Thursday, January 18, 2018

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - january 20, 2018

I feel like this week is close to the flip side of the coin to the last - and I'm honestly not sure if that's better overall. Where last week the Top 10 was fairly static with a huge amount of upward movement and no significant losses - with a relatively small number of new arrivals - this week the top ten saw major disruption, the gains were pretty modest, and the losses and dropouts were quite significant... all with a relatively small number of new arrivals. Now, whether this makes this week better remains to be seen, but I'd argue it does seem to be a return to form, and thus is a little more interesting overall.

Of course, 'interesting' should be qualified when we take a look at our top ten, because for yet another week 'Perfect' by Ed Sheeran holds that slot. And I know I've said it every week, but if it's not out next week it'll be damn close - it might have more airplay and streaming and sales than ever, but I'd put money on 'Havana' by Camila Cabello ft. Young Thug moving up from #2. Yes, the streaming is down and radio seems to have peaked, but it might just get the sales boost it needs off the album to go to #1. Of course, slamming into the conversation as our first new top ten arrival we have 'Finesse' by Bruno Mars and Cardi B at #3 - and really, with those streaming numbers and how it has surged on the radio and sales, it's probably neck and neck with Havana, even if the YouTube numbers can't quite keep up. It certainly bowls over 'rockstar' by Post Malone and 21 Savage down to #4, knocking it off the top spot on streaming even as its sales have declined and its radio wavered all week. Not quite the case for 'No Limit' by G-Eazy ft. A$AP Rocky and Cardi B at #5 - yeah, the sales aren't good, but it's facing the bizarre case of so many radio hits declining past it that it kept its spot. Now 'Thunder' by Imagine Dragons was not one of them despite being down to #6 - mostly because even as its radio and sales decline that's really all it has right now - and nor was Halsey's 'Bad At Love' to #7, still gaining on the radio but not enough of a sales margin to get higher. Hell, nor was 'Too Good At Goodbyes' by Sam Smith, down itself to #8 as it hit its radio peak with weaker streaming and sales to boot. And then we get our second new top ten entry and one I don't bet will last: 'Filthy' by Justin Timberlake at #9. Now I'll be talking about this song at length a bit later, but suffice to say it got here on big sales and impressive amounts of radio pickup... although given its tone I can't imagine it's getting high callout scores and I don't think it'll last once the hype fades. And that leaves us with 'Motorsport' by Migos, Nicki Minaj & Cardi B at #10, which even as it declines across streaming and sales, the radio seems to be finally getting on board - too little, too late.

And on that promising statement, our losers and dropouts - and we had some big ones in the latter category, most of which have finally hit the end of their run - like 'Look What You Made Me Do' by Taylor Swift or 'What About Us' by P!nk or 'Fuck Love' by XXXTENTACION and Trippie Redd - or sputtering out early, like 'Light It Up' by Luke Bryan and 'Dusk Till Dawn' by Zayn & Sia... and really, for the majority of these, good riddance. And I'm generally okay with most of our losers here too, starting off with the gains running out of steam, like 'Juice' by Yo Gotti back down to 100, or 'Mayores' by Becky G and Bad Bunny to 94, or 'Krippy Kush' by Farruko, Nicki Minaj, Bad Bunny, 21 Savage and Rvssian to 89 - man, not a good week for Bad Bunny here! Then we have songs with a little more longevity sputtering out: 'I'll Name The Dogs' by Blake Shelton to 66, '1-800-273-8255' by Logic ft. Alessia Cara and Khalid to 44, and - finally - 'Believer' by Imagine Dragons to 30, a song I may not have hated as so many other critics but one I'm thoroughly sick of now. Finally, we have 'Never Enough' by Loren Allred sputtering down to 99 off its debut and '...Ready For It?' by Taylor Swift crashing to 80 - not exactly a good week for Taylor Swift here either.

But now to our gains... and outside of 'Beautiful Trauma' by P!nk returning back to 95, it's a weird collection here. I've already mentioned the big jump for 'Finesse', but I'm not sure we should ignore 'River' by Eminem and Ed Sheeran up to 32 - if this gets a video, I have the feeling it'll get a lot bigger. Then we have two songs that got boosts thanks to what must be sales discounts: 'Best Friend' by Sofi Tukker, NERVO, the Knocks and Alisa Ueno to 86, and 'Tell Me You Love Me' by Demi Lovato to 55 - really, they've got nothing else here! Then we have 'Heaven' by Kane Brown up to 70, also off of good sales, and 'This Is Me' by Keala Settle up to 64 as The Greatest Showman track that seems to have some staying power... I'm not all that impressed, but it's not a bad tune. What catches more of my interest is 'Stir Fry' by Migos up to 72 - it's got that on-demand streaming traction, this could be a hit, and it's probably one of the most enjoyable Migos songs I've heard to date.

So okay, that was pretty quick... and we only have six new arrivals, unfortunately starting off with...

98. 'Red Roses' by Lil Skies ft. Landon Cube - another week, another trap mixtape with buzz that notches two songs on the Hot 100 that presuming they don't stick around - and they often won't - I won't remember in less than a day. And considering the bad buzz surrounding Lil Skies, I didn't have expectations at all for this... and yet I'd probably say this is above average. Part of this is that Lil Skies has a better grasp for melody than most of his peers and plays his languid, autotuned flow pretty well against the slightly brighter key progression and by the numbers trap beat... although I will say it clashes with the blown-out vocals from Landon Cube that are significantly sloppier and don't remotely fit against this production. I guess if I were to have an issue it'd come in the writing - not that it's precisely bad, although the content is bog standard weed, sex, and shooting snitches, but it's more because Lil Skies doesn't really modulate or shift things up for his hook, which leads to all of it running together. I dunno, it's fine enough and I'd definitely take this over most of the trap stuff that gets airplay, but I wouldn't say it's anything all that special.

92. 'I Miss You' by Clean Bandit ft. Julia Michaels - okay, let me get this straight: Zara Larsson's 'Symphony' sits just below the Hot 100 for the majority of 2017, and yet right out of the gate this lands on the Hot 100? Are we seriously going to continue enabling Julia Michaels here? Now granted, this isn't precisely a bad song as Julia Michaels reminisces on a relationship she misses with the frail insincerity that characterizes all of her writing - although again, the problem isn't that she writes a song like this, but that her content doesn't really modulate from this tone and her drippy delivery clumsily assisted with pitch-correction doesn't help. But what might be worse is the production: I generally like Clean Bandit's greater integration of bright strings with their chipper electronics, but with the very prominent snare, warbling vocal sample, it's a way brighter presentation that Michaels is trying to deliver with her melancholic delivery and intimate focus in her writing. It just clashes in an awkward way, maybe a little more agreeable than 'Issues' because of a good melody and some actual groove, but not better than 'Symphony' and not exactly a collaboration I see myself revisiting any time soon.

85. 'Nowadays' by Lil Skies ft. Landon Cube - so this is the second time I've heard Lil Skies and... again, I'm not sure why there's been so much negative backlash, because this isn't half bad either. Yeah, I don't like the faster flow on the pre-chorus, it spoils a pretty decent bounce going into the hook, but I dig the clear synth line playing off the piano and the warping g-funk textures touching against the trap skitter. It fits the slightly unsteady vibe of distrust that permeates a world flipped by success. Again, I'm not exactly wowed by any of the content, but with Landon Cube downplaying to match Lil Skies' intensity, this is very listenable and probably even likable. Yeah, like with 'Red Roses', I don't mind this at all - pretty solid.

82. 'For You (Fifty Shades Freed)' by Liam Payne & Rita Ora - I had no expectations with this, and really, could you blame me? I've probably been more favourable to Liam Payne than most given his easy swagger and comfort in modern pop, but the last thing I'd want to hear him do is hop on the typical desaturated Fifty Shades tune for a ballad with Rita Ora of all people. And yet that's not what we got, much to my amazement: instead it's a big late 80s-inspired power ballad with a huge synth melody, snaps that build into a glossy acoustic groove, and huge spiky percussion that Rita Ora can handle pretty damn well. Unfortunately Liam doesn't quite handle it as well - he just doesn't have the forceful pipes of someone like Harry Styles who could coast on this, which means Rita Ora kind of dominates it. On top of that, some of the more flattened synth leads on the final section don't quite accentuate either singer - the entire song has the feel of being overproduced but kind of underwritten for this sort of love song - the writing doesn't really stand out or punch. Still, for this sort of pop song, it's not half bad in the slightest, I'll take it.

43. 'All The Stars' by Kendrick Lamar & SZA - so buzz going into this track was... muted, to say the least. I mean, given how damn great 'Doves In The Wind' was on SZA's Ctrl, I was surprised that this collaboration wasn't getting the same hype... and yeah, I kind of see why. This is the lead-off single to the Black Panther soundtrack, and with the thicker synth groove and strings - which actually comes from a Flume sample, believe it or not - it's a lot more reminiscent of the pop songs where Kendrick always seems to tune out, although I will say his verse is a little tighter here and after the beat gets a little heavier for the hook the song actually gets some momentum. Where things get a little dicier comes in the writing and... look, I can appreciate that SZA and Kendrick probably weren't allowed to get more specific and the distrustful paranoia in any possible connection might hold parallels to how Wakanda embraces with the wider world, but it does feel thinner than it probably should. I dunno, it's not bad by any means, but i'm not really grabbed by it either.

9. 'Filthy' by Justin TImberlake - this has been long in coming - and when I say that, I mean the backlash en masse towards Justin Timberlake, because he's skated away from real consequences for a long time. It wasn't his career that suffered with the Janet Jackson stunt - even if it was preplanned in 2004 he certainly left to twist in the wind - or the audacity of dissing Prince with 'Give It To Me', mostly because his music and charisma have been potent enough to get past it. But at the same time you know that the second he slipped there were plenty of people with knives out if he failed, and for so many, 'Filthy' was the moment they turned. Indeed, I was getting messages ahead of time gleefully wanting me to tear this apart... and yet I'm not going to do that. Yeah, I'll be in the minority on this, I don't hate this song nearly as much as so many do, mostly because - ironically - it reminds me a lot of a modern Prince song with the jagged funky bass playing against the loud warping synth, tight beat, and howls of guitar. I will say that the more the stuttering keening noises disrupt the back half of the song the less it works, and I'm not wild by how the more bombastic guitar segments are shoved in, particularly on the bridge, and when you consider that Timberlake is interpolating the vocal melody line for 'Gin & Juice' on the verses and that the lyrics aren't precisely interesting or filthy enough to earn the title... okay look, I'll be the first to say it's not a good song, but it's tolerable, and it certainly leaves me curious to see what the hell will happen on that upcoming release. 

But no, for me it's not the worst of the week - that goes to 'I Miss You' by Clean Bandit and Julia Michaels, which may come together more on the compositional level but doesn't connect with its writing as a cohesive whole nearly as well. As for the best... I was tempted to give to a Lil Skies track, but I think it's going to 'For You (Fifty Shades Freed)' - not only one of the best songs from this damn franchise, but probably the most interesting thing Rita Ora has ever made and a pretty damn good pop song to boot. Not great, but certainly likable, and considering next week given the sales stats we're probably going to get a bunch from Camila Cabello... well, stay tuned. 

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