Wednesday, January 10, 2018

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - january 13, 2018

So remember when I said last week I was expecting a slowdown... well, thanks to three factors I'd argue I was probably wrong in that department, because if you're looking a certain shifts in the charts, you might conclude it was a pretty busy. Now that's not entirely the case - indeed, look into the details and you'll see a pretty average or even slower week - but I would say it is more transitory, as the holidays rotate out for whatever's coming.

And nowhere do things appear more static than in our top ten, where somehow for another week 'Perfect' from Ed Sheeran and Beyonce holds the #1. And while its streaming does continue to show signs of weakness, with it holding the top spot on sales and the radio, I'm not seeing the immediate challenger... except that 'Havana' by Camila Cabello and Young Thug is making a serious play, rising up to #2 on stronger streaming and YouTube and not lagging that far on the radio - with the album dropping very soon, it could get the boost it needs. No such luck for 'rockstar' by Post Malone and 21 Savage - good - as it fell to #3 on sales weaknesses despite strengths in other categories, and on that bizarre note, we also saw a boost for 'Thunder' by Imagine Dragons up to #4 based upon sales gains that seemed to come out of nowhere. Granted, some of that is likely due to a more consistent radio presence than 'No Limit' by G-Eazy, A$AP Rocky and Cardi B at #5, which might have rebounded on streaming, but the radio and sales recovery were nowhere near what it needed. Compare this to 'Bad At Love' by Halsey, which unfortunately surged up to #6 thanks to consistently strong airplay and a streaming boost actually compensating for its weaker sales - even if you don't like it, it has a little more traction... something I can't really say about 'Too Good At Goodbyes' by Sam Smith, even as it's up to #7 despite awful sales thanks a big radio recovery. Hell, it took the spot of 'Motorsport' by Migos, Nicki Minaj and Cardi B at #8, although more of that might have to do with an awful sales week itself. The real big loser, though, was 'Gucci Gang' by Lil Pump down to #9, where not only where the sales even worse, it's also starting to lose streaming too - YouTube can't keep it afloat forever. And finally, likely holding the last bit of its relevance as the year turns over, 'Bodak Yellow' by Cardi B is at #10, because even though the radio is rotating it out, it's always made good numbers on sales and streaming - it is vulnerable, but thus far, it's got some stability.

And thus on that note, we move to our losers and dropouts... and here where I break the stunning news: we don't have any. Seriously, the dropouts were either Christmas music, Huncho Jack or 'The Race' by Tay-K, and none of that is remotely relevant, and we literally did not have a single song to lose ten spots or more to qualify. And yet we had a significant number of returning entries and a lot of gains with strength in every category - which makes sense, given that Huncho Jack was mostly driven off of streaming and Christmas radio is a thing, especially on country stations. And thus while we got returns like 'Wanted You' by NAV & Lil Uzi Vert at 97 or 'When We' by Tank at 96 or 'Never Be The Same' by Camila Cabello at 71 with the upcoming record, the biggest songs re-entering were in country, with 'Broken Halos' by Chris Stapleton back to 91, 'All On Me' by Devin Dawson at 87, 'Heaven' by Kane Brown at 82, and - unfortunately - 'Female' by Keith Urban at 93. And following in the wake of last week, the gains either came with 2017 songs on a year-end final wind or rushing to fill the gaps for this year. In the former category, don't expect tracks like 'Feel It Still' by Portugal. The Man at 12 or 'Look What You Made Me Do' by Taylor Swift at 55 to stick around - you'd probably have better luck with viral successes like 'Krippy Kush' by Farruko, Nicki Minaj, Bad Bunny, 21 Savage and Rvssian continuing up to 75. But if you're looking for a radio rebound, it came in a huge way with country: 'Like I Loved You' by Brett Young up to 46, 'Yours' by Russell Dickerson up to 52, 'Round Here Buzz' by Eric Church up to 57, 'I Could Use A Love Song' by Maren Morris up huge to 62, 'Losing Sleep' by Chris Young to 63, 'Written In The Sand' by Old Dominion to 70, 'Five More Minutes' by Scotty McCreery up to 78, 'Legends' by Kelsea Ballerini to 79, and even crap like 'You Broke Up With Me' by Walker Hayes up to 67. Now it wasn't all country, but it'd be tough to define any consistent factor of the remaining gains, from 'Let Me Go' by Hailee Steinfeld, Alesso, Florida Georgia Line and Watt to 40, Latin tracks like 'Echame La Culpa' by Luis Fonsi & Demi Lovato to 64 and 'Mayores' by Becky G and Bad Bunny to 81, 'Too Much To Ask' by Niall Horan to 86, 'Juice' by Yo Gotti to 90, and even 'MIC Drop' by BTS and Desiigner to 66 - frankly, I'm stunned this has stuck around as long as it has.

But now to our new arrivals... and we've got a strange crop indeed, starting with...

100. 'Best Friend' by Sofi Tukker ft. NERVO, The Knocks & Alisa Ueno - do you ever look at a song like this and might think there are a few too many people involved? Seriously, both Sofi Tukker and The Knocks are American electronic producer duos, NERVO is a duo from Australia, and we're throwing in Japanese singer Alisa Ueno as well! Of course the larger question is if that many hands can make for a good song, especially if it was originally used in a commercial for the iPhone X... and I'm not remotely convinced it does. Yes, I will say I dig that thicker bass groove and blasts of horns against the noisier percussion, and I'll even excuse the pitch-shifted vocals from The Knocks or the multi-tracked vocals from NERVO... but what does Alisa Ueno add to this song besides non-rhymes and an increasingly clumsy flow? And furthermore, this is a song supposedly about friendship - does anyone else feel the groove here is way more dark and slinky than it needs to be? I dunno, it's not bad, but it feels overstuffed in an awkward way, and I'm not sure how long it'll ultimately stick with me.

95. 'The Greatest Show' by Hugh Jackman, Keala Settle, Zac Efron, Zendaya and The Greatest Showman Ensemble - okay, let me establish this right out the gate: I like musicals. I think I've said this before, but the added caveat is that I've seen a lot of musicals as well, and thus I know when things go off the rails. And when I heard a lot of the very negative buzz surrounding The Greatest Showman... well, let's just say I was looking to keep my distance. But we got four songs from this musical that charted this week, so let's start with the 'title track', for lack of better words. And look, I know that productions like this aiming for mainstream acceptance they need to sound 'modern' - but I'm sorry, do we really need a musical about P.T. Barnum - of which I've heard the original 1980 book - to take the overwrought hammering percussion over melody approach? For God's sake, Hamilton was a hip-hop musical and even there Lin-Manuel Miranda knew to ground his drumlines in rock-solid melodies. 'The Greatest Show', meanwhile, is a mess of bassy drums, trap snares, millennial whoops, arranged instrumentation that feels incredibly slapdash, and Hugh Jackman trying to handle flows that are the last thing that flatters his theatrical strengths. And it's not like the writing helps him here - sure, it's an overture track, but there's no distinct or interesting details to set the stage the way the best overtures bring! So yeah, not impressed at all, let's see how the rest go, but before we get to them...

92. 'Corazon' by Maluma & Nego do Borel - so if we're talking about reggaeton artists I tend to like a little more, I'd probably put Maluma reasonably high on the list, mostly because he trends towards more organic production and interesting subject matter... and yet in comparison to 'Felices Los 4', I'm not sure his work this time around connects. Yes, I like the acoustic guitar and what sounds like an accordion... but unfortunately the clunky reggaeton beat - this time accented with hollow scratches - drops in and the song can't help but feel less distinct, especially with the synth behind what counts as a hook behind Nego do Borel? And that's the other thing: putting aside this is a post-breakup song where he's clearly moved on to hook up with tons of other people - tough content to manage, let's get real here - the structure of this song feels bizarre, with the tradeoff of singers on the hook and awkward placement of the bridge not helping any sense of momentum. Again, like most Maluma songs it is listenable - he's got charisma and I'd take him over many of his peers - but like with most modern reggaeton, I question how much I'll remember it.

88. 'Never Enough' by Loren Allred - so here's a major criticism of The Greatest Showman from someone who knows the history: you tell part of the story of how Barnum brought renowned opera singer Jenny Lind to the states, and you don't use any of the arrangements or songs that Lind actually sang, songs that are likely in the public domain by now? Or hell, even put together a track with a classical arrangement? That's not to take away from Loren Allred, who is stepping into power ballad territory with remarkable poise, and it's hard to screw this up, especially with the strings and piano holding everything together? But beyond a solid arrangement and terrific delivery, the writing and an underwhelming ending don't come close to putting this on the level of a 'Let It Go', or any of Hamilton's best ballads, and that's not even touching even other contemporary musicals. Look, this is good, but with a little more creativity or something that played to what Lind made in the time, I think it could have been a lot more interesting.

85. 'Rewrite The Stars' by Zac Efron & Zendaya - so I've come around on Zac Efron. He may have started in some cringe-worthy territory, but he's got tremendous acting talent and underrated comic chops, the sort of genuine triple threat who I see getting real acclaim in the right roles. Hell, I'd say most of the same for Zendaya too, so putting them opposite each other here should be a breakthrough moments, and they do have good chemistry on this track and the harmonies aren't bad. But the problem, once again, is the material they're working with: from the fizzy swells of synths, gentle acoustics, and twinkling keys, and skittering percussion, it sounds like an instrumental jacked from Andrew McMahon In The Wilderness, and as much as he's proven to be a stand-up guy, he doesn't make interesting music! And what's exasperating is there was potential to this: the possibilities of an interracial relationship in the 1800s has tremendous dramatic stakes, but the book is too toothless to directly engage with the subject matter beyond broad symbolism! Again, it's not a bad tune at all, but this should have been so much better.

83. 'This Is Me' by Keala Settle & The Greatest Showman Ensemble - so this was the song that pegged as the breakout track from the musical - hell, it just won a Golden Globe, the big empowerment anthem from the Bearded Lady that shows how she'll stare her detractors in the face because this is her... and it's also hard not to see this as another pop self-esteem anthem, complete with a greater focus on percussion, millennial whoops, and oddly wonky snare progressions. And yeah, Keala Settle has a terrific voice and she's working her ass off to sell this, so why in the Nine Hells is there so much production gimmickry around her delivery, and when you couple it with lyrics that can feel maddeningly indistinct, it just doesn't stand out with the same power as it could. I get why award shows love songs like this - inspirational, modern without being challenging or interesting - but I'm sorry, everything I've heard from this musical thus far completely missed the mark, and when there's already a perfectly decent Barnum musical from the 1980s, I'll stick with that.

80. 'One Foot' by Walk The Moon - well, about damn time this crossed over! Seriously, this has been sitting just below the Hot 100 for months, and while I'll be the first to say that last Walk The Moon record wasn't all that good, when you compare them to the rest of the Hot 100, they are a welcome presence... even if it's hard not to slot them into a similar brand of mostly forgettable indie pop rock with a song like this, which has its own millennial whoops and wonky percussion groove and increasingly shrill pitch shifting, especially around that whistling post-chorus tone. And let's make this abundantly clear, even despite a decent guitar groove, it's not remotely the equivalent of a song like 'Shut Up And Dance', even despite wiry synth elements coming through for the foundation on the bridge. And yet, I think it's the lyrics that save this song, the blunt acknowledgement that even despite all the success be it in life and love, they've got no firm foundation for the future, and thus the only way to go is forward - because what else can they even do? Again, I'm not really crazy about this, but it's fine enough, hope it does okay.

35. 'Finesse' by Bruno Mars & Cardi B - and now we've got the biggest new track of the week, the sort of collaboration that probably gives label executives erections you can see from space - and yet I was looking forward to it too, a track that brings back new jack swing with two artists who could conceivably stick the landing, one of the better songs from 24K Magic. And... yeah, surprising nobody, Cardi B stuck the landing with her verse, hopping on an old-school 80s hip-hop flow with impressive poise with the sort of effortless flexing that doesn't feel forced at all. Yeah, you could make the argument that her verse sounds tacked on to the intro or could have been integrated a little more into the hook or other verses, but as the guest MC hammering out a flow that feels both modern and fitting to the era, she stuck the landing! And while my issue with some of the lyrics of 'Finesse' is still here - acknowledging your lyrics don't make sense isn't quite enough to excuse it - but Bruno has so much damn charisma it's almost hard to care! And when you couple it with slamming new jack swing, this is so much up my alley I can't help but like it!

And yeah, 'Finesse' is easily the best of this week, but Honourable Mention... it's narrow, but I'm giving it to 'Rewrite The Stars' by Zac Efron and Zendaya, if only because of some great chemistry. Worst... yeah, 'Greatest Show' takes that, but Dishonourable Mention is going to 'Corazon' by Maluma and Nego do Borel - it's pretty forgettable, and I expect more from a Maluma song than this. Overall, bit of an odd week, but with Camila Cabello on the way, this could get very interesting fast - stay tuned!

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