Tuesday, November 20, 2018

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - november 24, 2018

And so we reached the end of the fourth year of Billboard BREAKDOWN, a weekly series that at the end of every Billboard year I rhetorically ask whether you want me to continue it. Now of course there's a part of me that wants to keep doing it - as someone who loves delving into the history of popular music, the annals and intricacy of the Hot 100 is fascinating to me - but in 2018... look, I'm not going to mince words, this has been a rough year. More than ever, this was the year of the album bomb, when week after week the charts were blitzed with full albums backed by the streaming machine and I was stuck trying to pick up the pieces, and while I'll have plenty more to say about this when year-end lists roll around in a month or so, on a week-by-week basis it's proven exhausting and I can argue worse for the Hot 100's overall quality. And given that there's no sign any streaming platform will self-regulate against this - sometimes even being willing co-conspirators in the manipulation - I don't see it getting better, and that just makes me feel all the more exhausted by it all.

But whatever, we keep learning and going forward, so let's start with the top 10... and right now, it looks like Ariana Grande's 'thank u, next' has a solid hold on the top spot. Still on top in sales, streaming, and YouTube and rising fast on the radio, this lightweight kissoff seems to have some real dominance... weird. But coming up behind it is 'SICKO MODE' by Travis Scott, rising to #2 on a sales discount for one last ditch attempt... but if he was going to make his play for #1, he probably could have used a week where radio didn't stall out, because streaming and sales just aren't enough here. It did manage to hop over 'Happier' by Marshmello and Bastille at #3, which actually lost a spot on sales but has shored up enough sales and monstrous radio to rise up a spot. And on similar radio and sales momentum we have 'Without Me' by Halsey up to #4 - although given it does have some streaming as well, this might actually stick around and last between years - lovely. All of this shoves down 'Girls Like You' by Maroon 5 and Cardi B to #5 as the radio plummets, but keep in mind it's got enough to YouTube to keep in the top 10 a little longer, this will not go away quickly. Compare this to 'Lucid Dreams' by Juice WRLD down to #6, which hit its radio peak and I can predict will start falling off fairly quickly with weaker streaming. Granted, given that 'Mo Bamba' by Sheck Wes has risen to #7 on obscene streaming, I can't really say that's a good thing, but now we've got a new top ten entry - over a decade after their first, Panic! At The Disco's 'High Hopes' has hit #8 on big sales and even bigger airplay. Seriously, the radio push behind this song is enormous and heading into the slower holiday season, I'm not really seeing this slow down either! Hell, it blew right past 'ZEZE' by Kodak Black ft. Travis Scott and Offset down to #9, as streaming and YouTube can only prop up so much - and on that note, 'Drip Too Hard' by Lil Baby and Gunna is clinging to #10 for another week... although if you look at its margins, it's starting to look a little shaky there, thank god!

And on that pleasant topic, our losers and dropouts, and we've got a fair few big ones here. To start we have the songs that have sealed their year-end list spot: 'Back To You' by Selena Gomez, 'Delicate' by Taylor Swift, and 'No Brainer' by DJ Khaled ft. Justin Bieber, Quavo, and Chance The Rapper - and then following it we have the songs that sputtered out too early, namely 'Hotel Key' by Old Dominion and 'Killshot' by Eminem - frankly, I'm just amazed the latter song lasted this long. And if we look to our losers, they fall into three categories, starting with the debuts from Metro Boomin from last week dropping back like '10 Freaky Girls' with 21 Savage down to 56, 'Don't Come Out The House' with 21 Savage to 63, and 'Space Cadet' with Gunna down to 66. Then we have the songs sputtering out of momentum early, the most stark being 'Dip' by Tyga and Nicki Minaj down to 78, but we also have songs continuing down like 'I'll Never Love Again' by Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper at 97, 'Drew Barrymore' by Bryce Vine at 99, 'Jackie Chan' by Tiesto, Dzeko, Preme and Post Malone at 100, and thankfully 'I Love It' by Kanye West and Lil Pump, which might wind up caught between years and if there's any justice, that'll be what happens. Unfortunately, our last two losers look to have clinched their year-end position: 'FEFE' by 6ix9ine ft. Nicki Minaj and Murda Beatz down at 42 - I expect a rebound when the album drops - and 'I'm A Mess' by Bebe Rexha at 47 - the sooner both of these are gone, the better.

Granted, when we look at our gains and returning entries... look, it's a mixed bag. I'm not going to say I'm thrilled 'Consequences' by Camila Cabello gained off the debut to 83 or that 'This Feeling' by The Chainsmokers and Kelsea Ballerini went up to 77, and while 'Topanga' by Trippie Redd got the benefit of the minor album bomb 52, I wouldn't expect it to last. No, what caught more of my interest was the gains in country - not 'Lose It' by Kane Brown up to 28, that barely qualifies as country, I'm talking about 'Burning Man' by Dierks Bentley and Brothers Osborne rising to 75, and more interestingly, 'Desperate Man' by Eric Church back at 94. I've got no expectations it'll stick around... but with the coming boost from the CMAs, it could be interesting if that's what gives it some traction.

And to my shock, we actually have a decent amount of country to get through this week in our new arrivals, but before we get to that, lets start with arguably the bigger story this week...

98. 'Toxic Waste' by Trippie Redd - I swear, artists title songs like this specifically to bait a reaction from critics - and what's alarming is that it's not the only new arrival like this on the Hot 100 this week! But anyway, what I've suspected for a while is that Trippie Redd never got a full album bomb in the summer because of oversaturated competition, and I'm not sure I should thank Nicki Minaj or not for that. Anyway, he notched four new songs off his mixtape this week, and... honestly, it's not bad. I'm thinking a significant part of this is the production - minus the chipmunk vocals, of course - as Diplo takes the dusty skitter of washed out melodies to prop up Trippie Redd's autotune. Beyond that, the lyrics feel a little barebones and basic in wanting all the love even if it's toxic, but I guess I see the appeal. Again, not really great but not bad either.

96. 'Millionaire' by Chris Stapleton - it's always weird seeing Chris Stapleton show up on the Hot 100 - half because the quality is a considerable step up but also because as a critic I know it's rare we get the sort of Chris Stapleton cut that I'd say is pure excellence, and 'Millionaire' is an example of that missed opportunity. Yeah, it's good, with crisp acoustics backed up with Chris and Morgane Stapleton's harmonies, a solid enough groove... but it's also a cover that Chris Stapleton could comfortably knock out in his sleep, and if it's such a crapshoot that you get airplay anyway, why not try for something more ambitious like 'Scarecrow In The Garden', one of the best songs he's ever written? Again, I don't want to downplay that this is solid enough, but again, I know there's greatness around the corner.

95. 'Last Shot' by Kip Moore - it feels like it's been a long time since I've talked about Kip Moore in any capacity... partially because I missed covering his last album, of which a part of me is still kicking myself over, as while I heard it wasn't better than 2015's Wild Ones, it was still good. And this song... yeah, it's pretty damn solid. I'll freely admit that like Eric Church, Kip Moore probably belongs closer to Americana and heartland rock, but this is quality in that lane: the strong piano accents playing against the heavier guitars, a commit to a thicker groove, all accenting Moore's thicker rasp. And I do like his knack for playing with the flow and dynamics of the hook to draw emphasis, which is enough to make an otherwise pretty pedestrian love song have a bit more character. So yeah, again, I'm not going to call this great, but it's a good song - hope it picks up some traction.

93. 'Good Girl' by Dustin Lynch - you know, I keep expecting Dustin Lynch to do more - he made 'To The Sky' in 2014 and while that song was pushing the atmospheric side of pop country to the edge, it was a moment of raw potential I respected... none of which has been satisfied over four years. So now with this... first off, why is the vocal production so damn flat and autotuned, especially against that fake blocky percussion, not at all helped by the guitars that seem pressed through a film of oil. It just sounds so chintzy and cheap, especially with the fizzy touches around the beat, and that's before whatever the hell happened to the solo. And then we get the content - it's a love song to his good girl, and while the sentiment feels sincere, the production cheapens all of it. So yeah, mediocre to outright bad here, skip it.

91. 'Sixteen' by Thomas Rhett - so look, I'm not going to say Thomas Rhett is in my good graces - 'Marry Me' is an excellent song and you can place your bets where it winds up on my year-end list for hits in 2018, but that doesn't mean his flimsy brand of acoustic pop gets much of a pass with me, and with 'Sixteen'... okay, look, I'm inclined to be charitable here and say this isn't bad either. The percussion still sounds way too flimsy and the blending is still slicker than it should be, but the main guitar melody is good and I do like the progression of the song of how we want to be older... up until we don't. And look, on some level this song is harmless, but I always find the benefit of any age and wisdom at twenty-five doesn't quite hold a candle to a song like, say, 'We Were Cool' by Lori McKenna, which nailed this progression with far more poignancy and detail. But that's me being the indie critic who can drink whiskey hard and straight and Thomas Rhett is the watered down light beer... but it's better than average light beer, and with a good enough melody... yeah, I like it - good song.

89. 'Negative Energy' by Trippie Redd ft. Kodie Shane - and that's our country segment finished off, and we're back with Trippie Redd... and here's the thing, I get the weird feeling I should like this a little more than I do. The weird warping melody against the oddly grainy trap percussion, Trippie Redd's melodic flow that balances out well with Kodie Shane's breathy delivery... but then we get to the content and what consistently holds back Trippie Redd. Look, for as ethereal and dreamy as this production is trying to be, fusing it with bars where you're talking to shoot people in the streets, flexing, and that entire second verse which might features one of the most gross descriptions of a girl's vagina I've ever heard, along with the line 'I'm the shit like my butt stink'. So yeah, Trippie Redd, if you wanted that negative energy out of me, you got it, because this isn't very good at all.

79. 'Bad Liar' by Imagine Dragons - so from the looks of things people just aren't interested in me reviewing Imagine Dragons - it's not getting a lot of votes on my schedule and I'm just fine with that right now, especially given the reviews of it I've seen. But they've got a new single that broke through and... look, if your competition is when Selena Gomez sampled Talking Heads, you've got an uphill climb. And you know, to be fair 'Bad Liar' is a more restrained cut than you'd normally expect from Imagine Dragons, relying more watery and fizzy keys, heavier snapping percussion, and a defiantly pop approach where the guitars seem more of an accent piece to any significant piece of the melody and there's way too much vocal production. But at the same time, I don't really dislike this - it's a song where Dan Reynolds is weathering his own insecurities in the near-divorce he had with his ex-wife, but a moment of hard honesty and vulnerability on his part led to a reconciliation. Yeah, the sentiment can feel kind of oversold here, but it's more just kind of overpolished and sterile than outright bad, so I'm just kind of ambivalent on it - don't really expect it to stick around, though.

73. 'Love Scars 3' by Trippie Redd - and we're back to Trippie Redd, and... okay, this is apparently the third part of his 'love scars' series, and right now I'm not all that convinced that I need to go back and hear the other parts. For one, the vocal production is messy as all hell as the autotune and reverb contorts around his tone and the drippy piano behind the overweight trap skitter, and when we get to the lyrics... look, I get that so much of Trippie Redd's schtick is that love is torture and pain, but I can't be the only one who finds it creepy when he fills his single verse by saying 'you ain't going nowhere'? Beyond that, this is barely a full song - just over two minutes, one verse, it'll be forgotten quickly - and for good reason.

55. '1400 / 999 Freestyle' by Trippie Redd ft. Juice WRLD - because that's what we needed to make a Trippie Redd song better, a feature from Juice WRLD where he describes his sexual prowess as beating it up like Ike Turner! Seriously, who the hell likes Juice WRLD at this point as he talks about stealing your girl, his drug abuse, and his flexing that's always got this noxious air of gloating to it that doesn't justify the rhyming of phrases and words with themselves and his increasingly empty content. And it's not like Trippie Redd fares better here - his content winds up being more scattered and forgettable without his stronger focus on melody... kind of a shame, because once you get past the generic trap knock, the faded piano melody isn't bad. But nah, I'm not much of a fan of this at all, but sadly we're not done because now we've got...

44. 'Armed & Dangerous' by Juice WRLD - oh good lord... look, am I supposed to be remotely intimidated by Juice WRLD here, especially given how his hits have painted him as a drug-abusing emo brat? Hell, the production doesn't even help him here either, with the oddly elegant but wonky strings melody against the lumbering trap beat and faint hints of flutes - there's no menace here, just someone who doesn't know how to mix a good classical arrangement! And the slapdash autotuned mess overstuffed with adlibs - otherwise known as Juice WRLD's vocal line - adds nothing to the experience, with increasingly empty and incoherent flexing that owes more to Lil Uzi Vert than anything else. Three points though: given this is a song, we can't actually look at your bank account, this might be the first time I've heard an Adobe Flash reference in a hip-hop song, and it's very telling that he outright shouts out the playlist payola that snagged him a charting position. So yeah, this blows, but could it possibly get worse with...

16. 'BAD!' by XXXTENTACION - look, I'm not covering Skins. I said what I had to say at length about X, and now that he's gone... look, I've got nothing else to say other than a lot of disgust at the major labels cravenly exploiting every last shred of his legacy for an audience desperate for more. And I'm not going to play the game with this, so no, I'm not dignifying the posthumous cash-grab with a proper review - it's been vetoed, not happening. That said, enough of the songs will likely show up on Billboard BREAKDOWN, so let me handle this quickly - it's a fragment that's barely ninety seconds with some of the cheapest percussion layering I've heard all year, X's diction is generally incoherent, the melody is increasingly discordant, and the most we get of a complete idea is a fragment of a hookup between X and a girl who wants it bad - and knowing the other side of X's legacy, it's nothing I would ever revisit. 

So yeah, slapped together cash-grab garbage, where I have to imagine even he would have included a little more to make this a full song, and for both what it is and what it represents, it's the worst of the week, with Juice WRLD's 'Armed & Dangerous' close behind as Dishonourable Mention. Best of the week... you know, it's tricky, but I think the melody and content by Thomas Rhett just edges out Kip Moore here, so 'Sixteen' will get best of the week with 'Last Shot' by Kip Moore as Honourable Mention. That rounds up the end of this particular Billboard year - 2019 starts next week and let's hope to god it's better than this!

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