Tuesday, April 11, 2017

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - april 22, 2017

I'm honestly not sure where to even start with this week - mostly because it seems overshadowed by the biggest story here, being the huge top ten debut that seems like the first serious threat that our top spot has faced in some time. But there's other stories about this week that deserve some consideration, including major shakeups in country and other disruptive singles. Also, Kodak Black happened for some ungodly reason, but we'll get to that.

But now the main event: the top ten! The big story was the challenge for the number one spot... and yet it still remains with Ed Sheeran's 'Shape Of You', pretty much thanks most to the tremendous radio lead and strength in all other categories. But its radio momentum has slowed, and that places it up against the biggest solo hip-hop debut since Eminem's 'Not Afraid' in 2010 - 'HUMBLE.' by Kendrick Lamar, at #2. And man, it's got momentum: YouTube, streaming, sales, it's dominant in all categories... except radio, where while it's picking up a bit of traction it's not nearly enough to combat Sheeran's lead here. And sure, it might hold its margins, especially if 'Shape Of You' starts dropping off and Kendrick holds his leads in sales, but with Harry Styles inevitably coming next week, that might be a lot harder than planned. And yet that's not the only story on the Hot 100 this week - hell, given that it held its own on sales and streaming and still has huge airplay traction, I'd argue 'That's What I Like' by Bruno Mars is still very competitive here. So is 'iSpy' by KYLE and Lil Yachty, for that matter - YouTube is stronger than ever and streaming and radio are still pretty solvent, even if sales aren't all that impressive. It was enough to get an edge on 'Something Just Like This' by The Chainsmokers and Coldplay, which flipped down to #5 as it lost some traction on streaming and sales to balance against modest airplay gains. But this takes us to by far the worst song in the top ten and arguably one of the worst of the whole year thus far: 'Body Like A Backroad' by Sam Hunt. Now let me make this clear, I don't expect this to really stick around - we have more Kendrick and Harry Styles coming, which will pull sales away from this non-country affront to common sense, good taste and decency - but this song still has a bit of streaming and airplay momentum, and I'd sleep a lot better if it was gone as soon as possible. What's worse is that it pushed back 'I Feel It Comin' by The Weeknd and Daft Punk to #7... although to be fair its losses in sales and the hard peak it hit on the radio probably did a fair bit more damage. And yet sticking around like a persistent lingering fart, daring anyone to acknowledge it, is 'Tunnel Vision' by Kodak Black at #8 - it's here because of streaming and YouTube, and given that both are facing a bit more competition, it's really only a matter of time before it's gone. Then we have 'Paris' by The Chainsmokers holding at #9, pretty much just on airplay at this point, where the gains are slowing considerably - although I would expect a boost for this with the album in a week or so. And finally, clawing its way back into the top 10, is 'Rockabye' by Clean Bandit, Sean Paul & Anne-Marie... honestly not sure how long it'll last, though - it looks to have gained more on the weaknesses of other tracks, which with sales losses can be a rough sign - we'll see.

But on that note, losers and dropouts! The majority of them are Drake album tracks - beyond that, the only big ones are 'Everyday' by Ariana Grande and Future and 'Party Monster' by The Weeknd, unfortunately just missing the points cutoff - it'll probably miss the year-end Hot 100 in 2017. And on the topic of Drake, he accounts for the majority of our losses too: 'Passionfruit' fell hard to 23, 'Portland' with Quavo and Travis Scott slips to 36, 'Gyalchester' burns down to 62, 'Free Smoke' flames out at 68, 'Blem' skids to 78, 'Teenager Fever' drops to 83, and 'Sacrifices' with 2 Chainz and Young Thug slips to 89. The only non-Drake losses came to Kendrick Lamar's 'The Heart Part 4' down to 85 - I think the real miracle is that it charted at all - and 'Bad Things' by Machine Gun Kelly and Camila Cabello flatlining at 50 - I'd expect this to be gone in a week or so, it's on its way out.

So yeah, I'm not really complaining all that much about our losses, and our gains and re-entries look interesting too. For one, I'm happy to see 'Goosebumps' by Travis Scott and Kendrick Lamar return at 43... a little less happy to see 'God, Your Mama And Me' by Florida Georgia Line and the Backstreet Boys back at 71, but that's more thanks to the American Country Music Awards, which is responsible for the majority of our gains here, as well as a fair few new arrivals. The most considerable is 'The Fighter' by Keith Urban and Carrie Underwood surging to 38 - which I keep expecting to be a bigger hit, even if it's not really country - but 'Black' by Dierks Bentley picked up off its return to 66, as did 'Yeah Boy' by Kelsea Ballerini to 76. The only other gains are coasting on natural momentum: 'Swalla' by Jason Derulo, Nicki Minaj and Ty Dolla $ign - which might be growing on me in an unsettling way - and 'XO Tour Llif3' by Lil Uzi Vert up to 16, despite being just as garbage as it was when I covered it last week. Sorry, folks who try to defend this junk, the lyrics are incoherent and sloppy, the mix is utterly by the numbers, and Lil Uzi Vert remains one of the least compelling or talented rappers working in the mainstream, and somehow an even worse singer.

Hell, you want to find someone who can actually sing? Let's flip to our pretty lengthy list of new arrivals, starting with...

100. 'Human' by Rag'n'Bone Man - oh, I was expecting to deal with this song weeks ago when his debut album dropped - hell, the rest of the world has had this for months now. And yet... man, it's frustrating that I don't like this more. I dig Rag'n'Bone Man's thick howling vocals and the swampy vibe of the song as a whole - could use a little more actual guitar to match the piano and more elegant strings, which don't really fit the sour tone of the rest of the song, particularly in the bass, but really the biggest issue is the jingling beat, which feels too stiff and processed to really lope forward with the rest of the track. But my problem comes down to the lyrics and the tone - there's a big difference between Father John Misty abdicating responsibility because he's clearly the wrong person for the job and Rag'n'Bone Man's sour, pissy denials, all rooted in the 'only human' defense that doesn't nearly match the force of his delivery. In short... look, this isn't precisely bad, I'm a sucker for a good angry hook, but more often than not, this rubs me the wrong way.

98. 'How Not To' by Dan + Shay - I remember being more forgiving to Dan + Shay than most critics, given that I've reviewed both of their last two albums, but I think the larger truth is that I don't really remember either record beyond maybe a few tracks. This track... well, okay, I remember it now that I've heard it, but that's more because it's a bit of a weird case off the album. For one, in terms of pop country, it's actually a lot more organic than most of the current crop of acts in this mold - real drums, a reliance on guitar-driven melodies and banjo that feels tastefully integrated, and the few electronic touches are sparse and only intended to add a hint of a swell. And given I've always been fond of Dan + Shay's harmonies, where does this track get weird? Well again, the lyrics: he keeps trying to move on with real maturity, but he doesn't seem to know how not to be a part of her life, despite things being over. But putting aside how the tone of the song is a lot more bright and earnest than you'd expect, this girl does seem to be taking our protagonist back time and time again, so this more seems like the definition of mixed signals! Eh, at the end of the day I wouldn't mind having this on the charts over some other pop country I could name - Sam Hunt - but it's only decent; definitely would not call this great.

96. 'Heatstroke' by Calvin Harris ft. Young Thug, Pharrell & Ariana Grande - ...okay, who told Calvin Harris that he should try and be interesting? Rope in compelling artists who otherwise would never make sense for songs and then mash them together into something that works better than it ever should? He already did it with Frank Ocean and Migos, so why not try it with Young Thug, Pharrell and Ariana Grande... and honestly, it works about as well as when Mariah Carey got Ol Dirty Bastard on 'Fantasy' over twenty years ago - which, for the record, is a fair bit better than anyone expected. Finally Young Thug gets some richer production to play off, from the tropical percussion to the liquid retro-disco guitars and thicker bass, with Pharrell's crooning serving the Puff Daddy role in providing the bridge to tastefully integrate Ariana. Hell, really the only thing I'd otherwise object to is a few of Young Thug's bars, but they're more laughable than outright awful - comparing the red bottoms of expensive shoes to a baboon's ass, or how he's got no tissue because he's shitting on them because life is short... okay, I know you're pulling from Lil Wayne, but you could have skipped the poop jokes, dude! But truthfully, I enjoy this a lot - the flow is tight, the chemistry somehow connects, and for some ungodly reason Calvin Harris has put out two songs with actual groove and quality in 2017. This is deeply confusion and upsetting on an existential level, so speaking of awful poop jokes...

94. 'Drowning' by A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie ft. Kodak Black - so can somebody tell some of these trap MCs that maybe submerging your entire song in minor piano keys, sparse beats, and bars that have no actual excitement might be a poor choice for your flexing anthem? Sure, I'd argue this track has a slightly better hook than most, but beyond that? Boogie's verse is your standard bragging about jewelry, Activis, and having difficulty getting into the club - okay - where Kodak tries to force rhymes, talks about his cars, motorcycle and girls, and says the line 'I'm the shit I'm farting, I don't know how to potty'. Looks like Sam Hunt might have some competition for some of the worst lyrics I've heard this year, because I have no idea who in their right mind told Kodak Black that line was remotely good! And yet, we're not done with him because...

93. 'Conscience' by Kodak Black ft. Future - so that previous song was actually not on Kodak Black's most recent project, just a different collaboration with A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie. This song actually was, and it's Kodak's big chance to follow up 'Tunnel Vision' with something that might have staying power, and he's even teaming up with Future to trade verses on a song with no actual chorus. Somehow I think that might have been a really bad idea, given that the hook is really anything anyone remembered from 'Tunnel Vision', and Kodak's rambling vocal melody opposite some of the worst autotune work on Future's voice to date. But say what you will about Future, you at least tell that even when he's been a total asshole he can at least do it with a modicum of competence and stay on the damn beat... at least until he tries his best T-Pain impression on the sixth verse which isn't good for anything. Kodak Black, meanwhile, flexes by taking his girl to Wings-n-Things, can't stay on topic to save his life, and by the final verse seems to give up even staying on the beat. To be fair, it's not like the beat here is good - this skittering flattened snare that's obviously from a drum machine, a bass beat that has no muscle, and a bell toll that doesn't match anything else in the rest of this skittering mess. So yeah, Kodak Black continues to strike out in his race to the bottom with Lil Uzi Vert, and regardless of who wins, we all lose.

91. 'The One' by The Chainsmokers - so, The Chainsmokers have a new album out, and thanks to Patreon votes you can probably expect to see a review in the next day or two. Not to spoil much, but the record is not good and I'll be going into lengthy detail as to why that is, but in the mean time, we have another single, this time being the lead-off track for the album. And while I will not say this song is the worst from the debut, I can't say I think this is all that good either. First off, it's anchored in Andrew Taggart's completely lackluster vocals that would get laughed out of your average mid-tier emo act, all with plenty of anonymous autotuned backing vocals to try and accentuate the melancholy of the situation... something the bounce of the piano and generally upbeat guitar line doesn't help, especially as the drop is a formless mass of sandy vocal layers, bass, and a snap. But again, the larger problem comes in the writing - this is a song that requires us to sympathize with Taggart for being selfish and ignoring friends and refusing to end relationships because of fear and generally being a lousy human being. And maybe it could have worked if Taggart had the presence or charisma or writing chops to make it compelling, but without great detail and his refusal to actively take responsibility, all framed as drama when it's the furthest thing from it... no, this guy is older than me, and I'm not buying it - next!

88. 'First Day Out' by Tee Grizzley - another day, another rapper who gets a hint of virality and lands on the Hot 100. This time he's out of Detroit and now that he's out of jail, he has a lot to say on a track with one extended verse and four bars of hook. And you know, at first I was actually pretty impressed - his flow was assertive and dispensed with any mumbling or autotune - reminds me a bit of 2 Chainz with a little less twang - the piano and strings behind him built up a solid enough crescendo, and there was some colour and detail to his story. But man, maybe it's expecting more when it comes to rappers who want to go bar for bar, but the number of flubbed or forced rhymes just started to get distracting, along with the midsection where he started talking about actively beating your girl and I start wondering what the appeal of him even is. Are people so desperate for rappers who actually can enunciate and flow they'll take MCs who stumble this frequently? As it is... look, I see the appeal, but if I'm going for this sort of material, there are plenty of other MCs, especially out of Detroit, who can do it better.

81. 'Subeme La Radio' by Enrique Iglesias ft. Descemer Bueno, Zion & Lennox - I can't be the only one who is a little stunned that Enrique Iglesias has managed to sustain his career this long with charting singles. And yet when you consider them in aggregate, I'm starting to wonder how many of them are distinctive or all that special beyond the guest stars he calls on to support him. Like take this song; the guitar and piano balanced against the beat, Descemer Bueno holding opposite, Zion & Lennox bringing a little more reggaeton intensity but not too much... hate to say it, but when you dig through yet another set of lyrics about getting drunk and screwing, it's not so much as it feels bad but formulaic, coasting on just enough Latin charisma and good vibes to work. And you know, that's fine, but if you chop up Enrique's successful hits opposite each other over the past few years, I'd put money on some people not being able to tell them apart - just saying.

75. 'Tin Man' by Miranda Lambert - so I mentioned that the American Country Music awards happened a week or so back, and thanks to a stripped back acoustic performance there, Miranda Lambert found a way to get a follow-up single from The Weight Of These Wings to land on the Hot 100. And that's not nothing - not only was that record decidedly pushing outside the mainstream towards the smokier, more textured indie country fare of her collaborators, but the writing was pushing into different territory than the firebrand material for which she was known. 'Tin Man', on the other hand, is the sort of distant spacious, painfully lonely track holding onto a Wizard Of Oz metaphor as she wishes she could give her broken heart to the Tin Man who always wanted one. And maybe it's because I've always been a sucker for a good Wizard Of Oz story, or that Miranda's quiet, tired delivery matches the windswept emptiness of the mix, or how she recognizes that she had tried deflecting and hardening her heart to no avail. Or to put it another way, this song had a solid shot at making my year end list in 2016 of my top 50 songs of the year - not hits, songs. Excellent piece, tremendous track, love the touches of pedal steel that come in on the end, this is the sort of song I don't expect to really stick around... but imagine if it did.

60. 'You Look Good' by Lady Antebellum - so following up on the topic of the American Country Music awards, Miranda Lambert wasn't the only one to perform. Nope, after its members took the previous few years to put out solo projects - with Charles Kelley releasing some of the best songs of 2016, for the record - they're now back together to push a new single... and hmm, looks like someone has been paying more than a little attention to certain trends in indie country and glancing at all the success Little Big Town has had. That's probably the reason they teamed up with busbee for production to punch up the bass and thicker percussion groove and push it to the very edge of what's considered country. And really, it's borderline - there's enough guitar snarl to keep it in that territory, but between the organ and fake horns cribbed from a very commercial take on the Muscle Shoals sound, you could argue this falls more towards soul and it would be hard for me to disagree. Note that none of this has mentioned the song's actual quality... honestly, kind of on the fence, mostly because the lyrics take all this swagger and just put it into the sort of swanky hookup anthem that doesn't help this song fit a country vibe. Overall... again, not bad, but it looks like Lady Antebellum are following their trend of frustrating lead-off singles after 'Downtown' and 'Bartender' - lovely.

59. 'Everybody' by Logic - have to admit, I had no idea what to expect from this. I had heard buzz suggesting this was Logic's return to form after the utterly inert Bobby Tarantino, looking to follow in the popular wake of 'Sucker For Pain'... and man, it's nice to hear Logic back in the right lane again! And while I can see some people immediately saying his flow sounds a little too much like Kendrick - and it's hard for me to ignore the similarities - I'm also not really complaining because the flow is great and Kendrick is moving on into new flows, and we'll get to that momentarily. And it's not like Logic's content or instrumentation is derivative - the choppy vocal sample against the sharper beat is hard-hitting, even if it could afford to evolve a little more, and his frustration with discrimination on both sides as a biracial rapper is a pretty unique lane, and you can tell Logic is bringing real intensity to his exploration. I won't say it's his best work - again, the production could afford to evolve a little more - but if this is the direction Logic is looking to take and he's actually charting because of it... well, color me intrigued.

53. 'Craving You' by Thomas Rhett ft. Maren Morris - so I'm blaming Dierks Bentley for this one - and yes, that makes sense, follow me on this. If he had actually released 'Man In The Moon' with Maren Morris instead of the title track of Black, he'd give Maren Morris the featuring spot, boost her cred on an otherwise solid song, and probably price her out of the range where Thomas Rhett could afford her contributions. Instead, fresh off of his win for Male Vocalist of the Year - for which I think my scorn is palpable in a year where Sturgill Simpson released a record - and Song of the Year for 'Die A Happy Man' - because Ed Sheeran ripoffs are worth the ACMs changing their rules to cheat an ineligible song into the race - he now has his lead-off single for his third record. Which confuses me, because this sounds like a song that The Wombats or The 1975 would have junked years ago and surprising nobody, it's the furthest thing from country! The gleaming new wave bassline, glossy guitars, gated drumwork and beats, the only thing that makes this even close is a hint of banjo that you'd otherwise miss - otherwise, this is a pop song. And it would be a passable pop song... if Thomas Rhett actually gave Maren Morris a verse instead of just placing her on backup, or if the song, or if there was actual bite or intensity in the vocals, or the melody line didn't feel bizarrely familiar in a way that's going to drive me crazy, or if the lyrics didn't feel like the most utterly tired 'love=drugs' metaphor that does nothing interesting with any of the interplay Rhett and Morris don't have! No, if this was a pop single, it'd be forgettable and bland - pushed to country radio, it's just insulting - next!

2. 'HUMBLE' by Kendrick Lamar - and now we have the big one, already set to go down as one of Kendrick Lamar's biggest hits on the Hot 100... and is kind of crazy that I'm not as big of a fan of this as other songs? Coming off of plenty of songs from To Pimp A Butterfly or even untitled, unmastered., I'm not nearly as impressed with this as I'd like to be. For one, maybe I was hoping the song would kick off the distorted roars of guitar that open up the track, but instead we get a Mike Will Made It trap beat going against a low staccato piano line and a few extended whirs on the hook. And then we have Kendrick's delivery - and yes, it's impressive that he can make a trap banger with the same level of complexity and crafty bragging that tends to characterize his delivery, but I can't be the only one who misses his more visceral growls and flow - this feels choppy and stiff, and to quote my buddy Luke James, I don't think people would be as hyped about the delivery and bars here if they weren't from Kendrick and the video wasn't filled with so much evocative imagery. Because when we get to the content, it really is little more than a hard-edged slice of braggadocious hip-hop that's certainly well-constructed and full of great moments... but I've seen him do a lot more. And just to speak briefly on the controversy on the second verse - look, I've heard this debated plenty. On the one hand, Kendrick is plainly playing this trap banger casually, and what's wrong with a guy expressing his preferences in girls - but on the other hand it's swapping out one arbitrary standard of outer beauty defined by men for another, and given his own cultural authority and dominance in hip-hop which he's still asserting here, it can feel reckless, even if it's in the spirit of the song. I dunno, there's a part of me that doesn't want to hold Kendrick to the same standards as normal given what this song is - but he still was the one who brought it up, framed it like this, and it's not like I don't call more basic MCs on this crap either. 

As a whole - look, Kendrick's got so much natural charisma and character that this is very close to landing an Honourable Mention... but I'm giving it to Logic for 'Everybody'. Shocker, but I dig the flow and content a fair bit more, with the best of the week easily going to 'Tin Man' by Miranda Lambert, such a fantastic song. As for the worst... yeah, 'Conscience' by Kodak Black and Future, followed by 'Drowning' by A Boogie Wit A Hoodie and Kodak Black, who beat out The Chainsmokers and Thomas Rhett with one godawful lyric. But overall... man, lot of diversity this week, I almost don't mind things went long.

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