Wednesday, November 1, 2017

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - november 11, 2017

So I've been predicting for some time that the Hot 100 would be hit with a pretty major shift that would knock things loose, really shake up the status quo. And yet somehow I think we got the worst of both worlds with this, with the top ten mostly staying static, the majority of our new arrivals hitting in the bottom half of the Hot 100... and it's all coming from a collaboration between Future and Young Thug. Yes, over half the songs here are from Super Slimey, and whatever else we got... well, we'll get to it.

But fine, we still have our top ten, where 'rockstar' by Post Malone and 21 Savage rules at #1... and yet there's a part of me that for the first time sees some uncertainty here. Yes, dominance in on-demand streaming... but it slipped on sales, it's not dominant on YouTube, and while it is gaining radio, I'm not sure it's gaining fast enough. That's somewhat relelvant when you consider that 'Bodak Yellow' by Cardi B is still very much dominant on YouTube... but it somehow lost even more sales, it's slipping on streaming, and it looks to have peaked on the radio. And then with '1-800-273-8255' by Logic ft. Alessia Cara and Khalid... as much as its still gaining radio, streaming is slipping and the sales are nowhere where they need to be to get higher. What I think is much more likely to make gains are 'Feel It Still' by Portugal. The Man at #4, because it's become a radio juggernaut that's somehow still gaining, even if it did slip on sales and streaming still is nonexistent. It's certainly holding its own over 'Thunder' by Imagine Dragons, which yes has the sales and the real airplay momentum and a little more streaming, but the question comes whether it can narrow that margin fast enough. What is making a play is 'Sorry Not Sorry' by Demi Lovato, up to #6, which despite weaker sales has more solvent streaming numbers and airplay that's still pretty potent, despite the gains slowing down this week. Where things get interesting comes in our first new arrival to the top ten, and where I'm so damn happy to finally say I called it, 'Havana' by Camila Cabello ft. Young Thug. I called it as a hit the first time I heard it, unquestionably her best song to date, and the release of the video was enough to shove into contention, and that's before you consider her strengths in sales and on the radio. It was enough to knock back 'Mi Gente' by J Balvin, Willy William and Beyonce to #8, as despite a good sales week it saw itself overtaken on streaming and the radio. It did stay above Sam Smith with 'Too Good At Goodbyes' down to #9, where it also got overtaken thanks to radio traction slipping and a poor streaming week. But it now faces competition from our second new top ten arrival, one I'm a lot less excited about... 'Perfect' by Ed Sheeran, at #10. Look, this is the second coming of 'Thinking Out Loud', adult contemporary radio already loves this, and with those sales figures it will probably have staying power - yay, I guess.

What doesn't have that power comes in our losers and dropouts, and make no mistake, we've got some big ones in the latter category. The country losses you expect with the shift in format for the season - 'Do I Make You Wanna' by Billy Currington, 'They Don't Know' by Jason Aldean, and 'Small Town Boy' by Dustin Lynch, which somehow stuck around long enough to likely make the year-end list, go figure, but they're also joined by 'Feels' by Calvin Harris, Pharrell, Katy Perry and Big Sean, and 'No Promises' by Cheat Codes ft. Demi Lovato. The best news, though, is that after a full year on the Hot 100 we have finally gotten rid of 'Say You Won't Let Go' by James Arthur, a song I have found thoroughly mediocre at best throughout 2017 and at worst... well, let's just say my own personal year-end lists are ready for it. It's just a shame that when you take a look at our losers you don't get the same surprises. For one, two more country songs took hits, with 'More Girls Like You' by Kip Moore down hard to 89 and 'Heartache On The Dance Floor' by Jon Pardi to 95. Then you have songs that have done okay but never great, like 'B.E.D.' by Jacquees to 97 and 'It's A Vibe' by 2 Chainz, Ty Dolla $ign, Trey Songz and Jhene Aiko likely just missing the year-end list at 79. But then we have two big stories to end things off, the first being the odd loss for 'Relationship' by Young Thug and Future to 81 - I guess if you're going to swap it out for better mixtape tracks it makes sense, but you'd also think the synergy would benefit it. But the big story is the striking losses for 'Look What You Made Me Do' by Taylor Swift, where even YouTube can't save it from plummeting out of the top 20 to 25. If it keeps dropping at this pace... man, that's not a good sign for that record in just over a week!

Now in contrast our gains and returning entries are pretty stable and explainable, the only one in the latter category being 'Too Much To Ask' by Niall Horan re-entering at 96 because of the album. Eh, I'd prefer any other song from the record chart, it really is pretty great, but even this isn't precisely bad, it's just okay and kind of forgettable. And the gains by that measure aren't all that objectionable either. I've already talked about 'Havana' breaking the top 10, but unfortunately right behind it is 'Gucci Gang' by Lil Pump up to 14... but really, that's the worst here, and even then that song is more obnoxious than incompetent. Our other gains make a fair amount of sense: 'Let You Down' by NF gains off the debut to 75, 'Losing Sleep' by Chris Young picks up traction off the album to 63, 'Like I Loved You' by Brett Young gets the easy boost to 67, and 'No Limit' by G-Eazy ft. A$AP Rocky and Cardi B gets to 30, likely off of Cardi B just owning the song and her continued boost of popularity. Hell, if I'm being honest I'd probably prefer to listen to her than what we have in our new arrivals, starting off with...

100. 'Three' by Future & Young Thug - okay, one thing that needs to be established right out of the gate is that Future and Young Thug have very different styles and production that puts them at their best, and it's not the same for the post of them. Even though I'm no big fan of either artist, I can like both of them... but for Future it often comes when he's at his darkest and most aggressive, where his rougher delivery can fit, whereas for Thugger the more lush and melodically expressive he can be, the better! So inevitably they were going to have to meet in the middle... and 'Three' is the first example how that might be a bad idea, disposing of a hook entirely for a verse from each that fades out abruptly right after Future is done. And I can't be the only one who thinks this sounds really cheap, am I - the thin and seedy synth line with a glaze of autotune that somehow sounds flattened against your bog standard trap beat. And while it does emphasize a rougher tone that could work for Future, it's not great for Thugger, even as he rattles off his luxury porn bragging and failure to realize that McGregor actually lost against Mayweather! And it's not like Future's got anything more beyond that, and even if I don't mind the energy, it's really seems like its trying to disguise how often his rhymes don't connect or how little he's actually on the beat! Look as a whole, it's too flimsy to outright dislike, but it is utterly forgettable - next!

98. 'Bedroom Floor' by Liam Payne - not going to lie, there's a part of me that's still really curious where Liam is going to take his career. Sure, following in the legacy of Justin Timberlake might be the most obvious path for him, but there is definitely a place for that sort of pop star and 'Strip It Down' was way more likable than I ever expected, so how does his follow-up turn out? Well, credit to him, the production certainly feels like a departure from what I was expecting, courtesy of Charlie Puth of all people! But with the fast-paced thrumming bass groove, hollow tropical synth tones playing off the handclap, and multi-tracked falsetto, it feels like a sound that Puth brushed against on his debut, but Liam is far more convincing, mostly courtesy of something that's only coming to the forefront with every single: cockiness. Let's be real, guys like Zayn and Harry carry their ego more abstractly, they would never be as direct as someone like Liam is, basically calling this girl out for saying this isn't a thing even as her clothes are on his bedroom floor and showing he's willing to push back actively. And this is not something most male pop stars dare to try anymore, because you need charisma and smart framing and a willingness to play it with a ready smirk - one hair off and you come across like a total asshole or a creep without the personality and conviction to anchor it - hi, Charlie Puth! This is a line that Justin Timberlake walked during the mid 2000s, so can Liam do it now? Well, he's closer than so many have tried, and he's got the easy confidence and swagger down, but I think overall the production and writing could afford to be a little tighter - have him work with Pharrell and he could well be there. Okay, Liam, you had my curiosity - now you have my attention, I'm looking forward to that debut album, because this is pretty good.

92. '4 Da Gang' by Future - so here's the other problem with this Future/Young Thug project, or indeed a problem that afflicts so many collaborative projects: Future happens to be 'bigger' than Thugger is, and when you have a project where a few solo tracks have been bundled for each artist, there's a very real possibility one artist might chart while the other... won't. This happened for both of Future's joints on Super Slimey, with this being the first, and... well, it sounds like 'Mask Off' part 2, between the flute anchoring the melody and clunky bass-driven trap beat. The problem is that Future's a fair bit worse on this, mostly because he seems to be trying to mimic Young Thug's slightly off-kilter melodic digressions to break up the flow! And I'll actually say this isn't a terrible idea, mostly because it prevents Future from dropping into a flat mumble and paradoxically makes his diction better... but at the same time, it's not like he's saying anything worth a damn here. For as much as this song was reportedly dedicated to his late audio engineer Seth Firkins, the content devolves into more flexing that barely even mentions him, which somehow makes it all seem that much worse. That said, this is tolerable, generally more melodic, and even though I find the hook overwritten, it's passable - albeit barely.

88. 'Wolves' by Selena Gomez & Marshmello - so I can't be the only one who feels like that new Selena Gomez record might be in trouble, right? Both 'Bad Liar' and 'Fetish' underperformed - hell, her most successful song in 2017 was a collaboration with Kygo, and that feels more like a fluke breakthrough for him than representative of Selena's future success. So it makes sense that her handlers would have her work with another electronic producer, and Marshmello has had some recent buzz thanks to his work with Khalid, so we got this. And really, it's striking how much this song wants to emulate 'It Ain't Me', between the slightly blurry guitar line that plays into a heavily multi-tracked hook that builds to an electronic breakdown accented by even more faded vocals. A few differences: 'It Ain't Me' was a final goodbye where 'Wolves' is a song seeking to build a deeper connection with the partner, recapture something that was lost, and 'Wolves'... well, it's good, but it's not great. Look, Marshmello's narrower focus in his synth breakdown probably is to the song's overall advantage, but Kygo's composition is just more diverse, groove-driven, and potent, and the production better highlights that bounce. Still, this is good, probably the most likable of all the singles Selena has released thus far, hope it does well.

84. 'Candy Paint' by Post Malone - I feel like 2017 has left me in a frustrating position with respect to Post Malone, because from everything outside of his music he's seemed to be a cool dude who seems chill and likable and who works with people I otherwise respect. All of which is frustrating because it places me on the outside saying, 'yeah, but his music is still lousy!' But with every additional week 'rockstar' spends at #1 America keeps enabling him to release more singles, with this being the second for his upcoming project, and... folks, I hate to say this, but if you thought 'rockstar' was going to be huge, I'd put money on 'Candy Paint' being even bigger. There are problems with this song - it's not like Post Malone has stopped his formless bragging and kicking your girl out of his car as soon as she gives him head, and you have to wonder whether it was a good choice for him to get so aggressive on the second verse - but that hook might be the best thing Post Malone has ever done. The ghostly keyboards against the gentle trap beat with the huge swells of misty synth behind him, coupled with the fantastic placement of the backing vocals, the production on this song is goddamn gorgeous... and when you combine it with that melodic cadence, I'd put money on this being huge. And honestly... I'd be okay with that.

77. 'All Da Smoke' by Future & Young Thug - ...seriously, can I go back to 'Candy Paint', a song with beautiful production and that doesn't need autotune to approximate some form of good delivery? Desaturated pianos that sound barely on key until the bass-driven clunky beat comes in, and Thugger's ad-libs and melodic interpolations somehow sound more weedy than ever - which makes him sound painfully unsupported against this production! And it's not like the content is good either - this time seeming to focus a little more on violence in between the brand name porn and stealing your girl, but at least Future manages to string together a decent basketball reference and Thugger brings up the somewhat amusing image of him feeding deer. But beyond that... no, not a fan at all.

68. 'Feed Me Dope' by Future - and now we've got the second solo joint from Future... if you can even call it that, because it is literally one verse surrounded by two extended hooks, that's it. And... okay, by Future standards, I might actually like this the most of what we've heard thus far: the eerie twinkling pianos against the rumbling bass and faded symphonic atmosphere, it's production that mostly supports some of the darker paranoia that underscores the verse. But there are some lines that you have to think Future would be better off rewriting, like whenever he mentions 'skip to my lou', or how he mentions shipping his local girls out of the country, which could very well have a much more sinister intention than intended! But overall... it feels underdeveloped, but I don't mind this, it's passable.

62. 'No Cap' by Future & Young Thug - okay, with the exception of that faint guitar line at the back, this is a blatant reboot of 'Commas', between the flows and the same damn shrill sound effect that punctuates the song! Seriously, if you're just going to do that and not even give us a hook, I'm going to call you out on recycling, because it's not like the content redeems this! Because in between the brand name flexing, it almost seems like Future and Thugger are going out of their way to be assholes to women, referring to Asian girls as 'yellow', not letting them sleep in their house, openly admitting to backstabbing them, and then after you made them quit their jobs, you give them to your boys before putting them up in rentals... seemingly only for the purpose of you giving them the 'presidential'. Yeah no, put aside the ugliness it's barely a fragment of a song that's blatantly lifting elements I didn't like from an earlier track, let's move on - next!

61. 'Meant To Be' by Bebe Rexha & Florida Georgia Line - I've now seen Florida Georgia Line on more pop songs as of late than country tracks - and what's unnerving is that it's not even surprising, given how much their last album seemed to have a casual disinterest in the format, at least through their production. So why not team up with Bebe Rexha for a single and go pure pop, maybe it could work like what happened with Alesso and Hailee Steinfeld? Well, not really, mostly because despite being the guest stars, they really dominate the song far more than Bebe Rexha does, handling all but one verse, and their blaring nasal tones overpower everything against the minimal piano and leaden trap beat. Yeah, the revving spikes of guitar is alright on the hook, but then we get the lyrics, which seem to place Florida Georgia Line at cross purposes with Bebe Rexha, where they're trying to coax her towards sex and she just wants them to let it be... and they don't seem to get the message and back off. It makes an already generic song faintly icky, and not one that flatters anyone. So yeah, not digging this, pass.

50. 'Patek Water' by Future & Young Thug ft. Offset - so apparently by some vestige of popular consensus and critical appeal this is the song that we all want to hear coming off of Super Slimey, and while I could be snide here and say it only got that thanks to a Migos member being on it, the truth is that 'Patek Water' is... okay, I guess? Look, the more autotune that's piled on Thugger's warbling, the more exasperating it is for me, especially with the scratchy fragments replacing the hi-hat that are beneath the faint squealing sound that counts for a melody and the lumpy bass - and again, it's not like Thugger is all that distinctive or interesting here, and Future only handles the hook, no verse! Yes, Offset is spitting a little harder than usual on his verse - he arguably steals the show with his more violent verse - but really, the appeal of this song is that in comparison with so much of Super Slimey, it's a fully composed song with an actual hook - and even then, it's just okay! If that's our baseline of quality here, we may have a serious problem... but not as much as what's evidenced by...

13. 'Gorgeous' by Taylor Swift - to clarify, I'm not really referring to Taylor Swift here. If reputation turns out to be a bomb - and from the lead-off singles and marketing rollout, it probably will be - she's got enough success and popularity to be just fine if she wants to take the time to recuperate, whereas all of her marketing team, producers, and promotional staff will go right under the nearest bus. But in any case, given how much 'Look What You Made Me Do' has collapsed and how '...Ready For It?' remains painfully underwhelming, how is our newest single? Honestly, I'm not impressed - those hollowed, warping synths against the patter of bass with acoustic touches against a flat snare don't exactly make for an interesting song, more leaden and lumbering than it clearly thinks it is, and the furthest thing from sexy. And that's a problem, because when you think about the lyrics, Taylor seems to have completely lost the ability to sound genuinely lovestruck - the primary emotion underlining this song is frustrated anger at losing control and a mostly failed attempt to seduce this guy regardless of her boyfriend or if he's even single. In a bizarre way I'm reminded of Kesha's 'Die Young', but Kesha could anchor wistful regret at knowing it wasn't going to work and to just enjoy the moment, whereas with Taylor it feels way more petulant that she can't nail this hot guy, especially when on the second verse it's clear she's trying to play hard to get! At the end of the day, though, I can't really get angry at this, mostly because it feels like album filler - unimpressive all around, not a particularly striking sound or hook, just underwhelming. Again, if I was the promotional staff for reputation, I'd be panicking right now.

But in the mean time, the best and worst of this week... well, the worst is easy with 'No Cap', with 'Three' taking Dishonourable Mention, both from Young Thug and Future. But the best... it's actually a bit of a tight race, but I think Selena Gomez and Marshmello just edge out Liam Payne with 'Wolves', with the best of the week going to 'Candy Paint' by Post Malone. Yeah, I'm as stunned as anyone, but seriously, with that hook and production, this song is going to justifiably be huge, and I'm definitely a fan. Let's see how it all falls out next week - only two more before the Billboard year ends!

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