Tuesday, December 13, 2016

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - december 24, 2016

If I was going to describe this week of the Hot 100 for posterity - and I have no idea why anyone would bother with any week, let alone this one, it'd be 'muted chaos'. Oh, make no mistake, a fair amount actually happened, especially with the expected dropoff for The Weeknd, but none of it was at the volume where it would cause significant change or a bout of huge new arrivals. And of course a big part of that is Christmas music making its expected return, whether you wanted it or not. Of course, the big thing that I noticed is that despite a huge debut on the Billboard 200 and despite me making a bold prediction otherwise, not a single song from The Hamilton Mixtape crossed over to the Hot 100, which means that our new arrivals... well, we'll get to them.

Of course, none of this had a direct impact on our top ten, which again was mostly static this week. 'Black Beatles' by Rae Sremmurd and Gucci Mane still held the top spot - even though they aren't as dominant on streaming as they were, they still have the barest possible lead in sales and picked up a lot of airplay. And yet 'Starboy' by The Weeknd is pretty close behind - it leads on-demand streaming, overtook 'Black Beatles' on YouTube, and is surprisingly stable on airplay... although it's a real guess whether it'll stick around for much longer. Then there's 'Closer' by The Chainsmokers and Halsey at #3, which may have picked up some on-demand streaming, but lost the YouTube lead, took a sales hit, and has been bleeding airplay all week, so its position looks a fair bit more precarious. Then we have '24K Magic' by Bruno Mars regaining traction to #4 - sure, radio gains have slowed significantly, but it's stable on sales and is picking up streaming, so you never know. It moved over 'Side To Side' by Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj, which fell to #5 despite airplay gains and solid streaming and YouTube, it had a bad week on sales. This opens things up a bit for 'Juju On Dat Beat' by Zayion McCall and Zay Hilfigerrr at #6, but at this point all it really has is streaming, and that won't last forever, it's got no other traction. This unfortunately is not the case for 'Don't Wanna Know' by Maroon 5 and Kendrick Lamar, which went up to #7 because it has airplay traction that won't die - and yes, sales went down, but streaming picked up a bit, and that really isn't a good sign. Either way, it pushed back 'Let Me Love You' by DJ Snake to #8, which went into airplay freefall and only held up against its miserable sales thanks to a slight streaming boost. Then there's 'Heathens' by twenty one pilots at #9, which spent the week losing everything... and that's not good, because our newest top 10 arrival is 'Bad Things' by Machine Gun Kelly and Camila Cabello. Look, I've made my thoughts on this song plenty clear, but it's got traction in sales, streaming, and airplay... providing there's no surprises coming, this could be a considerable hit, whether we want it or not.

Of course, if you want to go in the opposite direction, we need to talk about our losers and dropouts - and there was a lot of both, so strap in. Beyond a measurable chunk of The Weeknd dropouts, the biggest losers here were 'A Little More Summertime' by Jason Aldean, 'Look Alive' by Rae Sremmurd, 'Fade' by Kanye West and Post Malone, and 'Capsize' by Frenship and Emily Warren - they all took big hits last week, and apparently that was all that was needed to kill them for good. But The Weeknd also took a heavy toll in losers this week, and let's just list them off here, shall we? 'Party Monster' fell to 29, 'Reminder' went to 50, 'Sidewalks' with Kendrick slipped to 54, 'Six Feet Under' with Future dropped to 55, 'Secrets' dropped to 66, 'Die For You' fell to 71, 'True Colors' went to 78, 'Rockin' died off to 82, 'All I Know' with Future slid to 83, 'Attention' dropped to 96, 'Ordinary Life' skidded to 97, and, sadly, 'False Alarm' went to 86. But believe it or not The Weeknd wasn't the only loser - off her debut last week for Moana 'How Far I'll Go' by Auli'l Cravalho fell to 70, but at least she stuck to the chart. And the last one is 'Sleep Without You' by Brett Young at 74 - The Weeknd hurt him last week, but this loss might be driven on country radio just rotating him out as the seasons change.

And on that topic, our gains and returns start off with the most predictable big jumps driven by Christmas. Yep, 'Jingle Bell Rock' by Bobby Helms at 35 and 'Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree' by Brenda Lee at 37 are both back in the top 40, and in case you get sick of that sanitized and overplayed material we also got 'Play That Song' by Train making a big return to 77! Now to be fair it wasn't all bad: 'Alone' by Marshmello came back to 94, Childish Gambino's album release allowed 'Me And Your Mama' to hit 68 and 'Redbone' to go up to 48 - a song that I've come to like a fair bit, so no complaints here - and most surprising of all, 'Million Reasons' by Lady Gaga surged up to 52. What can I say, she picked up some impressive sales this week, and that's good for everyone, considering the song's quality. But where things get interesting are the gains, because this is where you can tell which songs will have staying power and momentum for the next few weeks. And... well, it's a mixed bag. 'Love Me Now' by John Legend picked up a big recovery to 23, along with 'Mercy' by Shawn Mendes to 38, 'Better Man' by Little Big Town to 67, and 'Chantaje' by Shakira and Maluma to 79; all of these took big hits last week, it's good to see them regain momentum. But then you get the songs that held steady... and really, it's all over the map with quality. I'm definitely not complaining that Adele's 'Water Under The Bridge' surged up to 58, or that 'Hallelujah' by Pentatonix went to 45 - it's framed as a Christmas song and at least it's got Leonard Cohen's writing behind it, I'll take that. Hell, I don't even mind 'Love On The Brain' by Rihanna going to 20, or 'Bounce Back' by Big Sean rising to 39, neither are bad songs. Unfortunately, the rest of our list here is pretty unfortunate, and let's start with country. Both 'A Guy With A Girl' by Blake Shelton rising to 81 and 'Dirty Laundry' by Carrie Underwood up to 69 are coasting off of tropes they've both done better before, and it's clear James Arthur is going to milk his poor man's Ed Sheeran up to 60 on 'Say You Won't Let Go'. But then we go to hip-hop and my god, how is there still a market for 'Bad And Boujee' by Migos and Lil Uzi Vert up to 24, or 'No Heart' by 21 Savage and Metro Boomin up to 57? I swear, if any hip-hop from The Hamilton Mixtape had charted, it'd eat this garbage for lunch!

And on that note, considering the majority of our new arrivals are hip-hop, let's dig in, starting with...

100. 'Rockabye' by Clean Bandit ft. Sean Paul & Anne-Marie - so here's a song that for a while I thought I'd include as a World HIt - and you have to pardon me from indulging in that segment this week, because in the build-up to year end with catching up on albums and drafting year-end lists I'm hoping to make my job a tad simpler heading into the next few weeks. But the other reason I didn't include it is that I like for World Hits to be tracks I can outright recommend, and I'm not sure I can with this one. I mean, it's not bad - Sean Paul and Anne-Marie teaming up to make a song about the struggle of single mothers to care for their kids certainly stands out from the rest of the Hot 100 - but I can't be the only one who feels that it's a weird fit with Clean Bandit's ultra-clean production and a bouncy tropical vibe, especially when the whole idea of the rockabye' nursery rhyme is to put a baby to sleep! This... with the elegant blend of strings and polished synths and steel drums, coupled with warping vocal samples on the drops, it's a weird pairing and not one that totally works for me. Not a bad track, let me stress this, but it's no 'What Would You Do' by City High, if you catch my drift.

95. 'Dirt On My Boots' by Jon Pardi - oh by the Nine Hells, I want to fire whoever at the label told Jon Pardi that he should use this as his next single, because it sure as hell isn't making him easy to defend. I get it, obviously - in comparison to someone like William Michael Morgan who stayed with neotraditional sounds and has been slowly pushing 'Missing' up country radio, Pardi's always been more comfortable playing the Nashville game and so of course they're going to play it safe with arguably one of the worst tracks of California Sunrise, right from the bro-country songwriting machine. And look, this isn't terrible - I like the fiddle that runs through most of the song against those minor piano chords, and that scuzzy guitar solo is pretty welcome, but what isn't the obviously fake percussion and what sounds like DJ scratches on the verses! The larger disappointment, though, comes in the lyrics, which have been a glaring weakness for Pardi for years now - he's taking his girl uptown after a quick shower and a shave from a hard day of work so they can dance and have a good time, which of course makes sense against how sour this song feels. And again, it's not so much that this is bad, but when you compare it to, say, Chris Young's 'We're Gonna Find It Tonight', which had more groove and momentum, this just doesn't cut it, at least for me.

93. 'False Prophets' by J. Cole - so for those of you who've been asking, yes J. Cole is on my schedule and I'll be looking to say more about the cultural aftermath of all of this when I talk about the album. But for the song itself... okay, I'm just going to say it, I liked it more when Joey Bada$$ flipped this sample with the thicker bassline and more prominent guitars, because just like that new J. Cole album, a lot of the instrumental tones feel entirely too muted and drab. It's a good melody and I like how it picks up some twinkling fragments as the song progresses, but the bass and guitar don't have the same swell or texture. And on the topic of that new album, it's very telling that he's actually setting up punchlines and tighter rhymes here, which got to be surprisingly scarce across that record. But again, that's for the review, so what about content? Well, again, I don't want to spoil much here, but suffice to say that for as much as J. Cole is showing his disappointment and 'humility' and questioning whether he's doing it for the fame or the art, and how he wants his fans to find God in themselves and not him... yeah, I believe it about as much as when I hear it from Lukas Graham, because otherwise you wouldn't have packaged it in a sucker shit diss track putting your 'friend' on blast for his depression and targeting your inspiration while he's having a mental breakdown just so you can get hype for your upcoming record... where this song isn't even included. Just keep that in mind, folks - from a craftsmanship point of view I can appreciate this, but I'm not sure I have much desire to ever hear it again.

76. 'Home' by gnash ft. Johnny Yukon - see, this is the problem when you normalize putting boring songs on the radio and giving them hits, they start picking up traction to release more of them! For all of you who forgot - which I'm making the justified assumption is larger than the number that remember - gnash is a 'rapper' who claims to be influenced by Jack Johnson, The Postal Service, and Deathcab For Cutie and who apparently thought that what the charts needed was him biting Drake's older flows with significantly less charisma. This is the guy who released 'i hate u i love u', that muddy slog of a toxic relationship that gets worse the more you even try to think about the lyrics, and now he's back with 'Home'... and I have to admit I'm a little surprised by this. Oh, just like his last hit it's grounded in piano, but the fuzzy beat here actually has a little more grit to it and gnash is actually rapping with a little intensity - and hell, his singing on the end of the second verse isn't bad, although the multi-tracking and assistance from Johnny Yukon's crooning gives him a little support. And while the entire song still feels more drab than I'd like, I appreciate that gnash tightens the detailed focus and shows how he's trying to get whatever money he can to help so his parents and sister aren't forced to move, especially when he knows that stress could give his dad a heart attack. In other words... it actually feels grounded and human in a way that I can respect, it's a decent song. I'm still not at all on board with gnash as an artist, but this is a promising step, I'll give him that.

65. 'Black Barbies' by Nicki Minaj & Mike Will Made It - so okay, I'm still not quite sick of 'Black Beatles' yet - it is a decent track, and probably Rae Sremmurd's best work - but how could you possibly make it better? Well, why not remix it, throw out nearly all of Rae Sremmurd and Gucci Mane's bars, and replace them with verses from Nicki Minaj? That would almost guarantee a better song, and yeah, I'd probably make the argument that on a technical level 'Black Barbies' is better, at least in terms of cohesion. Where 'Black Beatles' barely even tried to make sense, Nicki turns the song into empowerment for her 'black barbies'. And this is where we get into frustrating territory, because while I'm not bothered by NIcki's alpha female bragging, I've always been skittish at the implications of her 'barbie doll' schtick, especially when it comes to calling her fans that and especially when you get lines like 'pretty face, perfect body' - that was partially enhanced. And hey, that's her choice, but when into the same song you throw in a stream of swipes at other women, clueless guys, and the president-elect of all people - seemingly the only song on the pop charts to smuggle in a political statement right now - it's clear she's setting herself up to be idolized and that can be a little hard to swallow. And it's not like I disagree with her jabs at the president-elect or at PETA - if you do your research into PETA, you'll quickly discover they're not an animal-rights organization you'd want to support - but when on the second verse she breaks her flow to laugh at her own wordplay like she did on 'Only', I have a hard time getting behind this. Look, it's not bad, and I'd like to assume Nicki Minaj's fanbase will take her schtick with a grain of salt... but I get the sinking feeling that's wishful thinking.

But overall, we're looking at probably the first week this year where the quality noticeably dipped, with nothing being outright awful but no great songs either. For best of the week... I want to give it to J. Cole, but between the reused sample and frustrating content, I'm going to go to an artist who surprised me and give it to 'Home' by gnash and Johnny Yukon instead - believe me, I'm as surprised as you are. As for the worst... 'Dirt On My Boots' by Jon Pardi - yeah, it's not bad, but it is a considerable step down from 'Head Over Boots', and not the direction he should be heading in. Eh, the charts are probably going to go through some considerable shifts in the next few days, as the holidays and year end countdowns take hold as more songs from The Weeknd drop out, so strap in.

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