Tuesday, October 3, 2017

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - october 14, 2017

So okay, maybe I'm just bad at predicting when things are going to shift. I've been saying for a few weeks now that the Hot 100 feels precarious, on the cusp of something really shaking up the established order... and yet it didn't happen here, because outside of country rolling some new songs out, very little actually happened in any significant way. Not like I'm complaining - I like a shorter episode every once and a while - but there is a part of me that feels like the Hot 100 needs a good shakeup, and I'd prefer that happens before Taylor Swift drops reputation and blows everything wide open.

And nowhere is that wish stronger than with our top ten. Yes, 'Bodak Yellow' by Cardi B is still on top, but I'll say it again, its position is shaky, as it's only dominant in YouTube - it's got strong support in streaming and sales and radio is gaining, but it is vulnerable. I think the bigger problem is that I'm not sure what the immediate challenger is: 'rockstar' by Post Malone and 21 Savage seems the most likely with its streaming and sales and gains on YouTube, but radio is just not gaining fast enough, and its success feels even more precarious. Granted, when your competition is 'Look What You Made Me Do' by Taylor Swift at #3, sometimes you take what you can get, but I wouldn't say outside of sales and YouTube it's a serious competitor - hell, it already seems to have peaked on the radio! This opens things up to '1-800-273-8255' by Logic, Alessia Cara and Khalid at #4 with more consistent streaming and YouTube, but that'll depend if the radio surge its received will compensate for weakening sales. And all of this has handily pushed 'Despacito' by Luis Fonsi, Daddy Yankee and Bieber out of the picture, but it's still at #5 thanks to the YouTube that will not die. Hell, it's keeping it above 'Unforgettable' by French Montana and Swae Lee, which spent the week wavering on the radio with streaming gains... just nothing close to the sales it needs. And this makes it vulnerable to the gains for 'Feel It Still' by Portugal. The Man, up to #7 on solid sales and airplay surging all the harder - sure, streaming isn't comparable, but it is gaining there. It pushed over 'Believer' by Imagine Dragons down to #8, but that's not surprising, given that decent sales can only hold up so much for radio in freefall. And yet it held over 'Rake It Up' by Yo Gotti ft. Nicki Minaj at #9, which may have slipped in position but still has strong streaming and a bit of radio traction, so unfortunately I don't see this going anywhere. And then, cracking into the top 10 likely in build-up to the album, 'Sorry Not Sorry' by Demi Lovato at #10. But what's interesting is that it's actually got fairly robust positions in all channels, and it could readily get higher on the radio and sales - still not all that good of a song, but it's got promise.

And on a different note, let's go through the losers and dropouts. Really only two of substance here: 'Mask Off' by Future finally drops out, along with 'Drinkin Problem' by Midland - which I personally find a bit amusing given that I just did my Special Comment on the group. Granted, I can't really take credit for it, so let's move on to our losers... and for the most part I'm not surprised. Continuing to lose traction from the album bomb a few weeks back we have 'Jocelyn Flores' by XXXTENTACION down to 64 and 'Sauce It Up' by Lil Uzi Vert to 79, and on the top of junk losing we have 'Whatever You Need' by Meek Mill ft. Chris Brown and Ty Dolla $ign down to 90 and 'Curve' by Gucci Mane and The Weeknd falling to 92 off the debut last week. And outside of that... well, 'Feels' by Calvin Harris, Pharrell, Katy Perry and Big Sean is down to 53 as it hits the end of its run - don't feel bad, it's going to make the year-end list for 2017 - and 'Back To You' by Louis Tomlinson ft. Bebe Rexha and Digital Farm Animals continues to sputter out of energy at 88.

But where things get a little more interesting comes in our returning entries and gains, mostly courtesy of acts that are having success cascade downwards. The most obvious is Post Malone, 'which along with his debut this week also got 'Go Flex' back to 100 thanks to 'rockstar', and as I predicted last week, 'No Limit' by G-Eazy ft. A$AP Rocky and Cardi B bounced up to 78 thanks at least partially to 'Bodak Yellow'. Then we had Macklemore picking up a gain along with his debut - driven off the album - with 'Glorious' ft. Skylar Grey up to 49, but the larger sales story comes with 'Thunder' by Imagine Dragons leaping up to 17 because somebody decided to include it in a commercial - seriously. Now the rest of our gains don't surprise me much: 'DNA' by BTS becomes the most successful k-pop group song in Hot 100 history at 67; 'Fix A Drink' by Chris Janson goes to 81 because country radio is rotating fall songs in, 'Perfect' by Ed Sheeran rises to 58 off the return because adult alternative radio needs something dull to fill space, and 'Gucci Gang' by Lil Pump continues to rise to 52 because apparently somebody hates me. Thankfully 'Havana' by Camila Cabello & Young Thug regained momentum to 44 - shame it's likely going to be stuck between years for the Hot 100, because as a hit pop song it's still pretty damn good.

But now on to our new arrivals, starting with...

98. 'Plain Jane' by A$AP Ferg - so while I didn't quite come down as hard on A$AP Ferg's sophomore project Always Strive And Prosper as many did, it certainly was a pivot into territory and content that didn't really do him any favors compared to his breakthrough songs on Trap Lord. So there was going to be the expectation that he'd pivot back towards the sound brought him acclaim with the Still Striving mixtape, with this being one of the few songs from it that didn't have a featuring credit... and I'm not sure how much I can say about this. Sure, the flow is decent and the thicker knock of the bass beat against the faded piano and glitchy layers on top is potent, but it's not like the content is all that interesting here, mostly because A$AP Ferg can't stay on topic and some of his punchlines are just painful. How he can go from talking about his grandmother taking pills for her arthritis to bragging about screwing your girl on the first verse, and then the second verse talking about eating out Rihanna like a panini with Jersey Shore references to boot? Look, good production has saved A$AP Ferg plenty of times, and the beat he gets from Kirk Knight here is good, but at the same time, if anyone expected me to remember this beyond some wack lines, they're going to be disappointed.

97. 'Round Here Buzz' by Eric Church - so I have to admit, I'm a little surprised that Eric Church is still trying to milk singles from Mr. Misunderstood - the record dropped nearly two years ago, and while I'm still a big fan of it... why are we going with this instead of 'Mistress Named Music', which is easily more interesting and potent? I get not going with 'Knives Of New Orleans', but 'Round Here Buzz' is a lesser cut from the record, and that happens when you get this deep into singles on a ten song record. Now that's not saying 'Round Here Buzz' is a bad song at all - it nails the wistful melancholy of lonely drinking in a small town and thinking about that girl who left you behind, and Jay Joyce manages to punch up the guitar texture in a bigger mix with enough subtlety to capture the mood without overpowering the mix. I won't deny that the percussion can feel a little stiff, or that the song feels a bit underwritten, or that the hook pulls melodic phrases from 'Talledega', or that Jason Isbell's 'Speed Trap Town' and Jake Owen's 'LAX' do this sort of song a fair bit better, but at the end of the day, it's damn good all the same. I'll take it.

95. 'Like I Loved You' by Brett Young - there's a part of me that's a little amazed that Brett Young has had as much success in 2017 as he has... and yet for the most part I'm fine with it. Sure, it's pretty lightweight pop country in both production and writing, but Young has sincerity and a knack for good melodies, and I have liked both of his songs that crossed over this year, so what do we get this time around? Honestly, this might be the first track I've heard from him that I dislike, but whoo boy, it's a doozy. And yeah, the big problem is in the writing: aside from awkwardly structured verses, this is a track set in a breakup where the girl is trying to let Young down easy, and he's taking it badly, basically saying that if she believed this could end cleanly she must never have loved him as much as he loved her and that she must never have had real feelings and that they can't be friends now and wow, this is a sour song. And that might have worked - there's a place for bitterness in music if executed well, but opening with jaunty piano chords, smooth touches of organ, pedal steel and electric guitar, and a hook that doesn't capture any darkness or bite at all, it's instrumentation that feels way too sanitized to match the content and Young's delivery doesn't really help. Earnestness he can play well, but this... it comes across as oddly petulant in a really unattractive way. So yeah, let's hope we don't get any more of this, and that this doesn't get as big as his other hits.

94. 'Losing Sleep' by Chris Young - I'll admit there's a part of me that feels bad for Chris Young, left in the lurch after a surprisingly good bro-country pivot in 2013 that left his attempt to pull things back to his base on I'm Comin' Over two years later feeling like a bland regression. But maybe he'd find his footing a few years later, despite working with the same set of producers and cowriters and I don't even think I can finish that sentence. Look, Chris Young has a great voice with phenomenal liquid tone, so why anyone thinks he sounds good next to a clipped guitar progression and blocky drum machine on the verses and a hook that flattens all the tone out to center a fizzy cymbal tone and whooshing synth textures instead is absolutely baffling, especially as this is a hookup song! This is not a Brad Paisley song, you can't just play it all off like a joke, and even he had more groove than this does, which just feels clumsy and awkwardly produced. But the most frustrating part is that I'm not even surprised by this - if you don't change up your crew you're not going to fix these sorts of problems, and that's not a good sign going into any album on the way, which of the basis of this, I really have no interest in covering.

70. 'Good Old Days' by Macklemore ft. Kesha - of all the songs that charted this week, this is the one that caught the most interest from me. Apparently they met through Ryan Lewis, who produced 'Praying' for Kesha, but she's never really been a go-to artist for hooks and I was fascinated to see how she's play off Macklemore. And... well, it's surprisingly tough to say, mostly because I'm not sure either artist brings out the best in the other. Kesha sound surprisingly restrained here, and while Macklemore brings some decent detail to the first two verses in capturing nostalgia and wistful missed opportunities, I tend to like both artists more when they cut loose, and a somber track anchored more in piano and strings doesn't really do that. Hell, I kept expecting the production to really explode given that more propulsive beat, but like with the content it's a track that sits in a middle ground of contentment and that doesn't exactly make for anything all that interesting. And outside of Kesha's chorus bizarrely feeling two bars short, there's just not much here that's interesting - it's passable and I'd take it over 'Glorious', but I can't see myself remembering it either.

65. 'I Fall Apart' by Post Malone - oh, I was dreading this. It's what happens when an artist has a big top 5 single, other tracks on the verge of crossing over suddenly get a boost whether they're good or not, and 'I Fall Apart' decidedly fits in the 'not' category. Who told Post Malone that he should try pulling off a really bad Weeknd impression against desaturated rattles of guitar, where the texture is immediately drained back when we get a sandy blubber of bass knocking against faint chipmunk squeals - Illangelo definitely not at his best? And then we have the content, where Post Malone is post-breakup and somehow is coming off worse than Brett Young ranting against this 'devil in the form of a whore' who he thought was his shorty! But that sort of thing gets distracting when every other line he's mentioning foreign cars and all the jewelry he bought, and even if he no longer cares about that stuff in the face of the break-up, it almost seems like he's more torn up about the chains than the heartbreak! But here's the bigger question: who wants to hear Post Malone do this? His success has been anchored in empty party tracks, not angst that feels both overplayed and underdeveloped, and when you couple it with vocals this bad...

Yeah, I was going to give worst of the week to Brett Young, but Post Malone swooped below to snatch that crown, and as for the best... eh, pretty slim pickings overall, but 'Round Here Buzz' by Eric Church really is the standout. Next week, I'd put money on Miley Cyrus and Demi Lovato making an impact, or possibly Shania Twain if the comeback album makes any sort of splash, but we'll see what happens there. 

1 comment:

  1. Hey Mark, I don't know if you'll see this, but my name is Sean McGibany. I'm a college senior in Nashville, and I'm currently working on a thesis project on the Billboard charts (specifically centered on the Hot Country Songs chart and the changes Billboard made to its methodology in 2012).
    You are my go-to guy when it comes to Billboard (and also the go-to YouTube guy for hot takes on the country music industry) and I was wondering if you might have some time for me to send you some questions about the charts and how you've seen them change over time.
    Let me know what you think. If you'd like to get in touch, feel free to send me a message on Twitter or email me at: sean.mcgibany@pop.belmont.edu