Wednesday, January 30, 2019

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - february 2, 2019

So I'm not going to say I'm surprised by everything that happened this week - sure, I expected the Future album bomb, but I also expected that it would be more muted than ones in the past, and I seemed mostly correct about that. But beyond that, this is the sort of week that I expected would eventually come in 2019, where the new year begins to start shoveling away the last... although note that none of this guarantees said new year is good, we'll have to see.

But in a pretty striking display, this first came to light in the top 10, where we have another new #1, and in this case a #1 debut that I'll admit a little surprise that she pulled it off: '7 Rings' by Ariana Grande. Now I'll get into the song a little more in-depth later on, but it should be no surprise that this song did as well as it did: huge YouTube rollout in sync with massive sales and streaming, it looks like Ariana's team has finally nailed down the release formula to get her second #1 single, and even if it might not stay there, she's got the radio push to keep it close to that conversation. And make no mistake, this is bad news for 'Without Me' by Halsey pushed down to #2, muscled back on sales and streaming even as its radio momentum holds up, even though it's had some diminishing returns by the end of the week. This takes us to 'Sunflower' by Post Malone and Swae Lee at #3, and to be honest, I'm not sure whether it'll get the traction to challenge again, because despite consistent stats in all other categories, the radio has been up and down all week. This takes us to 'thank u, next' by Ariana Grande recovering a spot up to #4 mostly on good sales, but its inconsistent radio should be worrisome, especially as it seems like '7 Rings' is cannibalizing its radio traction, which gives me the impression that she might be reaching the point where she has too many singles in circulation - worrisome. This leaves 'SICKO MODE' by Travis Scott at #5, which held steady in most categories but did see the airplay start to slip away, and on that topic, 'High Hopes' by Panic! At The Disco fell to #6 for much of the same reason, finally hitting its radio peak and only holding thanks to consistent sales. And along the same lines, 'Happier' by Marshmello and Bastille slid to #7 - it's got the consistency in all channels to fall slowly, but it is going to fall, that's for certain. All of this is fortuitous for 'Wow.' by Post Malone up to #8 - yeah, sales are a bit weak, but streaming is on-board and radio is finally picking up speed - again, I see this sticking around. All of this pushed back 'Girls Like You' by Maroon 5 ft. Cardi B to #9 - again, the only reason it's still in the top 10 at all is because YouTube and radio haven't killed it yet - and finally, clinging to #10 on streaming alone we have 'Drip Too Hard' by Lil Baby and Gunna - thankfully, looks like its time is nearly over.

And on that subject, our losers and dropouts! Not a lot of big ones in the latter category beyond 'She Got The Best Of Me' by Luke Combs, but we did see 'Fine China' by Future and Juice WRLD fall off, along with 'BAD!' by XXXTENTACION and 'Blue Tacoma' by Russell Dickerson. But we did see a fair amount of losers, so let's start with the big ones: 'Natural' by Imagine Dragons down to 50, 'Best Shot' by Jimmie Allen down to 60, 'Consequences' by Camila Cabello fizzling out at 72, and 'Uproar' by Lil Wayne continuing down to 59. And on the note of expected losses, 'TAlk tO Me' by Rich The Kid and Tory Lanez also continued down to 94, and off the debut we saw 'Nights Like This' by Kehlani and Ty Dolla $ign skid to 88, along with the expected sputter for 'Saturday Nights' by Khalid and Kane Brown to 75. Yeah, Khalid didn't have a great week, as his collab with Billie Eilish 'lovely' went to 82, but Billie Eilish might have even had it worse, with some of her lowest-lying songs falling off and 'when the party's over' going to 87 - anytime Interscope wants to release that debut album would be good, thanks, I don't like how her momentum seems to be stalling! But on the list of songs where momentum wasn't really a factor, we had 'Startender' by A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie, Offset and Tyga going to 80, 'Pure Cocaine' by Lil Baby running out at 89, 'Electricity' by Silk City, Dua Lipa, Diplo and Mark Ronson at 90, and 'Roses' by Benny Blanco, Juice WRLD and Brendon Urie at 97 - yeah, we were all spared THAT becoming a hit, thank god.

Now given we have a pretty big list of new arrivals we didn't really get much in the way of gains or returning entries this week - hell, the only one in the latter category is 'imagine' by Ariana Grande at 99, and that I'm guessing only came back on residual impressions because of her #1. And for our gains... look, two from Future with 'Crushed Up' at 43 and 'Jumpin On A Jet' to 57 as expected by the album bomb, and 'Twerk' by City Girls ft. Cardi B up to 29 because I'd put money on this becoming a huge hit, especially as we head into spring... which I'm okay with, as I mostly like the song!

But speaking of Future's album bomb - not quite big enough that I have license to ignore it - let's get to our new arrivals and start with...

100. 'Call The Coroner' by Future - oh look, for some ungodly reason we're starting this week with the worst song off The WIZRD. Seriously, this is a song where Future can't even articulate what an Oreo looks like and follows it with lines about 'throwing cash in the air like a volleyball' and got me thinking whether he's referring to a serve or a bump - the latter being more likely because of the motion but also one where you're hitting the ball, not throwing it! But really, that's just the stupid lines - the more egregious ones is where he makes it clear he's back to drugs amidst brand name porn for a song with only a single verse. Yeah, the piano melody sounds okay enough, but is there anything more revealing on this song than a reference to Mardi Gras chains - flashy, but cheap and ultimately disposable - next!

98. 'Face My Fears' by Hikaru Utada & Skrillex - okay, so there are two songs on this list this week that genuinely surprised me, and this is one of them - mostly because when I reviewed Hikaru Utada in the summer of last year, I had no idea there's be any crossover attempt made for the U.S. market! To catch those of you up who haven't seen that review, she's a Japanese-American singer-songwriter who is widely considered one of the best selling j-pop acts of all time, especially throughout the 2000s, she went on hiatus for several years before making a comeback in 2016, and now this is a single released with Skrillex for Kingdom Hearts III. Full disclosure, I was a PC gamer and thus never played Kingdom Hearts, so I can't speak to how well this song might fit with the games, but as a, I'm not crazy about it. I'll freely admit that going to the English version first might have been a mistake, especially given how weird the meter of her verses and piano line tries to fit against Skrillex's grainy, overcompressed groove and synthesized vocals, but even switching to the version with Japanese verses still doesn't fit all that well, like two song ideas inelegantly mashed together and that sure as hell doesn't flatter her voice. I dunno, it's okay, but I've definitely heard better from both artists, and I really don't expect this to stick around.

96. 'GIRL' by Maren Morris - okay, can someone tell Nashville programmers that it's completely missing the point to plug the conspicuous holes on country radio with Maren Morris when she's not going to make country music anyway? Sure, her voice still has some twang and that is a guitar behind her, but what about Greg Kurstin's overweight percussion and pushing a flimsy synth makes this country instead of a pop-soul fusion like what we could have heard from Kelly Clarkson or Demi Lovato two years ago? Hell, it even has the by-the-numbers self-esteem anthem callbacks - look, even when I didn't like Maren Morris' writing, it was at least more distinctive than this! So yeah, it's not precisely bad, but it absolutely is forgettable - send it to the pop stations, Nashville, you're not getting a pass with this!

95. 'Murder On My Mind' by YNW Melly - so am I the only one who just saw this guy come right the hell out of nowhere? Again, maybe I'm not keeping my ear to the group enough to hear yet another MC come up through Soundcloud projects - especially as he's been putting up projects since late 2017 in between stints in jail and somehow got a Kanye West cosign, more on that in a bit - but he's got two songs that charted this week, with this being the first. And... yeah, I kind of see why there's hype here. Let's get the problems out of the way first: the grainy trap beat and heavily autotuned vocal production does not sound good, especially with those vocal samples and the leaden beat, especially when there's a pretty good piano line here. And for as vivid and heartfelt as the storytelling feels on the second verse, a return to flexing and the odd giggle he interjects kind of kills any larger sense of atmosphere. That said... the hook is good and his more melodic flow is pretty sticky, and I won't deny he's got a knack for enough detail to keep this interesting. You can definitely tell this is an older cut only getting exposure now thanks to his higher-charting song, but it's intriguing - but before we hear more...

91. 'On My Way To You' by Cody Johnson - well, this is awkward. See, I've actually reviewed Texas act Cody Johnson before back in 2016 when I was on vacation... and I didn't really like much of what I heard. Part of this was the fact I was listening to Cody Jinks around the same time who is just on a different level, but a lot of his production and writing didn't stand out much and when it did it just rubbed me the wrong way. And yet lo and behold he signed a joint deal with Warner Nashville that allowed him to keep a lot of creative control and now he's got a single riding off a big album release... and yet while I'm still not really wowed to go and review the album, there's quality here, mostly in terms of production that knows to add a lot of rich pedal steel and fiddle against real organic warmth. And yet... I dunno, the writing just feels a little undercooked even for this brand of long-lost love song, and I'm not sure it earns how much the electric guitars come crashing in. Still good, and I'm happy he's getting success with these sorts of songs - that promises a lot going forward, check this out.

83. 'F&N' by Future - and we're back to Future, who informs us he has 'so many white bitches, Klu Klux Klan' amidst a lot of gunplay on a swampy beat... but points to him, said beat does pick up a little more momentum when we get a lot of watery fragments barely passing as a melody as he talks about killing people on cruise ships. I think where I struggle with this song and indeed so much of The WIZRD is how Future sells all of his murderous intent with the sort of empty drone that doesn't capture any concrete menace, especially when it's juxtaposed with references to Ray J! So yeah, it's better than 'Call The Coroner'... but only barely.

81. 'Pure Water' by DJ Mustard & Migos - so for starters, it looks like DJ Mustard is trying to rebrand himself as just 'Mustard' as he recruited Migos for the push... and seriously, if there was a time to do this, it was the summer of 2014, not the winter of 2019 where if you weren't reading the liner notes of Ella Mai's debut, you wouldn't know or care about what he's been doing. And yet to my absolute disbelief... I kind of like this, and I'm struggling to nail down how and why. I think a lot of it comes from that shrill vocal sample that DJ Mustard twists into a hook with enough momentum to keep Migos on tempo, along with a more aggressive bass groove. Granted, what Migos actually do with it is questionable - the 'I'm not from Canada, but I see a lot of tings' line from Quavo would be embarrassing enough if Takeoff didn't mimic something similar in his verse, and beyond that it's a lot of flexing that doesn't really add to much, although Quavo did find time to mention how he's going to be 'dismantling your bitch'. And yet if you can forget all that... there's groove to this in the same way that I liked 'Taste' from last year, and I can see this being a hit - definitely not great, but not bad either.

79. 'Rocket Ship' by Future - and we're back to Future again... really, what do I even say about a fragment like this? Barely any distinctive melody until we get one verse where it gets drowned behind that watery rattle, a lumpy bass and trap beat, and absolutely nothing worth mention except more drug references, because who else are you buying the Actavis for, Future? In other words, utterly forgettable, so let's move on to...

76. 'Temptation' by Future - I referenced this in my review, I'll say it again: the biggest appeal to Future's material is succumbing to temptation in a nihilistic stupor, so when you have another desaturated clunker that actively samples his worst album and only barely disguise the Ty Dolla $ign imitation on the post-chorus where he's trying to fight temptation - amidst an album and even a song where that's clearly not happening as he's still very much on drugs and the girl is giving him 'head like a tumor'... yeah, this isn't good, and I didn't even get to that ugly Post Malone-esque warble he tries on the verses. And if you're looking for more evidence that Future's getting left behind, it's this. 

71. 'Mixed Personalities' by YNW Melly ft. Kanye West - so I'll freely admit I was worried about this song and the possibility of another disgusting Kanye West verse, but instead we get a goopy addition to the chorus with entirely too much autotune, especially with that falsetto post-chorus. But it's really this song where YNW Melly is exposed as yet another person trying to rip off Young Thug's melodic contortions and switches from crooning to rapping - which he describes as 'mixed personalities' in dealing with the girl who dumped him... and you know, I would be inclined to say this might work except for three things. One, the modulation in content from line to line doesn't really reflect a difference between him and his alter-ego, something at least Lil Yachty came close to getting right. Secondly, it's more like the song has an ugly case of passive-aggressiveness where he calls his girl his 'slime' - which is a new term of endearment if I've ever heard one. And finally, I'm really goddamn sick of Kanye's increasingly incomprehensible approach to mental instability, especially when it feels like a cheap excuse to be a total asshole, especially when the hook implies the girl might be in a similar strait but the second verse implies that she's the one who should be on meds! Yeah, this entire song feels toxic and gross, and pissed away any goodwill YNW Melly built with 'Murder On My Mind' - hope this dies fast, next!

68. 'Secreto' by Anuel AA & Karol G - okay, honest question: why are we still giving Anuel AA traction on anything? Even for reggaeton he seems completely uninteresting, and now with this song we get him paired with Columbian artist Karol G... and yeah, not impressed here. The desaturated fragments of melody, the utterly standard reggaeton beat, the lack of any interesting harmonies, and the sort of lyrics that might read as hyperbolic when translated - seriously, Karol G mentions suicide if she can't be with him - but are sold with the flat stock cadence of ordering a morning coffee. And as such, like with most reggaeton these days, I'll forget this exists in record time - let's move on.

65. 'Never Stop' by Future - okay, only two more Future songs to get through, this being the opening track and a single extended verse against a dreary bit of glittery ambiance where the bragging starts to raise more questions than it answers. Basically it feels like a 'more money, more problems' cut because people are envious but also ignoring him and that nothing matters to him - so why exactly are you flexing again? Why are you lying and saying you 'never lost a lady' when Ciara very much left you for cheating, and given how many children you have, maybe it might have been for the best to let a few of them go? And if you're so goddamn rich, why are you getting your grandmother to serve your dope? But at the end of the day, like with all of that album it's awash in forgettable bragging and I can't see this sticking around. Which is a similar case for...

47. 'First Off' by Future ft. Travis Scott - so I'll say this: I think it's intriguing that of the two Future songs with guests, only one hit the Hot 100 - guess Young Thug and Gunna don't have that starpower as of yet, but to be serious, this is an absolute waste of Travis Scott. All Future does with this is rattle through brand names with dreary boredom that gives me no incentive to care, and while I won't say on a content level that Travis delivers much more, but at least he tries to string together some decent basketball references and has a bit more enthusiasm - not much compared to his best, but it's at least there. But I must thank Future for this - it's nice that he provided some adequate job training and support here for his replacement.

38. 'Keanu Reeves' by Logic - so I said several months back that I did not want to hear Logic on trap beats. I knew it was inevitable because he concluded his Young Sinatra series which at least put him on production that could flatter his tone, but it didn't mean I was looking forward to it. And sure enough, against a washed out melodic loop we get Logic bragging about how great he is with a flow that once again owes too much to J. Cole and Kendrick. And sure, he's at least trying harder than Future, but maybe it's a really stupid idea to undercut the emotional undercurrent of your suicide hotline song by making it an explicit reference to your car doors. Hell, he spent all of Everybody taking about being biracial and now he passes it off like a cheap joke on his first verse, where not only is he too late to the party but it retroactively hurts a project that probably picked up resonance for somebody! Trying to own the meme kills it, dude, and when you try to get preachy on the second verse it proves just how transparent your attempt to grab control of the narrative is! So yeah, the flow might be good, but the humour is forced as all hell and I'm still not onboard - let's move on.

26. 'MIDDLE CHILD' by J. Cole - it's funny, since I've mostly avoided J. Cole conversation I'm coming to this song a lot later than I think a lot of people are - hell, I heard Joe Budden rant about it on his podcast for a solid half hour which seems to be doing a lot to both undersell and oversell its impact, especially given that its creation didn't come out of the Dreamville sessions at all! So yeah, I really had no idea what to expect with it... and I dunno, given that I kind of missed all the overmarketing, I'm still kind of underwhelmed by it. Sure, J.Cole's flow is good and the horns on the melodic loop are alright, but this doesn't feel like any shots were seriously taken so much a bunch of vague implications made in Kanye's general direction, an awkward flex about a watch Drake bought him, and a bunch of references to rappers between generations where J. Cole is trying to be an intermediary. And yet if he's trying to give something real, be the arbiter who knows the score, you'd think there'd be a bit more force or punch to drive it home, or he'd be a little more willing to put names on wax beyond the younger crowd, or a little more willing to pick and choose which of the younger crowd is worth elevating, because I sure as hell wouldn't put Kodak Black in that category! But as a whole... eh, it's fine enough and surprisingly catchy, but I don't really see this sticking around that long.

1. '7 Rings' by Ariana Grande - it's funny, I've been hearing both the praise and backlash to this song long before I actually heard it, with many fans and even fellow critics calling this one of Ariana Grande's worst ever songs. And thus coming to it now... you know, I've been worried about how quickly Ariana Grande is looking to turn around with a new album after sweetener, and songs like this are the reason why. For one, it feels like a hodgepodge, grabbing its most recognizable interpolation from The Sound Of Music before we rattle through the list of flows she flipped from folks spanning from Princess Nokia to Soulja Boy. And when you couple it with a very barebones melody and trap beat, it can't help but feel rushed and undercooked even after we got 'thank u, next'. Now granted, this is a flex anthem about buying expensive jewelry and flossing, and it's not like Ariana hasn't made songs with this subject matter before - look at 'Greedy' - and hell, I'm not against songs like this on principle. But I will say that it feels a little rich for Ariana to assemble her retail therapy from a pileup of other ideas - neither the shoes nor the samples will help flesh out your personality, not helped by the haughty dismissiveness in her delivery, no matter how much natural charisma she has. So yeah, while this song is doing extremely well for now and I absolutely like it more than Halsey's 'Without Me', '7 Rings' is the sort of song I can see dying off fast or souring a lot more folks on Ariana, and frankly, she can do better.

So yeah, this was a long week... and not a lot of it was good, unfortunately. The worst is actually pretty easy - 'Mixed Personalities' by YNW Melly and Kanye for gross production and lyrics that scream of undercooked hypocrisy, with Dishonourable Mention to 'Call The Coroner' by Future for just being asinine. Now the best... you know, it's close, but I think Cody Johnson just slips in for the top spot with 'On The Way To You', with 'Pure Water' by DJ Mustard and Migos as the Honourable Mention - what can I say, despite your expected Migos inanities, I think it's got potential to stick around. Next week, the fallout, and I predict there's going to be more than y'all expect.

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