Wednesday, February 21, 2018

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - february 24, 2018

This is one of the weeks where everything seemed muted - I made predictions about what was coming, and while most of those predictions came to pass, the impact was less than expected. Sure, I was planning for the Black Panther soundtrack to make an impact, but it wasn't much of an album bomb, and there were larger debuts that disrupted the top 10 and Hot 100 more. Not precisely bad, sure, but in a year where I have felt oddly disconnected with a lot of the songs that have shown up, it leaves me with a very weird feeling.

Granted, most of this is not helped by our top ten right now - and no, I'm not going to complain that 'God's Plan' by Drake is still dominant at #1. Given how damn huge its YouTube and streaming have been, along with consistently strong sales and big radio gains, it doesn't have any real challengers right now. And hell, at least for this week 'Perfect' by Ed Sheeran isn't going anywhere either at #2 - still holding the top on the radio despite losing spins, strong sales, and streaming isn't bad either... although with radio diminishing, it could face that challenge from 'Finesse' by Bruno Mars and Cardi B at #3, which has big enough streaming, finally picked up some sales, and is narrowing that airplay gap to be a serious contender. None of this I could say about 'Havana' by Camila Cabello and Young Thug, as strong YouTube, good sales, and radio momentum keep it afloat and above 'rockstar' by Post Malone ft. 21 Savage at #5, which had a rough week of losses across the board. This puts opposite our first new arrival to the top 10: 'Look Alive' by BlocBoy JB ft. Drake, a song that I'll talk about more in greater detail, but blew up on YouTube, streaming, and sales... and given that it's got no serious radio traction, I'm not sure how long it'll last. At least it's above 'Meant To Be' by Bebe Rexha and Florida Georgia Line at #7, which with a particularly good sales week and decent radio it can compensate for weak streaming, just goddamn wonderful. Hell, that put it above 'New Rules' by Dua Lipa down to #8, but given as it stalled out on radio, I'm not entirely surprised - not in free fall, but it's only a matter of time. I'd argue it's a fair bit more vulnerable than 'All The Stars' by Kendrick Lamar and SZA, which cracked the top 10 at #9 thanks to the Black Panther surge but also enough streaming and radio to have some momentum for itself. Finally, we have 'Stir Fry' by Migos clinging to #10... and really, it's a miracle it held on that long, given how all it really has is streaming at this point.

And on that promising note, losers and dropouts! Not really much in the latter category here regardless of genre - 'Mayores' by Becky G, 'Losing Sleep' by Chris Young, 'Like I Loved You' by Brett Young, and 'Diplomatic Immunity' by Drake - but our losers look a little more intriguing. For starters, it was another bad week for Justin Timberlake, as 'Say Something' with Chris Stapleton stumbled to 31 and 'Filthy' plummeted down to 90 - and in a similar mediocre note, both 'This Is Me' and 'Rewrite The Stars' from The Greatest Showman are down to 83 and 100 respectively. Then there's 'Beautiful Trauma' by P!nk losing all of its gains to 88, 'One Foot' by Walk The Moon utterly collapsing to 87, 'Echame La Culpa' by Luis Fonsi and Demi Lovato fading to 79, and 'IDGAF' by Dua Lipa sputtering out at 99. At least there were some bad songs getting shoved out too, as 'KEKE' by 6ix9ine, A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie and Fetty Wap was pushed to 77 and 'End Game' by Taylor Swift, Future and Ed Sheeran continues down to 65. Really, the only song exiting with any sort of dignity is 'Too Good At Goodbyes' by Sam Smith dipping to 39 - and given its longevity, it's probably gone soon.

Now to our gains and returning entries... and again, on weeks with an album bomb you don't typically get much of either, but given that didn't really happen we actually have a decent crop. In the latter category we had 'When We' by Tank come back to 97 and thanks to Fifty Shades Freed we had 'For You' by Liam Payne and Rita Ora back at 76... frankly, I'm fine with both of these. Our gains, though, are more of a mixed bag: I already mentioned 'All The Stars', but 'King's Dead' by Jay Rock, Kendrick Lamar, Future and James Blake also got the Black Panther boost to 38, probably helped by the video as well. Then there's 'Whatever It Takes' by Imagine Dragons up to 75 - it's got radio and sales traction, this song is going to be a thing - 'Dura' by Daddy Yankee getting a nice boost to 61, and most annoyingly, 'Wait' by Maroon 5 up to 43. Again, it's got radio and sales momentum, this will probably end up sticking around, just wonderful.

Anyway, let's move on to our surprisingly diverse list of new arrivals, starting with...

96. 'I Like Me Better' by Lauv - heh, I was wondering when this was going to cross over. Okay, for those of you who don't know, Lauv is an American pop artist who has picked up a little buzz oversees with this single and has a few writing credits on songs like 'No Promises' by Cheat Codes and Demi Lovato, and 'Boys' by Charli XCX... okay, not a great sign going in, but surely there was something likable here, even with that song title? Well, not really - Lauv as a singer isn't particularly distinctive, not helped by the vocal layering that piles his falsetto on top of his usual range, and the inclusion of that blocky nasal noise on the drop against an incredibly underweight fake snap and limp liquid guitar... yeah, not great. All the production has the feel of being recorded in a bedroom with no budget, and yet with none of the texture that would make that charming. On the plus side, I do see there being a little charm to the lyrics, tapping into how he builds more self-esteem when he's with his partner, but the more I go through this song the more undercooked they feel, more an underweight demo than a full song. So yeah, I'm not really crazy about this, but it'll be more interesting if it survives at all. 

91. 'Black Panther' by Kendrick Lamar - okay, so this is the intro to the Black Panther soundtrack with just Kendrick Lamar snapping for a verse... and look, I've been wanting to get on board with this project for several singles now, but the more I go through this track, the less it really resonates. It's clear that Kendrick is driving towards the personal parallel between being on top the game and T'Challa's own ascendency, but with the off-kilter piano breaking into a wonky percussion line before collapsing back again, the repetition of the word 'king' to the point of losing its punch, and the challenging questions of ancestry versus action that don't really hit a climax point... look, it's not bad, and I like the break into the jazzy horn elements at the end, but if this is heralding whatever else is coming on this project, I can't help but feel a little worried.

72. 'Friends' by Marshmello & Anne-Marie - so I've generally been more tolerant of the singles Marshmello has pushed than most, as he's gotten better than expected work out of Migos and Selena Gomez, and 'Silence' with Khalid wasn't bad at all. But it's also rapidly becoming apparent that Marshmello's synth choices are pretty limited, and the drop on the hook of this song is all the more evidence: a flat, buzzy synth against trap skitters, gang vocals, acoustic guitar on the verses... and then the song warps into a shrill, oily, quasi-g-funk gurgle on the final hook that effectively killed any liking I might have had for it. Granted, it had an uphill battle regardless - I don't know who thought we as a society needed a 'friend zone' anthem where Anne-Marie literally spells out the word 'friends' on the hook, but it's just as sour and wonky as you'd expect this would be, especially when if this guy is showing up at her place at two in the morning, he's more stalker than just 'friend'! So yeah, of all the singles Marshmello has pushed thus far, this is easily the least likable - definitely would pass on this.

71. 'Big Shot' by Kendrick Lamar & Travis Scott - okay, the last time Kendrick and Travis Scott notched a big success story on the Hot 100, it was 'goosebumps', and that song was an underrated gem of a tune. And thus I was hoping this would be just as good... and immediately it wasn't a good sign when I heard Kendrick reinterpolating some of his own material off of that Rich The Kid song 'New Freezer' - come on, I get that this sort of trap hit can be undercooked lyrically, but that's just lazy, especially when there's a little more melody playing off the flutes and sweeping vocals off the blocky trap beat. Granted, it's not like Kendrick slowing down with all the pitch-shifting on his verse is all that good, or that his verse just feels undercooked as a whole, to the point where Travis Scott actually seems to be trying harder! And yeah, it's melodic and pretty catchy as a whole, but even if he uses collaborations with Travis Scott to slack off, I'm still not all that enthused to hear that.

67. 'Paramedic!' by SOB x RBE - okay, backstory here: apparently SOB x RBE is a west coast hip-hop collective of MCs and producers alike, and Kendrick Lamar brought them up for a hard-hitting banger on the Black Panther soundtrack along with Zacari to start things off. And when you have the blocky knock of the beat and slightly atonal clanking melody - even despite that odd piano shift on the third verse - it's clear all this is just flexing with Kendrick holding a pretty sparse hook. And for what it is, it's not bad at all - Lul G and Yhung T.O. are more melodic, Slimmy B and DaBoii are more aggressive, and while none of the bars really jump off the page and they all have their fair share of forced and dropped rhymes, they all do have charisma... although there's definitely a part of me that thinks if Kendrick had got BROCKHAMPTON to step up for a tune like this it could have been way more colourful and interesting, and that crew is certainly capable. As it is... yeah, pretty good, I'll take it.

63. 'The Ways' by Khalid & Swae Lee - okay, serious question: I get that Swae Lee is moving into a more melodic, maybe even R&B direction with his vocals, likely spurred on by his success with 'Unforgettable' last year, but who thought it was a good idea to put him on the same song as Khalid, who I'm not even a huge fan of but is operating on such a higher level of talent and presence and does it without a ton of autotune? Especially considering they got some groovier trap skitters with live bass and more brittle guitar touches courtesy of BADBADNOTGOOD, you'd think Khalid would be enough here, especially as this proves yet again when given production with some actual tempo he does well... but with the exception of the autotune abuse on the outro, Swae Lee actually does pretty decent himself, even if his willowy croon isn't far removed something The Weeknd could probably do better. Hell, even the content is pretty good, the sort of likable upbeat superhero love song where they try to serenade that 'power girl', which could really be about any number of the powerful female characters in Black Panther and it'd be applicable and still have some charm. Hell, of the songs from the soundtrack I've probably liked this one of the most thus far... so yeah, I dig it, let's see where it goes from here.

62. 'Plug Walk' by Rich The Kid - okay, why are we now suddenly giving Rich The Kid a push? He wasn't impressive in the slightest on 'New Freezer', and now he's got a second charting hit - apparently all thanks to on-demand streaming aka playlist placement, but folks are still seeing something in this guy... and I have to be honest, I'm still not hearing it. Desaturated keys against a lumbering trap beat, content that's formless flexing full of brand names and barely coherent bragging, and a flow that feels more basic and underweight than many of his contemporaries, with weak diction and no real intensity. In other words, another week, another trap song that I'll forget exists in a day - next!

49. 'X' by ScHoolboy Q, 2 Chainz & Saudi - okay, so this was the song debuting this week from Black Panther I was looking forward to - ScHoolboy Q always snaps when he needs to and 2 Chainz has been on a hot streak of verses, this was likely to be pretty solid... and yeah, it definitely is! I wasn't familiar with Saudi, but I thought his choice to keep parts of his verse in Zulu was a solid choice, especially as he's a decent rapper regardless even if his usage of autotune reminds me more than it should of Quavo. But bordered by Kendrick's hook, the more textured trap hi-hats against the faint melody and rumbling bass, ScHoolboy Q bringing some real punchlines to his flexing that actually complimented the vocal filters he used, and 2 Chainz riding the beat switch into what might just be the most ludicrous but fun verse on the song, this might just be more flexing, but on a pretty rough week, I'll take what I can get - solid tune, recommended!

6. 'Look Alive' by BlocBoy JB ft. Drake - and now we've got the big top 10 debut, a relatively unknown Memphis MC getting a Drake cosign and who according to Billboard has blown up most off of... viral dances? Oh no, we're not doing this again, Vine is dead, and just because Drake had a huge year in 2015 when those types of songs were at their peak doesn't mean we need him bringing that back! Now granted, I don't think that's really happening here, mostly because this song is more Drake's than BlocBoy JB's - he's got the hook and the first verse, and i can't say I'm all that impressed by BlocBoy JB regardless - his vocal tone reminds of 2 Chainz, but his ad libs feel increasingly clumsy and sloppiliy layered, especially with his basic, stuttered verses that don't really line up their syllables effectively so it feels like he's running out of space by the end of his bars. At least Drake is a little tighter with this hook against your basic minor-key piano progression and trap beat, but it's not like he's saying much that's all that interesting or hard-hitting... except of course where he lifted half his damn verse from Project Pat, another Memphis rapper! Seriously, how Drake thinks he can get away with openly lifting huge chunks of content from other MCs is mystifying, especially as he barely modulates to do them justice... but really, the larger problem with this track is that it's just forgettable - basic production, slapdash delivery, and content that's either underweight or cribbed from other rappers - pass!

So yeah, not exactly a great week, but I did find some songs I liked, it wasn't terrible: 'X' by ScHoolboy Q, 2 Chainz and Saudi is obviously getting the best, but Honourable Mention will go to 'The Ways' by Khalid and Swae Lee, definitely a nice surprise there. Worst... yeah, it wouldn't have been 'Friends' by Marshmello and Anne-Marie, but that final hook really killed it for me, with 'Plug Walk' notching Dishonourable Mention. Next week... honestly, I have no idea, unless we get a surprise drop it looks like the charts might be quiet for a bit, the release schedule looks pretty dry. We'll see, I guess...

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