Thursday, February 23, 2017

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - march 4, 2017

Okay, so as you can all probably see, this episode of Billboard BREAKDOWN is a day late. This is because of President's Day in the United States, another holiday that extends the chart week... and considering the Grammys happened, it also seems to have the peculiar impact of blunting their overall impact on the Hot 100, at least in the way I expected. Now that didn't mean it didn't cascade through - we'll get to that - but it also meant that we got another overloaded week full of changes...

So let's not waste any time, Top Ten! As expected, 'Shape Of You' by Ed Sheeran easily holds the #1 for another week, thanks to dominance in sales and YouTube and finally clinching the top spot in radio... and much to my surprise, it's showing no signs of slowing down. And that's not a good sign for 'I Don't Wanna Live Forever' by Zayn and Taylor Swift, which was muscled back a bit on sales and while it has good streaming and airplay traction, it might be too far behind to make headway without an added buffer like YouTube. And none of this is good news for 'Bad And Boujee' by Migos and Lil Uzi Vert back to #3 - yes, it has huge streaming, but sales aren't strong and it seems to have peaked on the radio, which is not promising for maintaining viability if streaming starts to slip. And it's got real competition thanks to a big debut in the top 5 at #4: 'Chained to The Rhythm' by Katy Perry and Skip Marley! Outside of that flop Olympics single it's been a while since I've talked about Katy Perry in depth, so with this being a lead-off single I'm curious where the album will go, but it's here because she got monstrous radio traction and considerable sales - not quite streaming or YouTube yet, but I'd just give it time there. Now this leads to a surprising, record-breaking return to the top 5 for 'Closer' by The Chainsmokers and Halsey, for the most number of weeks any song has ever spent in the top 5... and look, I'm not going to say I'm happy they got the record over Mark Ronson and Leann Rimes, but I'm not that surprised - even though it's bleeding airplay and sales are pretty weak, it's always had strong YouTube and streaming to prop it up. And 'Bad Things' by Machine Gun Kelly and Camila Cabello had a worse week here - it might have a little more residual airplay, but both streaming and sales are weaker, I'm not surprised it fell to #6. But then we have our second big top ten entry: 'That's What I Like' by Bruno Mars at #7. Riding huge momentum that got a giant boost thanks to the Grammys, it roared up the sales charts and started getting airplay and streaming traction, I foresee this maybe having some serious staying power. And then we get our third new top ten entry: 'Love On The Brain' by Rihanna at #8. It's taken a while to get here - to the point where radio momentum is actually starting to slow down and it's got no significant streaming or sales, but just enough to get here. And that takes us to our fourth new top ten entry: 'I Feel It Coming' by The Weeknd ft. Daft Punk! Now I actually think this might have more traction than Rihanna - it got here thanks to a sales boost and the Grammys, but it's got a little more streaming and radio beneath it and while the growth is slow, it hasn't halted yet, all of which is promising because I like this song. Finally, clinging onto the top ten we have 'Bounce Back' by Big Sean, which is here because of strong streaming and better radio than I expected - it'll be interesting to see how long it sticks around.

But on a different note, losers and dropouts - and wow, this week was a doozy. Outside of all of the Big Sean losses, we actually had some considerable dropouts, like '80s Mercedes' by Maren Morris, 'How Far I'll Go' by Auli'i Cravalho, 'Handclap' by Fitz & The Tantrums, 'Don't Let Me Down' by The Chainsmokers and Daya, and in a particularly bad week for Sia, both 'Cheap Thrills' with Sean Paul and 'The Greatest' with Kendrick Lamar are both out. And while the list of our losers is a bit less dramatic, it's still considerable, with 'Million Reasons' by Lady Gaga falling off the return to 18, 'No Favors' by Big Sean and Eminem falling hard to 63, and 'Believer' by Imagine Dragons down to 66, both of the latter off debuts. The remaining three seem to be exiting a bit before their time, with 'Seein' Red' by Dustin Lynch slipping to 65, 'Chantaje' by Shakira and Maluma down to 78, and unfortunately 'Way Down We Go' by Kaleo skidding to 81.

And yet when I look at our returning entries and gains... well, definitely a lot more of a mixed bag, but there's some promise here. I've already talked about 'That's What I Like' by Bruno Mars going up to #7, but I'm not about to complain with 'Sober Saturday Night' by Chris Young and Vince Gill rising to 47 or 'In Case You Didn't Know' by Brett Young rising off its debut to 75, or especially 'Castle On The Hill' suddenly regaining some momentum up to 52. The rest, though... okay 'I Got You' by Bebe Rexha up to 43 doesn't surprise me, and off the EP release it'll probably gain even more, but why does anyone want to hear 'Swang' by Rae Sremmurd rise to 57? I get it, it's because of the video, but when you follow it with 'Look At Me!' by XXXTENTACION up to 74... again, this is below-average Bandcamp quality, it doesn't belong on the Hot 100! I will say that on average our returning entries are better. Yeah, I'm not really wild about 'El Amante' by Nicky Jam back to 98 or 'Sex With Me' by Rihanna up to 95 or 'Black' by Dierks Bentley up to 92, but 'Scared To Be Lonely' by Martin Garrix and Dua Lipa is a good track, and i'm happy to see it back at 100. The big story here, though, is the complete non-country song of 'The Fighter' by Keith Urban and Carrie Underwood smashing up to 53 thanks to the Grammys - and I'm sorry, but this was a prime opportunity for Sturgill Simpson to get mainstream traction thanks to his Grammys performance, and yet country radio won't give him the time of day, even despite a far more authentic sound? Seriously?

Ugh... okay, regardless of that continued snub, we have a huge week of new arrivals, so let's start with...

96. 'Hurricane' by Luke Combs - as I've said a number of times in the past, it can be very rare for an independent country act to break through on the Hot 100 - which is why when artists get national airtime like at The Grammys it's a prime opportunity for the radio to throw support behind them, but I digress. And yet this week, our first two entries are both off of indie labels, with our first Luke Combs doing it all himself. He's released three EPs thus far with this being off of his 2015 project, only now gaining traction... and yet I can't see it lasting, mostly because I've heard this brand of too-polished bro-country a few too many times before. Yes, Combs' rougher vocal tones are welcome and I do like that the guitars have a bit more melodic tone, but between inconsistencies in the vocal production and blending, what sounds like a talkbox on the bridge that didn't need to be there, and your standard lovestruck hookup in the lyrics, I feel like every element that doesn't detract from the composition is completely generic. In other words, it's tolerable, but I guarantee I'll forget this in a day if not less.

94. 'Yeah Boy' by Kelsea Ballerini - really, Kelsea, you're following 'Peter Pan' with this and not the title track or 'Secondhand Smoke' - you're four singles in off your 2015 album and you drop into a song that sounds this painfully dated two years later? And that's not precisely saying this is bad - the underlying piano adds a good harmony and the sandy touches of the hook, and the guitar tone is generally pretty agreeable - but between the obviously synthetic and stiff percussion clashing pretty badly against the banjo, Kelsea's pretty but inert delivery, and the painfully basic love-smitten lyrics that can read as a bro-country mirror, it really is a lesser cut from the record. In other words, not really a fan - she's capable of much better.

93. 'It Ain't Me' by Kygo & Selena Gomez - so when I initially saw this team-up I was surprised, but the more I think about this pairing, the more it makes sense to me. Both Kygo and Selena Gomez are at their best making breezy, lightweight music that's not required to tax the vocals or grooves. As such, I had some homes for this, especially as the gentle sandy beat picks up off the acoustic guitar to build to the thicker swell in liquid synths and electric guitar, piano, and a thicker set of backing vocals for a remarkably sticky hook. Hell, I was even on board with the lyrics, with Selena reminiscing on an old relationship where she left behind the guy for staying out all night - she'd had enough, and the choppy blend of still-discernable vocal snippets during the drop almost made a warped sort of sense from the perspective of that guy fumbling through his reminiscence. Now that's not saying this song isn't flawed - you can tell Selena's straining herself on the hook, and Kygo's transitions from acoustic to electric instrumentation can feel a little clunky - but I was surprised how much I really dug that hook and the overall vibe of the song, it worked for me. So yeah, I'm not convinced this is a great track, but it is a good one - I'll take it.

88. 'Cash Me Outside' by DJ Suede The Remix God - ...what? I'm sorry, are you waiting for another meme review to dig into this? You want me to cover a forced normie meme that reeks of redneck gawking derived from above all else a cringe-worthy snippet from Dr. Phil? I'm not going to be treading on the turf of the best teeth in the fucking game here, folks, he's got that meme game under lock. And this is a cheaply produced bit of ugly synths, generic trap beat, scratching, and an attempt to stretch the sample into something resembling the song. Everyone who listens to this is listening to it ironically and even then there are more interesting meme remixes that don't make me want to set everything and anything on fire. 'Pen-Pineapple-Apple-Pen' at least had the benefit of weirdness and fruit - this is just ugly, forced, and mean-spirited in a way that's not witty, funny, or interesting enough to stick. Absolutely worthless, next!

87. 'Rolex' by Ayo & Teo - you know, there was a part of me that hadn't even considered the possibility that Rae Sremmurd would inspire rip-offs. And yet the second I heard this song from these Atlanta brothers, the comparison became obvious and blatant. Not only are they actively mimicking the more melodic/more aggressive vocal duo combination with voices that seem to be cracking with every other word, but the content is just as completely empty and seems to be falling into the same empty luxury rap, partying, and stealing your girlfriend. And yet, I don't quite hate this as much as I expected - for one, minus the Mike Will Made It connection, the production is nowhere near as ponderous and swamped out - there are rough production spots, especially in the vocal pickup balanced with the bass, but between the piano and flutes balanced against the slightly more interesting bass kicks and a melodic cadence on the hook that proved surprisingly sticky, I see the appeal? Look, you're not going to catch me calling this 'good', but if I were to find a version of Rae Sremmurd that works for me... well, yeah, sort of like with 'Black Beatles', I can somewhat get behind this, it's not bad.

85. 'Everyday' by Ariana Grande ft. Future - okay, let's be bluntly honest here: the only reason that Ariana Grande released this song instead of the superior 'Greedy' is the Future cosign - and that's because apparently the music industry has discovered that like Lil Wayne or Ludacris, a Future verse guarantees some form of success. But again, did it have to be this song? The noisy gurgle of synths that bleed into these blocky pieces that don't compliment the trap snares or carry much melody where Future contributes to the same hook mold that Big Sean did on 'Problem', and subsequently seems to lose a lot of his personality and talent. Because you can't tell me that Future's non-rhymes on his verse were remotely good or interesting, especially in contrast with Ariana who is at least trying to sell the possibility of getting sex every day from Future as appealing. And really, she's the only reason why this song is tolerable at all... but tolerable isn't a substitute for good, so more often than not I'd pass.

84. 'Everything 1K' by Kodak Black - okay, why is this on the radio? Better question, who the hell is going to Kodak Black for melancholic stories about prison, no fathers, systemic failures and poverty? I'm not precisely complaining - the content certainly has more weight than anything Kodak Black has ever tried before and he's not downplaying the grim seriousness through his more plaintive delivery, the bleak blend of strings, piano, and organ against a firmer bassline and even hints of a muted electric guitar on the second verse. And while his flow is far from complex with the slower cadence and plainspoken style, it's framed in a way that doesn't shy away from the reality of the situation. In short, I'm not quite sure I enjoy this - if I'm looking for conscious hip-hop I've got no shortage of artists who can tap into those stories far more effectively - but there is a place for street level songs like this and Kodak Black... yeah, this isn't bad. Solid effort, I can support this.

77. 'Heroe Favorito' by Romeo Santos - okay, time for some context here: if you recognize this guy it's probably because he had a semi-hit back in 2014 on the Drake collaboration 'Odio', but Romeo Santos has been around for a fair bit longer. Originally the frontman of the band Aventura, he began putting out solo projects and scoring some pretty big names as guests in the early 2010s, with this being a new single, presumably for a new album. And this... okay, one thing I'm a little surprised I haven't seen more of before now are artists looking to cash in on the superhero trend in movies, and yet Romeo Santos here has made an entire superhero themed song! And make no mistake, the liquid electric Spanish guitar tones are pretty smooth, especially against the sharper bass tones and very prominent rattling textured percussion right at the front of the mix. And yet while the superhero references can't help but feel a little cheesy when you translate them from Spanish - I got a good chuckle out of references to Batman's 'love nest' - I think the larger issue is that Romeo Santos does not have the voice for this sort of song! His thin, willowy tones never really impressed me to begin with, but when you compare it to subject matter that aims for more bombast and swell, you'd hope that you'd get at least a baritenor. This song... it's frail and jittery, and it comes across more like a fanboy trying to entice a girl, using his comic books as his best pool of references. And considering I used to be - and still kind of am - exactly that dorky, it lends the track an awkwardness that really doesn't mess. Cute idea, to be sure, but man, does it not work.

71. 'Helium' by Sia - so apparently 50 Shades Darker came out and it sucks - a lot. But since there was significant culture amnesia in between this movie and the last godawful insult to character, pacing, BDSM and decent erotic filmmaking, the soundtrack has managed to land two songs on this list, this being the first. And while I am by no means surprised that Sia contributed to it, I am a little exasperated it's not better, especially considering Sia used to pull of elegant piano ballads like this pretty damn well in her indie days. And yet it appears all the subtlety has gone out the window, with thicker squeals of strings, heavy multi-tracking, and the line 'even Superwoman sometimes needed Superman's soul'. And you know, I keep banging on about this with 50 Shades, but it's so sterile and cold and sexless that I have no idea why any musical director went in this direction for this sort of erotic drama - there's certainly no tension here, just dour, unimpressive melodrama. In other words, it's generally passable, but every time Sia's voice breaks on this song, I'm reminded why 'Alive' remains her best song in recent years, certainly not this.

62. 'Shining' by DJ Khaled ft. Beyonce & Jay-Z - okay, I know that the majority of people would be coming to this track for Beyonce. Hell, maybe even a few for DJ Khaled. But I was coming to this song for Jay-Z, because outside of a somewhat disconnected verse on 'I Got The Keys', it's been a while since we heard from Jay... and yet there's a part of me that wished this song did more for all of them. For once DJ Khaled actually produced a song, and the bass-heavy knock of this track does have a decent enough groove against the fragments of the vocal sample, but I can't be the only one who thinks Beyonce's very flat, kind of disinterested flows don't do much for me, even despite fitting into a very comfortable category of 'I'm awesome' anthem for her. But okay, Jay-Z shows up for a verse - albeit with slightly different vocal production compared to Beyonce, which doesn't help the vibe - and the verse... well, it connects for this sort of bragging, but it's also not that interesting or punchy, I know Jay-Z is capable of better flows and content. As it is, the groove is good enough that I can see this getting airplay, but I did expect better from this celebrity couple - particularly Beyonce and especially after an incredibly potent performance on LEMONADE. This... it's not bad, but I don't see it really sticking with me.

54. 'Bom Bidi Bom' by Nick Jonas & Nicki Minaj - okay look, I get that the 50 Shades movies tend to pull on some weird territory for their featured songs, but in terms of team-ups, this was probably the strangest to me. Nick Jonas makes sense for that sort of dark, kind of edgy in a pop way monochromatic style, but Nicki at her best always had a certain type of manic intensity, and that's about the furthest thing from something this dour. And that's why this song caught me off-guard, because from the way it opens with that smoldering dark guitar that leads into this solid bassy groove that's got a little more grind in the low end, it's almost got a bluesy vibe that I really liked. And considering Nicki managed to walk the line between manic and sultry on her verse - which yes, was too short - it actually kind of makes this weird combination with the Selena sample on the hook work in a twisted way. If anything, the weakest portion of this song is Nick Jonas - his tones are just too high, thin, and lacking stronger texture for a song with this much low groove and swagger, you needed someone with a darker brand of soul or grit to really kill this, and that list of possibilities is thin indeed. Overall, I like this, a lot - and if Nicki is implying that she's going back to her older, faster hip-hop style on her next record... yeah, I'm intrigued.

42. 'Cold' by Maroon 5 ft. Future - I wish I was surprised by this. It's not the first time that Maroon 5 has collaborated with a hip-hop artist - as much as I want to forget 'Payphone' and Wiz Khalifa, I can't - but I'll say right out the gate this was a collaboration I was dreading. Because make no mistake, the only things that Maroon 5 and Future have consistently had in common are that they're now making monotonous music and both frontmen are total assholes. So great, after the turd of 'Don't Wanna Know', Maroon 5's newest song has even less groove or indication that this group was once a funk rock band, instead a bass-and-reverb saturated percussion-over-melody slurry that you might be able to pick a guitar groove out of a hook. And of course it's the sort of song where Adam Levine and Future are bitching about some girl giving them the cold shoulder - because that's what you want to hear on a Valentine's Day release, but the real issue here is Future. I don't know who did his vocal production, but Future at his best is in his low, fast-paced aggressively dark range - so why in the Nine Hells does he sound slightly pitched up, nasal, and lacking consistent autotune on his verse? It's a bafflingly poor choice, and providing ample evidence working with Adam Levine brings out the absolute worst in rappers. Yeah, surprising nobody, this song sucks in a mostly unspecific miserable way, generic and soulless but somehow incompetent along the way. Pass!

4. 'Chained To The Rhythm' by Katy Perry ft. Skip Marley - so this is the big one, Katy Perry's big comeback single where she wants to make a statement about the world... and look, anybody who has followed Katy Perry's writing collaborators in the years since Prism, to say nothing of her more strident political opinions, should be surprised by this. A big reverb-saturated slice of 80s disco with a drowned out guitar lick against the sandy percussion, with Katy talking about people living in a bubble, locked in a little utopia of their own lives, chained to mindless dance grooves of which she herself used to crank out oh wait! See, I don't mind when artists get political, and I'll even give Perry a little credit for pulling on Skip Marley for a reggae-inspired bridge which if it wasn't an immediate stab at modern trends would be an interesting choice. But that's part of the problem: this song feels incredibly cynical and calculating to me - not from Perry's point of view, but from Max Martin, Sia and their production team that knows that playing to modern 'woke awareness' will win over an audience who won't remember how much of Katy's own music flirted with the wrong sides of tastelessness. And the bitterness that rings through in the writing on the verses is not a tone that'll help, especially when this seems to be more of a song commiserating in one's own blind refusal to listen or break out - newsflash, Katy Perry, your self-pity really doesn't feel that compelling right now in reality. And while you could make a credible argument for Katy Perry being entirely the wrong messenger here, I'd have no problem if the message was done well - look at Kodak Black in this very episode! The problem isn't Katy Perry delivering the message - more that the message is poorly sketched, and on a musical level nowhere close to her best material. It's not precisely bad, I appreciate the effort, but this is pretty mediocre, I hope it dies out fast.

And that was our long week, and wow, lots to consider. And yet I think Best And Worst of the week is fairly straightforward, with the good stuff going to 'It Ain't Me' by Kygo and Selena Gomez with Honourable Mention to 'Bom Bidi Bom' by Nick Jonas and Nicki Minaj. The worst... I almost want to disqualify 'Cash Me Outside' as more meme than song, but it really is unlistenable, with 'Cold' by Maroon 5 and Future as a dishonourable mention. Overall, this was all over the place and I have no idea what's coming up next except for... likely more Future. Perfect, just dandy.

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