Tuesday, October 16, 2018

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - october 20, 2018

...you know, it's funny, when I made my rule about album bombs just last week I was expecting that it'd face a challenge sooner rather than later with something that was a bit smaller... and sure enough, skating right under the wire with seven new songs from an album I haven't quite covered (though it's on my schedule), we've got a smaller album bomb from Lil Baby and Gunna, and that's before we tack on a considerable chunk of A Star Is Born - almost makes you forget twenty-one pilots put out a project, but they sneaked in too!

And to my surprise, it actually did impact the top 10... somewhat. Not at the very top, where for another week 'Girls Like You' by Maroon 5 and Cardi B held onto the #1... really thanks to just radio dominance and lingering YouTube, because in other categories, it's lost traction. And yet it was enough to keep it above 'Lucid Dreams' by Juice WRLD, which rose to #2 but was kept from any higher by lagging in all categories except on-demand streaming, and that margin can only make up so much. Then we have 'Better Now' by Post Malone up to #3, which despite better sales hit its own radio peak and on-demand streaming has really fallen off - I don't expect it to get much higher either. What we did see was a new entry to the top ten thanks to a massive surge in streaming that I pray to God doesn't last: 'Drip Too Hard' by Lil Baby and Gunna at #4... and considering radio and sales don't care about this, I don't expect it to last. What also won't have a shot is our second top ten entry: 'Shallow' by Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper hitting #5, riding huge sales and pretty much nothing else to its position - again, I can see this dropping out fast. And that looks to be good for 'SICKO MODE' by Travis Scott, which held #6 and has just enough airplay swell to seem mostly stable - drop the video any time, Travis, it's not going to get much better than right now. Then we have 'Youngblood' by 5 Seconds Of Summer up to #7, which is somehow still riding radio momentum up but likely just filling the gaps of missing Lil Wayne songs... which I'd like to say was the case for 'Happier' by Marshmello and Bastille breaking into the top ten at #8, but its sales are even better and it's enjoying a radio surge right now, really narrowing that margin. The last two are songs reentering the top ten even though they're likely on their way out as a whole: 'I Like It' by Cardi B ft. Bad Bunny and J. Balvin at #9 - although YouTube will continue to prop this up for some time - and 'FEFE' by 6ix9ine ft. Nicki Minaj and Murda Beatz at #10... which might not have the radio but sadly seems to have more stability on streaming, just wonderful.

And on a different note, losers and dropouts! Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of the latter category is Lil Wayne, but he did manage to take out 'Rap Devil' by Machine Gun Kelly and 'Drowns The Whiskey' by Jason Aldean and Miranda Lambert along the way, the latter likely to just miss the year-end list. As for losers, unsurprisingly there's a lot of Lil Wayne here too, with 'Mona Lisa' with Kendrick going to 23, 'Uproar' falling to 29, 'Don't Cry' with XXXTENTACION falling hard to 60, 'Let It Fly' with Travis Scott dropping to 67, 'Dedicate' fading to 78, and 'Can't Be Broken' breaking at 91. And the rest of the losers seem to be following their trajectory from last week, with 'Falling Down' from Lil Peep and XXXTENTACION mercifully dropping to 50, 'Killshot' by Eminem drooping at 53, 'Africa' by Weezer sliding to 77 and 'Sunrise, Sunburn, Sunset' by Luke Bryan fading to 99. And this leaves 'If I'm Lyin I'm Flyin' by Kodak Black to fizzle out at 74 - good.

But what's always interesting after an album bomb are the returning entries and gains, and while we had a fair few of the latter, we didn't get quite as many as I expected of the former. And most of them are obvious: I already talked about 'Drip Too Hard' and 'Shallow', but the album boost also bore fruit for 'Mo Bamba' by Sheck Wes up to 24, and I can only hope it sputters out of energy fast. Beyond that, we saw revivals for 'breathin' by Ariana Grande up to 55 and 'Better' by Khalid to 76, a modest boost for 'Lost In Japan' by Shawn Mendes to 82 off the re-entry, and then 'Speechless' by Dan + Shay to 69 and 'High Hopes' by Panic! At The Disco to 35 respectively. Where the story gets a bit more interesting are our returning entries, because while of course twenty one pilots would have 'Jumpsuit' and 'Nico & The Niners' return to 79 and 95 respectively, I was amazed at the big return was for 'Desperate Man' by Eric Church at 68. It wasn't the biggest return - that was for 'Venom' by Eminem riding the movie and music video to 43, but hey, I'd take it most days over 'Noticed' by Lil Mosey up to 100!

And now, the twin album bombs I need to work with and fourteen new arrivals, starting with...

98. 'I Am' by Lil Baby & Gunna - look, a lot of the reviews are already in calling this album a turd, and starting off with this certainly doesn't do much to alleviate that impression. For one, who the hell produced these blown-out vocals where the bass is so badly mastered it swamps out everything? And it's not like either of these two have anything interesting to say beyond empty flexing that I assume is used to replace any distinct sense of personality. So yeah, stick in this lane - come the next week or two, nobody will remember it.

97. 'Deep End' by Lil Baby - so Lil Baby got both of his solo joints from the collaborative mixtape to chart here - unlike Gunna, but if you go by the strength of their content you could never tell - and this is the first of them. And again, who in the Nine Hells mastered this bass against the beyond forgettable synth and Lil Baby working his Young Thug ripoff? It sounds slapdash and awful, especially with Lil Baby substituting autotune for any well-structured flow, and none of it brings any sort of convincing menace, which all the talk about guns and shooting people, you'd think would be essential! So yeah, this is even worse - next!

93. 'Maybe It's Time' by Bradley Cooper - so here's my issue with this song: yes, I'll easily say that it's one of the better songs from A Star Is Born, not in the least because it was written by Jason Isbell and Bradley Cooper is a good enough singer to make it work. But here's the thing: Bradley Cooper is an actor, and thus a lot of his diction on this cut is just emulating the range and timbre of Jason Isbell - who very much has a distinctive writing style and cadence - in a way that unfortunately took me out of the movie. It's the same problem I have with a lot of jukebox musicals, if I've got an intimate familiarity with the original and you're not making your cover distinctive, mentally I'm going to start thinking of what the original could sound like... which in this case, makes me think of what Jason Isbell's original would sound like. But for the character singing it and the arc of the movie... yeah, it's a good song, I really like it.

81. 'My Blood' by twenty one pilots - hey, one of the better songs from Trench is here... not one of my personal favourites, and while I never expected 'Neon Gravestones' to get traction I'm a little surprised the pop-friendliness of 'The Hype' isn't being pushed, but this is fine enough. Yeah, the lyrics don't exactly do much beyond a near-suicidal desire to protect someone, but the reason anyone comes to this song is that pulsating bass groove that plays off the brighter, full synth line... although the mist where most of the vocals exist means the song doesn't really climax at any point. I dunno, with that groove I keep having the hope this song will develop more punch, and it never quite happens... which is what keeps a good song from being great. 

80. 'Belly' by Lil Baby & Gunna - ...do we have to go back to this dreck? Again, the problems are not going away: the bass mastering is terrible all over Gunna's poor man's Future impression as the two throw increasingly forgettable bragging back and forth with a lazy guitar fragment serving as your drowned out melody. And trust me Gunna, nobody thinks you put serious effort into writing this or that you resemble R. Kelly in any way - although given the current climate, why you'd want to be compared to him is utterly beyond me.

63. 'Is That Alright?' by Lady Gaga - so now we get one of the songs that doesn't really show up fully in the movie, a pretty straightforward piano ballad where Lady Gaga wants this guy to be with her until the end... and sadly it hits a few problems that are endemic to a lot of songs in this movie, namely underwhelming poetry and the fact that it doesn't quite have the detail or unique turns of phrase that would get many folks to care about it beyond Lady Gaga's admittedly impressive singing. I mean if this was the pop music Bradley Cooper's character was objecting to, I might be able to see his point... but it's not, just undercooked and underwhelming.

61. 'Business Is Business' by Lil Baby & Gunna - another half-formed guitar line, awful mastering and vocal production that sounds terrible against the hi-hat, more extended luxury porn, and while Gunna does build a decent flow, he describes it as a disease that kills rappers like AIDS - is this worse than when Vanilla Ice described his rhymes like a chemical spill, because I think it might be! At least Lil Baby is just forgettable, but yeah, this blows - next!

54. 'Off White VLONE' by Lil Baby & Gunna ft. Lil Durk & Nav - it's a bad sign when I find myself hoping that Lil Durk will save this song - Nav sure as hell isn't going to bring much to the table here - but none of it escapes the unbelievably bad bass mastering that floods out even the minimalist piano we get here. But man, I was proven wrong, because even amidst the brand name porn, Lil Durk tells his girl to suck his dick while on her period, and she can't say no - because that's what this song needed to go over well! Beyond that, the most interesting thing about this is Lil Baby hopping on a slower flow - that's not enough to redeem it.

41. 'Always Remember Us This Way' by Lady Gaga - so again, this is one of those cuts where if I close my eyes I can imagine songwriters like Lori McKenna or Natalie Hemby singing this and I have to question that with a more sparse arrangement and a little less less echo I might like it more. That said, Lady Gaga's more theatrical side does do her credit here and she can make this song her own a lot more effectively, and it winds up as one of the better cuts here, even if I do think it's missing a moment where a guitar solo crashes in to really put it on a different level. It's a better piano ballad, sure, and definitely one of the stronger cuts from the musical, but if I'm comparing this to the best of either songwriter, I'm not quite sure it's great.

36. 'I'll Never Love Again' by Lady Gaga & Bradley Cooper - it's a sad thing when the real life story behind Lady Gaga's performance of this song has more weight than what actually occurs in the movie, at least to me, as one of her close friends died of cancer on the exact day she was going to perform this song and she missed saying goodbye by just a half hour. And that gives Gaga's raw upper register some deeper impact and makes this a clear case of an artist elevating a song that otherwise wouldn't be all that special... because yeah, even given the dual context presented in the lyrics and the accents of electric guitar that does add some welcome foundation, it can feel a little too on-the-nose and the pivot for the outro to the flashback of Cooper singing it... look, I get the intended effect, it just didn't quite land as strongly as I was hoping. Eh, not bad, not great either.

28. 'Close Friends' by Lil Baby - okay, the second solo Lil Baby cut that seems to have a slightly better trap beat... but then the horrible bass mastering runs back into Lil Baby's attempt to be a crooner and that kind of kills the mood! But the romantic sentiment of the song seems warped anyway - they started off friends, became lovers, and then she changed once he got money. But the weird thing is that he comes to no real conclusion about the situation because he's not going to stop buying her things and clearly is admitting he'd probably do all the same thing again if he could! The best thing I can say is that there's a bit more melody, but it's not like Lil Baby has the personality or good vocal production to save it - not good.

25. 'STOOPID' by 6ix9ine ft. Bobby Shmurda - you know, there's a part of me that just wants to point to the damn title of the song and say you're getting exactly what's on the tin - because really, what is there to say about 6ix9ine at this point, where even his bangers are betraying a serious lack of deeper personality or flair beyond the lowest common denominator, and when that is paired with a weedy synth and a chipmunk voice opening up the song, I'm left without a lot of nice things to say. The only other two interesting things about this song are Bobby Shmurda delivering his bars through a phone speaker from jail - nice way to get a feature and he still sounds good - and that 6ix9ine dissed Ebro from Hot 97... and it's a weird thing to say, but given what happened with SummerSlam, I might be on 6ix9ine's side with this. Still, in a week full of awful production from Lil Baby and Gunna, this is at least tolerable... dire times indeed.

18. 'Without Me' by Halsey - I've been hearing a lot of conflicting reports about the quality of this new Halsey song, which appears to be a solo record unattached to any album where she's trying to get as real as possible... and maybe if you wanted to emphasize that, you wouldn't drown half the track in reverb, or keep tacking on vocal filters against this rickety trap progression and swamped out reverb. But then we get to the lyrics... and let's separate this from any on-off relationship she has with G-Eazy, I can't be the only one who thinks it seems really damn unhealthy for her to focus so damn much on elevating this guy's insecurities and self-esteem that she takes them on herself and then gets neglected, especially when the critical line is 'I'm the one who put you up there' and how she seems stunned he could live without her, which makes her seem just as lightly toxic in this situation and doesn't exactly make her sympathetic! So yeah, this isn't very good either - next!

15. 'Never Recover' by Lil Baby & Gunna ft. Drake - it's a bad thing when I'm stuck waiting for the Drake feature to save this and then reach the horrible realization that he's probably going to sound as badly produced as everyone else here. But to their credit, it doesn't quite sound as swamped out, and that means the sharper hi-hats and eerie synth dominate more of the mix and we can actually see Gunna and Lil Baby display no personality or wit in their verses and somehow Lil Baby deliver an even worse hook than normal. As for Drake, his verse is okay, but I'm really getting sick of the lazy subliminal shots he keeps throwing at Kanye and Pusha-T - dude, you lost the damn beef, and you sure as hell aren't making yourself better like this! Beyond that... look, it's one of the more tolerable songs from Drip Harder, but the entire project sounds pretty bad and I'm looking forward to knocking this off quick on the Trailing Edge this month, so stay tuned for that.

So that was this week... man, the quality is thin here, so I'm going to go with 'Maybe It's Time' by Jason Isbell - I mean Bradley Cooper for the best and Honourable Mention to 'My Blood' by twenty one pilots. Worst of the week... yeah, 'Business Is Business' by Lil Baby and Gunna gets that, and they bring along Nav and Lil Durk for 'Off White VLONE' which will get Dishonourable Mention, although they really are both terrible. Next week... see, I have no idea, I'd be inclined to say an album bomb from Quavo or Ella Mai, but streaming might not be enough on their side, so we'll see...

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