Wednesday, March 13, 2019

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - march 16, 2019

So look, it's hard for me to get that enthused for whatever's here this week, I'll be straight with you. Even despite how hard I panned the album, I'd put money that Juice WRLD is coming for an album bomb next week with streaming alone, and that means I can't guarantee what in this week will actually hold traction. And given that outside of new arrivals this week seems fairly steady, that question feels more wide open than ever.

Well, I say more steady until you look at our top ten, and for another week, we've got another new #1, the comeback that I never saw coming and certainly not one that I assumed would hit this hard: 'Sucker' by the Jonas Brothers! Now full disclosure, the Jonas Brothers were a bit after my time - they broke in an era where I was splitting my time between symphonic power metal and Hilary Duff and I was always more interested in Glee anyway - so I didn't have the historical context to expect this, especially as their biggest hit before this 'Burnin' Up' only hit #5. But the numbers aren't lying - utterly dominant on sales and streaming, only lagging slightly on YouTube but with a radio presence, while I know it won't hold the spot beyond this week, it'll be fascinating whether this'll have traction to hold up. But what'll hold up beneath it becomes the more interesting question, because while I'm inclined to say that '7 rings' by Ariana Grande is the most obvious contender, given that it still has radio and a presence on sales and streaming, the numbers seem a little shaky. Compare this to 'Please Me' by Bruno Mars & Cardi B, which made a big rebound to #3 to re-enter the top 10, thanks almost entirely to the video, but it does have better streaming and sales presence and it's narrowing in that radio margin. Hell, I'd argue it's got a better shot than 'Sunflower' by Post Malone and Swae Lee holding at #4, because while the sales and streaming are mostly stable, the radio is pushing this out a lot faster than I expected. Not the case for 'Without Me' by Halsey at #5, though - she slid down a few spots because while the radio is stable, the sales and streaming sure as hell aren't. Next we have our previous #1, 'Shallow' by Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper down at #6 - and this was to be expected; hell, I'm surprised it didn't drop further, but the sales are great and the radio seems to be going for a full-on second wind, so even streaming falls off, this might have more staying power than we all expected. Next is a slight boost for 'Wow.' by Post Malone up to #7 - and look, I still like the song, but I'm not getting carried away by possible successes here: yeah, the sales and radio seem okay, but the streaming certainly doesn't, which might be concerning. It did rise above 'Happier' by Marshmello and Bastille, but I've been convinced this song's lasted too long for weeks, and to see it finally lose traction in all categories is good. And on that note, 'MIDDLE CHILD' by J. Cole fell back to #9 - yeah, it's got streaming, but the radio does not seem that interested in it and the sales have fallen back considerably. Granted, I still see it holding above 'SICKO MODE' by Travis Scott at #10, which is clinging to leftover streaming even as its radio collapses - I'd put money this is out of the top 10 next week.

And on that refreshing topic, the losers and dropouts... and in the latter category, it was pretty much the majority of what we saw last week, coupled with 'Backin' It Up' by Pardison Fontaine and Cardi B, 'This Feeling' by The Chainsmokers & Kelsea Ballerini, and - sadly - 'Nothing Breaks Like A Heart' by Mark Ronson and Miley Cyrus, which just never got the momentum it really should have. And you could say the same about some of our losers this week: 'Nights Like This' by Kehlani and Ty Dolla $ign to 79 and 'Red Room' by Offset fell to 73, whereas the rest are expected dropoffs:  'Always Remember Us This Way' by Lady Gaga fell naturally went to 64, 'needy' by Ariana Grande slid to 92, and 'Walk Me Home' by P!nk fell off the debut to 88 - she'd better push that video soon, because this looks like a bad sign.

But on the flipside, to plug in the gap we saw a pretty sizable number of gains and returns, so let's start with the latter, which can be split into two categories: country and Billie Eilish. Seriously, she got both 'when the party's over' back to 95 and 'lovely' with Khalid to 91, and I'd certainly take that over most of the country I saw rebound, of which the best is 'On My Way To You' by Cody Johnson at 99 and 'Love Wins' by Carrie Underwood at 98! Because let's be honest, I don't think anyone needs to hear 'Night Shift' by Jon Pardi back at 86, or 'There Was This Girl' by Riley Green at 71, or especially 'One That Got Away' by Michael Ray at 89! Also, 'Bad Liar' by Imagine Dragons came back to 72 for some reason, but let's stay on country when we go to our gains, because I sure as shit don't want to see 'Eyes On You' by Chase Rice up to 70 or 'Make It Sweet' by Old Dominion at 76. Granted, it's relieved by 'Down To The Honkytonk' by Jake Owen at 69 and even 'Good As You' by Kane Brown at 78, but the thought remains! The rest... well, I already mentioned 'Please Me', but the largest jump went to 'Girls Need Love' by Summer Walker and Drake surging to 37 - I'd put money on this becoming at least a minor hit - followed by 'Shot Clock' by Ella Mai getting a mild boost to 68. Finally, I got a very welcome surprise with 'Faucet Failure' by Ski Mask The Slump God rising to 87 - I don't really expect it to survive the album bomb next week given its competition in the same format and channel, but I can hope, right?

Anyway, we've got twelve new arrivals this week, and let's start out with something promising...

100. 'Momma I Hit A Lick' by 2 Chainz ft. Kendrick Lamar - so I'll admit I had high expectations for this, if only because Kendrick Lamar can deliver surprisingly great verses when nobody's expecting it, and a 2 Chainz song is exactly where that sort of thing could happen... which is why the buzz saying this song was a dud was a little alarming. What's all the more alarming is that it really is bad, and I can point to the exact culprit pretty quickly: Pharrell. Why in the Nine Hells he thought that clunky percussion with off-key twinkling elements would flow well, I have no clue, but neither 2 Chainz or Kendrick can do much with it, leading to flows from both MCs that are very stiff and awkward. But I'm not letting them off the hook here either, as 2 Chainz tries this weird falsetto on his verse that sounds awful... and yet I'd still probably say he has more interesting flexing content than Kendrick does, as it's painfully obvious he's just not trying, especially with that guttural low vocal he tries. So yeah, this is really bad - but we're not done with 2 Chainz, because next up is...

94. 'Rule The World' by 2 Chainz ft. Ariana Grande - okay, this is much better, thank God - and again, I have to give a lot of attention to the production here too - the more lush strings and horn samples flipping the Amerie song behind them is naturally flattering, and while you can tell Ariana isn't really doing anything that striking on her hook, she at least sounds comfortable - hell, I'd argue in some cases she sounds more comfortable than some cuts off of thank u, next. I really wish I could say the same for 2 Chainz, though - why is he trying this weird staccato flow on his second verse, it sounds awkward and unnatural, especially given how smooth Ariana is singing. Now I'll give credit to the content being a bit better - 2 Chainz flexing about how much he loves his wife is a good look for him - but other than that... eh, it's good, but I'd struggle to call it great.

93. 'I Can't Get Enough' by Benny Blanco, Tainy, Selena Gomez & J. Balvin - okay, so I have to hope that Benny Blanco learned from the disaster that was 'Roses' a few months back with the new single, recruiting Selena Gomez and J. Balvin for maximum crossover and Puerto Rican producer Tainy to punch up the production... and seriously, what's with the production being so damn choppy this week? A friend of mind said that this sounds like a fusion of production from both 'Taste' and the J. Balvin song 'X', but I think my greater issue is how clunky and clipped the sample and even the vocal pickups feel, a cheap fusion of ideas that given this is a hookup anthem is about the furthest thing from sexy! I will say that it's at least a bit better than 'X' thanks to the smoothing elements around the bridge and final hook, but it still sounds cheap and painfully mediocre - next!

85. 'Whiskey Glasses' by Morgan Wallen - you know, we don't have to keep giving careers to every other guy who wants to pump out an utterly forgettable bro-country song, Nashville, it is an option, especially if the last thing we got from this guy was a Florida Georgia Line collaboration! And this... yeah, I'm not really a fan, mostly because how so much of the guitar melody feels fused into what might be a gurgling keyboard and just curdles throughout the entire track, not helped by the autotune tacked onto Wallen's delivery. And when we get to the content... eh, points for referencing karaoke and pounding whiskey to get through a messy breakup, points that I'm taking away immediately for the forced, pseudo rap cadence and the fact that I'm probably going to wind up hearing this at country karaoke, just swell. Otherwise, just kind of mediocre and forgettable - unlike...

83. 'Old Town Road' by Lil Nas X - well folks, we knew this day would come... although if you're thinking that this is the first artist to get famous off of TikTok, I'd question your memories because I remember when it was called and the breakthrough of Jacob Sartorius - oh, how time has flown since 2016. In any case, this is the breakthrough single for Lil Nas X, whom I'm not treating as a meme despite most of his songs seeming like extended jokes, and with this song he got a Nine Inch Nails sample and made a slapdash fusion of a trap clunker with prominent banjo. And yet even with that... I don't really hate this nearly as much as I feel I'm supposed to - yeah, the autotune is muddy and the production clunky and most of the second verse is embarrassing and it's not even two minutes, but the idea of the lone gunslinger fits comfortably into both trap and outlaw country, and Lil Nas X at least has a somewhat convincing delivery. Hell, if he bothered to take this seriously there's potential here... sadly he didn't and thus it wound up as kind of a dud as well, and soon as folks get sick of it on TikTok this'll be forgotten, pretty much identical to what happened to Vine stars. And if this is heralding the second coming of that era... well, let's hope it's at least interesting.

77. 'Act Up' by City Girls - so if my unabashed support of 'Twerk' has meant anything - seriously, it's only grown on me since I covered it here, it means I am curious to see how City Girls will be able to leverage its success, especially given there's no Cardi B or Drake cosign this time around. And... honestly, I kind of get why it took the Act Up challenge to get this big, because for as much as Yung Miami seems to be constantly slipping off the beat on her verse and the content seems more dedicated to smacking back other girls and draining guys dry and production and hook seems generally underwhelming, I'm not really wowed by this. Personality does count for a lot and I certainly prefer bars to a lot of what trap's delivered recently, but this... yeah, not really a fan, at least not as much as I'd like to be.

75. 'Whip' by 2 Chainz ft. Travis Scott - I'll admit that I was curious how this would turn out, because while the content seems to lie in similar lanes, the differences in execution between 2 Chainz and Travis are considerable, and I had the hope there'd be a little more flow to this... and there is! Yeah, even if the content is a little underweight, there's a lot to like about this - I dig the murky rattles of percussion off what sounds like a synthwave keyboard, and Travis' hook fits in well, even on the slightly tinny outro. And for the most part I like what 2 Chainz is delivering here too... except what was up with the shift in vocal fidelity on the second verse, which absolutely sounds like a punch-in done later and probably and doesn't exactly fit with the rest of the tune. Otherwise, though... yeah, I'd be okay with this sticking around - cool stuff.

74. 'wish you were gay' by Billie Eilish - so this looks like the first time a Billie Eilish song has actually nabbed real controversy, specifically surrounding a bunch of accusations of 'queerbaiting', many of which were hurled at 'Girl Crush' by Little Big Town four years ago and felt just as unfounded... although in this case, it seems to take on a more negative connotation because while both songs were written from a place of longing, this one is trying to justify his lack of interest by her wishing he was gay. Now putting aside the guy Billie Eilish was writing about apparently did come out, I can see how this could come across as controversial or at the very least self-serving... which is telling because on the bridge of the song Billie Eilish herself says she's so selfish for wanting such a petty justification! So okay, I definitely appreciate the self-awareness here, it sidesteps the controversy... and yet it's probably the first Billie Eilish song that's falling flat for me, mostly because of the production. The leaden, grainy percussion and seedy pianos remind me more than they should of Melanie Martinez, and the entire song feels really oversold, really the opposite of the subtlety that's characterized Billie Eilish at her best. So yeah, I can appreciate the delivery and subtle cleverness of the writing, but I'm not really feeling this - sorry.

56. 'Hear Me Calling' by Juice WRLD - granted, if the alternative is goddamn Juice WRLD on top of a tropical pop groove that's just as leaden, I think I'd be better off with Billie here! And look, I've already mentioned the worst elements of this song when I reviewed the album - specifically the line 'hit the beach in LA like you a beach ball' - but can we talk about how clingy this track is, with highlighting how her posters are on the walls inside his head and yet in the same verse he's demanding to know where the fuck she thought she was going? Coupled with the faux-Jamaican accent he's trying here... look, catchy or not, this is nothing I can endorse, it's creepy and badly written - next!

52. 'Look What God Gave Her' by Thomas Rhett - oh, I was hearing warnings about this one, especially from folks who had started to give Thomas Rhett more of a chance with the warning that this was steering back into disaster again for his fourth album, with this being the lead-off single. And... I'm sorry, why the hell does this sound like a rejected Andy Grammer song? The organ filling, the cheap fake percussion, the perfunctory acoustic guitar, a cadence that sounds maddeningly familiar and I wouldn't be surprised was yanked from somewhere else - a few of my friends suggested Jerrod Niemann's 'Lover Lover' and while that's not quite it, I hear the similarity - I remember 'Die A Happy Man', Thomas Rhett's done this before, and then the borderline checklist nature of the song discussing everything God gave her with a magnanimous air that's right on the border of the same smugness that led me to dislike this guy in the first place. Now to his credit, it does sound better produced, there's more of a groove behind this one, and if you're looking at its intent, it feels basically harmless... but when I compare this to what I know Thomas Rhett is capable of making... yeah, absolutely a step back.

39. 'I' by Lil Skies - so it's funny, I was actually kind of looking forward to this cut, mostly because when I've covered Lil Skies on Billboard BREAKDOWN I've noticed that he could occasionally structure a decent hook and even if the content was inessential, he had good melodic instincts - I put him in the same category as A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie in that regard. And thus for this... yeah, it was a bit of a letdown. The faded horn melody buried behind the underweight trap beat, the lack of greater melodic flair in the autotuned but grainy vocals, and when you pair it with content that seems dead-eyed in an inability to change or evolve in a haze of weed smoke, even if he's not saying anything precisely bad he's not saying all that interesting either. And somehow I feel disappointed... even though I get the feeling I probably shouldn't be.

1. 'Sucker' by Jonas Brothers - and now we get to the elephant in the room, the big comeback story that's already sparked a bit of controversy thanks to Portugal. The Man highlighting some similarities to their 2017 breakthrough single 'Feel It Still', but before we can even get to that, I feel obliged to at least give an opinion on the Jonas Brothers, and here it is: I've never cared. Even going back to their hits in the mid-2000s - and there were more of them than I think everyone remembers - none of it has ever stuck with me, mostly because the cheap Disneyfied production seemed to forget to add any actual melodic groove or crunch or distinctive vocal harmonies. Yeah, I remember liking 'When You Look Me In The Eyes' a little, but does it make up for the forgettable and sterile 'S.O.S.' or 'Burnin' Up' or 'A Little Bit Longer' or 'Tonight'. Anyway, the club boom meant their fourth album nabbed no real charting presence - I choose to blame their consistently horrible synth choices - but now the group is back with a huge comeback single... and honestly, I'm not really wowed by it. For one, Portugal. The Man weren't lying in highlighting similar chord progressions and tones, especially that post-chorus whistle, the falsetto vocals, and the thickened bassline, but this song doesn't quite have the languid pace or melodic richness of 'Feel It Still', instead opting for a more frenetic tempo that still winds up feeling oddly colourless because this is Frank Dukes producing and thus most of the instrumentation sounds canned and stilted, especially the guitars. Now to be fair, I think the vocal harmonies are better and I do like how the tempo reflects the messy desperation of the song, but beyond that... there's not much that really grips me here. Not bad, but kind of boiler-plate, that's all.

And that was this week... somehow I kept thinking that this would be better than it is, but here we are. And funnily enough, both songs I found myself liking the most came from 2 Chainz, with 'Whip' nailing the Best of the Week and 'Rule The World' nabbing Honourable Mention - man, definitely didn't see that coming. Now for the worst... yeah, 2 Chainz is here too with 'Momma I Hit A Lick' with Kendrick Lamar almost on disappointment alone, with Dishonourable Mention going to 'Hear Me Calling' by Juice WRLD... because duh. But next week, Juice WRLD's revenge will be in full swing, so stay tuned for that...

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