Tuesday, October 17, 2017

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - october 28, 2017

I don't often use the phrase 'be careful what you wish more' on this show - mostly because if a song I like gets big there's very rarely a huge negative consequence, but also because I've generally been pretty lousy at predicting the Hot 100 anyway. But if there's a week where that might apply on a generally scattershot week overall, it might be here, because if we take a look at yet another new #1...

Well, let's not mince words: currently ruling the top ten is 'rockstar' by Post Malone ft. 21 Savage. And while I was uncertain about the longevity of its competition, as much as I don't like it 'rockstar' might just have some staying power, at least a major album release disrupts everything. Its streaming is solid, sales are good, YouTube is competitive, and it spent the week gaining real traction on the radio. More importantly, I don't see any of the precarious signs that weakened 'Bodak Yellow' by Cardi B down to #2, mostly thanks to sales taking a hit while streaming and YouTube remained remarkably solid. But while its airplay did make gains, it did show signs of possibly peaking soon, which could be good news for '1-800-273-8255' by Logic ft. Alessia Cara & Khalid back up to #3 - yeah, I don't really see it getting higher with those sales numbers, but streaming and YouTube are still solid and if possible it has even more radio momentum! Now it might seem surprising that 'Look What You Made Me Do' by Taylor Swift also gained a slot to #4 this week, given how hard its sales and airplay are dropping despite stable YouTube, or that 'Feel It Still' by Portugal. The Man broke the top 5 with good sales and airplay dominance but little to no streaming... but that's more thanks to losses above it. Yes, 'Mi Gente' by J Balvin, Willy William & Beyonce took a sharp dip to #6 as sales crashed, streaming wasn't stable and radio traction seemed to sputter a bit. And this sudden weakness places it against 'Too Good At Goodbyes' by Sam Smith back in the top ten at #7, with pretty measured gains in all categories - even though I'm not really much of a fan, this'll probably have some traction. And on that unfortunate note, 'Thunder' by Imagine Dragons is still here at #8, with huge sales and the radio getting on board in a big way - it only fell back a slot because of Sam Smith, let's get real here. Similar case for 'Sorry Not Sorry' by Demi Lovato at #9, which might not have the sales but compensates with a bit more streaming and better airplay. And finally, somehow clinging on to #10: 'Unforgettable' by French Montana ft. Swae Lee, which hit a peak on the radio and will likely be unseated the second it faces real competition.

Where we aren't getting that is in our losers and dropouts, and in the latter category, there's really only two songs to talk about: 'No Such Thing As a Broken Heart' by Old Dominion, which isn't really worth much thought at all; and after a chart run that was way better than anyone could have predicted, 'Redbone' by Childish Gambino. And speaking of easy predictions, our losers are as expected: A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie took hits for his new arrivals last week with 'No Promises' falling to 93 and 'Say A' going to 94, 'Friends' by Justin Bieber and Bloodpop continues freefall to 73, as does 'Feels' by Calvin Harris, Pharrell, Katy Perry and Big Sean to 78 and 'DNA' by BTS to 98. The only two 'surprises' here are 'They Don't Know' by Jason Aldean experiencing a shot of weakness to 79, and 'HUMBLE.' by Kendrick Lamar, which looks to be finally heading on its way out at 33 - considering the run it had, still impressive.

Unfortunately, 'impressive' is the last word I'd use to describe our gains, because we got no returning entries this week and nearly all of these blow. It's a bad sign that 'Perfect' by Ed Sheeran might actually be the most inoffensive at 22, because from there... 'Gucci Gang' by Lil Pump picks up huge streaming momentum to 32, 'Pills and Automobiles' by Chris Brown, Yo Gotti, A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie and Kodak Black is up to 59, 'Relationship' by Young Thug and Future hit 66, and 'Plain Jane' by A$AP Ferg rose up to 86. None of these are in serious contention for hitting any year end list, thankfully - they'll probably get caught midway between years - but that doesn't mean I need them soundtracking the next few months.

Ugh, whatever - maybe our gains will have some promise, starting with...

97. 'Too Hotty' by Quality Control ft. Migos - so you're going to have to follow me on this one: if you've been following Atlanta hip-hop at all you've probably seen the label Quality Control behind a couple of big names, which in 2017 has meant Migos. And yet instead of releasing this song as an actual Migos track, every single one of the members was credited separately as featuring while the label gets the main credit. And I can't be the only one who thinks that looks slimy as hell, right - this is different than a producer getting a credit over the singer, this is the label getting the main credit off of hearing a verse that Offset was teasing months ago that could have wound up on Culture proper, and now instead the label is likely getting the lion's share of the profit over the actual artists on the track! But fine, was the snippet worth it? Well, the production is cool enough with the hazy female vocal ebbing back and forth against the blocky groove, but does anyone honestly care what Migos are saying enough to realize they're referencing a wrestler in the WWE and yet can't actually connect any of the subject matter? And the subject matter is just ugly at this point - the casual homophobia in Offset's verse, then comparing the money he's throwing to dandruff, how Quavo seems to be getting lazier and lazier with every verse, and that's before we get the pretty pronounced date rape implications in the hook where they give her molly and she gets screwed by everybody! Look, I'm not going to deny that Migos has had a great 2017, but with every single they've proven to have less and less dimension, and I wouldn't be surprised if they hit that fifteenth minute sooner than you'd think. And yet speaking of that...

95. 'Lights Down Low' by MAX ft. gnash - so this is a little ironic: even though Hoodie Allen just released a record, the artist that he was actually featuring a few years back on People Keep Talking is the one that lands a charting hit, with a song that was on an album that dropped in April of 2016! And while I had issues with Hoodie Allen's last project The Hype, I think I'd prefer nearly anything from that record charting than this, which features MAX doing his best quivering Bruno Mars circa-2011 impression with a fair amount cribbed from Charlie Puth and Shawn Mendes for an acoustic love song that is trying to be soulful and mostly falling short. Now to be fair, the lyrics aren't precisely bad - gnash doesn't even really embarrass himself like he did on 'i hate u i love u' - but it's not like they're distinct or interesting or can distract from how little charisma neither artist is bringing to the table. And it's all the most stark when they pile on the heavier drums on the final hook and MAX just doesn't have the bass or pipes in his voice to hold his own against them, even with filters. Yeah, the falsetto is fine, but go beyond that... yeah, not a lot to recommend here.

91. 'Dear Hate' by Maren Morris ft. Vince Gill - you know, it's hard for me as a music critic not to feel cynical about songs made in the aftermath of tragedies... but I don't blame Maren Morris for this one. This was actually a track written three years ago, recorded with Vince Gill in 2016, and for some reason cut from being included on HERO - presumably for not being produced by busbee and sounding like a country song - only released in the aftermath of the Las Vegas shootings with all proceeds going to charity. And thanks to an overwhelmingly positive response, it landed here... and yeah, it's a really damn good country song. The rattling acoustic tones are light enough to support both Morris and Vince Gill - who frankly sounds better than he has in years - and the thicker swells of richer guitar on the bridge are pretty damn stunning stuff. Now just like its spiritual cousin from Eric Church 'Kill A Word', there's a part of me that feels this isn't quite as specific as it could be to really cut deep especially speaking on abstract concepts like hate, but at the same time, the references on the third verse have resonated in the American psyche for so long that it probably goes in regardless. And on top of actually sounding like a country song... yeah, it might not hold traction for long, but I hope it does.

72. 'Heaven' by Kane Brown - and yet on the flip side, we have Kane Brown going through a very soft mid-tempo primarily acoustic pop country track that's so generally underwhelming and sedate that I'm honestly struggling to find anything to say about it. Yeah, the chimes were a cute 90s touch, but why on earth you feel the need to tack on drum machines and fake snaps when you're going to bring in real drums anyway is beyond me, along with some of those weedy plucked accents when you have perfectly good richer guitar and banjo tones already anchoring the track. And I can't be the only one who thinks the slicker this song gets, the less it fits with Kane Brown's rougher baritone. I mean, for pop country this is serviceable, but he'd sound better with a more rollicking pickup or at the very least something with some weight and texture - believe it or not, Kane Brown has actually grown on me as a singer, it's just a damn shame he's not getting better material.

60. 'How Long' by Charlie Puth - so I'll be the first to say that Charlie Puth actually did do some reputation repair with 'Attention' in 2017, which has turned into one of his most consistent hits as a pretty decent pop song, mostly thanks to that groove. But it's the follow-up that worried me, that he'd be able to sustain momentum and not default to bland garbage... and thankfully, this is not it. Now granted, it very much feels like 'Attention Pt. 2' with a healthy amount cribbed from mid-80s R&B and turn of the millennium boy band tracks - especially with that final hook - but a good bassline can redeem a lot in a song like this, and the funkier guitar has been a good compliment, even if the backing vocals can on the post-chorus can get a little annoying and Puth's falsetto isn't really winning me over. But at least lyrically it's treading in slightly more interesting territory, with the hook from the girl's perspective targeting Puth for cheating and he really doesn't have much of an excuse here - but what feels odd is that the song doesn't really go beyond the accusation and Puth pretty much admitting it outright on the verses, not really going anywhere else, which leaves the emotional dynamic feeling a little stilted. I dunno, I certainly prefer this direction for Charlie Puth in comparison with nearly everything else he's done, but I don't quite see this clicking as well as 'Attention', have to be honest.

55. 'Pray' by Sam Smith - we're now in the full rollout for singles from Sam Smith, and this is his second release, aiming to bring in more gospel influences opposite production from Timbaland of all people, and even though I was unconvinced Sam Smith could convincingly sell gospel, I was willing to give him a chance here...  and well, I don't think this is bad. Smith certainly seems more convincing approaching religious angst than many I've heard recently, especially when it's more clear than ever that's he's an outsider coming in. And hell, he's certainly approaching it with the solemnity and more maturity than I think we've heard in some time, mostly helped by him sticking in his lower register and letting his pretty tasteful arranged production carry most of the weight, along with the gospel choir that does build pretty damn well. And the writing is pretty solid too - I'm a little on the fence about how he threw in lines like 'everyone prays in the end', but he's not exactly wrong with that, and it doesn't really feel cavalier here. But as a whole... I guess I feel a little distant from it, maybe because of the production. Like with most Sam Smith songs, it feels a tad too stiff and lacking any sort of edge to really move me, and considering I normally prefer my gospel to feel ragged and rougher, this doesn't quite connect as much as I like. Definitely can appreciate this song, and if it paves the way for Hozier's sophomore album to notch hits whenever the hell it drops, I'll be thrilled, but until then... we'll see.

20. 'Almost Like Praying' by Lin-Manuel Miranda & Artists for Puerto Rico - so as I said, I'm not normally a fan of charity singles - to quote many punks, they can feel like transparent exercises in self-promotion while ignoring the root causes of the issue. But at the end of the day if the cause brings in help that is desperately needed to people in crisis, especially if and when established institutions have utterly failed in doing enough because the POS-in-chief has at best a casual disinterest and at worst expressed outright racism towards the people there, I'm willing to give it a pass. It also helps that it's being organized by Lin-Manuel Miranda, a Puerto Rican himself who has proven tireless and completely sincere in his dedication to help that shows real earnest altruism, so as long as the song is good, I would have no problem with this charting at all. And... it's interesting, I'll definitely say that, but in terms of charity singles I can see more people ultimately focusing on the disaster than on the song itself, mostly because you can tell Miranda went out of his way to blunt any of the star power that comes with getting Luis Fonsi, Jennifer Lopez, Camila Cabello, Joell Ortiz, Ruben Blades, Fat Joe, Marc Anthony, Dessa, and plenty more to contribute to a song that is nearly all in Spanish. But this could be a double-edged sword - you avoid the self-promotion accusations, but now that song has to stand as larger than the sum of its parts. And while the foundation of an interpolation from West Side Story's 'Maria' definitely helps and I think the choice to name all seventy eight towns in Puerto Rico does a potent job connecting to the island itself, I'm not really crazy about the song itself from a composition or production standpoint - just not much here that stands out from me beyond the main melodic flourish on the hook. But on the flip side, I've heard a lot of charity singles that are either incredibly sloppily produced or sound completely indulgent, and this doesn't really fall into either category. So at the end of the day, if you want to donate to help Puerto Rico here, this is a fine enough way to do it, and the song is fine, I guess.

So best and worst... really, it fell out pretty easily this week, 'Dear Hate' by Maren Morris and Vince Gill is easily the best and 'Too Hotty' by Quality Control and Migos is easily the worst. And at this point, I have no idea what's going to happen in terms of disruptive albums, so we'll just see what clicks.

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