Wednesday, March 1, 2017

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - march 11, 2017

So I didn't have a good feeling about this week going in, mostly because I knew what was coming. I knew that we were getting the first half of Future's 'two albums in two weeks' mistake, and when you follow it with The Chainsmokers working with Coldplay, Linkin Park working with Kiiara, and Lana Del Rey, I was gearing up for a disaster... and that's before I found out about our biggest new arrival, but we'll get to that.

In the mean time, let's look at a part of the chart that doesn't appear like a waking nightmare, our top ten! Right now it looks like 'Shape Of You' by Ed Sheeran is gearing up to be a powerhouse, dominant on the radio, in sales, in on-demand streaming, on YouTube, and it doesn't show any signs of losing momentum - which is good, because I still really dig the song - it might not be 'Castle On The Hill', but it's still pretty great. And while 'Bad And Boujee' by Migos & Lil Uzi Vert is holding its own with streaming dominance and okay radio, it has nowhere close to the YouTube or sales to be competitive - almost analogous to the problem of 'I Don't Wanna Live Forever' by Zayn and Taylor Swift forced back to #3, because while it has radio, it took sales and on-demand streaming losses, which are not a good sign at this stage of the game. And that makes it vulnerable to the considerable radio gains for 'That's What I Like' by Bruno Mars, which has monster sales and is only lagging on streaming - a well-timed YouTube video could blow this competition wide open. And yet somehow, despite losing in every category, 'Closer' by The Chainsmokers and Halsey is holding onto #5. I'm presuming it's because it's not losing fast enough to break the margin against 'Paris' by The Chainsmokers, which has better sales and a bit of radio traction, but it just doesn't have the weight, particularly in streaming to compete beyond #6. Similar case for 'Love On The Brain' by Rihanna at #7 - considerable radio, but it's got nothing considerable in streaming on sales to back it up, the second it loses airplay it's gone. Then we have 'Chained To The Rhythm' by Katy Perry and Skip Marley slipping slightly off its debut to #8 - and I'm honestly not sure about its prospects. It's got some YouTube and picked up airplay, but it's not really picking up streaming to compensate for a sales slip, and I'm not certain this'll be the big comeback that Katy Perry needs right now. Compare it to 'Bounce Back' by Big Sean, which lived up to its title to rebound to #9 thanks to strong streaming and a radio presence that compensates for nonexistent sales - again, promising, as I do like the song. Finally, we have 'Bad Things' by Machine Gun Kelly and Camila Cabello, which is really only here thanks to radio inertia, and given that it's now starting to lose that, it's no surprise it slipped to #10, I suspect it'll be gone soon enough.

And on that note, our losers and dropouts! A few big ones in the latter category of which I'm not really complaining, like 'Starving' by Hailee Steinfeld, Grey, and Zedd, along with 'Juju On Dat Beat' by Zayion McCall and Zay Hilfigerrr. Sure, at the same time we lost 'Wanna Be That Song' by Brett Eldredge and 'Redbone' by Childish Gambino, but I didn't exactly have high expectations that either song was going to get much bigger, good or bad. It's our losses that are considerable, so let's start with the broadside that country took this week. 'Sober Saturday Night' by Chris Young and Vince Gill to 61, 'Star Of The Show' by Thomas Rhett to 75, 'A Guy With A Girl' by Blake Shelton to 79, 'Seein' Red' by Dustin Lynch, 'In Case You Didn't Know' by Brett Young to 92, a lot of these songs seem to be losing hard before their time. And I suspect in most cases its because of Pandora streaming, which I've discovered actually has a sunset condition at sixteen weeks to rotate songs - and guess which genre primarily uses Pandora and where songs might be released for months before charting on the Hot 100? Then we have our set of losses that are just due to album release fatigue, like 'Moves' by Big Sean down to 63, 'Slippery' by Migos to 92, and 'No Favors' by Big Sean and Eminem to 97. Then we have slowdown after the Grammys that hit 'The Fighter' by Keith Urban and Carrie Underwood, which I didn't group with the rest of the country songs because it is not a country song - hell, 'Million Reasons' by Lady Gaga sliding to 30 has more claim to that! Then we have the longer running songs making their expected exit, like 'Side to Side' by Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj to 34, 'Broccoli' by D.R.A.M. ft. Lil Yachty to 47, and 'This Town' by Niall Horan down to 48, the last of which might have just enough points to land on the year-end, which is promising, although for John Legend's 'Love Me Now' slipping to 69 it might not be so lucky - and sadly, that might also be the case for 'Castle On The Hill' by Ed Sheeran, which also slipped to 66. Finally, we have crap that's thankfully using momentum - in other words, 'Guys My Age' by Hey Violet, and thank god for that.

Unfortunately, I'm a fair bit more skeptical about our returning entries and gains here. Sure, 'Reminder' by The Weeknd isn't a bad tune back to 77, but bringing back the offensive atrocity that is Callum Scott's cover of 'Dancing On My Own' to 93 is not a good trade-off! Similar case for our gains: yes, I'm happy that 'It Ain't Me' by Kygo and Selena Gomez picked up big to 12, it'll probably crack the top ten soon, and I'll even mostly support 'Rolex' by Ayo & Teo off its debut to 68, but the cost for that? 'Cold' by Maroon 5 and Future went to 23, 'Hurricane' by Luke Combs rose to 82, and somehow maintaining momentum we have 'Swang' by Rae Sremmurd up to 35, of which there is no significant explanation and only a lot of swearing that can adequately describe my feelings here.

But let's aim to keep a modicum of maturity on this show and jump to our new arrivals, starting with...

(no video because Future)

99. 'Zoom' by Future - so I've already touched a little on this on Twitter, but I have to ask the same question I always ask when I see artists with hit-and-miss records of quality drop two albums in a year: why not just one? It happened with Rick Ross, and he at least had the good sense to space things out, whereas who the hell wants over two hours of Future songs in the space of a week, especially on the first disc where he didn't bring on any features? Well, anyway, here's his first new entry here, where apparently between all the bragging he's taking shots at artists trying to sound like him and I'm sorry, Ghostface already did this in his video two years ago, your overdone skit at the end of the record doesn't excuse the fact that Desiigner still got the #1 that you don't have. But I don't even see the joke here - it's not like Future doesn't make stupid trilling noises either or brag about expensive cars and your standard empty luxury rap in between flubbing rhymes, and for as much as he clearly loathes his competition, he mentioned no names nor dropped any considerable disses, so the song just feels weak, not helped by that off-key breathy flute noise that tries to be a melody against our standard trap percussion and hollow keys. In other words, this is boring and forgettable, and I expect to be saying that a lot over the next ten minutes. And speaking of Future...

91. 'Super Trapper' by Future - so I have to ask, what makes someone a 'super trapper'? Does it involve flubbing even more rhymes on your standard luxury rap bragging about cars and jewelry, along with bizarre lines like 'all these exotic bitches got me look like a racist'? I will say the production here is a little better with the deeper ominous keys as the mix ebbs against the rougher bass beat and sharper hi-hits, but the only interesting idea here is Future saying he faked it until he made it too - and yeah, you might be rich, but it's not like anyone is going to remember any of this in a month. I'd say this is vaguely tolerable if you don't pay attention to how little Future cares about rhyming, but since I do care about little things like that... yeah, no, doesn't do it for me.

56. 'Something Just Like This' by The Chainsmokers & Coldplay - I feel like I've heard about this Chainsmokers/Coldplay collaboration for months now. Maybe it was a remix or something that got a lot of YouTube traction or maybe it was just something with Chris Martin, but the momentum behind this song drowned out all the others, so what did we get with the whitest team-up possible? Well, honestly... it's actually a decent track. Easily the most earnest The Chainsmokers have ever been - definitely helped by Chris Martin taking all the vocal duties - it's a song that balances wistful desires to be bigger than oneself and accepting that someone wants you for who you are, not those big dreams. Of course, it never hits the sort of greater climax because instead of actually describing and owning what he is, Chris Martin just fills space with 'doo-doo-doos' and The Chainsmokers drop a fizzy synth progression that isn't remotely interesting. I will say the pianos carry the best melodies here, but the second the guitar solo came on the outro - which of course was placed behind the synth drop - I remembered that I'd much rather just hear this as a Coldplay song, not behind an EDM duo who when they aren't being insufferable just don't add that much personality to a song. From the sounds of this and 'Paris' they're looking to pursue more of an earnest direction on that debut album... yeah, we'll see how that turns out.

54. 'Rent Money' by Future - so here's the main premise of this song: apparently, your girl fucks Future better when she needs rent money. And yeah, that sort of antagonism sets the tone for the entire song, and leaves me wondering why the hell anyone wants to listen to a song where Future is explicitly talking down to his audience. And the ridiculous thing is that it's about the only part of the song where Future stays on topic, because from there he wanders to luxury rap bragging, flubbing rhymes, and vague comparisons to real life gangsters to which Future's autotuned half-shouting delivery can't remotely compare. And when you combine it with a skittering trap beat, bells and symphonic vocals that sound like a stab at what Meek Mill has done better, it reeks of an attempt to make a bombastic trap anthem that hauls more weight than it can back up. In other words, while it's a bit better than 'Zoom', that's not saying much.

52. 'Heavy' by Linkin Park ft. Kiiara - I'm sure fans of my show have already seen Jon over at ARTV's reaction to this song, his righteous anger that after singles from The Hunting Party couldn't cross over in 2014, Linkin Park felt the need to pull in one of the most disposable and awful pop acts in recent memory to cross over. What I think depresses me more is that it worked - this is Linkin Park's biggest single since 'Burn It Down', and it's as blatant of a pop sellout as you get, with none of the rock swell and weight in the guitars that could make Linkin Park actually interesting instead of this glassy, desaturated, percussion-driven track. And yeah, I get 'evolving with the times', but there's two big issues with that: one, by compromising all the genuine rage and angst that made Chester Bennington an interesting performer or give the instrumentation unique personality, it's far more likely your material will be forgotten; and two, this is not a well-written song. The obvious flubbed rhyme in the first verse aside - 'unnecessary' does not rhyme with 'panic' - this is a song looking to explore how holding onto anguish can be a weight in and of itself - which is then compromised by Kiiara's verse where she implies that the internal focus isn't all her fault because people keep following it. And that would work if a member of Linkin Park delivered that line given the band's history, but Kiiara's bland, self-focused delivery makes it just come across as deflecting and insufferable. In other words, let's call it like it is: the song sucks because Linkin Park sacrificed good writing and production for a hit; let's do the good need and ensure it doesn't get any higher.

49. 'Mask Off' by Future - okay, honest question: does Future's audience actually go to him for insight and vulnerability? Because while I actually like the Tommy Butler sample and melody that anchors this song, it's utterly squandered by Future not having anything to really say against it, especially considering this was considered the song where he was taking the 'mask off' to say something real to the audience. He mentions food stamps and how he'd drive anything, but that's two lines on a track otherwise filled with references to percochets, molly, and more empty luxury rap - and if you know anything about Future, you know that all the purple drank bragging was all for show anyway! In other words, it wastes a good sample and groove against an artist who has no interesting or insightful story to tell - which might as well be Future's M.O. - next!

46. 'Draco' by Future - so this is the last Future song here... and outside of the drippy synthline against your standard trap beat, I fail to see what makes this so interesting in comparison to any other Future song I covered this week! Once again he's taking your girl and saying you're never getting her back - I thought that went against his standard procedure of taking your girl and discarding her - and from there he's bragging about a gun that is barely even referenced across the rest of the song. And beyond the obvious lazy rhyming on the first verse, what I think bothers me more about these Future songs is his vocal tone - he's pitching himself into a slightly higher register than he did on DS2 or What A Time To Be Alive, and as such, he doesn't have the same presence or menace. Granted, this is a more triumphant, celebratory song courtesy of the delivery and major tones in the keys, I can almost see the appeal... before you actually hear anything Future says. Anyway, I guarantee that I'll forget all of this, so let's move on.

44. 'Love' by Lana Del Rey - so I've developed a bit of a reputation surrounding my comments on Lana Del Rey over the two records of hers I've reviewed - neither is all that good, for the record, and feel increasingly irrelevant the more I listen to Julia Holter, who approaches a similar style with so much more poise and maturity. But that's not saying I wasn't curious when she dropped a new single, and... this is her best song in years. Yeah, I have to say I'm a little surprised too, but it seems like someone finally clued her in to sticking with her fuller, more soulful lower range and it pays a pretty solid dividend here - I'm not wild about the breathy bridge and post-chorus, but at least she's finally in the right ballpark. And the mix blend and balance is interesting too, with the echoing upright bass that when paired with what sounds like shrill synth echos and sparse drums, it does a pretty solid job marrying oldschool glam with modern tones, I dig it. And even the lyrics are on point, speaking to her younger audience romanticizing their youth and lived-in experiences even if nothing's really happening in their lives - which in the final hook she mirrors for herself. It's a nice, well-framed parallel, and all of it adds to probably her best song in the last five years! But hey, if she can tap into more of this... hell, I might just review that next album after all.

41. 'How Would You Feel (Paean)' by Ed Sheeran - so thus far Ed Sheeran's been batting 2-2 with his singles from Divide, and with a new promotional track driving to the album's release on Friday, I was waiting for the slip-up, the point where he shows that even despite promise he's not going to totally escape the acoustic blandness that has weakened his last two records. And with this love song intended for his girlfriend, complete with a guitar solo from John Mayer and overly smooth production from Benny Blanco, this looks to be fitting that slot. And look, I'm not going to deny the sincerity or that John Mayer's solo is decent, but there's a part of me that feels this is all way too polished and elegant for Sheeran, who at his best can tap into a rougher brand of music that's a lot more interesting. This... it's not bad, but it's also not all that intimate or interesting, and while it'll fit the 'Thinking Out Loud' mold easily, he's definitely released better.

27. 'Tunnel Vision' by Kodak Black - okay, so when I discussed Kodak Black last week, I said I wasn't exactly against him making more political material but that there are very different rappers I go to in order to hear that style of hip-hop - hell, I left out of that comment that the only real reason the song got popular was because he included the #CashMeOutside girl in his music video. Well, it looks like he might have tapped into something here, because when his newest music video targeted the KKK and made some none-too-subtle allusions to Donald Trump and was even bigger... well, I'm only surprised it took this long for provocation in this vein to start making headway. And yet it feels like an inverted version of what he did with his last single, because not only is this song far less political, it's got barely any connective tissue to its subjects at all! It's mostly a load of bragging on the verses that comes complete with a Lil Wayne-esque poop joke, and when you pair it with Kodak Black's already clumsy flow and another flute playing off a Southside and Metro Boomin teamup, it's somehow even more generic. The majority of this track is an extended hook about focusing on his goals and not landing in jail, but it's not like we're getting details or anything all that distinct... nope, sorry, I'll give actual credit when the content is here, but this is generic mediocrity and about what I'd expect from Kodak Black - skip it.

So yeah, not a good week by any metric, to the point where picking out the worst becomes a bit of a challenge. I think in terms of sheer incompetence 'Zoom' by Future wins out as an utter failure of a diss track with the worst instrumental, but 'Heavy' by Linkin Park and Kiiara is getting the Dishonourable Mention out of sheer disappointment. As for the best... you know, credit will be given where it is due, Lana Del Rey's 'Love' is getting Best Of The Week, as it showcases a change in direction, scope, and framing that's really a cut above what's she's been delivering the past five years. And for another surprise, 'Something Like This' by The Chainsmokers and Coldplay is getting the Honourable Mention - not a great song by any stretch, but that ending solo made up for a lot. Next week... if anything, I expect more Future, he brought on guest stars like The Weeknd and Rihanna for additional attention, but we'll see if something can be salvaged.

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