Wednesday, November 6, 2019

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - november 9, 2019

You know, when I reviewed JESUS IS KING over a week ago, I had this naive hope that maybe the general public would just be apathetic to it and it wouldn't chart, or if it did it'd be patchy and marginal, mostly around the bottom half of the Hot 100, an album bomb but one that could be managed. Instead, over half the album landed in the top 40, so even when album bomb rules are applied I've got a sizable week to mostly talk about a project I have aggressive non-interest in - goddamn wonderful. And while I could very easily find seven related Bible passages to make my point again and call it a day... well, we'll have to see.

Of course, in my opinion the more important story comes in our top 10, with a new #1 that I did not see coming at all and is a first for this artist altogether: 'Lose You To Love Me' by Selena Gomez! And the success in multiple categories it's seen is more than a little astonishing: dominance in sales, a huge surge on streaming and YouTube, and radio traction to boot - now granted, it only surged this hard because as I mentioned last week, the #1 position was weak right now, so it'll be a question of maintaining momentum to keep that spot, but the fact that Selena Gomez actually got there... yeah, colour me surprised, it took her damn near a decade to get this far, even if I'm lukewarm on the song. I'd certain prefer her to Lewis Capaldi and 'Someone You Loved', pushed back to #2 as its sales discount faded, streaming sputtered, and radio slipped into freefall... which is good news for 'Circles' by Post Malone up to #3, which has maintained its radio growth, albeit slowly, and still has pretty decent sales and streaming. This takes us to 'Senorita' by Shawn Mendes and Camila Cabello at #4, where it might be slipping in all categories... but still has enough radio to hold its own, which is also basically the case for 'Truth Hurts' by Lizzo falling past it to #5, which still maintains good sales but utterly collapsed on streaming this week. Fortunately, she does have 'Good As Hell' breaking into the top ten at #6, which has even better sales, slightly better streaming, and really robust radio traction... likely buoyed by a remix with Ariana Grande, which I don't mind in the slightest but a song this brassy does show how much Ariana can be overshadowed when she underplays without strong production to support her. Unfortunately, we've got another new arrival at #7: 'Follow God' from Kanye West, which I will talk about later but given that it's one of the few JESUS IS KING songs that actually sold units to match its huge streaming, I'm not really surprised its here - I'll be more surprised if it lasts. Hell, it blew right past 'No Guidance' by Chris Brown ft. Drake at #8, but considering how much it lost across the board, that isn't a surprise - and that's sadly the case for 'Panini' by Lil Nas X as well, especially as its radio stalled out to leave it at #9. Finally, somehow holding in the top 10 at the bottom, 'bad guy' by Billie Eilish stuck around, mostly because even as it loses, it still has just enough traction in all channels to hold up, albeit barely.

And on that comforting note, losers and dropouts - and as to be expected on an album bomb week, there were a lot of them, especially when we consider big dropouts. Yeah, 'Callaita' by Bad Bunny and Tainy and 'Otro Trago' by Sech and Darell were crippled early, and 'Boyfriend' by Ariana Grande and Social House flopped early, but when you consider that 'The Git Up' by Blanco Brown, 'Wow.' by Post Malone, and 'Sunflower' by Post Malone and Swae Lee - the last of which damn near lasted the whole Billboard year - that says a lot! But in the tradition of disruptive album bomb weeks, a full quarter of the Hot 100 were losers this week, so let's rattle through them by genre: in pop, we saw 'Higher Love' by Kygo and the late Whitney Houston slip to 99, 'Lights Up' by Harry Styles flicker at 95, 'You Need To Calm Down' and 'Lover' by Taylor Swift slide to 52 and 48, and 'One Thing Right' by Kane Brown and Marshmello at 47. And on the topic of songs barely passing for country, 'Prayed For You' by Matt Stell slid to 56, 'Good Vibes' by Chris Janson went to 62, and 'I Don't Know About You' by Chris Lane went to 79 - along with some actual country losses with 'Living' by Dierks Bentley at 96 and 'Love You Too Late' by Cole Swindell crashing hard off radio losses to 74. Then we had a lot of losses in trap, particularly for YoungBoy Never Broke Again with 'Lonely Child' at 64, 'Make No Sense' at 70, 'Self Control' continuing down to 76, and 'Hot Now' at 91, with 'Camelot' by NLE Choppa following to 55, '223's' by YNW Melly and 9LOKKNINE at 61, and 'F.N' by Lil Tjay at 77. Then we have DaBaby having a uniquely bad week, with 'Suge' stumbling to 39, 'VIBEZ' at 67, 'BOP' at 71, 'INTRO' down to 90, and 'Cash Shit' with Megan Thee Stallion at 80. And as for whatever's left... 'My Type' by Saweetie hit 53, 'China' by Anuel AA, Daddy Yankee, Karol G, Ozuna and J Balvin at 84, and 'Come Thru' by Summer Walker and Usher at 89 - frankly, I'm surprised it held on that much.

And on this sort of week, you don't expect much in the way of gains or returns... but we actually got a few of the latter, with the expected Halloween return for 'Thriller' by Michael Jackson at 44, and a promising bounce back for 'SLOW DANCING IN THE DARK' by Joji at 88, its highest position yet. And yet the only gain we got is the best message of hope yet: 'Dance Monkey' by Tones And I up to 41 - the faster it gets to the top of the charts, the better! And on a similar good note, since album bomb rules are in effect, here are the Kanye songs I don't have to talk about: 'Jesus Is Lord' at 63, 'Hands On' with Fred Hammond at 60, 'Water' with Ant Clemons at 51, and 'Every Hour' with the Sunday Service Choir at 45.

But I know what you're all here for... but before we get to the album bomb proper in our new arrivals, we're starting with...

93. 'What She Wants Tonight' by Luke Bryan - hey look, it looks like Luke Bryan is starting the build-up for another album for which I'll have some fragment of expectations because he's got a good voice and a few good songs and yet wind up disappointed because of underwhelming songwriting, poorly chosen minor key progressions, and bad production! And yeah, that's exactly what this is, and let's start with the production: why are there so many filmy synths tacked on that don't blend with anything and yet somehow clip into Bryan's vocals? Why are the cymbals saturating the mix over that promising groove on the verse, leaving the guitar struggling for air on the hook? And even if you're so head-over-heels for this femme fatale who doesn't take no for an answer, why are you okay with her cutting tires when she comes over? Seems reckless, and this song does not have the groove or command of atmosphere to make that believable - in other words, while I can see the Luke Bryan fanbase falling head-over-heels over this one, once again he's not living up to any sense of potential - damn shame.

75. 'Start Wit Me' by Roddy Ricch ft. Gunna - you know, Roddy Ricch, if you wanted to convince me you have more potential than the field, maybe the best way to do it is not work with Gunna, who remains as frustratingly tedious as always. Granted, there's not much here to praise even if he wasn't here - shooting people and brand name flexing with a borderline Young Thug impression over an overweight bass and flute warble where he compares his car's paint to Mike & Ikes, but at least he's not Gunna who is namedropping Andrew Jackson for the twenties he gives his family! In other words, another week, another utterly flavourless trap song - next!

37. 'Use This Gospel' by Kanye West ft. Clipse & Kenny G - the obvious parable that comes to mind, especially with the interplay between No Malice and Pusha-T, is the Prodigal Son from the Gospel of Luke, but I'll also admit it's one of the few moments on this misbegotten album that comes close to working, and that's because Kanye's personal drama is not given center focus, instead juxtaposing the harsh reality of Pusha-T's sins with No Malice trying - and mostly failing - to provide comfort in the face of lost faith. Doesn't excuse that ugly car door beep that passes for a melody and gargled autotune, the sloppy vocal tracking, and the fact that that each member of Clipse only get eight bars... but hey, Kenny G sax solo that sounds like the only decently tracked instrument on this entire album! Counts for something, right?

36. 'God Is' by Kanye West - okay, pitched-up James Cleveland sample but not quite chipmunked, this has potential... and then Kanye tries to sing and sounds outright dreadful. By the Nine Hells, dude, you release updated versions of your album every other week, you couldn't have sung this without the strep throat? And am I the only one skeeved out about how he's trying to highlight his Sunday Service success and say it's not about a 'dead religion'? I might have skipped over talking about 'Hands On' because while it is dreadful there are worse here, but it's got the same sentiment of rejection of the Christian religion in favour of this warped prosperity gospel that 'made him sane' that's here. I dunno, maybe he's operating under the principle that if he sounds this bad on record I'd believe this is genuine, but... well, we'll get to it. Still sounds really rough, though, not good.

33. 'Everything We Need' by Kanye West ft. Ty Dolla $ign & Ant Clemons - so yes, Ty Dolla $ign and Ant Clemons sound good on the hook, it's a nice harmony... until the dirt-cheap trap click comes in and Kanye says this person can 'spoil themselves' - and then you realize that so much of this album is clearly using the leftover drafts of Yandhi cheaply recontextualized for Christianity, which kind of undercuts the vibe! Granted, the 'what if Eve made apple juice' line kind of does that already, but I will say this at least falls into underweight complacency, the least effective or interesting part of Christian music - next!

27. 'Look At Her Now' by Selena Gomez - so look, I had the hope that with a new Selena Gomez song we'd have an obvious standout - even if I didn't really care for her first new single, it'd still be better than the vast majority of what we get here. Sadly, despite okay verses off the clipping waves of synth, the hook absolutely sucks: utterly flat, synthesized humming sounds that has no punch and actively seems to clip the top of the mix. And if this is a song that's trying to be an anthemic moment coming post-breakup, finally secure in where she's going, why does it have the limp, blubbery vibe of a forgotten slice of late 80s R&B married to Kiiara's 'Gold'? In other words, not only is this considerably worse than the first single Selena pushed, it also winds up being bad enough to not save this week - more's the pity.

23. 'On God' by Kanye West - and back to Kanye, and the song where I actually quit listening on my first and only non-fragmented listen to this album, where Kanye tries to justify the prices he charges for his merch on tour - which later on the album he calls his 'mission' because he doesn't want to go on Dancing With The Stars. Where he talks about how he thought the Book of Job was a 'job', where he brags about being the greatest artist alive, where he's referencing his Yeezys and complaining about the IRS over a gooey synth line. And while I could have so many words for the raging, incoherent hypocrisy and calculation being pulled here by the "greatest artist alive" and his handlers, I'll simply refer to the Gospel of Matthew, 'Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's'. 

19. 'Selah' by Kanye West - yes, the drums and gospel choir have swell off the organ, but dig even a little into what is being said here and I have concerns. He cites Bible passages from John but neglects the larger context that comes further in the discussion on the Mount of Olives, that just being of the seed of Abraham is not enough to ensure salvation, that good deeds must be done... and yet Kanye equivocates himself with Noah as a prophet, seemingly not aware of the incest subtext that came after the story of the ark, and then with Jesus accepting that he has been 'betrayed' and must magnanimously forgive them as they must forgive him and everyone else... when in reality you can make the argument that by ignoring the later parts of Luke 10 that he references, he ignores the neighbor cast down in the story of the Good Samaritan, that humility and compassion for the least of one's brothers is what helps the most, not setting oneself above like the priest and Levite did. Again, when you see the subtext that is more focused on the provocation and profit of this religious pivot, it makes the bombast seem all the more shallow. And you want the last bit of proof of that?

17. 'Closed On Sunday' by Kanye West - you know, I got some real backlash when I called this Kanye's 'Chick-Fil-A praise song' - after all, he's just using a meme for provocation, he doesn't know or care that obvious brand promotion of a fast-food joint whose founders donate to causes that say LGBTQ people 'deserve death' and have pushed similar punitive laws in Africa right now. And while I could say that there tends to be a progression between ironic memes and unironic belief in those spaces, and that the rest of the song is an screed against Instagram, protecting one's daughters, renouncing 'Jezebels' in a pretty unfortunate but expected sex-negative move, a rejection of the culture outright, and that people will think twice about stepping on his land, which is in line with the right-wing prosperity gospel nonsense that would unironically praise Chick-Fil-A... so what is it? An ironic meme here that doesn't match with the song's downbeat, paranoid mood that wouldn't feel all that far removed from right-wing YouTube and doesn't match the sincerity of the entire project, or unironic and the promotion of bigotry in a moment of sheer dumbassery. You decide!

7. 'Follow God' by Kanye West - and now we have the song where once again it becomes abundantly clear that Kanye's 'gospel' is really the Gospel of Kanye: an unending scream of indignities that utterly miss the point of the religion he wants to espouse, where he rants about Instagram and at his father when he points out that nothing here is very 'Christ-like', followed by the revealing line that nobody tells you when you are 'like Christ'... and that's the point. In fact, you all wanted a Bible passage, and I've got one for you from the Gospel of Luke, 'To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 'Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” It's not about being seen, or holding forth, or bragging endlessly, but doing good deeds for the least of one's brothers for their own sake, and when you realize that within his Calabasas Kardashian bubble Kanye will never hear that message... that's the sad tragedy of it all. It's why I didn't want to review it in the first place, commodification of something that should never be sold.

And that leaves me in a messy situation for best and worst of the week - if I'm going for "best" it's going to 'Use This Gospel', if only for Clipse and Kenny G. Worst is a tie between 'Closed On Sundays' and 'On God', they're both everything that makes me utterly revolted with organized religion, and the evangelical/prosperity gospel movement. Let's hope that next week all of this is swept away.

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