Wednesday, May 30, 2018

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - june 2, 2018

This was a weird week. A pretty busy one, to be sure, and some things did turn out as I had predicted, but overall... it's not often you can say that our new arrivals span between k-pop, Lil Baby, Kevin Gates, and the Backstreet Boys - yeah, we'll be getting to that one, I did not see that coming at all! And that's very telling of the Hot 100 right now: there doesn't seem to be any one musical movement that's driving the pop culture conversation with any sustainability, and we're ripe to see everything blow apart.

Don't believe me? Let's start with the Top 10, where as I predicted 'Nice For What' by Drake regained the #1... and it's easily one of the weakest #1s we've had in some time. No big radio or streaming momentum, sales have crashed, the only reason it has the top spot is because 'This Is America' by Childish Gambino just couldn't hold the top with only streaming and good sales, especially unseated where it is on YouTube and with radio being extremely slow to get onboard. It's still at #2 above 'God's Plan' by Drake at #3, but really it's only here because it has momentum on YouTube and the radio, and even that is bleeding away. Now that does make it vulnerable for 'Psycho' by Post Malone and Ty Dolla $ign at #4 - sales and YouTube are good and radio likes it - but it may have peaked on streaming too early to get that much higher. Now you could argue 'The Middle' by Zedd, Maren Morris and Grey is poised to move in up to #5 with really good sales... but without significant streaming and a peak on the radio, it's going to stall out, especially in the face of our first new top ten entry: 'Yes Indeed' by Lil Baby and Drake, which has suddenly become a streaming monster with literally nothing else to take it to #6. Now granted, some of its gain has to be attributed to the collapse of 'Meant To Be' by Bebe Rexha and Florida Georgia Line at #7, where the radio and sales are bleeding hard - and that means it's vulnerable to a serious challenge from our second new top ten entry: 'Boo'd Up' by Ella Mai. Now if we're looking at a song that has sustainability, it's this one - streaming is good, especially YouTube, and radio seems surprisingly robust, which means that if sales pick up it definitely has top five potential. Hell, it rose past 'No Tears Left To Cry' by Ariana Grande at #9, which might have that radio and sales traction but not enough on streaming to be a bigger contender, especially as YouTube ebbs back. And finally, the entry that will inevitably get the most conversation later on in this show: 'Fake Love' by BTS. The first time a k-pop band has debuted in the top 10, it got there on absolutely huge sales and a ton of streaming, a credit to the band's diehard American fanbase - although the larger question will be how long it lasts, but more on that later.

In the mean time, though, we did have some losers and dropouts, most of which you could have seen coming. Yes, i'm not happy that we lost both 'Say Something' by Justin Timberlake and Chris Stapleton and 'Stir Fry' by Migos, but the latter got enough points to make the year-end list and the former might be very close. Also 'When We' by Tank exited, somehow getting a respectable twenty weeks - huh, never would have expected that. Now for our losers... man, it was not good if you were relying on streaming, because it was a bloodbath for hip-hop. First we had the expected losses for Post Malone - 'Rich & Sad' to 65, 'Paranoid' to 66, 'Spoil My Night' with Swae Lee to 77, 'Stay' to 88 - but J. Cole also took some major hits, with 'ATM' hitting 89 and 'Kevin's Heart' breaking to 92. Then we had the continued collapse of 'Watch' by Travis Scott, Lil Uzi Vert and Kanye to 60 - called it - but it was a bad week for Lil Uzi Vert as a whole as 'Shoota' with Playboi Carti fell off the debut to 67. And the rest are all over the place: 'Powerglide' by Rae Sremmurd and Juicy J went to 41, 'Japan' by Famous Dex fell to 52, 'Outside Today' by YoungBoy Never Broke Again went to 97, 'Everyday' by Logic and Marshmello dropped to 91, and 'Gucci Flip Flops' by Bhad Bhabie and Lil Yachty utterly fell off at 96. Hell, the only non-hip-hop song to take a loss was 'no Excuses' by Meghan Trainor, a song I literally forgot existed!

And the strange thing is that I can't really see much rhyme or reason behind what's replacing it - I already mentioned 'Yes Indeed' gaining off its debut last week, but in that same mold we also had the boosts for Juice WRLD in 'Lucid Dreams' surging to 35 and 'All Girls Are The Same' up to 53, fantastic. And when you consider that 'Alone' by Halsey, Big Sean and Stefflon Don went to 70 and 'Overdose' by YoungBoy Never Broke Again shot up to 42, you'd think that the Hot 100 was just plugging the gaps with more mediocrity, but thankfully we do have some quality here. 'For The First Time' by Darius Rucker had a good radio week so it's up to 58, 'Love Lies' by Khalid and Normani somehow got another boost of life to 36 - it's actually got more consistent strength than you'd expect - and we have 'Mercy' by Brett Young continuing up to 71 - this could wind up being pretty big from just country alone, I'd keep an eye on it.

But with no returning entries, we need to focus on our new arrivals, starting with...

99. 'Don't Go Breaking My Heart' by Backstreet Boys - ...okay look, I'm a Backstreet Boys fan, and I have been for decades now, since when they were huge. In terms of sheer vocal talent the group has persisted when so many other boy bands and boy band survivors have failed. And thus it kind of breaks my heart to say I'm not really a fan of this. The harmonies are underwhelming especially in the lower-register, the choice to be so reliant on falsetto doesn't exactly flatter the whole group, the production is percussion-heavy and leans into blocky minor synths that don't quite have the sweep or groove they could, the lyrics feel pretty by-the-numbers, and there is absolutely no reason for there to be autotune on the bridge. If anything, that bothers me the most on principle: you're a boy band that made your name off of the vocal arrangements, you shouldn't need autotune at this point. So yeah, applause for getting a song on the Hot 100 twenty years into your career, but I'm not really a fan of this one. I will say I'd likely take it over...

98. 'Downtown's Dead' by Sam Hunt - well, took him long enough! And indeed, presuming Sam Hunt even wants to still make his brand of over-polished "pop country", he may have waited way too long to step in - the sales crashed pretty quickly, and while for some ungodly reason it's still getting country radio pickups, he's got stiffer competition these days. Still, why country is bothering to give this attention is mystifying, from the fake drums, oddly flaccid vocal layering and with weird warbling fragments warping across an empty mix, possibly representative of the ghosts of the ex Sam Hunt can't get over... and then if you're like me you realize that Jake Owen did this concept eons better five years ago with 'Ghost Town' and forget this lumbering clumsiness with a really abortive chorus ever existed - next!

86. 'Champion' by NAV ft. Travis Scott - honest question: who the hell likes NAV? Seriously, I'm from Canada and am living in Toronto and I'd handily take even someone like Tory Lanez over him. But apparently he's friends with Travis Scott and that netted him enough presence to show up here... and really, this is a Travis Scott song more than anything Nav brings to the table, which is two lines on the chorus and one verse. And even with that, he references flying in a basic girl from Alaska who has braces, and yet can't have too many Instagram followers - and considering Travis Scott fills his hook with similar references, you have to wonder how fragile these guys' egos are that they can't handle a woman who has her own clout and presence possibly eclipsing theirs - granted, he's worried about lean getting stuck in his teeth, so I'm not that surprised. And the frustrating thing is that I didn't really mind the production at first - the pianos, the off-kilter vibe... but then we get the increasingly overmixed wave of squawking synths and trap skitters that feels way too dense to cultivate any significant atmosphere. In other words... no, I can't get into this, it just feels tacky in a really unappealing way - next!

84. 'Welcome To The Party' by Diplo, French Montana & Lil Pump ft. Zhavia Ward - this is one of those songs where you see the list of artists attached and you just have a sinking feeling it's going to be a total mess... and then you realize that this was a song attached to Deadpool 2 and you find yourself wondering why the hell Celine Dion's song didn't chart! Anyway, this is a song relying on the lyrical skills of French Montana and Lil Pump with fragments from Zhavia Ward that sounded fine enough, although how anything could get past the blaring synth that barely moves off two notes that almost reminds me a little of a tone from Yeezus. But yeah, surprising nobody French Montana has absolutely nothing interesting to say, so the focus is on Lil Pump... and look, I'm still not a fan of his brand of obnoxiousness and about how he has his grandmother moving crack, but by the time he's talking about making a girl do jumping jacks, I know we're dealing with 2 Chainz-borderline parody material here... and even then, Lil Pump is not as naturally charismatic. Still, the part of me that unironically likes 'Pound The Alarm' by Nicki Minaj did kind of get into this... I mean, it's far from great or interesting, but I can tolerate it.

83. 'Sangria Wine' by Pharrell & Camila Cabello - so let me start by saying I'm not really sure what Camila Cabello is doing in terms of her single roll-out. Sure, 'Havana' was huge and 'Never Be The Same' was pretty big, so why now hop on a duet with Pharrell where nearly all the buzz I've heard is negative? I mean, the buzz is not wrong - the abuse of echo on the verses is ridiculous and does nothing to cover up how underwritten they are, and Pharrell trying to make the 'sangria wine' a dance move might not count among the worst of his lyrics, but it's certainly up there, especially when you have right after that hook a pitched-down Camila Cabello saying 'turbo sauce' - no, I'm not kidding - or how for no apparently reason she keeps switching from third to first person, so there's no coherence surrounding who the hell she's talking about! And the frustrating thing is that with the lush horn mix and slightly off-kilter guitar line playing off the textured percussion, it's clear Pharrell still has good taste when it comes to production - and even then, it feels like the melody is wonkier than it should be! So yeah, this is utterly absurd and impressively stupid - and nowhere close to how sexy it thinks it is - and yet I get the disturbing feeling it'll hit the sweet spot of being catchy and just idiotic enough to stick around

82. 'Let It Sing' by Kevin Gates - so it looks like Kevin Gates took some time off after his career hit a bit of a speed bump in 2016 - I'd like to think because he wanted to the story of him screwing his cousin for a few years to blow over, but it turns out he's been in prison on gun charges. But hey, he got parole in January of this year and now has two new songs hitting the Hot 100... and look, I remember a time when I used to like Kevin Gates for his solid melodic tendencies and a lot of natural charisma and personality, and even though he's apologizing for not being turned up enough on the outro, I think he delivers pretty damn well here, especially considering the melodrama he's working with. That sense of unstable tension does a lot to justify how Gates loses control midway through the first verse in the face of a woman trying to ply him for cash that it sounds like he needs to rebuild - can't have it out in front of the children, after all - even if by the end of the song he's putting his dick in her kidney. But when you pair with the bassy rumble of the production that gradually builds more unstable glossy layers against the trap beat... look, I can't call this a great song, but unlike so many acts in trap these days, Kevin Gates has a personality and can flow pretty well and that certainly helps, compared to...

80. 'Life Goes On' by Lil Baby ft. Gunna & Lil Uzi Vert - the first of two Lil Baby songs hitting the Hot 100 this week... and look, I don't deny the guy has a better flow here than on other songs, but his super nasal flow and all the talk of walking on his tippy toes and the same shallow flexing and whoring out your girl just gets tedious, especially against this very desaturated piano and trap beat - or to put it another way, it's a bad sign when Lil Uzi Vert's autotuned caterwauling brings the most actual charisma! Sure, the hook is marginally catchy despite everything and Lil Baby does benefit from Gunna showing up and being utterly forgettable... but really, I can't see myself remembering a lot of this song either. 

79. 'Southside' by Lil Baby - okay, I had the hope this song might have some potential - the hook was repetitive and rhymed a lot of words with themselves, but some of the flows on the verses sounded pretty good... presuming of course you consider them in isolated fragments and completely ignore the lack of any real transitions and the utterly incompetent flow switches. And while I get how he might think this is tedious otherwise - the content is utterly formulaic luxury drug rap flexing, the production has no melody against the swampy bass and trap beat - but without any solid transitions or any shift in content, every flow shift comes across as awkward. So no, while this might have had potential, the execution is utterly botched - skip it.

73. 'Like That' by Kris Wu - okay, you're going to have to follow me on this one: if you don't know, Kris Wu is a Chinese-Canadian singer-songwriter/actor who has actually been in some sizable big Chinese blockbusters, but he was also a member of the k-pop group EXO and has used that to build up a solo career, notching soundtrack hits on his movies and a collaboration with Travis Scott last year, with this now being his stateside breakthrough. And... honestly, I'm pretty underwhelmed, as it seems like any presence he brings to the microphone is driven by such gratuitous, T-Pain-esque autotune, especially against the rubbery bass beat, very muted keys, and a desaturated mix that owes more to Zayn than any k-pop I've heard! And I'm not sure the content really helps, where it's clear the girl isn't really into him so he just keeps throwing money at her to get her to stick around. Yeah, the second verse implies a little more intimacy... but it's utterly crippled by a lack of any organic presence. So if you're into sexy Chinese  robots into minimalist R&B, I guess you might like this, but it's definitely not for me.

68. 'Change Lanes' by Kevin Gates - and now we have more Kevin Gates, this time speaking more on his time in prison and now flexing that he's out... and honestly, I keep trying to like this guy and he's not making it easy. The watery melody and oily trap groove doesn't really help him, especially against the vocal production where he stays pretty low key through the entire song, but he does sketch out a pretty bleak picture surrounding his conviction... although he doesn't tell much of a story, which highlights the big problem with 'Change Lanes': Kevin Gates cannot stay on topic. He starts the verse praising God - and considering how often he references his conversion to Islam on the song you'd think that'd make an interesting angle... until we get the flexing, a string of references to fast food, and his plan to screw a Kardashian despite being married with kids. And while I kind of like his flow, any attempts at introspection are pretty damn shallow, and the lack of greater energy doesn't help him. Not really a bad track, but not quite a good one either.

10. 'Fake Love' by BTS - and here's the big one, BTS' big breakthrough single tied to their first album to go #1 on the Billboard 200, an album stuffed with breakup songs and one that I'm genuinely surprised nobody has added to my schedule as of yet. And considering how bad this week has been, I was hoping this could really click... and yet I can't really say it does, mostly because like most k-pop it feels like a pile-up of genres, in this case fusing a lot of triplet flows to R&B vocals that can't help but feel a lot flatter and compressed than they should, especially when they switch to English against a buried guitar lead for a shouty hook that wouldn't be far removed from emo! And again, this sort of k-pop plays in melodrama, I'm not against this in principle, but there's a lingering sourness that juxtaposes in an awkward away against the much sweeter sung vocals, especially when that frustrated anger clashes with the insecurity at its core. So yeah, you could argue it pulls off that conflict at the core of projecting emotions to preserve a relationship, but the production really lets down better performances at the core, this should have a lot more body and weight than it does. Again, not bad, but it should be better.

So wow, this week was not good, almost to the point where I'm not sure I could even give an Honourable Mention here... but you know what, I think I'll give it to Kevin Gates for 'Let It Sing' with Best of the Week to Diplo, French Montana, Lil Pump and Zhavia Ward For 'Welcome To The Party'. As for the best... Jesus, there's a lot of bad here, but I think it has to go to 'Sangria Wine' by Pharrell and Camila Cabello for being the most embarrassing and borderline hilarious misfire here, with Dishonourable Mention to 'Champion' by NAV and Travis Scott, just an ugly song without any of the charisma or content to justify it. Next up... well, Drake and Pusha-T likely the most, especially as A$AP Rocky's success seems to be sputtering out, but we'll see. 

1 comment:

  1. Best Of The Week:Welcome To The Party
    HM:Sangria Wine
    DM(tie):Let It Sing
    DM(tie): Change Lanes