Tuesday, October 4, 2016

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - october 15, 2016

So after this week we're now in the final seven weeks of the Billboard year - which yes, ends in November - the last chances for songs to snag spots on the year-end Billboard Hot 100 list, which like it or not can serve as a pretty definitive historical record of this year in pop music. And thus for me, who uses that year-end chart as a strict guideline for tracking my best and worst hits of the year, this is where the horse race starts to get tight indeed. And given that 2016 has been such a dumpster fire of a year for pop music, it's more of a desperate hope that a few long gone songs hold their place and a few new arrivals rack up enough presence fast enough.

And the best place to consider that is in our top ten, especially considering that these placements tend to be weighted more heavily at the year end. Of course 'Closer' by The Chainsmokers & Halsey is going to make it at #1, given its dominance across every category at this point, and even though my patience is wearing thin on 'Heathens' by twenty one pilots, it'll make the list too, as airplay growth is not slowing down and even though it slipped a bit on streaming and sales it's still got real presence. But it's got some stark competition from our big new Top 10 arrival: 'Starboy' by The Weeknd ft. Daft Punk rocketed up to #3. Now this is where timing and volumes become important, because currently the song is here on huge streaming, respectable YouTube, solid sales, and some better-than-expected airplay traction, but not quite enough radio to be a solid challenge for 'Heathens'. We'll need to see if the momentum continues for the next few weeks because it's not close to challenging 'Closer' yet, but if that song fades, 'Starboy' could claw its way onto the year end list in 2016, albeit barely, analogous to what Kesha's 'Die Young' did back in late 2012. Of course, this throws 'Cold Water' by Major Lazer, Justin Bieber & M0 into, well, cold water because it looked like it peaked in airplay this week, and struggling sales and streaming are not good signs, even though it'll easily nab that year end spot. 'Let Me Love You' by DJ Snake and Justin Bieber probably will as well - even though it slid to #5, it's got decent airplay momentum, good streaming, and solid sales. Then we have 'Treat You Better' by Shawn Mendes, which despite being awful remains at #6 thanks to Illuminate going to #1 on the Billboard 200, which gave it enough of an airplay boost along a bit of streaming and YouTube traction to compensate for weakening sales. I can't say the same for 'Cheap Thrills' by Sia & Sean Paul, which slid to #7 as it lost the airplay peak and only is here thanks to inertia, probably not for much longer. This puts it up against 'Broccoli' by D.R.A.M. ft. Lil Yachty which held #8 - not impressive sales or any YouTube here, but streaming is massive and it actually has a bit of radio traction. Which is something 'Don't Let Me Down' by The Chainsmokers ft. Daya doesn't have, as it fell to #9 thanks to bleeding in all categories, especially sales. Finally, we've got Calvin Harris and Rihanna still clinging to #10 with 'This Is What You Came For', basically on the back of whatever's left of its airplay and that it remains a YouTube powerhouse, which can be a factor when it comes to extending a song's staying power.

And on that topic, losers and dropouts! In the latter category, we've got a mixed bag, the biggest being '7 Years' by Lukas Graham. Unlike our other dropouts 'My PYT' by Wale, 'You Don't Own Me' by Grace ft. G-Eazy, and 'Lockjaw' by French Montana & Kodak Black, it'll likely make our year-end list... and honestly, I'm okay with that, as I don't hate it nearly as much as some people do. It's just a shame that so many of our losers are actually songs I like a fair bit, with the worst being Lukas Graham's other 'hit' 'Mama Said' falling hard to 73. Beyond that, 'You Look Like I Need A Drink' by Justin Moore lost all its gains to fall to 99, 'All In My Head (Flex)' by Fifth Harmony ft. Fetty Wap fell to 77 - if it makes the year-end list, it'll be scraping by - 'Peter Pan' by Kelsea Ballerini fell to 69 - if this gets in it'll be a miracle - 'Never Be Like You' by Flume ft. Kai dropped to 48 - a song where I've never understood the appeal - and the collaboration hit 'Forever Country' dipped off its big debut to 34 as the sales eased back. Most depressing of all are the continued losses for Lady Gaga's 'Perfect Illusion', which fell hard again to 59 - another sad example of pop divas flopping on their comeback.

And I'll say this: I'd much prefer Lady Gaga's stab at electro-rock than some of our gains this week. Yes, the returning entries aren't bad: I like Tove Lo's 'Cool Girl' and I'm happy it's back to 98, and 'Mercy' by Shawn Mendes, while being overwrought really is the best song off of Illuminate and I've got no issue with it back to 68 off the album. But outside of the big gain for 'Starboy' breaking the top five, the rest of our gains are far from good. You know it's a bad sign when the best of them is 'Black Beatles' by Rae Sremmurd - yes, it's their best song, but it's not a great track and I'm not sure why it picked up so much momentum to 41. But beyond that, 'OOOUUU' by Young M.A. went to 36 - apparently my prediction that it would die didn't come true, more's the pity - 'Caroline' by Amine went up to 52 for no adequately explained reason, and most gratingly, 'Move' by Luke Bryan went up to 61. Country radio, you just had William Michael Morgan hit #1 - that's a step in the right direction, you're under no obligation to keep giving Luke Bryan hits, especially when he's just ripping off himself!

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

95. 'CRZY' by Kehlani - you know, there's a part of me that's a little peeved that the first snapshot the mainstream got of Kehlani was that song 'Gangsta' from Suicide Squad, mostly because it was a lousy song and didn't nearly showcase Kehlani's potential, which if you've followed her mixtapes and guest appearances is pretty considerable. But I can't deny that 'Gangsta' probably gave her enough buzz to land this song here... and man, I wish I liked it more. The wiry synths, sharper punch of the beat against the distant gloss of the synth, most of the content of the verses where she's reclaiming her narrative... but if you saw my AlunaGeorge review you'll probably remember that I said so many artists are obviously trying to sound like Rihanna, and with this song Kehlani falls into that trap. The elongated syllables on the hook, the choppy flow and repetition of words and fragments, the more nasal tones, it's sadly pretty obvious, especially on the second verse. Now Kehlani has more control of her delivery and doesn't slip off key the same way Rihanna can, but she also doesn't have that immediately palpable charisma in the same way, and I have to question if dropping into this lane is the best choice for her. As it is... not really a bad song, but not quite a great one either.

94. 'Capsize' by Frenship & Emily Warren - so if you follow the world charts, you'd probably notice that most electronic hits tend to pick up their traction in Europe before crossing over to the Hot 100, even if the artists are American. Such was the case for the electronic duo Frenship, who teamed up with songwriter Emily Warren - who has been the cowriter behind some of the better songs recently from Jessie J, Melanie Martinez, and even The Chainsmokers with 'Don't Let Me Down' - to deliver this track. Interestingly, while it has charted around the world it has not broken the top ten anywhere as of yet... and I kind of get why, as it it's a bit of a slow burner. The tropical percussion might have a lot of jingling texture but the rattle, sandy effects and echoing claps doesn't totally obscure a pretty solid underlying melody in the keys and an oddly gummy post-chorus flutter, and though I wouldn't say Frenship or Emily Warren have a lot of chemistry, they do balance each other fairly well on this breakup aftermath track, where it sounds like things happened entirely too fast and they're both left in the emotional wreckage of it all, with plenty of lingering attraction. I'm not going to say it's as immediately likable as other tropical house tracks I've heard this year, but if this got bigger... yeah, I'd be okay with that.

92. 'Song For Another Time' by Old Dominion - so I've been on the record as not remotely being an Old Dominion fan - 'Break Up With Him' was only a shade more tolerable than Shawn Mendes' 'Treat You Better' and just as badly framed, and 'Snapback' was overproduced bro-country junk. And yet a friend of mine who loves country has defended this song repeatedly and so I vowed to give it a fair chance... and sure, it's better than either of those two songs, but I still have a hard time liking this. I could go on about how so much of the percussion feels painfully thin and fake, especially on the verses and the transition into the melody of the hook feels really clumsily blended, but the real gimmick of this song is how so much of it references other classic songs in order to describe the fleeting connection these two have before she has to leave. And sure, that sort of gimmick can work - both 'Best Song Ever' by One Direction and 'Shut Up And Dance' by Walk The Moon were a little more abstract with it but operate on a similar emotional principle. But maybe abstraction was the way to go with this, because for every classic song Old Dominion reference, I'm reminded of how much more I'd be enjoying them instead of this thin, Family Guy-esque reference bait. So yeah, I get the appeal of this, but you don't magically get the sentiment and emotional power of all of those songs just because you shout them out, guys.

89. 'HandClap' by Fitz & The Tantrums - okay, time for a confession: yes, I've seen all of you who have been asking that I cover this band at some point, and for the most part, I've been skeptical. It's not that I haven't heard these guys - their first album wasn't bad and they do have a knack for making catchy hooks, but that's about where my praise ends, because Fitz & The Tantrums remain one of the most formless and generic groups ever to pump out commercial jingles next to X Ambassadors. It has literally reached the point where I can't associate 'The Walker' with anything beyond a commercial that I can't even remember, and considering how badly their self-titled record was panned this year, I had no expectations this was going to be any good, although it was singled out as the one real highlight from that record. Thankfully, this is actually a pretty decent song, mostly courtesy of a potent, sinuous bassline that leads into some solid swell on the hook driven by the horn melody.. and man, I wish I could say more about it. There's no real bridge to crank up the bombast, frontman Michael Fitzpatrick doesn't nearly get enough room to belt - and keep in mind this guy can sound like Darryl Hall when he wants to - and the lyrics are hookup banter that has flash but no actual punch, mostly because the main line of the hook is 'I can make your hands clap'. Hell, with the build-up to the horn instrumental, the song structure feels like it was imported from modern electronic music, and feels nearly as underwritten. And look, I know that sounds harsh for a song that'll probably end up being one of the best of this week... but if we're getting this from the alternative charts and not getting KONGOS, which take a similar eclectic blend of sounds and do it better, we're getting shortchanged, that's all I'm saying.

63. 'This Town' by Niall Horan - we should have all seen this coming. As soon as Zayn made his big solo debut, it was only going to be a matter of time before the other members of One Direction struck out on their own. I am surprised that Niall was the second out of the gate, though - both Liam and Louis have far more writing credits and Harry Styles at one point had been considered the breakout talent. But Niall looked to be going in a very different direction with this song, pulling in Greg Kurstin on production and opting for more of an acoustic folk direction with sparse piano and strings accents. And make no mistake, this is a pretty decent song - for one, Niall is actually capable of subtlety and underplaying this sort of lingering melancholy without it sinking into jealousy, and the writing plays to the same too-close small town sentiment that Sam Hunt made insufferable on 'Break Up In A Small Town'. There's maturity to this track and a surprising amount of weight to the framing, maybe a tad basic in the framing but overall pretty damn likable. I won't say it's anything that'll light the world on fire, but it shows a grasp of songwriting structure and composition that Zayn didn't really deliver, and arguably isn't a bad fit for Niall going forward.

Overall, this is a good start on a week that proved pretty damn solid all things considered, with no outright awful tracks. Worst I'm giving to Old Dominion's 'Song For Another Time' if only because it had the most things that annoyed me, but best... hmm, it's close, but I want to give it to 'This Town' by Niall Horan. I know, I'm probably being too nice to a former member of One Direction and it's not nearly as catchy as when Kacey Musgraves wrote a song with the same title last year, but it still has a good hook, a subtle groove, and it's got enough emotional pathos to connect - low key, sure, but that can work for a song like this. In other words, though it's not all good news in the last few weeks of 2016, between this and last week, there's promise here. Let's hope the trend continues.

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