Wednesday, May 31, 2017

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - june 10, 2017

So it looks like the charts have settled down for a bit heading into the summer months, and that means for me, things seem fairly normal. Hell, even the big shifts I expected coming off of records that I thought had a chance to cross over... well, it didn't happen. Instead, for once, things almost look straightforward or at the very least a little predictable, especially when we get to our new arrivals.

But before we get there, the top ten, and right now, I don't see 'Despacito' by Luis Fonsi, Daddy Yankee, and the remix with Bieber going anywhere. It's ruling sales and streaming and rising considerably on YouTube and the radio - if we're looking for 'song of the summer' predictions, this would be an easy bet. And I'm not seeing what's challenging it - 'That's What I Like' by Bruno Mars is holding onto #2, sure, but its streaming and YouTube are faltering, sales took a considerable hit, and while it's dominant on the radio, there's no guarantee for how much longer. You'd think that'd make it vulnerable to 'I'm The One' by DJ Khaled and his posse, but it's still at #3 as it gets slightly outstripped on YouTube and it hasn't quite caught up in airplay yet, despite stronger sales and streaming. Then we had the boost up for 'HUMBLE.' by Kendrick Lamar to #4 - which if you look to its sales numbers seems a little startling, but its streaming and YouTube are solid and it still is picking up airplay. Compare to 'Shape Of You' by Ed Sheeran, which fell to #5 because it's losing in all categories by a considerable margin - even though radio will be slow to let this one go, it is on its way out. Then you have the revival of 'Mask Off' by Future to #6 - likely at least helped by the remix with Kendrick - thanks to a big boost on YouTube and still solid on-demand streaming... and yet that can only compensate for sluggish radio and weak sales for so long, I'm not sure if it'll be enough. Then you got the boost for 'Stay' by Zedd and Alessia Cara to #7 - no surprise there, given that it had a solid sales week and has always had good airplay, but it looks to have a bit of streaming traction too, this'll probably stick a little longer. Hell, it overtook 'Something Just Like This' by The Chainsmokers and Coldplay at #8, which looks like it has peaked on radio and poor sales knocked it back. Might be a similar case for 'XO Tour Llif3' by Lil Uzi Vert falling to #9, because while it is dominant on YouTube and streaming, it's got nothing anywhere else. Compare to 'It Ain't Me' by Kygo and Selena Gomez, back in the top 10 yet again for pretty much the opposite reasons, decent sales and even better airplay while the streaming is garbage. 

Which will be the first to fade is anyone's guess, but that takes us to our losers and dropouts! And in the latter category, we had a few big ones: 'Love On The Brain' by Rihanna, 'Both' by Gucci Mane and Drake, 'I Feel It Coming' by The Weeknd and Daft Punk, 'I Don't Wanna Live Forever' by Zayn and Taylor Swift, 'Bounce Back' by Big Sean, 'The Weekend' by Brantley Gilbert, and 'Yeah Boy' by Kelsea Ballerini. And that trend of big departures seems to be continuing, as 'Rockabye' by Clean Bandit ft. Sean Paul and Anne-Marie slipped to 41, 'Cold' by Maroon 5 and Future went to 44, and 'Paris' by The Chainsmokers fell to 53. The rest of our losers are a little more small-time, from the debut of 'Rollin' from Calvin Harris, Khalid, and Future going to 91 to the return of 'My Old Man' by the Zac Brown Band slipping to 98. But there were a few surprises here too: 'Human' by Rag'n'Bone Man fell to 89 - I honestly thought it had more momentum - 'At My Best' by Machine Gun Kelly and Hailee Steinfeld went to 87 - again, momentum, and that album did just drop - and 'ELEMENT.' by Kendrick Lamar fell to 83 - my surprise here is more that this stuck around this long - hell, Kendrick's got a couple album tracks that'll likely make the year-end list at this rate.

Of course, he's not the only one, which takes us to our gains and returning entries and for some reason 'Gyalchester' by Drake is back at 84 - it can't be because of the bombing, right, because that'd be messed up... anyway, he's not the only returning entry, because on the one hand 'Weak' by AJR somehow came back to 96, but on the flip side so did 'Either Way' by Chris Stapleton to 97, even if, again, I don't expect it to stick around. Then we have 'Subeme La Radio' by Enrique Iglesias ft. Descemer Bueno and Zion & Lennox, and you can likely thank 'Despacito' for paving the way for this. Our gains, on the other hand... a little less explainable. I mean, sure, I guess it's not that surprising that 'No Promises' by Cheat Codes and Demi Lovato went to 74 off the debut, as did the huge boost for 'Bad Liar' by Selena Gomez to 27, but why the radio has latched onto 'Now Or Never' by Halsey in the wake of the upcoming album to push it to 26, I have no idea. Similar case for 'You Look Good' by Lady Antebellum, which is barely country and has had no consistency on the Hot 100, and for 'Thunder' by Imagine Dragons going back to 82. I can at least understand 'Attention' by Charlie Puth going to 35, as with that groove, it's probably his most tolerable song!

Anyway, where things get a little more clear come in our new arrivals, starting with...

94. 'Boy' by Lee Brice - so I've said in the past that I've struggled to like Lee Brice songs a fair bit, especially in comparison with many of his peers that play to a rougher, more spacious sound. Most of that I tied to the songwriting, but going into this I also started wondering where Brice would pivot in an increasingly uncertain country atmosphere. Turns out he didn't bother pivoting at all, instead relying on pretty gentle touches of electric guitar, hints of pedal steel, and muffled drums for a pretty simple but effective song dedicated to his young son. The ending of the track does feel a tad abortive, but maybe because I've always been a bit of a sucker for father-son tracks, this clicks for me in its straightforward, plainspoken realism - there's acknowledgement that things are going to go wrong, and that he'll be able to work through it, which I think is a hell of a lot more potent than papering over what might come ahead. I'm not sure how long it'll stick around, but honestly, kind of hope it does - good stuff.

92. 'The Dance' by Lauren Duski - okay, here's a bit of advice: if you're going to sing Garth Brooks at karaoke, there are two songs you shouldn't sing. The first is 'Friends In Low Places' - it's played out, especially at country joints, and if your DJ isn't good you'll get the seven minute version that goes on entirely too long with that third verse practically nobody knows. The other is 'The Dance', the ballad that many consider one of Garth Brooks' signature songs, and even if you can pull it off, it's one of those tracks that the lead artist embodies so powerfully that any cover feels like a cheap imitation. So when Lauren Duski decided for the finale of The Voice to sing this song... look, it's not the best idea, especially when you change the key. And sure, she does a good job, but it feels too clean and bright than the original, I'm not a fan of how the pedal steel is integrated, and the arrangement lacks the intensity and minor keys that made the original so striking, especially on the final notes. Props for aiming high, but there are some mountains that you don't try, and for me, this is one of them.

77. 'Most Girls' by Hailee Steinfeld - okay, if there was one trend in music distribution I'd want to kill right now... well, actually there are several and it'd probably start with the asinine promotion of 'playlists' as a replacement for albums, thank you so very much Drake, but right after that would be the constant stream of re-releases and reissues that makes tracking what songs actually made an album a living nightmare. Case in point, I first heard Hailee Steinfeld's 'Love Myself' back in 2015 as part of her debut EP, but it turns out that EP was reissued twice, first to bring on a feature from DNCE that went nowhere, second to greatly expand the track listening and add 'Starving', a song that has a shot at making my worst list for one of the worst drops in recent memory! In any case, this is apparently the lead-off single for her upcoming debut album, with the marketing framed as yet another empowerment anthem... and honestly, can we put a cap in this brand of tropical sound, especially when you're going to drown it all in reverb anyway with all the same pitch-shifting I feel like I've been hearing for the past three years? I'm not denying there's groove here, but the melody is so muted that I can't see myself remembering this outside of the heavier elements on the hook. But really, it's the lyrics that spur the most reaction out of me, because there's a contradiction at its core that's pretty amusing: for as much as Hailee Steinfeld tries so hard to stress girls can do or say anything they want and they can change their bodies if they want to, really stretching for that universality to the point on the second verse where she's celebrating the girls sleeping in as 'celebrating life', it's not 'all girls' on the hook, it's 'most girls', where Steinfeld makes it clear she's not explicitly part of that group, stressing that game she has to play to 'win at life'. I dunno, to paraphrase Animal Farm, the feel I get from this song is 'everyone is equal, but some are more equal than others', the song the girl who wants to be popular would sing to get access to the popular clique while showing deference, not helped by the fact that Hailee Steinfeld is pretty underwhelming and nondescript as a singer on this track. Eh, it's not offensive, it's clear that it was trying to say more, but to me, it's not sticking the landing.

76. 'Yours If You Want It' by Rascal Flatts - so Rascal Flatts put out a new album, and here's my question: why the hell are Rascal Flatts still a thing? I've never been a fan of this pop country group - mostly because Gary LeVox is a grating vocalist and they've shoveled out a lot of forgettable mediocrity over the past decade and a half, with their last record trying to push in bro-country cliches to embarrassing effect. But given that pop country has slid back into fashion, maybe their newest song wouldn't suck? Well, honestly, it's better than I expected, but I'd still hesitate to call it all that good. For one, it seems like Rascal Flatts decided to forget the past decade happened and just go back to the bright tones and swell that filled their mid-to-late 2000s work, maybe with a bit more reverb around the edges, and sure, there's tempo and energy to the track, but it's not like there's texture or swell, mostly because Gary LeVox starts belting early and it just gets exhausting against production with no serious weight to it. And maybe it's just me, but when you pair it with the lyrics playing so broadly in wanting to give everything to this girl, I find it hard to get pulled into the mood or atmosphere. Look, points for returning to a sound that works, and to their credit this does sound more organic than their last record, but compared to the pop country I like, this just leaves me cold - sorry.

66. 'Money On You' by Chris Blue - so for as much as Lauren Duski charted on the Hot 100 - including a second hit this week that actually landed higher than this one because of enormous sales - she didn't win The Voice this year. Nope, that prize went to Chris Blue, with this being his original song... and honestly, I'm not all that impressed. Yes, I like groovy 80s disco, but The Weeknd this guy is not - he's got an impressive falsetto, but for songs with this sort of groove to have punch, you need to have some vocal tightness and intensity or smolder, whereas here, he reminds me more Chris Martin, especially with all of the warbling over the syllables on 'highlight'. And yeah, I'm not really expecting a lot out of the lyrics here, but just like with the majority of songs from The Voice, it's pretty damn thin and flimsy. And like with most winners on The Voice, I wouldn't expect to ever see him again.

47. 'Crying In The Club' by Camila Cabello - of all the new arrivals coming out this week, this was probably the one I was dreading the most. I've made it no secret that I'm not a fan of Camila Cabello back when she was with Fifth Harmony, and everything she's released in collaboration with artists like Shawn Mendes and Machine Gun Kelly has been mediocre to outright awful. And yet for some bizarre reason these songs were hits and she was marketed as the most bankable star, despite her pitchy delivery and inability to consistently stay on key, with this being her lead-off single co-written by Sia... and man, you can tell. Hell, I'm a little stunned that Sia never took the lead on this, because from the vocal inflections to the range to the hollowed production that piles on the multitracking, it's hard to tell that Cabello is singing here, at least until you get to the final hook where she tries and mostly fails to belt convincingly against tropical tones with blocky horns, a clunky beat, and an interpolation of Christina Aguliera's 'Genie In A Bottle' that reminds me of a much tighter pop song. That one of the frustrating things with this track - if the tempo had been kicked up, this could have had potential, but as it is feels kind of listless. The one credit I can give it are the lyrics, where both partners are finding some vestige of sanctuary in the club, but if you're going to try that, why not make the song have the momentum of good club music? So yeah, believe it or not I don't hate this, but that's more because it's a Sia track than anything else, and frankly,she's done better too.

46. 'Swish Swish' by Katy Perry ft. Nicki Minaj - so I can't be the only one who thinks that the rollout to that new Katy Perry album isn't going particularly smoothly, can I? Sure, 'Chained To The Rhythm' did okay, but the backlash to 'Bon Appetit' has only grown bigger, and the release of another single with a featured guest seems suspiciously like an attempt to pull out of a tailspin. But hey, the buzz had been promising going in... and can I say I'm underwhelmed by this? For all the hype that this is apparently Katy Perry responding to this overwrought beef with Taylor Swift, it's not like Katy's hushed delivery is all that impressive or imposing, especially opposite Nicki, who yet again retreads over the Remy Ma situation that at this point just feels played out as hell. Hell, compared to the Fatboy Slim sample that opens up the track and the opening with the piano before the sparse snap and fizzy beat, Katy is easily the least impressive part of this song, and certainly not able to back assertions that she's a 'courtside killer queen' that's putting people in a casket - at least with Taylor I could buy her getting on the court herself! But I think the larger issue is that the writing of this song repeatedly references so many other songs - not just Nicki interpolating 'Juicy' by Biggie, but a hook that references both 'Another One Bites The Dust' by Queen and 'U Can't Touch This' by MC Hammer, all three of these which are more interesting. Plus, the subliminals that Katy is throwing are just... odd, saying a tiger doesn't need opinions from a shellfish or sheep, or comparing Taylor to an expired coupon... I'm sorry, I can't take any of that seriously, mostly because it feels so slick and soft. Hell, I think I even preferred 'Bad Blood' over this - the original, not the remix - because while it might have been clumsy, Taylor could at least back it up! This... honestly, more forgettable than anything.

43. 'Deja Vu' by Lauren Duski - you know, I don't expect anyone from The Voice to stick around, but it always seems telling when the highest charting song isn't from the winner, and honestly, I might like it better than what Chris Blue put together. For one, Duski is a potent singer and she can nail this sort of piano ballad with the subtle strings, hitting the balance between elegance and lingering damage that comes on this post-breakup song where she's remembering and wishing he'd come back... which isn't deja vu, especially in this case. If she's recalling falling in love and fighting and moments of real conflict, that's very different than lonely remembrance - if it was true deja vu, it'd be if she was going through the same situations with a different guy that was so similar it could trigger something like that. But again, it's The Voice, and even if Duski wrote herself this it's bound to feel a little thin. Not a bad track, but again, I'm not going to remember it.

42. 'Strip That Down' by Liam Payne ft. Quavo - so now we've got the last One Direction member stepping up to the plate for his breakout song. Louis went electro-pop, Zayn went towards R&B, Niall went to folk, Harry stepped towards classic rock, and Liam... see, I was told going in that this song sucked, that it was embracing DJ Mustard gang vocals and a stripped back snap against faint tinkles of piano and was trying to embrace a sound that was both outdated and completely unconvincing. And yet... is it a bad thing that I'm not hating this? I'm not saying it's great or anything, because everything I said about the instrumental is completely true, especially when you tack on the pitch-shifted vocals and Quavo's generally forgettable verse, but it's telling that Liam interpolated 'It Wasn't Me' from Shaggy, because all of Liam's performance reminds me of a early-to-mid 2000s hip-hop crossover from the boy bands of the time, just with the sexuality turned up. And unlike Zayn, Liam actually seems to be having fun and his lyrics have a pretty solid cadence and flow, letting charisma do more work than anything else on the track. Yeah, the production is definitely dated and whenever he says to strip it down I keep thinking he's talking about refinishing his deck, and it's certainly not better than most of what Niall and Harry have released, but I'd probably take this over Zayn and Louis right now, and even if it is basic, I wouldn't mind seeing this stick around - not bad at all.

In fact... you know, it's a pretty middle-of-the-road week overall, but while I'm giving best to 'Boy' by Lee Brice, Honourable Mention is to 'Strip It Down' by Liam and Quavo - what can I say, it's actually catchy and enjoyable, and I can see this growing on a lot of people. Worst of the week... again, not really a lot of standouts, but I'm giving it to 'Money On You' by Chris Blue and Dishonourable Mention to 'Swish Swish' by Katy Perry and Nicki Minaj, more because it's a disappointment from the both of them. I dunno, I think expectations factored into my picks this week, and given that things seem to be slowing down, I have no idea what's going to stick.

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