Wednesday, February 20, 2019

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - february 23, 2019

So everyone and their mother was going to predict that Ariana Grande would have an album bomb this week. That's not surprising, and I'm fully aware that me saying it last week was not blowing anyone's mind. I will say I'm a bit surprised that she broke through so high in the top 40, with only one song from the album not placing there. And what I find interesting here is that when you combine a relatively modest track length - we're only talking new songs from Ariana here - and only a few other breakthroughs around it, it leads to a week that didn't quite feel as disrupted as I expected. More just at the top than anything, and that gives me the impression that thank u, next as an album might suffer a steeper dropoff than Ariana's people are prepared to acknowledge. Hey, you make an album custom-built for streaming, you suffer the consequences!

Now I'll admit I sound a bit nuts to proclaim this when you're looking at the top 10, where Ariana Grande has become the first act since the Beatles to hold all three slots at the very top. '7 rings' still is at #1 riding monster streaming, big sales, a lot of YouTube, and surging radio, and when you follow it with the big debut at #2 for 'break up with your girlfriend, i'm bored' which is riding huge YouTube and sales, and the rebound for 'thank u, next' to #3 despite the radio dropoff still got the big streams, it sure as hell looks like Ariana is ruling everything. But such a heavy reliance on streaming can be fickle, and even though I don't like the song, I can see 'Without Me' by Halsey rebounding next week past #4, because the sales and radio are still mostly strong here. Hell, I'd probably put even more money on 'Sunflower' by Post Malone and Swae Lee at #5, where the streaming is more robust... even if the radio seems to be struggling more than I'd expect. All of this elbowed back 'Happier' by Marshmello and Bastille at #6 - and given how hard it's falling on the radio, I can see this falling even harder - and then we have 'SICKO MODE' by Travis Scott at #7, and while I've been predicting this was going to fall off, given how stable its streaming and radio has been against Ariana's onslaught, it might just rebound too! What won't is 'High Hopes' by Panic! At The Disco at #8 - its decline has been slower than I've expected, but the radio is in free-fall and I can see this gone sooner rather than later. Which hopefully would me that 'Wow.' by Post Malone would rise past #9 given its radio momentum... but the streaming seems more tractable than it should be - might be time for a discount on this one, especially in the weeks where Ariana is falling off. Finally, cracking back into the top ten we have 'Eastside' by Benny Blanco, Khalid and Halsey - unsurprising given that it has real radio traction, but that also looks like all it has, so I wouldn't expect this to last too long.

Now where things get a bit more interesting come in the losers and dropouts - given how Ariana Grande's new arrivals smashed into the top 40, she wound up knocking out a fair few songs higher on the list and not quite triggering the same losses you'd expect. 'Trip' by Ella Mai, 'Love Lies' by Khalid & Normani, 'Speechless' by Dan + Shay, ''Beautiful' by Bazzi ft. Camila Cabello, 'breathin' by Ariana Grande - hell, the only major loss below the top 40 came to 'No Stylist' by French Montana ft. Drake, and that was on the way out already. Now the losers did cascade down into the lower parts of the hot 100... but a few less than I expected, if I'm being honest. And some slipped more because of a natural falloff like for Billie Eilish's songs, with 'bury a friend' going to 32 and 'when the party's over' sliding to 78, or the tracks in the top 40 that probably should be heading out anyway, like 'Youngblood' by 5 Seconds Of Summer to 34, 'Wake Up In The Sky' by Gucci Mane, Bruno Mars, Kodak Black to 35, 'Taki Taki' by DJ Snake ft. Selena Gomez, Ozuna & Cardi B, and 'Mo Bamba' by Sheck Wes to 41. The rest... well, major streaming disruptions are to be expected for A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie, with 'Look Back At It' dropping to 47 and 'Startender' with Tyga and Offset going to 99, and I might as well throw 'Pure Cocaine' by Lil Baby falling to 67, 'Put A Date On It' by Yo Gotti and Lil Baby to 72, 'Nights Like This' by Kehlani and Ty Dolla $ign to 89, 'YOSEMITE' by Travis Scott to 90, and 'TAlk tO Me' by Rich The Kid and Tory Lanez to 96. Outside of that... look, the rest just seem like country songs pushed down naturally, with 'This Is It' by Scotty McCreery to 52, 'Sixteen' by Thomas Rhett to 69, 'Burning Man' by Dierks Bentley ft. Brothers Osborne to 76, and 'Good Girl' by Dustin Lynch continuing down to 83 - good.

Now where things get a bit more interesting come in our gains and returning entries, because of course 'imagine' by Ariana Grande rebounded to 21, but we also saw slight boosts for 'Secreto' by Anuel AA and Karol G to 80 and 'Con Calma' by Daddy Yankee and Snow go to 95. And the only two gains we saw for 'Close Friends' by Lil Baby up to 68 off the video and 'Murder On My Mind' by YNW Melly rising to 59... which to me seems intriguing especially given his case rising in notoriety. This could well be another 'The Race' by Tay-K, and while that's unsettling on a certain level, this is a better song, so it'll be worth watching for a while. And while we are here, given album bomb rules are in effect, 'make up' by Ariana Grande is the sole song affected, debuting at #48 and generally being pretty disposable as it is.

But now to the larger story and the debuts, and let's start with a prediction that I never expected to get right...

98. 'Rainbow' by Kacey Musgraves - okay, truth be told I was a bit concerned this would happen last week when I picked this song: I knew she was releasing and pushing it as a single, I had seen some traction happen, I just had no idea she'd actually be successful with it! But it was enough to scrape the bottom of the charts as a pretty great song, and while I have no expectations that it'll stick around - and I stand by what I said in my last episode surrounding how it's not my favourite song from Golden Hour or even my favourite piano ballad named 'Rainbow' - I'm happy it's here. Great song, definitely make the time to check it out.

56. 'Who Do You Love' by The Chainsmokers ft. 5 Seconds Of Summer - I swear, it feels like it was almost two years ago when I was done with The Chainsmokers, so why are they still pumping out material? This time they've teamed up 5 Seconds Of Summer - which if I'm being honest remains the real disappointment of this combination - and... yeah, this isn't good. For one, you're putting what used to be a band as just vocalists against an overmixed, bassy trap drop with perhaps the worst hi-hat click I've heard in some time - as they try to interrogate a girl who looks like she might be cheating... but honestly, their rationale looks really flimsy. She has cigarettes though she doesn't smoke and she keeps changing her access code - well, maybe stop going through her phone! Beyond that... look, it's not like I dislike an attempt to force a guitar into this and the vocal interplay before the drop had promise, especially on the second verse, but that drop slams the momentum into a brick wall and leaves you with maybe not the worst Chainsmokers or ever worst 5 Seconds Of Summer song, but one I have no desire to ever hear again - next!

44. 'Talk' by Khalid - so I'll admit that given how much I liked Khalid's EP from a few months back, I was intrigued where his new singles would be going, especially given that this is the lead-off single for his new project and a collaboration with production duo Disclosure. And like with Sam Smith, I tend to be a fan of Khalid on tighter, slightly faster production, so how did this turn out? Honestly, I'm not really crazy about it - the synths are more colourful especially with those twinkling touches and the groove has more punch, but it also feels a little too stodgy to really flow all that well against Khalid's delivery, the content doesn't really evolve, and the song feels like it's lacking a bridge or a solid resolution. Not a terrible track, but compared to the organic grooves off the EP, this is definitely a step in the wrong direction - not good.

38. 'in my head' by Ariana Grande - so look, the rest of these songs are from Ariana Grande, and if you've already heard my review of the album, you've probably already heard me discuss these in detail. As such, I'm going to aim to keep these pretty brief, so let's start with a song that I did mostly like, mostly thanks to the content and idea. Because the whole conceit of falling in love with an idea of someone you create in your own mind rather than the reality is one I can absolutely respect, and Ariana sells it well... shame the production is lousy. Seriously, she's peaking in the mix on the hook, the backing vocals sound messy, and the muddy vocal sample that passes for a melody against the bassy trap beat doesn't flatter anything, and that's before we get to the weakest 'skrt skrt' I think I've ever heard. So yeah, good idea, slapdash execution.

27. 'bad idea' by Ariana Grande - now here's one of the better cuts here, primarily riding the sharper guitar groove against the buzzy snare before the trap groove adds a little swampy momentum as she opts for the messy hookup that captures the nervous pit-of-the-stomach feeling at the end of the night. And with the swells of strings across the bridge and outro add exactly the sort of elegant beauty that Ariana wants to subvert across the rest of the song... I just wish she avoided the chopped and screwed passage, we got the point without having to go back to the early 2000s. Still good, though.

26. 'fake smile' by Ariana Grande - another song where I actually liked the production, flipping the crackling elegance of the sample on the hook into the spare minimalism of the groove on the verse where Ariana Grande delivers a kissoff to the tabloids and social media trolls. But if I'm supposed to believe that Ariana Grande isn't going to keep delivering fake smiles to play the game or that a sizable chunk of this album falls into that category of deflection as "coping"... yeah, I'm not that easy, and given how the album as a whole never delivers a moment where Ariana truly shows an edge that breaks that veneer, I'm not convinced. Good song, though.

25. 'ghostin' by Ariana Grande - man, I wish I liked this track as much as I wanted - and this is one of the better songs on thank u, next with the graceful ebbing waves of synth and strings, and the heartbreak she feels in her unresolved feelings towards the late Mac Miller even as she sleeps next to Pete Davidson who is trying so hard to ease her through. And when you factor in some gorgeous vocal layering, it's better than Rihanna's 'Unfaithful', to which this song shares the most obvious parallels... but it's that parallel that keeps me from truly enjoying this as much, especially when you realize that she never did get past it with Pete and wound up ghosting him for real. Kind of wish even a hint of that was referenced to tie things together, but still, one of the better songs here.

22. 'bloodline' by Ariana Grande - okay, I want to know: why the hell didn't Max Martin stop Ariana from making a breakup song where she doesn't want someone as a part of her 'bloodline'? Granted, he might have had more to worry about given the leaden bass beat and washed out horns, but still, it's one of the uglier ways I've seen this sort of sentiment expressed, especially given how the tropical timbres sound like they could have been pulled from 2016! In other words, I get the alarming feeling that despite the clumsy writing, this might wind up being pushed as a late album single like 'Side To Side' was, possibly with the Nicki Minaj verse nobody wants or needs - let's hope that doesn't happen.

17. 'NASA' by Ariana Grande - so I've said in previous reviews that Ariana Grande has a bad habit of overextending her metaphors and concepts - it was an issue on sweetener, both the song and the album, and it comes through here against the lumpy trap beat and faint gurgling fragments of melody, framing Ariana Grande as both a star and like the universe in that she needs space - but if you're like the universe, you already contain that. And wait, if he's NASA, how on earth would you orbit around him? Eh, not one of the worst cuts here, but if there's a song where a few additional drafts could have helped refine things, it's here.

14. 'needy' by Ariana Grande - another melody that sounds like it's constantly on the cusp of slipping off key as she confesses that she can be needy and flawed and vulnerable... but then tries to flip it for him into how good it feels to be needed... which in a warped way is trying to justify everything she's doing and undercut the pathos of the song! But beyond that... eh, the strings at the end of the song are pretty, but this is another cut that feels a bit unfinished and could have at least used a bridge. Not bad, though.

2. 'break up with your girlfriend, i'm bored' by Ariana Grande - and now we have the newest - and by far worst - single, and I've seen a lot of preemptive justifications for how this song panned out, most of which are linked to the video which tries for a bisexual bait-and-switch that is framed as her finally loving herself... yeah, I can't help but feel that not only did 'thank u, next' the song do this better, it's an interpretation not backed by any of the content in the verses or hook - said girlfriend is the factor on the prechorus that prompts the annoyed, haughty delivery on the hook, and said girlfriend sure as hell isn't what Ariana's hook is prompting to nail her - and that before you get to the bridge where she says she's hating on her - so how can that be herself again? And it's that capricious, 'people's emotions are disposable' sourness that infects the song that not only makes it a really bad ending to the album, but also a direct contradiction to the emotive vulnerability she tried to sell on the rest of the project, especially when on the bridge she admits she's never even met the guy! Coupled with a dark but strangely underweight groove that adds very little... yeah, I called this the worst song on the album and I stand by it - not good at all.

But that being said, it's only nabbing Dishonourable Mention this week, mostly because that hook is alarmingly catchy and there's enough going on within the song to make me think this could have worked with better framing - on ugly production and undercooked ideas we've got The Chainsmokers and 5 Seconds Of Summer getting the worst with 'Who Do You Love' - sorry, boys, Marianas Trench has that song title on lock and they're not losing it to you. Now for the best... yeah, 'Rainbow' by Kacey Musgraves gets that, but Ariana Grande will get 'bad idea' for the Honourable Mention, it's a damn good song too. Next week, let's see how much of this winds up lasting, because it might be less than you all think...

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