Tuesday, February 14, 2017

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - february 25, 2017

So folks, did you have enough of me talking about Big Sean when the review dropped last night? Well, it's not over - because to replace Migos and as a lead-in to the expected chaos that'll come with the Grammys, Big Sean brought in six new songs to the Hot 100 to an already busy week. Yeah, believe it or not, I'm not sure he's the biggest story here, from some major shifts in our top ten to a swathe of new arrivals peppering the rest of the Hot 100.

In other words, let's stop wasting time, Top 10! As you'd expect 'Shape Of You' by Ed Sheeran maintains its grip at the #1 - it rules the radio, sales are strong, and while it's getting edged out on streaming, it actually has YouTube as a buffer. This is something that gives it some breathing room over 'Bad And Boujee' by Migos and Lil Uzi Vert at #2, which rules streaming and is picking up radio, but losses on YouTube and especially sales block it from going higher. Similar case to 'I Don't Wanna Live Forever' by Zayn and Taylor Swift - it might have radio traction and it actually recovered on YouTube, but it lost the top spot on sales and it's never been a streaming giant, it'll probably remain stuck at #3. But this takes us to our first big top 10 story: tying the record for highest ever return to the Hot 100 is 'Million Reasons' by Lady Gaga, driven by a huge Super Bowl performance which led to absolutely monster sales and pretty much nothing else to go to #4. Now I don't expect it'll hold there - the radio seems a bit reticent to give it spins, and she's got no real streaming presence right now - but still, impressive. Now this pushes back 'Bad Things' by Machine Gun Kelly and Camila Cabello to #5, but it's bleeding airplay right now, sales crashed hard, and I can see not lasting in streaming either. Now this leads to our second big top ten arrival: 'Bounce Back' by Big Sean. Tying for his highest ever peak - and arguably one of his best songs from I Decided., I'm actually okay with this riding strong streaming and a bit of airplay traction to get here. And between Big Sean and Lady Gaga, the rest of the top 10 looks a lot less steady: 'Closer' by The Chainsmokers ft. Halsey slips to #7 as it bleeds airplay and sales despite a modest YouTube revival; 'Scars To Your Beautiful' by Alessia Cara actually rises to #8 because it's got just enough sales to cling to its slowly dying radio and just beat 'Don't Wanna Know' by Maroon 5 and Kendrick Lamar at #9 in the same boat. And rounding out our list, returning to the top 10, 'Paris' by The Chainsmokers, which also got a bit of a YouTube boost to compensate for slipping sales and not great airplay.

So okay, overall I'm okay seeing some quality arrive and dominate the top ten, what about our losers and dropouts? Well, in the latter category, outside of a load of Migos songs, the biggest losers were 'Blue Ain't Your Color' by Keith Urban and 'X' by 21 Savage and Metro Boomin - so yeah, definitely not complaining there! And Migos' losses continued to our losers, with 'Kelly Price' with Travis Scott falling to 100 and 'Slippery' with Gucci Mane falling hard to 73. Beyond that, what struck me as a pleasant surprise were the sudden reversals of fortune for songs like 'Play That Song' by Train falling hard to 59 and 'The Weekend' by Brantley Gilbert down to 79 - but granted, it wasn't a great week for country overall. 'Star Of The Show' by Thomas Rhett fell to 58, 'A Guy With a Girl' by Blake Shelton continued down to 64, and Lauren Alaina took a hit with 'Road Less Traveled' down to 90. The rest of our losers, unfortunately, look to be decent songs: 'Love Me Now' by John Legend goes to 45, 'How Far I'll Go' by Auli'i Cravalho continues to 92, and, saddest of all, 'Castle On The Hill' by Ed Sheeran falls to 62, which is just wrong, man.

And none of this is helped by our gains and returning entries. Yes, I'm as happy as anyone that Lady Gaga brought back 'Million Reasons' to the top ten, but some credit must come for bringing back 'Bad Romance' to 50 and reminding us a time in pop that had some alien flavor and punch. Because seriously, if you compare them to any of our gains, they're outstripping them without question - when the best is 'That's What I Like' by Bruno Mars continuing up fast to 37, you're not exactly in good straits! First we have 'Moves' by Big Sean off the album up to 38 - fine - followed by the continued surge of 'Issues' by Julia Michaels to 41, where I have no clue why anyone finds a song this stiff remotely interesting. Then there's boring mediocrity like 'Call On Me' by Starley to 72 - apparently the remix is better, but it's sure not coming through here - and 'Any Ol' Barstool' by Jason Aldean up to 84 - hey, you need something to fill time on country radio. But the real crimes against good taste and humanity come through with our last two gains: the sleazy sellout of 'Guys My Age' by Hey Violet, which remains uncomfortable and gross and not in the good way, and 'Body Like A Backroad' by Sam Hunt up to 21. And let me make this abundantly clear: this got there on sales, not country radio pushing this, which gives me the unpleasant feeling that it either got discounted or there are people who have such low standards of quality that they think this is good. I'm not sure I want to meet any of those people, because if this becomes a hit that sticks around... whoo boy.

But enough of that nonsense, let's get to our lengthy list of new arrivals, starting with...

(not available because Big Sean)

97. 'Light' by Big Sean ft. Jeremih - so we start our week of Big Sean... with actually one of the better songs. And it was a promising way to start off the album too - the synth tones had some solemn swell, and while Jeremih isn't a particularly impressive singer, it did take balls to open up a hip-hop record with no drums to place all the attention on the bars. And... look, he's rhyming words with themselves, but the flow works, and while I don't buy for a second that Big Sean's flows are nearly as inspiring and showcase some sort of inner artistic intent, it feels like a clumsy stab at inspiration that at least has its heart in the right place. Not a great song by any stretch, but it is passable and I do like the melodies, so I guess I'll take it.

95. 'Look At Me!' by XXXTENTACION - okay, you're going to have to follow me on this one. Apparently a few weeks back Drake previewed a song at a show with a flow that was similar to a song released by a Florida rapper with a name that looks like something from a bad fanfiction writer. And yet apparently this guy has been cranking out EPs since 2014, blending a cacophony of styles and doing everything from singing to screaming, the sort of lo-fi material you find when you start digging into the underbelly of Bandcamp. In short, I had some concerns going in... and really, it wasn't quite as bad as I was expecting, but it was far from good. The droning production playing against a sleigh bell and a bass so distorted it actively interferes with the vocals and hi-hats... which if you read this guy's bars might actually be a good thing, which mainly focuses on exaggerated caricatures of girls and bragging about killing your parents. And I get the impression with his delivery and style that he's trying to shock me... well, I hate to say it, but with the pleas of 'Look at me' on the hook, it's a lot less shocking and a lot more desperate for attention - which might make a certain amount of sense, given that as of now he's in county jail awaiting trial. But yeah, on the quality of this... nope, not showing up for this court date.

94. 'In Case You Didn't Know' by Brett Young - I think I liked Brett Young's breakthrough single 'Sleep Without You' more than the majority of people - people thought it was too slick, too outwardly pop, but there was a certain laid back charm that felt earnest, so I was interested where he'd take things next. And outside of the flagrantly obvious drum machine that runs through more of the background than it should, this is a generally pleasant track. The sandy acoustics playing off some decent liquid electric interplay and Young's harsher rasp... and it's funny, this guy has a very similar vocal timbre to John Mayer, and yet his writing makes him a fair bit more tolerable if only because it emphasizes the sincerity. And sure, it can ring as a little simplistic in its love song construction, but the melodies are solid enough and real sincerity goes a long way for me - not a great song, but not a bad one either, I'll take it.

93. 'Now & Later' by Sage The Gemini - I'm honestly surprised Sage The Gemini stuck around this long - mostly because from what I've observed, he's continued to improve. His team-up with Nick Jonas 'Good Things' was a pretty solid tune, and thus while immediately after 'Gas Pedal' I would have no desire to hear anything else, I was actually curious if this would turn out okay. And turns out... actually pretty decent! But that word doesn't quite describe how odd this song actually is, with the low breathy flutes balanced against what sounds like hints of an accordion, buzzy synth layers, and a pretty decent bass groove against Sage's more melodic bouncy flow. It's a shame he's not a more expressive rapper - his punchlines are overall pretty mixed, from okay pop culture references to trying to make exes jealous and a whole load of obvious candy metaphors, but I think what holds this song from being better is a shade more enthusiasm. That, along with the fact that this song doesn't quite take off as much as it should, seems to imply a good track, but not quite a great one. Still, considering where he started, I'll take this.

89. 'I Don't' by Mariah Carey ft. YG - the more I thought about this pairing it began to make simultaneously more and less sense. I guess if YG was playing to old-school smooth west coast vibes it could work, but Mariah Carey is a cooing diva powerhouse and pairing her with YG's hardcore gangsta style might lead to an awkward mismatch. And yeah, that seems about right in this case, because the fusion of styles feels clumsy as hell. For one, it's trying to marry the liquid keys, hints of guitar, and a more prominent vocal sample with sharper trap snares, a stuttering 808, and a breathing sound effect that certainly doesn't blend well with Mariah's multi-tracking. And while Mariah remains a great singer - everyone can have a bad live show, people - I'm not convinced this production is as lush or full as it could be to give her the swell she could use, and she and YG have little-to-no chemistry or interplay. And as for the lyrics... well, they fall into a weird spot too, a breakup song told from both sides where it's very clear there was a miscommunication about love and trust. And yet YG still thinks he's got a shot to get in her head by ensuring she has his ring... dude, it's Mariah, she'll be fine here. Overall, it's not a bad track, and given that it's a non-album single taken from Mariah's show, I don't really see it sticking around, but that's also firmly where it belongs - let's keep it there.

87. 'Beauty And The Beast' by Ariana Grande & John Legend - okay, let me make this abundantly clear: from the second I heard that Disney was making a live-action version of Beauty And The Beast, one of my all-time favourite animated Disney movies, I had concerns. Thus far the trailers have been promising, but a big concern was always going to be the music, especially the centerpiece title track. Now my favourite version of this has never been that overmixed easy listening Celine Dion version with Peabo Bryson, but instead Angela Lansbury's more restrained, less refined original film version - there was a frail elegance to it that resonated so much more. So when I hear that the new cover is going to have Ariana Grande and John Legend... look, expectations were low. And the new cover... look, it's very much in the vein of the Celine Dion version, and while I think the production is a little better and you can tell there's more chemistry between our singers this time around, I do think the drums are a little too close to the front of the mix, and overall the composition feels a little jerkier than previous versions, especially with the funkier bassline that comes through before the final chorus. It feels very much like a stride to modernize the song, and there's no real point to that. This... passable, but considering Emma Thompson is stepping in for Ms. Potts this time around, I'll wait for that version.

(not available because Big Sean)

86. 'Owe Me' by Big Sean - and speaking of Ariana Grande, we have Big Sean concern-trolling her off a dark piano fragment, a trap hi-hat, a thicker bass, and a swell of bells that the song never seems to know what to do with. And when I say that, I mean it's definitely playing in the Drake mold where now that this girl - heavily implied to be Ariana - seems to be back within his circle, he's going to guilt-trip her into saying she owes him sex, time, and money because he gave so much to her... okay, stop, nope, I'm not listening to this combination of 'Blame Game' and 'Hotline Bling', especially when I already talked about this yesterday in the review. This blows, easily one of the worst songs on the album, PASS!

(not available because Big Sean)

76. 'Jump Out The Window' by Big Sean - oh look, the other terrible song from I Decided., which takes a decent dark piano line and plays it off layers of grating vocal samples, some courtesy of Jeremih's uncredited and pitch-shifted additions that are even less recognizable than normal. But as I said in the review, this is Big Sean's version of Shawn Mendes' 'Treat You Better' - which in case you forgot I branded as the worst hit song of 2016 - and to be fair to Big Sean, his version of this dreck is better. For one, he's less confrontational, it at least implies the boyfriend actually did cross a line, and that Big Sean at least had something with this girl in the past. Furthermore, he's actually willing to have other friends step in and help her out of this bad situation before all of this blows up in everyone's faces - a few points for sober second thoughts. Of course, we're all expected to take Big Sean's word for this and his main line in the hook is that he's ready to jump out the window - which yes is metaphorical but I'd like to occasionally imagine as literal, if only because songs like this make me wish he took a flying leap. But on that subject...

74. 'Halfway Off The Balcony' by Big Sean - I didn't talk much about this song yesterday in the review, mostly because there isn't much to say. A desaturated and ominous mix that seems to be punctuated with pianos and faded kazoos, along with a sample of 'Recycled Air' by The Postal Service, it leads to a weird sort of track musing on how time is the most valuable thing to Big Sean right now, but then following it with a confused blend of interchangeable bragging and an extended pitch-shift across the second verse. The idea doesn't really seem to go anywhere, which leads to a song that feels like the definition of album filler - pass.

(not available because Big Sean)

70. 'Sacrifices' by Big Sean ft. Migos - I have to admit, I'm a little surprised that this song wasn't the biggest from Big Sean this week, especially given how popular Migos are right now. Granted, it's not especially a great song - Metro Boomin gives another bass-heavy offkilter harpsichord melody with stings of arranged instrumentation that honestly reminds me of some of Eminem's production, but then Big Sean jumps into his upper range for the first verse and I find it really hard to get into it. Sure, the flow is impressive, but for as much as Big Sean rants about all the things he's sacrificed, it becomes clear through all the bragging from him and Migos that they're getting their returns in spades! At least Offset's verse keeps up the momentum that Quavo promptly squanders in a drizzled over drone, but Big Sean's makes his big case on the outro, how his sacrifices were worth it because he outlasted so many people... yeah, that can happen when you never challenge anyone and pump out easily digestible radio slurry that'll be forgotten in three years - ask Chris Brown how he's kept his career alive. In the mean time... a few of the flows are alright, but like with most songs associated with Migos, it's not gripping me.

68. 'My Old Man' by Zac Brown Band - okay, I was looking forward to this: The Zac Brown Band going back to their country sound after the total mess that was Jekyll & Hyde, I was excited about this... and you know, I'm not going to say I'm underwhelmed, but I can't help but feel like we could have gotten more here. As you'd expect, this is a tribute to Zac Brown's father, primarily acoustic with hints of subtle piano in the background and some gorgeous fiddle on the bridge, and the sort of welcome vocal harmonies on the hook that have been the hallmark of the Zac Brown Band's best material. And maybe it's not fair to compare this to Zac Brown's work with Dave Cobb on Southern Family - or for a very similar but stronger song from Blackberry Smoke last year 'The Good Life' - but I can't help but feel the lyrics play to territory that's a shade too well-trod, especially in recent years with country. Look, I'm thrilled Zac Brown has pulled his band back into country and you can bet I'm excited about that next album, and this is indeed a very solid and textured song... but I dunno, in comparison with their best, I'm not sure it's the powerhouse comeback I wanted. Still, great song all the same, definitely check it out.

43. 'Believer' by Imagine Dragons - I have long ago stopped trying to predict where Imagine Dragons would go next, so when I heard they had a big smash single to drive their upcoming record... well, Alex da Kid wasn't anywhere near it, so I had hopes it might have some real color to it, that the band could recapture some of that spark that guttered out on Smoke & Mirrors. What we got instead... okay, did someone decide to put Dan Reynolds into AWOLNATION, because that's the vibe I started to get from the jerky flow, blocks of bass and kickdrums against the sparse acoustics, and the oddly high breathy howls that we get on the hooks as the guitars try and fail any sort of real riff. Granted, all of this is paired with lyrics where Dan Reynolds is spitting against anyone who would seek to define his group or criticize them, ultimately as a message that they've gone through the pain that's ultimately made them a believer in their path. And while I will give points to Reynolds' actual spitting on the prechorus - the rhymes are clear and flow pretty well - I will raise questions about this direction, because it's lacking in melody and feels jerky and while it isn't saturated in reverb and devoid of personality, it's also the furthest thing from a rock song and doesn't tap into the earnest swell that made Imagine Dragons work for me in the first place. Who knows, maybe they've got something here, but as it is, I'm still only lukewarm on this at best.

(not available because Big Sean)

22. 'No Favors' by Big Sean ft. Eminem - the reason this debuted as high as it did was the controversy: Eminem was back with Big Sean and he's calling Donald Trump a bitch and threatening to destroy his brand! And yeah, it made for plenty of clickbait controversy... until anyone actually listened to the song and realized there wasn't much here worth caring about. The fluttery high tone doesn't do much against your standard trap beat, and it's two verses over a pretty drab hook from Big Sean doing another Drake impression. But of course we have to talk about Eminem's verse... and as I said in the review, the political commentary would have actual bite if you didn't open your verses threatening to rape and pee on people before shoving an assortment of household objects up Ann Coulter's ass and running over her with your cars, and then asserting he's not going to stop verses that are exercises in pointless graphic violence. And again, I can appreciate the violent wordplay, but at some point it starts feeling tired when you realize Eminem used to make his violent lyrics have weight and social commentary or at least a sense of humor, which his delivery here doesn't help. I can't believe I'm saying it, but I think I may have liked Big Sean's verse more - it was on topic, the flows were good, and it didn't feel like cheap controversy bait. Overall, once again Eminem is proving he's only really strong on his own albums, and considering I don't see another one coming soon, I can't help but be disappointed in this, but not surprised.

So this was our week, and man, this went long. Best is easy, 'My Old Man' by Zac Brown Band, but Honourable Mention... I'm giving it to 'Now And Later' by Sage The Gemini - what can I say, he's getting better and this song is pretty damn catchy? Worst... yeah, Big Sean is getting both of these, with 'Owe Me' getting the worst and 'Jump Out The Window' right behind it. I can't say how much of any of this sticks around, but considering we have the Grammys next week... well, whatever it is, expect a lot of it.

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