Wednesday, November 23, 2016

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - december 3, 2016

Well, here we are, folks: welcome to the third year of Billboard BREAKDOWN! Year three, covering the Billboard year of 2017, and man alive, I'm hoping that it'll be be better than the disaster of mediocrity that was 2016. We'll be covering more that near the end of December during the year-end end lists, but until then, let's focus on 2017... and I have to say, if we're going to start off like this, I've got a really good feeling going forward. Not perfect by any stretch, but overall... yeah, there's a lot to get excited about.

Of course, when I say that I'm not really talking about the top ten, which barely shifted compared to last week. 'Black Beatles' by Rae Sremmurd & Gucci Mane solidified its hold on the #1 courtesy of dominance on streaming, sales, and sizable gains on the radio and YouTube - honestly, while it's always a crapshoot seeing how long these viral smashes hold on, 'Black Beatles' looks like it's got some staying power. Granted, part of the situation is that it has so little competition: 'Closer' by The Chainsmokers ft. Halsey held #2 on YouTube, sizable streaming, and continued airplay dominance, but that airplay is slipping and the sales aren't getting better. I'd honestly probably give more of a chance to 'Starboy' by The Weeknd and Daft Punk at #3, with better sales, streaming gains, and solid YouTube... but it honestly might have peaked on the radio, and I'm not sure how much the release of the album in a couple days will revitalize its position. And that's relevant considering 'Side To Side' by Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj is making a play, rising to #4 with major airplay traction, huge YouTube, and streaming gains... again, it'll need more sales to be seriously competitive, but if it picks up more traction, there's potential there. It jumped past 'Heathens' by twenty one pilots, which slid to #5 as it spent the week losing everything, only this high courtesy of residual airplay. This takes us to '24K Magic' by Bruno Mars, which somehow clung onto #6 mostly thanks to good sales, mostly solid radio, and even a bit of streaming traction - I suspect when the album release impacts the charts, it'll surge next week. Either way it's holding over 'Let Me Love You' by DJ Snake and Justin Bieber, which fell to #7 as it started burning off airplay fast, along with weaker sales and stumbling streaming. This gives 'Juju On Dat Beat' by Zayion McCall and Zay Hilfigerrr a chance to get higher from #8, but it's losing streaming too and the sales are pretty shaky - without radio to stall, it might start dropping soon. And then there's 'Broccoli' by D.R.A.M. ft. Lil Yachty - huge streaming, sure, but airplay and sales are dropping, which isn't a good sign. And finally, we have 'Don't Wanna Know' by Maroon 5 and Kendrick Lamar... and sadly, we might not get rid of this, given that it still has radio momentum, picked up a small boost on streaming, and for some ungodly reason people are still buying it.

But fine, the top ten remained pretty static this week, what about our losers and dropouts? Well, we had a fair few of them in the latter category, and I'm not exactly complaining here - losing 'Sit Still Look Pretty' by Daya, 'I Know Somebody' by LoCash, 'Gangsta' by Kehlani, 'No Limit' by Usher and Young Thug, and 'Money Longer' by Lil Uzi Vert is a net positive, even though they took 'Million Reasons' by Lady Gaga and 'Hold Up' by Beyonce with them. And our losers... well, outside of country having a really bad week, most of the rest are pretty acceptable. I'm not complaining 'Setting Fires' by The Chainsmokers and XYLO fell to 86, or 'My Way' by Calvin Harris went to 74, or 'Pen-Pineapple-Apple-Pen' by Piko-Taro burned out to 93, or that after the big debut 'Used To This' by Future and Drake collapsed to 31. Now country... bit more of a mixed bag here. On the one hand, it's not a good sign that 'Vice' by Miranda Lambert slid to 84 before the album drops, but going down with her are 'Better Man' by Little Big Town to 70, 'Setting The World On Fire' by Kenny Chesney and Pink to 58, and in the best news of all 'Move' by Luke Bryan down to 73. Again, net positive.

But what about our gains and returning entries? Well, again, bit of a mixed bag, but I think it's a net positive overall. Yeah, it stinks that 'Bad Things' by MGK and Camila Cabello continues to rise to 46, but the rest here aren't bad. 'Wanna Be That Song' by Brett Eldredge up to 64 isn't bad, and neither is 'Love On The Brain' by Rihanna up to 50 or 'Love Me Now by John Legend up to 41 or even 'Mercy' by Shawn Mendes up to 47. The only somewhat surprising case is 'Hallelujah' by Pentatonix picking up to 56, but combined with Christmas and the passing of Leonard Cohen, it's to be expected. We'll talk about that a little more later on, but looking to our returning entries... the worst here is Rihanna's 'Sex With Me' at 92, which is just mediocre. The rest are actually pretty great, from 'Goosebumps' by Travis Scott and Kendrick clawing back to 100, 'Shout Out To My Ex' by Little Mix stepping up to 95, and 'Water Under The Bridge' by Adele coming back to 94 - it looks to be positioned as Adele's next single, and while I might prefer 'River Lea', it's still a damn great song, I'm happy to see it back.

So okay, overall we've got a net positive in both losses and gains, with the top 10 remaining static but hardly the worst it's ever been... can our new arrivals hold up the bill? Well, let's start with...

99. 'Call On Me' by Starley - okay, fun question: did anyone else immediately think of Bill Withers' 'Lean On Me' the second after you listened through this? Because that's pretty much exactly what I did - and then I went back to relisten to that song. But after a good half dozen listens to Bill Withers - as you do - I could barely remember anything about Starley, an Australian singer who joins the ranks of charting artists with less of a social media presence than I do. And to be honest, her new song is pretty nondescript too - sparse acoustic guitar that drops into a snap and bass beat, whirling tropical percussion that break into a particularly squeaky drop. And with the lyrics all about supporting someone, what it reminded me more of was 'Stand By You' by Rachel Platten, which at least had the decency to have some heavenly swell to it. This is painfully generic, a mishmash of modern styles to a vaguely aspirational bent, which will be forgotten by effectively everyone the second after you hear it - including me. Next!

97. 'A Guy With A Girl' by Blake Shelton - I get the impression that Blake Shelton is in a distinctly awkward position right now in pop. The mainstream is tilting back towards neotraditional sounds, and his last hit 'She's Got A Way With Words' got hammered pretty hard by critics and the public, missing the #1. And so he went for the safe bet, a song where he takes the backseat to the pretty girl he's with while dropping into obvious bro-country cliche mode. And really, that's pretty much all one can say - the hook is a little clunkier than I'd prefer with that pause midway, but the guitar melody is a little more prominent and I can actually hear the steel guitar, even if the percussion on the first verse and bridge is so obviously programmed. What it represents is a very safe bet, the sort of track where Blake will rely on country radio to push it on name and certainly not anything else. Let's hope they don't take the bait.

77. 'We The People' by A Tribe Called Quest - the last time A Tribe Called Quest crossed over to mainstream radio was 1998, eighteen years ago. They've never cracked the top 40. And yet by some miracle, their final record has gone to #1 on Billboard and a single has broken into the Hot 100. And it's not just a comeback single, it's the sort of immediately relevant political track that would never otherwise get on the Hot 100, against the sort of low grimy synths and drums sampled from a Black Sabbath song! And the content... it's one of those cases where Q-Tip and Phife were looking to cram in as many pointed attacks as they could, with Phife re-establishing rap dominance through strings of sports references and Q-Tip seeming to target gentrification and crass commercialism, right to a bitterly sarcastic hook that strings together every group that the president-elect has targeted or dismissed in the past, evicting them in the name of profit. And Q-Tip doesn't shy away from that temptation himself - perhaps a 'reality show sporadically' - or the implied 'bad bitch' that's trying to use him, which could stretch from literal all the way to a more liberal establishment seeking their own brand of profit. It's a defiantly political - you might want to get used to that on this show, even in the mainstream and especially given the possible next four years and hip-hop's place in modern culture - but it's also so ridiculously well-structured that it'd be hard to criticize regardless! Damn great song, definitely has me significantly interested in that A Tribe Called Quest album, might have to cover that in the next couple of days. In the mean time, definitely happy to see this here, it deserves it.

76. 'Bad And Boujee' by Migos ft. Lil Uzi Vert - so, Migos have a new album coming up called Culture... and honestly, I've stopped caring. Look, I covered Young Rich Nation last year and didn't find it particularly interesting or thrilling outside of isolated bits, so hopping on board with Lil Uzi Vert for your lead-off single isn't a good sign. Hell, Takeoff isn't even on this track, and it's not like any of these guys are bringing a lot of intensity outside of the monotone triplets that have been their trademark. And of course the content is not interesting or unique or new - the most is Quavo asking to be called Quavo Ratatouille because he's still mixing cocaine... in other words, he's comparing himself to a cartoon rat. Not to dismiss the endeavors of cartoon rats - The Great Mouse Detective and Rescuers Down Under are in my top five Disney movies - but if that's the most interesting thing on a song that attempts to fuse hashtag rap with triplet flows, there's a problem! And yet at least Migos knows how to ride this flow - Lil Uzi Vert keeps slipping off the beat and trying to throw in vocal improvisations to make his simplified delivery work, and man, how embarrassing must it be to fail at being a Migos wannabe? But all that obscures from the biggest issue: the production is boring as hell, inert piano line, flat trap snares, sparse bass, it's clear Metro Boomin phoned this one in at best. But again, just like 2016 it feels like this is the sort of song that'll be here for a week or two at most and be gone in days, and while there have been entirely too many exceptions to that, let's just hope 2017 leaves both of these acts behind in the dust. Next!

69. 'Me And Your Mama' by Childish Gambino - so Donald Glover's been having a crazy year. He got cast as Lando in the young Han Solo movie - because obvious fantastic casting is obvious - his excellent show Atlanta took off, because again, obvious, and to top it off, we're getting a new Childish Gambino album near the end of this year, when there was a very real chance we'd never get another proper release. Now of course I'll be covering the album proper when it drops - it's been three years since Because The Internet, and I guarantee it'll lead to an interesting conversation, but how is this, his lead-off single? Honestly... it's something, I'll give it that, and pretty hard to describe too. It starts off with a slow build of squealing synths playing off staccato backing vocals and a lullaby-esque piano tone as the trap beat subtly grows... until it breaks into this scuzzy blues guitar and bass line, full gospel swell, and Childish Gambino howling his lungs out that seems to ease back into warbles of synth, more elegant swells, and liquid electric guitar against the stutter of the drums, sleight bells, organ, and growling bass. And yet while I can trace the lineage of this sound, it really doesn't sound like anything else that he's ever done... and I honestly wish I liked it more. I think it's an issue of the tempo - if the track had been played with a little more urgency or a quicker pace, it might connect better. As it is... I like the ideas and concepts, and I'm definitely intrigued about the album now, but this isn't quite working for me yet, I appreciate it more than I like it. Interesting track though, I'll definitely say that.

59. 'Hallelujah' by Leonard Cohen - did you know that until this song, Leonard Cohen had never had a charting hit on the Billboard Hot 100? it makes sense, in a way - his songwriting always seemed to transcend pop frivolities, but even Bob Dylan has a slew of top ten hits to his name. Hell, most people my age are probably more familiar with the Jeff Buckley or Rufus Wainwright or - god help you - the Pentatonix covers of this song than the original. And believe me, there's a part of me that's annoyed deeply that Pentatonix's version is charting higher... but also a part of me that knows that Cohen would never have cared. And as such... what can I even say about a classic? You could make credible arguments that the original 'Hallelujah' is one of the best songs of all time, and I'd probably support them, one of the most sober and reasoned encounters with questions of faith ever set to music. The smoky guitar strums, the firm bass, the gorgeously balanced gospel choir, hints of gleaming piano, Leonard Cohen's deep bass vocals... all combined with lyricism that aims to capture that transcendent moment that draws forth the words when confronting a power so far above your own.

In other words, while I know some would consider it 'unfair' to put a song that's over thirty years old as the best of the week... A Tribe Called Quest did put up a significant contest and would have run away with it at any other time, but 'Hallelujah' is taking it. Worst... Migos and Lil Uzi Vert for 'Bad And Boujee', more for being sloppy, tedious, and overdone than anything else. But overall, this week started off pretty strongly. Let's hope that's a sign for 2017, because we could use it right about now.

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