Wednesday, March 6, 2019

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - march 9, 2019

The only way to describe this week is a mess - and not an especially good one either. And some of this I could predict - I knew Gunna, Lil Pump and Offset would hit the charts with some force, but they honestly didn't seem to register the larger impact I was expecting, and we got a flood of other singles that hit the charts as well from other genres - whether any of it will last is an open question, we'll have to see.

But really, that's not the big story this week - that comes with a #1 I did not see coming at all, leaping up about twenty slots thanks to a well-deserved Oscar win: 'Shallow' by Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper. And keep in mind the only reason it surged this much was a margins game - the sales were huge, true, but it also had groundswell on streaming and YouTube and just enough residual radio to seize the top spot. Now it will not last: sales boosts like this fall off, and I have every expectation that '7 rings' by Ariana Grande will rebound from #2 next week: the streaming is monstrous, the radio gains are still solid and the sales are quite credible. But all of this is not particularly good news for 'Without Me' by Halsey down at #3 - sure, it finally snagged the top spot on the radio, but with streaming stalling and and sales being down, it's a peak I don't see lasting. Hell, I would put money on 'Sunflower' by Post Malone and Swae Lee driving up beyond #4... but despite good streaming the radio is slipping, which is not a good sign. What might have more of a shot is 'MIDDLE CHILD' by J. Cole rebounding in a big way to reenter the top 10 at #5 - mostly thanks to the video - but the lack of serious radio traction and weak sales looks like it'll hold it back from getting higher. It did break past 'Happier' by Marshmello and Bastille, which is still at #6 because even though it's losing in all categories, it's got enough radio inertia to hold its spot a bit longer. Hell, it held up over 'thank u, next' by Ariana Grande at #7 which is just bleeding in every category, especially radio and sales. Now this takes us to 'Wow.' by Post Malone rising to #8... and I have to say, I'm a bit surprised it caught a good week on the radio and streaming to take it here. I don't really see consistent traction for it, but you can hope, right? But then we have our next new arrival into the top 10: 'Thotiana' by Blueface at #9. And again, I don't think this is precisely bad, but I will say I'm surprised how much traction it has on sales and streaming, mostly off an endless stream of remixes... but I don't expect it to last. And on that subject, it looks like 'SICKO MODE' by Travis Scott might finally be on its way out at #10, as it also is bleeding in all categories - even though I'm still not really a fan of it, it happens.

Now where things continue to get eventful come in our losers and dropouts - and there were definitely some surprises in the latter category. Yeah, I kind of expected 'Arms Around You' by XXXTENTACION, Lil Pump, Maluma and Swae Lee to leave and take 'Good Girl' by Dustin Lynch, 'Pure Cocaine' by Lil Baby, 'YOSEMITE' by Travis Scott, and sadly 'when the party's over' by Billie Eilish, but I'll admit it's a bit surprising we also got dropouts for 'Sixteen' by Thomas Rhett and 'Lost In The Fire' by The Weeknd and Gesaffelstein. Then we get our losers, and let's go through the expected ones for Ariana: 'needy' fell to 60, 'NASA' went to 68, 'imagine' slid to 85, 'bad idea' went to 90, and 'bloodline' dripped to 93. Beyond that... well, most of them seem like songs that just never caught fire properly, with some like 'This Feeling' by The Chainsmokers and Kelsea Ballerini at 77, 'Calling My Spirit' by Kodak Black to 83, and sadly 'Nothing Breaks Like A Heart' by Mark Ronson & Miley Cyrus going to 84 having plenty of time, and others like 'Love Someone' by Lukas Graham at 89 or 'Put A Date On It' by Yo Gotti and Lil Baby at 96 not really being given much - or in the case of 'Talk You Out Of It' by Florida Georgia Line going to 98, nobody really wanting to give it the time of day, for good reason.

But where the story gets kind of interesting comes in our returning entries and gains, and let's start with the first group. Sure, 'One Call' by Gunna came back at 78 because of the album - along with 'Secreto' by Anuel AA and Karol G at 92 because apparently we didn't have enough boring reggaeton in our lives - but thanks to the groundswell of 'Shallow' we also saw big returns for 'Always Remember Us This Way' at 47 and 'I'll Never Love Again' at 62, both by Lady Gaga. And while I've already talked about 'Shallow', we did have a few other gains... and it's a shame a fair few of them suck. Nashville radio, nobody likes Jordan Davis or 'Take It From Me', you tried this push a couple years ago in the same way and it's the only reason it's at 46 - nobody wants this guy! And on that topic, we also saw a small push for 'Who Do You Love' by The Chainsmokers and 5 Seconds Of Summer up to 66 and 'Close Friends' by Lil Baby rebounding to 53 - joy. Thankfully, some of the other gains are tolerable - 'Con Calma' by Daddy Yankee and Snow got a big boost to 59, 'Burn Out' by Midland saw a mild boost to 69, and to my surprise 'Worth It' by YK Osiris got a healthy push to 73 - again, it's a good song, I'm happy to see it.

But where this story gets bigger is our hefty list of new arrivals, starting with...

100. 'Faucet Failure' by Ski Mask The Slump God - so I'll say it, it's a little weird to see Ski Mask The Slump God slip a song in this week, especially one that I could have sworn was charting weeks earlier but it turns out I was just remembering the Canadian charts. But honestly I'm not surprised that this has been the Ski Mask song that has had some legs, especially in the wake of Blueface's more wonky delivery and subsequent success - and honestly I'd easily take this over 'Thotiana'! Ski Mask has the sort of wordplay and weird sense of humour that I honestly wish more hip-hop would embrace, and the fact that as many references as he has connect together speaks a lot of his talent, especially given when you break this song down it's not much different than your regular flex track - except his second verse is all about getting fast food! And while you could definitely say he's on a pretty conventional trap beat for most of the song, when the bass beat picks up the tempo against the rattling touches, you get a more offkilter vibe that really works with Ski Mask's way of bending syllables. In other words... yeah, it's goofy and to me feels a little bit short - I miss third verses - but I'd sure as hell take something like this over...

97. 'Same Yung Nigga' by Gunna ft. Playboi Carti - look, the only reason this is charting is because Gunna brought Playboi Carti on board to add personality and content - in other words, the situation is dire indeed! But can we talk about how muddy that faint wiry synth is blended with the beat and the autotune slathered over everything, and how Playboi Carti sounds like he's half asleep with any ad-libs just falling into a pileup? And when you factor it into utterly forgettable delivery and brand name porn content... yeah, there's nothing to care about here, and I can't even imagine those people who came for Playboi Carti being happy with this - next!

95. 'Good As You' by Kane Brown - so in the face of the country acts trying to rip him off, I tried to give Kane Brown a little bit of credit last week... but I knew that wouldn't really last as soon as he dropped another single, and here we are. That said, this is not bad by any means - opting for more of a midtempo country soul vibe that might start very staccato off the live snares but eventually builds up a more burnished vibe courtesy of the guitars and organ, helped along by some actual live drums! I guess maybe someone at Nashville radio wanted to slide someone smoother into Chris Stapleton's lane now that he's holding steady on the charts, but the banjo feels a little too clunky to fit in well with it, and then that's before we get to the content, which is a very basic love song where Kane Brown prostrates himself before this girl and say he can never be as good as her. And look, I appreciate humility, but this is a trend in mainstream country of constructing artificial pedestals for women without really showing much humanity - and also not playing them on the radio. Still, if we're just looking at this Kane Brown song... it's fine enough, I'm not going to complain about it, but I've heard this done with more groove, so I'll stick with those.

94. 'I Guess I Just Feel Like' by John Mayer - am I the only one who thinks this came out of nowhere? Apparently John Mayer first performed this song last October and only now is pushing it as a single... and look, my big issue with John Mayer is that he's always been a much better guitarist than either singer or songwriter, and for as much as he tried to showcase authenticity in his presentation, I never bought into it. That said, I think my hatred of the guy has been overstated in some places, and so with this... look, I see the appeal, but I can't get behind this. For one, this sort of wistful, contemplative folk song maybe shouldn't be given interludes that are all windswept and full of falsetto cooing, and that's not even getting into the higher register he tries on the final verse - but even when you get to the choice of guitar tones it just feels off - the first solo feels too distant, the closing solo is trying to bring in some squealing bluesy smolder and that doesn't fit with anything! As for the lyrics... well, they kind of fit the production in that in trying to be vulnerable they're just a misstep, with thin platitudes about hitting a low point amidst vague assertions that love is all we need. It's just thin and plaintive, not expressive enough to be truly vulnerable in a way that cuts and lacking a deeper core to elevate any of it. But overall... look, Mayer's time in the spotlight is long gone, I can't really care about this - let's keep moving on.

91. 'Speed It Up' by Gunna - okay, the dreamy touches around the melody are tolerable, but the choppy flow Gunna brings to the table adds nothing, a bunch of disconnected brands structured like hashtag rap but with no punchline. It might sound a bit cleaner than what he did with Playboi Carti, but it's just as lazy and forgettable, and would likely be album filler on any better trap album - next!

87. 'Girls Need Love' by Summer Walker & Drake - okay, here's a bit of background: Summer Walker originally released 'Girls Need Love' way back in the summer of 2018, and for the indie R&B crowd it did pretty well... and in Drake's classic approach of hopping on the songs of women in R&B he wants to nail - I'm sorry, wants to help their careers, we get the obvious collaboration here. Now to his credit he's actually singing more on the song than rapping, which is probably better for the murky synth work and low-key trap vibe... but it's such an obvious move from him, especially on a song where Summer Walker is speaking from the perspective of women who want sex and pleasure but are inhibited by society from expressing it, and Drake is happy to fill that role. Granted, his references to domination and submission have the clunkiness of someone who is not at all into the scene, but I'm amused that he tried. Otherwise... I'll be honest, Summer Walker isn't blowing me away in her vocals or songwriting and there's no shortage of R&B songs like this just adjacent to the mainstream... but it's pretty good, I'll take it.

86. 'Lick' by Offset - so I'm a little surprised that Offset only broke four songs onto the Hot 100 this week - just for all of your reference, Gunna has five. And I'll admit seeing one of them called 'Lick' did concern me... but honestly it suffers some of the same problems I had with 'Red Room' - Offset sounds more disengaged than he should, the watery flute production doesn't flatter him, and while there's more momentum to this trap groove and I like Offset's flow, I'm still not really wowed by his content. Part of this is because the hook feels as long as every verse, part of it is Offset's story is not all that compelling or unique, and partially when he tacks on attempts at social commentary they feel like just one more scattered topic to fit between the gunplay and flexing. It's not a bad song by any stretch, but even on his own, Offset has made better.

75. 'Wit It' by Gunna - okay, what is with the layering on these songs? I swear the snare is louder than the muddy vocal pickup, and even if nothing Gunna is saying is remotely interesting, it'd be nice to actually hear him! Yeah, there's a smooth, watery vibe, but the flexing lacks any sort of flavour or spark - you could substitute Gunna's content with any other song, and I'd put money nobody could tell the difference. Again, not the worst he's put out this week, but not good either.

74. '3 Headed Snake' by Gunna ft. Young Thug - so for many of the trap songs remaining this week we have lead artists who'll likely wind up getting shown up by more interesting guests, and let's start with the most obvious - because why in the Nine Hells Gunna thought it was a good idea to get Young Thug here is beyond me, because even if I'd argue there's been a steep dropoff in quality from Thugger, he's at least trying harder than this! And look, I can respect the idea of going bar for bar with your mentor, but what this proves is that Gunna is such a pale facsimile of Young Thug in terms of the flair of his writing and especially delivery that even if you try and cheat and lower Young Thug's volume in the mix, you still come up like a wannabe! Granted, Young Thug is still going to drop homophobic slurs about all the lesbians he's going to screw and his content has never been that interesting... but hey, for as boring as the production is, it kind of makes sense. Say Push, didn't you say we had to chop the heads of these snakes?

72. 'Be Like Me' by Lil Pump ft. Lil Wayne - so if you're looking at pure sales and reviews, Lil Pump had a bad week, and it seems like something that has happened time and time again to upstarts like him: the label grabs his sound and eats him alive - or in this case puts him opposite Lil Wayne who is still on his creative rebirth! Now keep in mind Lil Pump is far from interesting or compelling as it is -  the flat discordant synths don't help, but the hook is about as repetitive as it gets and then we have Lil Pump bragging about his ignorance, his drug abuse, how he keeps his side girl on a leash, and how he's such a role model for kids... fun. And while I'd hope that Lil Wayne would step up here with a good verse... honestly, it's not great, mostly because for as better of a rapper as he is than Lil Pump, he's still trying to give him equal stage and you can tell he's not trying as hard. And wait, on Tha Carter V I thought you were trying to celebrate your impact on the game, because this is absolutely not that. In other words, it's not terrible, but it's not good either - next!

70. 'Outstanding' by Gunna - can I just say I don't care and walk away? Seriously, we're dealing with a limp, muddy vocal pickup, murky keys, another cheap-sounding trap beat, and Gunna rattling through forgettable brand name flexing and taking your girl whenever he wants as his Jewish lawyer handles the cases... and once again, nothing he says or how he says it makes him distinctive or compelling, except maybe for how badly layered his ad-libs sound! In other words, I still don't care - next!

65. 'How Did I Get Here' by Offset ft. J. Cole - I'll admit I was shocked to see Offset let a J. Cole verse get onto his album, mostly because in the past few months J. Cole is racking up a reputation for thoroughly grabbing hold of any song he's on and showing everyone up - you'd think for a solo debut you wouldn't want that! Now granted, I think this might be better overall - even if I think Offset's hook is a little awkward and Offset can still barely construct a coherent topic, especially on his verse, the seeds of the comeup story do have a little more structure, as well as the ghosts that it seems like are perpetually haunting this album. And much to my surprise, I'm not sure J. Cole delivers a dominant verse here - he sets a powerful scene in the first few bars, but his flow is a little slower and the payoff feels a little limp, especially compared to what he delivered for J.I.D. or 21 Savage. Couple it with production that doesn't stand out much... eh, again, it's okay, but both acts have delivered more.

64. 'Clout' by Offset ft. Cardi B - so I'll admit I was most curious about this: frankly I'm amazed that Cardi B took Offset back but here they are working together on one of their bigger debuts... and I dunno, folks, I'm not sure I'm feeling this. For one, trying to bash people for doing things for clout and then shouting out Kanye and Kim seems like a bit of obvious hypocrisy, and for as much as gossip-mongers spread rumors, I'm really tired of acts calling media fake, especially when you know just how much they rely on social media to gain traction these days! That said, I did mostly like the blurry piano keys behind them, and Cardi B really does steal the show here, mostly because her bars are more focused and direct calling out those people trying to use her whereas Offset remains scattered, but I will also say her verse doesn't end with as much punch as it should as the references get more scattered. Again, I was curious about this and I'm not sure it's great or even all that good, but it is passable - I'll take it.

54. 'Walk Me Home' by P!nk - folks, I'll admit I'm the guy who has probably given P!nk way too many chances, and yet I'll admit going into this I had rock bottom expectations. But this is the lead-off single, and... it's good! And while there's a part of me that just exuberant that's the case, I will say I'd struggle to call it great. Yes, P!nk is a fantastic singer with huge pipes and a raw presence that I've always loved, and finally we got some electric guitars driving the hook, I do feel the track is more reliant on the percussion than it should be - which I can probably point to cowriter Nate Ruess for that - and it probably could afford to be a little faster. More the point, the lyrics do feel a little thin - basically trying to play a similar situation to Avril Lavigne's 'I'm With You' but just not quite as distinct or heartfelt or desperate. Granted, I was a little surprised how well the pitch-shifted vocal sample blended into the stomping groove and while the acoustic guitar feels frail, it's at least here! And while I'd still prefer a little more sizzle, it's a solid lead-off single and has raised at least some of my hopes the new album might bring back more of a rock side to P!nk... let's only hope.

49. 'Legacy' by Offset ft. Travis Scott & 21 Savage - you know, I had some hopes for this, because I liked Without Warning with 21 Savage and both he and Travis are making more interesting music... and thus it feels weird how underwhelming 'Legacy' is. Part of it is the cheap whirring trap beat and oily set of tones passing for a hook that seem to build into something more interesting and potent whenever Travis shows up, but they never evolve or build swell effectively off those bridges which promise a lot more than they deliver, especially when all the content is all the more empty flexing and unrealized paranoia. But if I'm going to highlight a disappointment here, it's 21 - with his lethargic flow, he just doesn't have the tightness to ride a trap flow well, and you can tell he's not a natural fit for that cadence, especially on the second half of the verse where he keeps trying to get off of it. Granted, his flexing and lines are a little more creative than Offset's, but even then, this doesn't stand out much - where's Metro Boomin when you need him, I swear...

Anyway, that was this week - entirely too long and not nearly memorable enough, but the best tracks do stand out. And much to my surprise, my favourite is 'Faucet Failure' by Ski Mask The Slump God - there's more personality in one song than in everything Gunna delivered both here and probably forever, with Honourable Mention going to 'Walk Me Home' by P!nk because I don't trust a disappointment isn't right around the corner. Now for the worst... you know, I wanted to give it to Gunna as a whole, but I think I'm going to highlight 'Outstanding' as the weakest for Dishonourable Mention, because worst of the week is going to Lil Pump and Lil Wayne for 'Be Like Me', with the former proving just as bad as always and the latter not trying as hard as he should have to save this. Next week... well, it's tough to say, because it's possible we get some impact from 2 Chainz, but it's more likely coming from the Jonas Brothers, so stay tuned for that.

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