Wednesday, April 11, 2018

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - april 14, 2018 know, there was a time when an album bomb happened it would at least slow existing traffic on the Hot 100. But since The Weeknd's new EP only had six songs - and seems like it's already vanishing from the cultural conversation given how flat and turgid it was - aside from every single song from it breaking we also had a pretty active week regardless - at least until the next album bomb with Cardi B, and I'd put a fair amount of money on that being far more disruptive.

But that's not saying we didn't have a shakeup, so let's start with the top ten - and yes, I know, 'God's Plan' by Drake is still at #1 and by sense of pure chart inertia I actually can remember the hook of it now... at the point where its spot on top looks the shakiest, thanks to losing the top spot in on-demand streaming, the weakest sales and streaming margins to date, and wavering sales. I would say this is bad news because that means 'Meant To Be' by Bebe Rexha and Florida Georgia Line could rise from #2, given how much it rules radio... but really, without more streaming, it's not getting higher, Drake will probably wind up replacing himself. But then we got the rise for 'Psycho' by Post Malone and Ty Dolla $ign up to #3 - sure, it got muscled back on streaming overall, but it had a good sales week and radio growth has been slow but steady. But now we've got the big debut: 'Call Out My Name' by The Weeknd smashes in at #4. I'll have more to say about the song much later, but it's got huge sales and streaming... and no radio at all. Seriously, if we've got a guarantee that this won't last in the top 10 for long, it's this. And yet it didn't seem to cripple 'Look Alive' by BlocBoy JB and Drake up to #5 thanks to holding its own on streams and good radio growth, or 'The Middle' by Zedd, Maren Morris and Grey up to #6 thanks to radio and shockingly strong sales. Nope, some of this was because 'Perfect' by Ed Sheeran is continuing to bleed in all categories down to #7, but more because 'Finesse' by Bruno Mars and Cardi B just collapsed this week down to #8, losing the top airplay spot and everything else draining with it - it might get a shot of life if the Cardi B album bomb really connects next week, but somehow I doubt it. Now we also saw 'Freaky Friday' by Lil Dicky and Chris Brown down to #9 - not fast enough, but YouTube is not dying here - and finally, a second new arrival in the top ten: 'Walk It Talk It' by Migos and Drake... okay, seriously? I get why it's here because of streaming, but it literally has nothing else and sounds like such a weak follow-up to 'Stir Fry', can we not have this become a serious hit?

Granted, when I take a look at our losers and dropouts, we've got a lot falling away with precious little that could replace it. Hell, in the latter category just this week we lost: 'No Limit' by G-Eazy, A$AP Rocky and Cardi B, 'LOVE.' by Kendrick Lamar and Zacari, 'Wolves' by Marshmello and Selena Gomez, 'MotorSport' by Migos, Nicki Minaj and Cardi B, 'GUMMO' by 6ix9ine, and those are just the songs guaranteed to make the year-end list. We also saw exits for 'Pick It Up' by Famous Dex and A$AP Rocky, 'Betrayed' by Lil Xan, and 'Rubbin Off The Paint' by YBN Nahmir - again. Now granted, I'm not really about to complain about our losers here: the best of them are 'Say Amen (Saturday Night)' by Panic! At The Disco off the debut to 86 and 'Lemon' by N*E*R*D and Rihanna to 48, and that's going to make the year-end list regardless. But I find it hard to complain that 'I Fall Apart' by Post Malone is down to 39, or 'All On Me' by Devin Dawson continues down to 75, or 'NBAYoungboat' by Lil Yachty and YoungBoy Never Broke Again faded to 98, or how YoungBoy Never Broke Again solo lost 'Outside Today' down to 54. But the true loser this week was XXXTENTACION, as 'changes' fell to 58 and 'Moonlight' dipped down to 71 - good.

But here's the larger question: what's replacing them? Sure, 'Broken Clocks' by SZA came back at 82 because she finally released a video, but beyond that? The two gains we got this week were both off of debuts: 'Japan' by Famous Dex rose to 53 and 'No Roots' by Alice Merton went to 84 - I'm optimistic, the song is genuinely terrific and it has good sales numbers, but it'll have to keep that up along with its fledgling radio to have success.

But now for the much meatier part of this week, the new arrivals, starting with...

100. 'Focus' by H.E.R. - so we've got a lot of R&B to get through this week, and in a nice change of pace we're not starting with The Weeknd. No, this is the breakthrough single from H.E.R., a California artist signed to RCA who released a collection of EPs over the past few years with this being her first single. And it's a pretty decent one - sure, the blocky bass and sparse trap skittering seems reminiscent of SZA, but the tightly multi-tracked cooing vocals almost remind me a little more of Ariana Grande or at the very least an artist with more restraint - and no, not just because they have songs with the same title, and this is way better anyway, especially against that fluttering backing melody. The lyrics... well, I wouldn't say I'm incredibly impressed in its longing for this guy, it can feel a tad underwritten, but I do like how she mentions how this guy does indeed provide for her, but that doesn't take the place of his actual time and attention. As a whole, it does carry some welcome maturity and gravitas... so yeah, I'm down for this, good song.

96. 'Proud' by 2 Chainz ft. YG & Offset - okay, i was really hoping that after his lackluster performance on Cardi B's new record YG would be able to redeem himself here... and yes, his verse is better here, but I'm still not all that impressed by either him or Offset telling stories about how all the trapping was to make their mommas proud, especially when so much of that involves shooting people! Granted, I wasn't crazy about all the autotune drizzled on Offset's voice anyway - or how he says he was wearing the same clothes as his momma - but that's more because 2 Chainz probably does the most here, riding the low roiling synth and wheedling rattles with the most ease and comfort... even if he opens up his verse by saying 'T.R.U. University' - when 'T.R.U' already means 'the real university'! But honestly, this has enough groove to be mostly tolerable and to everyone's credit the flexing at least has better context, even if so much of it is set against dismissing golddiggers, so I'm inclined to give it a pass... for now.

94. 'Woman, Amen' by Dierks Bentley - so let me get this straight: Kacey Musgraves drops one of the most critically acclaimed records of the year thus far, trumpeted as a mainstream crossover breakthrough - and yet country radio and streaming is still set on having all of their songs about women be sung by guys? Nothing against Dierks Bentley here, or even this song - sure, with the heavier percussion against the faster cloud of acoustic guitar and incredibly by the numbers melody it sounds a lot of like a slightly more organic High Valley track, and I don't know what the hell is going on with the multi-tracking on the bridge, the higher vocal line seems way too clean - but Dierks is a great singer and the sincerity in the songwriting is definitely credible. But still, I keep feeling there should be a firmer driving groove or a little more roiling firepower beyond what almost sounds like a tremolo progression on the bridge, and my points about Kacey Musgraves here still stand. It's decent, but we can do better.

92. 'Take Back Home Girl' by Chris Lane ft. Tori Kelly - okay, this is not what I meant when I said getting more women in country - you'd like to think those artists would actually be country singers, not leftovers from burning out in pop! Granted, I'd be hardpressed to call anything Chris Lane has done all that country either, so I'm not surprised he teamed up with Tori Kelly for this, especially with a flattened guitar lead that I could swear was pulled straight from a bad early 2000s R&B song, including the incredibly stiff percussion and synthetic vocal layering! What I couldn't help but find amusing was that for as much as Tori Kelly had a reputation for oversinging, any of her belting was confined midway to the back of the mix so not to get in the way of Chris Lane's pseudo rap delivery with little actual passion or intensity. Granted, this is a song all about Kelly being that 'take back home girl' - literally, they hammer that phrase into the ground by the first hook - but beyond a bunch of bro-country detail cliches, there's nothing else to hold onto. It's just kind of flavourless across the board, only distinctive for guitar tones that were done better a good fifteen years ago - next!

89. 'OKRA' by Tyler, The Creator - so I'll admit when I saw this song show up I was a little surprised - I'm still coming around to the possbility that Tyler, The Creator can get hits on the Hot 100 with his embrace of incredibly slick R&B textures, so I figured this would be another step into that lane... and boy, I was wrong! Yeah, this is the sort of bassy, swamped out rumble with Tyler flexing and flowing his ass off, with the only real melody coming on the shrill ascending synths and what sounds like rushes of ominous strings on the hook. And while I'd struggle to put this among his most textured and potent songs off Flower Boy, for a throwaway song Tyler manages to cram in the sort of hyper-detailed flexing against a genuine sense of danger, and makes rhyming about seeking out guys for sex as natural as what you'd hear in BROCKHAMPTON. So yeah, pretty damn solid song, not quite at the height of his best, but definitely something I can get behind, even if I sadly don't have expectations it'll stick around.

78. 'Boo'd Up' by Ella Mai - so now we've got our second new R&B singer, this one from the UK who was briefly on The X Factor before blowing up on Instagram and Soundcloud and getting signed to DJ Mustard's personal label. And then after touring with Kehlani, she dropped an EP over a year ago with this DJ Mustard-produced single finally landing on the Hot 100. And... look, I'm not denying it's got a certain smooth charm in the piano playing off the fizzy trap vibe and bright synth flourishes, but it seems like Ella Mai plays the lovestruck yearning of this song a little too cold and distant to really sell it, especially given how straightforward the writing is. It's certainly passable, sure, and the spoken word outro does help sell that balance she might be going for, but as such it falls into a weird emotional spot for me, not really click as well as it should. Not bad, but not really all that good or memorable either.

52. 'Privilege' by The Weeknd - okay, so we've got six Weeknd songs to get through, and since I already reviewed the EP, I'm going to aim to keep this pretty brief. This is the closing track of the project full of murky, grainy texture as he tries to keep a smile as he submerges back into empty sex and drug abuse, especially as he doesn't want to hear anything more about this ex... and you know, for the verse and pre-chorus I had hopes this would connect, but then we get these dank layers deepening his voice even as the mix drowns any brighter elements especially with such minimalist percussion... and none of it builds to any payoff beyond a muffled lo-fi piano ending. As an album closer, it was the natural but frustrating ending, but on its own it just feels like a throwaway, and an underwhelming one at that - next!

45. 'Medicine' by Queen Naija - and now we have our third new R&B star - and this one comes from YouTube of all places. Yeah, in between vlogs that have gone crazy viral over the past year, she's also decided to release this song - and let's get the obvious out of the way: this song is biting SZA's style hard, from the meandering melodic flow to the slightly unstable low-end trap groove to the slightly oily backing vocals. She just brings a little less of an edge to her delivery, which might her a tad more accessible... but she also doesn't have the pipes or raw presence SZA does, particularly evident by her belting. And when you consider a song like this is all about giving this guy a taste of his own medicine by cheating and seeking revenge... see, that's the thing, SZA has songs where she's placed in uncomfortable emotional situations analogous to this, but it doesn't come across as nearly as blunt or vindictive as it does here, and the delivery doesn't quite sell me on any subtlety like SZA would, or even bring the raw intensity of a K. Michelle. As it is... eh, not bad, but I'm not won over.

43. 'Hurt You' by The Weeknd ft. Gesaffelstein - look, there's a fair bit to like about this song - the popping groove, the swells of synth, the darker layering around The Weeknd's crooning as he warns her to stay away because they'll have sex if she shows up. But nearly all of the good elements come from other songs - the beat is sampled from both of The Weeknd's Daft Punk collaborations, his flow is interpolated from 'Pray For Me', and all Gesaffelstein adds are those goddamn airhorns synths on the outro. It's blatant recycling from better songs, and frankly, The Weeknd can do better. Certainly better than...

35. 'I Was Never There' by The Weeknd ft. Gesaffelstein - yeah, might as well put the blaring whistles of those airhorns right at the front of the damn mix before letting the rest of the mix curdle into dank, reverb-drenched darkness, that sets the mood. But really, all The Weeknd is doing here is wallowing in mindless sex and pointing a finger at his ex saying it's all her fault. Frankly, the only thing that saves this song is the beat switch to major keys on the bridge that actually picks up some glistening presence in those keys... before utterly squandering any sort of crescendo. Not quite the worst song on this EP, but man, it's close to it.

27. 'Wasted Times' by The Weeknd - okay, now we have a straight up sex jam with rickety percussion courtesy of Skrillex as he comes back to an old relationship and tries to inquire into her current status by playing on old chemistry. And you know, if the groove was more consistent I'd probably appreciate this more - but it fits the general clumsiness of the entire track, from the awkward structuring of the line 'you were equestrian' or those scratchy pitch-shifted vocals on the bridge or how 'his dick is still an option' or how he at least has some self-awareness in how this isn't really going to work. Really, it's that emotional undercurrent that somewhat holds this together... but even then, only barely.

26. 'Try Me' by The Weeknd - ah yes, the worst song on the EP - and yes, it's because of those cheap spurts of thin gurgling synth that run through entirely too much of the song, although the fact that it's about The Weeknd trying and mostly failing to come between Selena Gomez and Justin Bieber certainly doesn't help. And seriously, if you're stuck playing second fiddle to Bieber, especially considering how damn you're trying with the rumbling Mike Will Made It beat and increasingly ugly synth choices and a bridge that utterly runs out of lyrical ideas before dissolving into a mass of pitch shifting... yeah, no, pass!

16. 'Be Careful' by Cardi B - okay look, when I talked about this song in the Cardi B review, I tried to give it a fair pass. It's one of the few moments that tries to give her some more dimension to play with, where she cusses out an unnamed guy *coughOffset* for being unfaithful, and does some work to dig deeper into the insecurities that come when you get cheated on, which she hates that she even has because it's not rooted in her, but his inconsistencies. But for as promising as that is... the production is utterly flat with a really tepid sample against the synth melody, and the hook might somehow be worse, trying for a more melodic flow that just feels clumsy and limp. And if the hook is intended as some form of warning... there's no ominous presence or danger or mood to it that flows from the verses, and when you consider how invested she is trying to sell this, it just doesn't work. It's not precisely bad - again, there are signs of more dimension - but it's definitely a lesser cut, and knowing this might wind up a hit instead of better songs... yeah, not good.

4. 'Call Out My Name' by the Weeknd - and finally, The Weeknd unleashes his big breakup ballad about Selena Gomez and... no, I can't do it, I just can't. I'm not denying that the song has pomp and bombast - hell, it probably has more than 'Earned It', the song it's blatantly recycling - but when you consider the leaden synths and bass and the utter refusal to hit harder beyond the blown out the vocals leading into the final hook, it feels like this should hit way harder than it does instead of feeling like a dark, buzzy facsimile of a decidedly worse song! And even with all of that... hell, at least he's trying more here so it probably winds up being one of the better songs on the record, but I said it in the review and I'll say it again, this EP is a lane for The Weeknd that he's thoroughly dredged and when his recycling is so blatant, that's not a good sign.

But as a whole... look, this week was not bad, but I'm not exactly crazy about it either. The best for me is 'OKRA' by Tyler, The Creator - see, The Weeknd, that's how you add tension to a hook - with Honourable Mention for 'Focus' by H.E.R., but the worst... see, the only outright dud for me is 'Try Me' by The Weeknd, so that'll get worst of the week, but Dishonourable Mention... honestly, 'Take Back Home Girl' by Chris Lane and Tori Kelly get that not just for barely being a country song but also because as someone who likes 'Fix' way more than he should, I'd like to think both artists are capable of better. But none of that will matter much because next week we've got an avalanche of Cardi B, so stay tuned for that!

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