Saturday, December 16, 2017

This week was the 25th anniversary of Dr. Dre's The Chronic, and I wrote about some trivia about the album for Rolling Stone

Friday, December 15, 2017

I contributed to a track-by-track breakdown of Eminem's new album Revival for Rolling Stone, similar to a post I worked on for Jay-Z's album over the summer. 

The 20 Best Pop Radio Hits of 2017

Monday, December 11, 2017

Last week I did lists for the year in R&Brockrap, and country, so here is the last of my 5 annual genre lists. 2017 is only the second year this decade (after 2012) where no album had multiple Hot 100 #1s, and the only year this decade that every #1 was by a different artist (although Justin Bieber was a guest on two #1s). That's a fancy way of saying that pop music was a little more fractured and diffuse than usual this year, that no blockbuster album loomed over the year like a 21 or a Teenage Dream has in most years. And it didn't even feel like Top 40 radio was dominated by any one particular sound or trend so much as we felt the echoes of the last few big fads. With Dr. Luke in exile and Max Martin loosening his grip on the chart, things felt a little less managed and supervised by a small cabal of super-producers. Even the one arguable dominant trend of pop radio this year -- the solo careers of members of One Direction -- was defined by a bunch of individuals setting off into different directions.

Here's the Spotify playlist, and here's the pop lists I did in 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016.

1. Niall Horan - "Slow Hands"
#1 Mainstream Top 40, #11 Hot 100
When vocal groups splinter into solo acts, it's usually a game of winner-take-all for whichever member has the highest profile. With One Direction, things got a little interesting when Zayn left the group and got his career started before the presumed frontrunner Harry. But in 2017, 1D proliferated onto the charts like no group except maybe New Edition -- each member had a top 10 hit in the U.K., and even in the U.S., where they've sold millions of albums but had spotty Hot 100 success, 4 of 5 members had top 20 hits. During the group's run I would've assumed Niall Horan was one of the least likely to have a good solo career. But "Slow Hands" turned out to be the best of the whole crop, leaning towards Harry's earth tone dad rock sensibility while much hookier than anything on his album, with an odd little digital shuffle and oddly gated vocals that made the whole thing march and shimmy differently from everything else on the radio and yet feel right at home.

2. Shawn Mendes - "There's Nothing Holdin' Me Back"
#1 Mainstream Top 40, #6 Hot 100
The biggest star to emerge from Vine has managed to outlast the platform's demise by a year and change now, but I was always pretty lukewarm on Shawn Mendes until this song, where it all seemed to click together into a driving "Jessie's Girl" guitar pop gem with a dash of trendy "Shape of You"-derived production. And the song's infectious air of liberation and abandon seemed fitting since Teddy Geiger, the circa 2006 teen idol who's helped write and produce most of Mendes's hits, came out as trans while "There's Nothing Holdin' Me Back" was on the charts.

3. Cheat Codes f/ Demi Lovato - "No Promises"
#7 Mainstream Top 40, #38 Hot 100
Demi Lovato had the biggest hit of her career this year (more on that later), but I don't think she got enough credit for her feature that preceded it by a few months. I have generally preferred Lovato's more rock-oriented stuff, but she really found the perfect EDM track for her voice with this one.

4. Dua Lipa - "New Rules"
#11 Mainstream Top 40, #15 Hot 100
Dua Lipa's self-titled debut was one of my favorite pop albums this year, but the first few times I heard it, I had no inkling that "New Rules," buried down at track 8, could be the album's big breakthrough hit. But once that great video came out, it became immediately clear.

5. Zedd f/ Alessia Cara - "Stay"
#1 Mainstream Top 40, #7 Hot 100
"Here" and Alessia Cara's debut album kinda seemed to come and go by then end of 2015, but then she had a really big 2017, with the sleeper hit third single, a soundtrack song, and a couple of features all going platinum this year. And "Stay" is I think far and away the highlight of her career so far. Zedd is really the guy who does what the Chainsmokers do better than the Chainsmokers.

6. Ed Sheeran - "Castle On The Hill"
#7 Mainstream Top 40, #6 Hot 100
Ed Sheeran made the somewhat unconventional move to release the first two singles from his third album simultaneously (well, that's something pop stars usually don't do -- it's pretty commonplace in rap, and we know how much Sheeran loves to rap). "Castle On The Hill" is probably the best song Sheeran's ever written, a nostalgic yarn about his hardscrabble upbringing in a town with only one castle, driven by a thumping kick drum and shimmering guitars. But "The Shape Of You" was an inane Rihject, so naturally it became the huge #1 hit that dominated radio for months, while "Castle" had to settle for being the less popular follow-up. 

7. Sam Smith - "Too Good At Goodbyes"
#9 Mainstream Top 40, #4 Hot 100
I think there's something to be said for not being a fan of an artist's general sound and persona, but appreciating when they've made a song that sums it up perfectly. And I think that even more than "Stay With Me," this puts the entire Sam Smith thing in an ideal little 4-minute package, but even moreso because the hook isn't accidentally lifted from Tom Petty. Also, I relate to Sam Smith a lot more after he said "When I got a record deal, I just spent all my money on cheese." 

8. Charlie Puth - "Attention"
#1 Mainstream Top 40, #5 Hot 100
Likewise, I am not a fan of the whole Charlie Puth thing, particularly when it takes on this malignantly distrustful quality that his singles have increasingly had. But "Attention" really distills that idea as well as he seems capable of, with a killer bassline driving it all.

9. Pink "What About Us"
#10 Mainstream Top 40, #13 Hot 100
In 2017, it seemed like all the female pop stars that dominated the Top 40 world a few years ago took a hit to their standing on the charts by dramatically rebooting their sound and image to something that better reflected these fraught, dramatic times. Katy Perry flopped outright, Lady Gaga couldn't stage a radio comeback even after Super Bowl exposure, Kesha and Lorde won with critics but were so-so on the charts, and only Taylor Swift was too big to fail while still showing signs of faltering. Amidst all of this, the one with the longest career, Pink, was the 38-year-old mom who seemed to find a downtempo lead single that was a little more of a natural fit for her, something that managed to evoke, without being too heavy handed about it, exactly how it feels about to live in an America that's turning its back on a lot of its own people.

10. Calvin Harris f/ Frank Ocean and Migos "Slide"
#9 Mainstream Top 40, #25 Hot 100
As I said in the R&B list post, there is something very discomforting to me about how pretty much an entire generation of R&B stars, aside from The Weeknd, has been shut out of pop radio unless they guest on a track by a pop singer or EDM producer. And Calvin Harris's Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1 seems deliberately, perhaps even cynically, engineered to capitalize on the gerrymandered state of American radio.

11. The Weeknd f/ Daft Punk - "I Feel It Coming"
#3 Mainstream Top 40, #4 Hot 100
The Weeknd may be the notable exception to young R&B acts being shut out of pop radio, but after he crossed over with both Max Martin pop tracks as well as songs closer to his early mixtape sound like "The Hills," it seems notable that the two big hits from his last album were both Daft Punk collaborations. I thought "Starboy" was an insipid worst-of-both-words use of the combination, but "I Feel It Coming" is sublimely understated, two seemingly very different acts finding common ground on a very specific flavor of early '80s R&B schmaltz.

12. Demi Lovato "Sorry Not Sorry"
#1 Mainstream Top 40, #6 Hot 100
Someone was going to write a hit song called "Sorry Not Sorry" sooner or later, that's just a plain inevitability of our catchphrase-driven pop industry. But I think the one that came together ended up much better than I would've expected, and it was delivered by perhaps the best possible artist, one of the few young pop stars who's always seemed happy to mouth off and not apologize for it.

13. The Chainsmokers "Paris" 
#3 Mainstream Top 40, #6 Hot 100
The Chainsmokers' rule over 2016 seemed to quietly peter out around the time they finally released an album in early 2017, but this song really grew on me. Honorable mention to Emily Warren, whose vocals on the chorus totally make the song even though she isn't famous enough to get a feature credit (and did lots of good writing work this year including Dua Lipa's "New Rules" and Charli XCX's "Boys"). 

14. Hailee Steinfeld and Alesso f/ Florida Georgia Line and watt - "Let Me Go"
#21 Mainstream Top 40, #53 Hot 100
Of Hailee Steinfeld's Hot 100 singles so far, I much prefer the EDM ballads cobbled together with multiple collaborators ("Starving" and "Let Me Go") to the solo singles that kind of aggressively brand Steinfeld as a new kind of empowered woke pop starlet ("Love Myself" and "Most Girls"). But all of her stuff is pretty good, and her best songs and her performance in Edge Of Seventeen really make me root for her to become one of those rare entertainers who thrives in both film and music. 

15. Linkin Park f/ Kiiara "Heavy"
#16 Mainstream Top 40, #45 Hot 100
Earlier this year, Linkin Park released "Heavy," the first single of their career that did better on pop radio than rock radio. And its lighter, more polished sound and guest appearance from the pop singer Kiiara rubbed a lot of their fans the wrong way. But since Chester Bennington's suicide in July, it's impossible not to look at the One More Light album differently. His lyrics always communicated an inner turmoil, and "Heavy" is in retrospect one of the saddest, most helpless songs he ever sang, even moreso because it was misunderstood as a sellout move.

16. Fifth Harmony f/ Gucci Mane "Down"
#25 Mainstream Top 40, #42 Hot 100
Listen, I've made my peace with being on the wrong side of history. Camila Cabello's "Havana" is currently higher on the charts than any Fifth Harmony single has ever been, and the group's first album since she went solo came and went with little commercial impact. She's Justin and they're the rest of the 'N Sync left in the dust, as far as future narratives are concerned. But I'll maintain that Camila was the weak link and that the group made their best album after she left and Lauren Jauregui and Normani Kordei were able to take charge of more of the lead vocals. And "Down" featured one of the more charming and sincere guest verses of Gucci Mane's unlikely ascent as a pop star. He even played the song as he cut the cake at his wedding. 

17. Logic f/ Alessia Cara and Khalid - "1-800-273-8255"
#3 Mainstream Top 40, #3 Hot 100
In May, I interviewed Logic on the day that Everybody was released, and one thing we talked about was how he'd released three major label albums, always exceeding sales expectations, without having a radio hit. "Who wouldn't want a radio hit, right? Who wouldn't want a smash any day of the week? But I am where I am right now with no hit." But I suspect he already knew, even then, that "1-800-273-8255" was going to be the one that crossed over, the one that reached millions of people who can relate (woo!). I have mixed feelings about the song, but I'm kind of impressed that Logic managed to have this big moment with the least likely subject matter for a pop hit and probably put some real good out into the world with it.

18. Zayn and Taylor Swift - "I Don't Wanna Live Forever"
#2 Mainstream Top 40, #2 Hot 100
The tweet where a guy sings "what is happening to meeee" in a Goofy voice has irrevocably changed how I hear this song, for the better.

19. Harry Styles "Sign Of The Times"
#12 Mainstream Top 40, #4 Hot 100
It's impressive that Harry Styles was able to leverage his position as the de facto frontman of One Direction for some of the group's most impressive solo career chart positions, even while virtually all of his bandmates were making considerably more radio -friendly music. But his debut single, a Bowie-esque 6-minute ballad written from the perspective of a mother dying during childbirth, got more U.S. radio airplay than the four biggest One Direction hits, making the kind of bold splash he wanted to kickstart a more unorthodox career.

20. Luis Fonsi f/ Justin Bieber and Daddy Yankee "Despacito (Remix)"
#1 Mainstream Top 40, #1 Hot 100
"Despacito" was an absolute phenomenon before the remix, and I wish they'd had the confidence in the original song to push it as far as it could go on the American charts without adding a star like Justin Bieber to it (and Bieber 'performing' the song live as "I don't know the words, so I say 'Dorito'" really confirms that he's an absolute shithead who should not have been included in a watershed moment for Latin pop). But the song holds up, and one of my favorite moments at work his year was when I was backstage at the Hispanic Heritage Awards, which Luis Fonsi closed out with a solo performance of "Despacito."

The 10 Worst Pop Radio Hits of 2017: 
1. Liam Payne f/ Quavo "Strip That Down"
2. Calvin Harris f/ Katy Perry, Pharrell and Big Sean "Feels"
3. The Chainsmokers & Coldplay "Something Just Like This"
4. Ed Sheeran "The Shape Of You"
5. Katy Perry f/ Skip Marley "Chained To The Rhythm"
6. Taylor Swift "Look What You Made Me Do"
7. Selena Gomez "Bad Liar"
8. Kyo f/ Selena Gomez "It Ain't Me"
9. Miley Cyrus "Malibu"
10. James Arthur "Say You Won't Let Go"

The 20 Best Country Radio Hits of 2017

Friday, December 08, 2017

Country is kind of the dark horse format of American pop music with the least Venn diagram intersection with other genres, even if the Nashville establishment is so obsessed with validation from outside country that the CMAs and the ACAs are usually chock full of duets with rock and pop acts. This year, Sam Hunt scored the biggest non-Swift crossover from country to pop radio since “Before He Cheats,” but it sucked. Meanwhile, country radio had maybe its most enjoyable year since I started doing this list and paying more active attention 5 years ago. This was actually the hardest list this year to narrow down to 20 songs, there were quite a few that I had a hard time cutting.

Here’s the Spotify playlist of these songs, and my country lists from 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016. I’ve already done this year’s R&B, rock and rap lists, I’ll be back next week with the pop list to wrap things up.

1. Midland - "Drinkin' Problem"

#3 Country Airplay, #45 Hot 100
This year Midland rode into a country radio climate that has been light on bands -- actual bands, not vocal groups --- for a long time, and scored a debut hit that reminded me of the best George Jones drinking songs that veered between lamenting and celebrating alcoholism. The members of Midland are showbiz pros from outside Nashville --- one’s a model and TV actor, one’s a video director who works closely with Bruno Mars --- but their nudie suit sense of old-fashioned country glamor is refreshing in the context of a genre that has been fixated on bare feet and dirt roads for the last few years.

2. Carly Pearce - "Every Little Thing"

#1 Country Airplay, #50 Hot 100
Michael Busbee, better known simply as the pretentious lowercase mononym ‘busbee,’ was responsible for the unique hybrid of retro and modern sounds on one of 2016’s biggest country breakthroughs, Maren Morris’s debut album. And in 2017, busbee was all over country radio, producing hits for Morris, Keith Urban, Lady Antebellum, Lauren Alaina, and this year’s big breakthrough female artist, Carly Pearce. Pearce’s first hit is a trembling, vulnerable ballad about “the high, the hurt, the shine, the sting” of a heartbreak, and it just seemed to gain more power every time I heard it.

3. Florida Georgia Line f/ The Backstreet Boys - "God, Your Mama, And Me"
#1 Country Airplay, #46 Hot 100
Ever since they rode their debut single to crossover glory with a Nelly remix, Florida Georgia Line have been the most unabashedly pop act in pop country. And this year they moved further into pop than ever, appearing on the Chainsmokers album and releasing singles with Hailee Steinfeld, Bebe Rexha, and the Backstreet Boys. The only shocking thing about any of this is that all of these songs were pretty good, especially the Backstreet track. Oh my God, they’re back again. 

4. Luke Combs - "When It Rains It Pours"

#3 Country Airplay, #33 Hot 100
This year Chris Stapleton continued to be the highest selling and most acclaimed country artist that almost never gets played on the radio, and Luke Combs positioned himself as someone who sounds a bit like Stapleton but writes the kind of catchy, funny, upbeat radio singles that would cost Stapleton all that critical respect.

5. LANCO - "Greatest Love Story"

#1 Country Airplay, #45 Hot 100
The greatest country music producer of the decade, Jay Joyce, continued his run of hits in 2017 with his usual clients like Eric Church and Lady Antebellum (his productions appear on this list no less than 5 times). But he also cemented his ability to break new acts, signing the band LANCO and shepherding the slowest and prettiest song from their 2016 debut EP to radio glory.

6. Jon Pardi - "Dirt On My Boots"

#1 Country Airplay, #37 Hot 100
PardiNextDoor’s second consecutive boot-themed #1 is almost as good as the first, as he remains country radio’s best current proponent of prominent fiddles. I love the way he bites into the line “I can get cleaned up if you ask me/ but I can only get so fancy!” leading into that last chorus.

7. Maren Morris - "I Could Use A Love Song"
#9 Country Airplay, #75 Hot 100
I was rooting for “Once” to be the ballad third single off Hero, but I wound up pretty happy with how “I Could Use A Love Song” sounded on the radio.

8. Rascal Flatts - "Yours If You Want It"
#1 Country Airplay, #71 Hot 100
Rascal Flatts are excessively dorky even in the context of the dorkiest genre of popular music, but now and again they package their romantic schmaltz in a tune rousing enough to win me over, and this one was my favorite since “These Days.”

9. Little Big Town - "Better Man"
#1 Country Airplay, #34 Hot 100
“New Year’s Day” recently became the first Taylor Swift song promoted to country radio in over 4 years. But the first recent signal that she hadn’t completely exited the genre where she made her name was when it was revealed, a week or two after Little Big Town released “Better Man,” that it was written by Swift. And the fact that Swift chose the group to record the track really helped cement Karen Fairchild’s reputation as one of the best vocalists in country music right now.

10. Thomas Rhett - "Star Of The Show"
#1 Country Airplay, #45 Hot 100
Longtime One Direction songwriter Julian Bunetta was behind one of my favorite pop songs of the year, Niall Horan’s “Slow Hands.” But he’s increasingly turning up on the country records, and helped write a couple of Thomas Rhett chart toppers this year. Country music is perhaps justifiably not regarded as a genre that generates a lot of visually interesting music videos. But “Star OfThe Show” was, alongside Brad Paisley’s “Last Time For Everything,” one of the country videos this year that really impressed me.

11. Jason Aldean - "Any Ol' Barstool" 
#1 Country Airplay, #52 Hot 100
Jason Aldean was performing at a country music festival Las Vegas in October when a man opened fire on his audience in the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history. And that awful night is, unfortunately, what will define 2017 for Aldean and for much of the country music community. But a few months earlier, he released in my opinion one of the best singles of his career.

12. Eric Church f/ Rhiannon Giddens - "Kill A Word"
#8 Country Airplay, #71 Hot 100
Rhiannon Giddens released a great album, Freedom Highway, in 2017. And I don’t think I would have heard it if my interest hadn’t been piqued by Eric Church inviting her to add vocals to the single release of this track from his 2015 album Mr. Misunderstood.

13. Dan + Shay - "How Not To"

#1 Country Airplay, #57 Hot 100
In previous years Dan + Shay have only appeared, on two occasions, on my 'worst' lists. But I'd like to finally make a peace offering to them, partly because I found this song really catchy and charming, and partly because a brick was thrown at their tour bus last time they were in Baltimore.

14. Justin Moore - "Kinda Don't Care"
#42 Country Airplay
One thing I have done in this list literally every year that I’ve made one is feature a Justin Moore track, whether it was a big hit or not, and say that he deserves more recognition as one of the finest vocalists in country music today.

15. Morgan Wallen - "The Way I Talk"
#30 Country Airplay
A lot of songs, by big and small names, kick around the country radio charts for months before climbing to the top ten. And if a song sticks around for the better part of a year, that usually means it’s got the legs to be a hit eventually (like Justin Moore's "Somebody Else Will," which reached #1 in its 43rd week on the chart). So I was disappointed that Morgan Wallen’s “The Way I Talk” only got to #30 in its 42 weeks on the chart when it dropped off, never to return. It’s a catchy little ode to southern accents that really felt like a major hit in waiting from the first time I heard it.

16. Devin Dawson - "All On Me"

#15 Country Airplay, #93 Hot 100
There was a point, back when Taylor Swift and Hunter Hayes were blowing up, when it seemed like mainstream country was about to get a little younger and more youth-oriented, but now it feels about as grown as it ever has, for better and for worse. Even the rare tracks that get big on streaming platforms before radio catches on, like Russell Dickerson’s current hit “Yours,” are often bland schmaltz. But Devin Dawson, who got popular on YouTube with covers years before he started recording original material, is one of the few new media types to make a transition to traditional country success with “All On Me,” his Jay Joyce-produced debut single.

17. Thomas Rhett f/ Maren Morris - "Craving You"

#1 Country Airplay, #39 Hot 100
Thomas Rhett is quietly maybe the biggest star in country right now who hasn’t really become a household name outside of the country fanbase, and he was the only artist with three #1s on country radio in 2017. And his father, Music Row vet Rhett Atkins, has also been having a very good year, co-writing “Craving You” as well as the Jon Pardi and Justin Moore songs on this list.

18. Blake Shelton - "I'll Name The Dogs"
#4 Country Airplay, #58 Hot 100
Blake Shelton is a good if unremarkable vocalist who trudged along in the middle of the pack for years before his unlikely trajectory to a level of celebrity that country singers rarely reach: a power couple union with another singer (first Miranda Lambert and now Gwen Stefani), a gig on one of the most popular shows on TV, and this year, a pretty widely derided selection as People Magazine’s ‘Sexiest Man Alive.’ Meanwhile, Shelton’s parade of moderately enjoyable radio hits marches on, with "I'll Name The Dogs" kind of openly aping one of his biggest and best previous hits, “Honey Bee.”

19. Shania Twain - "Life's About To Get Good"
#36 Country Airplay
Garth Brooks scored his first #1 radio hit in a decade recently, and it’s absolutely awful, it sounds like it was recorded in a shed by an amateur. But Shania Twain, the other ‘90s country superstar who has spent much of her time since the early 2000s in sort of a self-imposed exile, released her comeback album in 2017, and country radio has been slow to warm back up to her, which is a shame, because it’s a good record.

20. Brothers Osborne - "It Ain't My Fault"

#12 Country Airplay, #79 Hot 100
There aren’t a lot of famous country acts from Maryland, so it’s been cool to see Deale natives John and T.J. Osborne have a run of singles from their debut Pawn Shop spend well over two years on the charts. “It Ain’t My Fault” was a funny little upbeat closer in the context of the album, but as a single it really felt like an anthem, and the very memorable video put an interesting spin on the lyric. 

The 10 Worst Country Radio Hits of 2017: 

1. Garth Brooks - "Ask Me How I Know" 
2. Sam Hunt - "Body Like A Back Road"
3. Russell Dickerson - "Yours"
4. Brantley Gilbert "The Weekend"
5. Keith Urban - "Female"
6. Chris Janson - "Fix A Drink"
7. Luke Bryan - "Fast"
8. Dylan Scott - "My Girl"
9. Kane Brown f/ Lauren Alaina - "What Ifs" 
10. Dustin Lynch - "Seein' Red"

Movie Diary

Thursday, December 07, 2017

a) Arrival
I feel like this movie is in this little mini genre of movies that attempt to tell earnest, emotional stories about the human condition under the guise of a big sci-fi movie with spaceships and expensive visual effects. But the most famous movies that have attempted that, Contact and Interstellar, are pretty middling and divisive films, and I think Arrival succeeded in a lot of the places where they failed. I am forever complaining about trailers and ad campaigns giving too much of the movie away, and Arrival exercised great restraint on that count, so I hesitate to even say too much about the story. But I liked the way the concept was unspooled, and the visual effects were really cool, especially the aliens and especially the weird sideways gravity thing.

b) You Get Me
One of my guilty pleasures is how Swimfan did a high school version of a trashy erotic thriller, and You Get Me is very much an attempt at the same thing. But listen, it's no Swimfan.

c) CHiPs
Making expensive movie versions of campy old TV shows has been commonplace since the '90s, but it felt like some kind of desperate nadir last year when studios spent tens of millions of dollars on Baywatch and CHiPs and then seemed shocked that people weren't interested. I feel bad for Michael Pena because he deserved a better shot at headlining a major film. Dax Shepard directing Kristen Bell in a bathing suit on a "hey check out my wife!" tip was pretty weird, but she did look amazing.

d) Kong: Skull Island
My long running joke/sincere criticism of King Kong movies is that there's an island full of giant animals and fucking dinosaurs and making it all about the big gorilla is kind of burying the lede. So if nothing else, Kong: Skull Island is a pretty good corrective to that issue. But it really felt like less than the sum of its parts, especially when you take into account what a big talented cast it had. Sam Jackson and John C. Reilly are incapable of not being entertaining, so they definitely stepped up. But the director, Jordan Vogt-Roberts, is one of these guys who went straight from small budget pictures to an enormous $100 million effects budget, and I don't think he really made that jump well.

e) Hidden Figures
This was pretty spectacular, I really love things like this that capture just what our space program was up against in the '60s and how completely mind boggling their success was and how many brilliant people had to work together to make it work. And the cast was obviously pretty splendid, Taraji P. Henson in particular. My wife is a PhD. and I really liked watching a film with her that paid such beautiful tribute to women of science.

f) Office Christmas Party
It's really amazing how these big ensemble comedies can just get together a dozen people who always play the same kind of character and have them all play to type. You know exactly what you're getting from a Jason Bateman character, from a T.J. Miller character, a Rob Corddry character, and so on. It wasn't bad, Kate McKinnon and Sam Richardson in particular had great moments, but it was just so totally predictable even when it escalated to the crazy 'unpredictable' climax.

g) Trolls
Of all the big animated movies that my kids have had in rotation in the house lately, this is definitely close to The Secret Life of Pets in the running for most irritating. Troll dolls were always weird and creepy so I guess inevitably they'd make a movie and it'd be weird and creepy.

h) Florence Foster Jenkins
You never watch a Meryl Streep movie and say she was no good in it, but this was really one of those Oscar noms she didn't need, nobody's ever gonna remember this movie in the overall context of her career.

i) Cell
Cell phones have become such a big piece of horror movies because either they're a plot point or they're oddly absent or have to be rendered unusable for the story to move forward. So it was kind of fun to see this Stephen King adaptation where cell phones are the catalyst of this zombie apocalypse. It really just wasn't any good, though, even the super bleak ending just wasn't satisfying.

j) The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2
My wife liked the Hunger Games novels so we went to see the first 3 movies in the theater, but then she saw the last movie with her mom so I'm just now catching up to it. And really, I respect how the story ended, but after the 2nd and 3rd movies took it to some interesting places, I felt like it was pretty anticlimactic, a few good sequences but it felt like a lot of the best supporting characters were barely in it, definitely my least favorite of the series. 

The 20 Best Rap Radio Hits of 2017

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

2017 was a pretty interesting year in rap. More than in any other genre, streaming disrupted the usual starmaking channels, and a whole new crop of rappers came out of SoundCloud and elsewhere to run the charts. Some of them translated that success to terrestrial radio, and some didn't (shout out to mercifully not having to hear XXXtentacion on the radio). Drake took his foot off the Hot 100's neck for the first time in 8 years, which helped make things feel a little less stale, and Kendrick and Migos got to enjoy the best years of their respective careers without their relationships with Drake monopolizing the news cycle. 

I put all these songs into a Spotify playlist. And here's the rap lists I did in 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016, and the 2017 R&B and rock lists I did earlier this week. 

1. Lil Uzi Vert - "XO TOUR Llif3"
#7 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #7 Hot 100
In some ways, the latest wave of rap stars proclaiming themselves 'rock stars' just all feels too familiar to me. Even Lil Uzi Vert's nasal pop punk sense of melody reminds me strongly of Rebirth-era Lil Wayne. But "XO TOUR Llif3" felt to me like a pretty singular moment where it all clicked and I thought Uzi actually shifted into a much more unique figure in pop culture than he was going to be when his biggest song was "Money Longer" or "You Was Right." Thick-skinned gangsta rap fans actually got creeped out by this song until they were given the explanation that "all my friends are dead" just means 'dead presidents.' But what really impresses me about "XO TOUR Llif3" (or for that matter "The Way Life Goes" or XXXtentacion's "Look At Me") is the linear vocal performance where the second chorus is delivered in a completely different intonation from the first, with ebbing and flowing energy in place of the usual static rap hook that's the same every time you hear it.

2. GoldLink f/ Shy Glizzy and Brent Faiyaz - "Crew"
#2 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #45 Hot 100
"Crew" was on D.C. radio every day for about 6 months before it caught on in the rest of the country, which means I've been marinating in it for almost a year and I'm still not remotely sick of it. It's hard to think of a time since "Still Tippin'" that 3 artists from the same area got their biggest hit all together with the same song and it crystallized this perfect little cultural moment for a city. I interviewed Shy Glizzy a few years ago and the "Crew" video was shot in the town where I was born, Cheverly, Maryland, so every time this song hit a new peak or got performed on TV or got a Grammy nom, it just felt like this well deserved win that everyone was rooting for.

3. Migos - "T-Shirt"
#2 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #19 Hot 100
After he was, as the ancients have said for thousands of years, left off "Bad & Boujee," my personal favorite Takeoff got perhaps his best showcase to date on a Migos single. I don't know why producers would call themselves Nard & B, it sounds like a pair of testicles that sing R&B, but they did an amazing job on the "T-Shirt" beat.

4. Cardi B - "Bodak Yellow (Money Moves)"
#1 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #1 Hot 100
Every day, another vapid internet celebrity like Jake Paul or the "cash me outside" girl releases a new awful rap song. But Cardi B, a stripper turned Instagram personality turned VH1 reality star, had the gift of gab to coin a dozen catchphrases before we even heard her rap. And  back in January, when Cardi released her second mixtape and was showing signs of improvement, I said "the more money they put into her production, the higher her ceiling gets." But I wouldn't say that I really could've predicted that she'd release a #1 song just a few months later. And sure, Kodak Black birthed to flow, but to her credit, few people who jack flows have ever given a songwriting credit to the originator, much less named the track after them. And there's some poetic justice in a shitty rapist dude's signature song being hijacked by a woman.

5. Future "Mask Off"

#1 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #5 Hot 100
It's odd to think that after a half decade of increasing ubiquity, Future hadn't really had a Hot 100 hit on the scale of "Mask Off" or even anything close to it. But that flute loop was enough of a novelty in the context of his catalog that its viral popularity steamrolled right over Epic's planned single. I thought that a chorus where the most memorable lines are "fuck it" and "molly, percocet" would lose a lot in the translation to the radio edit, but after a couple weeks it sounded fine as is.

6. Tee Grizzley - "First Day Out"
#19 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #48 Hot 100
This song is such a blatant rewrite of Meek Mill's "Dreams & Nightmares," but that's one of my favorite songs of the decade, so I'm not really bothered that someone tried to capture a little of that energy for themselves, it really suits Tee Grizzley well.

7. Kendrick Lamar f/ Rihanna - "Loyalty"
#2 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #14 Hot 100
I always thought Kendrick's most overt attempt at radio singles, even when successful, felt kind of stiff and forced and conflicted. And "Humble," as much of an instant commercial triumph as it was, just never really sounded good to me. The rest of DAMN. however, was a surprisingly good attempt at a crowd-pleasing record, with some surprises like a far more relaxed and easygoing Rihanna collaboration than rap albums that rely on that song to sell records usually get.

8. 2 Chainz f/ Gucci Mane and Quavo - "Good Drank"
#10 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #70 Hot 100
Mike Dean has spent so many years as an in-house producer for Rap-A-Lot Records before he became part of the endless sequence of 5-producer teams that complex Frankenstein tracks for Kanye West and Travis Scott that it was really refreshing to hear a couple of great southern MCs on a straightforward solo Mike Dean production. Quavo wrote a great hook, but I'll always be grateful for the time he couldn't make it to The Tonight Show to perform the song and 2 Chainz brought out a gospel choir to sing the chorus, really one of my favorite live TV moments of 2017.

9. YFN Lucci f/ PnB Rock - "Everyday We Lit"
#6 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #33 Hot 100
I don't know if YFN Lucci always tells his producers to use pianos or what, but his songs always have the best piano sounds. When PnB Rock says "check out my neck," is he referring to his jewelry, his freakishly long neck, or his legendarily bad neck tattoo that says "just do me" next to a janky Nike swoosh?

10. DJ Khaled f/ Beyonce and Jay-Z - "Shining"
#6 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #57 Hot 100
It was quickly overshadowed by two pretty awful other singles from the Khaled album, but this song has held up. I used to joke about the terrible track record for Jay-Z/Beyonce collaborations, and I still don't want them to do an album together, but I feel like their hit rate has improved, I love "Shining" and "Family Feud" and "Part II (On The Run)." 

11. Fat Joe & Remy Ma f/ Ty Dolla $ign - "Money Showers"
#14 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay
Roughly 200 songs were released this year that featured Ty Dolla $ign singing over samples of '80s and '90s R&B hits. And this one, with Ralph Tresvant pleading in the background, was by far my favorite.

12. Playboi Carti "Magnolia"
#21 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #29 Hot 100
Pi'erre Bourne came out of the gate with one of the most memorable producer tags in recent memory, a sample from a 1996 episode of "The Jamie Foxx Show." But what I really enjoyed about "Magnolia" was how Bourne kept Foxx's imitation of a door creaking after the line in the drop, and then looped that sound and made it an integral part of the beat. I think we need to think of this song as an addition to Jamie Foxx's musical canon, alongside bangers like "Slow Jamz" and "Blame It."

13. Travis Scott f/ Kendrick Lamar "Goosebumps"
#8 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #32 Hot 100
Travis Scott made the increasingly trendy decision to not have any feature credits on last year's Birds In the Trap Sing McKnight (except for "Pick Up The Phone," since he basically pried the song away from Young Thug to begin with). So that means that when the album's biggest hit, "Goosebumps," plays on streaming services or appears on Billboard charts,there's no mention of Kendrick Lamar, which is pretty messed up since without him this would just be another track where Travis Scott can barely finish one verse without stammering "orrrr I don't know."

14. Gucci Mane f/ Migos "I Get The Bag"
#4 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #11 Hot 100
Gucci Mane's post-prison career has been like one big well-deserved homecoming party. But I can't help but notice but that guest spots like "Black Beatles" have been bigger than his own records, and he's often felt like a guest on his own recent singles. I wouldn't say this is an indictment of Gucci -- a lot of the best songs on Mr. Davis and Everybody Looking are solo tracks -- so much as it exposes the fact that people are more excited about the idea of Gucci Mane right now than his music. So he'll probably never have another hit like "Lemonade" or "Wasted" where he does the hook and drives the whole thing. But "I Get The Bag" is pretty great and a much more fitting record to become his highest charting solo single than the terrible Drake collab "Both" that dominated radio earlier in the year. 

15. Future - "Incredible"
#29 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay
A lot of it was down to timing, and a side effect of just how big "Mask Off" blew up, but I still think that one of the biggest failures of rap radio in 2017 was that an album full of as many potential hits as HNDRXX was almost completely passed over. 

16. Jay-Z - "4:44"
#16 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #35 Hot 100
I don't think "Song Cry 2 (Bawl So Hard)" is really the monument of emotional maturity it's been made out to be, but I still thought this was a pretty good and bold choice for the first radio single from an album that had more overtly radio-friendly songs. 

17. Joe Gifted f/ Frontstreet "Water" 

#23 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay
I have no idea who Joe Gifted is or who Frontstreet is or even where they're from, and it seems almost refreshing in today's hip hop climate that anyone got a radio hit without being a full service celebrity with a well known backstory or even a Wikipedia entry. And I like the way this song rips off the "Fuck Up Some Commas" siren. 

18. 2 Chainz f/ Trey Songz, Jhene Aiko and Ty Dolla $ign - "It's A Vibe"
#14 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #44 Hot 100
A rap song featuring three R&B singers looks weird or desperate, but this song really summed up the Pretty Girls Like Trap Music aesthetic pretty well, and Tity's one verse ("gas in a Ziploc, now that's loud and clear") is great. 

19. Yo Gotti f/ Nicki Minaj "Rake It Up"
#2 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #8 Hot 100
The Chyna/China/China/China/China bars are ridiculous, but otherwise this songoes off and it really felt like Nicki needed a win like this for her 2017 to have not been completely disastrous. 

20. Jeezy f/ Bankroll Fresh - "All There"
#25 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay
It wasn't as big as, say, Juvenile and Soulja Slim's "Slow Motion," but I still think it's kind of cool when major artists take a song they made with someone who recently passed away and make it into a bigger hit than anything that artist had in their lifetime, good sendoff for Bankroll fresh. I still think the title of the song should be "Cheeto What I Snack On," though, that's definitely the most memorable part of the song. 

The 10 Worst Rap Radio Hits of 2017:
1. A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie f/ Kodak Black "Drowning"
2. Post Malone f/ 21 Savage "Rockstar"
3. G-Eazy f/ A$AP Rocky and Cardi B - "No Limit"
4. A$AP Ferg - "Plain Jane"
5. 21 Savage "Bank Account"
6. Big Sean "Move" 
7. Nicki Minaj f/ Drake and Lil Wayne "No Frauds"
8. Kodak Black "Tunnel Vision"
9. Lil Pump "Gucci Gang"
10. DJ Khaled f/ Quavo, Chance The Rapper, Lil Wayne and Justin Bieber "I'm The One"

The 20 Best Rock/Alternative Radio Hits of 2017

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

The word 'alternative' has been overused to the point of meaninglessness in the context of rock music since the early '90s. And in 2017, it took on a new, more malevolent level of nonsense as 'alt-right' became a popular term for laundering white nationalism as a mainstream American ideology (and the even more inane 'alt-left' was pushed for good measure as a false equivalent). With that context in mind, there's nothing I'd like to do more with this list than drop the word and just call this 'rock.' But the 'rock/alternative' tag I've used for the last 5 years is somewhat useful for lack of a simpler header: not all of these songs are strictly rock, and some of the rock songs aren't alternative in even to the degree that the world makes any sense to describe music.

Here's the Spotify playlist, and my previous rock lists for 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016. And I already did this year's R&B list.  

1. Alice Merton "No Roots"
#9 Alternative Songs#9 Rock Airplay
Alice Merton was born to Irish and German parents and spent her youth moving around England, America, and Canada before kicking off her musical career with an ode to placelessness that went top 10 in several countries across Europe. Here in America, it's contained to alternative radio, which I think is unfortunately a classic example of how catchy, relatable songs often get siloed into specific radio formats here even though they have pretty proven broad appeal.

2. Lorde - "Green Light"
#9 Alternative Songs#9 Rock Airplay, #19 Hot 100
Back in 2013, Lorde came out of New Zealand with "Royals" and it made that long trip around the world that songs from unknown singers occasionally make, and briefly was only on alternative radio in America. Then it became a rare multi-format smash, getting heavy rotation spins on pop and R&B radio as well, which left me wondering exactly what kind of career Lorde had ahead of her. When she returned with her sophomore album nearly 4 years later, I was impressed that she seemed to be reaching for the brass ring with "Green Light" and its massive chorus and pulsing piano-driven dance beat. But only alternative radio played it, so what do I know.

3. The Killers - "The Man"
#2 Alternative Songs#4 Rock Airplay
The Killers came storming out of the gate at the beginning of their career with a big stupid blockbuster and a lovably wrongheaded follow-up, but the decade since then has been pretty blandly uneventful. So it was fun to hear the band get some of its ditzy swagger back, with Brandon Flowers declaring himself "USDA certified lean!" over a Kool & The Gang sample and the sounds of cash registers and popping bottles.

4. Greta Van Fleet - "Highway Tune"
#1 Mainstream Rock Songs, #39 Alternative Songs#12 Rock Airplay
If you look at some of the Billboard chart peaks I included in this list, you might notice a pattern: the songs that are hits on the Alternative Songs chart generally peak about as as high on the broader Rock Airplay chart as well. But songs that top the Mainstream Rock Songs chart like "Highway Tune" often miss the top 10 of Rock Airplay entirely. So that's another reason that popular conceptions of what rock music is considered 'alternative' and what is considered 'mainstream' are dated and useless: there are very few 'mainstream' rock stations playing new music anymore. Even my stalwart local active rock station, Baltimore's 98 Rock, is so reliant on old favorites that "Highway Tune" was one of the only new songs I heard them play heavily this year, and it sounds exactly like 1971 vintage Led Zeppelin. But the members of Greta Van Fleet are a bunch of photogenic 18-to-21-year-olds, so the music industry's got its hopes pinned on them to make rock cool again.

5. Paramore "Hard Times" 
#13 Alternative Songs#17 Rock Airplay, #90 Hot 100
Coming off of the biggest pop hit of their career, "Ain't It Fun," it probably seemed like a commercially savvy move for Paramore to further mine a neon-tinted '80s aesthetic. But After Laughter and its lead single took a darker, more idiosyncratic approach to that sound, more in step with rock radio than Top 40 radio but still a hard sell for both.

6. The Revivalists "Wish I Knew You"
#1 Alternative Songs#2 Rock Airplay, #84 Hot 100
The name The Revivalists almost seems too laughably on-the-nose for a rootsy New Orleans retro band, but "Wish I Knew You" grew on me with its easygoing charm and surprisingly textured arrangement.

7. Nine Inch Nails "Less Than"
#10 Mainstream Rock Songs, #22 Alternative Songs, #21 Rock Airplay
The first of Trent Reznor's planned trilogy of EPs, last year's Not The Actual Events, didn't feature anything particularly radio-friendly. So it was a pleasant surprise that this year's Add Violence EP boasted perhaps the band's most anthemic single since "The Hand That Feeds." 

8. Bleachers - "Don't Take The Money"
#3 Alternative Songs#8 Rock Airplay
As far as Antonoff/Yelich-O'Connor compositions on this list, "Don't Take The Money" obviously takes a distant backseat to "Green Light." But I really enjoyed this track, it was a rare bright spot in the otherwise disappointing second Bleachers album. 

9. J. Roddy Walston & The Business "The Wanting"
#22 Alternative Songs#32 Rock Airplay
J. Roddy Walston & The Business have been one of my favorite live bands for about a decade, and I spent much of the last couple years sharing a practice space with Business drummer Steve Colmus, so I feel a swell of pride anytime I've heard one of their three nationally charting singles on the radio. I miss the piano-driven sound of their early records a little, but "The Wanting" makes an argument for how great they can be as a straight up guitar band.

10. X Ambassadors - "Ahead Of Myself"
#12 Alternative Songs#15 Rock Airplay
I used to dismiss X Ambassadors as the Theory Of A Deadman to Imagine Dragons' Nickelback, but my wife played their first album nonstop and it really grew on me, Sam Harris has one of the few really impressive voices in alt rock radio these days. It's a shame that their second album seems to be waiting in the wings after this song's so-so chart performance, I thought it was one of their best yet.  

11. Cold War Kids "Love Is Mystical" 
#3 Alternative Songs, #3 Rock Airplay
Another shout out to my wife, she loves this song and it wound up growing me whereas their previous big hit "First" just wore on my nerves over time. The follow-up "So Tied Up" with Bishop Briggs was really good too. 

12. Biffy Clyro - "Howl"
#16 Mainstream Rock Songs, #33 Alternative Songs, #32 Rock Airplay
I used to always get them confused with Canadian pop-punk singer Bif Naked, but Biffy Clyro are a Scottish trio who've enjoyed success at home for over a decade with a handful of minor U.S. hits. "Howl" was the 4th biggest single from their latest album on the U.K. charts but the record's biggest hit in America, which I think is justified, it really grew on me over the course of the year. 

13. Red Sun Rising - "Amnesia"
#6 Mainstream Rock Songs, #24 Rock Airplay
Red Sun Rising pretentiously uses the hashtag #WeAreThread to describe their music as if no existingenre suits them, which is hilarious because they sound even more like Alice In Chains than the other neo-grunge bands that have dominated hard rock radio for the last 20 years. I really dug this song after hating their first couple singles, though. 

14. Walk The Moon "One Foot" 
#7 Alternative Songs#11 Rock Airplay
Walk The Moon's handful of other alt-rock hits are not hugely different from "Shut Up And Dance," but it really feels like they just made a big play for pop immortality that one time and it worked but they're not trying that hard to repeat it. So "One Foot" will probably continue on its current trajectory of being maybe 1/10th as popular as the band's previous lead single, but it's pretty catchy in its own right. It's pretty weird that the second verse quotes Sean Paul's "Get Busy" out of nowhere, though.

15. Incubus - "Nimble Bastard"
#4 Mainstream Rock Songs, #22 Alternative Songs#16 Rock Airplay
Incubus built a pretty successful career out of alternating hard rock anthems with what one local radio DJ has called their "panty-melters." But their last couple projects, 2015's "first half of an album" EP that never go a companion piece Trust Fall (Side A) and this year's 8 each only had one single apiece, and both returned Incubus to their aggressive early sound to great effect. 

16. Royal Blood "Lights Out"
#1 Mainstream Rock Songs, #21 Alternative Songs#8 Rock Airplay
British duo Royal Blood are I think one of the few really consistently enjoyable young bands on hard rock radio, even if 'more polished Jack White acolytes' is an inherently unexciting premise for a career. 

17. Nothing More "Go To War"
#1 Mainstream Rock Songs, #12 Rock Airplay
I wasn't really a fan of this recent article that expressed exaggerated befuddlement that Nothing More, a band known to hard rock radio listeners and nobody else, was nominated for a few rock Grammys. Isn't it perfectly fine, maybe even commendable, for newer acts who haven't crossed over the more general audiences, to be up for those awards? Anyway this song is pretty ridiculous but I like it. 

18. Foo Fighters - "Run"
#1 Mainstream Rock Songs, #9 Alternative Songs#3 Rock Airplay
Foo Fighters have enjoyed remarkably consistent rock radio success over the course of 9 albums, but I think even they know that the formula can get a little stale, and really tried to get out of their rut by hiring pop producer Greg Kurstin for the ambitious Concrete And Gold. For better or worse, though, "Run" didn't stray that far from previous soft/loud lead singles like "The Prentender" and "All My Life." Queens Of The Stone Age shook up their sound similarly with a Mark Ronson-produced album this year, and it's been interesting to see our hard rock standard bearers try to stay current

19. The Pretty Reckless f/ Warren Haynes "Back To The River"
#12 Mainstream Rock Songs, #37 Rock Airplay
Onetime Gossip Girl star Taylor Momsen pivoted from TV to music years ago, and her band The Pretty Reckless have thrived as one of the few bands on hard rock radio fronted by a woman. And their music has taken an interesting southern rock turn at times, with their latest single featuring lead guitar from Warren Haynes of Gov't Mule and the Allman Brothers Band.

20. Portugal. The Man "Feel It Still"
#1 Alternative Songs#1 Rock Airplay, #4 Hot 100
Portugal. The Man have long been the dark horse of the "[blank] The [blank]" bands, trailing far behind Foster The People, Cage The Elephant, Walk The Moon, and Young The Giant. But in 2017, they finally scored their own big shiny crossover hit and performed alongside pop acts at award shows. I'm still kind of puzzled by this band and this song, and got sick of it pretty early into its streak as the longest running #1 in the history of the Alternative Songs chart. But it's catchy, no doubt about it.

The 10 Worst Rock/Alternative Radio Hits of 2017:
1. Dreamers "Sweet Disaster" 
2. Thirty Seconds To Mars "Walk On Water"  
3. Imagine Dragons "Believer"
4. Imagine Dragons "Thunder"
5. Weezer "Feels Like Summer"
6. Arcade Fire "Everything Now"
7. Theory Of A Deadman "Rx (Medicate)" 
8. Foo Fighters - "The Sky Is A Neighborhood"
9. Stone Temple Pilots - "Meadow"
10. Muse - "Dig Down"