Thursday, December 15, 2011

Billboard Hot 100 Wins and Fails: 12/24/2011

Hey guys, it's been awhile since I've posted in this field- and a lot has happened. Let's get into it.


#1 Rihanna f/ Calvin Harris- We Found Love

This song has done a complete 180- from initial disappointment to one of the biggest hits of Rihanna's career. In fact, as it spends its 7th week at #1, it now ties "Umbrella" as her biggest hit ever. As it's still locked in the #1 position on iTunes, I don't see "It Will Rain" or "Sexy and I Know It" stealing the top spot from her- officially making the song Rihanna's biggest hit ever. The song has actually landed on a lot of critics' year end lists, and seems to be just a down and out, genuine, career-defining smash. We'll see how the very mediocre "You Da One" performs before the instant radio hit "Talk That Talk" gets released as the 3rd single.

#4 Katy Perry- The One That Got Away

Capitol records pulled the same trick this week with the 6th single off of Teenage Dream as they did with T.G.I.F.- slashing the price to 69 cents in the iTunes store at the song's peak interest time in order to boost sales. While I'm sure Capitol was hoping the song would vault to #1, they have to be excited about a 6th single getting a release, let alone reaching the top 5. I don't think it will have the momentum to get to #1, though it provides yet another hit for her catalog and is still an absolute bonafide hit. However, we'll see what happens when her label unleashes their 2nd sneaky tactic- releasing a remix with B.o.B. to iTunes next week. I just wish the song wasn't so damn depressing.

#24 Gavin DeGraw- Not Over You

It looks like middle America is giving Gavin DeGraw his third top 40 hit with "Not Over You", a formulaic song to cater to the VH1 crowd. I have to give credit where it's due, as his contemporaries and former top 40 staples Nickleback, Daughtry, and 3 Doors Down have struggled immensely at pop radio this year. The song probably won't make it too much higher on the charts, but it should at least keep him from the brink of irrelevancy for a little while longer.

#57 Tyga- Rack City

If you're unfamiliar, Tyga is a Young Money signee that's poised to be next in line after the blockbuster success of Drake and Nicki Minaj. Problem is, while he's a decent rapper, he doesn't have the personality or individualism to come anywhere close to their level of success. Tyga has dropped countless promotional singles and mixtapes, and it looks like he might finally have some success with "Rack City", as it darts from #73-57. The song isn't really anything to write home about, so who knows if we'll see it hit the top 40- I'm just kind of surprised that it's already received more support than I ever would have thought. Apparently- just make a song for the strip club and you're golden.


#29 Lady Gaga- Marry the Night

Yes, Gaga's 5th single (well, 4th if you don't want to count the flop known as "Judas") from "Born This Way" is still on its ascent- but the reason it's in the fail column this week is that the song is showing early indications of missing the top 10. iTunes sales have remained relatively stagnant as it now sits at #37- and while it's perfect for the current top 40 format, that alone can't propel it into massive success. Billboard just released their year end charts, which doesn't take into account weeks at #1, but weeks and concurrent positions a song charted. Though "Born This Way" on paper is Gaga's biggest hit ever, it came in at a measly #18 on the year end charts, as it peaked with huge interest initially but dropped like a rock afterward. Radio hasn't supported the "Born This Way" singles like they did "The Fame"- is Gaga just too polarizing now for the south, or do the singles just not add up to "Bad Romance" or "Pokerface"? I think it's a little bit of both, as the video for the song feels bloated and overthought. Nevertheless, "Marry the Night" is classic Gaga, and its performance should be a representation of where she stands at this very moment with top 40.

#55 Beyonce f/ Andre 3000- Party

It is with deep and utter sadness for me to report on the relative failure of the "4" project from a commercial standpoint. It's the first actual Beyonce album I've taken the time to listen to all the way through, and the artistry, growth, and timelessness of the sound pretty much made it the album of my summer. Unfortunately, it looks like two of the three songs I thought would be absolute smashes have been failures. "Countdown"'s frequent rhythm changes proves too challenging for top 40 radio, and while the R&B format supported "Party" (current peak of #2) it looks like it either wasn't promoted to top 40 or was met with little interest. It's really a shame, as this song is one of my favorites of the year and deserves success. Beyonce took a huge risk with "4", and it looks like the decision to release the wrong songs as lead singles killed any momentum the project had going.

#80 Avicii- Levels

This is the song that Flo Rida took the 1962 Etta James sample from, used in his chorus and made his biggest hit since his other borrowed-inspiration smash, "Right Round". "Levels" was one of the biggest strictly dance music success stories of 2011, and for a minute there- I thought it might actually cross over. Which would have been awesome, because this song is SO MUCH better than "Good Feeling". 2011 was the year that dance music exploded in the underground, and the fact that this song is charting at all is a testament to that movement. It would just be super cool if they played the song at top 40. "Mr. Saxobeat" and "Take Over Control" were played every 15 minutes on KIIS-FM- why can't this one too?

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Top 25 Songs of 2011: 10-6

10. M83- Midnight City
I heard the song played on KROQ the other day, and now I’m watching its chart performance like a hawk. French based “laptronica” band M83 has been making the rounds for years, but it looks like they might have their first major success on the rock charts with “Midnight City”, the lead single from the acclaimed “Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming”. It’s the perfect example of what M83 does best- taking the basic song structures of electro and 80’s pop music and adding a My Bloody Valentine-esque shoegazing element. The result is an air-drum worthy chorus with all the nostalgia of a John Hughes movie.

9. Adele- Rolling in the Deep
It’s hard for me to retroactively give props to songs that I’m (everyone) completely tired of, but in 2011- no one could escape this damn song. To say that 2011 was Adele’s year is an understatement- it’s like she took the year 2011 and gave it the best sex of its life. We always wonder what songs will be played 20, 50, 100 years from now- “Rolling in the Deep” is certainly one for the time capsule. Everything that needs to be said about the blues/rock/soul smash has already been said- and with the current house/electro/dubstep/hip-hop craze that radio is currently welcoming, Adele’s sound was a surprising welcome. “Deep” is not only the biggest song of 2011, but will also be the most fondly remembered.

8. Tyler, the Creator- Yonkers
While Adele was the biggest story of 2011, the rise of Odd Future might be the most interesting. I’ve written quite a bit about the blogosphere phenomenon on this blog, as lead member Tyler, the Creator’s sound has given me something very few artists have this year- something completely new under the sun. We are now experiencing the direct influence of the early 2000’s rise of Eminem and the sound of The Neptunes, as the rap collectives’ average age of 20 makes them the first generation to truly be raised on those aforementioned influences. Take a Neptunes beat and place them in hell with Satan, and you might get a sound half as gloomy and introspective as that found on Tyler’s first major release, “Goblin”. With lead single “Yonkers”, a dark and menacing yet minimal beat glides while Tyler spits insane wordplay, offensive introspection on religion, and some rather interesting things he’d like to do to B.o.B and Bruno Mars. Also- my vote for video of the year. Disgusting, provocative, and interesting- just like Tyler himself.

7. Lil B- I Seen That Light
It’s hard to say if Lil B is a mad genius or makes absolutely no sense at all- and it has critics and blogs cut straight down the middle. It’s hard to find middle ground, as it’s difficult to rummage through his 1500+ songs posted online- but I invested quite a bit of time this summer into B’s first charting album, ‘I’m Gay.” (tongue in cheek purposes) B possesses both the naivety and cockiness of a 20 year old new to fame- but from an instrumental standpoint- it’s one of the most gorgeous rap albums I’ve heard. I mean, shit straight out of a Disney movie. Most of the tracks are laced with strings, horns, the works- and “I Seen That Light” demonstrates what the album does best. After a good 30 listens, I can still only recite the first few lines from each verse from memory- but who cares when the beat fills you with this much joy?

6. Cults- Go Outside
New York indie duo Cults rose to indie prominence this year on the back of a sweet Columbia record deal. The sound is about half reverb-heavy indie pop, half Shangri La’s inspired girl-group pop. The nostalgic, hook-heavy melodies with standard indie reverb made groups like Cults along with Wild Flag and Dum Dum Girls their own trendy subgenre this year. “Go Outside”, their debut single that launched them to their present deal, is quite simple. In fact, the song rarely strays from the hook presented within the first second. In fact, I can’t think of too many songs that are so reliant on a single hook, but I can pretty much guarantee you’ll be humming the tune after it finishes.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Top 25 Songs of 2011: 15-11

15. Lady Gaga- Hair
Say what you want about Gaga, but there really doesn’t seem to be many others out there that work as hard as she does. Here we have a mainstream pop star that writes her own material, relentlessly tours, does insane amounts of philanthropy and advocacy, and consistently seems to have a hit in the Billboard top 10. Sure- she’s influenced by Madonna, but since when has an artist not been inspired by another? Gaga has captured the pop culture zeitgeist over the past few years and has created a dedicated fanbase that will be with her for the rest of her career. Her sophomore effort “Born This Way” isn’t perfect by any means. It’s just like her- over indulgent, theatrical, and egocentric- but it’s not necessarily a bad thing. “Hair”, an absolute standout track (and hopefully future single) contains borderline silly lyrics about her hair representing her personal freedom, but it’s incredibly catchy and perfectly fits the dance-pop mold that made Gaga Gaga.

14. Kanye West & Jay-Z- Otis
Thank God that the collaborative effort from Kanye and Jay didn’t end up like the ill-fated Jay and R. Kelly collaboration “Best of Both Worlds” about 10 years ago. Everything Kanye ever releases is met with critical adoration (justifiably so) and it doesn’t stop with the lead single from one of the most anticipated releases of the year- “Watch the Throne”. If we dissect the song “Otis” itself, it plays to Kanye’s strengths- but it seems like a very bold and assertive statement to release this as the lead single off the album. Radio supported the song somewhat, but when’s the last time you’ve heard a song on the radio with no chorus and very little bass? (Besides Adele of course) “Otis” mine as well have been billed as Kanye West featuring Jay-Z, as it feels more like “Diamonds from Sierra Leone” or “Can’t Tell Me Nothing”- a promotional single not intended to make huge waves, showcasing artistic integrity before the real money-making “Gold Digger” or “Stronger” is released. In this case, it’s “Ni**as in Paris”, which should hit the top 10 in a week or two.

13. Cut Copy- Take me Over
Aussie band Cut Copy has been one of my absolute favorites over the years, and while 2011’s “Zonoscope” didn’t quite measure up to their astounding 2008 effort, “In Ghost Colours”, it’s still a fucking solid album. My favorite song from the effort is “Take Me Over”, a carefree, mid-tempo, sugary pop record tweaked to perfection. Cut Copy takes the best elements of 80’s pop music and mixes that nostalgia with killer hooks, creating a sound that in 2011 seems ultimately timeless. Why does Rihanna have to be the face of 2011 pop music when we have bands like this?

12. Terius Nash (The-Dream)- Long Gone
I’ve probably spent more time listening to The-Dream than any other artist over the past few years. Yes, really. The guy who infamously wrote Rihanna’s “Umbrella” in 15 minutes has an ear for perfection in R&B production, and it results in endless replay value. Every track he’s ever produced sounds like it’s been meticulously thought over- every sound coming out of the speaker is there for a very important reason. “Long Gone” takes on a new subject- his breakup from former R&B B-lister Christina Milian. Nothing from “1977”, the free mixtape from which this song is spawned, (much to the dismay of his label) compares to the highlights from his first 3 albums, but it’s still held to a much higher caliber than any of his contemporaries.

11. PJ Harvey- The Words that Maketh Murder
Where do I start with PJ Harvey? I’m the ultimate fanboy. I bought her 2000 album “Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea” when I was 14, and not long thereafter- 1993’s “Rid of Me” became my quintessential high school angst album of choice. Almost 10 albums in, she makes it a point for every release to be completely different from the last. After 2007’s sparse, piano-based “White Chalk”, Harvey taught herself yet another instrument (harpsichord) and released the very politically charged “Let England Shake” in February. The album garnered outstanding critical reviews, and will be in most critics’ top 10 lists. The single from the album, the mid-tempo “The Words That Maketh Murder”, makes blatant political references and is an instant classic addition to the Harvey library. Almost 20 years in, Harvey has consistently gained the respect of critics and fans with her brilliance. For the sake of popular music, let’s hope it continues.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Top 25 Songs of 2011: 20-16

20. Miguel- Sure Thing
I’ll start off the countdown with a smash R&B #1 that didn’t ever connect with pop audiences. LA raised Miguel helped J. Cole gain his first top 40 appearance on the pop charts in 2010 with “All I Want Is You”, but the follow up single, “Sure Thing”, proved what the hype was about. Though the lyrics are somewhat generic with that PG-13 edge that delicately pushes the envelope, (“If you the blunt/ I’ll be the lighter baby/burn it up”) the mid-tempo production and clever incorporation of a “chopped and screwed” line as part of the chorus allowed it to become one of the standout R&B smashes of 2011. After almost a year on the charts, it still sits comfortably in the R&B/Hip Hop charts’ top 20, which is a testament to the song’s replay value.

19. Toro y Moi- Still Sound
The electronic and hip-hop genres have fascinated me like no other these past two years. I’m not sure if it’s because percussion is my ultimate fetish with pop music, or that they are the two genres that seem to be continually evolving. 2010 saw the emergence of the electronic subgenre “chillwave”- a laptop induced, sampling and loop based new genre that allowed the introduction of new bands like Washed Out, Twin Sister, and… Toro y Moi. As a genre that would have never existed (or been possible) before this current era of technology, “Still Sound” s retro vibe, swanky lounge elements and abstract lyrical content make it a particular standout. For me, Toro y Moi works like Air’s music does- perfect to fall into the background at a swanky cocktail party or to be carefully dissected listening on headphones.

18. Holy Ghost- Hold Your Breath
2011 was Holy Ghost’s breakout year , and tended to be my consensus pick when needing something upbeat, poppy, and melodic. Particularly, “Hold Your Breath” is the standout track that exposes their strengths and turns them up to 11. Holy Ghost certainly aren’t the most original band around- there’s a whole generation of Depeche Mode/Cure synth-pop bands out there currently. They just seem to do it more effectively than anyone else. I’m sure that we’ll be getting lots of bands with similar sounds over the next 10 years, but there’s something special about these guys.

17. Drake- Marvin’s Room
I really don’t believe there is a mainstream artist I’ve ever personally identified more with than Drake. If I were suddenly rich and famous, my thoughts and feelings would directly reflect what Drake introspectively achieves on his sophomore effort, “Take Care”. One of the clearest examples is “Marvin’s Room”- a rude yet completely sincere drunk dial to a former flame. There’s a sense of space and atmosphere in the beats that frequent Drake collaborator Noah “40” Shebib composes, and it’s comforting to know that one of the most forward thinking R&B releases of 2011 had some legitimate airplay on the radio this year.

16. Kreayshawn- Gucci Gucci
And now for my guilty pleasure release of 2011. I know this isn’t the most artistic of tracks, but like 20 other people this year, I couldn’t stop watching the damn video on YouTube. The sheer divisiveness of the white female rapper from Oakland lit up the blogosphere this summer, and the lucrative record deal to Columbia records positioned the song to become a huge hit. It didn’t catch on like I’m sure they hoped it would, peaking outside of the top 50 on the Billboard Hot 100. Still, I can’t think of a lyric I’ve enjoyed more this year than “Bitch you ain’t a Barbie/I see you work at Arby’s/#2 super size/Hurry up I’m starving”. Kreayshawn creates a debate for the authenticity of the genre as most white rappers do. Given that our generation has been fully immersed in hip hop since we were in diapers, this was bound to happen. Plus, future gay icon.

Top 25 Songs of 2011: 25-21

25. Bon Iver- Holocene
I know, I know… why is one of the biggest critical and commercial indie success stories of 2011 just barely getting a mention? It’s weird for me. Bon Iver’s debut effort, “For Emma, Forever Ago” touched people (including myself) in a way few albums do- the sheer intimacy, meticulously layered vocal harmonies and incredible backstory had me completely obsessed in 2008. For me, when I personally invest so much into an album- it doesn’t matter how good or bad the next album is- it just doesn’t feel as special. The National’s “High Violet” is probably every bit as good as “Boxer”, but the latter holds a special place in my heart that the former will never be able to touch. The same happened this year with Bon Iver and Fleet Foxes. I know it’s lazy to just pick the song that… oh, just got nominated for record and song of the year at the Grammys, (no big deal, really) but it looks as if Bon Iver will soon be a household name.

24. Penguin Prison- Don’t Fuck with My Money
An attention grabbing title I first heard on XM radio, I’m surprised the blogosphere and hipsterazzi hasn’t jumped on this group a bit more. It seems that 80’s throwback synth-pop in the indie world is dime a dozen these days, but there’s something special about this song. As I found out watching the music video, the song takes on a new meaning with referencing the Occupy Wall Street movement. Not sure if that was the original intent for the song or if it was an opportunistic move, but it does make perfect sense. They did fuck with our money after all.

23. J. Cole f/ Drake- In the Morning
I was almost convinced that J. Cole wasn’t going to happen. After endless industry hype, deafening mixtape buzz, and countless promotional singles, none of the singles seemed to gain any traction. It wasn’t until last month that Cole scored his first top 40 hit on his own with “Work Out”. “In the Morning” was supposed to be the hit to break him- a delicate, definitely Drake inspired rap ballad about, well, hitting it in the morning. The beat is irresistible after a few listens, great bars by Drake and J. Cole alike- what else is there to say? It truly shows testament to how Kanye West’s introspective soul-searching style of rap has influenced a new generation of lyricists that aren’t afraid to wear their hearts on their sleeve.

22. Wiz Khalifa- The Race
I dare you to find a better beat than this. An album track off of America’s favorite new stoner, “The Race” doesn’t exactly cover new territory for the newly famous rapper, but the song just works so well. It’s been a banner year for the “Black and Yellow” lyricist, but it genuinely puzzles me as to why this wasn’t released as a single while the painfully average “Roll Up” was. “The Race” is a relatively formulaic track that is buoyed to greatness via its beat alone. Someone give producer I.D. Labs a raise.

21. Girls- Saying I Love You
Timelessness in music is an ultimate virtue. Lo-fi indie band Girls released their first album (appropriately titled “Album”) to critical adoration in 2009, but their sound was a bit too… well, lo-fi and muddled for me to sincerely love the release despite effort. They cleaned up their sound on their sophomore effort, “Father, Son, Holy Ghost”, an album that gives 2011 the middle finger and devotes itself classic 60’s and 70’s rock music. “Saying I Love You” hasn’t received the most attention off the album from critics, but I could honestly see the track being sandwiched in on The Beatles’ folk-rock influenced “Rubber Soul”. In every form of media, if I hear something composed today that could have been released any time over the past 40 years, you’ve won me over.