Tuesday, May 15, 2018

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - may 19, 2018

So I've said a number of times that the most interesting weeks on the Hot 100 are not those of the album bombs, but the week right after, when things seem to reset to some form of equilibrium and the charts regain some sort of stability, for better or worse. And in the week following two album bombs in a row, you'd expect the recovery to be more pronounced... and then Childish Gambino unleashed 'This Is America'. And unsurprisingly, that's the much bigger story to discuss later on this show, but make no mistake, we will be talking about it, albeit with more of a focus on the song than the video.

But it's impossible to ignore the video, because when we look at the top ten, the reason it surged to take #1 was directly linked to how viral it went, scrutinized and analyzed from every angle - as it should be, for the record, as such loaded and transgressive art demands analysis, especially considering the ambiguities Gambino was introducing. But if you look at the numbers, the sales and YouTube margins crushed everything in their path, so despite no airplay and slightly less impressive on-demand streaming, 'This is America' debuted at #1, a massive first for Childish Gambino and for music with a more political edge, which rarely ever breaks the Hot 100 let alone hitting #1. Now virality can fade pretty fast so I expect 'Nice For What' by Drake to reclaim the top spot - for now it's at #2 thanks to big airplay pickups, huge streaming, and slightly weaker sales than you'd expect; as I had said, it was never going to be a dominant #1 - but for now, Gambino is on top. Then at #3 we have 'God's Plan' by Drake - thanks to huge streaming it's going to fade gracefully, especially as airplay is definitely on the decline, but it was still enough to put it above 'Psycho' by Post Malone and Ty Dolla $ign falling to #4 as the album bomb fades - although given its sales pickups and considerable radio growth, I'd probably expect this to stick around. It pushed back 'Meant To Be' by Bebe Rexha and Florida Georgia Line down to #5... and it looks like with sales and radio dropping that it's finally on its way out, thank god - hell, its top spot on radio was usurped by 'The Middle' by Zedd, Maren Morris and Grey at #6, which looks to also be fading for many of the same reason. What isn't fading is 'Look Alive' by BlocBoy JB and Drake up to #7 - although likely not for long, given that it peaked on the radio this week and any streaming rebound won't last for long. Then we have 'Never Be The Same' by Camila Cabello down to #8, with sales falling off hard even as its radio momentum wavers - this one is tough to predict, but I don't see it lasting long. And it's a similar case for 'Perfect' by Ed Sheeran reentering the top 10 at #9 - it's here to fill up space because it's a big enough radio presence to last after an album bomb, nothing more, nothing less. Finally, we have 'No Tears Left To Cry' by Ariana Grande clinging onto another week at #10, which is quietly becoming a real presence on the radio with stable streaming even as the sales fade - again, I'm thinking this'll stick around, and it'll be interesting to see if the radio gets even bigger.

But on a different note, our losers and dropouts... and really, there's very little to say here, with the only one of any size in the latter category being 'Candy Paint' by Post Malone - yes, I expected it, doesn't mean I'm pleased about it. But Post Malone lost a lot this week across the board, so let's blow through these quickly: 'Better Now' fell to 23, 'Paranoid' went to 38, 'Rich & Sad' faded to 39, 'Ball For Me' with Nicki Minaj went to 40, 'Stay' lost to 45, 'Spoil My Night' with Swae Lee faded to 51, 'Zack & Codeine' skidded to 63, 'Over Now' dropped to 64, 'Same Bitches' with G-Eazy and YG lost out to 66, 'Takin' Shots' drained to 67, '92 Explorer' crashed at 69, 'Otherside' faded to 89, and 'Blame It On Me' hit 93. Hell, beyond that, the only other losers we had were 'Famous' by Mason Ramsey falling to 95 as the meme loses traction, 'ATM' by J. Cole continuing down to 56, and - sadly - 'Say Something' by Justin Timberlake and Chris Stapleton down to 88. And as much as I want the song to succeed, it only has five weeks left to rack up the points, and with this sort of downward momentum, I wouldn't put money on it making the year-end list.

But as always, where things get the most interesting come on the returning entries and gains, and let's get the expected rebounds for Nicki Minaj out of the way first: 'Barbie Tingz' returned at 84, but 'Chun-Li' blew up to 19 riding considerable streaming and some real radio traction. Granted, if you're looking for bigger gains, 'Boo'd Up' by Ella Mai continues to be a presence across the board as it surges to 17, and on the note of continued momentum we also had 'Dura' by Daddy Yankee up to 43 thanks to YouTube, which you could also probably blame for the growth of 'Te Bote' up to 41 - gross. But of course in the wake of an album bomb fading you need to look at what's taking its place, with the most obvious candidates being hip-hop songs pushed back... which is why 'SAD!' by XXXTENTACION rebounded big to 34. On the plus side, we also saw 'All The Stars' by Kendrick Lamar and SZA and I'm not going to complain about 'Powerglide' by Rae Sremmurd and Juicy J picking up to 28 - it's really the only success the duo got from their triple album strategy. Hell, I'd argue YoungBoy Never Broke Again had more success with 'Overdose' picking up off the debut last week to 47 - more on him when we talk about the new arrivals. Then we had the country songs that were muscled back by sheer position volume making their returns: 'One Number Away' by Luke Combs up to 44, 'Tequila' by Dan + Shay to 55, 'Up Down' by Morgan Wallen and Florida Georgia Line to 71, 'For The First Time' to 76, and Kenny Chesney netting two pickups with 'Get Along' up to 70 and 'Everything's Gonna Be Alright' with David Lee Murphy up to 87. Finally, we have the scattered midtier tunes that might not become hits but got a recovery regardless: 'X' by Nicky Jam and J Balvin, 'One Kiss' by Calvin Harris and Dua Lipa, and - to my shock - 'Delicate' by Taylor Swift. Again, I don't really expect it to be a hit... but there's a part of me that wants it to be.

But again, that's not what you're here for - let's get into our new arrivals, starting with...

98. 'Preach' by YoungBoy Never Broke Again - so it doesn't look like YoungBoy Never Broke Again is going to get his album bomb proper, but hey, he got another track to chart from very early on his record... and honestly, I can almost see the appeal of this one. The oily organs playing against the rumbling bass, the production has enough ragged gloss to hold up under the flows where he rambles through those who have double-crossed and betrayed him and the pressing weight on his psyche... until we get the hook where he opens his first line with a Jamaican slur for gay men. And when you pair it with underwhelming flows, repeatedly rhyming words with themselves, some of the most egregious forced rhyming with 'heroin' I've ever heard on a song, and a lack of any decent hook, why should I care about this guy again?

97. 'Mercy' by Brett Young - so this is the fourth single from Brett Young's self-titled debut that I've covered here - and look, for as much as I tolerated his early singles, I haven't exactly been impressed by what he's released since, so I wasn't exactly excited for this. And when you make it a pretty barebones piano ballad about ending a relationship with Young just asking for her to end it already... well, credit for taking the mature route, but I do think the song is a tad oversold, especially with some of the synth touches in the background and Young trying to bring a gruffness to his delivery that doesn't quite fit - just feels a little more sour than it should. Yeah, the acoustic guitar playing counterpoint to the piano sounds fine, and I definitely consider this a better cut from Brett Young in comparison to his last two singles - definitely a good song - but I wouldn't really call this a great one, and given its tone and lack of real explosive moment, I can't see this sticking around long.

80. 'Gucci Flip Flops' by Bhad Bhabie ft. Lil Yachty - okay, honest question: why is hip-hop still giving Danielle Bregoli any airtime or attention? Her star very much peaked late last year and the most interesting thing that's happened since is Eric Taxxon remixing 'Hi Bich' into 'Lost Lander'. So for her to hop on a song with Lil Yachty, with a title that's a Future reference from three years ago, am I supposed to care about this? All this song proves is that we've finally found someone that Lil Yachty can outrap over this flat synth tune and surprisingly aggressive bass beat - yeah, his verse is formless and forgettable but it at least has a stable flow, which is something I can't say about Bhad Bhabie's oddly disjointed verse and hook. And what's more exasperating is that at least she could bring a punchline or two to the table before - here the clumsy structure of her non-rhymes leave her scrabbling for the most basic references and it's just kind of forgettable at the end. So yeah, not at all good - next!

74. 'Done For Me' by Charlie Puth ft. Kehlani - so I don't expect there to be an album bomb for Charlie Puth - he's not big enough on streaming to notch multiple songs there, which means this track is being pushed as a single. And as I mentioned when I reviewed Voicenotes, this is arguably his best one yet - glossy synths playing against a watery but sharp bass groove that kicks into a deliberately retro R&B groove, Puth tightening his multi-tracking to compensate for his willowy falsetto, and having a surprising amount of chemistry with Kehlani on a pretty chilly track. And for a nice change of pace the lyrics actually do some heavy lifting here - Puth doesn't accuse her of cheating but the implication is definitely there, and Kehlani is having none of it, clapping back hard to show she's gone above and beyond here, and what has he done? I do wish the bridge had delved a little further into that follow-up to really show where this couple could go - my guess is a breakup sooner rather than later - but regardless, for this type of pop/R&B jam, it's a pretty sharp one - definitely check it out.

65. 'Youth' by Shawn Mendes ft. Khalid - so okay, thus far Shawn Mendes has been taking steps in the right direction for his upcoming record - which of course I'm going to be covering, you'd think I'd miss out on the chance to deal with the Mendes army again after Illuminate? And thus I had some reasonably high hopes for this... and yeah, most of them were rewarded, because this is pretty damn solid! For an interesting change of pace, Mendes and Khalid are looking to address the current string of violence directed at kids like in Manchester with a declaration that their spirits won't be broken. And what I found most interesting was the second verse, where Khalid references words delivered by someone - a larger metaphor for the lingering message of terrorism, or perhaps more literal referring to those seeking to shove the younger generation down from authority figures they never dreamed would be directing those words at them? Either way, it's a good fit for the darker acoustics building the thrumming swell behind the hook, enough where I do wish the hook actually could cut loose a little harder, maybe show Khalid and Mendes step into a more raw upper register. As it is, the song builds some impressive simmer, but both Shawn Mendes and Khalid have been unwilling in their recent work to really step out of the comfort zone, and while this song is in the right direction, I can't help but feel it could have been better. Good track, but it could have been great.

58. 'Beautiful Crazy' by Luke Combs - so I'll freely admit I have no idea why artists rerelease records - if you're just going to slap a few more tracks on, put together an EP and be done with it, unless you're just looking to reuse promotional material it's just exasperating to pull this. Anyway, 'Beautiful Crazy' is a cut from the rerelease of Luke Combs' debut last year... and honestly, it's fine enough, although I seriously question why Combs is calling this girl 'crazy', when the most I'd describe her is impulsive and honest, which isn't that unsurprising. But really, the songwriting is pretty peripheral to the production here, which might just be some of the most organic neotraditional country that I've heard on the Hot 100 in a long time - fiddles, pedal steel, warm acoustics, a genuinely rich melody, just the tone of this song matched against Combs' gravelly delivery is a really damn solid fit. Folks who always seem so confused about this, you want to know what country can be in the mainstream, here's a prime example! Shame the writing isn't better, but overall, this is solid and from those sales, I can only hope the radio gets onboard soon. 

16. 'Watch' by Travis Scott ft. Lil Uzi Vert & Kanye West - okay, let's be brutally honest: the only reason this charted as highly as it did was Kanye's presence - sure, Travis Scott has a big enough following now to notch solid hits of his own, but nobody is coming to a track for a Lil Uzi Vert feature, the story here is Kanye. I mean, it sure as hell isn't the production, which wedges an overblown staccato horn progression that doesn't match with anybody's flow at least until the thicker tide of gleaming synth rushes in... and doesn't do remotely enough to save this song. But let's be real: the content here, at least from Lil Uzi Vert and Travis Scott, is just by the numbers flexing, lots of watches, accusing people of having fake diamonds in their watches, doing drugs, and screwing your girl. And then Kanye shows up... and yeah, his flow is better than on 'Ye vs. The People', but is that really saying much as he rambles about how trapped he feels and how everyone wants him to run in place and how nobody should trust a bartender that doesn't drink, a larger metaphor for not trusting someone to serve knowledge to him that isn't on his level... dude, just stop. We saw with your Twitter rampage what you think 'being on your level' really is, devoid of coherent facts or any sense of greater self-awareness surrounding the impact of your words, and maybe a messy trap banger isn't the best place to plug how you're 'freeing your mind' when so much of it is meatheaded flexing anyway! And maybe it's a bad idea to equate your greater enlightenment with being drunk off your ass, which is really just a different strand of depressant compared to opioids so your metaphor might be more unintentionally revealing than you realize. But no, this is a mess, really bad choice for a lead-off single for Travis Scott's next record, let's move on to the main event...

1. 'This Is America' by Childish Gambino - so if you've been on the Internet at all in the past few weeks, you've likely seen the video for this song - hell, you've probably seen it multiple times and then watched at least two analysis videos or reaction videos or memes of the more striking images, and it makes little to no sense for me to step in and retrace that ground. For me personally what's most striking is the abruptness of the violence juxtaposed with the sunnier elements - the dancing, the gentler guitars, all abruptly sliced to bloody ribbons against the grinding trap groove with more textured drums and eerie wells of synth both through expert editing and sudden blasts of carnage just as quickly left aside. That's one thing that makes the video so damn unsettling - the focus shifts so quickly that your mind isn't allowed to focus on the horror you just witnessed, or you see it in the background like those falling to their deaths or the horse integrating Revelations iconography of death, with kids on their phones on high at a distance capturing the violence through another layer of detachment. And that emotional discordance is what makes the video so damn powerful, simply for as much as Childish Gambino was able to cram into the background and the loaded iconography playing into the psychological scarring of this black experience in America... and I hate to say it, but I don't quite think the song quite hits as hard. The more glaring absence is the gunshots to trigger the transitions - even as a percussion element they accentuate that jagged shift - but without the video flush with detail it's hard not to feel like the trap-inspired verse feel a shade undercooked, especially the second that can barely feel on-beat. Then there's the Kodak Black shoutout on that verse... honestly, it fits for what Gambino is looking to portray at that point of the song, but I do find it interesting that he brought on so many modern trap MCs for uncredited but recognizable adlibs, less glorification of what they've done than showing how complicit they really are. And that's one reason why the outro is genuinely haunting - for as much as the shouts of the black man to get his money ring before the hooks and final outro and might seem to highlight glorification of the path to success, the costs of getting that paper cast a ghoulish reflection across this song, especially the outro, where Young Thug's offkilter croon highlights that said money just becomes beholden to the larger system that perpetuates this psychological damage. And that's one of the twisted things about this song: it takes a twisted parody of trap and uses it to deconstruct the genre in a way that renders any shallow banger part of this song's black hole of inescapable context. 

In short, while I do think the song is at its most powerful when paired with the video, in terms of sheer potency and heft 'This Is America' by Childish Gambino walks away with the Best of the Week, although I will say 'Done For Me' by Charlie Puth and Kehlani is pretty close behind as Honourable Mention. The rest... honestly, this was a pretty solid comedown week, but Worst is easily 'Gucci Flip Flops' by Bhad Bhabie and Lil Yachty, with Dishonourable Mention going to 'Watch' by Travis Scott, Lil Uzi Vert and Kanye - again, that was close, but that synth swell ultimately saved the track. Next up... well, for once i'm not quite sure, but it'll be fascinating to see how much Gambino's impact will last, we'll see.

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