Wednesday, May 2, 2018

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - may 5, 2018

I'm going to pose a question that's been on my mind ever since we started getting stream-trolling album bombs on the Hot 100 and one that became glaring with KOD by J. Cole: is anybody thinking about the long-term impacts of any of this? Sure, it's an indictment on streaming platforms who take label payola to dump entire records on their playlists, and an even more scathing indictment on the public who won't bother to build their own damn playlist or find new things, but really, who does this benefit long-term? Do you even remember anything from Logic's middling album bomb a few months back, or do you remember a single that's been properly promoted and managed, where precision growth can lead to even greater success. We'll get to more of this in our top ten, but if you want the most prescient example of how the album bomb might hurt an album's public lifespan long-term, look at Drake and More Life last year, and compare it to his current singles rollout in 2018.

And I'd argue there's something to this: hell, look at 'Nice For What' at #1 for another week - it's certainly a weaker #1 than 'God's Plan' as it slips on sales and it's still gaining on the radio, but its streaming remains as strong as it is because attention is concentrated - if it has been released along with the rest of Scorpion, odds are it wouldn't have done as well. Hell, you can make a similar argument for the success of 'God's Plan' still at #2 with its release off the Scary Hours EP - sure, I'm still bewildered how long it's lasted on YouTube and it's still climbing radio, but at least its streaming and sales are finally falling back. But if you want the biggest argument for dropping a strong lead-off single on its own, it's at #3: 'No Tears Left To Cry' by Ariana Grande. Her big single for her fourth record that I'll be discussing much later, she hit traction across the board and ended up beating every song that J. Cole dropped this week - and it'll probably have more staying power long-term! Of course that leaves 'Meant To Be' by Bebe Rexha and Florida Georgia Line in a rough position: airplay hit a hard peak, and even despite strong sales it's never had the streaming position to have greater longevity. I'd put money on it being overtaken by 'Psycho' by Post Malone and Ty Dolla $ign, currently at #5 and generally unsteady but likely to get a boost with Beerbongs & Bentleys next week - joy. But now we've reached J. Cole and the only reason he broke the record of the most songs to debut in the Hot 100: streaming and YouTube. And because of that, 'ATM' hit #6, 'Kevin's Heart' hit #8, and 'KOD' hit #10, with 'The Middle' by Zedd, Maren Morris & Grey flailing in everything but airplay at #7 and 'Look Alive' by BlocBoy JB ft. Drake at #9 mostly holding onto streaming and a sizable airplay presence.

Granted, the real impact of the album bomb hits lower down the charts, so let's take a look at the losers and dropouts... and yeah, it was a bloodbath, but in the latter category I can't really say I'm complaining about most of these. Yeah, 'Marry Me' by Thomas Rhett and 'Five More Minutes' by Scotty McCreery leaving is a letdown, but the former got the points it needed and if it could take 'Lights Down Low' by MAX and gnash, 'I Fall Apart' by Post Malone, 'Him & I' by Halsey and G-Eazy, 'Bad At Love' by Halsey, and 'BILLY' by 6ix9ine down with it, I can't really complain. But where the real carnage came was in our losers, where Cardi B absorbed a lot of it: 'Finesse' with Bruno Mars down to 25, 'Drip' with Migos to 51, 'Bartier Cardi' with 21 Savage to 60, 'I Do' with SZA to 70, 'Ring' with Kehlani to 71, 'Best Life' with Chance The Rapper to 100 and 'Thru Your Phone' to 99! But hip-hop as a whole took major hits, with perhaps the most cathartic one for J. Cole being 'Esskeetit' by Lil Pump falling off the debut to 37... but even beyond that, 'Stir Fry' by Migos fell to 39, 'Ric Flair drip' by Offset and Metro Boomin to 43, 'All The Stars' by Kendrick Lamar and SZA to 44, 'Let You Down' by NF dropping to 49, 'Outside Today' and 'Diamond Teeth Samurai' by YoungBoy Never Broke Again to 69 and 89 respectively - these will rebound - and 'changes' by XXXTENTACION falling to 83. But of particular notice is what happened to Nicki Minaj, with both 'Chun-Li' falling to 48 and 'Barbie Tingz' dropping hard to 78 - all the momentum is just gone, not a good sign at all! Then there's country dropping back more naturally - they don't have the same streaming presence so they're a little more insulated, but 'Most People Are Good' by Luke Bryan still fell to 62, 'I Lived It' by Blake Shelton slid to 80, 'The Long Way' by Brett Eldredge fell hard to 85 and 'Cry Pretty' by Carrie Underwood lost off its debut to 96. And the last few losers... well, some are long-running and just need one last shove to get out, like 'Thunder' by Imagine Dragons to 45 or 'Feel It Still' by Portugal. The Man to 50, but then we get the last few that see their momentum brutally cut short, like 'El Farsante' by Ozuna and Romeo Santos down to 87, or 'IDGAF' by Dua Lipa hitting 73 or sadly 'Say Something' by Justin Timberlake and Chris Stapleton down hard to 65 - the way it's going, I'm not sure it's got enough to make the year-end list, and that's a damn shame.

And with all of those losers, there were no gains on the Hot 100. Seriously, none, zero - but we did get two returning entries that don't exactly raise my spirits. On the one hand, nobody wants to hear Halsey bring back 'Alone' with Big Sean and Stefflon Don to 92...  but on the other hand, I wouldn't wish the circumstances that brought back 'Wake Me Up!' by Avicii to 34 on anyone, as he passed away way too young at the age of 28, reminding me that this song just missed my year-end list in 2013 and yet is a damn sight better than the majority of what we have in 2018, hands down!

But we unfortunately have a long list of new arrivals ahead - it would have been a decently busy week even before J. Cole, and given I already reviewed his damn album I'm going to be keeping those entries brief, but before we get there...

98. 'Close' by Rae Sremmurd & Travis Scott - you know, I would say I'm openly dreading the SremmLife 3 album bomb for as massive as it could be... but with every single these guys have released, the less I'm convinced anything is really going to happen. For some reason Travis Scott is delivering his bars with the same lack of intensity that made Huncho Jack such a damn bore, Swae Lee tries to refocus his verse on a girl getting way too close to him - which for some reason he spells out in a really clumsy way - and then Slim Jxmmi tries to refocus it on people leeching off his success and just nobody can stay on topic with this, at all! And honestly, I didn't mind the chilly gurgle of synths playing off the blockier trap beat and I didn't precisely think the flows were bad... just that it's undercooked and underwhelming, as per usual.

95. 'Everything's Gonna Be Alright' by David Lee Murphy & Kenny Chesney - so okay, context here: the majority of you might not be familiar with David Lee Murphy, but he actually had a modest line of hits in the 90s, the one the majority of you probably recognize being 'Dust On The Bottle', which has held up pretty well. He also took a fourteen year break in recording between 2004 and now, recruiting Kenny Chesney for backup... and wow, I'm not impressed at all by this comeback. And yes, it's nearly entirely rooted in the production: blocky drum machines that don't flatter anything, backing vocals that feel higher and cleaner than the main vocal line, a really ugly flat tone coming from the lead guitar that doesn't modulate at all, and a spacey mix that doesn't really let any countermelody rise up to play off it. And when you factor in how Kenny Chesney and David Lee Murphy don't really have any interesting interplay and how the lyrics are just a monotonous reassurance of how everything is going to be all right, it just has no momentum or interesting tune at all. In other words, if it wasn't for Kenny Chesney's disturbing chart longevity, I'd say to forget this, but unfortunately I don't think we can count it out yet.

81. 'Dame Tu Cosita' by El Chombo - you know, normally this would be the place where I'd put together a meme review for this... except this is a week where there's an album bomb and I have a limited amount of time as it is to get this episode out on time, and besides this is a meme that blew up thanks to goddamn and seems closer to the vine dance challenges than an actual meme, is this really worth any deeper examination at all? Hell, with the cheap animation, bargain barrel production, and utterly repetitive hook I'm inclined to say this is 2018's equivalent to Crazy Frog, just in reggaeton this time around. And on that note, without any real melody outside of an insanely repetitive hook, I don't even this sticking around longer. But on the topic of forgettable reggaeton...

74. 'Te Bote' by Casper Magico, Nio Garcia, Darell, Nicky Jam, Ozuna & Bad Bunny - hey, did you all want six underwhelming and forgettable reggaeton artists to go through an autotuned kissoff anthem with barebones percussion and a desaturated piano melody where somehow they all sound like jackasses in new and excruciating ways? Well, this song is for you - and look, I get the power of a good post-breakup song, but for as sullen and miserable as it sounds - thanks Ozuna - it makes all the flexing seem so much more overcompensating and pathetic and the furthest thing from fun. So yeah, this is completely lousy, let's move on.

72. 'Babe' by Sugarland ft. Taylor Swift - this is one of those songs that couldn't possibly live up to half of the hype it's received by certain music journalists. Look, it's Sugarland back together... as if anyone wanted that when Jennifer Nettles' Playing With Fire was better than anything Sugarland ever released. But look, Taylor Swift is contributing to it... and if any of you think that's a good sign for Taylor given how she left pop country might be in for a rude awakening, especially that all she contributes to this song is backing vocals, especially given this was cowritten by Pat Monahan of Train! Hell, even more than that, it's a leftover from the Red recording sessions six years ago, and it has the same overly clipped and chipper guitar and synth production that was characteristic of that era that feels entirely too staccato and rigid. Hell, given how underweight the lyrics feel - another post-breakup kiss-off, this time at least able to handle its wistfulness a bit better - it probably should have been left on the cutting room floor, because both Taylor Swift and Jennifer Nettles are making more interesting music than this, with better cowriters to boot! So yeah, it's not precisely bad, but it sure is hell is mediocre - next!

57. 'OTW' by Khalid, Ty Dolla $ign & 6LACK - so I might be one of the few people who actually like it when Khalid gets on production with a bit more momentum and groove to it, and thus I felt predisposed to get on board with the glassy grooves and sharper bass beat of this tune, especially with how well the more atmospheric sleekness was handled. So yeah, Khalid sounded great on this hook and his verse was solid... but then Ty Dolla $ign gets on this song and describes how the ex of this girl was always gassy - seriously? I don't think it fits your sleek driving hookup anthem to bring up the mental image of a guy with flatulence problems! And when 6LACK doesn't really impress with his verse either, a song that had some real potential just falls flat. Pretty decent, but this should be better.

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53. 'Intro' by J. Cole - so I've already reviewed this J. Cole record at length and I'm not looking to repeat myself, so for a brevity challenge on my end I'm limiting how much I say about each song to a sentence or two. In this case that's easy: it's an a horn-inflected intro with an extended sample describing how babies communicate, with the obvious pitch-shifted parallel referring to young MCs who don't know how to process pain effectively. It sets the scene and sounds decent, but it's also just an intro snippet - next!

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47. 'Once An Addict (Interlude)' by J. Cole - very minimalist liquid keys as J. Cole tries to say 'pain is a lack of understanding' and that since God understands all, he knows no pain and thus human suffering must please him. And then we get treated to an extended verse where J. Cole describes in heartwrenching detail his mother's descent into alcoholism... but all in context to him and his pain, and through his warped misunderstanding of God and empathy, the struggle becomes his and ignores how his mother recovered. Telling how despite good storytelling, that detail got left out.

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46. 'Friends' by J. Cole ft. kiLL edward - so here's a pretty well-produced and gritty track where J. Cole tries to push aside excuses of addicts and seems to completely brush past the complex explanations behind depression or systemic inequalities or chemical dependence or how therapy could be a very real solution to these ills, he advises meditation because it worked for him... all amidst bridges and a verse where he talks about how he smokes. So J. Cole, question - when you mention but blow past real albeit complicated solutions for what has been proven to work in favour of a solution that doesn't even seem to work completely for you, where do your weak excuses and hypocrisy stop?

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41. 'Window Pain (Outro)' by J. Cole - I'll actually give J. Cole some props for this shrill, stuttered production - it's derivative in its approach from Kendrick's 'untitled 01', but it's an effectively creepy vibe as J. Cole describes how so little has actively changed despite his message and that means more unwanted kids who could get hurt and to quote him directly, 'that's what can most affect me'. So, uh, J. Cole, maybe amidst all your half-measures and self-focused hypocrisy you don't completely undercut your point by framing the entire song in the face of the coming apocalypse, which kills any drama because in the face of the coming end and remaking of the world, if those sinners might well be saved in the end why would they change? Just a thought...

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30. 'BRACKETS' by J. Cole - a song pretty much only saved by the richer, soulful touches of horns and a Richard Pryor sample and where J. Cole proceeds to misunderstand representative democracy because his tax bill is too high, and instead of actually engaging with the complicated questions of reform and education, it becomes a petulant parable where J. Cole frames a circular connection between gun lobby spending, murders in the street, and the grieving mother having to file her taxes the next day. Good storytelling, sure, but again, a refusal to engage with complexity makes it hard to see his empathy for those caught in a broken system and more a focus on increasing his bottom line - not a great juxtaposition, just saying.

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28. 'The Cut Off' by J. Cole ft. kiLL edward - so kiLL edward is basically J. Cole pitch-shifted to represent the confused incoherence of modern trap MCs against desaturated pianos and a lumpy beat, all of whom he's looking to cut off given their inability to pull their life together. And I get that might well be a tough reality he's faced with people in his circle, even the very human desire to see them pay for it... kind of negates when you open your verse saying you're always the better man, though, and does he really think he gave so much to those young MCs, or that they took any of it? Again, just a thought here.

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20. '1985 (Intro to 'The Fall Off')' by J. Cole - not going to lie, J. Cole going in at length on modern trap MCs and specifically Lil Pump for what will inevitably happen to their careers is pretty cathartic... or at least it would be if he didn't constantly take a half step back between every line with punch. Dude, for as much obvious contempt as you obviously feel towards these dudes - and I've had to cover them for years on this show, I totally get it - your unwillingness to own it and truly castigate their lane doesn't make you seem level-headed and measured, it just stinks of condescension, especially when 21 Savage of all people is trying to improve financial literacy for people in that lane. And down the line, I think he gets more points here, J. Cole, not you.

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15. 'Motiv8' by J. Cole - Kendrick did it first on 'untitled 07', but there's a part of me that thinks this entire minimalist track might be an extended shot, highlighting the similar yawning emptiness of wealth and even referencing liking girls who are more 'natural' like the controversy over 'HUMBLE.' last year. The only real difference... well, Kendrick would actually have something to say in his introspection beyond the subversion, and even if J. Cole is sketching how one becomes the mask they wear through his usage of that Superman sample, J. Cole could be wise to look in the mirror if that happens.

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14. 'Photograph' by J. Cole - ugh, that little weedy guitar fragment does not sound good behind the trap snares... and that's before we get J. Cole's creepy brand of Instagram lurking that's shockingly lazy in its repetition of rhymes and bars. Look, I get that our generation is obsessed with social media and to his credit J. Cole calls out that awkward feeling of hesitation that comes with trying to craft the perfect message for someone - kind of a shame that so much of this song doesn't seem to have that same attention.

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10. 'KOD' by J. Cole - no jokes this time, this is easily the best track on KOD primarily because it gets out of its own way and one of the sharpest examples of J. Cole stepping into modern trap and showing some veneer of satire, especially on the second verse where he talks about getting sponsored by Activis... which if it wasn't something I think Future has actually referenced straight, it might cut a shade harder. Really, the only thing I can nitpick here is how some of the bars are naked repetition... and the ending, where he talks about how the strongest drug is love... and on that topic -

8. 'Kevin's Heart' by J. Cole - god, I can't stand that grainy synth choice... and really, that would be it on this cheap equation of lust and drugs except in the context of the album, where J. Cole seems to pull out all the excuses he'd later denigrate! And yet the song is framed so that we're supposed to feel sympathy for him here - I thought meditation was the answer, J. Cole, surely that'd be enough to push past possibly cheating on your wife, or is the temptation's just too immense and the same standards don't apply to your vices, right?

6. 'ATM' by J. Cole - and again, we get another slice of paper-thin satire amidst the whir of the cash machine and desaturated pianos where J. Cole tries to comment on addiction to cash and how it can plug the hole within... which might have more weight if we hadn't already talked about a song where he was ranting about his tax bracket, especially when on this song it just seemed to be cheap enablement for you to screw more of my girl. And J. Cole is supposed to be the nice guy in modern hip-hop - such a nice guy, folks!

3. 'No Tears Left To Cry' by Ariana Grande - okay, we're out of the woods with J. Cole here, and now we have the big new single for Ariana Grande, the lead-off for her new album and likely an answer surrounding where she took her sound after the scattered transitional tones of Dangerous Woman... and honestly, I'm not quite sure how I feel about this, especially in comparison with her other lead-off singles. There was a sense of weight and swell that was behind the huge hook of 'Dangerous Woman' and a lot of flair behind 'Problem', and I'm not sure I'm hearing that with this. There's that sharper synth and percussion groove that has a pretty solid late 80s bounce and I don't mind the lyrics surrounding transcendence of tragedy and the melody beneath the hook is pretty solid to support to her belting, but I keep thinking that the synths should pick up a little more colour and body to blow through all the wispy tones around it, that could have really set this song over the top. 

And yet, if I'm being honest it's probably still the best of this week, with 'KOD' by J. Cole right behind it as Honourable Mention. And while I'm tempted to give J. Cole both of the bottom spots, he's only getting Dishonourable Mention for 'Kevin's Heart', because those six reggaeton artists are getting worst for 'Te Bote', such an insufferable track. Next week... well, I would say it's the fallout, but given how Post Malone is breaking Spotify records, we've got him to deal with. Yay...

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