Wednesday, March 8, 2017

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - march 18, 2017

So this was a weird week. I wouldn't call it a bad week - any chart where we get less Future than expected is a net positive - but the new arrivals and shifts reflect not quite a lull but a Hot 100 where nothing is quite as stable as it seems. There have been a lot of fluctuations here - and with a big debut from Ed Sheeran coming next week I can definitely see that continuing - which I tend to see as a net positive overall, it keeps things kinetic to avoid the massive stalls that did considerable damage in 2014 and 2016.

Of course, part of this is a question of our top 10, where as expected 'Shape Of You' by Ed Sheeran holds the #1 for another week. And I don't see it getting knocked off the top either - the only category it doesn't dominate is streaming, and it's still ridiculously strong there. And the margins it holds over 'Bad And Boujee' by Migos & Lil Uzi Vert are considerable - sure, that songs rules streaming as a whole, but it has nowhere near the sales or YouTube or airplay to be a serious challenger. Similar sort of case for 'I Don't Wanna Live Forever' by Zayn and Taylor Swift at #3 - it's got radio, but that's unstable, and it's losing in sales and streaming - if it faces a serious challenge, it's in trouble. And we might just get that with 'That's What I Like' by Bruno Mars, which picked up a big boost thanks to its video - called it - and gains across the board, and it doesn't show any signs of slowing. But it's got competition from our first big new top ten entry at #5, 'Something Just Like This' by The Chainsmokers and Coldplay. And the question here is whether this boost will last - I like the song, and it picked up huge sales, streaming, and YouTube... the only place it seems to be lagging is radio, and that'll be quick to recover. Then we have 'Love On The Brain' by Rihanna rising up to #6 - and yeah, its airplay has been mostly stable, but I reckon it went up more on the weaknesses of 'Paris' by The Chainsmokers, which lost a fair amount of streaming and didn't pick up the radio it needed to compensate, which left it at #7. But this takes us to our second new top ten entry, and the one that kind of blew my mind: 'Tunnel Vision' by Kodak Black. Yes, it appears the cheap provocation - when combined with how cheap below-average hip-hop can monopolize streaming these days - means a song like this can blow up huge... but what's telling is that sales and radio are not on board, which might mean this track could have a short shelf-life, or at least I hope so. Compare to the success of 'Bounce Back' by Big Sean still at #9 - yeah, it's here thanks primarily to streaming, but it actually has airplay to stabilize its lack of sales, and that stability contributes to staying power. And on that topic, which for only the third time in history we get three songs from the same artist in the top 10 at the same time... 'Closer', by The Chainsmokers & Halsey. They join company with The Beatles and The BeeGees and I'm sorry, regardless of how you feel about The Chainsmokers, that just feels wrong on some level.

So to move past existential threats to what popular culture thinks is worth attention and popularity, our losers and dropouts! A few big ones here in the latter categroyt - 'Broccoli' by D.R.A.M. and Lil Yachty, 'This Town' by Niall Horan, and the much lesser 'Seein' Red' by Dustin Lynch left along with a bunch of garbage not worth mentioning further. Our losers look like a much more interesting group, and let's start with the songs that are naturally on their way out: 'A Guy With A Girl' by Blake Shelton to 91, 'Love Me Now' by John Legend at 88, and 'Star Of The Show' by Thomas Rhett down to 87. Then we have the expected loss for Future, with 'Draco' plummeting off its debut to 64, taking 'Heavy' by Linkin Park and Kiiara with it to 82 and - unfortunately - 'Love' by Lana Del Rey to 73. Then there's the sharp losses that came to both 'Black Beatles' by Rae Sremmurd & Gucci Mane down to 29 and 'Caroline' by Amine to 38, which I hypothesize seems to be driven by the shorter than average shelf-life for a lot of modern hip-hop that doesn't cross over, along with 'Chantaje' by Shakira and Maluma dipping down to 90. Finally, off its big boost last week we have 'It Ain't Me' by Kygo & Selena Gomez down to 22, but I have every expectation it'll rebound now that it's starting to pick up a bit of airplay - and that's good, by the way, the song is pretty solid.

And on that note, returning entries and gains, and let's tart with the welcome return of 'Redbone' by Childish Gambino to 83. I suspect it's just rebounding to plug a gap, but it could have been driven by its prominence in Get Out's opening scene, given how unexpectedly well that movie delivered. But movies impacted the charts considerably, mostly driven by the Oscars: 'How Far I'll Go' by Auli'i Cravalho returned big to 53, the cover by Alessia Cara surged up to 80, and in the rebound for a song that has never seemed to die, 'Can't Stop The Feeling' by Justin Timberlake went back up to 13. Now I've already talked about our two new top ten arrivals in this category, and off the video 'Everyday' by Ariana Grande and Future went up to 58, but I want to draw attention to 'Cash Me Outside' by DJ Suede The Remix God went up to 72, because apparently people are turning this into another hip-hop dance trend to give this plague-ridden abortion another shot at life, and absolutely nobody - nobody - needs that.

Well, maybe things coming up the charts will compensate, starting with...

100. 'Green Light' by Lorde - so my initial prediction for Lorde's big comeback was that she'd likely gravitate towards more artistic, more oblique indie material... and instead her big comeback was cowritten with Jack Antonoff and is blatant of a pop track as you'd ever find! Now granted, I'm not all that surprised - given how much time she was hanging around with Taylor Swift, Charli XCX, Carly Rae Jepsen, I can definitely see that as inspiring a pivot like this... and you know, if Lorde's going to stay in pop, this is a pretty damn good shot of it. For one, it's kind of startling given how many people tried to mimic her style how much a distinct vocal presence she is, her husky rasp matching a level of visceral intensity in her delivery that easily compensates for her limited range. And that level of venom that she adds to this song, set to shred the guy who left her intense personality behind, and now Lorde is impatiently waiting for is the moment for her heart to flip the switch and charge forward. And that fits the instrumentation, despite on-the-surface similar textures to modern pop proves how good production and melodic balance can make all the difference. The prominent piano melody anchors the cloud of cooing backing vocals against the rounded beat, and while it might feel melancholic on the verses, the pre-chorus kick in the tempo and key makes the song feel so much more dynamic beyond just the obvious loud-soft, which roars up in the muted, distorted rumble of guitar that seems to flood over the outro to match Antonoff's percussion. And sure, we could say it sounds 'just like a mainstream pop song', but when you dig into the details and realize it's this much of a cut above, it deserves real credit. Looking forward to watching this duke it out with Ed Sheeran for the top spot next week, and whoever wins, we win the most.

96. 'Hometown Girl' by Josh Turner - well, this is a surprise. For those of you who don't know - and I somewhat include myself in that category, given that I drifted away from country for many of the years this guy was big - Josh Turner first made a splash in 2003 and racked up a few solid hits based on his rich baritone and a well-defined neotraditional sound. Now I'll admit I was never a huge fan, but that's more because I wasn't really listening to country around that time - he played in much of the same lane as Chris Young, and while some the lyrics could make me wince, his instrumentation and production was definitely in the right territory. And yet unlike Chris Young, he effectively sat out the bro-country boom - which wouldn't be a problem if MCA Nashvillle wasn't clearly pushing for hits, which delayed his record from 2014 to, well, now, thanks to this new single catching a little traction. And look, if it wasn't for Josh Turner's vocals, there'd be nothing all that interesting about this song - the lyrics are about exactly what you think they are, and while the electric guitars playing for some melody is welcome, this isn't something that Kip Moore, Lee Brice, or Dierks Bentley haven't done better, especially with the more obviously synthetic percussion and backing vocals on the bridge and outro. Overall, it's not a bad tune, but without Turner fronting it, it wouldn't be worth caring about, just saying 

92. 'God, Your Mama, And Me' by Florida Georgia Line ft. Backstreet Boys - I remember when I first heard this song when I was on vacation in Spain and setting up to review the album, and to this day it baffles me that it exists - and this is coming from someone who'll admit to owning Backstreet Boys albums and seeing them live - twice. So hearing their harmonies sitting behind Florida Georgia Line's obviously unrefined deliveries and a load of unnecessary autotune drives me off the wall, and that's before you hear all the whooshing sound effects and synth and trap hi-hats hidden in the liquid cushion of electric guitar! Seriously, I own Backstreet Boys albums with more muscle and punch that something this gutless and sterile. And forget country - even on a pop vein this is so limp, even for a sappy song directed at the kids they don't have yet! Coupled with really flimsy production... no, even as a Backstreet Boys fan I can't support this - and considering this was one of the better songs from Dig Your Roots, that's not a good sign!

89. 'Losin Control' by Russ - look, I don't remember liking Russ' last semi-hit, where he was snapping at major labels with a decent amount of intensity, but I'm not going to say I remember it. And yet he has a follow-up, one that's attracted a bit of attention for being an apology song for his girlfriend in more of an R&B vein, with very somber, dreary backing tones against the thin trap beat and echoing snap. And you know, despite how frail Russ' voice can feel, it actually kind of works for the sort of vulnerability he's trying to capture, trying to get to the uncertainty of this girl's story how after being cheated on and gaslit, she's struggling to find trust again. And I'll actually give him points for placing himself in the position of the original guy - although the entire song is in the third person, so again, he's not exactly being that honest with the audience. Hell, it'd be very easy to assume that he's just the second guy who is so sensitive and checks off her list and holds it together when she flips out... but again, by not placing himself in the story it's very much a lonely girl learning to trust and fall in love again and I'm sorry, there are entirely too many white guy with acoustic guitar songs that play in this mold for me to really get pulled in. This... it's not bad, but it's guarded to the point I can't really get invested. Still, better than his last song, I'll give him that.

78. 'Make Love' by Gucci Mane & Nicki Minaj - so, did you know that Gucci Mane was dropping another record this year? Better question, did you care, given that Gucci has shown little to no artistic growth or innovation in his flow or content over the past ten albums and god knows how many mixtapes? Anyway, this is his new song, a collaboration with Nicki Minaj, where they both address certain beefs that have been swirling around, with Gucci dismissing Waka and talking about his upcoming wedding - although he still can take your girl - and Nicki going after both Remy Ma and Azealia Banks. And here's the thing: anyone who takes Azealia Banks down several notches is alright in my books, but as a clapback at Remy Ma, I'm not all that impressed, mostly because Nicki continues to equate selling records as evidence she 'won', conveniently ignoring she went multi-platinum mostly through a string of sellout dance-pop and not actual bars. And sure, there are things to like about this track here - the rumbling grime of the bass against the sparse tinkling melody had some surprising muscle, and a few lines aren't bad. But between all of Nicki's forced rhymes and corny references - 'I got it in the can, dole', 'fuck ya, intercourse ya' - Gucci trying and failing to croon his way through a hook, and flows that feel increasingly disjointed and clumsy, this is not an impressive response. In other words, I'd probably skip it.

48. 'Comin Out Strong' by Future ft. The Weeknd - so now we get one of two Future songs to have success this week, driven off the pop collaboration from his R&B-flavored project. Now I was skeptical about this choice since I heard he was dropping two records in one week, mostly because Future's forced autotuned crooning has never been a sound that I've particularly liked, especially if he references the breakup to Ciara... and guess what happens? Now to be fair, I can at least see the parallel thanks to The Weeknd talking about the Bella Hadid split in between his bragging against the bleak tones and trap beat, but it's not like Future has much to say beyond complaining that blogs are writing fake stories about him, that he's fighting back and forth with his label head Rocko over contract disputes, and that he 'invented doors'... and we're supposed to find this interesting? Seriously, Future's whining in this vocal tone was always his least attractive side, and The Weeknd playing everything toned back is not a good look either. In other words, pass!

37. 'Selfish' by Future ft. Rihanna - and of course the biggest debut from Future comes from working with Rihanna for that pop crossover just like he did with Drake. And it's definitely different than nearly any of his other recent singles - or hell, anything Rihanna's doing right now too. Because between the glassy keys, sparse beat, and autotune trying to blend her voice with Future's on the hook - and failing, mostly because his upper register is painfully thin - it has an oddly synthetic and mechanical feel that doesn't disguise how much the vocal melody is cribbing from 'Every Breath You Take' by The Police! And yet if this is trying to be sensual, we're still forced to confront how out-of-his-element Future is, or how the lyrics are trying to emphasize a 'so-bad-it's-good' hookup that doesn't remotely fit with the barren production. I'm not going to say this song is quite as annoying as 'Comin Out Strong', but that's because I'm more confused at how fragmented and lacking any coherent throughline this track is. It's a weird, underwritten piece, and I honestly can't see it sticking around... but given it's Rihanna, you never know.

(not available as a video yet)

34. 'Slide' by Calvin Harris ft. Frank Ocean & Migos - okay, don't lie: when you all saw the combination of these three artists, you did a double take - mostly because I'm not sure I could pinpoint the cross reference between these three. Calvin Harris makes bombastic if generic EDM, which I guess could work with Migos' bombastic if generic trap bangers, but how the hell do you factor in Frank Ocean, whose tonal choices don't even seem in the same universe as these guys? Well, if you could imagine an intersection between all three of these acts, 'Slide' would probably be it, with Calvin Harris providing a glossy, retro-disco groove with guitar and piano that's actually surprisingly solid, and Quavo and Offset dropping pretty well-structured lyrics that coast on the groove pretty well (especially Offset), even if it really is just shallow bragging. Where I think I'm most disappointed is Frank Ocean himself, mostly because when he's not pitching up his vocals into a pitched up shout, he sticks with this lowkey drone on the hook that doesn't match any of the song's energy. And yet I'm not going to say it doesn't work - it kind of fits that breezy, somewhat melancholic look at the party that made parts of Blonde work, especially with the realization that in the night nobody gives a damn about the image, which makes the questions of lingering connection melting under the spotlight kind of fascinating, especially when Migos embraces that clarity regardless. In other words... I think I ended up liking this more than I expected - it's a bit of a weird fit, but something about it clicked for me, I don't mind this at all.

28. 'Stay' by Zedd & Alessia Cara - if I was worried about a track this week, it was this one, mostly because Zedd has a bad habit of finding pop starlets and getting them to make some ridiculously boring music that doesn't hold a candle to their solo work. 'Clarity' with Foxes, 'Stay The Night' with Hayley Williams, 'Break Free' with Ariana Grande, 'I Want You To Know' with Selena Gomez, 'Starving' with Hailee Steinfeld, even 'True Colors' with Kesha wasn't up to her usual standards. And now we have Alessia Cara stepping in... and congratulations, we got 'Stay The Night' version two, with Zedd trying to appropriate a half dozen different styles of modern production in order to capture our attention. The breezy sleigh bells and Kygo-esque piece on the second verse is the most obvious, but the whiplash transitions and touches of guitars pull more than a little from the Chainsmokers, the overloaded breakdown and blend of vocals call to mind recent Labrinth tracks - and not good ones - the humming vocal sample from Banks is very Kanye, with the sharper snares reminding me more than a little of Major Lazer. And I don't blame Alessia Cara for this - she's trying to sing through a cloud of careening effects, none of which flatter her vocal tone all that well. Hell, she's probably the reason I don't find this track - which is a total incoherent mess on production - all that terrible. But what it represents more than anything is utter desperation on Zedd's part - a recycled concept married with too many styles that don't blend into anything unique, it's a mess. Not precisely a bad one - again, I think I'm more amused than angry at this - but still, not really good either.

But as a whole I didn't mind this week. There are bad songs: 'Comin Out Strong' by Future and The Weeknd is the worst for me if only for wasting The Weeknd, although if 'Make Love' didn't have a decent beat it'd be more of a contender than Dishonourable Mention. As for the best, I'm actually giving Honourable Mention to 'Slide' by Calvin Harris, Frank Ocean and Migos - it grew on me, what can I say - with Lorde running away with the best for 'Green Light'. But coming up next we've got a big fight for the top, and while the best of Ed Sheeran have already debuted, it's not a bad record and could lead to something interesting. 

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