Wednesday, March 15, 2017

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - march 25, 2017

So last week I made a very optimistic prediction that Lorde would challenge Ed Sheeran last week, that she'd keep the airplay momentum and huge sales to seriously step up against 'Shape Of You' with 'Green Light'. In retrospect, someone probably should have smacked me with the big stick of reality, because I was wrong in spectacular fashion. The truth is that nothing could stand against Ed Sheeran this week - Divide massacred everything in its path, which meant that of our ten new arrivals, every single one of them are from Ed Sheeran... which is a bit ironic, considering that in critical circles he's sliding rapidly towards the backlash zone.

And yet that's not to say this week didn't have a fair bit of activity, starting with our top ten. And of course, 'Shape Of You' holds the top, and why would I expect otherwise? It's now dominant in every single category - sales, radio, streaming, YouTube - and it shows no sign of slowing down, this is a crossover smash that I can't see falling off or challenged for at least a month now. And at this point, there's nothing remotely close: 'Bad And Boujee' by Migos & Lil Uzi Vert might have big streaming, but it's losing airplay and whatever sales it has left. 'That's What I Like' by Bruno Mars rose up to #3 on good sales and airplay and even streaming boosts, but the margins are simply too large to be easily approached. It overtook 'I Don't Wanna Live Forever' by Zayn and Taylor Swift, which has even better airplay... but it's weaker on sales and took streaming losses to fall to #4. Then we have 'Love On The Brain' by Rihanna rising to #5, less because it had any significant gains beyond strong airplay and more that other songs fell harder. And I have to hope on some level that's a similar case for 'Tunnel Vision' by Kodak Black which rose to #6, because it sure as hell is not selling or getting radio - hell, it doesn't even have YouTube, just streaming at this point! Then you get 'Paris' by The Chainsmokers at #7, which had a bit of a weird week - a peak hit on the radio, and sales gains compensated by weak streaming... which meant it didn't really go anywhere. What did pick up a place to #8 was 'Bounce Back' by Big Sean, which also seemed to hit an airplay peak, and yeah, its streaming has stability, but sales are weakening even further, so I'm guessing it picked up thanks to weaknesses above it. Then we've got a new top ten arrival at #9 - 'Rockabye' by Clean Bandit ft. Sean Paul and Anne-Marie. I have to say, I'm a little surprised this hit everywhere else in the world actually broke the top 10 in the states, but I'm generally okay seeing it here, rising on sales and picking up a bit of airplay momentum to compensate for even weaker streaming. And finally, tying LeAnn Rimes record for a song's longevity in the top ten because the damn thing won't die despite losing in every category... 'Closer' by The Chainsmokers ft. Halsey. Let's pray that something beneath it kills it sooner rather than later.

And on that pleasant note, losers and dropouts... and I have to say, I'm pretty pleased with the latter category here. Yeah, kind of sucks that 'Love Me Now' by John Legend drops out, it's not a bad track, but when we take out 'No Heart' by 21 Savage and Metro Boomin, 'Not Nice' by PARTYNEXTDOOR, and 'Treat You Better' by Shawn Mendes, I'm generally pleased all around! But none of that compares to the mess of losses that blew through the Hot 100 here, and let's start with the miserable week Future had. 'Used to This' with Drake dropped to 91, 'Draco' fell hard to 77, 'Comin Out Strong' with The Weeknd fell to 81, and 'Selfish' with Rihanna surprisingly fell to 66. Then we have the expected losses for songs that are reaching their expiry date: 'Star Of The Show' by Thomas Rhett to 99, 'Side to Side' by Ariana Grande ft. Nicki Minaj down to 50, 'All Time Low' by Jon Bellion down to 45 - great song, surprisingly strong run - and 'Can't Stop The Feeling' by Justin Timberlake dropping off its big boost down to 24. Then we have drops that feel a little more early: 'I Got You' by Bebe Rexha skidding to 67, 'Sober Saturday Night' by Chris Young and Vince Gill to 82, and 'Deja Vu' by J. Cole thankfully dropping to 64. Then we have the two outliers: 'Slide' by Calvin Harris ft. Frank Ocean and Migos getting an expected drop off the debut to 52 - don't worry, it'll rebound - and 'Better Man' by Little Big Town dropping to 55, although I expect the album drop will give this a slight boost next week to keep it from falling out.

But overall, I'm viewing our loss record as an understandable net positive, and when you look at our gains and returning entries... okay, a little less likable, but there are some promising signs. Let's get the crap out of the way first: 'Cold' by Maroon 5 and Future went up to 20, 'Make Me (Cry)' by Noah Cyrus and Labrinth somehow got more traction up to 46, and on a slightly more tolerable entry 'Mask Off' by Future went up to 32 - what can I say, I like that sample. And while I already talked about 'Rockabye', I'm not exactly displeased that 'Location' by Khalid went to 38 off the album boost, or that 'Rolex' by Ayo & Teo went up to 48, or that 'Believer' by Imagine Dragons somehow got another shot of life up to 41. But the rest of our gains outshine all of this - 'Green Light' by Lorde surged up to 19 and it has momentum, 'Redbone' by Childish Gambino picked up considerable and very welcome traction to 69, and as expected from the album, 'Castle On The Hill' by Ed Sheeran roared up to 39... I don't know if it'll be enough to gain traction, but I have to hope so. I'd sure as hell appreciate it in comparison with 'How Would You Feel' by Ed Sheeran returning at 84. 

But on the topic of Ed Sheeran - and strap in, folks, it's just him this week - let's start with...

96. 'Barcelona' by Ed Sheeran - so here's the one song from Divide that I didn't cover when I reviewed the album - and spoilers, this episode will be shorter because I already reviewed the album at length - and that's because it was on the deluxe edition, that I didn't cover. Now my general rule with deluxe editions is to avoid them - if the songs were good enough, they'd make the main album, but considering Ed Sheeran had to fight his management to get some more intricate or interesting songs on the main album, maybe it was possible the deluxe was where he slipped in his more interesting tracks? Well, it's not a bad cut, but I definitely get why it was left on the deluxe edition - the lyrics, for one, play to a very basic Latin hookup, including Sheeran clumsily working his way through a Spanish verse against the electric guitar line... which raises the question why we didn't actually get a Spanish guitar progression, but nevermind. I think the more distracting thing is that faint panting that fills up the background of most of the song against the fluttery keys and stiffer percussion, at least until we get Nico Segal of all people showing up for the trumpet interlude! And yeah, it's a neat choice, but I'm also left feeling that song is a bit of an unfinished gimmick, and Sheeran could have opted for a little more detail if he really wanted to make this a good tribute. It's not a bad song, but he's capable of better.

93. 'Hearts Don't Break Around Here' by Ed Sheeran - there's very little to mention here - outside of the 'shakes my soul like a pothole' lyric and some decent gentle multi-tracking, this is a pretty basic intimate love song that Ed Sheeran could knock out in his sleep. Points for sincerity, but again, I barely remembered this track when I reviewed the album, I'm not going to remember it much here.

90. 'Eraser' by Ed Sheeran - I'm more forgiving of Ed Sheeran's rapping than most, but I'll freely admit 'Eraser' tested my patience, mostly because his flow wasn't nearly as melodic, even if I actually dug the sharper edges on the choppy acoustic line. And yeah, I'm not going to deny the double-kick that opens up the slightly smoother hook works pretty damn well, especially off the multi-tracked prechorus. But despite that, the emotional dynamic of this track falls in a weird space - it's a 'more money, more problems' song thematically that Ed Sheeran's trying to drown out with booze, but it doesn't really delve deeper, and it's an odd way to open up the record. I still like it on a compositional level, but beyond that? It's good, but not great.

83. 'What Do I Know?' by Ed Sheeran - I've seen this song attract praise and I'm not really sure why - it plays to a very bare-bones, muted guitar line against an indistinct beat, and that places all the attention on Sheeran's writing... which probably isn't a good idea, as his faint, generic assertions of positivity are about on par with the instrumentation in terms of forgettable pablum. And look, I get trying to avoid politics in the music, but for as many times as Sheeran references girls not fitting into their pants he'd at least use his platform to say something. As it is, this song is completely hollow for me, and it'd probably attract more of my ire if it wasn't so generic and forgettable - next!

75. 'Supermarket Flowers' by Ed Sheeran - see, this is the sort of Ed Sheeran song I like... even if, as I said in the review, the subject matter makes it impossible to avoid comparisons to 'Afire Love' from x, which was considerably stronger. But points to Sheeran for refining the details and story after his grandmother's passing into an emotionally affecting piece all the same, opting for real restraint with only gentle hints of swell on the hook to emphasize the muted ethereal touches. And yeah, him downplaying the emotion is effective, especially on the outro. The only real issue I with the song is that it's not as strong as 'Afire Love', but still, the sincerity and reserve makes it a potent track all the same, definitely like this.

72. 'New Man' by Ed Sheeran - I've seen this song get so much shit in the critical backlash against this record - most of which I'd argue it doesn't deserve. For one, for as much as Sheeran has contempt towards this 'new man', he makes it plain that a fair bit of it is linked to his own jealousy for having his shit together, and for another, his real issue is how inauthentic his ex's gentrified steps towards 'normalcy' feel - after all, if this is what she really wanted, she wouldn't be cheating constantly or trying to re-enter Sheeran's life. What I'm saying is that there is more going on in the framing that at least acknowledges how petty it all is, which is more than I'd say for acts like Drake with his concern trolling or Future with his complete inability to get the hell over Ciara - and yet somehow, critics, they get a pass? As for the rest of the song with the rest of his scratches, blocky handclaps, main acoustic line... yeah, I don't mind it - sure, it's playing in much of the same territory as 'Don't', and it's not better than that song, but for what this track is, I think it works, and I won't play the hypocrite and say otherwise.

59. 'Happier' by Ed Sheeran - yeah, believe it or not, this song annoys me more than 'New Man'. For one, the instrumentation is the sort of sparse acoustic guitar, elegant strings and piano that's not nearly interesting enough melodically to be all the gripping, and Sheeran's dipping more into a frail falsetto that's not all that well balanced against another indistinct beat beneath the main melody. But of course, the main focus is Sheeran getting over a broken relationship and realizing that she's happier with this new guy... which blows all of its maturity in the final line where he mentions that if this guys breaks up with her, he'll be next in line to try again. Way to completely undercut the emotional throughline of your song with zero self-awareness, Sheeran. But again, it's less bad than it is tolerable with a bungled conclusion... in other words, skip it.

53. 'Galway Girl' by Ed Sheeran - you don't have to tell me how utterly ridiculous this track is. The clunky beat with handclaps, wiry synths, Sheeran's rapping about this girl who might as well be a caricature of the feisty Irish lass stereotype... and yet I'm a sucker for a catchy fiddle line, especially if you back it up with the tin whistle and accordion. More than that, though, is that it bears a little resemblance to 'To Take You Home' by Frank Turner, a song I absolutely adore from Frank Turner's best record Love, Ire & Song from 2008, and considering there was no way in hell that song was going to chart, even then, I'll take a watered down version of it now. Yeah, it's goofy and utterly ridiculous, but it really works for me, and if Sheeran is going to interject some more Irish and Celtic touches into his music... well, the sooner the better, at least in my books.

49. 'Dive' by Ed Sheeran - so there are a number of reasons why I think this song doesn't work for Ed Sheeran and is the worst track on Divide. Part of it is that it's playing to a very stiff, staccato waltz cadence in the percussion and especially the guitar line that calls back to old-school 50s and 60s ballads, to which Sheeran's rougher belting doesn't fit at all. Partially because it's an oddly demanding song, where Sheeran wants this girl to commit before that next step and yet on the second verse seems to be asking some basic questions about her that don't really fit with the familiarity implied by the first verse's apology, and partially because that 'next step' is described as 'diving right into you', which alternates between being far goofier than 'Galway Girl' and just an awful, awful line. But I think what bothers me most is the fact that Sheeran got Eric Clapton for the guitar solo... and then in the production purposefully placed him a shade back behind Sheeran's guitar line - he's a legend, and you have the temerity to pull that on this stale, utterly pedestrian throwback? Uh, no thanks, this is lousy - next!

37. 'Perfect' by Ed Sheeran - so this is Ed Sheeran's attempt to remake 'Thinking Out Loud', complete with organ, gentle acoustics, and a snap that feels oddly muffled of texture against a lush backing orchestra that of course drops into waltz cadence when the thinner jingle of percussion comes to the front. And you know, I'll give Sheeran credit, it avoids the lyrical slipups that bugged me about 'Thinking Out Loud', and I do like the little four bars of deeper guitar before the final hook... but honestly, I can't be the only one who thinks that songs like this don't play to Sheeran's rougher tendencies or tones well. He's got a level of grit to his delivery and writing that doesn't fit with songs that feel this stuffy and polished, and while I don't doubt his sincerity, it's not a tone I feel flatters his better instincts. Still, if this was to replace 'Thinking Out Loud', I'd be okay with that, if only to see how Thomas Rhett would rip off this version next.

So that was our week of Ed Sheeran and honestly, despite my gripes I'd still say this was a good week - Sheeran's worst tends to bore me more than pissing me off, which is why 'Dive' is getting the worst, along with 'Happier' for Dishonourable Mention, more for bungling its conclusion. Best... yeah, 'Galway Girl' is getting that, no question, with 'Supermarket Flowers' getting the Honourable Mention. Next week... the fallout.

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