Wednesday, March 14, 2018

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - march 17, 2018 I said last week that most of my general predictions surrounding the week came true about the expected activity, and while I also did say that I expected Meghan Trainor to break through this week, I also made the statement that I didn't expect much else to happen. And boy, was I wrong in the worst possible way, as despite a few very select gems, XXXTENTACION and Chris Brown of all people showed up to remind me that the charts might just be at their most intolerable since 2016, and there's far from enough good songs to save them!

But before we get to that, we have our top ten, where for another week 'God's Plan' by Drake squats at the top, and really, considering how it still rules sales and streaming and especially YouTube, even if there are other songs on the radio that have slightly eclipsed it, I don't see what seriously challenges it at this point. 'Perfect' by Ed Sheeran isn't going to get there, rising up to #2 even as its sales and radio drop off, and neither is 'Finesse' by Bruno Mars and Cardi B up to #3, riding strong radio and YouTube even as sales and streaming continue falling off. Hell, the only reason either song gained positions are the losses for 'Psycho' by Post Malone and Ty Dolla $ign, down off the debut as predicted to #4 because while streaming stayed strong, sales fell off hard and radio just didn't pick up enough. Of course, that places it in striking contrast to 'Meant To Be' by Bebe Rexha and Florida Georgia Line, which is now a pop radio powerhouse more than I think anybody expects or wants up to #5, just goddamn wonderful. Hell, it overtook 'Havana' by Camila Cabello and Young Thug down to #6, as despite good YouTube its radio is just in freefall... and yet it kept above 'Look Alive' by BlocBoy JB ft. Drake down to #7, which might have streaming and YouTube but pretty much nothing else. And now we have our first new entry to the top ten: 'The Middle' by Zedd, Maren Morris and Grey at #8, which has the sales and pop radio to have staying power in the top ten despite being thuddingly mediocre at best, although the lack of consistent streaming will really hurt it long-term. Then holding its spot at #9 we have 'Pray For Me' by The Weeknd and Kendrick Lamar, which might not have huge sales or streaming but does have enough weight across the board to be a player and could rise a little higher if radio traction holds. And finally, somehow getting back in the top ten we have 'Stir Fry' by Migos, which apparently had a good week on streaming and radio could potentially be getting on-board? Well, better late than never, I guess.

And on that happy note, losers and dropouts! And yes, the big news is that 'Bodak Yellow' by Cardi B is finally gone, but let's not forget that she took a lot of crap out wit her, like 'You Broke Up With Me' by Walker Hayes and 'KOODA' by 6ix9ine and 'Codeine Dreaming' by Kodak Black and Lil Wayne - also 'Yours' by Russell Dickerson, but let's get real, nobody ever really cared about that song. But 6ix9ine had a pretty bad week as a whole - 'GUMMO' took significant losses to 28 and 'KEKE' with A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie and Fetty Wap fell hard to 90. And along that line, I can't really say I'm surprised by any of our big losers this week: 'How Long' by Charlie Puth is down to 37 as it ends out its respectable chart run, 'River' by Eminem and Ed Sheeran continues to tank in mediocrity at 61, '44 More' by Logic loses out to 65 as the hype ebbs - although expect a rebound next week with Bobby Tarantino II - 'X' by ScHoolboy Q, 2 Chainz and Saudi down to 89 and 'Paramedic!' by SOB x RBE at 92 is thanks to Black Panther fading further, and 'Tell Me you Love Me' by Demi Lovato is continuing to collapse to 94. The only two songs I can't really explain here are 'El Farsante' by Ozuna and Romeo Santos down to 64 - and I'm not complaining it's falling back either - and 'Candy Paint' by Post Malone losing all of its gains down to 82... disappointing, but with Post Malone I expect disappointment these days.

Now our list of gains and returning entries is much more sparse, the only of the latter category being 'The Champion' by Carrie Underwood and Ludacris hitting 70 because apparently it sold a bunch more again along with a music video, although as a whole the song remains harmless and hasn't crossed over. And gains... well, 'Ric Flair Drip' by Offset and Metro Boomin is up to 16 because of the video, 'This Is Me' from The Greatest Showman is up because of the Oscars, and 'When We' by Tank rebounded to 79 because... I honestly have no idea. Maybe that remix with Ty Dolla $ign and Trey Songz, it's hard to tell with songs this low on the Hot 100.

Anyway, we actually have a pretty hefty list of new arrivals, so let's start on the side of quality with...

100. 'Broken Clocks' by SZA - okay, I'll admit it: in the list of singles being released from Ctrl, 'Broken Clocks' is one that I understand, but not exactly one I'm crazy about. Now it's not bad: I like SZA's exasperation at a love that's taking entirely too much time in her life, and the melodic foundation in the cloud of vocal samples is nice... but am I the only one who finds the production underpolished, from the cheap-sounding trap snares to how it seems like SZA's voice keeps peaking in the mix? Look, I'll freely admit I've got more of a preference for SZA's vocals against more organic production that gives her the space she needs, but I'm also aware the radio will never play it, so with this... yeah, it's pretty good, but it's not really a song I'm drawn back to in the same way.

99. 'I Lived It' by Blake Shelton - so my big complaint with this song when I reviewed Texoma Shore was if Blake Shelton wanted to make a very detailed song about how some people don't understand the rural experience, maybe it would have been nice to at least have a damn writing credit on the song! But the truth is that otherwise, 'I Lived It' is fine - grounded in acoustic guitar and touches of pedal steel, with real detail fleshing out the memories, and Blake Shelton stepping back towards a neotraditional sound sounds natural and obvious. I will say some of the acoustic guitar pickups can feel mixed a little too prominently to blend all that well, but that's nitpicking, and really just a factor of me wanting to like this pivot in the right direction more than I do. But yeah, I can't complain about this, it's pretty good too.

98. 'Sativa' by Jhene Aiko ft. Swae Lee - and I thought I was the only one who gave a damn about Jhene Aiko's Trip... and yet here we are, with her collaboration with Swae Lee notching a spot and one I really don't expect to last, even despite that remix with Slim Jxmmi that's not worth anybody's time whatsoever. And again, this is not one of the best songs off of Trip - the melodies are desaturated against the clicking flutters of the percussion and bass, Swae Lee isn't exactly impressive on the hook, and as much as I love Jhene Aiko's beautifully subtle delivery, the content isn't exactly anything beyond languid flexing and getting high. But it's one of the few songs that feels organic enough to capture that contact high, which is one of the reasons I don't mind it in the slightest. Again, compared to tracks like 'Overstimulated' or 'When We Love' or 'Jukai' or 'Ascension', 'Sativa' is a lesser cut, but hey, it's Jhene Aiko, I'll take what I can get!

96. 'Tempo' by Chris Brown - so here's a question: in the era of R&B singers male and female who can deliver emotive subtlety with their vocals - a trend which for the most part I like - why in the Nine Hells is Chris Brown still around, let alone dropping songs from that triple album Heartbreak On A Full Moon that I'm fairly certain even the most diehard members of Team Breezy thought was too much? Now in fairness, 'Tempo' is far from the worst Chris Brown song I've ever heard - his half-mumbled, autotune-assisted triplet flow is tolerable against the watery touches of guitar, even if the bassy percussion and wiry synth choices brings the furthest thing from a stable groove, which you'd think you'd want for a sex song - but then we get to the content... and by the Nine Hells, why does Chris Brown keep defaulting to using the term 'beating it up' when it comes to sex? I get it, it's been nine years, nobody cares anymore, but he has to be aware that it's the sort of subconscious association that a discerning audience can't ignore and one that would be so easy to exclude on an otherwise by-the-numbers and forgettable sex song! Whatever, it's Chris Brown, I have to hope nobody cares anymore at this point, let's move on!

91. 'Stranger Things' by Joyner Lucas & Chris Brown - okay, serious question: for as much as newcomer Joyner Lucas has been trying to establish his slightly more conscious brand - solidified by 'I'm Not Racist', a well-intentioned but controversial song that did start some interesting conversations when it went viral last - why did he think the next best step in his career was to collaborate with Chris Brown? Forget everything Chris Brown has said and done for a second, his star has faded considerably in the 2010s, it's not the immediate shot of life that could come with working with someone actually relevant! Anyway, they teamed up for this... and as much as I don't want to say it, but considering the entire song was Joyner Lucas and Chris Brown trading bars, I was stunned how well Brown held his own. Yeah, I'm not a fan of the hollowed, watery four-note synth line behind them when you dig into the content I'm not sure how anyone can justify some of Brown's lines about women or spanking his competition - or how he's 'comin like Eenie Meenie Miney Moe' - and then you have Joyner Lucas making a Mike Posner reference of all things and then saving money with Geico... so yeah, not exactly great bars here, but Brown's arguably more convincing in this mold than any other and it's not like there isn't creativity in some of the punchlines, and with the stronger sense of melody I can see myself remember them a fair bit more. So yeah, I'm not going to precisely call this good, but it's not bad, and I can respect that.

80. 'X' by Nicky Jam & J. Balvin - so I was hearing rumblings that there were production elements on this song that were awful... and yeah, that synth horn that dominates most of the song is a special kind of wimpy and flat, better suited for more intimate production you might hear from Eric Taxxon than two big names in reggaeton who clearly did not care enough to try against the utterly forgettable percussion and lyrics that insist there really is some greater connection despite suspicions from everyone else... Yeah, you keep telling yourself that. Otherwise, this is a meandering and utterly uninteresting tune that might not be as grating as 'Mi Gente', but certainly is more pathetic. With any luck, this'll be gone soon - pass!

76. 'Powerglide' by Rae Sremmurd & Juicy J - am I the only one who gets the impression the mainstream public might be done with Rae Sremmurd? Seriously, the rollout to whatever the hell SremmLife 3 is supposed to be has been a mess of contradictions, over-promises, and delayed release dates, and the promise of that being a triple album certainly doesn't make me feel better! But fine, there was buzz suggesting this was a tolerable tune and Juicy J can be fun when he wants to be... and I'm not impressed. Let's make this clear, the reason this song will get big at all will be off of the production - which is blatantly sampled from 'Side 2 Side' by Three 6 Mafia... which by the standards of crunk was also coasting on good production, especially when it came to DJ Paul and some really ugly lyrics. But can we really say Rae Sremmurd's brand of hedonism is much better, especially considering how Slim Jxmmi and Swae Lee have so little weight in their delivery with their voices cracking on every high note and Swae Lee in particular can't tell the difference between a manicure or a pedicure or bother to rhyme? And while I'd like to say Juicy J saves the song, he references Three Little Pigs and then says the girl squirts on the lens of his camera while in the car - so that's a thing. Look, I've heard worse from these guys and the production and hook are fine, but if I want this brand of sleaze, at least in crunk the vocals had some bass and could sell it, and as of yet... no, Rae Sremmurd aren't doing it for me.

47. 'Changes' by XXXTENTACION - but circling back to discussions of woman-beaters, we now have the first of two songs from XXXTENTACION... and are we seriously doing this? A beyond-basic piano line paired with bad autotuned crooning, an uncredited PnB rock adding nothing, and a few words describing how she's changing and he can't stand it - and that's it. Seriously, there's nothing else here - for god's sake, I've heard interludes and unproduced demos that have more going on than this! No joke, this is the first song where I've felt that if I had a keyboard in front of me, I could recreate it in less time than it'd take to edit this! And it's breaking the top 50 because its fundamental appeal is that anyone could make what XXXTENTACION is doing to be successful and that makes it relatable or something - so here's my follow-up: if it's so easy to do, can someone come in and replace this basic, amateurish junk, please?

46. 'No Excuses' by Meghan Trainor - okay, when I was asking for a replacement, I wasn't explicitly referring to this... gah, whatever, apparently this is the lead-off single to Meghan Trainor's third record and considering how Thank You didn't capture the zeitgeist as much as her debut did, I was curious where she was going to pivot with this... and I'm not sure where we landed with this. So let's get the fundamental contradiction out of the way with this tune: if you're using this tune to demand respect from someone to which you say you're showing the same, you kind of lose some of that when it's pretty clear the tone of a track like this drips with condescension. But the lyrics and Meghan Trainor herself really aren't what's throwing me about this, that comes in the production: the jaunty guitar that feels isolated and gated at every angle against the swells of rubbery, gurgling synth, stuttering bounces of percussion, and the backing vocals contributed from - no joke - her immediate family. I'm not saying it's precisely bad, but while there's always been a plastic sheen to Trainor's compositions, this one is the most obvious and clumsy, lacking some of that polish that she even has on worse songs to bring it together. In other words, to the surprise of nobody, I'm not really a fan - next?

43. 'Everyday' by Logic & Marshmello - so right now I'm seeing a lot of predictions for an album bomb off of Bobby Tarantino II, and from the streaming numbers... it's not guaranteed given the rest of this week, but I can see it happening. In the mean time he teamed up with Marshmello to release this and... man, Logic is not impressing me at all with this. Granted, a big part of this problem is how Marshmello's production desaturates any melody, shoves in a brittle trap skitter and uses this ugly flat oscillation to provide some form of texture, but did anyone want to hear Logic sing-rap over this really cheap-sounding, stuttering production with precious little detail about anything - you brag on the first verse about everyone knowing you, but any musings about losing it or facing the consequences of fame feel beyond basic, with no real momentum or personality! In other words I cannot say I'm displeased that nobody added Bobby Tarantino to my schedule if all it's going to be is this - not a fan, at all, next!

22. 'Top Off' by DJ Khaled ft. Jay-Z, Future & Beyonce - okay, I wasn't crazy about it when Jay-Z and Future collaborated with DJ Khaled on the same track, nor when Jay-Z and Beyonce did it, so let's dispense with the cheap marketing gimmicks - crediting yourself as 'B' is beyond pointless, Beyonce - and see if bringing all four of them together works... and honestly, I don't mind this. I'm not saying it's great - Future on the hook saying how he's 'hyphy' is seriously cringe-worthy, and putting his hook in a higher register was a mistake, and I can't help but feel the production could use a little more bombast beyond that thin tinkling oscillation, just to lean into those swells of horns and give the trap production a little more grit and bombast... but Jay-Z and Beyonce's luxury rap bragging at least has character and they both sound a fair bit more invested than the last time they teamed up with Khaled, and sometimes raw charisma can be enough to put it in stronger territory. So yeah, I have no idea how long it's going to stick around or if it's going to collapse like 'Shining' did, but I dug this more than I thought I would, pretty decent.

17. 'Sad!' by XXXTENTACION - whereas every time I hear this underperforming twit I can't help but feel increasingly disgusted. Seriously, can Slug or Sage Francis or B. Dolan or any real MCs coming from emo rap with actual technique curbstop this lazy garbage, where just like with 'Changes' we get a meandering hook, a single verse, and then back to the hook with the feeling that everyone's time was wasted. Now I will say there's a little more going on here compared to 'Changes' and it doesn't just feel like an unfinished demo your average cat could put together, but that's because it's playing into emo's tried and true 'ex-guilt-tripping angle' by threatening suicide if she ever leaves in the bluntest language possible. Again, that's it - we're dealing with an artist just as one-dimensional as 6ix9ine just miserable instead of angry, coasting on production that'll easily be more interesting than he will. And even there, the desaturated melody and drowned out drums don't add that much, and the ugly clumsiness of the plucked elements for the final hook only detract from a weak song. 

In other words, XXXTENTACION runs away with the worst entries, 'Changes' netting the worst of the week with 'Sad!' as Dishonourable Mention - both are grating, sloppy, atonal and lazy, but at least 'Sad!' sounds finished. Now for the best... it's honestly trickier here, as I wouldn't say there was a clean standout, but I'm giving best to 'Sativa' by Jhene Aiko and Swae Lee - surprise - and Honourable Mention to 'Broken Clocks' by SZA - yes, 'Top Off' was damn close to getting it if it wasn't for the 'hyphy' reference, thanks Future! But it doesn't exactly look good with a possible Logic mixtape bomb on the horizon, so stay tuned for that...

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