Tuesday, August 15, 2017

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - august 26, 2017

Man, I'm happy this is a more reasonable week on the Hot 100 here, given how crazy my schedule is right now. And when I say reasonable, I mean that very little actually seemed to make big moves, we have a modest list of expected new arrivals, and while there is some action in the top 10 worth talking about, we're at the point where things are on the cusp of really breaking open.

So let's not waste time: top 10. And yes, 'Despacito' by Luis Fonsi, Daddy Yankee and Bieber managed to notch a fourteenth week at #1, but you can definitely tell that the knives are out for this, as its margins on YouTube and sales are slipping, streaming is in trouble, and it's soon to be overtaken on the radio by 'Wild Thoughts' by DJ Khaled, Rihanna and Bryson Tiller. But the problem again remains that 'Wild Thoughts' just doesn't have enough streaming and sales to effectively make a play here, actually losing traction in both categories this week. I would say 'Unforgettable' by French Montana and Swae Lee could make a play at #3, with gains on sales and radio, but its YouTube isn't strong enough and it actually took a hit in on-demand streaming. It's still enough to keep it above 'Believer by Imagine Dragons, which yes, went up to #4 on radio traction that will not die, but its losses on sales show its not as healthy as you'd think. A stronger case could be made for 'Attention' by Charlie Puth at #5, which has even stronger sales and radio but lags on streaming... but it is picking up a bit of traction there, believe it or not. And unsurprisingly it looks like a similar case for 'There's Nothing Holding Me Back' by Shawn Mendes up to #6 - better radio, but it looks to have peaked there and sales and streaming are weaker. And yet the reason that it went up is most linked to the collapse of 'That's What I Like' by Bruno Mars to #7, where it's fading in all categories, including YouTube for once. And it's not helped by some surprising production, with a breakthrough into the top 10 at #8: 'Bodak Yellow' by Cardi B. Now how much viability it'll have to go further is a little in question - it's here primarily on streaming and YouTube, and while it is picking up steam on sales and the radio, I'm not certain it's got enough there yet to be a considerable threat. And what somehow is still holding on is 'Shape Of You' by Ed Sheeran at #9, which might be plummeting in all categories, but with just enough YouTube and radio inertia it held over 'I'm The One' by DJ Khaled and his posse falling to #10, which is somehow falling even faster and harder in all categories, it'll likely be out of the top ten pretty soon.

And on that note, losers and dropouts, and there were a fair few notable ones in the latter category this week. You have the guaranteed entries to the year-end list leaving naturally - 'Rolex' by Ayo & Teo and 'Passionfruit' by Drake, the latter ending Drake's eight year continuous streak on the Hot 100 - the one that is right on the edge - 'Swalla' by Jason Derulo ft. Nicki Minaj & Ty Dolla $ign - and the two that'll probably end up missing it, 'God, Your Mama & Me' by Florida Georgia Line and The Backstreet Boys and 'Heavy' by Linkin Park & Kiiara. But where that conversation comes into sharper focus are our losers and dropouts. First you have the losers from the drop with 'Unforgettable' by Thomas Rhett falling to 86 and 'You Da Baddest' by Future and Nicki Minaj dropping HARD to 87, but Thomas Rhett didn't have a good week as a whole as 'Craving You' with Maren Morris went to 63. Then you have the expected drop-off for songs that have stuck around longer than expected - '4 AM' by 2 Chainz and Travis Scott to 93 and 'It's Goin' Down' by the Descendants 2 cast to 96 - look, the surprise here is that this stuck around at all! Then right off the gain 'Down' by Fifth Harmony and Gucci Mane again lives up to its title at 90 - not a good sign for that album dropping in a few weeks - but the more interesting story surrounds 'Malibu' by Miley Cyrus, which is continuing down to 73 and the way it's falling may not actually hit the year end list. It's got a shot, sure, but it's looking closer every day.

Compare this to our four gains - because we didn't have any returning entries. On the one hand, we had 'Young Dumb & Broke' by Khalid still continuing up to 49, and a slight recovery for 'Back To You' by Louis Tomlinson, Bebe Rexha and Digital Farm Animals to 62, but we also have two gains off the debut that deserve some scrutiny. The first is 'The Weekend' by SZA to 75, and I have to say, I've been pretty impressed by how much traction SZA has built - nothing huge just yet, but it is notable. I'd sure as hell take more of her over the damn Chainsmokers, who took 'Honest' up to 77 instead to the pits of obscurity where the song belongs!

But honestly, I can't afford to waste more brain power on why that song is lazy and awful, so let's focus instead on our list of new arrivals, starting with...

99. 'Havana' by Camila Cabello ft. Young Thug - so this week we got two promotional singles from Camila Cabello, both with guest rappers and both suspiciously timed to continue to put a damper on that upcoming Fifth Harmony record. This, according to my sources, is supposedly the 'good' one... and for a first with me and Camila Cabello, I'd agree with that. It's not great - Young Thug is completely sleepwalking through his verse, and with all the backing producers and cowriters showing up with ad-libs, you can almost see the gears muscling this into popularity, but with that sunken piano playing off the bassy simmer, brittle percussion and squealing trumpets, the production actually has a pretty solid melodic groove that actually fits with Cabello's limited range. I'm still not all that convinced she can sell sultry - you can tell she's trying to emulate Rihanna but I'm not sure she's quite at that point yet - but with the right support behind her, she comes closer than she ever has before. So yeah, good track... maybe that album might not be bad after all?

95. 'Chillin' Like A Villain' by the Descendants 2 Cast - so let me get this straight: Disney took a line that was awful on the worst song from a 2014 Blake Shelton record, and expanded it into an entire song for their villain fanfiction? Are we seriously doing this? And what's all the more weird is that it extrapolated the painfully cheap production for a laid-back slice of tropical-touched 80s new wave with the choppier bass and guitar groove and blaring trumpets. And sure, you can tell the cast is a little more comfortable with this than the hip-hop inspired songs that previously debuted - or maybe the vocal production is just more forgiving of it - but when you take a look at the writing here... okay, if you're trying to emphasize your evil side, how is saying to 'not be yourself' helpful here? But as a whole, it's indicative of why the Descendants material reeks of fanfic for me: none of them are imposing as 'villains' and seem to be trying to fake that sort of attitude without any grounding force or charisma, which just leads to the entire thing feeling forced and contrived with production that cannot back it up. Overall... okay, the sound is novel enough, but between the production and writing, I cannot defend this. Next!

94. 'B.E.D.' by Jacquees - okay, you're going to have to follow me on this one. The guy behind this song is an R&B/hip-hop artist who has been working behind the scenes as a songwriter while dropping a few solo mixtapes and albums of his own, with this track coming from a tape he put out in January of 2016. Seriously, he's put out three more projects since this, so what's the special quality that finally got this on the Hot 100? Honestly, I'm not really sure, because I don't really find this all that exceptional. I guess Jacquees is better than I expected as a singer - his vocal tone screams Usher, but for some reason he sticks with a much less interesting Chris Brown-esque delivery - but it's not like the production flatters him, placing his voice midway to the back with a massive bass beat and an oddly tinny guitar sample trying to anchor it, and multi-tracking that feels oddly cluttered and not at all contributing to building a stable harmony, especially on an outro that could use it. And that's before we get to the content, which is about him wanting to hook up while she wants more, and the most personality Jacquees brings to the writing is the slew of references to more interesting R&B acts, which is probably the worst thing he could do. But as a whole... meh, this is tolerable, this guy has potential, but I don't think he's playing to his strengths as a whole, so we'll see.

84. 'Perplexing Pegasus' by Rae Sremmurd - okay, when I see a song with that title, you don't expect to see it coming from Rae Sremmurd. Come on, it sounds like a junk rare from Magic: The Gathering, not a lead-off single, what the hell am I supposed to do with this? Well, apparently the 'Pegasus' is new slang for foreign cars with scissor doors, and it's supposed to be perplexing because Rae Sremmurd are always in the no flex zone... okay, stop, I'm not going to dignify this, mostly because on 'No Flex Zone' they were always bragging, this isn't perplexing it's just a retroactive attempt to justify complete inconsistency! And yet the sad fact is that it's easily the most interesting thing about the song. The melody is a four note progression against your regular bass-swamped trap beat that piles on more glossy layers to try and disguise how often Slim Jxmmi's voice is breaking - at least Swae Lee seems to be learning how to sing a little better, but it still doesn't make up for content that is completely empty of anything interesting or distinctive. So yeah, while Rae Sremmurd have made worse tracks, they've also made better ones, and if they're heading towards the forgettably mediocre side of their careers, I'll take a hard pass.

82. 'What About Us' by Pink - so here's the unfortunate truth: despite being a long-time fan for years now, it's been a long time since I've been able to endorse a Pink song without any qualifications. Hell, with the massive disappointment of 'Just Like Fire' she made my worst list last year, I was having a hard time getting excited about a new Pink album or breakthrough single, especially as it was unlikely she'd ever return to the pop rock of her peak. And yeah, this song doesn't go there... and in a sense, I wish it had. This is a song that seems tailor-made for a larger audience who put their faith in a larger figure who promised them the world and never delivered - which is weird, because given the pretty obvious political undertones, it raises the question if Pink ever expected said person to deliver on his promises, as I'm fairly certain she was voting for the other side. And if all of this language seems vague and pretty capable of targeting figures on both the left and right... well, it's sadly indicative of much of the song too, because in recent years Pink has had a bad habit of sliding towards cliche and the writing on this song falls into that territory, which can play for populism but ultimately feel kind of hollow, too broad for its own good. And the instrumentation doesn't really help - a desaturated piano surrounded with hazy backing vocals, a choppy acoustic guitar that has no real texture, the entire song is entirely reliant on Pink's voice for any sort of emotional intensity. And yeah, she delivers, but I truly wish there was more to this. So overall...  I think I get where this was going, but man alive, it could have been done better.

81. 'OMG' by Camila Cabello ft. Quavo - so with buzz suggesting that this was the 'bad' Camila Cabello song released for promotion this week - featuring Quavo because it's 2017 and of course it is - I had no real expectations for this. And turns out that was a fair assessment, because what we have here is Stargate trying to fuse the success of 'Low Life' dank oppression and a fragment of 'Mask Off's flute melody with Cabello's trying and failing to find show some sort of swagger and your generic Quavo verse. And Cabello really is the problem here - flubbing rhymes, nowhere close to the intensity or bite to convincingly hold her own on this production especially when she's talking about some girl's ass bouncing like a yo-yo and I have no idea if she's referring to herself or not! At least Quavo has the cushion of autotune to save him against the thicker bass and disguise the fact that again, he's not saying anything of substance either, but still, not enough to redeem a song that feels like a facsimile of already mediocre tracks and a series of interpolations from tracks that also never went above mediocre. So yeah, kind of dreary and lousy all around - next!

76. 'Patty Cake' by Kodak Black - okay seriously, do we really need more songs from Kodak Black, especially if they're going to be called 'patty cake', which according to the hook is how he 'claps back' at folks? And if you think that's all the bad lines Kodak spews as he tries and mostly fails to stay on the beat, ooh, you haven't heard the half of it yet! 'I love my baby girl pussy bald, call her Caillou', 'I'm about to snatch your baby girl and skeet all on her face', 'It's either I win or you lose, I won't accept defeat' - yeah, not really an either/or choice there - and finally, 'I'm the shit, baby girl, so I have stains on my drawers'. All against a piano line which is apparently sampled from Final Fantasy X paired with your beyond basic trap beat... can we move on to something that isn't embarrassing for everyone in the immediate vicinity? But on the topic of people who probably don't deserve more attention...

70. 'The Race' by Tay-K - so here's the story behind 'The Race': apparently this guy Tay-K was involved in a home invasion that was responsible for someone's death, so since Texas has the death penalty and he suspected he'd be tried as an adult, he cut his ankle monitor for house arrest and fled across several states to New Jersey, where he was caught and is likely going to be extradited back to Texas. And yet apparently along the way he quickly recorded this and was strategically releasing this to build up hype... which seems remarkably stupid if you're trying to avoid public attention for charges for murder! And you know, I'd at least be forgiving if the song was any good... but the sad fact is that it's really not. As a rapper Tay-K isn't all that impressive on this flute-anchored trap beat - although it does have a thicker bass tone which I do like - as he rhymes words with themselves, flubs rhymes, can't stay consistently on the beat, and can't even bring any interesting punchlines to his references to robbing and killing people! The only real hook I can see to this is his backstory, but it's not like he's showing insight or remorse or even enough of a presence to add intensity! It's just more mediocre trap rap of which we already get too much of, and pretty thinly spread to boot. For the most part, I'd skip this.

So yeah, while I was mostly okay with our charts, our new arrivals were really pretty bad across the board, either underwhelming or just outright crap. It's not a good sign when I think that 'Havana' is probably the best of the week and I can't in good conscience give an Honourable Mention, that Pink song just doesn't get there for me. Instead we can handily have two Dishonourable Mentions, one for 'The Race' by Tay-K and the other for 'OMG' by Camila Cabello ft. Quavo, with the worst easily going to 'Patty Cake' by Kodak Black, where its awfulness is amazingly obvious to pinpoint. Let's pray that next week will be better, but at I'm going to be shooting those from the road, it's going to be an adventure whatever that is.

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