Tuesday, April 18, 2017

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - april 29, 2017

If this was any normal week, I'd be inclined to say it was transitional, an otherwise regular week as older tracks rotate out in preparation for spring. Maybe even a little unexceptional, given that The Chainsmokers seem to have finally hit their fifteenth minute with no new songs from their debut album making a significant impact. But this is not an ordinary week, because with the monstrous streaming numbers that Kendrick Lamar's DAMN. is currently racking up, it's a more a question of which tracks will survive what's coming.

And nowhere is that question more apparent than our top ten. Sure, 'Shape Of You' by Ed Sheeran is still on top, but for how much longer? The radio gains have slowed to a crawl, the sales are strong but not top-tier, and while its streaming is good for now, its on-demand numbers and uncertain YouTube are showing signs of weakness. And as much as I'd like to say the same for 'That's What I Like' by Bruno Mars at #2 for still having radio momentum and sales, it's getting muscled back on streaming. The big question comes for 'HUMBLE.' by Kendrick Lamar - which yes, took a week of sales losses, but the streaming and YouTube numbers are obscene and it's picking up radio frankly faster than I expected for a hip-hop song with arguably limited crossover potential. It'll gain next week with the album, but I'd argue it'll be more of a question of how much Ed Sheeran slips than anything else. And that's not all: a big debut in the top 5 at #4, the song that nobody saw coming, 'Sign Of The Times' by Harry Styles. Now I'll talk a lot more about this song later, but suffice to say with the radio momentum and huge sales, it's got potential, but I don't like those streaming numbers - without a video, I can't see this being a serious challenger. All of this leaves 'Something Just Like This' by The Chainsmokers & Coldplay in a bit of a weird spot to round out the top 5 - it's got real radio traction and gained streaming, but it slipped on sales, which could be a bad sign going into the expected streaming losses next week. Similar case for 'iSpy' by KYLE and Lil Yachty down to #6 - it actually has a bit of radio and sales and it's got streaming traction... but it slipped on YouTube, and I can see it being vulnerable next week. Then we have our second new top ten entry and his first ever solo entry in this tier: 'Mask Off' by Future. Eh, not a bad song, got solid streaming and YouTube, but I don't see radio crossover and it's also vulnerable when Kendrick crushes everything next week. And it couldn't come soon enough for our third new top ten arrival and by far the worst of them: 'XO TOUR Llif3' by Lil Uzi Vert at #8. Again, it's only here because of streaming and YouTube with even weaker sales and the radio refuses to touch it, and I only hope Kendrick utterly kills its momentum. It might be a tougher challenge to kill 'Body Like A Backroad' by Sam Hunt at #9, though. Yes, it dropped back a bit, thank god, but it has airplay traction beyond country radio at this point and that's a really bad sign, given that it doesn't rely on streaming in the same way. Finally, to round things out, actually dropping a slot: 'Paris' by The Chainsmokers at #10 - don't expect it to stay long, as radio is ebbing, sales plummeted, and everything except on-demand streaming lost out - the category where it's going to get crushed next week.

Now all of this makes for a pretty uneventful list of losers and dropouts right now, especially in the latter category. Yeah, I'm irked that we're losing 'Million Reasons' by Lady Gaga which never got the consideration it deserves, and 'Water Under The Bridge' by Adele's departure is expected but a little sad, but if it's taking 'Bad Things' by Machine Gun Kelly and Camila Cabello, I'm not complaining. And our losses are pretty much expected too, most coming from country gradually resetting to equilibrium. 'The Fighter' by Keith Urban and Carrie Underwood dropped back to 53, 'Road Less Travelled' by Lauren Alaina slid to 77, 'Craving You' by Thomas Rhett and Maren Morris went to 81, and 'You Look Good' by Lady Antebellum dipped down to 85, the latter two off debuts. Hell, so did 'Subeme La Radio' by Enrique Iglesias, Descemer Bueno, and Zion & Lennox, falling to 96. The last two are older radio songs on their way down gracefully: 'I Feel It Coming' by The Weeknd and Daft Punk out of the top 10 entirely to 17, and 'I Don't Wanna Live Forever' by Zayn and Taylor Swift down to 26.

But where I'd argue things get a lot more interesting is our returning entries and gains - mostly the running question of which ones will survive next week. I wouldn't put money on either of our returns - 'Still Got Time' by Zayn and PARTYNEXTDOOR at 95 and 'At My Best' by Machine Gun Kelly and Hailee Steinfeld at 94 both look perilous - but I'd say that about any recent arrival that can lose momentum. At least 'How Not To' by Dan + Shay up to 86 is insulated by country radio, but I can see 'Drowning' by A Boogie wit Da Hoodie and Kodak Black up to 75, 'First Day Out' by Tee Grizzley up to 76, and maybe 'The One' by The Chainsmokers up to 78 all getting knocked back significantly. Similar case for other streaming-heavy hip-hop or R&B tracks getting gains, like 'Good Drank' by 2 Chainz, Gucci Mane and Quavo up to 82 or 'Losin Control' by Russ up to 63 - decent gains, sure, but is the margin of safety big enough? Now granted, there are other tracks that have more viability: 'Issues' by Julia Michaels seems to have momentum for some reason up to 12, as does the continued strong gains for 'Swalla' by Jason Derulo, Nicki Minaj and Ty Dolla $ign to 42, and 'The Weekend' by Brantley Gilbert is insulated enough by country radio for its last-ditch second wind to 64, and for some ungodly reason 'Call On Me' by Starley got a late period boost to 65. The tracks I'm a little more worried about are 'Scared To Be Lonely' by Martin Garrix and Dua Lipa up to 80 and 'Castle On The Hill' by Ed Sheeran up to 57 - yes, I know Sheeran's promoting the latter heavily and neither are crossing into Kendrick's territory directly... but again, it's a margins game at this point.

And yet none of this is going to stop our fresh crop of new arrivals, most of which won't be relevant next week but starting with...

100. 'Flatliner' by Cole Swindell ft. Dierks Bentley - I'm really starting to get frustrated with Cole Swindell right now. He releases the title track of his sophomore album and gets the acclaim he deserves, and then follows it with 'Middle Of A Memory' - not a great song, but a decent followup. And yet instead of following the obvious path towards a more popular neotraditional sound that's dominant right now with 'No Can Left Behind', he grabs the Dierks Bentley-credited and by far worst song off the album 'Flatliner'... and I get it, Dierks is big right now, but as I said when I reviewed the album, why the hell do you want to be shown up on your own song by an artist with more natural charisma who clearly is just here for the easy paycheque? I get that bro-country is the more comfortable lane, but with the fragmented staccato guitar and cymbal line that has nowhere near the groove and added synthetic touches, it feels clumsy - especially in the doofy hookups in the writing - and yet it's trying to be slick, and failing. Might want to let this one lie cold, Swindell - it took a while for this to cross over, and that's for good reason.

99. 'If I Told You' by Darius Rucker - and speaking of songs that took a long time to get to the charts, this was released back in July of 2016, apparently as the lead-off single for Darius Rucker's next country record. And when I can't find a reliable release date and it took this long for the single to gain traction, that's a bad sign... which a lot of buildup to an otherwise lowkey if a little clumsy song. The funny thing is that Darius Rucker has the grit and weight in his voice to pull off this sort of earnestness quite well, that highlights the weight of years and a very frank acknowledgement of his own failings and flaws. And when you match it with the gentle piano, quiet drumwork, distant guitar and even hints of pedal steel, you have a song that fits comfortably in the adult-contemporary side of country that Darius Rucker has always occupied. As such, my concerns are pretty minor - I think if this song picked up a little more rough-texture and didn't feel the need to submerge in atmospheric tones, it could connect a little better, and I do feel the actual writing and cadence can feel clumsy with a pretty tenuous rhyme structure... but overall, I don't hate this - decent track, not bad.

97. 'Weak' by AJR - well, following in the wake of 'Human' it looks like we got another song that has been on the UK charts for months now and has finally crossed over to the States. Now for those who don't know, AJR is a New York-based indie pop group that have gotten a lot of traction opening for some pretty big mainstream acts, from Demi Lovato and Fifth Harmony to Train and American Authors - hell, even by that pedigree I thought I could imagine what their sound was before hearing it. and I wasn't really disappointed. From the hints of trap percussion against gentle pianos, electronic warbles, pitch-shifting, shrill millennial whoops cribbed from Passion Pit, and lyrics about admitting one's weaknesses, it almost seems focus-grouped into existence for advertising jingles - and if you remember their last slice of dubstep-touched pop 'I'm Ready' that showed up on the 2013 charts, that shouldn't surprise you. This... well, the swell of strings on the final hook and the key change reflect a little more personality, but these lyrics... look, I have nothing against admitting human frailties and weakness in art, but it seems like more than a few artists miss the followthrough that comes with overcoming one's frailties and not just using honesty as a cheap excuse for easy sympathy. As for this... honestly, feels a little too sterile, twee, and lacking weight to really click for me - pass.

92. 'Bar At The End Of The World' by Kenny Chesney - there's a lot of people who give Kenny Chesney a pass because more often than not he makes lightweight beach fodder. I'm not one of those people, and thus my pretty negative review of his last record Cosmic Hallelujah got a bit of a backlash. But come on, when he's releasing tracks like this is as his singles, what the hell am I supposed to do? The flattened acoustic and electric guitar that tries to pick up muscle but has no significant low-end against hints of distant clanks that doesn't build anything close to a real pirate rollick to match buccaneering lyrics that long ago stopped making sense - hell, even Kenny Chesney sounds tuned out here! And let's be blunt on what this song is: it's a hookup at a seaside bar that tries to reference pirate tropes that have no connective tissue - why reference 'the bar at the end of the world' or 'dead men tell no tales' if you're not going to do anything with them! Yes, I get the parrotheads that have somehow excused Chesney for ripping off Jimmy Buffett for over a decade will give this a pass, but I won't. This is lousy, utterly derivative, and believe it or not, Kenny Chesney is capable of better. Next!

89. 'Cake' by Flo Rida & 99 Percent - you know, it always seems like there's a part of me that misses Flo Rida on the charts for bringing upbeat energy and good hooks... up until you actually go back and listen to the majority of his hits and how forgettable of a rapper he is. Good flow and a good eye for hooks, sure, but if you don't actually say anything you're not exactly going to be fondly remembered. So when he teams up with the hip-hop duo 99 Percent for a single on an Atlantic Records compilation project, I didn't precisely have high expectations for this, especially as I don't really have a great track record with songs that think repeating the word 'cake' over to substitute for anything else - looking at you, Rihanna, Chris Brown and Jay Z. And really, while I don't quite this track is quite as bad, this is still pretty hollow, mostly because 99 Percent are imitating Flo Rida's cadence and delivery just with a little more autotune against your utterly by-the-numbers tropical production, with it being very clear that they only came her to pick up a girl - to quote them, 'only came for the cake'. And that might be the part I like least about this song - this is Flo Rida, the guy who used to love the wild club era, are you so tired you're only coming to pick up? It feels desperate more than anything, and at this point in Flo Rida's career... no, I'm not all that surprised.

79. 'Everyday We Lit' by YFN Lucci ft. PnB Rock - honestly, I'm not even sure what to say about this one. YFN Lucci is obviously trying to follow up 'Key To The Streets', PnB Rock is trying to follow up 'Selfish', so why not team up for another generally forgettable trap song? And that's the thing: when you've covered as many of these songs as I have on this show, they just start to blur together - a few faded piano chords, trap hi-hats and snares, and a blubbery bass that doesn't exactly go all that hard, and YFN Lucci and PnB Rock sing-rapping about have succeeded and come up that feels seventy percent chorus. And beyond a few brand names and generally being more melodic and less violent than many of these tracks tend to be, it's utterly formulaic - expensive jewelry, foreign cars, taking your girls, I've heard all of it before. Coupled with the very restrained melody, I really can't see this sticking around long - not terrible, but certainly not memorable - next!

74. 'Unforgettable' by French Montana ft. Swae Lee - so apparently French Montana got himself caught up in an asinine public relations mess a week or so back that just happened to be around the time he was dropping a new single - the music media really needs to be better at wising up to this - but I think it's avoiding the larger question: who the hell still cares about French Montana's music in 2017? It's not like he adds anything all that interesting or special to any of his featuring credits, so why would I care about a solo joint where he got Swae Lee - that's the more melodic annoying voice from Rae Sremmurd, and you all know my opinions on them - that'll probably be linked to a new mixtape that'll be off the two utterly interchangeable releases every year? Well... could it be that it actually might succeed in spite of itself? I think a big part of this is the choice to drown Swae Lee in autotune to the point that he almost sounds like The Weeknd and then let his hook dominate the song against darker pianos and a sparse tapping scratch of a beat that actually picks up a little groove against the synths. Granted, the content isn't all that special: it's ultimately a song where Swae Lee and French Montana get drunk and help this girl cheat - and Swae Lee actually apologizes - but the production and mood seems to add a lurking air of danger and the opulence that feels more desperate than anything, the sort of hookup that seems to imply something oddly sinister down the road. Shame the writing can't amp up the intensity to match the production, but still, there's something to this groove that I really dig, it's not bad at all. For once, if the controversy was designed to drive hype for the song, at least it's a decent song this time around.

50. 'Now Or Never' by Halsey - I can't be the only one who feels like Halsey has completely squandered the momentum that she had from 'Closer', right? The Chainsmokers followed it up with top ten hit after hit, but Halsey? Outside of a pretty mediocre song associated with Fifty Shades Darker, this is apparently the long-awaited lead-off single for her sophomore album, along with a video she reportedly directed herself inspired by Baz Luhrmann's painfully dated and frustrating adaptation of Romeo & Juliet... and seriously, this is it? Look, I've never been all that impressed with Halsey as a singer, but this song is a such blatant Tove Lo riff with sloppy pitch-shifted vocal layering, no real melody beyond blocky bass and trap hi-hats, and a completely desaturated vocal performance. Hell, even the content falls into that vein, with Halsey trying to sound sexy as she wants this guy to make up his mind and screw her already. And you know, I'm going to side with the guy here - this isn't sexy or bringing any sort of real intensity or groove, it's just monotonous, and while Halsey has said it has a lot more significance in the story of her record... yeah, somehow, I doubt it.

4. 'Sign Of The Times' by Harry Styles - the byline to every story about this song is filled with astonishment. Everyone had assumed that Harry Styles would be the big breakout star of One Direction, after all - he had the look and the voice and the stage presence - but the fact that the song is actually good? Such a shocker... and while I'll admit a little surprise that Styles went in this direction, can we put to bed the idea that boy band artists can't produce quality? It wasn't that long ago that Justin Timberlake happened, folks, and Michael Jackson used to be part of the Jackson 5, it's not unreasonable to think One Direction might spawn a genuine talent - hell, with Niall Horan putting out 'This Town', it might have spawned two. But again, 'Sign Of The Times' is aiming much bigger than acoustic ballad territory - it's a piano ballad that's clearly playing in 70s-singer-songwriter territory that has sparked more than a few comparisons to Bowie and Queen and Meat Loaf that I personally think are a little premature, mostly courtesy of the guitars and pedal steel spiking off of the arranged instrumentation that feels a tad too blurry for my tastes. And look, this is not 'Heroes' or 'Somebody To Love' or even 'Heaven Can Wait', but this is a sound I like and one that Harry Styles is capable of pulling off - he handles a harsher confrontation with melancholy well, his falsetto is potent, and his belting at the end of the song is excellent, especially in anchoring the resolute knowledge of the coming end. And yet again, I'm not sure I could put this song in the same category as those 70s classics or even a modern Father John Misty track from that last album - it takes a little too long to get going, it feels like it's missing a guitar solo or change-up to really drive it home, and the lyrics maybe could have used a little more meat and description to really knock it out of the park.

But again, this sort of power ballad so rarely crosses over that it's easily getting Best of the Week - I'm nitpicking because I'm a fan of the style, not because the song isn't great. And yet Honourable Mention... yeah, 'Unforgettable' by French Montana and Swae Lee - believe me, I'm as shocked as you are. And both of the worst this week are going to country songs that utterly piss me off: 'Bar At The End Of The World' by Kenny Chesney snags the worst, with 'Flatliner' by Cole Swindell and Dierks Bentley taking Dishonourable Mention - seriously, the next single should have been 'No Can Left Behind', it's like you're trying to compromise your longevity. Whatever, next week is going to have a lot of Kendrick and that's probably going to be an absolute bloodbath in the best way possible.

1 comment:

  1. Look, I never got SOTG. It's trying so painfully hard and the belting is like Selena Gomez on It Ain't Me: trying and failing. The production is being drowned out so quickly it feels as forced as the conflict in The Boss Baby, and due to lousy mixing, the lyrics are barely interpretable and the entire track rings as trying way too hard to emulate the classics. I rate a light 4 out of ten.