebbing synths, and shouts, there's not a lot to the content or punchlines that really stood out to me. Really, what became more distracting was how so much of the very same hookup bars translate coming from a female perspective, with lazy jokes, Bobby Shmurda references, and a vocal improvisation for the title. All the more proof that regardless of sex or orientation, you can still get mediocre bangers - and if that's not progressive, I don't know what is.

71. 'Grass Ain't Greener' by Chris Brown - you know, I'm starting to think that outside of guest hooks, the world might finally be getting sick of Chris Brown. Given that I had already covered Fan Of A Fan with Jon from ARTV last year, I completely skipped over his album Royalty, and as such the most news I heard about him this year was a stand-off with police and a few guest appearances... or Bryson Tiller sounding just like him, one or the other. In any case, this was intended as the lead-off single released in May... and the fact it's taken this long to chart is telling, really only on the Hot 100 because of the video dropping. And... look, I can appreciate that Chris Brown has embraced his full douchebag nature on songs like this, but am I really supposed like a song where he's complaining about his side bitch moving on, especially on the rap verse where it paints this girl as the scheming golddigger counting his money, drinking his booze, and taking the condom off to ensure child support? It's ugly, not helped by sloppy pitch correction trying to shove Brown's voice on tune. That said, if I were to compliment anything about this song, the distant twinkle of the melody against the skittering trap snare and 808 isn't bad, and the hook does stick with you, but it still feels gross. I get why this wasn't a hit, and I could easily do without.

56. 'May We All' by Florida Georgia Line ft. Tim McGraw - so I didn't really touch on Florida Georgia Line's big follow-up collaboration off their newest album Dig Your Roots either while on vacation or in the recap - mostly because the Backstreet Boys collaboration kind of overshadowed it. But that's also because this is an incredibly frustrating track - sure, Tim McGraw sounds fine enough and there's a decent underlying guitar melody anchoring the song, but it's also a song with the thinnest trap snare running through the background, a liquid guitar tone that feels completely swamped in a mix trying for depth and failing miserably, and did I mention the overmixed percussion? And then there's the lyrics... 'play the Travis Tritt right above the 2Pac', are you kidding? It's a song that worships small towns but feels so jumbled and lacking specifics that any sort of homegrown connection goes right out the window with the nonexistent warmth in the mix. In the end, it just feels cold, stiff, overmixed, and painfully calculated - pass.

31. 'Side To Side' by Ariana Grande ft. Nicki Minaj - I've said in the past that I'm a big fan of Nicki Minaj and Ariana Grande collaborating - Nicki operates as the cool, controlled older sister that's a great counterpart to Ariana's girlish exuberance. And while I still think 'Get On Your Knees' might be the best example of their chemistry, I enjoyed this a lot too. Granted, those gummy reggae guitars playing off the low gurgling bass with the sharper percussion and slight horn touches manage to play well against the deeper mix pretty well, with only a synth on the final chorus that feels unnecessary. And while Ariana doesn't quite use the restraint that works for her best material, she does handle the reggae production pretty well, especially against Nicki's frigid verse. As for the content... well, let's just say it's surprisingly filthy coming from Ariana when you know what walking 'side to side' really means, or that Nicki actually took out more explicit lyrics on her verse that could have pushed this song even filthier. But the funny thing is that for as much as this song is about Ariana getting all of the penis with her paramour, it's really a track that coasts on raw ego - who cares if she's feeling a little sore, she and Nicki are the ones who are really in charge here. Again, I think I might like 'Get On Your Knees' a little more, but right now Ariana Grande is one of the few artists on the Hot 100 who has produced consistently likable pop music this year, so if this sticks around... hell, I'm on board.

So yeah, bit of a mixed week, but overall I'd say above average. For the best... Ariana and Nicki run away with it for 'Side To Side', but I'm going to stick with the reggae theme and give Honourable Mention to 'Wyclef Jean' by Young Thug - hey, it kind of grew on me! As for the worst... yeah, Chris Brown gets it again with 'Grass Ain't Greener', but Dishonourable Mention is going to 'May We All' by Florida Georgia Line, for completely wasting Tim McGraw and that godawful Travis Tritt and 2Pac, both whom could handily kick their asses, even from beyond the grave! Well, stay tuned for next week, where I expect things to get even more busy as the albums start tumbling out - we're in the final months of the year, it's going to get busy.


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  2. Thanks for the review, Mark. Noticed that you removed your video. Just asking, what do you think about Jordan Fisher? Yeah I know, this is sudden but I want to know.
    Also what do you think about the bubbling under chart? There are some good songs there