Wednesday, May 10, 2017

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - may 20, 2017

So I think it's fairly obvious that we live in uncertain times, and while music critics and cultural anthropologists will debate how much the music that charts will reflect the world around us, I think you could make a case for the Hot 100 being the most unsettled it's been in some time. Because while you could make a story about Katy Perry collaborating with Migos, or the fight for dominance between One Direction members, or that Gorillaz for no discernable reason failed to sell enough to chart this week, the big story is for the third time in three weeks, we have a new #1... and like with the others, there's no clear indication of how long it'll last.

And when you take a look deeper at our top 10, it's easy to see why. Let's not mince words, 'I'm The One' by DJ Khaled, Justin Bieber, Quavo, Chance The Rapper and Lil Wayne got to the top because for once Khaled's strategy of throwing as many artists at a song to rack up the hits paid off... why this strategy didn't work with 'Do You Mind' I have no idea, but it racked up the sales, YouTube, streaming, and even airplay traction to take the top spot. But again, how long it'll last is an open question, because 'That's What I Like' by Bruno Mars is somehow still gaining airplay, it's always had good sales, and its streaming and YouTube are still solvent. But it's facing the challenge of 'Despacito' from Luis Fonsi, Daddy Yankee, and Justin Bieber up to #3 - it might not be surging on airplay in the same way, but its sales and streaming are bigger and it's always been a YouTube monster. This places 'HUMBLE.' by Kendrick Lamar in a bit of an awkward place - sure, huge streaming, good YouTube, more airplay momentum than I expected... but sales slipped back as the hype from DAMN. fades, which could be troubling down the road. It did manage to pass 'Shape Of You' by Ed Sheeran, but that song is fading fast - with the exception of YouTube, it's losing consistently in all categories. And yet what somehow is sticking around is 'Something Just Like This' by The Chainsmokers and Coldplay at #6, mostly on a sales boost and strong airplay compensating for weaker streaming, although it did pick up a little in that category. It served to push back 'Mask Off' by Future, which despite the video seems to be slumping across the board, and it doesn't have the airplay to afford such a loss. Compare to 'iSpy' by KYLE and Lil Yachty, which saw losses across the board but it has just enough radio to hold steady a bit longer. What doesn't is 'XO Tour Llif3' by Lil Uzi Vert up to #9, which thanks to YouTube streams is being propped up despite abysmal sales. But to round out our top 10: 'It Ain't Me' by Kygo and Selena Gomez holds #10 with big airplay, okay sales, and streaming that while small seems to be picking up a little traction... which yes, is promising.

But on the opposite note, losers and dropouts... and it's hard not to feel that the aftermath of DAMN. is still lingering, because we had a busy week here. Of the songs that are now gone 'Mercy' by Shawn Mendes is the biggest, but it also took out 'Moves' by Big Sean, 'How Far I'll Go' by Auli'i Cravalho, 'Deja Vu' by J. Cole, and unfortunately 'Green Light' by Lorde, although I wouldn't be surprised to see it return when the album drops. As for our losses... well, as you'd expect, the majority are from Kendrick, as 'LOVE.' with Zacari falls to 43, 'LOYALTY.' with Rihanna slips to 51, 'XXX.' with U2 goes to 79, 'YAH.' falls to 89, and 'ELEMENT.' decomposes to 52. But we also had three more losses worth noting: 'Call On Me' by Starley finally takes a hit to 97, 'Down' by Marian Hill looks to be hitting the end of its momentum at 73, and most intriguingly, 'Chained to The Rhythm' by Katy Perry and Skip Marley skids to 74... I wouldn't call it a flop single just yet, but the fact that radio is dropping it this fast is not a good sign.

In comparison, when you look at our gains and especially our returning entries we get songs that just don't seem to die. For one, Dwayne Johnson's 'You're Welcome' is somehow back at 99, but so is 'El Amante' by Nicky Jam to 96. Then there are the country songs making a slight recovery, neither all that good: 'Flatliner' by Cole Swindell and Dierks Bentley to 98 and 'You Look Good' by Lady Antebellum to 94. The biggest return came for 'Human' by Rag'n'Bone Man, which I don't imagine will end up a hit, but it's intriguing to see it here. And speaking of songs picking up momentum out of nowhere, 'Goosebumps' by Travis Scott and Kendrick Lamar seems to be on its fourth wind to 32, and due to a sudden sales influx 'Believer' by Imagine Dragons is up too to 20. Then there's 'Now Or Never' by Halsey, which also somehow picked up sales and airplay to rise to 38, along with another slight boost for 'Good Drank' by 2 Chainz, Gucci Mane and Quavo up to 88. But the one that surprised me the most was 'If I Told You' by Darius Rucker up significantly to 62 - sure, good sales helped, but I'm surprised there was that much of an interest in such a milquetoast little song.

But where things get more interesting is in our list of new arrivals: ten this week, so let's start with...

100. 'wokeuplikethis*' by Playboi Carti ft. Lil Uzi Vert - I remember first seeing the name 'Playboi Carti' and thinking that I recognized it... and it turns out I did! Despite this being his first week on the Hot 100, with two songs off his sophomore mixtape cracking the bottom of the charts, he's actually been around for a couple of years now - affiliated with A$AP Mob, originally starting off the with the name Sir Cartier before changing it, and now he's doing the Soundcloud rap thing with Lil Uzi Vert here. And I can't be the only one who hears the irony of these two guys making a song complaining about how people are trying to sound like them... when in reality if you know hip-hop music at all for the fifteen years how painfully derivative both of them are on this song, with the same nasal tone and utterly interchangeable subject matter we've heard for years! The most I can say for it is that Lil Uzi Vert actually stays on flow for once - even if he blows it at the end of his verse trying to rhyme 'merging' with 'curtains' - but beyond that, I think what disappoints me the most is the production. Yeah, the hook is catchy, but the flattened synth loop against your barebones trap beat that only picks up fragments of added tone is so cheap and thin - I might have issues with Metro Boomin, DJ Mustard and Mike Will Made It, but you can tell their production has a budget, and given that there's no real edge to this... knowing my luck this'll probably stick around, but let's hope it doesn't.

93. 'Sweet Creature' by Harry Styles - so okay, it makes sense that Harry Styles is releasing the acoustic ballad after 'Sign Of The Times' in the buildup to that self-titled album. And for a love song... meh, it's fine enough, mostly anchored in Styles' passionate delivery and lyrics that feel heartfelt, although it's interesting how the mix builds a little depth off the guitar as the song proceeds. But I think my main issue comes in that title that's repeatedly used as a term of endearment on the song: 'sweet creature'. Yes, I get that it's a reference from Shakespeare, but if you know anything about the passage of Othello it's pulled from, it's from a confession of Iago's describing Desdemona's cheating to Othello - a confession that is a complete lie! Now granted, I don't think Styles' is using that context in the song - he's playing it like a straightforward love song - but when you know the Shakespearean context of the phrase it completely pulls me out of the song, it's such an idiosyncratic turn of phrase. Still, it's passable enough, but I much preferred 'Sign Of The Times', and hope the album is more like that than this.

91. 'Magnolia' by Playboi Carti - so now we get our second song from Playboi Carti - and at least the production is a little better? The blocky bubbles of bass aren't bad and the melodic layers, while utterly flat and droning, don't really offend me here. What I find a lot more distracting is that there is supposed to be anything interesting to this guy's content and delivery. If I'm going to blame Migos for anything in modern hip-hop, it'd be the popularization of ad libs used for more than just punctuation as it was in the era of P. Diddy, whereas here it's being used to fill up whole bars that somehow feel even more meaningless than usual! Of course, around all of it are bars about him spending money, stealing your chick, flubbing rhymes, and sounding as bored as possible. And look, I remember the era of crunk, those beats were often just as thin and the rapping was arguably just as bad, but there was at least intensity and energy whereas this is just lazy, forgettable mediocrity - pass!

90. 'Slow Hands' by Niall Horan - so I've gone on the record of probably being the most interested in the career progression of Niall Horan towards acoustic folk, as one of the most strongest songwriters behind One Direction, even if Harry Styles is making a major play for that title. And given how much I still like 'This Town' - it's better than 'Sweet Creature' when it comes to acoustic ballads at least - I hoped that 'Slow Hands' could work. And... well, I think it does? It's tough to say, because the most immediate thing to notice is how choppy and staccato the production feels, especially with how the vocals feel so clipped, as if the pickup was stopped abruptly instead of letting them balance the blocky groove fully with the wiry guitar and sharper bass. In fact, I think the vocals are arguably the biggest problem - this song is playing for a much rougher vibe than Niall's smooth, Bieber-esque tones are capable of really landing, even if he does bring a certain smirking charisma that does a lot to compensate. Outside of that - and that awkward 'sweat dripping down our dirty laundry' line - I'm inclined to say I like this, but I think it'll play a lot better when Niall ages about seven years, and picks up some actual rock grit in his tone. He's getting there, but not there yet.

87. 'Privacy' by Chris Brown - whereas Chris Brown is not there, has never been there, and by the Nine Hells I do not want to review his upcoming forty song double album. But the truth is that Chris Brown's star has faded a lot in R&B, so I'm honestly surprised this charted at all. For one, his R&B vocals are painfully still limited to gratuitous autotune here, and for another, I don't know who in their right mind wants to hear Chris Brown rap and describe his lover's ass shaking like 'boom shakalaka'. He is picking up a little bit of a rasp in his delivery, which does make his rapping a little less nasal, but it also makes him sound more threatening than he should on the bar 'stop running from this dick, I ain't about to let you slide this time'. And make no mistake, the rest of the sex references are just as filthy and yet nowhere close to attractive, as he describes how he needs her body in ways she can't understand, or how he's going to eat her out like a 'dinner date', or how he describes licking her 'private parts', a term that's never going to sound sexy and yet Chris Brown put it on the hook! And when you combine it with utterly forgettable desaturated snaps and synths, it's just an ugly song that's nowhere close to as sexy as it thinks it is, especially as Brown's delivery and the trap beat don't contribute to any significant groove. Seriously, can we as a collective culture kick Chris Brown to the curb like we should have done a decade ago - please?

76. 'Bon Appetit' by Katy Perry ft. Migos - this was one of those songs I saw and knew in my gut we were about to get a trainwreck - certainly that was what buzz was suggesting. I mean, Katy Perry has collaborated with rappers before, but both Kanye and Juicy J ended up looking worse for the effort, and Katy's odd fascination with trap music has never been a good look for her! And yet in a weird way I'd say this might actually be a little better than 'Dark Horse' or 'E.T.', mostly because it's aiming to do a lot less, and the second blatant sex song we've gotten new this week. And you know, with the richer synth against the lower bass groove against the thin fizzy hi-hats, I can at least see some instrumental appeal, even if Katy Perry finds herself falling in the awkward spot of being very sexual but not quite as sexy as she thinks. But there's no way around it: this is a song about cunnilingus using all measure of food double entendres, and I thought Justin Timberlake thoroughly murdered this concept of song back in 2009 with 'Carry Out'! And they are trying so hard to stretch this into something that's sexy, but it tilts so far overboard that even each member of Migos getting one third of a verse can't save it - seriously, spread like a buffet, fresh out the oven, there's a danger zone when it comes to overloading the double entendres where you can't help but start thinking of it literally with Migos literally eating Katy Perry. Look, this song is thoroughly misconceived and unbelievably stupid, but in a year where a song called 'Body Like A Backroad' became a hit, anything is possible here - let's do Katy Perry and Migos a favor and forget this ever happened, okay?

70. 'Thunder' by Imagine Dragons - so apparently Imagine Dragons are gearing up for a new album, and with the bizarre continued success of 'Believer' - seriously, if you're going to rip off AWOLNATION's formula that hard at least give them credit - we've got a second single hitting the charts... and I think I like it a fair bit more than 'Believer', but it's a bit of an odd choice for a single. For one, the vocals are a fair bit more restrained and controlled for an Imagine Dragons tune, and even despite the fake snap, bassy beat, and trap snares, this track does have a little more actual swell to it courtesy of the blur of vocal sample that smother what sounds like an actual guitar, which actually rises to the forefront on the outro. Now granted, the lyrics are generic as all hell, and if you're going to compare the swell and intensity of this song to something like 'The Thunder Rolls' by Garth Brooks, you're going to be underwhelmed by this - you'd think a song about the thunder of your own success would have more firepower - but this does feel like a step back in the right direction, I don't dislike this. Not great sure, but it's closer to the better songs on Night Visions, and I can support that.

67. 'First Time' by Kygo & Ellie Goulding - so I'm not going to lie, I was really excited to hear this. 'It Ain't Me' remains a great song that I'm thrilled has done well, and teaming up with Ellie Goulding strikes me as a good choice for both acts, with Ellie Goulding bring her loose effervescence and abstract writing to Kygo's natural grooves. Unfortunately, I'm not sure this is the best example of their collaboration, as I'm not sure either of them brought their A-game here. Kygo's probably the larger culprit - the weedy flutes blurred into the melody don't quite have the same groove against the brittle clicks and sandy touches, especially against the more earnest piano line and stiffer beat, but wistful remembrance isn't a natural fit for Ellie Goulding's delivery and you can definitely tell she didn't write this. Now I don't mind the content - it's not often you get a Bon Iver reference showing up on the Hot 100 - but I have to wonder if Ed Sheeran rubbed off on her a little bit, because the details she references seem smaller and more mundane than you'd otherwise expect from her, though she does sell it as well as she can. It's a good song, but I can't help but feel a little more distant from it than I'd like, and I think Kygo could have done better here - he's made better singles.

(no video yet)

61. '1-800-273-8255' by Logic ft. Alessia Cara & Khalid - so I'll be reviewing Logic very soon, but I heard worrisome things about this track ever since the album dropped - not only was Logic working with Alessia Cara - a pop artist most well known right now for 'Scars To Your Beautiful', but he titled it with the number of the US suicide hotline as a method to show that's never the answer. And all the buzz I heard is that he messed up this song epically, that he completely missed the mark here... and if I'm being brutally honest, I don't think he did. Yeah, the whole shouts of 'who can relate' are the absolute wrong artistic decision, but the song does feel like it's coming from a real earnest place, albeit a thuddingly heavy-handed one. And this has been an issue with all the of the tracks Logic has released thus far in preparation for the album - good sentiments, but the execution is aiming so broadly that it strips out the details that make songs about depression and suicide a lot trickier to pull off while not seeming mawkish or overwrought, especially when you pair it with the very smooth and elegant pianos and strings and Alessia Cara playing the operator on the call and then Khalid stepping up to deliver an outro that captures the feeling a lot more effectively. Look, I'm not really going to call this great - in terms of songs about suicide, when you have songs from Pharoahe Monch, Sage Francis, Cage, and plenty others in the indie scene, Logic is operating on a basic level - but with the exception of the 'who can relate' line, it does get the basics, I'll give him that.

1. 'I'm the One' by DJ Khaled ft. Justin Bieber, Quavo, Chance The Rapper & Lil Wayne - so as I said earlier, this is a song that went to #1 because DJ Khaled pulled in enough big names that sheer recognition and clickbait was going to push it to the top, apparently as the second single from his upcoming album Grateful this year. And while you could mark some of that up to all this quality coming together, what we have is a complete non-presence as a singer on the hook, the hottest member of a threesome that I predict will burn out in a few years, one of the most recognizable independent talents who is way better than this material, and Lil Wayne because... well, Lil Wayne. And all of this makes the question of the song being any good kind of redundant, especially as DJ Khaled was one of three producers on the track - but did it find quality by accident? Well, you have Bieber's hook, which is passable against a low synth line, snap, and a blur of pitch-shifted squirting vocals, at least until the hi-hats come in, but it's not like it has much energy or passion, which you'd think you'd need for a love song about being so loaded you can be the one for any girl - and none of it is helped by slathering a bunch of the performers in autotune! Sure, Chance manages to avoid it for his verse, which at least seems to fit the low-key vibe of the song, but it's not a great verse - I might actually think Quavo's is better, which despite referencing 'Bad And Boujee' has at least a few decent punchlines. But at the end, it comes down to Lil Wayne, who seemed to miss the memo and spend the track bitching out the girl for calling him, describing their relationship like 'Whitney and Bobby's' - Wayne, that relationship was abusive, and even if you try to flip the verse to flexing on your exes, that doesn't fit the rest of the song! But beyond that, there's not a lot to say about this. I don't see it saying as a hit for anything beyond an overstuffed guest list, and certainly not lasting longer. Not precisely awful, but not really good either.

But when it comes down to a pretty mixed week altogether... yeah, Worst is easily going to Chris Brown and 'Privacy' for just being gross, with Dishonourable Mention going to 'wokeuplikethis' by Playboi Carti and Lil Uzi Vert. The best, though... it's narrow, but I'm giving it to 'Slow Hands' by Niall Horan with Honourable Mention to 'First Time' by Kygo and Ellie Goulding. Neither song is great, but the first has a certain swagger to it on the bridge that connects and Ellie Goulding has a good habit of making songs that grow on me a lot. Next week... honestly, no clue where it's going to go, but I'm expecting a different #1 again.

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