Tuesday, November 29, 2016

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - december 10, 2016

So this week was a little weird. Not just because we started getting tracks from The Weeknd earlier than expected - I'm imagining next week to be just overloaded - but we got some big surprises all over the place, including a few artists I have not thought about or talked about in years. That, at the very least promised to make things interesting - note that I didn't precisely say good, although there really was some promise here.

Take for instance our top ten, which again didn't really move much for better or worse. 'Black Beatles' by Rae Sremmurd and Gucci Mane is still at the very top, and considering how strong the sales, streaming, YouTube, and skyrocketing airplay are, it's not going anywhere. And again, I don't have a problem with it comfortably holding over 'Closer' by The Chainsmokers and Halsey at #2 - they were wavering at the top in airplay all week, they're selling around half of what Rae Sremmurd is, and despite huge YouTube, streaming isn't solid. Now this leaves 'Starboy' by The Weeknd in an advantageous position at #3 - sales are good, streaming is still solid... but it needed a boost on airplay to get higher, and it really didn't get it. In other words, it'll take a miracle next week to have this unseat 'Black Beatles' or even rise past 'Closer', even with the album release behind it... and yeah, that disappoints me. On the other hand, '24K Magic' by Bruno Mars did capitalize off the boost, with stronger sales, good airplay, and a sizable pickup on streaming, rising up to #4 and that's really the best it could hope for. Unfortunately, then we have 'Juju On The Beat' by Zayion McCall and Zay Hilfigerrr rising to #5, which somehow picked up even more streaming even as sales seem to be finally sliding off. Granted, it also picked up courtesy of other weaknesses: 'Side To Side' by Ariana Grande ft. Nicki Minaj slipped down to #6 thanks to streaming weakness despite good sales and great airplay, and 'Heathens' by twenty one pilots just collapsed across the board to #7. And it wasn't the only one either, as 'Let Me Love You' by DJ Snake ft. Justin Bieber slid to #8 on airplay and a bit of streaming losses despite better than expected sales. The last two didn't shift: 'Broccoli' by D.R.A.M. and Lil Yachty clung to #9 on okay streaming and sales, and yet it was enough to beat 'Don't Wanna Know' by Maroon 5 and Kendrick Lamar, which despite better sales and still gaining airplay, its streaming is absolutely miserable. Let's hope it stays that way.

This takes us to our losers and dropouts, and man, we had a busy week here: 'Send My Love (To Your New Lover)' by Adele, 'No Problem' by Chance The Rapper, 2 Chainz, and Lil Wayne, 'Too Good' by Drake and Rihanna, 'We Don't Talk Anymore' by Charlie Puth and Selena Gomez, 'Wishin' by DJ Drama, Chris Brown, Skeme and Lyquin, and 'It Don't Hurt Like It Used To' by Billy Currington, all are gone, and the majority of these are long-running songs, with the range of quality all across the board. It's almost enough to obscure that there weren't really many major losers this week, two from country with 'A Little More Summertime' by Jason Aldean and '80s Mercedes' by Maren Morris - although there's a limit to how much I'd call that counry - and 'Gold' by Kiiara taking a justly deserved hit down to 41 - let's hope it's gone sooner rather than later.

On the flipside, though, our gains and returning entries are all over the map. Let's start with the latter category - I've got no real attachment to 'Chantaje' by Shakira and Maluma, but to see 'Kill A Word' by Eric Church and Rhiannon Giddens is certainly a good thing! As for our gains... well, let me start by saying I think it's a big positive that 'Water Under The Bridge' by Adele is picking up traction to 80, and I'm not really complaining that 'HandClap' by Fitz And The Tantrums rose to 63 - it's a decent pop song, even if a far stretch from what they've made in the past. And if the lyric video was enough for Niall Horan to rebound 'This Town' hard to 29, that's good too. Hell, I don't mind that 'Mercy' by Shawn Mendes rose to 35 and 'Love On The Brain' by Rihanna went up to 34. But beyond that, I can't exactly say that I'm pleased that 'Bad and Boujee' by Migos and Lil Uzi Vert picked up traction off its debut to 54, or that 'Bad Things' by Machine Gun Kelly and Camila Cabello went up to 28 and at this rate could eclipse the success that the Fastball song they're interpolating had in the 90s - and no, that's not a net positive!

Ugh, we'll burn that bridge when we get to it... in the mean time, we had a lot of new arrivals this week and they're all over the map, so let's start with...

99. 'Parachute' by Chris Stapleton - so apparently we're going to start off on a really high note this week for once - and man, I couldn't be happier that this has finally crossed over to the Hot 100. Let's not mince words, outside of 'Whiskey & You' where I've always had a preference for the Jason Eady cover, 'Parachute' is the best song on Traveller, easily one of Chris Stapleton's catchiest and most melodically grounded across the board. And the song is so uniformly great that it's tough to describe - fantastically well-balanced courtesy of Dave Cobb's production, melodic shifts hitting at precisely the right points that the Brothers Osborne would later take something similar for 'It Ain't My Fault' this year, Chris Stapleton's wild delivery perhaps a bit overstated but belying the complicated emotional dynamic in the lyrics, a message to an ex where if she says the word he'll be there, but the frustration that comes through makes it very clear he's trying to convince himself more than her - there were only a few points where she ever needed that, and from the sounds of it it's not now. In any case, this song was inches away from landing on my favourite songs of 2015, just missing the top 50 - that's how great it is! Terrific track, let's hope mainstream country hops onboard.

98. 'Versace On The Floor' by Bruno Mars - and the great songs keep on coming! Easily the best song off of Bruno Mars' last album, it might be a shameless throwback to the era of slinky Michael Jackson R&B, especially with how the liquid synth groove matures and develops as the twinkling melody shifts slightly on the hook and percussion builds some real tightness, but again, it's the best kind of throwback. And with the perfectly balanced backing vocals and with a sax tone you can't convince me didn't come from a synthesizer - although how it breaks into that bridge redeems it, especially with the synth cascades on the outro - plus the lyrics that play sensual but never directly explicit - sure it's a throwback but Bruno at his absolute best. Fantastic song... and again, I really do hope this sticks around.

97. 'Infinite' by Eminem - so did you all know it's been twenty years since Eminem released his first project, one that was barely heard until he became a massive success but was also the one that got Dr. Dre to cosign him? Makes you feel old, doesn't it? What gets kind of fascinating is that this is the point where Eminem was still a great rapper but he was still coming into his own as an artist, defining a unique sound and voice and style, which means going back to the title track of that first project now is a bit surprising. The incredibly well-layered multisyllablic rhymes are there - and the remastered production backing it is excellent, the blur of pianos and simmering synths against rough drums and bell tolls - but what's telling is how Eminem isn't nearly as angry or defined as a spitter at this point, and it makes for a really fascinating case of what might have been should he have continued more on this path. But as it is, it's another great song - great production, very well-structured lyrics, the content is as solid as it needs to be, and it's clear the seeds of greatness were here all along. Overall, stellar joint, definitely worth your time.

91. 'Play That Song' by Train - so I can't be the only one who is more than a little stunned there's a new Train song on the charts, am I? Seriously, after Bulletproof Picasso had little to any impact, I wasn't expecting them to stick around, and for the most part they didn't. They put out a Christmas album - okay - and then released an album earlier this year called Train Does Led Zeppelin II, and it's exactly what you think it is. So to get a new song from Train, I had no expectations besides a good laugh, especially considering Pat Monahan's reputation for atrocious lyrics. Well, I was wrong here, because this is beyond tame by Train standards - they want people to play their song, as it makes Pat Monahan go all night long. Now besides all sorts of bad jokes I could make here, I've always found songs about telling other people to play music to be a little ridiculous - you're musicians, play the song yourself - but then again, the musicianship is pretty sparse on this song as a whole, most just a tiny acoustic loop, hints of piano, and what sounds like a tuba to match the lower strings. I think the jury's still out whether that percussion is real, but it sure as hell swamps the rest of the mix - and that's probably not a good thing, considering  how flat and thin so much of this production sounds already! In other words, it's not as badly written as many Train songs are, but it sure as hell is forgettable - next!

86. 'Slumber Party' by Britney Spears ft. Tinashe - so apparently my opinion that the newest Britney Spears record is pretty mediocre is controversial... go figure. That said, if Britney Spears was going to release another single, 'Slumber Party' would have been close to the top of my personal list, and bringing on a guest verse from Tinashe on the remix had potential, so I had hopes this might actually be better than I expected. And yeah, it's alright, although it's a little startling that when placed in contrast with Tinashe how frail and weak Britney's voice is, and Tinashe isn't exactly a powerhouse! As for the rest of the song... well, the instrumentation is okay, with the sparse watery warbles and clicking beat, and the hook picks up a bit of textured percussion playing for a hazy reggae groove, but I can't be the only one who's exasperated by all the stuttered syllables - it's always struck me as lazy songwriting to fill up space, and this song is no exception. Eh, whatever, it's tolerable, but again, if that's the best adjective I could use to describe Britney's last album, that's a bit of an issue. 

79. 'That's What I Like' by Bruno Mars - look, they can't all be winners here. We got 'Versace On The Floor', and as such apparently we have to balance out a great song with only an okay one, hence we got this. And to be fair it's not bad - what the thicker bass, squonking low synth that get a little brighter against the snap on the hook, and blatant luxury porn nature of the lyrics reminds me a lot of a T.I. song circa Paper Trail, especially when you throw on trap snares. And look, if you're nostalgic for a sound that was pretty huge circa 2008 that it's clear Bruno Mars can play off pretty well, I can see you digging this, but this is where the thinner production does Bruno a disservice - he could have gone over the top with more horns and opulence, and yet... he doesn't. Again, it's a decent song, but like most of that last Bruno Mars record, it could have been great.

75. 'Redbone' by Childish Gambino - okay, round two with Childish Gambino. I wasn't nearly as crazy as I wanted to be about 'Me And Your Mama', but he had another single ready, so maybe this would click better? Well... okay, this didn't work when Frank Ocean did it for 'Nikes', and I don't like it here either: not only does Childish Gambino pitch his voice up a semitone for the majority of the vocals, it's also been electronically thinned out and it does not sound good at all! And I have no idea why he did it either: otherwise the g-funk touches with the weedy synths and firm funk of the bass works pretty damn well - why not play it all down in his regular register to further anchor that gravitas, especially if the mix was going to pile on more layers of guitar and piano to build swell on the outro? And lyrically... okay, on the surface it's a message to a girl who has left him behind to keep aware, but in reality it runs deeper, a message to light-skinned black people to stay woke and very much aware of the shifts in their society even as they might be able to avoid some of it. That's a potent idea, it's got some kick, and hell, I dig a lot of the instrumentation... but man, that vocal filter just kills it for me. Otherwise, though, going into this Childish Gambino album, I'm all the more intrigued.

73. 'That's My Girl' by Fifth Harmony - this song isn't supposed to be here. Okay, that's not fair, but come on, this would have been the mix where songs from Glory Days by Little Mix would have impacted the charts like 'Touch' or even that song 'Oops' they did with Charlie Puth, and instead we get a new Fifth Harmony track? And yeah, I get that this might come across bitter, but when you consider this was one of the better tracks and it'd be competitive at best with Little Mix's lower-tier songs, it's still a disappointment when there's quality waiting just across the pond for the right push. And it's not like they're not playing in the same ballpark here either: that squonking directly paired with that blocky beat that kicks into up into a pretty solid blast of horns into the hook isn't that far removed from 'Private Show', except here there's way too much autotune on the hook, dropped rhymes, and little actual harmonizing! And sure, it's catchy and definitely a better Fifth Harmony song, but it's very telling how Fifth Harmony are directly referencing Destiny's Child in order to draw forward their swagger rather than developing their own. But again, it's not a bad song, and even though I'd prefer Little Mix, I'll give this a pass.

53. 'Love On The Weekend' by John Mayer - okay, here's an honest question: does anyone care anymore about John Mayer? I'm genuinely curious about that, because outside of good chart performance for this comeback single I haven't heard a lot of buzz, despite being his biggest since working with Katy Perry on 'Who You Love' in 2013, or 'Shadow Days' back in 2012. He's certainly not as relevant as he was in the 2000s churning out frustrating-to-awful white-guy-with-acoustic-guitar songs with sloppy writing and utterly limp vocals, not nearly taking advantage of his proven guitar virtuoso skills. Yeah, if you can't tell I've got a bit of a reputation for my dislike of John Mayer, one that has persisted since I reviewed Paradise Valley three years ago, but it's not even so much dislike as it is disappointment. For as talented as he is - and yeah, I can admit that now - he's got frustratingly limited vision, and his compositions and writing have never been as interesting as they could be. So I had to hope he'd at least bring a little more ambition to his awaited return... and seriously, this is what you bring to the table? This sort of airy, blurry acoustic folk with sparse electronic percussion might be new to the mainstream, but if you've had your ear to the ground at all you will have heard this sort of things for years now. And The War On Drugs or Real Estate or Casualties Of Cool or Courtney Marie Andrews or any number of alt-country acts this is not - nope, this is a song about how John Mayer is going to make love with you on the weekend and pretty much just the weekend, and he hates her guts because he loves every moment of that connection. So why not stay? Well, his clothes are dirty, his friends are worried... and is anyone else completely not buying this? I get capturing the romance of a momentary connection, but the storytelling and the exit comes so abruptly that it's hard not to see it as emotionally manipulative, with just enough of a lead to get this girl to yearn for him to come back again... even if he probably won't. And sure, maybe that might seem harsh, but it's not helped by John Mayer underplaying everything, both in the lazy guitarwork and inert crooning in the delivery, complete with millennial whoops. Maybe it's personal bias, but there's nothing about this that feels sincere or honest, especially when he gives no good excuse to leave. And yeah, the overall sound is pleasant enough, but given that it never kicks into real gear to drive that climax, I will not say I'm a fan of this, and am more than a little annoyed it's John Mayer of all people who lands on the charts with this sound. Ugh.

48. 'I Feel It Coming' by The Weeknd ft. Daft Punk - it's a moment stepping out of the darkness for The Weeknd to end off Starboy, and man, it's a damn good one. I've already talked about this and the following song when I reviewed the album last week, so I'll endeavor to keep this brief, but it's promising that the two songs that debuted this week - while not being 'False Alarm' - are at least strong tracks. And sure, 'I Feel It Coming' is an overly bright Michael Jackson pastiche, especially with the vocal layering, tight 80s funk of the percussion, bass, and guitar, and even the lyrics which very much about embracing love looking forward. And here, it's a subtle shift: resolving the melodies on major phrases right out of the four chords of pop instead of minor chords - and yeah, it doesn't make for as immediately distinct of a song, but the midtempo flow coupled with Daft Punk's vocoders make it remarkably distinctive in its own right. So yeah, great song.

39. 'Party Monster' by The Weeknd - and from stepping into into the light we dive right back into the darkness, where The Weeknd makes a point of reestablishing his return to the sloshed, hedonistic darkness that's permeated his entire career - the harsher synths, faded effects around the vocals, the darker bass-heavy trap flavors of the beat that eventually mutate into pitch-shifted fragments dissolving around Lana Del Rey's breathy murmurs in the darkness. And lyrically... yeah, this isn't far removed from The Weeknd's typical hedonism, except a little more paranoid - now that he has wealth to lose, he's waking up to ensure it hasn't been jacked by the anonymous girl he hooked up with. Overall, I can see this doing well and it is a good song, but I do feel it runs a little long and is missing the extra detail to really drive it home, just saying.

But overall, this was a startlingly good week, to the point where it's very competitive for that top spot. Let's get the worst out of the way fast: despite a good sound, I'm giving the worst to 'Love On The Weekend' by John Mayer just for so much blown potential and not nearly being as interesting or captivating as it thinks it is, but Dishonourable Mention... it was a tossup between 'Slumber Party' and 'That's My Girl', but I'm giving it to 'Play That Song' by Train, a song that doesn't have the very sparse redeeming elements that keep both of those from mediocrity. As for the best... whoo, I'm giving it to 'Parachute' by Chris Stapleton, but man, 'Versace On The Floor' by Bruno Mars and 'Infinite' by Eminem sure made it close. But this is two weeks in to the Billboard 2017 year, and we've started uncommonly strong. Let's hope it continues!

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