Thursday, September 7, 2017

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - september 16, 2017

Because this is what I want to deal with on my first few days back from vacation, a double album bomb from records that I had no reason to expect were anything close to good or interesting, just goddamn perfect. And of course there is more news than that, but at this point, if I want to keep this episode at a sane length for the twenty new arrivals we have, we're going to have to keep this moving...

So top ten, and the other big unfortunate story of the week: 'Look What You Made Me Do' by Taylor Swift blew past all of her opposition to seize #1 on monster sales, huge YouTube and even picking up streaming. Now there is an open question how long she'll last in the latter category, but with radio picking up big, I doubt she'll have reason to care one way or another. And it was all enough to unseat 'Despacito' by Luis Fonsi, Daddy Yankee and Bieber down to #2 - tying the record but not beating it, and by the looks of its losses in everything except sales, it's not going to be going back to the top anytime soon. What could be a contender is 'Bodak Yellow' by Cardi B which held at #3, thanks to its huge streaming and respectable radio, but unless the sales pick up a fair bit, I'm not sure I can see it getting higher. And while that was an issue for 'Wild Thoughts' by DJ Khaled, Rihanna and Bryson Tiller for a while now, it's got bigger problems now at #4, bleeding hard on all fronts and potentially starting down out of the top 10. Hell, while 'Attention' by Charlie Puth is holding at #5 thanks to okay sales and great radio, it might just have a bit more longevity going forward. 'Believer' by Imagine Dragons on the other hand... given that its radio seemed to peak and it had a rough week across the board, I can see this falling beyond #6. And yet 'Unforgettable' by French Montana ft. Swae Lee fell too down to #7, as it also was bleeding in all categories... and yet somehow it stayed above 'There's Nothing Holding Me Back' by Shawn Mendes, which makes up for holding the top spot on radio and okay sales with absolutely atrocious streaming. Then we have a new arrival to the top 10 at #9, built mostly off of sales gains from the VMAs despite the radio not having any clue what to do with it: '1-800-273-8255' by Logic ft. Alessia Cara & Khalid. Have to be honest, it's weird seeing Logic in the top 10 given how I've watched his career progress for years now, and while I'm exasperated it's a song from by far his weakest record, it's not a bad tune. And yet following right behind it, also cracking the top ten for the first time... 'Strip That Down' by Liam Payne ft. Quavo. And look, I'll repeat what I said when I reviewed it months ago, I don't mind this at all. It does bother me that it and a few other post-One Direction songs are likely going to hit the year-end list where 'Sign Of The Times' won't, but hey, I can't argue with good radio and sales, as well as weaknesses once above it.

And on that topic, our losers and dropouts! Lot of considerable ones this week - it's what happens when we get twenty new arrivals - so let's blow through the ones that matter: 'Now Or Never' by Halsey, 'Everyday We Lit' by YFN Lucci & PnB Rock, 'Drowning' by A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie ft. Kodak Black, '2U' by David Guetta ft. Justin Bieber, 'You Look Good' by Lady Antebellum, 'Flatliner' by Cole Swindell and Dierks Bentley, and, making a graceful exit, 'Castle On The Hill' by Ed Sheeran. But as you expect on weeks with album bombs, you have lots of big losers too, with the most notable coming from 'B.E.D.' by Jacquees losing all of its gains to 86 and 'Friends' by Justin Bieber and BloodPop falling hard to 33 off the debut. Beyond that, it was not a great week for country, as 'Drinkin' Problem' by Midland fell to 66, 'Do I Make You Wanna' by Billy Currington went to 78, 'My Girl' by Dylan Scott fell to 88, and 'It Ain't My Fault' by Brothers Osborne crashed to 100 - I have faith some of these will revive, but unfortunately not enough. Beyond that, the biggest loser was - sadly - 'Versace On The Floor' by Bruno Mars at 71, but the losses really struck wider: 'Whatever You Need' by Meek Mill ft. Chris Brown & Ty Dolla $ign to 74, 'LOVE.' by Kendrick Lamar and Zacari to 85 - the amazing thing is that it lasted this long - 'Most Girls' by Hailee Steinfeld to 87, and 'Wish I Knew You' by The Revivalists to 96. Finally, we have the continued hype evaporation for 'The Race' by Tay-K, which hit 64 and I can only imagine will be gone soon enough.

Now as you'd expect our list of gains is pretty sparse, and I've already talked about the surges for Logic and Taylor Swift, but we do have three other pick ups here. Thanks to a sales boost 'Thunder' by Imagine Dragons surged up to 45, 'Transportin' by Kodak Black got more streaming than anyone wanted to 55 - again, the production and flow is the only thing worth liking on that song - and 'Havana' by Camila Cabello and Young Thug went up to 83 because this is a hit song in the making, I'd put money on it. What caught my interest were the two returning entries... well, okay, not so much interest, as you could effectively call both of them, with 'Swish Swish' by Katy Perry and Nicki Minaj surging back to 47 because of the video and 'Down' by Fifth Harmony ft. Gucci Mane back to 99 because the album dropped. Okay, word of advice here: drop this as a single and put 'Sauced Up' for promotion next: there's actually harmonies on the song and with today's radio, I see a considerable chance this would actually cross over.

And yet instead, we've got a nightmarish week full of garbage I really don't want to cover. Thankfully, it starts out promising with...

97. 'Tell Me You Love Me' by Demi Lovato - man, the rollout to this next Demi Lovato project has been deflating, let me tell you, especially because instead of pivoting towards pop rock or something that could benefit from her edge, she's opting for a brand of overly synthesized soul and gospel that feels blocky, completely lacking in groove, and not remotely flattering for her. This song is a prime example - yeah, those drums have impact, I like the guitar and bass on the verses, and I think those horns could have worked if the tinny percussion accents didn't drown out any actual texture in their pickup... which also feels like the case for the multi-tracking on her vocals, which makes her sound more nasal than she should. But it's the lyrics that ring the most hollow for me - I get expressing vulnerability, but listening Demi sing 'you ain't nobody until you got somebody' feels like a massive step back from the woman who put together 'Cool For The Summer' or especially 'Confident'! I get that it's an apology, but it goes way overboard and doesn't remotely flatter her pipes. And considering this was the song I was hoping would save this week... oh god.

95. 'Carry On' by XXXTENTACION - are we seriously doing this? Look, I'm no big fan of emo as it is, but I know when it's done well and this... isn't. Most of the song is anchored in a lo-fi sample from Shiloh Dynasty before we get a blocky tap layered on top, with X's voice fading in and out as he tries to half-heartedly refute a false accusation... but the guitar work feels amateurish, the vocal fade in-and-out feels clunky, and the poetry just feels dry and bland. It's not even obnoxiously bad, it just feels unfinished... not a good sign.

94. 'Save Me' by XXXTENTACION - okay, seriously who tuned that piano or guitar? The kickdrum might sound fine, but any actual melody just feels discordant here, and not in a way that's appealing, especially when X's decides to hoarsely moan over some dark side that feels painfully forced and underwritten. I guess if I kind of squint I can maybe see a parallel to some tones on the more experimental side of emo, but they at least tended to resolve themselves, and didn't feel as sloppy as this does. Again, not a good sign, and I'm starting to think I made the right decision ignoring this record...

92. 'Dark Queen' by Lil Uzi Vert - okay, so the first Lil Uzi Vert song we get is an autotuned croon to his mother with dreary whistling synths and your by-the-numbers trap beat, and my god, I can't stand Lil Uzi Vert's voice. It just triggers the worst possible impulse from me - at least Travis Scott and Kid Cudi have some bass in their voices and can roughly stay on topic, whereas Lil Uzi Vert's tribute to his mother ventures off into him shooting people in the second verse - and you think for as much as his mom wanted to keep him out of jail, he wouldn't brag about shooting first - or for that matter the diamond flexing that he just needed to tack on to the end of the chorus! Look, I've got a lot more of this guy to get through beyond this junk, but before I get to the avalanche...

91. 'Depression & Obsession' by XXXTENTACION - okay, wasn't expecting this... and look, I know some of the root appeal behind emo is a certain homegrown sloppiness, that surely has to come with the amateurish strumming and too-clean vocal layering, but beyond the equation of depression and obsession, none of the idea feels developed beyond a fragment of a repeated chorus and guitar loop. Again, there could have been something here, but it definitely needs more than what this is. In other words, it's forgettable and disposable - next!

90. 'No Sleep Leak' by Lil Uzi Vert - my immediate impression when I saw the title of the song was that Lil Uzi Vert was bragging about not wetting the bed, but can you honestly say this is much better? Lil Uzi Vert squawking through a song with barely any backing melody and a blocky trap beat, all about how he drives fast in his Ferrari, with the central idea being that he was broke and now he's celebrating. The problem comes in not getting any details about that past life, the majority of lyrics focusing on disposable luxury porn against a beat that's not even celebratory, and not remotely being sympathetic because again, the second line in the hook is about screwing your girl! At least XXXTENTACION can hit a modestly interesting idea by accident, whereas this is just grating.

84. 'UnFazed' by Lil Uzi Vert ft. The Weeknd - oh thank god, someone who actually has talent is here... almost to the point of making the song more The Weeknd's than Lil Uzi Vert's! Seriously, he's got the boring hook and the crooning hook where he drops an interchangeable verse at turning the girl into a ratchet distraction against an appropriately eerie piano line... and then Lil Uzi Vert shows up for a verse that can't tilt into any of the darkness effectively beyond dumping the girl for being 'so fake' - yeah, as if this is authentic hip-hop in any way, shape or form. Again, the production isn't bad, I like the rougher trap vibe of the track, but this is something The Weeknd could pull off in his sleep, and considering he's just putting in time here as Lil Uzi Vert makes it worse... yeah, pass.

82. 'For Real' by Lil Uzi Vert - okay, points for some weird oily minimalism - at least before the bass swamps out the entire mix - and for Lil Uzi Vert sounding marginally less obnoxious, but do I need to watch him hashtag brag rap and somehow still rhyme words with themselves through an entire song, where the most interesting line is how he forgot to close a door? Again, of the Lil Uzi Vert songs I've heard thus far this is at least tolerable, but I don't think you could pay me to revisit it, or say that it's remotely good.

81. 'X' by Lil Uzi Vert - so apparently Lil Uzi Vert is so bankrupt of ideas he has to take not only the name of a 21 Savage song but also the short nickname of the other artist I have to cover this week, just dandy... now, let me state right now that the faded whistle tone behind this song could have salvaged the melody here, it's not a bad fit against the rougher trap vibe, it's not bad. The problem, once again, is Lil Uzi Vert, who is completely incapable of holding a coherent thought and it utterly cripples any emotional impact from a song where he doesn't want his ex, but he wants the audience to feel sorry for him despite him breaking up with this girl through text, even though he's got a new chick who is 'new new' and has an ass like a 'zebra on a zoo' - oh, and he's like Leonardo DiCaprio and he's totally going to bag your girl while flossing. Yeah, pass.

80. 'Two' by Lil Uzi Vert - okay, I'm starting to find it exasperating how Lil Uzi Vert completely messes up otherwise interesting production by being a mumble-mouthed and generally incoherent annoyance, because again, I like this production. I like that it anchors itself in a drippy cascade of piano playing off what sounds like an accordion... but the problem here is that he tries to use crooning as an excuse for not staying on beat - and when it's this slow, that's a problem! His second verse is better - but only terms of flow, as he spends time checking his watch as his current targeted girl is a minor, which has some Tyga implications I really don't like - and then where your girl is giving him head, with somehow even less cleverness than usual. Okay, moving on...

79. 'Neon Guts' by Lil Uzi Vert ft. Pharrell - I would say I'm disappointed that Pharrell decided to hop on a track with Lil Uzi Vert, but to his credit, it seems like his presence inspired Lil Uzi Vert to step up his game a little bit in terms of bars. Granted, Pharrell has a level of smoothness against the sharper hi-hat and watery tinkles that immediately makes him the most interesting part of the song, and it helps he actually has charisma, but strip the autotune off Lil Uzi Vert and he can actually be a bit expressive in a 2 Chainz sort of vein, with a series of colour references that actually show a bit of creativity. And sure, it's all empty flexing, but for once nobody's referencing taking my girl, so I'm actually willing to give this something a pass. So yeah, not bad.

77. 'Revenge' by XXXTENTACION - okay, here's the thing about acoustic emo songs: there's normally a tone and balance to the guitar work that implies some sort of moodiness or edge, not a half-assembled piece from your average bad indie campfire song, where the sloppy multi-tracking and delivery almost reminded me of something Mark Kozelek would do if he lost 80 IQ points and huffed paint for six hours. And yeah, for a semi-psychotic revenge track infused with self-loathing it's got a fragment of the instability it needs to work... but it never has intensity and just dies after two minutes! I mean, come on, at this point it just feels painfully lazy, on the cusp of actually hitting something with potency and then falling short - can we at least get something with firepower here?

76. 'Light It Up' by Luke Bryan - okay look, I might go on about how trap beats are overused in hip-hop and pop, but it get significantly worse when they start crossing over to country - and really, given Luke Bryan's production it was only a matter of time, but here it's barely done half well, especially as you can tell that his drummer was trying to mix a more synthetic hi-hat sound with real cymbals - which are of course louder than the four bars of guitar solo we get playing off the distant piano. But to be fair to Bryan he at least appears to have ironed out some of the muddiness that crippled Kill The Lights, and even though this feels the furthest thing from country - I've heard pop, R&B, and even hip-hop songs with more organic texture - so that takes us to the content, which is basically Luke Bryan lusting away from the other side of his phone. And honestly, I'm a bit torn by this, because while it's reflective of how many people hook up these days and it's not a bad thing to explore, Bryan plays it desperate and clingy, which doesn't really fit his delivery and sure as hell isn't flattering. Don't get me wrong, this isn't terrible per se, and Luke Bryan has certainly made worse, but it feels like the sort of experiment that'd be a better fit for Thomas Rhett or Sam Hunt, and it just makes Luke Bryan - who is over 40 - playing in awkward territory. And if this is the lead-off single... yeah, not good.

73. 'What Lovers Do' by Maroon 5 ft. SZA - okay, one more breath of respite before XXXTENTACION and Lil Uzi Vert take over the rest of the week, and we're continuing with Maroon 5's blatant pop sellout collaborations this time bringing SZA on board. Okay, in principle this could be interesting... and you know, if you completely forget everything Maroon 5 has ever done before, this isn't bad. The tight tropical bounce of the bass plays off the weedier fragments of guitars, and Adam Levine doesn't exactly have bad chemistry with SZA, who seems to have a certain organic playfulness that fits the bounce of the song. Actually, I wouldn't mind hearing a remix of this song with just her on it, because Adam Levine is way too stiff, especially for a song that's supposed to have real groove to it and where he's not bringing the intensity. So yeah, on most weeks I would not really praise this much, but here... you know what, I'll take it!

60. '444+222' by Lil Uzi Vert - I'll be honest, I thought this was a XXXTENTACION song when I saw the title because it seemed exactly like the sort of basic edgelord crap he'd try. Instead we're getting it from Lil Uzi Vert... where if anything it feels even worse, where Lil Uzi Vert tries to clap back at Jay-Z and can't muster anything close to intensity or a decent punchline beyond screwing your girl - who he describes as a rockstar like Lorde, which showcases another person who doesn't understand what rock is. From there he tries to pant his way through an incredibly staccato and awkward set of choruses and verses - I won't dignify it by calling it a flow - but what throws me more is the ugly tuneless mess behind the verse that you can barely hear behind the trap beat - where his own voice drops behind multiple times - is this supposed to sound intimidating or hard, or are we just dealing with a tonal mess again? Either way, Jay-Z has more talent in one couplet than Lil Uzi Vert has in his entire career, so let's not dignify this and move on.

54. 'Everybody Dies In Their Nightmares' by XXXTENTACION - so I've heard some people make the punk comparison with X's incredibly short songs - this one is barely ninety seconds and it samples Shiloh Dynasty again for any sort of melody with that wispy delivery as X's hammers the same line into the ground. The problem is that said punk songs often brought intensity or a lyric that truly cuts, and X has neither, just a flat monotonous flow that doesn't adequately convey a nightmarish reason not to go to sleep. Again, there could have been something here with another verse or maybe a tonal switch-up, but as it is... sorry, I get nothing from this.

49. 'Sauce It Up' by Lil Uzi Vert - okay, the song was 'Sauced Up' that I wanted, and from Fifth Harmony not you, Lil Uzi Vert! Now both songs actually seem to have the same idea - hard partying and brash ego - but where Fifth Harmony had harmonies and a good melody, Lil Uzi Vert has greasy glassy synths against a weighless trap skitter, and him bragging about talking with Playboi Carti, owning blood diamonds, and having his girl both wet like a Squirtle and walking around 'pigeon-toed, like they got the bird flu'. So when we get the painfully grating muted autotune of Lil Uzi Vert shouting how awesome he is against an ugly tune, I can't get into it whatsoever. In other words, this blows, let's move on!

41. 'Fuck Love' by XXXTENTACION ft. Trippie Redd - okay, what is it up with these rappers getting these atonal synths and thinking it sounds remotely good with their autotune trying to keep them on key? Because while Trippie Redd might bring more personality that fits the vibe of the song than X's moaning about 'gunfire inside his head', none of it remotely sounds good, even if there's a little more texture to the trap beat. And again, we get a fragment of a verse with a fraction of a hook - how X got people to pay money for this, utterly beyond me at this point.

39. 'The Way Life Goes' by Lil Uzi Vert - okay, I'll be honest, this song is more perplexing than outright awful. The quick oscillation of the synth does a little more behind the trap beat and the very liberal interpolation of Oh Wonder's 'Landslide' at least lends this track a decent hook as Lil Uzi Vert muses about his ex yet again and how he took her from a broke guy that apparently she went back to, and for a fraction of a second we actually get a shred of insight, as he realizes that all of his flossing isn't winning his ex back. Of course, you can tell with all the brand name porn in this song that he's clearly using it for his new girl and you can tell his hook is directed at himself to reassure himself he'll get over her, he hasn't really learned much at all... but hey, the seed is there, I'll take what I can get. It's still not really a good song, but if this is the fan favourite from the album... I kind of get why.

31. 'Jocelyn Flores' by XXXTENACION - okay, so this is the sort of song that this brand of emo rap is built for, the ode to a girl who X used to hang with committing suicide, the existential pain of knowing you couldn't have done anything and at the end you just feel numb to it... and it's not a good sign when most of my description of the song is exactly what X bluntly says on the track, against another lazy Shiloh Dynasty sample for another fragmented piece where the guitar tuning sounds somehow even worse against the unrefined clunk of the beat. And sure, there is something to having no real artistry about it, but where someone like Mount Eerie managed to sidestep it with real poetry and challenging subject matter, X is so painfully basic and it barely even references the girl the song is titled after, just using her as a prop for more of X's self-absorbed depression. And yeah, there's an audience for that, but add some meat to the bones... again, this just feels unfinished...

And in that spirit, I think I'm done with this week. Best is 'What Lovers Do' by Maroon 5 and SZA - she basically saved this song and this week, and Honourable Mention is going to 'Neon Guts' by Lil Uzi Vert and Pharrell - yeah, I'm probably as surprised as you are. But Lil Uzi Vert is not getting off easy, as he nets both bottom slots too, with 'Sauce It Up' as the worst and '444+222' as the Dishonourable Mention - if you're going at Jay-Z again, have the dignity to come properly for God's sake. Thankfully, I can't see much of this sticking around, so next week we'll deal with the fallout.

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