Wednesday, January 18, 2017

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - january 28, 2017

Well, isn't this a fascinating development... and yes, I did call it last week. Even though the rest of our chart really isn't all that interesting, everyone's eyes are fixed on the big #1 debut, the sort of return that if you had told me that this could have happened even five years ago, I would have called you crazy. And yet to some extent it is historic, because for the first time in the history of the Billboard Hot 100, this is the first time two songs from the same artist ever debuted in the Top 10 at the same time. I knew people had missed Ed Sheeran for some time, but that they missed him this much is a little amazing, at least to me.

So let's get into that Top 10, shall we? Starting things off we have our brand new #1: 'Shape Of You' by Ed Sheeran. And it got there just as I predicted - through huge sales and considerable airplay pickups, dominant in the first and not too shabby in the second for a debut - although not surprising, Sheeran is a radio darling. But where I'd argue the edge came through was in much stronger streaming and YouTube than I expected, especially in on-demand - yes, 'Bad And Boujee' by Migos and Lil Uzi Vert held #2 and put up a solid fight, especially courtesy of its streaming dominance, but its sales weren't on the same level and 'Shape Of You' jumped past it on the radio. All of this places 'Black Beatles' by Rae Sremmurd and Gucci Mane in a bit of an awkward position at #3 - its radio isn't entirely stable, it's been losing sales, and there are weaknesses in streaming that I can see being problematic down the road. But if it's bad for that song, 'Starboy' by The Weeknd and Daft Punk might have it even worse: it held steady at #4, but its radio has been slipping, sales are weakening, and streaming isn't what it was. Of course, when you compare it to 'Closer' by The Chainsmokers and Halsey, things look different, as that song might have radio but is even weaker in sales and took a sharp dive in streaming to fall to #5. And then we get the next big arrival from Ed Sheeran, 'Castle On The Hill', which basically caught traction for the exact same reasons 'Shape Of You' did to land at #6 - huge sales and surprisingly good streaming, although radio is struggling to catch up. Now this has meant '24K Magic' by Bruno Mars got pushed back to #7, but that loss might have happened anyway, courtesy of a considerable sales drop and instability both on streaming and radio. And despite its continued radio dominance, something similar might be coming for 'Don't Wanna Know' by Maroon 5 and Kendrick Lamar at #8, as sales remain weak and streaming is pretty much nonexistent. Then there's 'Side to Side' by Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj, which got forced back to #9 with even weaker sales, although airplay, YouTube, and streaming are keeping it afloat for now. Finally, clinging onto the bottom of the Top 10 is 'Bad Things' by Machine Gun Kelly and Camila Cabello, still here because it's actually got some life on the radio and its sales compensated for a streaming hit - shame.

But when we look beyond our top 10, it was actually a pretty busy week, so let's start with losers and dropouts. And I have to say, outside of losing 'How I'll Always Be' by Tim McGraw, I'm not about to complain that 'Unsteady' by X Ambassadors or 'Too Much Sauce' by DJ Esco ft. Future and Lil Uzi Vert dropped out. And our losers... well, kind of all over the place, but I'd argue it's overall positive. I'm not complaining that 'Immortal' by J. Cole continues to lose to 97, or that 'All We Know' by The Chainsmokers and Phoebe Ryan gutters down to 92, or that 'Make Me Cry' by Noah Cyrus and Labrinth lost hard off the gains last week to 66, or that 'OOOUUU' by Young M.A. went to 39, or that the increasingly awkward 'May We All' by Florida Georgia Line fell to 52. And on the topic of country, 'Wanna Be That Song' by Brett Eldredge slipped to 57 and 'Song For Another Time ' dropped to 76 - no surprise, given how long they've been around - and 'Million Reasons' by Lady Gaga fell to 96 because we can't have nice things. The last losers we had are both from Moana, with 'You're Welcome' by Dwayne Johnson falling to 81 and 'How Far I'll Go' by Auli'i Cravalho falling to 67 - so it doesn't look like we've got another Frozen on our hands, but frankly I'm amazed they lasted this long.

But where things get a little weird come in our returning entries and gains, and let's start with the former category. First we get 'What We Want' by Russ going back to 98 - it's been bouncing around for a while, no surprise - then 'Today' by Brad Paisley back at 95 - hell, they need something to fill time on country radio - and finally 'Call On Me' by Starley, a song that I'm fairly certain was so generic that I'm amazed anybody remembered it at all! But things get weirder from there: I guess I shouldn't be surprised that 'Water' by Ugly God got a little traction to 87 off its debut, but I'm certainly surprised that Bebe Rexha's 'I Got You' surged up to 63. And then we have our continued gains - no surprise that 'Rockabye' by Clean Bandit, Sean Paul, and Anne-Marie went up to 51, that song has had consistent momentum, but then there's 'Alone' by Marshmello continuing up to 60 and 'iSpy' by KYLE and Lil Yachty picking up big to 42. Don't get me wrong, I like the song, but I'm amazed something this deliberately small and low-key caught on this much. Finally, we've got 'Moves' by Big Sean picked up to 62, proving that if you want to sound like Drake and be generally boring, there's still a market for it!

And given that there really wasn't any huge World Hits that caught my ear - Ed Sheeran basically took over around the world here, I think we're going to keep this short and go straight to new arrivals, starting with...

100. 'If The Boot Fits' by Granger Smith - you know, when I covered Granger Smith about a year ago, I mentioned that I doubt I would remember his breakout single 'Backroads Song'... and I was right, because until I relistened to it in preparation for this, I had completely forgotten this existed. Apparently he also put out an album that I got precisely zero requests to cover back last March, with this being his next single. And I can't be the only one getting a serious Kelsea Ballerini vibe coming with this song: the choppy grooves, fake percussion on the verses, very breezy tone, and the fact that Granger Smith is quite literally recontexualizing the Cinderella story for country girls. Okay, he gets a point for originality, and even though Smith doesn't have a lot of vocal personality, he's at least sincere enough to sell something like this - hell, considering how empty of personality the Prince in Disney's Cinderella was, he might even fit the bill - but dig into the lyrics a little more and the parallel isn't as exact as it could be. Why swap out the evil stepmother for a father who wants her home by midnight, and more importantly, why on the bridge have her taking off the boots standing in for the glass slippers? Look, it's more memorable than his last song for at least trying for a concept, but again, it's not really all that interesting either, and I can't help but feel this brand of pop country won't stick around for long given the way the genre is trending. And on that topic...

89. 'Drinkin' Too Much' by Sam Hunt - look, I'm no big fan of Sam Hunt - he's landed multiple songs on year-end worst lists from me and if any of his later singles had charted high enough they would have easily made the list for 2016. But apparently Hunt has an excuse for all the sour emotions that made his material so execrable, with this being the apology to that ex that was referenced time and time again on Montevallo. And let's get this out of the way, this song blows on a compositional level, the only element of country instrumentation coming in hints of guitar around the hook with the rest being fake snapping percussion, hints of strings, and a dank, curdled mix that wouldn't be out of place on your average modern hip-hop track, complete with ugly vocal layering. But okay, let's put aside the fact that this is the furthest thing from country - clearly, Sam Hunt is trying for some time of mood here as he's admitting everything he did wrong to this girl... and yet putting aside how his verses barely even try to rhyme and have some of the most flat delivery possible, the song breaks apart almost immediately. If you want to apologize for outing personal information about your ex, why do you restate all of it on your verses, including her name? You yourself say she wants privacy, so why don't you leave the hell alone? Well, the answer to that is brutally honest: he's still very much not over her and the song takes on the feel of him trying to guilt trip her to coming back, from the offers to pay her student loans, to the presumptuous assertions that she was crying in the bathtub about him, to the fact that despite she changed her number and moved, he chose to put this out as the only way to reach her! This has gone past Drake's concern trolling territory and beginning to reach Pat Monahan, Jason Mraz and Robin Thicke levels of overexposed creepiness, except worse because at least those men showed some passion and didn't just admit that 'singing these songs are just something to do'. Not an ounce of self-awareness or dignity and almost certainly destined to make things worse for this girl, on top of being an absolutely miserable piece of music... yeah, this is fucking terrible. If anyone releases something worse than this in the next six months, I'll be shocked.

77. 'Location' by Khalid - so in case you all don't know, something YouTube has restarted is their 'On The Rise' feature, highlighting YouTubers who are gaining traction and who they'd like to drive more attention. Now for me, I'm entirely on board with this for every reason you'd expect and more - it's a damn shame as of now it's locked to the US, but hey, you can hope they regionalize it and port it abroad, I'd love to get a stab at that. Anyway, this feature ended up giving an artist named Khalid the spotlight, and since YouTube is now a factor on the Hot 100, his song 'Location' ended up here... and it's an interesting case, let me say that right now. I wouldn't quite call it great - it feels choppy and a bit overmixed, between the chipmunk vocals and slightly awkward interjections, not helped by the very staccato cascades of synth and plucks of guitar to play off the snaps and broken strums punched up by the beat. I liked some of the hints of soul swelling up in the background, makes me think this could have a little more groove and momentum to match the pleading for this girl to send her location so they can move past technology and get to the physical - and points to Khalid for selling the longing for a real connection, even if I'm not wild that he only picks up a little more passion for the final hook. As a whole... eh, it's a little jittery but awkwardly sincere in a way that I can see myself coming to like - I wish it had a little more groove and flow to it, but as it is, this isn't bad, I'l take it.

6. 'Castle On The Hill' by Ed Sheeran - so now we have the first of the two singles that Ed Sheeran released off his upcoming record Divide, and general buzz has suggested this was the 'better' song. But here's the thing, a lot of the buzz from critics I follow suggested that this song wasn't really good, of which I will entirely disagree - in fact, I'd argue this is pretty damn great mostly because Ed Sheeran has chosen to pull from a part of rock music that has been severely underserved on the pop charts: U2. Yeah, the percussion is nowhere near as explosive as it would need to be to anchor something at that level - it would need sharper snares for that and I'm blaming producer Benny Blanco - but between the fast-picked electric guitar work and especially Sheeran's raw vocals, of which I can entirely get behind, this song is clearly trying to aim for some of that bigger rock swell that made U2 so potent, especially in the 80s. And yeah, I can see the temptation of some to draw parallels between this and Lukas Graham's '7 Years', but Sheeran is opting for bigger framing that's not just focused on him. This is a homecoming anthem that doesn't shy away from rough edges and his own failings - and when he comes home, it's telling how disconnected he feels from those friends he left behind outside of memories they'll never lose. In other words... yeah, okay, it's blatant U2 worship and I might wish the electric guitars on the hook roared a little louder, but this is the sort of rock song I can come to love, and from my first few listens, I'm very much on the way - GREAT song.

1. 'Shape Of You' by Ed Sheeran - I have heard so many mixed initial reviews for this track I didn't know what to think. For one, I had heard it was a song written 'for Rihanna', and with tropical house vibes to boot. Hell, reading about how the song was composed it almost seems like a fun leftover that Sheeran included out of sheer ambivalence. And yeah, you can kind of tell, as Ed Sheeran's really isn't delivering the same force of personality as he did on 'Castle On The Hill', but there's stuff to like about this song, it's nowhere near as bad as I was expecting. For one, this is less a song 'for Rihanna' to sing and more about Sheeran falling for someone like her, picking up the bar after doing shots and now just coasting on the residual hookup. And it's very clear that there's not a lot between these two - Sheeran's in love with the 'shape' of this girl, more for the hookup and less for the conversation afterwards, and it's clear that despite all the conversation she wants something more primal. I'd say the sheer bravado of the song, to say nothing of the vocal harmonies, is slightly reminiscent of Justin Timberlake, but Sheeran's going in a different direction with the damp tropical backing tones, choppy guitar work, rickety handclap and deeper, borderline African-inspired backing tones and post-chorus. I'd say it's got some roots in cod-reggae tones, but the tempo is faster and the production is much closer and more immediate. In short, I'm not sure it's a great song and I definitely like 'Castle On The HIll' more, but there's a swagger and groove to this track that matches some sharp writing that would put it above any number one that's been released since... damn, probably 'Hello' by Adele, I like it that much! So yeah, I'm okay with this being at #1, it's a solid song.

So overall... yeah, I'm not the biggest Ed Sheeran fan, but he brought the goods with these two songs and avoided boring territory like 'Photograph' and 'Thinking Out Loud', I'm happy to see him bring both rock and some real groove back to the top ten. For me, 'Castle On The Hill' runs away the best of the week... and yeah, the worst is easy too, 'Drinkin' Too Much' by Sam Hunt, and if there is any justice it will crash and burn like it so readily deserves. But overall, I like the disruption Ed Sheeran brought to our top 10, to say nothing of the quality, and I can't wait to see where it goes from here.

1 comment:

  1. You can quote me on this:
    CASTLE ON THE HILL in a few words:
    7 Years done right.