Tuesday, July 23, 2019

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - july 27, 2019

Let's be honest: there's one primary narrative going into this week. I could talk about the mini-album bomb unleashed by Ed Sheeran, or the other scattered arrivals, but the reason anyone is paying attention to the Billboard Hot 100 right now, be you in the music industry or outside of it, is the race at the very top, where a record is being tested as we speak and barring any unforeseen circumstances could be broken next week... and all from a track that I thought would flame out in a week or less, goes to show how much I know!

So yeah, the matter at hand: 'Old Town Road', by Lil Nas X featuring Billy Ray Cyrus, buoyed off the remix with Young Thug and Mason Ramsey, has now tied the record for the longest number of weeks at #1 with 'Despacito' by Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee, and the original holder, 'One Sweet Day' by Boyz II Men and Mariah Carey. And here's the thing: I'm not sure what unseats it now! Yeah, the radio's in freefall and the streaming isn't there in the same way, but the sales are just holding up and its YouTube margin is consistent. Normally songs like this are unseated by the margins, and right now, while 'bad guy' by Billie Eilish is the closest competition, it's getting beaten in sales and streaming and so thoroughly outstripped on YouTube that it barely matters that it has roughly twice the radio support - maybe if she had nabbed the remix with someone capable of selling the 'bad guy' veneer, like Eminem instead of fucking Justin Bieber, she could have gotten there. Now as I predicted last week, the reason why this is even a competition is linked to our #3, 'I Don't Care' by Ed Sheeran and Justin Bieber, which got a streaming boost thanks to the album and continues to chase the top radio spot - likely won't last and it's not a competitor to get higher, but it is making an effort. Then we have the continued robust success for 'Senorita' by Shawn Mendes and Camila Cabello up to #4 - it's narrowing that margin fast - which actually overtook 'Talk' by Khalid down to #5, as the radio finally hit its peak and with everything else in freefall, it could well be on its way out. This is good news for the continued rise of 'Truth Hurts' by Lizzo at #6 - again, robust success in all categories, this'll be a pretty consistent hit for a while - and then we have the expected drop off the debut to 'Goodbyes' by Post Malone ft. Young Thug, and while the radio is picking up steam, it's not quite enough to beat the surprisingly large slides in all other categories, especially YouTube. Next we have two songs that are heading out naturally, with 'Sucker' by the Jonas Brothers at #8 as its radio drips away, and 'Sunflower' by Post Malone and Swae Lee at #9 somehow actually gaining on streaming as it loses in radio and sales. Finally, rising to #10 as it also happens to be a hit with everything except sales, 'No Guidance' by Chris Brown ft. Drake - unfortunately, I can see this sticking around too.

Now here's the thing - even when we take away the drama with 'Old Town Road' and the record, it was still a reasonably busy week on the Hot 100, especially looking at losers and dropouts, where in the latter case we had songs like 'Eastside' by Benny Blanco, Halsey and Khalid and 'Look Back At It' by A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie leave while clinching their year-end slots, and 'Good As You' by Kane Brown and 'Girls Need Love' by Summer Walker and Drake... not. And for our losers... well, we had the expected loss off the debut for 'Under The Sun' from Dreamville with J. Cole, Lute, and DaBaby at 66, but I'll admit that on a week of a possible album bomb, it's striking to see 'BLOW' by Ed Sheeran ft. Chris Stapleton and Bruno Mars just collapse down to 73 - I know it was the final song on the album and those seldom get a ton from your average album bomb, but it was still surprising. Outside of that... 'EARFQUAKE' by Tyler, The Creator continues its steady decline to 65 and 'Cool' by the Jonas Brothers crashes at 75 - good.

But you shouldn't feel bad for the Jonas Brothers, because when we flip to our gains, 'Only Human' has picked up a boost to 87 - not sure if this is going to be given a serious push as it basically sounds unfinished, but that's happening. From there, we got the expected boosts for Ed Sheeran with 'Beautiful People' with Khalid rising to 19 and 'Cross Me' with Chance the Rapper and PnB Rock up to 25, along with the continued success for 'Cash Shit' by Megan Thee Stallion and DaBaby to 61 and 'My Type' by Saweetie to 47, along with... (sigh) 'Someone You Loved' by Lewis Capaldi to 26. The only real surprise here came with 'Clout' by Offset and Cardi B getting a sudden boost to 50 thanks to a good week on streaming and finally getting something of a radio push... so yeah, that's now a thing, but it might well be too little, too late.

And since we've got no returning entries and a pretty sizable list of new arrivals, let's get things started with...

99. 'Best Part Of Me' by Ed Sheeran ft. YEBBA - so here's the funny thing: it would be very easy to see this sort of song as disingenuous. Oh look, the world-famous and incredibly successful Ed Sheeran making another delicate acoustic-and-piano ballad about how he can't believe he's good enough for this girl as he then details his flaws with the sort of care that makes you question why anyone actually would be interested in him. Hell, is it just that it's a duet off of slightly ramshackle percussion in the distance, and how many of the details are really just that superfluous? Honestly, that might be enough - Sheeran and YEBBA actually have decent chemistry and like with all of these collaborations, that is what makes them click in the end. And to me, for the most part, this one does - good stuff.

98. 'Spirit' by Beyonce - so I'll be honest: I've got very little interest in this new Lion King project, be it the movie or any attached soundtrack. Hell, that's a pretty consistent attitude I've had to a lot of the Disney remakes, and considering how much expressiveness you lose in CGI-live action, I just had no incentive to check it out. And after hearing this Beyonce cut... look, I see the appeal, but Beyonce playing the beatific angel just doesn't enthrall me in the same way as it does when she gets raw and human, even if she touches into the highest notes in her register which is genuinely impressive. And you can tell this song is going for that same swell and surge that the original film nailed so effectively: the opening vocals in Swahili, the big drums, the soulful gospel swell built off the piano - an odd genre pivot, to be honest - and then they tack on the key change. But with lyrics painting in such broad strokes and Beyonce not in a zone that I find all that compelling... yeah, it's fine, but for as much as this is trying to move my soul... dunno, it's not quite there. 

96. 'Southbound' by Carrie Underwood - okay look, I get why Carrie Underwood released this song - it's loose and summery, it'll probably play to a country party vibe, the guitar lead is prominent off the main vocal line, even if the hook sounds basically unfinished and the drums sound way too high and crisp off a compressed mix. But I think the bigger problem for me is the content, because for as good of a voice as Carrie Underwood has, she sounds like she's slumming it on this song - this sounds like something that Little Big Town would have made seven years ago and that even they would have already forgotten, with lyrics that somehow are among the most forgettable and banal she's ever had. I get going for loose and fun, but there's a difference between that and just sounding disposable - hell, give to any other male artist and we'd call it bro-country - so why does Carrie Underwood think this is appealing to her or her audience again? So yeah, not the worst cut from that last album, but certainly not a good one.

92. 'Time' by NF - you know, NF keeps notching songs on the Hot 100 for a week or so with impressive regularity, you'd think one or two of them might actually stick around and not give me the impression that all of the bombast is undercooked and fleeting. Anyway, this is one that he wrote about a conflict with his wife - weird, given how much of NF's music gives off the feeling of perpetual virginity - against a cushion of strings, pitch-shifted vocals, and a chopped up hook that doesn't skip how much of these tones clips the top of the mix; seriously, either I'm getting more sensitive to bad mixing or people are just getting sloppy in the studio here! But okay, my big issue with NF has always been the content, which is a song where he pleads for time to work through his demons amidst the fights where he's constantly on the verge of wrecking, which apparently they've known about since the beginning of the relationship... and while to me this is the sort of song that has warning bells all over it, I think the larger part of it is how drab and relatively milquetoast it all is, especially in any sort of lyrical detail. And couple it with underwhelming production... yeah, not really a fan of this either, I'll pass - more likely forget about it in a day, but you know how it is.

90. 'Like A Rodeo' by Kane Brown - I struggle with how I feel about Kane Brown these days. On the one hand, there are points where it seems like he's looking to more country tones in his embrace of fiddles and richer tones in his guitars or pedal steel... but then he utterly compromises any attempt at groove with clunky synthetic percussion that pulls from trap and R&B tones which just doesn't blend as well as it should. And this new single is just another example of that, in this case tacking on both deeper and higher backing vocals to Kane Brown's natural delivery along with a whistle and a lot of attempts at smoky atmospherics that I find it really hard to like - look, if you're not going to care about groove, can you at least focus on making sure your tones blend decently? And Kane Brown sounds so disinterested here - you'd think a love song that repeated 'rodeo' so damn often would have some vigor intensity, but there's none. It's just drab and utterly devoid of atmosphere, thus winding up pretty damn mediocre if not outright bad - and somehow disappointing. Why am I still giving this guy a chance again?

89. 'Baguettes In The Face' by Mustard ft. Nav, Playboi Carti & A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie - so okay, I've actually been hearing some pretty promising things about the new project from Mustard, where he's now dropped the DJ after pushing his new album and selling half his catalog to clear his label debt - ballsy move, but hey, I really dug 'Pure Water' and I had the hopes this could be good too, even if the lineup seemed to suggest the exact opposite. And sure enough, that lineup cripples this song, which despite an okay instrumental from Mustard fusing an fast-picked acoustic line to his standard pulsating low-end, is stuck with Nav on the hook who apparently doesn't know how to pronouncing 'baguettes' - it's not 'bag-ett-tees', Nav, you're Canadian and you live in the GTA, you should know the proper French pronunciation of that! But again, this is a guy who is apparently so disinterested in taking my girl that he's telling guys to get her back, leaves puddles where he walks - I don't care about how much you drip, that sounds like you wet yourself - and somehow remains utterly uninteresting on the mic! Then there's A Boogie, who you'd think would know better than to let the girl know if she tells about their hookup, she'll be famous, and finally, Playboi Carti... who might actually wind up being the best part of the song, because while his flexing is mindless, he at least knows how to pronounce baguettes properly! So yeah, this isn't good whatsoever, which gives me the impression these Mustard songs are only as good as the rappers on them, and that Nav is complete crap wherever he goes - next!

83. 'Tip Of My Tongue' by Kenny Chesney - okay, honest question: did Kenny Chesney just decide not to do a full singles run for Songs For The Saints, his album from last year that actually turned out to be really good? Seriously, it was the most I cared about a Kenny Chesney album in years, but he only pushed the one single with 'Get Along' and yet after 'Better Boat' stalled out he just moved on - a mystifying decision given how long he's pushed albums before and there were legit great songs there! Anyway, now we've got another new single presumably for another upcoming album... and okay, this isn't bad, but man, the drums are overmixed here, trying for a blend of drum machines and live drums that seem to smother the natural guitar melody that actually has some decent atmospheric potential. It almost feels like a song that could have worked off the last Kenny Chesney album... and then Ed Sheeran showed up to cowrite and we have the obvious odd details on a flimsy song and an attempt at a pop groove that doesn't match Chesney's vocals. Again, one of those songs where the good elements are buried, even if the melody is dime-a-dozen, so yeah, not quite a fan.

57. 'Remember The Name' by Ed Sheeran ft. Eminem & 50 Cent - so the last three songs I've already talked about in some detail when I reviewed No. 6 Collaborations Project, so I'll try to keep this short, and let's start with one of the worst of them. And to make this clear for those in the back, in principle this could have worked - a come-up story rife with swaggering arrogance where Ed Sheeran tries to lean into rapping alongside Eminem, that has potential given both of their backgrounds, and while Em's wordplay is still more fidgety and occasionally cornier than it should be - why the hell are you talking about splitting your pants - alongside Ed Sheeran it's fine. But then 50 Cent shows up just to brag about how rich he is and not only does it not fit the vibe, he sounds utterly lost on the song and by far the weakest part - it almost reminds me of when he showed up on 'Crack A Bottle', which for me is among Eminem's worst ever songs, and killed the mood there! The other factor, though, is the production - and look, the gooey g-funk synth slathered all over the lumbering beat might have worked, but then you drop Sheeran's guitar pickup into the verses, the swagger is utterly undercut, and despite a pretty catchy hook, the entire song feels like a mess. And for as much talent is here - and 50 Cent - that's a problem.

53. 'South Of The Border' by Ed Sheeran ft. Camila Cabello & Cardi B - so I've had more patience for Ed Sheeran's flirtations with tropical and Latin progressions than most, mostly because he tries to keep them acoustic and somewhat organic in comparison with your standard reggaeton clunkers. But this is probably the song where my patience ran the thinnest, and yeah, it entirely has to do with that prechorus and Ed Sheeran trying to speak Spanish to lure over Camila Cabello, where the chemistry is just not there - which you kind of need for a song that's trading in sexual double entendres. And then Cardi B shows up... and forget chemistry, why is she referencing jungle fever, and then saying that she dropped her album and her baby - not a good turn of phrase there, Cardi! But at the end of the day... it feels more awkward than outright bad, which has to be a credit to the charisma that is here - and Camila Cabello. But if you want to highlight the song that actually works the best here...

37. 'Antisocial' by Ed Sheeran & Travis Scott - this is a pairing I did not expect to work as much as it did, and I have to give a lot of credit to that gooey, pulsating trap groove that has more jagged tightness and pushes Travis into a flow that feels more kinetic for him. More importantly, these two actually seem to click a little better when it comes to chemistry on this song, even if the broad sentiment is to be left the hell alone - it's darker, tighter but it feels more unstable, and lonely misanthropy is a vibe that has worked for both of them consistently. It's almost a little too lean and direct to criticize much outside of maybe giving that smoldering guitar a bit more sizzle or muscle, but it's one of the collaborations I least expected to work and yet wound up being a pretty damn solid song - I like it, give it a shot.

In fact, you know what? Ed Sheeran's actually getting both the top spots this week, with 'Antisocial' with Travis Scott as the best and 'Best Part Of Me' with YEBBA as the Honourable Mention. Now the worst... look, I have to go with 'Baguettes In The Face' from Mustard, Nav, Playboi Carti and A Boogie wit da Hoodie, with Dishonourable Mention going to Ed Sheeran as well on 'Remember The Name' with Eminem and 50 Cent, the last of whom is entirely responsible for this being here. Next week... will 'Old Town Road' break the record or will the gas finally run out?

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