Tuesday, May 2, 2017

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - may 13, 2017

So I was expecting this week to feel dispiriting. Kendrick falls off the top spot, the aftermath of DAMN. as the chart naturally corrects to a less promising state... but here's the honest truth: despite some absolute trash on the Hot 100 right now, I'm generally pretty pleased with the current state of affairs. Good songs have held enough traction to make a serious shot at the year-end list, I'm seeing promising continuity into the summer, and while there are problems, they feel isolated in comparison with the larger trends. 

Or let me put it another way - yeah, Kendrick lost the #1, but if he's handing it off to a decent Bruno Mars song, I'm finding it hard to complain - and that takes us naturally to our top ten! And here's something important to consider: even though 'That's What I Like' went to #1, it got there despite not being at the top in any category. Sure, great YouTube, solid airplay, great sales and streaming gains, but it also seemed to peak on radio this week and that means I don't exactly see this having a lot of staying power if something bigger disrupts. Similar case for 'Shape Of You' by Ed Sheeran clinging to #2 - huge airplay and mostly stable sales, but it's losing on streaming and its radio peak is steadily shrinking. Compare this to 'HUMBLE.' by Kendrick Lamar which fell to #3 - sure, it's a loss as the streaming margin dropped, but it still runs streaming, sales surged, and much to my utter astonishment radio is actually gaining. But it's got a meaty challenge from 'Despacito' by Luis Fonsi, Daddy Yankee and Justin Bieber, which is dominant on sales, picked up tremendous streaming, has always been huge on YouTube, and also has real radio traction, it's a major competitor. All this places 'Mask Off' by Future again at #5 in an awkward place - streaming is solid, it picked up some sales, and YouTube is not bad, but without the same radio traction or dominance in any one category, I don't see this getting much higher without weaknesses above it. Then there's the rebound of 'Something Just Like This' by The Chainsmokers and Coldplay to #6 on all categories, especially on radio where it still has some staying power - not enough to take it higher, but enough. What blew my mind is that 'DNA.' by Kendrick Lamar is still in the top 10 at #7 - of course the radio's not touching it and sales did decline, but it apparently still has enough streaming to hold up - which I'd argue is a net positive, the more it holds on the better chance other formats will embrace it. Hell, look at 'iSpy' by KYLE and Lil Yachty - which yes, declined to #8 as radio seems to be wavering, but it became a crossover from streaming simply because it stuck around. What I'm dreading is that it'll also happen to 'XO TOUR Llif3' by Lil Uzi Vert at #9 - and yes, I'm going to stop ragging on this song a little bit, I finally had the appeal of the song explained to me, but I still don't like the song, or like seeing its streaming and YouTube traction hold up. Finally, to round things out and entering the top 10 we have 'It Ain't Me' by Kygo and Selena Gomez at #10 - yeah, I still really like this song, and I'm happy that thanks to boosts on streaming, sales, and strong airplay it might actually have some staying power, which is all good news.

But on the opposite note, loser and dropouts. And in the latter category, I was actually a little surprised how few of Kendrick's songs dropped off, instead with the two most considerable losses coming to 'Fast' by Luke Bryan and 'Dirt On My Boots' by Jon Pardi, which might just miss the year-end list because Kendrick knocked it below the top 50 on its twentieth week on the charts. And sure, while Kendrick did lose a lot - 'Loyalty.' with Rihanna fell to 33, 'XXX.' with U2 fell to 56, 'Element' went to 36, 'YAH' slipped to 65, 'FEEL' fell to 69, 'PRIDE' dropped to 71, 'LUST' faded to 75, 'FEAR' dipped to 91, and 'GOD' dropped to 96 - he wasn't the only loser. For one, we had the losses that continued from last week, where it looks like Kendrick just kick-started the process, like 'Chained To The Rhythm' by Katy Perry and Skip Marley falling hard to 51, 'Selfish' by Future and Rihanna to 93, 'Deja Vu' by J. Cole to 100 and - sadly - 'Green Light' by Lorde to 86. Don't get me wrong, I think the song will have a chance to recover when Melodrama drops, but it's not promising. But then there are the sudden drops to 'No Frauds' from Nicki Minaj, Drake and Lil Wayne - a diss track that seems to have utterly flopped when they tried to make it a single - and 'How Far I'll Go' by Auli'i Cravalho taking a big hit to 89. Finally, 'The Cure' by Lady Gaga slipped to 62 off the debut, but I'm not really surprised by that - even despite the video coming, the ambivalence from her fanbase speaks volumes here.

But of course the bigger story comes in our gains and returning entries making up ground from Kendrick's losses... and honestly, there were less than I expected. Sure, in returning entries I'm not surprised to see 'Prblms' by 6LACK back at 72, or country's return of 'If I Told You' by Darius Rucker to 94, although I have no idea why anyone wants 'Still Got Time' by Zayn and PARTYNEXTDOOR back to 81. But our gains are a mixed bag indeed, so let's start with the debuts from last week that have traction. Unfortunately, people think 'Good Life' by G-Eazy and Kehlani is worth anything, so it's up to 59, but so is 'The Night We Met' by Lord Huron to 84 as the whole 13 Reasons Why phenomenon persists a little longer. Then there's country making some inoffensive gains with 'In Case You Didn't Know' by Brett Young up to 34, 'Hurricane' by Luke Combs up to 41, and 'How Not To' by Dan + Shay up to 85. Then we had the tracks making a recovery from last week... most of which aren't for the better, like 'Heavy' by Linkin Park and Kiiara up to 54 and 'Now Or Never' by Halsey up to 52 - at least 'Shining' by DJ Khaled, Jay Z and Beyonce went back to 57, but I'm still only lukewarm on that track. And on the topic of mediocrity to garbage, 'Believer' by Imagine Dragons remains braying and annoying at 37, 'Drowning' by A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie and Kodak Black is saved by its hook to 55 and inexplicably pulling 'At My Best' by Machine Gun Kelly and Hailee Steinfeld to 63. And yet I can't say I'm ultimately all that down on this list, because we have three great songs picking up big gains: 'Slide' by Calvin Harris, Frank Ocean and Migos up to 30,  'Redbone' by Childish Gambino somehow still sticking around at 45, and finally picking up some momentum, 'Castle On The Hill' by Ed Sheeran up to 47, and it's about time!

Now all of this means is that for once we actually have a pretty sparse list of new arrivals, so let's aim to keep this short and start with...

93. 'My Girl' by Dylan Scott - not even going to lie, when I first say the name Dylan Scott my brain confused him with Calum Scott and I was reminded of that horrendous 'Dancing On My Own' cover and I got really angry. Dylan Scott thankfully isn't even in that genre - he's another new country singer, who dropped a debut last year that nobody bothered me to review and who seems to have made the mistake of signing to Curb Records - hell, the guy's younger than me, we all make mistakes at that age. And yet the more I listened to his first song to break through on the Hot 100, I just got this sinking feeling in my gut that Curb is going to mismanage this guy into the ground - which is a damn shame, because he does have potential. For one, he's got one of the most distinctive and expressive baritones I've heard in modern country in some time that with the right direction could easily fit into a Randy Houser or Brothers Osbourne mold, especially given his liking for a slightly scuzzier guitar pickup to balance against the piano and what sounds like real drums. And where the song stumbles is the writing - it's another bro-country anthem to a girl that's only different from the cliches in that this girl apparently likes to rap to Eminem... now that's a reference I wouldn't expect in a country song! But as it is... eh, it's passable, but again, I know what happens with Curb Records, I wouldn't expect to hear much more from him any time soon.

90. 'Hard Times' by Paramore - so apparently when I reviewed Paramore's self-titled album for my first anniversary of the channel I may have alienated a lot of people who think I don't like the group... and honestly, it was more that I wasn't all that impressed or interested by the album, and while I found their pop turn thematically consistent in the writing, the execution left something to be desired. But hey, now that they're more firmly established in indie pop - losing their bassist along the way but regaining their old drummer - maybe they'd stick the landing more? Honestly, it's a bit of a weird listen, the sort of colourful new wave song that should be entirely up my alley, but lands in an intentionally discordant place I'm not sure flatters anyone. Hayley Williams has described the lyrics relating to her own depression when it would come to making the new album, and man, you can tell, from the slightly deadened tone in her voice to the squealing points where you can tell she'd be happy to hit rock bottom if only to actually feel something. I just wish the production and melody mirrored that bleakness a little more effectively, because with the garish marimba tone to the jagged spikes of guitar playing against the firmer bass groove - courtesy of producer Justin Mendel-Johnsen, who seems to bring in the same technicolor approach he did four years ago - and all the colourful melodies, it doesn't really reflect the tone of the writing at all. And yeah, I get that some of it is intentionally highlighting that there's something not quite right... but it might have succeeded too well. As it is... I can respect this song, but I think I'll like it more in the context of the album, we'll see.

87. 'do re mi' by blackbear - okay, you're going to have to follow me on this one, because I doubt the majority of you know this guy has been behind some pretty significant singles in the past few years. For one, he worked with Mike Posner on Justin Bieber's 'Boyfriend', before doing a lot of work with G-Eazy, Hoodie Allen, gnash, Machine Gun Kelly, basically a fair chunk of the white rappers who have crossed over into the mainstream in the past few years, along with cowriting some of the better songs from Tokyo Police Club's last album. Well, 2017 has been a busy year for him because he teamed up with Mike Posner again for Mansionz, which I've been told is an utterly insane record that I have less than zero interest in covering... and yet, with the lead-off single from his newest self-released album Digital Druglord he landed on the Hot 100. And I'm at a little at a loss on how to describe this: imagine The Weeknd drowning one of his bitchiest songs with generic trap production, no significant groove and entirely too much pitch-shifting and you'd get in the right ballpark. And sure, the piano line isn't bad and the song does build to the later choruses, but I think the larger problem is how generally unimpressed I am with blackbear himself. Because I've heard this song done before, mostly notably when Yelawolf made 'Heartbreak' and sounded righteously pissed as this golddigger taking money he didn't have - it was an ugly song, but it earned the ugliness with bars and intensity and a good hook. This, with its nursery rhyme hook and flubbed rhymes on the verses - tabs does not rhyme with bag, dude - and how willowy and frail blackbear's delivery is... no, I don't like this at all. It's unconvincing and pissy in the worst way possible, which might as well be the perfect intro for...

68. 'Attention' by Charlie Puth - you know, after Charlie Puth's debut album Nine Track Mind got rightfully panned by pretty much everyone, including me, I had the hope that he'd maybe take a step back and reflect, maybe take a few years off to refine his sound before dropping more singles. Instead, he's got a lead-off single for his upcoming sophomore release and just like blackbear, this is a song blasting an attention-seeking golddigger who Puth has dumped and yet is trying to get back in his life. Now credit where it's due - the sharper groove on this track actually has some swagger to it, and Puth is at least a little more credible at selling exasperated, lingering feelings than blackbear was at anything. And hell, even his production doesn't sound as thin and fragile it did on Nine Track Mind - which is not something I can say for his vocals. Look, there's no way around how weak and thin his delivery is, especially on the hook - his upper register just doesn't have the body to truly hold the notes, especially against a groove this strong, and the vocal production doesn't give him the body to work with. But imagine you give a song like this to Usher or Trey Songz and how much more impressive it'd be than from Charlie Puth, and it'll give you an idea of my opinion on it - it's an improvement, but that raises it to passable, not good.

64. 'Lust For Life' by Lana Del Rey ft. The Weeknd - okay, so when Lana Del Rey put out 'Love', I was happy that for the first time in years I actually liked a Lana Del Rey track, so when I heard she was teaming up with The Weeknd for the most obvious follow-up possible, I figured this could be a sure-fire win for her, even if I wasn't pleased she was jacking the title of a classic Iggy Pop song. Sadly, I wouldn't put it in the same ballpark as her last single, mostly because it feels pretty inert and not especially engaging, and I think that starts with The Weeknd. For as much as they have cited that they're obviously singing about each other in their music, they don't showcase a lot of chemistry here, mostly because it places them both in their upper register - not a good sign - and tamps back on their intensity. But there are bigger issues than that, because despite the hints of revving guitars and the smoky cloud of backing vocals with hints of bells and a thicker swell of synth, none of it has the type of smolder that can really give the song the edge of danger it desperately needs... and the writing doesn't help. Yes, Lana Del Rey is trying to evoke old-school rock and roll tropes, but obsession with the image doesn't give you the soul beneath it - for as much as this album references Billy Joel and the Hollywood 'lust for life', I don't hear the raw teenage passion. I dunno, I don't think this is precisely bad, and the production is certainly in the right ballpark, but when it comes to the melodrama that's Lana at her best, this is missing the mark.

44. 'There's Nothing Holdin' Me Back' by Shawn Mendes - you know, an casual observer of my channel would see Charlie Puth, Lana Del Rey, and ending with Shawn Mendes and would probably think this is a living hell for me... you all know I used to like this kid, right, or at least had the hope he could make quality? Unfortunately, since he's settled into cranking out singles cowritten and produced by Teddy Geiger it's been a dispiriting run, and we didn't really need another single off of Illuminate after 'Mercy', so this... well, here's where things get weird, because I didn't remember this song being on Illuminate, and Discogs clearly indicates that it wasn't, at least on any physical release... and yet on streaming services, Wikipedia, and Genius all say this was the first song on the record? I call shenanigans or record execs trying to cram a new single on and praying we don't hear the difference for a reissue, and yeah, there was no way I wasn't going to catch it... mostly because it's actually a decent song! Yeah, it's still entirely too barebones in its main acoustic groove, but the time the hook kicks up with a rougher guitar line that actually can build a little simmer to it, it's not bad at all, even if I do with the acoustic harmony picked up a little more richness. I think the biggest problem is Shawn Mendes himself - not the writing, believe it or not, which has him pulled along by some girl that's pulling him into unexplored territory and throws him off-balance, but his delivery. And man, you can tell he's trying to sound raw and channel some bluesy howl... but the kid is eighteen, and you can tell it's just out of his dramatic range at this point. Still, points for trying and I'd prefer to be on the side of defending this song than attacking it - no wonder Island tried to slip this on the record!

And you know what... I'm sorry Paramore fans, as of now I'm not really digging the dissonance on 'Hard Times', I'm giving the best of the week to 'There's Nothing Holding Me Back' by Shawn Mendes. Now let me make this abundantly clear, I wouldn't say anything this week rises to the level of very good - pretty unimpressive all around - and this doesn't hold a candle to, say, 'DNA.'. But that also means giving worst of the week to 'do re mi' by blackbear doesn't say much either - it's more mediocre to bad than an outright atrocity. Eh, sometimes you get weeks like this - lets hope that Gorillaz sells enough records to land a few singles on the Hot 100 next week.

1 comment: