Tuesday, November 14, 2017

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - november 25, 2017

So we've now reached the end of the Billboard year for 2017, the third year I've been running this show. And while I'll have plenty of thoughts about what hits eventually make the year-end list - stay tuned for about a month for year-end lists, I'll have a lot to say - 2017 from a weekly chart perspective has not exactly been one of the more interesting years. Yes, there was a pretty exciting point midway through the year where we flipped over a few #1s in a row and the top ten certainly has felt unstable over the past couple of weeks, but for the most part the year has been dominated by a few absolutely monstrous hits and a whole lot of songs that either blew their hype or never seemed to be that huge to begin with. It left many a track scrabbling to eke out a spot on the year-end list, and what does finally make it through in a month will be fascinating...

But until we get there, let's take one last look at the top ten, where holding out for another week we have 'rockstar' by Post Malone and 21 Savage. And while I think it's a close call that it held its position, I'm not sure it's as close as some people think. Yeah, it lags on YouTube, it got passed by its nearest competition in sales and the radio... but it still holds enough of a margin in streaming that survived the most obvious disruption, which could be telling of more lasting strength. Compare this to 'Havana' by Camila Cabello ft. Young Thug at #2 - yes, it's beating 'rockstar' in everything but streaming... but it lost significantly in on-demand, a margin it needed to make up to go for #1, and that's not a good sign. Granted, it's not like 'Bodak Yellow' by Cardi B is going to seriously make a play - good YouTube, sure, but it's bleeding in all other categories, especially the radio, it's not moving past #3. Then thanks to the album dropping we have Sam Smith's 'Too Good At Goodbyes' up to #4, but I don't have any faith this'll hold its spot - radio is already softening, sales are not stellar, and while streaming got a huge boost, I'm not sure I can predict it lasting once the album blows over. Then we have 'Thunder' by Imagine Dragons holding at #5 - no real surprise, as it is still gaining airplay and sales are still good, but with its streaming I don't see it getting higher. Similar case for '1-800-273-8255' by Logic ft. Alessia Cara and Khalid drooping down to #6 - it's just fading across the board, although the losses are most pronounced on the radio. And speaking of fading radio, 'Feel It Still' by Portugal. The Man is down to #7 - yeah, sales are down too, but it's more because while it is still on top in airplay by a fair margin, it'll likely be eclipsed in a week or two. Then we have a song returning to the top ten: 'Perfect' by Ed Sheeran at #8 - and folks, we might as well get used to this song in the top ten for a while, because even if the radio is a little slow to pick it up and the streaming is not great, those sales numbers are pretty damn potent and the video just droped. But now we have a song that's been on the edges of the top ten and only now just broke in: 'What Lovers Do' by Maroon 5 ft. SZA. I'd likely say this got here thanks to that album I've never even pretended to start caring about - probably explains the sales bump - but it's also quietly become pretty damn big on the radio, and while its momentum seems to be wavering, it will likely have some staying power. And finally, clinging to #10 even despite decent weeks on radio and YouTube, we have 'Mi Gente' by J. Balvin, Willy William and Beyonce at #10 - and look, the way its sales and streaming are going, I wouldn't put money on this sticking around.

And with that hopeful promise, our losers and dropouts! Couple considerable ones in the latter category, most notably 'Location' by Khalid which became a huge sleeper hit this year, never even breaking the top ten! Along with it, we also lost 'All The Pretty Girls' by Kenny Chesney - no surprise after last week - 'B.E.D.' by Jacquees, and 'Heartache On The Dance Floor' by Jon Pardi, and considering how inconsistent all of these have been, I'm not too fussed. Where things get interesting are in our losers - and yes, some are obvious like 'Patek Water' by Future, Young Thug and Offset to 97 and 'Glorious' by Macklemore and Skylar Grey to 98 - they were heading out anyway. I'm a little more surprised - and encouraged - by the losses for 'Go Flex' by Post Malone to 96, 'Sauce It Up' by Lil Uzi Vert to 89, and 'Transportin' by Kodak Black to 86 - because if there's a rapper who is bound to fade out fast after 2017 is over, I'd put money on it being Kodak Black. Then we have losses after considerable boosts last week: 'Love So Soft' by Kelly Clarkson dips hard to 57, 'Wolves' by Selena Gomez and Marshmello droops to 55, and '...Ready For It?' by Taylor Swift fell to 30 - but really, the run-up for reputation has not been good here, as 'Gorgeous' also fell to 85. Keep in mind here that Taylor Swift in her bizarre and stupid war against streaming platforms has delayed her release there for a week after the sales release - and thus given how much streaming matters, she just hurt her chances of a massive album bomb because she won't have that simultaneous surge of momentum. Granted, with those sales I could be wrong here... but I don't think I am. Oh, and 'Wild Thoughts' by DJ Khaled ft. Rihanna and Bryson Tiller is down to 48... oh admit it, since the summer you haven't really thought much about that song either.

Now our gains and returning entries are not nearly as surprising, especially the latter category as 'Pray' by Sam Smith came back to 82 off the album drop and 'Broken Halos' by Chris Stapleton thankfully went back to 92 off of a very limited tracking week and cleaning up again at the CMAs. Hopefully this'll go higher, but I'm just glad it's back. But speaking of a limited tracking week, that's also the biggest driver behind over half of our gains. Yes, 'No Limit' by G-Eazy, A$AP Rocky and Cardi B is quietly picking up a lot of streaming, YouTube and radio to become a significant hit at #13 and 'The Way Life Goes' by Lil Uzi Vert and Oh Wonder went up to 31 because of the remix, the bigger boost came to new arrivals from last week on Without Warning by Offset, 21 Savage and Metro Boomin. And now with a full tracking week, 'Ghostface Killers' with Travis Scott went to 35, 'Ric Flair Drip' went to 50, 'Rap Saved Me' picked up to 64 and 'My Choppa Hate' went to 73. And on that topic, it's also touched our new arrivals, starting with...

100. 'Nightmare' by Offset & Metro Boomin - okay, so 'Ric Flair Drip' wound up being my top song of last week because it showed a great balance between Offset and Metro Boomin with no distractions, so how do they do on their second showcase? Well, it's not as good as the last track, but it's still decent - the subtle rumble against the bass against the glassy eerieness of the synth works decently well, and while I don't think Offset's flows are as impressive, he can capture some of the menace of the track in his delivery and even some of his more violent references. The problem, again, is a lack of focus - if you're immediately going to switch over to brand name flexing, you compromise your atmosphere. So yeah, not bad, but I'm not remotely surprised this needed another week to crossover.

99. 'Mad Stalkers' by Offset, 21 Savage & Metro Boomin - you know, I'm not sure it helps your ominous vibe to have a sample of women giggling in your mix... but again, if there is one thing I can commend about Without Warning it would probably be the production, as the blurry warble of melody plays off the thicker trap beat does fit the vibe and while I'm not crazy about the hook, it does set the mood. And then Offset shows up, switches his flow up four times in one verse, and I appreciate that he sticks with slightly more grisly subject matter, it's a solid performance. But then we have to deal with 21 Savage... and look, I don't think his verse is bad! His flow is a little faster, you can tell he's trying a little harder to be expressive... but man, how is it when Offset actually pulls off more of a sense of menace in his content 21 Savage just whiffs it focusing on the girl who is 'too much bitch'? Yeah, the violent references are there, but they're peripheral, and when he returns to a monotone hook that doesn't help him... nah, this should be better than it is.

(not available because Big Sean did a Big Sean)

94. 'Pull Up N Wreck' by Big Sean & Metro Boomin ft. 21 Savage - ...did anyone actually know that Big Sean was releasing a single this week, let alone that he got Metro Boomin and 21 Savage on it? Seriously, this seemed to come right out of nowhere, and while I might have issues with his consistency, I'd probably prefer Offset's rapping than Big Sean's, especially when it feels like Big Sean is doing more of his Drake impression! Now to his credit, he balances against the faded symphonic sample better than I thought he would, and I certainly think his rhyming is more interesting than whatever the hell 21 Savage is doing - who the hell puts codeine in your iced tea - but some of these bars? Talking about growing up playing GoldenEye to justify sticking to a mission, and saying you 'don't drink tap water, but got tap phones' - why would you even need to brag about that, you'd think you'd want to run under the radar here! But honestly, the hook here is pretty decent, and while I've definitely heard Big Sean do better, this is passable enough, at least to me.

93. 'Wait' by Maroon 5 - so as I mentioned before, I really don't care about the new Maroon 5 record - but really, who the hell does at this point? There has been nothing essential or likable about Maroon 5 in the 2010s, and considering they called their newest record Red Pill Blues and the best thing I can say about any of their singles is that they've been vaguely tolerable, I wasn't excited to see another song chart. And listening to 'Wait', turns out I was exactly on the money with this, because this is utterly mediocre. For one, whoever thought that slapdash guitar line needed to be buried behind a fizzy trap beat that somehow sounds muddy against the pitch-corrected tunings around Adam Levine's vocals probably did the song a favour, but as a consequence it becomes another utterly gutless trap tune with no groove or personality. And considering the song is about drunkenly gatecrashing an ex's family event to beg her to take her back, having no assertive personality to speak of gives me all the evidence in the world why Levine got dumped! For an easy comparison, look at the country classic from Garth Brooks 'Friends In Low Places' - same setup, but not only does Brooks have effortless hangdog charisma, he knows to play off the contrast and catharsis for that anthemic chorus. This... completely weak, utterly and given the modern context absolutely living up to the title of this record. Pass!

79. 'Rubbin Off The Paint' by YBN Nahmir - so one of the running themes of the past few years are a series of utterly forgettable trap-leaning songs that get big off a meme or a Vine, give the artist a short infusion of cash, and then they return to utter irrelevance. The newest artist in that lane is YBN Nahmir, who got picked up off of Worldstar - and yet somehow already has cosigns by PnB Rock and Chris Brown, hmm - for a song referencing fellow soon-to-be-forgotten MC Tay-K - and the 'song' is basically one verse, no real hook or anything all that memorable! Granted, when you open up the song with a Spongebob sample you might get some immediate attention, but the sad fact is that the content really isn't that interesting, a voice that sounds distressingly like Big Sean's and yet with cheaper vocal production and slightly more awkward flows, punctuated more by calls to free some of his friends from prison - which always rings weird when he references shooting people! And when you pair it with by a by-the-numbers flattened loop of synth and a sharper trap beat... look, this isn't very good, next...

65. 'Lemon' by N*E*R*D & Rihanna - you know, I'm genuinely curious how many people outside of those in the know really would get excited seeing an N*E*R*D song show up on the Hot 100 - and for the record, this is their first song in their entire fifteen-plus career years to ever hit the mainstream charts! But now, context: you might not recognize this group by the band name, but I guarantee you'll know two of the members: Chad Hugo and Pharrell Williams, otherwise known as The Neptunes, one of the biggest production duos of the past two decades. This was their funk rock band side project which won critical acclaim with the debut in 2002 and a surprising amount of commercial success - especially in the UK - but gradual diminishing returns with their next three albums throughout the decade, with plans to release a new album in January of next year, eight years after Nothing came out in November of 2010. And so with the inclusion of Rihanna to guarantee chart success - and the fact that N*E*R*D tend to be remembered pretty fondly by anyone who doesn't care about lyrics - we have 'Lemon'... and I'm not really sure how to feel about it, really. Seriously, as much as there is some bounce to the thicker trap beat and the faint drippy tinkle of melody around it and the vocal sample, repeated listens makes me wonder where the hell the rest of the song is, it almost feels unfinished... and that's before you get the switch to an entire different groove and hook when Rihanna shows up rapping. And look, I said it back when she was on 'LOYALTY.' with Kendrick Lamar, she's got the expressive sort of delivery that works for hip-hop, and she does just find with this sort of braggadocious content, easily more impressive than Pharrell who just can't quite pull off that sort of swagger against this production. Now normally this would be where I would rip on the writing - notoriously the worst thing about any N*E*R*D project - but the truth is that the lyrics are generally fine, avoiding the juvenile sexual content for some decent if unexceptional wordplay here. So yeah, this is pretty tolerable - wish the production felt like more of a full song, but as it is, I think I can dig it.

27. 'Call It What You Want' by Taylor Swift - the last of Taylor Swift's promo singles... and honestly, it's probably the one I like the most. The opening strings sample reminded me a little of the more opulent tones that crept through in the mid-to-late 2000s... shame it gets buried beneath a drippy trap knock with overblown synth warbles, hollow snaps, and a hi-hat tap that's way too dominant. But putting aside a potentially pretty melody that gets overshadowed, the content does feel a little more anchored in something that could be real, more of a straightforward love song that is trying to ignore every that everyone has done to Taylor Swift - /sigh - and telling the guy he doesn't need to 'save' her. And look, I appreciate her acknowledging that she makes the same mistakes every time with guys, but as I said in the review, what is going to make this situation any different, beyond a cutesy camaraderie where she 'trusts him like a brother'. But beyond that, it's hard not to feel that Taylor gets swallowed up by her own drab production here even despite a good cadence on the hook, as deliberately underperforming just doesn't net her a strong result. Not a bad track, but not exactly a memorable one either.

And then ends our week and... wow, that's a limp way to end this Billboard year! Best - and really not by much - is going to 'Lemon' by N*E*R*D and Rihanna for being a decently interesting tune, even though I'm looking forward to when the song is performed with instrumentation and actually feels finished. Worst... yeah, there was plenty of mediocre trap, but 'Wait' by Maroon 5 is easily the most limp for me, get that out of here. Like always, I'd love your feedback if you want me to continue this series or anything I might do to switch things up for 2018, where it looks like we're going to get a bunch of Eminem and Beyonce fighting it out with Taylor Swift... and I have no idea who I want to win.

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