Wednesday, September 4, 2019

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - september 7, 2019

So here we go: album bomb from Taylor Swift, where all eighteen songs from Lover has broken onto the Hot 100... and honestly, it just feels like a net positive for the Hot 100 overall, which is always the bizarre feeling I have when we get a good album bomb. Sure, it reflects a skewed anomaly on the Hot 100 that isn't healthy... but I can argue that this one didn't even inflict much collateral damage after Young Thug last week, just sweeping away the wreckage! No, the real turmoil will come in two weeks when Post Malone crashes in, but that's a different conversation entirely...

Anyway, our top ten, where apparently my predictions are going to keep being correct because 'Truth Hurts' by Lizzo took that final step and vaulted to the #1 spot! And while I'm not that surprised - great sales, strong radio, consistent streaming, and decent YouTube will do that - I am fascinated by how long it might last or what its major competition will be. Because I'll be honest, I'm not sure it's 'Senorita' by Shawn Mendes and Camila Cabello - it got its shot at #1 and still has great sales and radio, but lagging in that margin in on-demand streams is a telling sign that unless they discount it, they're not getting back the #1. This elbows back 'bad guy' by Billie Eilish to #3 - unsurprising as outside of consistently great streaming the YouTube has faded and the sales and radio are in freefall - but then we have the first impact of the album bomb with 'You Need To Calm Down' by Taylor Swift reentering the top 10 at #4. And while I don't see it lasting, I'm not surprised it's here - great streaming and radio will do that, even if the sales aren't stellar. This pushes 'Old Town Road' by Lil Nas X and Billy Ray Cyrus back even further at #5 - which still has great sales, streaming, and YouTube but has just lost too much in the on-demand and radio margins to be competitive - and then we have the rest of the chart sliding back more on position than their own strengths and weaknesses. 'Ran$om' by Lil Tecca went back to #6, but that can't discredit huge streaming that makes up for lousy sales and radio, 'No Guidance' by Chris Brown ft. Drake actually held its spot at #7 even as its radio and streaming started to slip, but 'Talk' by Khalid fell right past it as its radio is in freefall at #8, somehow falling even faster than 'I Don't Care' by Ed Sheeran and Justin Bieber at #9 where its streaming weaknesses are really hurting it. Finally, entering the top 10 at the very bottom we have 'Lover' by Taylor Swift, netting the album bomb gain thanks to great sales and streaming, and unless the radio catches up in a huge way, it won't get any higher.

And yet with this album bomb, as I said, I'm not sure how much serious damage it did, especially when you look at our losers and dropouts. Hell, the only two worth caring about are 'Some Of It' by Eric Church that has been fading slowly anyway, and 'Clout' by Offset and Cardi B, which had its respectable run and might just scrape onto the very bottom of the year-end list. No, as usual more damage was done to our losers, especially in the debuts from last week with 'Motivation' by Normani sliding to 66, 'Slide Away' by Miley Cyrus to 64, and multiple Young Thug tracks dropping, with 'Hot' with Gunna going to 39 and 'Bad Bad Bad' with Lil Baby to 54. Then we had our continued losers like 'Raised On Country' by Chris Young to 90, 'EARFQUAKE' by Tyler The Creator to 96, 'Never Really Over' by Katy Perry crashing hard to 94 - real collapse with this one - and 'Soltera' from Lunay, Daddy Yankee, and Bad Bunny to 97. And while we're on reggaeton, 'No Me Conoce' from Jhay Cortez, J Balvin and Bad Bunny went to 86, 'Callaita' from Bad Bunny and Tainy to 69, and 'Otro Trago' by Sech and Darell to 60 - not complaining about any of that. Then we had the country collapses from 'Rearview Town' by Jason Aldean to 56, 'Tip Of My Tongue' by Kenny Chesney to 88, and 'Buy My Own Drinks' by Runaway June to 100... but I have to be honest, I was much happier because there was a lot of trash that took body blows this week. 'One Thing Right' by Marshmello and Kane Brown hit 59, 'Easier' by 5 Seconds Of Summer slid to 65, 'Call You Mine' by The Chainsmokers and Bebe Rexha went to 79, and 'Go Loko' by YG, Tyga and Jon Z collapsed to 84. Hell, the only song I really liked that took a hit was 'Press' by Cardi B to 85, but given how it's kind of underperformed and who knows if it or 'Money' will make that next Cardi album whenever it comes out, I'm not about to complain one way or the other.

Now to my surprise, we actually did get some gains this week that weren't from Taylor Swift - I already mentioned 'You Need To Calm Down' and 'ME!' with Brendon Urie got the expected boost to 11, but we also saw sharp spikes for 'My Type' by Saweetie to 21 and 'F.N.' by Lil Tjay to 70... not entirely surprising, as I think both are moving pretty well. And when we go to our returns, I'm not surprised by 'The Archer' by Taylor Swift surging back to 38 or 'Juice' by Lizzo getting a welcome boost to 82 - awesome stuff. What I am shocked by was 'Baguettes In The Face' by Mustard ft. Nav, Playboi Carti, and A Boogie wit da Hoodie back at 95... you couldn't just push 'Ballin' and instead are letting any attention fall on this dreck? Seriously? Anyway, given we are in a Taylor Swift album bomb situation and I already talked about her album at length and detail - please go check out the review, linked in the description - so for the songs that are not among the best and worst below the top 40, 'It's Nice To Have A Friend' is at 92, 'Daylight' is at 89, 'False Gods' hit 77, 'Afterglow' is at 75, 'Death By A Thousand Cuts' is at 67, 'Cornelia Street' is at 57, 'I Think He Knows' hit 51, and 'Miss Americana & The Heartbreak Prince' struck 49.

But for our new arrivals, well, let's get started with...

91. 'One Man Band' by Old Dominion - you know, it feels like it's been years now where I'm stuck facing a new Old Dominion song and I keep thinking that there'll be a chance that it'll be at least tolerable enough to match its catchiness, especially as with cuts like 'Make It Sweet' they're trending in that direction... and then the jingling but clearly synthetic beat comes in and I just sigh with resignation. Yeah, there's a little more sandy texture to back up the liquid guitar playing which actually has a bit of rollick, but there's still a weird thinness to a song like this, even if it's going for sentimentality in making its lonely love song. Of course, the irony is that Old Dominion is one of the few full country bands making music in the mainstream so playing it off like a single guy is a bit awkward, but I think my greater issue is just that it's kind of forgettable. Not bad, but Old Dominion has actually made better and I still haven't been won over yet. Eh, it happens.

87. 'Playing Games' by Summer Walker - so it looks like Summer Walker is getting another single to chart without the Drake remix, which I'm very much down to hear... and this is one of those songs for which I'd normally want to be all over because of how much I like the modern, organic-leaning wave of indie R&B, and yet frustrate me because I don't. For one, if you're going to imitate SZA's formula, maybe find a way to get a less cheap-sounding drum machine or some sort of competent vocal mixing, because neither match well with that acoustic loop or all the faint synth effects that don't match with anything - and ending the track with London on da Track's producer tag kills the atmosphere. As for the content... I don't mind the liberal Destiny's Child interpolation on the hook, but if you're making the 'Say My Name' comparison, Summer Walker's pleas for the guy's attention while remaining cool with his life seem reasonable, but don't really match the intensity that comes in the hook; you expect there's more negative energy beyond him not posting a pic of the two of them together. Don't get me wrong, this is okay enough, but if you're comparing to the most recent material from, say, Snoh Aalegra, Summer Walker isn't really delivering here, and that's a problem.

63. 'Soon You'll Get Better' by Taylor Swift ft. The Dixie Chicks - so we've got a lot of Taylor Swift songs this week, many of which I already mentioned in the review, so I'll try to keep this short: this is one of the most touching ballads she's ever written, a tribute to her mother fighting a cancer resurgence and a quiet note of genuine desperation painted through the details that show how Taylor can barely even comprehend the possibility of losing it. It's a heartbreaking song, the delicate acoustics integrated with the ragged fiddle and the subtle backing vocals from the Dixie Chicks are extremely well-integrated, and Taylor leaning into the self-awareness about the song might seem a bit self-focused because who the hell else can she talk to besides her mom about this is a moment of rawness I did not expect. In other words, while I think 'The Archer' is still the best of Lover, this is a close second - truly excellent song, highly recommended.

62. 'London Boy' by Taylor Swift - this, on the other hand... look, I get Taylor is trying to lean in to write about her boyfriend who is from London, but I can't be the only one who feels like this feels a very US-focused fantasy of the U.K., complete with broad stereotypes that seem suspiciously targeted at their radio market. It just feels broad and kind of gimmicky, especially opening with the Idris Elba and James Corden sample to start the song. And I get that some of the references are to certain places near London that are considered more 'authentic' than playing the obvious references to the royals that would be an easy shortcut... but how the hell does any of that match the oily pop of the trap-adjacent percussion, slightly off-key synths, horns, and bells, which seem like they're trying to split the opulence and her impression of grime that she probably got from Ed Sheeran? And while she's not forcing the accent, the entire song feels like faintly embarrassing album filler - probably the low-point of the project, at least to me. Next!

52. 'Good As Hell' by Lizzo - so thanks to 'Truth Hurts' hitting #1, we're seeing some other Lizzo songs getting traction... and yet outside of 'Juice', we're not getting those songs from the new album which got all the critical acclaim! No, instead we're going back to her 2016 EP with this and... honestly, I like this more than the majority of Cuz I Love You! The pianos playing off those horns plays well off the oddly overmixed drumline on the hook, and even if it's still playing in the same self-esteem anthem territory as Lizzo normally touches, it feels more relaxed and confident than the overdone swings that we got on that last album, especially as she shows she can be that comfort to a friend as well as herself. And given how much Lizzo has in the way of pipes and natural charisma - and how Ricky Reed gives her the space to breathe, even if some of the backing vocals sound a little flattened - yeah, this is a really good song. If we can't get 'Juice' some traction, this is a good alternative, I'm game.

45. 'Paper Rings' by Taylor Swift - so there's a part of me that wants to point out that 'Paper Rings' isn't that far removed from the bouncier brand of indie pop that's been popular the past ten years - especially circa 2012 - or that some of her delivery on the prechorus behind the filter almost feels a bit reminiscent of Nicki Minaj... and then I realized I love that era of indie pop and that the slightly ramshackle bass groove and hemmed in production is such a distinctive touch for Taylor that she can easily make work with Jack Antonoff shouting behind her. And then out of nowhere she remembered that a great key change can elevate a low-stakes love song into awesome territory, especially when it's as fun as it is here and the warmer acoustics slip in... yeah, this song is concentrated wonderful and ridiculously fun. Absolutely an album favourite, and while we're in that territory...

29. 'Cruel Summer' by Taylor Swift - I mean, it was only a matter of time before Taylor Swift worked with St. Vincent, especially given the latter's gradual movements towards slicker pop music. And you can certainly hear it with the blocky pulsating groove, synthesized talkbox, big glossy synth, and St. Vincent herself on the guitar, but it's not just Taylor Swift hopping on an instrumental that you could have heard on MASSEDUCTION - this still feels like a Taylor Swift love song where the cruelty of the summer comes through the uncertainty of the love, where she's trying to play it cool and not compromise anything but in the end just wants to cut loose and embrace it. And I kind of love that moment where the mic dies out a bit on the end of the bridge and she just shouts through it - it fractures the refinement in precisely the right way, and makes a pretty damn good song a great one.

28. 'I Forgot That You Existed' by Taylor Swift - so now we move onto the two Taylor Swift songs for which I'm not quite as fond but still charted highly, and let's start with the better one. And my problems with it are documented: Frank Dukes' vocal production feels really canned and thin, none of which helps off the blocky fake snap, lumpy beat, and suffocated melody, and as much as I'm amused by Taylor Swift referencing Drake, it feels clumsy in a way it shouldn't. But the rest of the song actually clicks quite well: I like the harmonies on the hook, I like the touches of elegance around the prechorus, and I really like how naturally carefree Taylor sounds across the song as she realizes with bemusement that this ex is finally faded from her mind. She leans into indifferent relief well, how even with the acknowledgement of good and bad it's ultimately in the past, and it leads to a pretty solid song. Hell, if this had been her lead-off single, I can only wonder how people would have perceived the album...

23. 'The Man' by Taylor Swift - and now we have Taylor Swift making her version of Beyonce's 'If I Was A Boy', a song I found tiresome a decade ago and one I find just as tiresome now. And let me say that in terms of the pure message, it's not like Taylor doesn't have a point: for a large subset of the population, if she was a guy who behaved like she did, it'd probably be more accepted or brushed aside. But a few points need to be made: one, I call out that behaviour as vapid regardless of gender; two, we're living in a time where more women are able to flex where Taylor probably wouldn't get the backlash the way she did, but even if she did most of it would be because of three, that doesn't match her brand or image at all. Hell, does anyone else remember the Taylor rapping sketch from 2009 with T-Pain at the CMA Awards - that was considered a joke a decade ago, it's kind of ironic that now she wants to frame it as a socially conscious statement! Anyway, all of this is more interesting than the spare, clattering trap groove with the Chainsmokers-esque synth as the post-chorus that's still trying to sound opulent... in other words, I'll pass.

So yeah, not a bad week overall, honestly to the point where I did struggle to pick the worst of the week. I was going to give it to 'London Boy' by Taylor Swift for just being embarrassing, but I think the biggest wasted potential goes to 'Playing Games' by Summer Walker, which really should be way better than it is. But for the best of the week, Taylor is sweeping both, with 'Soon You'll Get Better' with the Dixie Chicks nabbing the top spot, and 'Paper Rings' as the easy Honourable Mention. But next week, how much of this will hold on?

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