Tuesday, November 27, 2018

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - december 1, 2018

And so begins the fifth season of Billboard BREAKDOWN, the fifth year that I've been making this weekly show and what many folks have outright told me is the biggest draw to this channel. And you know, deep down there's a part of me that does have optimism for the future and the rough hope that things will improve in 2019, following off a particularly rough year in 2018 that may not have been as bad as 2016, but it certainly feels close. And yet if this week is any omen for what's to come... well, we'll get to it.

But first, our top 10 - and you know, I'm still not exactly thrilled that 'thank u, next' by Ariana Grande is still at #1, given that I'm still kind of underwhelmed by the song, but you can't deny that even despite losing the top spot on sales, the streaming is still impressive and you can't deny its radio traction. Certainly feels stronger than 'SICKO MODE' by Travis Scott at #2, which might be holding its margin on streaming and picked up sales gains, but it's not quite dominant enough on radio to hold a play there, and to me it seems very vulnerable to 'Happier' by Marshmello and Bastille at #3 - yeah, sales and radio have eased off just a bit, but its streaming is solid and it's got the sort of inertia to capitalize on losses elsewhere. But what might be the larger contender is 'Without Me' by Halsey up to #4 - top spot on sales, solid radio gains, a good streaming presence - not quite dominant anywhere, but enough across the board to hold its own. Compare this to 'Lucid Dreams' by Juice WRLD, which may have regained a slot to #5 and still has good streaming, but the radio is dropping hard, and that means it's very much vulnerable to 'High Hopes' by Panic! At The Disco up to #6, which seized the top spot on the radio and has real sales presence... even if its streaming is absolutely lousy. Then holding at #7 we have 'Mo Bamba' by Sheck Wes - huge streaming to the point where he doesn't care much radio never got onboard, although the sales are better than expected - and taking another dip to #8 we've got 'Girls Like You' by Maroon 5 ft. Cardi B at #8, as it's just bleeding everywhere but has enough YouTube to stem its collapse. Then actually picking up a slot we have 'Drip Too Hard' by Lil Baby and Gunna at #9 - again, all it has is streaming and YouTube, but I reckon its gain is more because of the collapse of 'ZEZE' by Kodak Black ft. Travis Scott and Offset. Yes, I saw that it got a video, but that doesn't eliminate the fact that its sales are lousy and it's got no radio traction, I don't nearly see this rebounding as much as everyone predicted.

And this takes us to our losers and dropouts... and there are a few considerable ones in the latter category, like 'Big Bank' by YG ft. 2 Chainz, Big Sean and Nicki Minaj which will make the year end list and 'Jackie Chan' by Tiesto, Dzeko, Post Malone & Preme which along with 'Drew Barrymore' by Bryce Vine will not. And for our losers... look, none of these are all that surprising. In particular those capitalizing on XXXTENTACION's death didn't have a great week, with 'BAD!' falling to 39 and 'Falling Down' with the late Lil Peep skidding to 84, but that would also ignore the failings of '1400/999 Freestyle' from Trippie Redd and Juice WRLD losing off the debut to 68, as well as 'Don't Come Out The House' by Metro Boomin and 21 Savage continuing down to 78. Beyond that... eh, you could predict that 'Lose It' by Kane Brown would lose off the album boost to 40 and that 'Bohemian Rhapsody' by Queen would get the expected jolt to 50, but what I'm kind of annoyed about is 'I'm A Mess' by Bebe Rexha falling to 59 - this couldn't have happened a few weeks ago amidst all those album bombs to keep it off the year-end list proper? Seriously?

Now as you'd expect, given that we are heading into the holiday season, our list of gains and returning entries has slowed to a crawl - seriously, we've only got one gain and that's going to 'Arms Around You' by XXXTENTACION, Lil Pump, Maluma and Swae Lee up to 49, just goddamn wonderful. Now thankfully, we did get three generally enjoyable returns: 'Electricity' by Silk City and Dua Lipa ft. Diplo and Mark Ronson back at 94, 'lovely' by Billie Eilish and Khalid back at 80, and like with every year, 'All I Want For Christmas Is You' by Mariah Carey is back at 29 - breaking through earlier than ever, so will this be the year where it makes the run for the Christmas #1?  Eh, we'll see.

And hell, we only have five new entries, but before we get to that, I've been thinking about ways to add new features when we do have only a few songs to get through. Now normally I've got my World Hit selections, but the issue I often encounter is that with an increasingly global music presence and fewer barriers to global crossover, a lot of the charts worldwide have converged and show all the more overlap - hell, if you're wondering why I rarely use my old tagline, 'the Canadian charts are always better', that's one of the reasons why. So what I'm going to introduce instead is something a little more unique, and something I might introduce with more frequency than your average World Hit, where I identify a song that could have been in the prime position to chart this week but for some reason it never did and likely never will, no matter how much I'd like it. So for this inaugural episode of Ideal Hit... hey, she got a returning entry, let's see what she's doing now!

So as you all know, I reviewed Mariah Carey's newest release Caution just a few days ago, an album that created a mainstream but subtle update to Mariah's sound, with this being the lead-off single. And yet it looks like the only Mariah folks want to hear is the old stuff - but if you were looking for a song that could have easily charted with more streams and a better sales and radio push, let's talk about 'With You', which fits more seamlessly into the mainstream than you'd otherwise think. DJ Mustard's piano-based production is low-key but adds enough of a bass knock and snap to this sort of silky, R&B slow burn, and when you factor in the conflicted long-term relationship, references to the 90s, and conversational writing, even the subject matter fits. Of course, the biggest factor becomes Mariah Carey herself, who is head-and-shoulders above so many in mainstream R&B in terms of vocal timbre and gentle ease that you have to wonder if she was kept off just for overachieving... or just being the difficult personality that is Mariah Carey.

But man, it's such a great song, I really needed that before we get into our new entries, starting with...

100. 'Burn The House Down' by AJR - I'll be honest, I was expecting to encounter AJR well before today. I thought they'd have that crossover single, pushing their faux-independent caterwauling months ago - and incidentally, while I'm here, I might as well correct something from my review of The Click, because AJR is no longer on Warner Bros, I misspoke there; blame the fever and general illness. But they sure as hell signed distribution and publishing deals with RED and BMG along with a singles deal tied to Black Butter, all of which are subsidiaries owned by Sony, so my general point stands. In any case, this song was not present on The Click and thus this is my first exposure to it... and here's the thing: by the standards of AJR songs, it's not the absolute worst thing I've heard from this group. It's got some facsimile of a groove and that rinky-dink piano they push onto the bridge isn't bad amidst all the squonky, synthetic horn pickups, fake handclaps and percussion, huge sandy whooshes, and chipmunk vocals! It's all painfully squeaky clean, sounding all the more plastic and grating thanks to this band's precise ability to pick precisely the right tone to piss me off! But I've liked music this polished if not moreso, I've defended S Club 7 before, for god's sake - but at least S Club 7 didn't try to write a message calling for revolution! Revolution for 'what' exactly, AJR never bothers to mention directly, but that's because this song isn't really about any one cause no matter what their frontman stammers about, but just like on The Click the thought of actually standing for something when it's becomes abundantly clear they'd rather appropriate the vague construct of provocative ideas rather than take an actual stand. And what's so damn insufferable about this is that there's no evidence that AJR could actually make the heavy, 'controversial' material they allude to - it feels like a spiritual successor to 'Feel It Still' by Portugal. The Man more than anything, but at least that song was upfront with the holes steadily being punched in its ironic detachment. AJR, meanwhile, seems content to second-guess and minimize any movement by describing those marching as 'every stranger on Twitter' - the New Radicals weren't convincing in their flimsy revolutionary movement on 'You Get What You Give' either, but at least they could sell it like they believed it! No, what this represents most is a band seeing the youth zeitgeist slip away from them and want to hang onto an organic movement despite being just as propped up by the machine - and thus there's a certain twisted irony that the only reason many kids probably know about this song is because it and the band were featured in a party montage on a David Dobrik video that featured Kendall Jenner - frankly, for what this song is trying, that's punchline enough!

99. 'Girl Like You' by Jason Aldean - most of you might not remember the year I put a Jason Aldean track on my list of the best songs of the year. Not just hits, all songs... and man, ever since then he's just continued to give me evidence I gave him way too much credit. And this is another prime example of that, flattening the guitar on the verses, relying more on a chopped up vocal sample for melody, and for the oversold, sandy mess of a hook he even sneaks in a few stuttering trap progressions in the hi-hat! Because why not - when you have nothing close to sensuality in your delivery or content to default to brainless bro-country, might as well try to stand out in the worst ways possible. Yeah, this blows, next!

98. 'Close To Me' by Ellie Goulding & Diplo ft. Swae Lee - no joke, when I was first drafting this, I literally forgot this song was new this week and I have no idea why, especially as I've been wondering for a while when Ellie Goulding would make her return after an album that I was very hard on in 2015 but still had some tremendous highlights. So with this... hmm, it's decent enough. Ellie Goulding has a lot of eclectic personality that rarely gets the credit it deserves and I like some of the lyrical details of being shitty people together, but it kind of overruns whatever Swae Lee tries who is just not in her lane. Sadly it can't overrun Diplo's overproduction - seriously, give her a more delicate groove and a clear vocal pickup, because between the damp lo-fi acoustic pickup, the tinny trap touches, the blocky bass, the scratchy percussion, it's a density that doesn't flatter anything and that's before we get those squonking synths dropped onto the bridge. Overall... eh, not bad, but man, Ellie Goulding has so many better songs.

97. 'ocean eyes' by Billie Eilish - so I've been waiting for this to creep onto the charts for a bit now - Billie Eilish has been quietly building up a lot of swell in the bottom half of the Hot 100 and had a particularly good week here, with this being her newest crossover. And what's important to note with this is that it's a much older song than many that have crossed over thus far - originally released in late 2015, it's a more soft and placid listen than the brittle, unnerving tracks Billie Eilish won me over with, but I still reckon it's pretty good. Tasteful multi-tracking, breathy melodies, a sparse bassy beat that owes more of a debt to Lana Del Rey, and the fear of falling hard for someone with hidden, inscrutable depths but who can detach and leave people behind incredibly easily. It's just a really well-structured, minimalist pop song... but if we are making a comparison to the glassy, slightly unnerving cuts like 'you should see me in a crown' or the excellent low-key stunners like 'when the party's over' or even 'lovely' that came back this week, this doesn't quite hit in the same way. Still really good, though.

92. 'Twerk' by City Girls ft. Cardi B - and now on the other side of the spectrum... you know, it's funny, I've been curious what newer acts Cardi B would elevate thanks to proximity to her success, and thus far I haven't had much room to complain. Pardison Fontaine has the charisma and presence to be credible in his own right, but the more exciting act to talk about here are City Girls, who got their first burst of popularity thanks to Drake and 'In My Feelings' and now with this collaboration... not exactly helped by one of their members going to jail for fraud for two years, but the song is here all the same. And it's pretty damn good, helped out by a big propulsive Master P sample that builds to a killer hook with real build-up into the nasty synth, a lot of scratching, and trap flourishes that feel natural without overwhelming the groove. And when it comes to the verses... look, I'm not going to lie and say I'm wowed by any of them, mostly because I think only giving them twelve bars a piece feels a bit like they're in too big a hurry to get back to the hook, and the content is pretty basic flexing, but for this sort of basic track to establish City Girls on their own, I think it's effective - hell, they've got better construction and control of their flows than most of the guys I cover. Speaking of which...

81. 'Take One' by Kodak Black - okay, let me say this: I actually kind of like the production on this. Yeah, the bass is a bit too heavy, but that warped melodic sample contorting behind Kodak has some snarled weirdness I like. Shame that's about the last thing I like on this, mostly hurt by Kodak Black's slapdash flow and slurred delivery as he spends the track going at 6ix9ine for his current legal turmoil and the likelihood he'll snitch on the slew of people caught up in this disaster - probably not the best thing to include as well as references to you hiring shooters on a song where you admit you're on house arrest, but whatever. And the flubbed rhymes... 'months' with 'somethin', 'it' with 'want', 'real' with 'live', and 'chill' with 'tear', all on a song where he keeps slipping away from the diss to talk about all the sex he's having - although his interchangeable usage of the word 'pussy' to describe both 6ix9ine and the girl does lead to several amusing parallels I could make. Whatever, it's decent production spoiled by a lousy rapper, let's move on.

So yeah, this week was kind of a mess, but the best and worst fall out fairly easily. Best... you know, I think I'm going to give a tie this week to both 'Twerk' by City Girls and Cardi B and 'ocean eyes' by Billie Eilish - a lot of potential here, I hope 2019 is great for the both of them. Worst... you know, I'd say it wasn't a competition, but Jason Aldean and Kodak Black put up some turds... but AJR and 'Burn The House Down' has a lock on this, the perfect storm of awful to set my teeth on edge. So yeah, not sure where we go from here, but let's hope 2019 keeps things interesting.

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