Tuesday, June 18, 2019

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - june 22, 2019

You know, one of the most frustrating things as a music critic is that sometimes you can find yourself in a bubble of your own biases - you know what you like and dislike, and thus while you're actively seeking the former, if you're stuck covering the charts you might totally forget a project dropped that could impact them. Hence was the case this week, where I did expect the Jonas Brothers would have a little more traction - and they do - and I remembered vaguely that Luke Combs was moving an EP, I completely forgot that Future still has enough chart cache to get his new EP multiple entries. Guess I'm going to wind up covering it after a fashion anyway - joy.

But before we get that, let's start with the top ten, where... okay, seriously, 'Old Town Road' by Lil Nas X and Billy Ray Cyrus got another week at #1? Yes, I get that it's dominant in every category except airplay, but at this point I'm just stunned folks aren't sick of it - I've had the time to go through multiple backlash cycles for this thing, you'd think the general public would just be tired of it. But that's not the case, and right behind it is 'bad guy' by Billie Eilish at #2, holding her own on sales and the radio even as it looks like her on-demand streaming is starting to soften a bit. And right behind her - just like last week - is 'Talk' by Khalid up to #3, which actually seized the top spot on the radio to make up for slightly underwhelming sales and weakening streaming. Now as I predicted, 'Sucker' by the Jonas Brothers did rise up this week, but only to #4 - mostly because sales are a non-factor and it got eclipsed on the radio. It did wrestle past 'I Don't Care' by Ed Sheeran and Justin Bieber at #5, which still has robust sales and great radio to make up for streaming that just isn't there in the same way - I've had questions about this song's longevity for some time, and that might the first sign of trouble. The next three songs held onto their spots from last week: 'Wow.' by Post Malone at #6 which is mostly consistent in all categories even if radio looks like it's peaking; 'Sunflower' by Post Malone and Swae Lee at #7, with better streaming but far weaker radio and sales; and 'Suge' by DaBaby at #8, which doesn't much in the way of sales but has a pretty robust streaming presence and is making a pretty credible radio run, much to my genuine surprise. What doesn't surprise me, unfortunately, is our new arrival to the top 10: 'No Guidance' by Chris Brown ft. Drake at #9. And while I did expect good streaming, I'm a little surprised by how comparably weak the sales and radio seem to be - I'll have more to say about the song later on, but it might not have much sustainability here, especially in the top 10. Finally, barely clinging onto the top 10 thanks to pretty much just radio, we have 'Dancing With A Stranger' by Sam Smith and Normani in freefall - no complaints from me, it had a good run.

And on that note, losers and dropouts - and in the latter category, there's not much here that surprises me, mostly just long-time losers like 'Night Shift' by Jon Pardi, 'Racks In The Middle' by the late Nipsey Hussle ft. Roddy Ricch and Hit-Boy, 'Homicide' by Logic ft. Eminem, and 'Boy With Luv' by BTS ft. Halsey, and the one lock for the year-end list with 'Murder On My Mind' by YNW Melly, a song that I probably like way more than I should. As for our losers... well, you've got the drops off debuts like 'Never Really Over' by Katy Perry down to 28, 'Press' by Cardi B at 47, and 'Call You Mine' by The Chainsmokers ft. Bebe Rexha at 84, and then there's the country songs that are slipping like 'On My Way To You' by Cody Johnson at 88 and 'Love Ain't' by the Eli Young Bang at 80 - thought that latter one would have a little more legs - and then the two relative anomalies. And I say relative because 'Wish Wish' by DJ Khaled ft. Cardi B and 21 Savage down to 70 was just a matter of time given the temper tantrum DJ Khaled is still throwing, and 'Here With Me' by Marshmello ft. CHVRCHES at 80 is hitting the end of its chart run and still hasn't justified its existence.

So fine, what about our gains - only gains, given that we don't have any returning entries this week? Well, sadly they feel depressingly predictable too, not helped by most just coming through country's regular seasonal rotation, with 'Rearview Town' by Jason Aldean up to 68, 'Speechless' by Dan + Shay up to 33, and 'Beer Never Broke My Heart' by Luke Combs at 22, although that one was probably more linked to EP success. Hell, that's probably why 'Pop Out' by Polo G ft. Lil Tjay got such a boost to 11, and entirely why 'Cool' by the Jonas Brothers is at 44. The only other gains both came off the debut last week: 'Ran$om' by Lil Tecca - enjoy your six to eight week chart run before getting forgotten, kid - and 'Trampoline' by SHAED at 89, because quirky but understated tunes like this will get brief traction but never blow up that big - just a fact of life on the Hot 100, folks, we aren't lucky enough for most of these to be interesting.

Anyway, now we've our surprisingly sizable list of new arrivals, starting with...

100. 'Otro Trago' by Sech ft. Darell - so you can really split this list into a few parts: Future, scattered breakthroughs mostly built off of new releases, and reggaeton, and just our luck we're starting with that. And I'll admit that Sech starts this off in a bit of a different lane: the melancholic pianos, the downbeat vibe... and then the autotune blankets everything, and we get the same rough reggaeton beat I've heard dozens of times before. And I think I have to blame Darell for this, mostly because his rougher tone wasn't meshing with the restrained tones originally, but when you dig into the content it's hard to feel like it wasn't set up for this pivot, from the girl nursing a drink alone at the bar to the immediate pivot to the dancing and Darell taking her home, where he talks about his Froot Loops breakfast and how he'll punish her for her attitude. So okay, it wasn't set up for that - seriously, Darell doesn't work on this song at all - but I could have seen how this could have worked... as generally forgettable reggaeton. Now it's just worse - next!

99. 'Government Official' by Future - I literally forgot that Future put out his Save Me EP last week. Seriously, I did, the buzz came and went like nothing, and while I heard this project was leaning towards his melodic HNDRXX side, that's no guarantee he'd be saying anything tolerable. And with this... well, I mostly like the darker, slightly atonal melody playing off the grinding knock of the beat, but am I really expecting to praise Future getting his 'squirt-squirt on the shirt-shirt' even as he swims in autotune and then adds how he's down with Vladimir Putin? I mean credit where it's due, I do appreciate how the flexing on this song is at least focusing on travel, which is a bit more unique, but any attempt to highlight how Future is getting in his feelings when he drinks codeine - which he has freely admitted he doesn't do anymore - means I'm stuck with the general pile-up of sloppy references, warbling stabs at crooning, and murky hypocrisy that might as well represent any Future song, so I'm not all that impressed. And on that topic...

98. 'XanaX Damage' by Future - okay, a few major problems with this one. One, it doesn't remotely sound finish, clocking under two minutes with little coherent structure between verses and hooks. Two, why does Future think taking his autotuned warble into a lower register sounds good off that swamped out guitar, where he nearly sounds like Cookie Monster? Three, why is the percussion so clean and shuddering which doesn't match any of the rest of the song's blending? And finally, with how slipshod this feels in its mixing and length, why do I have the suspicious feeling that Future is trying to bite from XXXTENTACION's formula, and somehow wind up working less because you know Future isn't about that drug life for as much as he puts it in the lyrics? It's hard to avoid the feeling that this is the cheapest and most surface layer of vulnerability Future can hit so he went there, but it sure as hell doesn't make it good. 

93. 'Only Human' by the Jonas Brothers - so this is the only new song we got from the Jonas Brothers hitting the charts... and honestly, I'm more than a little baffled that we're getting this one, with its blocky groove, tinkling keyboard, continuous horn squonk, and utter lack of a hook or payoff. Seriously, I said this when I reviewed the album, this song basically sounds unfinished, with the bass marginalized, a lot of buzzy synth touches that add up to nothing, no bridge or third verse after the second non-hook, and when I think I couldn't be less impressed, we're stuck with Joe Jonas handling the verses and prechorus, sounding as stiff and underwhelming as ever. Honestly, the only place where I can see this song makes sense is as a lingering hangover and headache where the melody annoys you to sobriety, but there's nothing fun that makes me want to dance to this. You couldn't have pushed 'I Believe' or 'Strangers' or even 'Don't Throw It Away' as singles instead, guys, come on...

92. 'Amor Genuino' by Ozuna - yay, more annoying reggaeton, this time with one of my least favourite singers in the genre at the helm. And yet strangely, like with 'Otro Trago' we're opening with a pretty sober piano line - sure, the vocals are layered clumsily and seems to be peaking in the mix and Ozuna remains one of the most annoying singers in this genre, but this seems to be promising something different, mostly because don't get any percussion at all. So okay, a more stripped back ballad... and honestly, I don't think the lyrics are precisely bad either from what I could translate, with Ozuna professing his heartbreak as this girl apparently didn't know how to return his affections, which isn't a bad sentiment to anchor this sort of track. It at least seems regretful and convincing, and probably could have worked without the ad-libs and weird half-laugh he put at the end. As it is... look, I'm not an Ozuna fan, but this is better than what I expected - not bad at all.

87. 'Please Tell Me' by Future - okay, last Future song here... and look who's trying to replicate the same formula of 'Mask Off' with added chipmunk vocals and diminishing returns! Seriously, the flute anchoring the main structure against a half-crooned repetitive hook, it's hard not to feel like it's a similar riff, especially with similarly empty content that might have a better structure, which in this case is Future's bragging about everything he can buy to get this girl's affections, which might on the one hand reflect his desperation for human connection, but just so happens to serve as an obvious brag to ram a ton of brand names into the song so it's still a flex. Sadly, it doesn't have the sample or fully-fleshed out groove that made 'Mask Off' work so effectively, but of the Future songs I've covered here, I will say it's okay enough for what it is... which is not saying much.

83. 'Heaven' by Avicii - so okay, apparently this was a song that Avicii had written back in 2014, intended for his second album, but it wound up missing the cut and being primed for another singer... but then years later Avicii passed away, Chris Martin recorded vocals, and after a series of 'leaks', we've got the newest single for the posthumous album. And look, it's weird that it's called 'Heaven' and feels genuinely weird with how much it focuses on someone's recent passing, but also how that was clearly intended as metaphorical in finding a new experience in love and the rave and now this song is trying to add more weight to it that I'm not sure the song can pull off. And Chris Martin's strangely inert delivery is only part of it - not only do I swear I've heard a very similar keyboard cascade driving the finale of a YouTube Rewind, I think for 2015, when the plucky tones get increasingly bright it's hard to get pulled into any sense of melancholy at all, it's just too jaunty. And even if I like some of the guitar accents ahead of the second hook, there's just not enough body as a whole to this tune to really jump out, and the tonal dissonance really doesn't help. So yeah, not really bad - melodically it's good enough to hold its own - but I'm not sure I want to revisit it.

69. 'Callaita' by Bad Bunny & Tainy - okay, last reggaeton song here, this time pairing Bad Bunny with Tainy, who I last heard with Selena Gomez, and J. Balvin on a Benny Blanco tune, so does this one also start with a dreary piano line? Actually no, because the tune is too washed out and windswept before the gritty percussion pad comes in as Bad Bunny squawks across the mix and actively peaks across the hook. Seriously, I'm not so wowed by Tainy's production work that I see what he gives Bad Bunny beyond a spare backdrop, and that's before you get to the content which is all circling around a girl who was hurt in the past but is now cheerful and loose post-breakup... and I feel like we already heard this same idea earlier this week. Look, maybe I'm missing some of the intricacy because I don't speak Spanish, but with the poor vocal mixing, I'm not sure I'm in a hurry to come back either - so yeah, just not much here one way or the other, let's move on.

66. 'The Git Up' by Blanco Brown - you know, I just knew there'd be someone to hop on the bandwagon, but I will say I didn't expect the next country rap song to come from a relative unknown. Now Blanco Brown does have some credits behind the scenes as a producer for Chris Brown and Pitbull, but like Lil Nas X he used TikTok to get this challenge on the Hot 100 and... honestly, this might actually be more country than 'Old Town Road'! The pedal steel, the deeper acoustics, the more pronounced twang from Blanco Brown, the fact that it's otherwise a pretty goofy dance song which can easily fit both into country and rap - hell, even if I think the percussion is a little clunky and it's hard not to feel like it's still kind of a joke, especially with the goofier beatboxing, like with 'Old Town Road' I can absolutely hear the appeal. It's certainly catchy as sin, even if you can tell it's playing to pretty basic common ground between the genres, and I think 'Old Town Road' might have a little more punch... but yeah, this is fine, maybe even good. Granted, I can see this becoming industrial grade annoying in a week, so we'll have to see.

62. 'Even Though I'm Leaving' by Luke Combs - I find it amusing that Luke Combs has reached the point where even his EPs are moving the sort of units where just the release can notch songs on the Hot 100 - I'm not sure he's reached the territory of being able to trigger an album bomb, but I certainly think he's getting closer. And I'm kind of glad that's the case, because this might be one of his best charting singles to date - and look, I will admit some bias here. I'm a sucker for father/son songs that reflect heartfelt emotions and vulnerability rise to the forefront, especially when the arc goes from childhood to enlistment to the father passing - it puts it in the same category as 'Letters From Home' by John Michael Montgomery and 'Live Like You're Dying' by Tim McGraw, and I honestly think this song can go toe-to-toe with them. Great rich warm acoustics where the texture balances tone, real pedal steel, an organic foundation in the percussion and bass, all of which fits the gruffness in Combs' voice where for once he actually underplays a bit and sounds excellent. If I were to nitpick I do think some of the backing vocals might not have been needed around the hook and instrumental bridge, but that's such a small detail that doesn't take away from just an excellent country song. So yeah, this is the best thing Luke Combs has ever shipped to radio and might among one of the best songs he's ever made - Nashville radio, it's up to you now: do not screw this up!

9. 'No Guidance' by Chris Brown ft. Drake - ...okay, look, my issues with Chris Brown are well-documented, so I understand how it could come across for me to come up here and say that the only reason this debuted this high is because 'omg, Drake and Chris finally made up'. But am I the only one who thinks this could have actually worked if it was just Drake here, who can match the faint atmospherics pretty well with some genuine subtlety against that faint sample, and even then it feels really clunky when you drop into the trap drop for the last verse with Chris Brown's autotuned yelps cutting through and adding nothing? That's the awkward thing about this tune: you'd think Chris Brown and Drake would have some sort of significant interplay if they're both singing about possibly the same girl, but they have shockingly little chemistry, and Brown's heavily multi-tracked braying doesn't match at all with the downbeat atmosphere of the track - hell, where's Bryson Tiller when you need him? And more to the point, for as much as Drake tries to acknowledge how self-assured and put-together this girl is in her life - it's pandering and projecting, but generally a little more slick about it up until he makes that dumbass Candyland line - Chris Brown is trying to get up in her face and overplays everything, proving once again how he's got so little subtlety or control or maturity. But overall... honestly, I'm not sure this was the reunion track that earned the hype - might not be precisely bad, mostly thanks to Drake, but I can't say it's good either, and I'm not sure it's got enough to last.

But that was our week... and man, it feels like a lot of stuff isn't worth caring about one way or the other. For the worst... let's go with 'XanaX Damage' by Future with 'Otro Trago' by Sech ft. Darell as Dishonourable Mention, one being unfinished and terrible, the other making a mess of something that could have just been inoffensive. Now the best... well, no question that 'Even Though I'm Leaving' by Luke Combs is running away with it, but Honourable Mention is tricky... and believe it or not, I think I'm going to go with 'The Git Up' by Blanco Brown, if only because it's catchy, distinctive, and for such an obvious bandwagon jumper might just have more legs than you'd expect. But next week... I'd put money on those two new Drake songs making a run next to Taylor Swift, just watch and see...

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