Tuesday, October 18, 2016

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - october 29, 2016

So this week was weird. I'm not going to say it was a bad week - it definitely wasn't, there's enough quality coming up new that I'm not going to call this precisely bad - but there are both shifts and new arrivals that extend all the way to the top ten that deserve some investigation, so this episode might run long, for as strange as things are...

So no point wasting time, let's start with the top ten, where for some ungodly reason 'Closer' by The Chainsmokers ft. Halsey is still at #1. It's understandable, it's leading in every category, but that lead is shrinking considerably and 'Starboy' by The Weeknd and Daft Punk is right on its tail across the board at #2. This leaves 'Heathens' by twenty one pilots in a bit of an awkward place at #3 - it's gaining streaming while losing YouTube, solid airplay while slipping on sales. 'Let Me Love You' by DJ Snake & Justin Bieber is faring better at #4 thanks to stronger streaming and airplay momentum... but it's slipping on sales, which can be just as awkward. And I say all of that because of our big new debut in the top 5 this week: '24k Magic' by Bruno Mars. Now I'll talk more about the quality of the song later, but for now it's got the hallmarks of a strong Bruno Mars debut: a ton of airplay and sales with streaming and YouTube struggling to fully catch up. It's definitely got momentum behind it at this point and will probably disrupt even more in further weeks. And here's the thing: it's not like anything coming up behind it has the power to stop it - 'Broccoli' by D.R.A.M. ft. Lil Yachty is still inching its way up the radio with only okay sales - it's strong on streaming but it's not going higher there, I can't see it passing #6. And 'Cold Water' by Major Lazer, Justin Bieber & M0 fares even worse at #7 - it's bleeding airplay, sales are weak, and even streaming and YouTube are slipping. 'Treat You Better' by Shawn Mendes took a hit this week too at #8, with even weaker sales and only holding where it is thanks to not dropping on the radio quite as fast. And 'Cheap Thrills' by Sia and Sean Paul is continuing to fall hard, as airplay and weak sales are the only things it's got left. And this takes us to our second new top ten entry: 'Side To Side' by Ariana Grande ft. Nicki Minaj. Not a lot to complain about here - I like the song, after all - and from the looks of things it might stick around for a bit, with decent YouTube and streaming compensating for weaker sales and the fact the radio's been very hesitant to embrace it... and knowing what it's about, I'm not surprised.

But moving away from that fun topic, let's dig into our losers and dropouts... and outside of 'False Alarm' slipping off the charts for a week - the video's doing great, it'll be back - I'm not really complaining here. The best of the losses is 'Why You Always Hatin' by YG ft. Drake and Kamaiyah - and even then, YG had far better songs he could have used as singles from that record - and yet if he's taking 'Low Life' by Future & The Weeknd and 'Make You Miss Me' by Sam Hunt with him, I'm definitely not complaining! Our list of losses was significantly larger, and so let's start with the ones that have been losing consistently: 'Forever Country' fades to 97 as the novelty goes away; 'Perfect Illusion' by Lady Gaga continues to flop hard to 95, 'Peter Pan' by Kelsea Ballerini is sadly on its way out at 94, and 'This Girl' by Kungs vs. Cookin' On 3 Burners is continuing down to 65. Then you have the debuts that have lost traction, like 'Cranes In The Sky' by Solange at 99 - no real crossover potential, so even though I'm disappointed I'm not surprised - and 'All We Know' by The Chainsmokers fell to 38, maybe a sign that shamelessly ripping yourself off might not be the best strategy! The rest of our losses... well, the only one that's been around for a while on the Hot 100 is 'You & Me' by Marc E. Bassy & G-Eazy sliding to 87 after failing to catch on, and the spark behind Kanye West's 'Fade' with Ty Dolla $ign and Post Malone is long out as it fell to 64. Then there's the loss for 'Mercy' by Shawn Mendes - yeah, it's a better song, but it's not really catching on so it slid to 89. 'I Met A Girl' by William Michael Morgan lost harder to 78, but really it peaked on country radio and it has been around for a while on the country charts, so I'm not surprised. The loss that did surprise me was 'This Town' by Niall Horan dropping hard to 54 - I guess the novelty wore out quite for a pretty basic song, but I honestly thought it could have had more staying power. Eh, it happens.

As for our gains and returning entries... well, there were no returning entries and precious few gains. And while I could talk about 'Fresh Eyes' by Andy Grammer getting a light boost to 84, or 'Song For Another Time' by Old Dominion picking up to 81 as country radio searches for something to fill time, or 'You Don't Own Me' by Grace & G-Eazy surging again to 61 thanks to a car commercial of all things, but none of those are the real concern here. Nope, that comes for 'Juju On Dat Beat (TZ Anthem)' by Zayion McCall and Zay Hilfigerrr - look, I thought we left viral dance novelties in 2015, so why in the Nine Hells is this rocketing up to 11? The charts are only starting to get better now, so why are we giving streaming and sales to this forgettable novelty nonsense? Granted, it's not the only novelty track to gain traction this week, but we'll get to that in a second. 

Well, no point wasting time here, we've got a lot of new arrivals, starting with...

96. 'Kids' by OneRepublic - I briefly mentioned this song when I talked about OneRepublic's last album Oh My My last week, and I remember there being some surprise that I didn't hate it nearly as much as some people did. And here's the thing: I don't hate this. Sure, the acoustic groove and atmospheric effects are warmed-over Coldplay with too much reverb, but the hook has some punch, especially with the deeper kickdrum breakdowns, almost to the point where Ryan Tedder's falsetto caterwauling can be mostly tolerable. My niggling issue with this song was always in the prechorus and hook - the verses set up that the protagonist was going to say something wild or crazy, and yet when we snap to the hook, it's OneRepublic talking about how they're not going to idolize their past, remember it fondly but not be blinded by nostalgia. The sentiment is good, but the structure of the song is misaligned there, and it's always bugged me a bit. Still, while this is far from a great song or even one of the best from Oh My My, it's not bad either.

85. 'Ain't My Fault' by Zara Larsson - I got told by a lot of people that this was the song that soured them on Zara Larsson, and as such I hadn't opted to listen to this until this episode, if only because 'Never Forget You' was quite good and 'Lush Life' was awesome. This... okay, it's not better than either of those songs, and pretty much for the reasons I think everyone was expecting. I'm not wild about the stuttered syllables in the writing or how much Larsson's trying to channel Rihanna, and that thin horn driving the melody might be catchy but it's got no body to it. And the lyrics... okay, points for Larsson for changing them from stealing some girl's boyfriend to just falling head over heels for someone, but the whole 'ain't my fault' sentiment doesn't nearly work as well - flip the genders of this song and I'd reckon the controversy would be a lot more pronounced. And yet, I don't hate this. The melody might be thinner than I'd like but it is here, but there is swell and bombast to this, especially on the bridge, and Larsson is one hell of a presence behind the microphone - almost certainly better than what Rihanna would do in this vein. So yeah, it's okay, good enough, I'll take it. 

82. 'All Time Low' by Jon Bellion - so this new Jon Bellion song, if I said it sucked, how many of you would completely lose your shit? I'm kidding, obviously, but it's very telling when some of you preemptively reached out to me about this, especially when if you had watched my Jon Bellion review, you should already know how I feel about this! But, in case you missed it, 'All Time Low' is a fine enough song. The choppy blend of organ with clunky percussion and Jon Bellion doing his best Owl City impression can feel awkward as hell, especially with all of the pitch-shifting, but by the time we get to the bridge, the flow smooths out and the song builds to a swell that's a lot more endearing, especially with horns and some of Bellion's slight sigh midway through the buildup. If I say the song stumbles anywhere it'd be the lyrics - forgive me, but repeating the word 'low' to fill up multiple choruses strikes me as a tad lazy - but beyond that it's a post-breakup wallow where Jon Bellion talks about masturbation... which is actually a Billy Joel reference that I can at least appreciate. No, it's not better than '80's Movies' or 'Morning In America' or especially 'Hand Of God', but hey, if this song's success means we can get those down the line, I'll take it.

77. 'PPAP (Pen-Pineapple-Apple-Pen)' by Piko-Taro - so here's the problem with doing Billboard BREAKDOWN for around a hundred episodes: people often hype up certain tracks in the expectation that I'll go crazy about how bad or good they are, especially when they're more of a novelty song anyway. Of course it bothers me that memes are now going to be responsible for pushing music onto the charts, especially when the memes are getting promoted by Justin freaking Bieber, but there are such thing as 'good' novelties, especially if they're actually funny. So in principle there's no reason I shouldn't like 'Pen-Pineapple-Apple-Pen', made by a fictional songwriter Piko-Taro who was created by Japanese comedian Daimaou Kosaka. Of course, I don't really like it - the synth layering is cheap and lazy, it's clearly trying to hit that meme space, and it's nowhere near as funny or weird as other attempted memes in this variety. And as there's no real point of rating this as a song, let's rate this as a meme, shall we - five meme points for being Japanese, ten meme points for being 'lol,xd,random', fifteen meme points for the usage of fruit and writing supplies in combination, twenty meme points for being mildly catchy, twenty-five meme points for being short enough to remix, and yet minus five hundred meme points for feeling forced as hell, trying to be funny and just... no. I'm calling this a forced meme, a soon-to-be-dead meme if our luck holds, and of course it belongs nowhere near the Billboard Hot 100. And with that, herrrreeeeee's.....

76. 'Million Reasons' by Lady Gaga - I've been on the fence about this song for a while now. I first listened to it when it dropped and sure, I liked it. Gaga's one hell of a singer and I've tended to like it when she goes into more of a country or rock vibe - hell, she wrote this with Hillary Lindsey, the primary instrument is a stripped back choppy riff with only piano adding more melody until the bridge and final hook, it has all the hallmarks of a country ballad even with the little twinkles around the edges. And the lyrics work too - broadly sketched, sure, as she has every reason to leave but needs only the one to stay, never quite certain of what to trust in this relationship, be it with someone or fame itself, like so much of her work has been. But maybe it's because I've heard similar sorts of country ballads this year that are just as raw and a lot stronger from a writing standpoint - the constant repetition and rhyming of reasons just felt clunky to me - that I'm not as warm on this as I want to be. It's good, don't get me wrong, but again, I've definitely heard better from Gaga - although between this and 'Perfect Illusion', I'm getting some idea of the thematic arc of this record and it could be fascinating. So yeah, lukewarm on the song, definitely intrigued to hear more.

70. 'Today' by Brad Paisley - there's a part of me that's disappointed that Brad Paisley chose to pivot back towards more traditional country. Oh, don't get me wrong, I'd prefer he make this than hyper-stylized bro-country or whatever else is down the rabbit hole there, but he's been sounding bored and frustrated within the mainstream for some time, and I've been eagerly anticipating his moment to cut loose. This, obviously, is not it, but that doesn't mean it's a bad song - the blend of acoustic and electric guitar tones is pretty solid, the piano backs up the melody well, and you're not going to see me complain that there's more mandolin, fiddle, and steel guitar in country music. And you can tell Paisley's been looking for an opportunity to cut loose on his guitar, even I do feel the crescendo doesn't quite apex as well as others that he's done. And yeah, the subject matter is kind of schmaltzy - it's a wedding day song where he can hold onto that memory for the rest of his life to remind himself of their love - but Paisley has owned this more earnest lane for years now, and 'Today' is no exception. So yeah, it's a good enough song, but I'll say what I said two years ago when I covered Moonshine In The Trunk - Paisley should be more than just 'good enough', he just needs to take the step to get there.

56. 'Don't Wanna Know' by Maroon 5 ft. Kendrick Lamar - I remember seeing tweets that if you all you knew about Kendrick Lamar were his guest appearances on pop songs, you'd probably be bewildered why so many people consider him one of the greatest right now. And sadly, there's a point to that: between 'Bad Blood', 'The Greatest', and now this with Maroon 5 sounding more sterile than they ever have, Kendrick is dropping a disturbing number of phoned-in verses, with this probably being one of the laziest to date. Granted, the entire damn song is lazy - remember when Maroon 5 and Adam Levine used to have a pulse, because they sure as hell don't have one here! The tropical elements feel completely out of place next to the fake handclap and snaps before the beat clicks in, and then a guitar shows up to briefly remind you that Maroon 5 used to at least try to make rock music. Beyond that, no passion, no instrumental colour, just Adam Levine crooning about how he doesn't want to know who his ex is nailing when between the repeated words and muted sour tone it's clear he still cares more than he's letting on. At least when Maroon 5 used to be pissy in the past they'd have groove and passion to it - this is just limp, lazy, and borderline functional, an absolutely worthless song. And Kendrick, it wouldn't kill you to actually spit on a guest verse - you'd better do it soon, before they stop asking.

55. 'Love Me Now' by John Legend - you know, one thing I found interesting is that when 'All Of Me' was huge for John Legend in 2014, he didn't really have a follow-up single. Sure, 'You And I (Nobody In The World)' was released and it charted, but it was liquid and soulful and honestly a tad underwritten and formulaic, so I'm not surprised it didn't catch on more, especially outside the R&B charts. So maybe it makes more sense that we consider this his proper follow-up... and I dunno about this one, folks. I know that John Legend touted the music, but that's probably the piece I'm most underwhelmed by this: the desaturated piano playing sparse notes against the heavier rattle of percussion before some of the strings come through for the final hook with the gospel-touched backing vocals... it sounds like most modern pop in the mainstream. And I hate to say it, but John Legend can do a lot more in his own lane that make this sort of generic material - he certainly has the vocal charisma to pull it off - but then again, the themes and ideas behind this song, loving for the moment because it'll 'kill him when it's over', he can do a lot better than this. Don't get me wrong, it's tasteful and generally likable, but knowing how good John Legend can be when he tries, this doesn't connect for me, and Michael Kiwanuka is running circles around it.

5. '24k Magic' by Bruno Mars - and now the big one, the big opening single from Bruno Mars set to herald the follow-up to 'Uptown Funk'... and yeah, not dancing around this one, I dig the hell out of it. For one, it's about damn time someone decided they wanted to bring a slice of New Jack Swing back to the mainstream, and the fact that Bruno Mars fused it with a slice of flashy mid-2000s pop rap with the autotuned gloss and vocoders is a natural fit for the sort of artificial and silly flash of the track - and the fact that it still feels modern is kind of amazing in and of itself! And just like 'Uptown Funk', it's got the same sort of braggadocious flair where the cheesiness of his punchlines neuters the arrogance to feel a lot more infectious - it's about the only place i don't hate someone saying #Blessed onsight! Now of course the inevitable question is whether this is better than 'Uptown Funk'... and really, that's hard to say, as I like the synth tones a lot more here with the spacious atmosphere but I'm not quite sure this song is as immediately quotable or whether the crescendos hit as strongly, especially on a bridge that can bleed a little long. But still, I dig the hell out of this, tons of fun, looking forward to seeing this go to #1 - and really, that's just a matter of time.

And that's our week, and man, it was diverse as hell. Worst... I know what you all expect it to be, but I'm giving this to 'Don't Wanna Know' by Maroon 5 - the sheer amount of waste and worthlessness on the song, not counting the video which Voltorb found most disconcerting, it's awful in a way that novelty junk like 'Pen-Pineapple-Apple-Pen' can't really be... even though meme junk like this does warrant a Dishonourable Mention. Beyond that... yeah, I was going to give this to '24k Magic', but it's getting Honourable Mention and I'm giving best to 'All Time Low' by Jon Bellion - it might be a tad underwritten and clunky, but that bridge and final hook pushes it over the top for me, and I'd prefer to recognize the underdog here, at least for now. Overall, interesting week, but pretty positive as a whole - let's just hope that the charts continue in this direction.


  1. Happy 100 episodes Mark! BB Breakdown has quickly become a part of my week and I look forward to it every Tuesday. Cheers to 100 more!

  2. I can't wait to see the video for this just to see your Fantano impression.