Wednesday, November 29, 2017

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - december 9, 2017 I the only one who thinks something strange is happening with the Hot 100 right now? I wouldn't say it was anything that felt too far afield, but while last week was near-complete garbage - and the fact that a disturbing amount of it appears to be sticking around does not bode well - but this week seems rather slapdash, and I have a hard time seeing much of this sticking around beyond a brief blip on the radar before the holiday season sweeps a chunk of it away.

Granted, the one place that appears to be safe is our top ten, where for yet another week 'rockstar' by Post Malone and 21 Savage is at #1. Now I've said this song might be facing trouble for a while now... but with the release of a music video that's blown up on YouTube it may have bought itself more space in the margins, especially as it's still been doing well on the radio. Yeah, 'Havana' by Camila Cabello and Young Thug is doing better there and is dominant in sales, but until it can make up at least a little more ground in streaming, it's going to be stranded at #2. That's not an issue for 'Gucci Gang' by Lil Pump, which is only here because of streaming, with radio lagging hard and the second YouTube falters I can see this being trouble beyond #3. Then we have 'Thunder' by Imagine Dragons at #4, which rules the radio and had a particularly good sales week... but it did seem to hit a peak on the radio, so it could be vulnerable going forward, especially with 'Perfect' by Ed Sheeran rising up to #5 on good sales, a considerable radio pickup, and more streaming than you'd expect. It puts it above 'Bodak Yellow' by Cardi B down to #6, but considering how it's been bleeding in radio and sales, that's to be expected - what surprised me a bit more was 'Too Good At Goodbyes' by Sam Smith down to #7, but despite a good week on the radio it took serious losses in streaming and sales. Then we saw a modest recovery for 'Feel It Still' by Portugal. The Man to #8, but I'd argue that's more due to bigger losses falling past it than its strengths... although you could make that argument given that it did have a slight sales boost and it didn't quite decline as quickly on the radio as expected. Next is a returning entry to the top ten, 'Sorry Not Sorry' by Demi Lovato at #9, mostly because of a good sales week and a slight radio stabilization, it was up and down all week - and following with it is another returning entry with 'What Lovers Do' by Maroon 5 and SZA at #10, with even better sales and good radio making up for miserable streaming, it might have some traction here.

What doesn't have traction are our losers and dropouts, and we had a few big ones in the latter category, as 2017 starts to sweep its hits away. 'What Ifs' by Kane Brown and Lauren Alaina, 'Crew' by Goldlin ft. Brent Faiyaz and Shy Glizzy, 'Something Just Like This' by The Chainsmokers and Coldplay, and finally 'XO TOUR LLIF3' by Lil Uzi Vert. And following that trend, our losses are pretty predictable too, with a particularly rough week for country, with 'Every Little Thing' by Carly Pearce continuing down to 84, 'Fix A Drink' by Chris Janson draining to 78, and 'When It Rains It Pours' by Luke Combs down to 51. Then we have the expected big dip after the debut for 'Walk On Water' by Eminem and Beyonce to 55 - I really don't see it sticking around, despite my general liking for it - and then a considerable loss for 'Look What You Made Me Do' by Taylor Swift to 44, because with reputation still not on streaming services, the trajectory for Taylor off this record looks bleak indeed.

And speaking of bleak, our returning entries and gains... and look, I have a hard time feeling excited about any of this, especially when our solitary returning entry is 'Glorious' by Macklemore and Skylar Grey back yet again - seriously, who the hell has ever cared about this? But if you're trying to trace what's going on with our gains... look, it's a mess. The most considerable boost off of huge sales and radio traction is 'Wolves' by Selena Gomez and Marshmello up to 20, and thanks to a streaming recovery 'Bank Account' by 21 Savage rebounded to 15, but from there off its debut we have 'Gummo' by 6ix9ine thanks to streaming because apparently America doesn't have problems playing one-dimensional edgelord junk made by a child sex offender! Now thankfully our other gains never get quite that bad - 'Betrayed' by Lil Xan went to 69 off its debut, 'Meant To Be' by Florida Georgia Line and Bebe Rexha doesn't belong on country radio but a good sales week put it at 42, 'Rubbin' Off The Paint' by YBN Nahmir went to 52 thanks to streaming, and 'Mayores' by Becky G and Bad Bunny went up to 74. Now it's not all bad news here: 'Too Much To Ask' by Niall Horan might not be a great song from that record but I'm not complaining it went up to 87, or that Hailee Steinfeld, Florida Georgia Line, Alesso and Watt continued to push 'Let Me Go' to 53 on surprisingly decent sales, or that 'Lemon' by N*E*R*D and Rihanna rebounded hard up to 63 thanks to radio traction of all things! But for me the real story is the boost for 'Candy Paint' by Post Malone up to 66, which is starting to make streaming gains - and look, for as much as Post Malone has been getting some justly deserved backlash for his dumbass comments this week, I still hope this becomes a hit, it's the best hook and production he's ever had, and if we're going to let 'rockstar' sit at #1 for seven weeks now, we can give this a chance, right?

Whatever, let's move onto our list of new arrivals, of which... I'm not even going to try and look for logic here, let's just start with...

100. 'Faking It' by Calvin Harris ft. Kehlani & Lil Yachty - so let's not mince words, Calvin Harris had a great year - Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1 was a summer record that was more enjoyable than it had any right to be, and it produced a few legitimately great tracks. And while 'Heatstroke' underperformed criminally - you give a video to 'Feels' and not that or 'Slide', Harris - the obvious next choice for a single would be 'Cash Out' with ScHoolboy Q and D.R.A.M. but NOPE, instead we're giving another chance to Kehlani and Lil Yachty for no good reason! Now let me make this clear, this is not the worst song on the album - the stiff wiry 80s-inspired R&B can have some appeal especially as it opens up into a sandy groove, and Kehlani effectively makes the sour vibe click for her, even if all the subtext goes right over Lil Yachty's head and he plays things way more earnestly in his pizza-inspired ramblings - but again, in a world where we have 'Cash Out', there's no excuse for this to be here. Tolerable, sure, but there were much better choices.

99. 'Written In The Sand' by Old Dominion - so look, I've made it abundantly clear over the past year or so I don't like this group. They're painfully slick in the wrong ways, the writing can make my skin crawl, and the fact that the industry wants to prop up this brand of pop country instead of so many other acts is obnoxious to the highest degree. And while this might be marginally better than most with a little richer melodic groove on the hook and bridge, the painfully fake beat and snap, thin backing vocals, and how obviously the guitar is clipped on the hook reveals the same problem I've had with this group since the beginning: an embrace of jerky staccato progressions that compromise both their grooves and melodies. And on top of vocals that aren't all that expressive and an incredibly tepid 'will they won't they' progression that for as much as it wants to get to the point remains metaphorical all the way through! Again, it's tolerable - probably one of the more likable songs Old Dominion has released as a single - but it's really hard for me to care.

98. 'The Rest Of Our Life' by Tim McGraw & Faith Hill - and on the topic of pop-leaning country artists making schmaltzy relationship tracks, here we have the title track from that Faith Hill album masquerading as a duets record that I and everyone else have already forgotten about... but to be fair, this is one of the few good songs from that record. The prominent piano holding the melody is solid against the gentle guitars and I like when the pedal steel wells up on the bridge, the sentiment is sweet, and while the lyrical detail is oddly specific - it's pretty easy to see where Ed Sheeran was contributing - it does feel sincere. But at the same time... man, it's obvious that Tim McGraw and Faith Hill produced this themselves, from the generally cheap fidelity of most of the tones to how the vocals on the hook awkwardly top out - and considering McGraw is trying his falsetto here, it's awkward enough already! At least there's more melodic flow and passion - I'd take this over Old Dominion - but both of these artists have done better and I sincerely hope this doesn't stick around.

96. 'No Smoke' by YoungBoy Never Broke Again - okay, serious question: does anybody actually remember or care about this guy? I mean, I covered him when I was on vacation and when he showed up on a song from A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie, but I went back to both of those songs ahead of covering this and the most I can say is that it's generic nasal mumble rap against glossy trap production that I've heard hundreds of times this year. And this if anything reminds more of Kodak Black with the grinding whirs and wonky Autotuned flows around it, and the sooner we can leave this style in 2017, the better! And that's before you get to the bars themselves, which awkwardly force rhymes and all circle around shooting people in the most formulaic and empty way possible. Again, I feel like I cover these sorts of tracks every week, and I'm not hearing anything remotely distinctive here to give me any reason to remember this guy exists, so pass!

95. 'Beautiful Trauma' by P!nk - okay, let's make this abundantly clear: the reason this charted is because of the video with Channing Tatum. And yeah, it's a cute video with a sweet message that shows how much fun and fulfillment can be found breaking out of clearly delineated societal roles, both for P!nk and her partner. And yeah, it's technocolor and goofy, but I like the sincerity and how game Tatum is - and it's a shame that this really isn't one of the better tracks off the album. Seriously, you have 'Better Life' and 'I Am Here' and you go with the title track, which really feels way too arranged and classy with the horns and piano for the content or P!nk's delivery, which looks to be another case of Jack Antonoff not quite grasping the intent of the artist for whom he's producing. And sure, the scuzzy warping effects and wiry synth help, but they're plainly not the melodic focus, which can get a little exasperating. Now granted, P!nk's a good enough performer to handle this, and while the lyrics are very much overwrought, she's one of the few artists who could sell them. Shame she's not really on her A-game here, but again, this song is only on the Hot 100 thanks to the video - let's hope she puts out something better soon.

92. 'When We' by Tank - ...okay, we need some historical context for this, because when I saw that Tank of all people had a new song on the Hot 100, I was genuinely shocked. You all remember Tank, right, who had two minor hits in the early 2000s, one in 2007, and pretty much nothing until this? Nah, I'm not surprised, but when I went back to those hits I was surprised how much I mostly liked them - a little less charismatic than Usher, a little more mature than Ne-Yo but not quite as classy as John Legend, I probably would have slotted him into a similar category as guys like Maxwell... until recently, when he started embracing the autotuned, dreary trap darkness that has suffocated so much modern R&B. Now granted, Tank's deeper, more authoritative tones will always work more for me than a guy like Bryson Tiller, and he certainly has more command of his mix, but him describing himself as a savage so this girl calls him master... look dude, you're over forty, if you want to make a sex song you don't have to default to the ugly cliches of guys twenty years younger! It reminds me in an unfortunate way of guys like Keith Urban and Luke Bryan who haven't learned how to age gracefully with their material, so while as a performer I like Tank here, I feel I could be getting more in the content. Not bad by any stretch, but again, this should be better.

90. 'Home' by Machine Gun Kelly, X Ambassadors & Bebe Rexha - okay, to explain why the hell this is here, you all need to know about an upcoming Will Smith vehicle from the director of Suicide Squad called Bright that's dropping around Christmas of this year to be crushed by the Oscar bait and The Last Jedi, which is apparently a cop movie on an alternate earth where humans and fantasy creatures have always existed and if this sounds kind of awful you now understand why it's being dropped in seasonal garbage time. Anyway, in the tradition of Suicide Squad we're getting a crossover song bringing together Machine Gun Kelly, X Ambassadors and Bebe Rexha - and yeah, that also sounds kind of awful! And then you hear that MGK wrote these verses on the same day Chester Bennington died and you feel faintly sick that they were repackaged into soundtrack fodder fronted by X Ambassadors and Bebe Rexha filling in behind hooks and a sparse bridge. Granted, I'm not surprised that happened, given how thin and lacking in real detail they are, nearly all focused on his own struggles rather than any sort of grief or loss, but that's also pretty much the case for the production - flimsy vocal pickups for the hook, generic desaturated blocky beat full of fake claps, weedy guitars especially on the prechorus, and a piano melody that somehow completely runs out of momentum. It's too flimsy and underwritten to be weighty, yet way too self-serious to function as a decent pop rap tune... really, if we're looking for disposable and mediocre soundtrack filler, it's this. Next!

(not available because Taylor Swift is Taylor Swift)

86. 'End Game' by Taylor Swift ft. Future & Ed Sheeran - so I already spent way too much time talking about Taylor Swift when I reviewed reputation, so I'm going to endeavor to keep this brief. Melodically, it's desaturated, swamped out and clunky, much more reliant on its trap beat and on the flows of its artists to keep things interesting, which is one reason why Ed Sheeran sounds so much more awkward opposite it in comparison to Future, even if Sheeran's content is marginally more interesting. And sure, Taylor's crooning is okay, but the second she tries rapping, on the post-choruses or especially that final verse... look, personality can make up for a lot, but it's pretty damn hard for me to buy into her not loving the drama given the rest of the record, especially with how self-aggrandizing the rest of the song is. But the truth is that the only reason this song actually managed to crossover are the featuring credits, and once the novelty fades, this will fade with it.

79. 'Awful Things' by Lil Peep - oh, this is awkward. See, I never reviewed Lil Peep - mostly because my Patrons aren't all sadists and never put any of his tapes on my schedule, and since what I did hear I didn't like I had no impetus to put any on myself. And yet when he died a few weeks ago of a drug overdose at the age of twenty one, I had the uneasy feeling I'd wind up having to review something that'd inevitably pick up spins, and sure enough, he's got a posthumous song on the Hot 100. And look, there's a part of me that wants to be somewhat kind here out of respect... but let's be blunt, this isn't good. The nasal vocals sound like a bad Tom DeLonge impression back when he was Angels & Airwaves paired with a cruddy rattling guitar pickup that for some reason is buried behind the sandy trap beat and whirring vocal effects - in other words, a blend of emo and trap that has all of the vapid emotionality of the former and all of the trend-following dead-eyed nihilism of the latter. At least with a guy like XXXTENTACION at his best there's a darker core incompetently executed - with this, I don't get much of a core at all! Look, it sucks that he died so young and it really should prompt a conversation surrounding responsible and safe drug usage and the pharmaceutical industry - but this is mediocre at best, and I can't endorse it.

47. 'Echame La Culpa' by Luis Fonsi & Demi Lovato - okay, so when I saw this charting, I can't be the only one faintly amused by history repeating itself, right? I mean, I remember Christina Aguilera's Spanish record in 2000 trying to follow the Latin trends of the time, and for as much as Demi Lovato has emulated similar frustrations in her career, I'm not even surprised she's teaming up with Luis Fonsi for a song. But unlike Christina, I was actually encouraged by the idea of this song: songs that let Demi Lovato get loose and sensual often bring out a level of subtlety she rarely uses, and Luis Fonsi has good enough instincts and chemistry to coax out those instincts. And... okay, this comes close to working, but it's not better than 'Despacito' or some of Demi's better tracks, and I'm still struggling to pin down why. The percussion and guitars that drive the song are welcome, but the buzzy synth that accents parts doesn't really help the blockier beat - and while they both sound good in Spanish, Demi Lovato's English lyrics can't help but feel distracting, especially when they reference The Beatles, a band that at best had only ever grazed Latin music next to jazz. On top of that, the content can feel a bit odd here too: both artists are apologizing for some sort of indiscretion that they're fighting to see to see who wants the most blame - seems kind of flimsy, and a bit of a waste of a collaboration that could have done a lot more!

But as it is, it's passable... and on a week as rough as this one, I'm giving it the Honourable Mention, with the best actually going to Tank with 'When We' - I'm as surprised as anyone, but if we're going to get this style of R&B, he at least can carry it with the gravity it deserves, it's a decent song. As for the worst... I'm going to spare Lil Peep this, I'm not that cruel and I do see the appeal, which means it's going to 'Home' by Machine Gun Kelly, X Ambassadors, and Bebe Rexha for being a flagrantly ill-advised tribute that winds up as soundtrack garbage, with Dishonourable Mention going to 'No Smoke' by Youngboy Never Broke Again for that ugly-ass flow. So yeah, another pretty bad week, and I really have no idea what's going to break it coming up - we'll see what happens, I guess.

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