Wednesday, January 11, 2017

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - january 21, 2017

This is one of those oddly deceptive weeks that you occasionally see on the Hot 100 - yes, I will have things to say about our new number one, but the big story there is masking what would seem to be a mostly static week, especially in our top 40. But if you look closer and deeper and beyond a pretty sparse list of new arrivals, you'll see that there's a fair bit more coming downstream - maybe not as many gains as last week but a significant list all the same that does show an interesting shift on the horizon.

But before we get to that, we need to talk about our top ten and yes, the new #1 and the first for both of these artists. And just like the last #1, it got there by a meme to notch its success, because it's not like our frontmen or our guest star got there by being interesting in their own right! Yep, it's 'Bad And Boujee' by Migos ft. Lil Uzi Vert, riding huge streaming and solid sales right to the very top. Now there's a lot of factors to consider here: for one, it was a narrow victory, and given the huge momentum behind the new tracks from Ed Sheeran that'll impact the charts next week, I think its time at the top will be short-lived. And that's good, because for the life of me I have no idea why anyone likes this song - I'm no Migos fan and I like Lil Uzi Vert even less, but this cheap keyboard line against the flattened guitar lurking in the haze of trap snares and sub-bass and the standard triplet flows... this is nothing Migos hasn't been doing for the past four years at least, and the content or delivery isn't even over-the-top or fun! At least 'Black Beatles' by Rae Sremmurd ft. Gucci Mane, pushed back to #2 as it slipped on sales and YouTube despite a modest streaming recovery, it at least had some distinct character and groove in the production, I could almost get behind the pseudo-goth rock vibe it had. Next is 'Closer' by The Chainsmokers ft. Halsey, which actually rebounded to #3 as it held its airplay and picked up modest boosts on streaming and sales - joy, and I'm not pleased that this pushed 'Starboy' by The Weeknd and Daft Punk down to #4, which is still solid but is just getting edged out in the margins. This takes us to the continued strengths of '24K Magic', which held #5 on a big sales rebound and its airplay somehow compensating for weaker streaming. Then we get two songs that picked up position thanks to 'Juju On Dat Beat' dropping out, the first being good with 'Side To Side' by Ariana Grande ft. Nicki Minaj at #6 picking up streaming to compensate for weaker sales, the second being awful with 'Don't Wanna Know' by Maroon 5 and Kendrick Lamar going to #7 on pretty much just airplay at this point. Then we get 'Let Me Love You' by DJ Snake and Justin Bieber, taking a sales loss but not enough to drop lower than #8, 'Fake Love' by Drake, which also lost sales but has more than enough streaming and airplay gains to compensate, and then re-entering the top 10: 'Bad Things' by MGK and Camila Cabello, with huge airplay gains to compensate for uncertain sales and streaming, which I can only hope cripples it from going higher as I'm really coming to actively dislike it.

And on that topic, our losers and dropouts... and here's the thing, there weren't many at all this week. Beyond the rest of the Christmas songs and the songs paying tribute to George Michael, the only big one was 'Pick Up The Phone' by Young Thug, Travis Scott and Quavo, and it had been around for a while already. And if you look towards losses, we only really had three: 'Immortals' by J. Cole dropping hard to 82, 'My Shit' by A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie down to 96, and 'Hallelujah' by Pentatonix falling really hard to 84 as they rotate out Christmas songs - frankly, I'm surprised it lasted this long.

No, where things get interesting are in our gains and returning entries, and let's start off with the latter. I'm mostly ambivalent on 'Congratulations' by Post Malone and Quavo returning to 90 and 'Key To The Streets' by YFN Lucci ft. Migos and Trouble rebounding to 97 - neither are all that good but they're here because of the success of Migos going to #1 and people looking to hear more from them. The surprise for me came with 'We Know The Way' by Opetaia Foa'i and Lin-Manuel Miranda returning to 98, mostly because it's representative of Moana as a whole doing surprisingly well on the Hot 100 right now. Hell, if you look to the gains Alessia Cara's version of 'How Far I'll Go' actually picked up to 58 - it's below the original one, but I'm surprised it's gaining at all! But what surprised me is that a lot of our gains look pretty promising as a whole. Yes, there are still some really bad songs gaining traction - 'Play That Song' by Train up to 68 and 'Make Me (Cry)' by Noah Cyrus and Labrith up to 55, none of that is good, but beyond that? First we have our returning entries gaining traction, and while I don't really like 'Sex With Me' by Rihanna up to 83, '80s Mercedes' by Maren Morris isn't a bad pop song to go to 74 and 'Parachute' by Chris Stapleton up to 78 is flat out awesome! Then there's the new arrivals... and look, 'Shaky Shaky' by Daddy Yankee is horrendously stupid at 88 and 'Seein' Red' by Dustin Lynch really should be better than it is up to 69, but seeing 'iSpy' by KYLE and Lil Yachty up to 62 and especially 'Way Down We Go' by Kaleo up to 85, that's ultimately still a positive in my book. And sure, I'm not thrilled that 'Say You Won't Let Go' by James Arthur is continuing up to 37, it's an obvious Ed Sheeran ripoff, but contrast that with 'Handclap' by Fitz And The Tantrums also continuing to rise to 56 - sure, it's a blatant sellout, but as a pop song it does stick in the memory. And then you have the songs that sure, aren't great but they're far from being bad either, like 'Rockabye' surpassing my expectations up to 61, or 'Chantaje' by Shakira and Maluma surging to 50 on tremendous YouTube, or 'Better Man' by Little Big Town, despite its real problems thriving at 44, or that 'Alone' song by Marshmello picking up a bit to 72. I dunno, folks, I have a hard time feeling bad about some of these songs rising up, it'll be interesting to see which of them hold traction.

But since we have a sparse list of new arrivals, let's bring back an old feature from last year, the World Hit! Now I went through a pile of charts and right now the biggest track that seems to be dominating is 'Rockabye'... which I've already talked about. The next big one is that 'Human' song by Rag 'n Bone Man, which I considered, but I prefer my Hozier ripoffs to have slightly sharper writing and a rock edge or at least production that doesn't feel so obviously formulaic. Then I saw 'Touch' by Little Mix and I considered just raving about that again for a few minutes, but I think I'll save that for when it crosses over to the US - and make no mistake, that's coming. So in the end, I decided to go back to the Canadian charts and find a song that's definitely got major momentum from an album I adored and definitely deserves more attention...

Say it with me, folks: the Canadian Charts are always better! Not only has 'Starboy' sat at #1 for a few weeks and we've mostly kept Drake's 'Fake Love' out of the top 10 - hell, 'Bad And Boujee' hasn't even got there yet - we have this, a fresh cut from my favourite album of 2015 that got real momentum and also happens to be awesome - and it's not even the best track from that record! And the funny thing is that Marianas Trench making it work by sticking with pop rock tropes and just doing them better - the low shifts of guitar, the textured percussion that relies on the deeper snares and a great roiling groove, the well-balanced xylophone and piano anchoring the melody, and of course a vocal hook that's straight from the tradition of pub singalongs in being ridiculously catchy! And yeah, a huge part of it is Josh Ramsay's fantastic vocal layering that doesn't neglect the low-end, but it's also a song that embraces a hopeful swell that doesn't shy away from acknowledging in the lyrics that he went down hard, but he's going to get his shit together and make the choice to move on with his life going forward and make those hard choices. And sure, within the context of the album you understand he's speaking about his failed engagement, but here it's abstract but well-structured and witty enough to work as a killer single. Yes, I could probably pick another four or five songs from that album I'd personally prefer to get big, like the title track or 'Wildfire' or 'Dearly Departed' or 'End Of An Era', but as a single, this track gets to the huge emotive swell that has always anchored killer hits like 'Desperate Measures' or 'Fallout' or 'Beside You'. And while I know this'll never cross over to the US - their label has always been crap at promoting them south of the border - I'll take what I can get here.

But now onto the list proper...

100. 'Water' by Ugly God - so here's another case of the hype completely not backing up anything that's remotely interesting or fun - in other words, we have another completely forgettable rapper, this time from Indiana, who somehow is notching a hit off of a fragment of a song. Seriously, it's a hook and one verse, it barely even sounds finished, and yet apparently this guy Ugly God is the internet's favourite rapper? Yeah, somehow I don't buy it, because this is pretty damn generic and forgettable - at least at the heights of Lil B's "popularity" he tapped into a borderline outsider artist style that could conceivably hook Internet culture. Ugly God... desaturated synth at the back of the mix against your standard sandy hi-hat, until the thicker bass comes in, and a delivery that I'm not sure I could remotely pick out of a lineup. And the content... well, it's all about stealing your girl who he'll make his 'slave' and screwing lesbians as he calls himself a dyke. But really, if you want a sign of how forgettable this is, consider that he's referencing 21 Savage and Lil Yachty in order to gain cred - that is seriously weak. I'd say skip it, but what's more likely is that you'd forget it.

95. 'The Weekend' by Brantley Gilbert - there's a part of me that finds it weird that Brantley Gilbert is charting songs in 2017. I mean, there are still traces of bro-country around, but his brand of undiluted alpha-bro non-singing almost seems like a relic of trends that died three years ago. And yet he's got an album dropping in less than a week for which this is the first song I've heard... and seriously, we're still doing this? Generic checklist lyrics about weekend partying, sour melodies, electric guitars crushed into a slurry, a solo that's nowhere close to impressive, fake percussion sneaking into the mix, and Brantley Gilbert's fried rasp of a voice so sloppily mixed that it doesn't build to any significant or driving hook. Hell, outside of the content I'd have a hard time calling this a country song instead of bad southern rock. So okay, Gilbert, if you want to play in that territory, you'll have to get used to Whiskey Myers and Blackberry Smoke running circles around you, but frankly the way country is trending back towards actual quality, I don't see this sticking around, and good riddance.

94. 'I Got You' by Bebe Rexha - you know, for as much as I've heard about Bebe Rexha, I've never really had the opportunity to discuss her as a solo artist, mostly because over the past few years she's been more of a behind-the-scenes cowriter or at the very least a featured vocalist that's brought in to punch up a song. And for a while let's be very honest, she's one of the big reasons that 'Me, Myself & I' with G-Eazy wasn't insufferable, or that 'In The Name Of Love' helped Martin Garrix stick around a little longer, or that 'Hey Mama' with David Guetta and Nicki Minaj wasn't nearly as bad as it could have been. So I guess I should be surprised that she's finally got her own single to chart after 'No Broken Hearts' with Nicki Minaj went nowhere. And honestly, as much as I think Bebe Rexha is an expressive singer as she tries to delve deeper into her paramour's deeper thoughts, this production does not flatter her at all. Why the hell do those vocals sound so compressed and weedy along with the synth, complete with the flattened percussion that could have a decent groove if the mix was allowed to open up and show some actual swell! It sounds alarmingly cheap, and the fact that the debut album is planned for January makes it clear that the label doesn't have a lot of faith in it... and with this single, I kind of get why, because this should be a lot better.

93. 'Beibs In The Trap' by Travis Scott ft. NAV - okay, apparently I enjoyed the most recent Travis Scott album more than seemingly anyone, but instead of actually releasing by far the best song 'Through The Late Night', we get 'beibs in the trap'... which yeah, wasn't really my favourite here. Travis Scott's staccato flow doesn't nearly have the swell or groove to do much here, his rhyming feels stilted, and considering NAV handles both the hook and a verse, it really doesn't have much to make it feel distinctive besides the central conceit of Justin Bieber's name representing cocaine that a slew of white girls are railing, so of course they have to get more, trying to find whatever money they can to pay for it. All against this twinkling synth that glitches in and out against a fizzy bass hit with hints of gloss around the edges... honestly, there's just not a lot to it beyond capturing that zonked out party vibe around people who are doing too many drugs, and that doesn't do much for me. It's not a bad track, per se, but it's definitely not one to which I'd return

92. 'Sober Saturday Night' by Chris Young ft. Vince Gill - so no joke, I literally forgot that Chris Young collaborated with Vince Gill on his 2015 album I'm Coming Over - which is mostly because despite mostly liking Chris Young, I completely forgot the majority of that last album. I'm not really surprised, though, that this is the next song - it actually has steel guitar, which means that it might have more of a shot landing on modern country radio given how its trending... but man, why the hell did you waste Vince Gill like this? Not only does the writing do nothing to show his presence like with 'Think Of You' with Cassadee Pope, the production basically shoves him behind Chris Young's baritenor so you can barely hear him! Granted, I'm not wild about the production as a whole - the sparse acoustic strums are supposed to represent the ticking of a clock against the piano line, which is a nifty choice against the thicker bass guitar, but again, I think I like this song more for what it could have been rather than what it is, as the explosive climax doesn't really come through well, despite Chris Young's powerful delivery. And that leads to a bit of a mismatch - it's a song about being so wrecked by a breakup that he looks hungover when in fact he didn't drink, which is a pretty potent emotion, but I get the feeling understatement might have connected more strongly, or just go all out with the pain and sadness. This song feels a bit like a half measure, and along with feeling underwritten doesn't quite stick more for me.

But in comparison with the rest of our new arrivals... yeah, it's getting the best of the week, it's at least a song that I could see myself mostly liking to give it a pass down the road - even though I haven't relistened to it since reviewing the album, it's not bad. Worst of the Week is easy, 'The Weekend' by Brantley Gilbert, less because of the posturing and utterly pathetic delivery and the fact that he's still trying to make bro-country happen, but that the production seems even more slapdash and badly layered than usual, which absolutely blows my mind. I'm going to take consolation in Marianas Trench on the Canadian charts and that our gains this week look a little promising.

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