Wednesday, December 28, 2016

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - january 7, 2017

This was the sort of week I didn't expect - on the one hand it's the aftermath of J. Cole's big debut so inevitably there was going to be a pretty major course correction... but that wasn't the only thing that happened, because Christmas music came back in force to compete with a pileup of hip-hop that I don't think anyone was asking for. And yet that's not the biggest story of this week... because we have a new #1.

Yes, apparently my prediction in my Top Ten Best Hit Songs of 2016 came true, because this week, 'Starboy' by The Weeknd and Daft Punk finally went to #1. Now there's a lot to consider why this happened - you could partially give credit to the onslaught of Christmas music, which tends to temporarily slow every major pop trend, or the fact that it does have consistent presence across the board... but it looks like what really put it over the top was sales, specifically where a sixty-nine cent discount was enough to push it right #1 for the first time. Now let me stress this will not last - it's a cheap tactic that has been used to plenty of times before, but it's also not sustainable, and I suspect that despite being pushed back to #2, 'Black Beatles' by Rae Sremmurd and Gucci Mane will rebound due to strength in all categories. This takes us to 'Closer' by The Chainsmokers and Halsey, which despite my objections actually appears pretty stable - the sales are not good but it's got enough stability on airplay, streaming, and especially YouTube to stick around. '24K Magic' by Bruno Mars at #4 is similar, as despite small losses on airplay it picked up a lot of streaming and sales have always been strong. This unfortunately takes us to 'Juju On The Beat' by Zayion McCall and Zay Hilfigerrr, which rebounded to #5 thanks to a big streaming rebound... just what we need for the holidays. It actually moved past 'Side To Side' by Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj, which fell to #6 despite being stable - I think it's just a question of margins that it lost a spot, which might be the case for 'Let Me Love You' by DJ Snake and Justin Bieber too rising to #7 - again, mostly stable, it really rose on all categories because other songs dropped back. And sadly this also seems to be case for 'Don't Wanna Know' by Maroon 5 ft. Kendrick Lamar, rising back to #8 because it's an airplay behemoth that needs to die. Compare this to 'Bad Things' by Machine Gun Kelly and Camila Cabello, reentering the top ten at #9 - it's got traction in every category except YouTube, and unfortunately I don't see that slowing. And this takes us to our second returning top ten entry: 'Fake Love' by Drake. It's here because it has some streaming and sales, but not a huge amount of radio momentum, so I sincerely hope this doesn't become a huge hit.

And on that promising note, losers and dropouts, most of which are pretty predictable, especially in the latter category. Outside of J. Cole getting hit hard, the biggest songs to leave are 'Setting The World On Fire' by Kenny Chesney and Pink, and 'Come And See Me' by PARTYNEXTDOOR and Drake, both of which seemed to be on their way out anyways. What interests me more are the losses, where in comparison to The Weeknd who had a few songs stick the landing, J. Cole took a beating across the board. 'Deja Vu' went to 35, 'Neighbors' fell to 54, 'Immortal' died off to 59, 'Change' plummeted to 83, 'She's Mine Pt. 1' collapsed to 89, 'Ville Mentality' went to 90, 'For Whom The Bell Tolls' fell to 93, and 'Folding Clothes' folded to 98. Now that's not saying The Weeknd got out of this week intact: 'Six Feet Under' with Future fell to 94, 'Reminder' went to 95, and 'Sidewalks' with Kendrick Lamar skidded to 97, but they've had slower losses than J. Cole. Other than that we got the expected dips from debuts last week: 'Just Hold On' by Steve Aoki and Louis Tomlinson to 72, and 'I Don't Wanna Live Forever' by Zayn and Taylor Swift down to 18, out of the top ten pretty quickly.

But where things get significantly busier are in the gains and returns, and let's handle the latter first, as they're a little less explainable. Sure, seeing a big return for Christmas songs like 'The Christmas Song' by Nat King Cole to 47 and 'Mary Did You Know' by Pentatonix to 45 is to be expected - I'm still a little amazed that Pentatonix seems to have lodged something in the Christmas canon - but the others? One is 'Versace On The Floor' by Bruno Mars at 100 - no complaints, the song is amazing, but it came along with 'Make Me (Cry)' by Noah Cyrus and Labrinth up to 75, which I'm assuming rebounded to fill space or something. But where this week went crazy was the gains, and let's start with the only song with consistent momentum: 'Rockabye' by Clean Bandit, Sean Paul and Anne-Marie, which continued up to 79. Then there were the Christmas songs that rebounded big, like 'Hallelujah' by Pentatonix up to 23 and 'Rockin Around The Christmas Tree' by Brenda Lee up to 27 and 'Jingle Bell Rock' by Bobby Helms up to 29. Then there were the songs from Moana which have stuck around, like 'How Far I'll Go' from both Auli'l Cravalho up to 56 and Alessia Cara up to 81, along with 'You're Welcome' from Dwayne Johnson up to 86, which... okay, still weird, but I guess I'm okay with it? It certainly is a lot easier to endorse than whatever the hell is happening with hip-hop, because it's a bad sign when 'Bounce Back' by Big Sean is the best gain up to 21. Because 'Bad And Boujee' by Migos and Lil Uzi Vert riding a meme to 13, 'OOOUUU' by Young M.A. rebounding hard to 19, 'Too Much Sauce' by DJ ESCO, Future and Lil Uzi Vert to 63, 'Selfish' by PnB Rock to 85, and 'Chill Bill' by Rob $tone, J.Davi$ and Spooks up to 39... okay, that last one is pretty good, but the rest of these suck! Beyond that it's a real mixed bag. Yes, I like that 'All Time Low' by Jon Bellion is continuing up to 24, and that Adele still has momentum with 'Water Under The Bridge' to 51, and that 'This Town' by Niall Horan rebounded nicely to 37, and even that 'Mercy' by Shawn Mendes rose to 28... but it brought with it 'Alone' by Marshmello up to 80 and 'All We Know' by The Chainsmokers ft. Phoebe Ryan up to 82... neither precisely bad, but nothing I care about either.

But folks, if you want to look where the Hot 100 got weird this week, we need to go to the new arrivals, starting with...

99. 'Swang' by Rae Sremmurd - see, here's the huge problem with giving artists with one passable song a hit: they start to think it's a good idea to release follow-up singles that are absolute ass, hence why Rae Sremmurd are now inflicting 'Swang' upon us. For those of you who don't recognize this crooning atrocity, it came off the deluxe edition, which is already a bad sign as it implies that Rae Sremmurd didn't have enough confidence in any other songs on their original record to release them. And let's not mince words, this is awful in a very obvious way: the dreary elongations of synth horns, the utterly generic trap beat, and Swae Lee trying to hop into a falsetto I'm fairly certain is barred by the Geneva Convetion. And the content is empty, as per usual - the most notable thing is Slim Jimmy saying he could have been a doctor but dropped out to be a baller, charming - but really, it's the falsetto that kills this track for me, it's sounds horrendous. And worse still, there's no atmosphere or momentum to it - 'Black Beatles' at least had that, which is why I could mostly ignore how empty it was. But this... nope, skip it if you can!

92. 'Red Opps' by 21 Savage - how is it remotely possible that 21 Savage gets less and less interesting every time I hear him? At least at his best he could sound menacing with the bleak vocal filters and grittier production, but this is just sloppy and not particularly potent either. Sure, the piano and bass-heavy beat could have impact if it didn't feel like the most cheap and obvious way to build this sort of dread... but then we get the content which feels entirely regurgitated from any other song about 21 Savage killing you and stealing your chick. What's more exasperating is that his flow and delivery seems to be getting worse - he mumbles his way through his bars and on the end of the verses he tries to pick up into an overstuffed flow that reminds me of Big Sean... and not in a good way. Hell, he can't even make something cool of the title, which is a play on 'Black Ops' which replaces black with red for Blood affiliation - but it's one line, and about the furthest thing from gangsta, YG this guy is not. To put another way, this is mediocre, boring, and pointless - next!

91. 'OTW' by Luke Nasty - okay, if you've been following Billboard BREAKDOWN for a while, you might recognize this guy's name: he's a DJ from North Carolina and when he decided to flip an Anderson .Paak sample it became a very minor hit for him in March of 2016. Apparently he did get permission from Anderson .Paak to do this, but I'm not going to lie, it still pisses me off that .Paak has never really crossed into the Hot 100 despite releasing two good to great projects this year and this guy did! Anyway, this is a follow-up song that interpolates a Tony! Toni! Tone! song... and look, it is amazingly stupid, but I don't hate this. Putting aside that wonky melody that opens things up, the drippy guitar playing off the prominent cymbals and hints of swell has some personality, and Luke Nasty is at least a presence with some charisma on the microphone. And I do get the impression this is playing for broad comedy more than anything, especially if you consider the video: he's supposedly going to meet this girl and he's 'on his way'... except he's nowhere near close to ready. Okay, cute inversion of the typical stereotype, but what's with all the food references on the first verse or that Bonnie & Clyde reference on the second - you do know they used to kill people, right? But as a whole... look, it's not really well-constructed, but I can't hate this, it's fine.

58. 'Party' by Chris Brown ft. Usher & Gucci Mane - I have no idea why Chris Brown ever tries to work with Usher - you call up the person who is better than you in every conceivable way and freely giving him a guest verse, I don't understand this whatsoever. So did we get a repeat of 'New Flame'? Well, I wish, because I don't think anyone sounds good here! Yes, Usher sounds better than Chris Brown, who is doing this nasal vocal inflection for no adequately explained reason, but he doesn't sound good against this production, which is this weird blend of oily synth with little driving melody, a trap beat, and entirely too much going on the backing vocals to accentuate either singer, it flatters nobody. Hell, I'd argue Gucci Mane comes out of this looking the best, in that his flatter flow at least contrasts a little better, also because his punchlines kind of connect, but still, this is not good by any of their standards. And yeah, not a fan of this.

50. 'Last Christmas' by Wham! - it's weird that it took this long for this song to get on the Hot 100 for the first time - and I'm honestly a little baffled why it took this long for this and the following stream of holiday songs to crack the Hot 100. From what I can tell, this data is only ever really compiled off the Holiday Hot 100, which runs through about the first six weeks of the Billboard year and no other times - and from what I can tell, based on increased streaming and near-dominance of radio, this has enabled a bunch of Christmas songs that never charted upon release to impact the Hot 100, at least for a brief time. We've already seen some of this throughout the year, but here's where it comes in full: and let's start out with a song that has a sad coda, 'Last Christmas!' by Wham!, where frontman George Michael unfortunately passed away. My guess is that he'll have a few songs of his charts posthumously next week where I'll speak about him further, but until then this is kind of bittersweet to see this here, mostly because it's a different sort of holiday song. For one, it's doesn't sound as 'timeless' as many Christmas tracks do: 80s synths, a sharper beat, George Michael's breathy vocals, and an odd undercurrent of bitterness you don't often hear in Christmas music. He got screwed over last Christmas by someone who dumped him the very next day, and now when faced with that lover again, he refuses to let it happen again. And the tone is tricky here, because this could very easily ring as kind of catty, but George Michael sells the real pain here, and while the production is a tad dated, I appreciate Christmas songs that go into more emotionally complicated territory, it adds color to the genre. In other words, yeah, I'm no big fan of Christmas music, but I do like this song.

48. 'It's The Most Wonderful Time' by Andy Williams - okay, this is the sort of Christmas song that's more representative of the genre, originally recorded by 60s pop star Andy Williams in 1963. Unless you're very familiar with the charts pre-Hot 100 - he had a #1 hit 1957, he lasted a surprisingly long time in the 60s even through Beatlemania, he played with a lot of old-fashioned standards in the vein of Sinatra and a lot of Broadway - he hasn't really endured the same way, mostly because even in his prime his experimentation was pretty limited, he was never a critical darling, and he never quite rose past many of his influences. As such, I can imagine that most of you only know 'It's The Most Wonderful Time' from Andy Williams - and to be fair, it's mostly representative of the old-school sound and style he brought: the big band backdrop, the broad smiles, the relentless cheer, but not precisely a lot of deeper or fiery personality. Again, Williams' charisma does redeem this, and it's one of the reasons he shifted into TV and movies after his music career faded, but it's not exactly interesting. I'd put this in the middle tier of Christmas songs in my books - not bad, I see its place, I wouldn't change the channel, but it's not a song I'd ever listen to outside of the holidays. And on that note...

46. 'A Holly Jolly Christmas' by Burl Ives - it's kind of fascinating to contrast Burl Ives with Andy Williams - where one came from a very obvious oldschool showbiz style, Ives started off in folk music before going country, where he had a modest amount of success throughout the 50s and 60s. Like Andy Williams he transitioned to movies and TV, where he actually had more success, winning an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in The Big Country opposite Gregory Peck and Charlton Heston. But where you all probably know him most is from the stop-motion animated Christmas classic 'Rudolf The Red-Nosed Reindeer', where he voiced the snowman and contributed this, which has become a holiday classic. And I have to admit I dig this a little more, not just because it's an integral part of childhood, but because it's a better song. The subtle organ accents, the fact that it's anchored in guitar complete with solo and key change, and the fact that Ives brings the sort of unrefined, hangdog but generally charming as hell delivery that clicks really well. Look, it's impossible for me to be completely objective about this, given that, again, part of my childhood, but as someone who has never really liked Christmas music... again, I'll stick up for this, damn great song.

44. 'Feliz Navidad' by Jose Feliciano - and if we're looking for a Christmas song I don't really like... yeah, it's this one. Jose Feliciano was a blind Puerto Rican singer and guitarist and came later than Williams or Ives, a lot more popular in South America before he broke in the US in the late 60s. And yeah, he was never quite as big - his biggest record was an album of mostly Beatles covers in 1968, which ended up getting him a Grammy for Best New Artist, but he'd later cement his place in popular culture with 'Feliz Navidad' in 1970... and yeah, I don't really love this. It's the sort of Christmas kitsch I've always felt is painfully dated, mostly courtesy of the horns, big band swell, and Feliciano's nasal and not appealing voice. Coupled with the fact that the lyrics are painfully basic - really just two lines, one in Spanish, one in English that repeat over Latin rhythms and an admittedly decent bassline - it's a novelty song that lucked its way into the holiday canon, basically only a few steps above 'Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer'. In other words, as we wrap up our holidays, of all the songs that debuted here, this would be the one I'd skip.

41. 'Both' by Gucci Mane ft. Drake - and to round out our hip-hop and Christmas compilation, we have a big new single from Drake and Gucci Mane off a mixtape called - no joke - The Return of East Atlanta Santa, and... it's okay, I guess? Again, while I think Gucci Mane's flow is a little sloppy he sounds fine enough against this production courtesy of Southside and Metro Boomin - the trap beat is standard but the way the keys are layered lends some decent atmosphere. Sure, Gucci's not saying anything that's interesting - he's not satisfied by the girl he's screwing and he's threatening someone who double-crossed him - but he's at least preferable to Drake's bored monotone on the hook, which promises that he'd talk about his life given that he's both drunk and high right now... and yet on his verse he says nothing we haven't heard before. It's typical of Drake, sure, but it's starting to get exasperating given how often he's been featured he can't come up with anything remotely witty to say. In other words, given how little here is anything new, I don't see this sticking around - sorry.

And that was our list... man, I can't say this was a good week, even with 'Starboy' going to #1. The best... see, I'm stuck going to Christmas songs that came out decades ago for any sort of quality, because best is 'Holly Jolly Christmas' by Burl Ives and Honourable Mention to 'Last Christmas' from Wham!. Worst... yeah, 'Swang' by Rae Sremmurd is running away with that one, with Dishonourable Mention going to the utterly boring and increasingly sloppy 'Red Opps' by 21 Savage - seriously, no idea what anyone sees in him especially when you can have YG, The Game, Freddie Gibbs, Jeezy, and I could easily go on. Let's hope things recover in the new year and 2017 can pull itself back together!

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