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#71 on Billboard Hot 100: “my strange addiction” by Billie Eilish

Deadly fever, please don't ever break
Be my reliever 'cause I don't self medicate

In short: Quiet synth-pop from young, confident, self-made rising star

2nd week: 43-71

I have two teenage friends who proudly said they were fans of Billie Eilish before she became super-popular with their peers. (Neither are as interested in her music now that she’s gotten so popular.) I only discovered her through this Billboard listening project and have found many of her songs to be slow, lovely builds taking multiple listens to enjoy the subtleties and quiet melodies.

Billie Eilish Pirate Baird O'Connell, born in Los Angeles in 2001 and growing up singing in a children’s chorus, recorded “ocean eyes” at the age of 14 and released it on SoundCloud. The song quietly cracked the Hot 100. She since released several more singles (which hit the Hot 100), but it was with her recent #1 album “WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?” that she found her massive success: her first top 10 (“Bad Guy”) and a few other top 40 hits: “when the party’s over” (#29), “bury a friend” (#14), and “wish you were gay” (#31). She collaborates with her brother Finneas on all of the songwriting and they perform together.

This particular song isn’t my favorite from her; it has a memorable “Yoo-whoo” in the chorus but doesn’t get very emotionally dark or characteristically weird like the rest of her music. She includes samples from a particular TV episode of “The Office” through the piece which, to me, disrupts the flow. It probably won't last on the hot 100, but I expect several other of her singles to continue to chart through 2019.

Better Now

Apr. 11th, 2019 03:56 pm
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#34 on Billboard Hot 100: “Better Now” by Post Malone

Used to keep my picture posted by your bedside
Now it's in your dresser with the socks you don't like

In short: Enduring break-up song smartly blending melodic pop & hip-hop

49th week: 7-23-26-29-30-34-20-23-14-24-12-7-5-6-6-5-5-4-5-4-5-3-4-3-4-5-5-7-11-11-11-15-20-

Austin Richard Post used a rap name generator when he was a teenager to help get his signature alias; his first single, “White Iverson”, started generating buzz on SoundCloud when he was 18 and helped get him signed with Republic Records. He’s since released two albums and six top 10 singles: “Congratulations” (#8), “Rockstar” (#1), “Psycho” (#1), "Better Now" (#3), “Sunflower” (#1, currently at #2), “Wow” (#2, currently at #4). A teenage friend of mine told me that Post Malone is Not Rap and certainly is Not Cool. And so I think of his music at the equivalent of what soft rock was when I was a kid.

His music is often melodic and super-catchy. He has a distinctive vibrato (such as when he sings about “rollin’ rollin’ rollin’”), and a gift for interesting parallel lines and strange harmonies. He has emotion in his singing, but his lyrics are more straightforward than poetic. (“I seen you with your other dude He seemed like he was pretty cool”)

Although this song never hit the top spot on Billboard, it has been on the charts longer than any other song and will likely make it to the one year mark. (After 52 weeks, if a song is below #25 it will be taken off.) Most songs that last this long get irritating to my ears, but this song still tickles my eardrums so many weeks later. (I even like the weird 30-second electronics coda.)


Apr. 5th, 2019 04:10 pm
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#89 on Billboard Hot 100: “Tap” by NAV (feat. Meek Mill)

Cross a line, it’s too late, you can't take it back, back, back

In short: More of the same unmelodic rap over trap beat

1st week: 89

Navraj Singh Goraya (known as NAV) just released his second full-length album “Bad Habits” a few weeks ago and topped the Billboard album charts this week. This track and one other (“Price On My Head”) are the two album cuts visiting the Hot 100 chart, possibly for one week each. This Canadian rapper (with parents from Punjab, India) has yet to crack the top 50 on the charts.

I've heard this track a half dozen times and can't remember it since there's no melody or much that repeats. It has the same even trap percussion and rap boasting in most of the music on the charts this past year. I usually use the genius.com website to help me interpret the lyrics, but so far there's no help for me there. What is tapping? Is it related to getting tattoos? I don't know and I don't think I care, unfortunately.

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My friend Kevin and I went to a world music/EDM concert by Beats Antique last night at the Royale in Boston.

The Royale has a beautiful interior, like an old-fashioned speakeasy. It was standing room only, but because we showed up on time at 8:00 we found one of the rare places to sit down. A few people trickled in -- I felt bad for the band because, it seemed, noone was there for the concert.

At 9:00 the opening act (whose name I never caught) started playing loud, loud, loud electronic music. The bass vibrated through my body. It was fun for 15 minutes, but lasted for 60 minutes. The placed filled in during this time with people in middle-east costumes.

At 10:00 we gave up and left, never hearing the band we came to see. We're too old to stay up late on a Thursday night!

It was fun to see my friend and to see a new venue. Even if we had heard the concert my guess is that it would have been too loud to enjoy anyway. Kevin played some of their music as he gave me a ride home.
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#53 on Billboard Hot 100: “Here Tonight” by Brett Young

We can just stay here in this minute
Lose all track of time
Let the world spin on without us for a while

In short: Generic pop/country with pretty eyes

11th week: 91-88-95-(out 1 week)-96-89-92-67-71-62-60-53

Brett Charles Young, born in 1981, started out in a baseball career but after a serious elbow injury in his mid-20s switched to singing. (He even had a MySpace page in 2007 to promote his music!) He finally found mainstream success in the past few years with two albums and two top 40 hits: “In Case You Didn’t Know” (#19) and “Mercy” (#29). This is the first single from his latest LP “Ticket to L.A.” He’s super cute as a model (professionally showing off clothes from Justin Timberlake’s clothing line) and has a cute smile.

So yeah, he’s pretty, but his voice is generic autotuned country male. Even though I’ve heard this song a dozen times I don’t remember it. The main line “let’s just stay here tonight” is slightly earworm-worthy, the beginning is pleasant, but this is just fluff produced for mass consumption. Which seems to be working on the charts, unfortunately.

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#78 on Billboard Hot 100: “Saturday Nights” by Khalid & Kane Brown

I guess there's certain dreams that you gotta keep
'Cause they'll only know what you let 'em see

In short: Smooth R&B/pop with hauntingly beautiful melody

6th week: 83-(out 11 weeks)-57-75-61-75-(out 4 weeks)-78

Khalid Donnel Robinson was born in Georgia in 1998 to an Army mother. As a kid, he showed an interest in musical theater and joined the Army chorus. At the age of 18 he started writing music and found quick success on SoundCloud. He’s released one album so far (“American Teen”) and has hit the charts 18 times, sometimes as lead singer and sometimes as featured artist. His biggest hits so far as lead singer have been last year’s “Love Lies” (#9) and “Eastside” (#9), both of which I love and are still on the charts. (In fact, he's on six times this month.) I’ve become a Khalid convert this past year; his smooth singing and knack for memorable tunes have me excited about almost every hit. (His duet with Billie Eilish, “Lovely”, is particularly beautiful!)

"Saturday Nights" was originally released with his EP “Suncity” in October 2018, and this song popped in for one week in November. It was originally a solo song, but they remixed it with a revised verse with the country singer Kane Brown and released it in January, bringing it back onto the charts. I would think a country singer would have lots of twang - in fact, the two are hard to tell apart, both having a beautiful smooth pop sound.

This is one of those songs that gets better on multiple listens. The first listen is pleasant, but each time Khalid’s composition builds with anticipation to my favorite moments. I can not predict where the melody in the verses will go. It leaps, teases, wanders, always to a satisfying place but not what I expect. And the melodic leap at the end of the chorus line “That your parents don’t” excites me! He changes the tune in the chorus the last time through. I also enjoy how the guitar line at the beginning sets up the mellow tone and feeling of starts and stops.

I have no idea why the song left for four weeks and came back, but I predict Khalid is building anticipation to his new album "Free Spirit" and is releasing one song at a time to the streaming world. Each time this happens interest in all Khalid songs goes up. I hope this song keeps growing over time.

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#66 on Billboard Hot 100: “What Makes You Country” by Luke Bryan

I got my dirt road cred back when I was twelve
On a no cab tractor hauling them bales

In short: Guitar-driven, clichéd, proud-to-be-country pop

10th week: 76-74-73-70-69-63-63-54-61-66

Thomas Luther “Luke” Bryan lost his older brother in a car accident just before moving to Nashville to start his music degree; he instead got a degree in business administration to stay close to his Georgia family. Almost a decade later, his dad encouraged him to follow his music passions and go to Nashville. Since then, he has released 6 albums and has had over 20 #1 country hits. (Unfortunately, none has yet to crossover to a top 10 hit on the Billboard Hot 100.) His biggest hits have been “Drunk On You” (#16), “Crash My Party” (#18), “That’s My Kind of NIght” (#15), “Play It Again” (#14), and his appearance on Florida Georgia Line’s “This Is How We Roll” (#16).

Like this song is doing, country hits tend to get stuck in the zone between #50 and #70, presumably maxing out on radio airplay and digital sales. In order to get higher they have to crossover to pop radio or AC radio or somehow get massive streaming plays. This song, which has started falling, failed to make #1 on the country chart, breaking his streak of 18 consecutive #1 singles from him.

Although Bryan tried to make this song universal (i.e., everyone can be country! It’s what’s inside that counts) the specific examples are rather off-putting and “more country than thou” to me. (I prefer Bryan’s messaging in his calm hit “Most People Are Good”.) I find some modern country appealing, if it has an amazing melodic hook or beautiful harmonies. There’s nothing special about this song for me, unfortunately.

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We saw the new Marvelicious movie last night! We = { me, my sister Lisa, my nephew Alex, my chorus friend John }.

John and I have been watching the Marvel movies as they came out, excitedly comic-fanning our way through each new entry in the MCU. I knew that Alex is a big Marvel fan, and I knew Alex & Lisa watch Agents of SHIELD regularly together.

Overall, I was quite happy throughout. I love all of the fem-power moments, the who-do-you-trust confusion, and the excellent special effects. (That cat in zero-G gravity!) Alex was a little less thrilled - he thought it suffered from Bad People Doing Stupid Things analysis and we both agreed that some of the emotional beats didn't work. Lisa was simply thrilled the comics she read as a kid are turning into excellent movies. John was smiling throughout and particularly liked the 90s nostalgia.

The remaining thoughts have spoilers. (Go see the movie if you haven't! Just go!)

Hey! My first Deamwidth Cut! )
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My 19-year-old nephew Alex is visiting from California. I had the day off from work on Monday, and sometime in the afternoon he asked, "can we go to an Escape Room tonight?"

My favorite local Escape Room company, Trapology, is closed on Mondays, and my second favorite Escape Room company, Wicked Escapes (https://www.wickedescapes.net/adventuregames), with its beautiful-set-designs has, unfortunately, closed and I hope opens in a new location.

One online review listed Escape the Room's puzzle "The Clock Tower" as the #1 puzzle in Boston, so me, Alex, and my husband Tom went last night for the 60 minute 8:20pm slot. Four other puzzlers (who we didn't know) joined us for an up-to-10-people puzzle.

My expectations were too high, although I appreciate that we are thankfully at the next evolution of escape rooms. (First evolution was Solve Puzzle -> Open Combination Lock -> Solve next puzzle -> Open Next combination Lock -> etc.) This had lots of cabinets and boxes popping open and fun props. Not all of the answers made sense, but our overseer giving us hints moved us along nicely.

In the end, we weren't too excited about the room. Perhaps I do not like Escape Rooms with so many people working simultaneously. We tended to clump around from one exciting thing to the next - I tried to work on things noone else was working on, which I believe helped the group along but led me to miss out on how people solved some of the puzzles. It feels like this particular room would work better with five people who communicated well. There was a lot of steps where you had to solve A to solve B to solve C, etc. The fact that it takes up to 10 people feels a bit like a money grab.

The cute signs we got to take pictures with at the end are, at this point, cookie cutter from other escape rooms. In fact, "Escape the Room" is a chain with 18 or so locations around the country. In order to stand out the storyline needs to be clearer and the props need to be flawless.

I appreciated that there were a lot of physical what-do-you-do-with-this-object puzzles and not too many solve-the-obscure-mental-riddle puzzles. But I would not rate this as a #1 escape room. (But it was still a fun event to do with Alex!)

Baby Shark

Mar. 7th, 2019 01:43 pm
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#34 on Billboard Hot 100: “Baby Shark” by Pinkfong

Baby shark, doo doo doo doo doo doo

In short: Campfire song turned into smash children’s aquatic-themed earcandy

9th week: 32-38-37-36-36-40-49-38-34

Pinkfong is a South Korean educational/entertainment company specializing in making videos of songs and stories for kids 1-5 years of age, most of which are 1-2 minutes in length. (The “fong” in their name was chosen because it sounds like “phone”.) This insanely successful video about sharks was released in 2016.
The synths in the intro are corny & the children's voices are grating & the music is way too repetitive. I noticed (on a closer listen) that when a family member is introduced they sing along with the child on their verse. Cute. I’m amused that the novelty song is on the charts but I would be fine to never hear it ever again.

Chart notes: why did it enter at #32 in 2019? Songs that are “old” (e.g., released years earlier) don’t appear on the charts unless they crack the top 50, so likely it’s been hanging out in the 51+ range through the second half of 2018 but ineligible to chart. However, once the 20+ Christmas songs plummeted off the charts in early January, Baby Shark swam in and has stayed popular enough since. In fact, it’s still gaining momentum in the U.S. charts.

I was impressed last week by “Murder on my Mind"'s YouTube video count of 115 million views. “Baby Shark” kills it with 2.4 billion views. Be prepared to hum the tune days later.

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#14 on Billboard Hot 100: “Murder on My Mind” by YNW Melly

I didn’t even mean to shoot him, he just caught me by surprise

In short: Melodic rap tale of prison life and rage against everybody

5th week: 95-78-73-59-14

This song has been the #1 streamed song on Apple Music for the past few weeks, probably because of America’s fascination with celebrities and imprisonment. YNW Melly, born as Jamell Maurice Demons and now aged 20, was recently arrested and charged with a 2018 double murder. This song, written in 2016 while he was in jail for a drug charge, was paired with another song “Mind on My Murder” showing the perspective of the person who was slain. It’s a clever gimmick. This is his biggest hit so far which shows no signs of slowing down on the charts.

The music itself...the main melody of “Murder on My Mind” is catchy enough, but the lyrics are so paranoid and anti-women and … ugh. Melly gives his thoughts on the lyrics on the Genius.com and his thoughts are so saturated with “bitch” and “n****as” … the more I read the less I like the track.

The YouTube video has over 115 million views, which seems impressive. I watched it recently - the video strikes me as regretful rather than angry. It's not a happy video. 

Fake Smile

Feb. 22nd, 2019 04:08 pm
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#26 on Billboard Hot 100: “Fake Smile” by Ariana Grande

I can't fake another smile, I can't fake like I'm alright

In short: Ariana doesn't give a $!*% in this airy pop track

1st week: 26

Ariana Grande has become 2019’s pop music phenomenon. This week her newest album (“Thank U, Next”) and all of its 12 songs appeared on the charts, all within the top 50, which I find impressive. But even better, she currently has the top 3 hits on the Hot 100 which hasn’t happened since The Beatles.

I already wrote about her last May, including the chart fact that “[s]he is tied in sixth place for the most songs which debut in the top 10...but she has yet to reach #1.” An update: by my count she’s now in third place and has since had two #1 songs. (“Thank U, Next” and “Seven Rings”.) Another song from this album (“Break Up With Your Girlfriend, I'm Bored”) debuted this week at #2. Unfortunately, I’m not a big fan of any of those tracks.

“Fake Smile” seems typical of what I've heard on the album - her characteristic catchy melodic run over “wooo” in the pre-chorus, the rapid chatty section in the bridge, and the spare production bringing her voice to the front. The intro is sampled from Wendy Rene’s 1964 track “After Laughter (Comes Tears)”. After half a dozen listens this track still hasn’t stuck with me, and I’m a little middle-aged-perturbed by the casual swearing in the chorus.

It will take a while for me to settle on a favorite from her new album, although “Imagine” (which has been in the charts since December) is up there. My favorite recent song from her was the #12 hit “Breathin’” from her last album. I recommend listening to either of these. Also, I’m sure she’ll break some more chart records by the end of the year.

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#48 on Billboard Hot 100: “Backin’ It Up” by Pardison Fontaine (featuring Cardi B)

”I'm the king of talkin' sh*t, then backin' it up”

In short: Dual bragging rappers emphasizing rhythm over melody

17th week: 92-(out three weeks)-95-81-77-74-65-76-86-66-64-69-44-48-45-40-47-48

This is the first hit from Jordan Kyle Lanier Thorpe, aka, Pardison Fontaine. His wikipedia page is sparse - he made a mixtape in 2015, and he co-wrote songs for Kanye West and Cardi B (including her breakout hit “Bodak yellow”). Online research also taught me that he had an athletic scholarship in basketball but decided to focus on music, and that he has a daughter. He has a very low profile so far.

This is spoken rap over repeating synth and percussion. This is all about the mood, the rhythmic groove, the wordplay (particularly in Cardi B’s rap). But there’s nothing for me to sing along with and the text is mostly boasting. The “back, back, backin’ it up” is memorable and catches my attention, but I don’t recommend going out of your way to listen to this track.


Feb. 8th, 2019 04:31 pm
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#16 on Billboard Hot 100: “Shallow” by Lady Gaga & Bradley Cooper

”Crash through the surface, where they can't hurt us

We're far from the shallow now”

In short: Grammy- and Academy-nominated classic pop love ballad

18th week: 28 - 5 - 10 - 14 - 21 - 22 - 24 - 23 - 28 - 38 - 39 - 44 - 52 - 29 - 23 - 24 - 24 - 16

Stefanie Joanne Angelina Germanotta was born and raised in Manhattan taking piano lessons and performing in music theater. She formed a band and played gigs in new York before working with a music producer who collaborated on her first material and helper her develop her moniker “Lady Gaga” (based on a Queen song). After a few years of songwriting and downtown performances she moved to Los Angeles and wrote her debut album The Fame producing the #1 hits “Just Dance” and “Poker Face” and the other top 10 hits “LoveGame” and “Paparazzi”. She has since created a dizzying number of top 10 hits: “Bad Romance”, “Telephone”, “Alejandro”, “Born This Way”, “Judas”, “The Edge of Glory”, “You and I”, “Dope”, “Applause”, “Million Reasons”, and finally this song from the soundtrack of A Star Is Born.

Lady Gaga has won six Grammies over the year and has been nominated for five more at this Sunday’s Grammy Awards. She has also been nominated for two Academy Awards in 2019 including Best Actress and Best Original Song for “Shallow”. She is listed in the Guinness World records for twelve records, including “Most Powerful Popstar”, “Most Followers on Twitter”, “Most Searched-For Female on the Internet”, and “Fastest-Selling Single on iTunes”.

I certainly recommend the movie and listening to this delicious pop ballad in which her voice soars with freedom, but I must admit 18 weeks later I tend to fast forward over this track from overexposure. The piece has been climbing the charts again, probably due to renewed interest in the Grammy's. (This week it was awarded the “Biggest Gain in Digital Sales.”) Perhaps it will crack the top 10 again next week?


Feb. 1st, 2019 07:01 am
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#17 on Billboard Hot 100: “Youngblood” by 5 Seconds of Summer

”Say you want me out of your life
And I'm just a dead man walking tonight"
In short: Anthemic sing-along catchy rock track 

34th week: 96 - 79 - 49 - 52 - 66 - 40 - 32 - 25 - 23 - 22 - 17 - 15 - 15 - 13 - 11 - 10 - 10 - 8 - 7 - 9 - 7 - 7 - 11 - 12 - 12 - 12 - 14 - 22 - 20 - 24 - 14 - 16 - 16 - 17

I believe we’re stuck with this infectious song by the Australian pop-punk band for a few more months on the charts. I don’t mind! I was amused by the boy band sound when it entered the charts last June and I still don’t grow weary of its relentless beat and enthusiasm and its “ooh ooh ooh” singing. It’s one of my favorite songs on the charts right now, even though the lyrics are a bit trite and feel like something from past decades. 

5 Seconds of Summer ("5SOS") started in 2011 as YouTube celebrities, then gained in popularity when they toured with One Direction in 2013. They have released three albums since then, all of which hit #1 on the US album charts and have produced a half dozen Billboard top 40 hits. “Youngblood” is the biggest of their hits so far, the first to crack the top 10. The recent dip into the 20s was during the onslaught of Christmas tunes; the song has resituated itself back into the teens where it is likely to stay for a while. Recommended!

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#40 on Billboard Hot 100: “Look Back At It” by A Boogie Wit A Hoodie

”Yeah, they after me, I got racks on me

Got the stash on me, think they gassin' me”

In short: Paranoid but catchy melodic hip-hop

6th week: 95 - 96 - 66 - 54 - 49 - 40

Artist Julius Dubose was born and raised in the Bronx and started quietly rhyming and rapping in high school. He graduated from prep school in Florida, then followed his dream and moved to New York and created his own record label (Highbridge) before signing with Atlantic Records. The Boogie part of his stage name came from a character from the movie Paid in Full; the rest came from his love of wearing hoodies.

Boogie has released two albums so far; The Bigger Artist, featuring the melodic lead song “Drowning” (which peaked at #38 in 2017) and his newest album Hoodie SZN released a few weeks ago. Four of the tracks from this album entered the charts; the highest charting “Swervin” is currently at #39 and “Look Back At It” is a step behind at #40 gaining momentum.

I love the sound of classic circle of fifths (think Pachebel’s Canon) in pop music. It’s a way to travel through the key signature and provide new contexts to a melody. Even if Boogie keeps singing the same note it sounds different above the new keys. This song should play well on pop radio (catchy melody, great sing-along nonsense-sound chorus) but holds a darkness with hip-hop themes of success and paranoia (Do my friends like me for me? Who can I trust?). I'm hoping it reaches the top 10 in weeks to come.

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#76 on Billboard Hot 100: “Ruin My Life” by Zara Larsson

”You set fire to my world, couldn't handle the heat
Now I'm sleeping alone and I'm starting to freeze”

In short: Generic female-led electro-pop song about going back to bad relationship

2nd week: 86 - 76

Zara Maria Larsson won the Swedish talent show Talang in 2008 when she was 10. She was signed to TEN Music Group when she was 15 and has topped the charts in Scandinavia. Here in the U.S., she’s charted a few times, with the #13 song “Never Forget You” from 2015 being her biggest hit. She’s scheduled to release her third album later this year, with “Ruin My Life” as its lead single.

The track itself has neat electronic background effects throughout, but it’s missing the super-catchy verse or chorus. The feelings are missing in the singing; I’m not convinced she really is attracted to the flame of a bad relationship, even though she swears. It’s overall too polished. Perhaps there will be another song from her new album which will bring her to the top 10.

TAlk tO Me

Jan. 11th, 2019 08:04 am
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[Each week I roll randomly from the Billboard Hot 100 and write about the song that comes up!]

#43 on Billboard Hot 100: “
TAlk tO Me” by Tory Lanez & Rich The Kid

“I got one night for you, baby

And so hop out the clothes, let 'em drop to the floor”

In short: Paint-by-numbers slow and (I guess?) seductive hip-hop track.

10th week: 76 - 83 - 80 - 72 - 75 - 83 - 74 - 61 - 72 - 43

The Canadian-born rapper Tory Lanez (born as Daystar Peterson) picked his name by combining a shortened version of Notorious (for has fandom of Notorious B.I.G.) with a nickname (Lanez) from his friend who noticed that Peterson would run across the lanes of traffic as a kid. His family moved to Florida after which he dropped out of high school and starting singing. He has released 17 Mixtapes since then along with 3 full albums on Interscope/Mad Love label. His biggest chart successes so far were 2015’s “Say It” (#23) and 2016’s “Luv” (#19). He won the 2017 Juno Award for best Rep Recording of the Year.

I’ve been listening to this song in the background for 10 weeks, and yet this morning I couldn’t remember anything about it. The chorus flows with Lanez’ melodic autotuned voice around the constant twinkly background chords. The guest rap by Rich The Kid does nothing for me rhythmically or texturally. The most interesting thing is the mixed-capitalization of the title which Lanez probably did to stand out in a crowded musical field.

The other surprise might be that sudden jump up the charts this week, until you realize this was the week over 20 Christmas songs left the charts and *all* of the songs leapt up to take their place.


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