Pop Power Ranking: Macklemore Stalls, Kendrick Lamar Soars, Kelly Clarkson Slays, and More
Who rises? Who falls? Who isn’t even worth a mention? These questions and more answered in the latest edition of our Pop Power Ranking.
Welcome back! Last week, I launched Pop Power Ranking, a feature meant to make sense of everything important happening in pop music. Please revisit the inaugural ranking for more information about what this is, why I’m doing it, and how the scale of success (and failure) works. But a quick recap for the lazy among you: On a scale of 0 – 100, I ranked the week’s biggest music personalities and sorted through their newsworthy slays, cringeworthy flops, and everything in between. Got it? To paraphrase Drake, let’s start things out at the bottom…
Things have a way of correcting themselves. In 2014, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ The Heist took home the Best Rap Album Grammy over Kendrick Lamar’s much-lauded g.o.o.d. kid, m.A.A.d city, much to the disappointment and bewilderment of fans, critics, and even Macklemore (Ben Haggerty) himself. Jump forward three years: Lamar is at the peak of his creative powers (more on that later), and Macklemore is… nowhere? Macklemore’s new album, This Unruly Mess I’ve Made, debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard Album 200 chart with a measly 61,000 units moved (only 51,000 of which were actual sales). Above them on the chart are The 1975 (No. 1) and Adele (No. 2), whose 25 has been out for more than three months and has already sold more than 8 million copies. The aptly-titled Unruly Mess has yet to spawn even a minor hit single (Does anyone remember “Downtown“? I don’t either.) It has, however, inspired outrage and mockery because of the inclusion of tracks like the messy “White Privilege II.” Look, maybe we were placing too many expectations onto the team that brought us “Thrift Shop,” a cute but ultimately worthless novelty bop, but here we are regardless: what should have been a victory lap became an unfulfilling circle-jerk of ego and tuneless mush.
Pop Power Ranking: 6/100
Last Week: N/A
4) Zayn Malik
With only a couple of weeks to go until Zayn Malik releases his highly-anticipated debut solo album, the general mood (outside of fan twitter, anyway) is the equivalent of a polite yawn and a shoulder shrug. Though lead single “PillowTalk” debuted at No. 1 on the Hot 100, it quickly fell from its perch and is now treading water behind two months-old Justin Bieber singles and a few other tracks. Meanwhile, second single “It’s You” debuted all the way down at No. 59, a fact which seems to highlight the public’s already-waning interest. Lastly, Malik released the iNsCRUtaBle tRaCKliSt for Mind of Mine to much internet RiDicULe. My prediction is that Mind of Mine will open well (numbers-wise) to mixed reviews before quickly tumbling down the charts and off the general public’s radar. Bookmark me.
Pop Power Ranking: 26/100
Last Week: N/A
3) Lady Gaga
@madddddysn Tick Tik Tik Tik tick BOOM 💣
— Lady Gaga (@ladygaga) March 6, 2016
Still riding high on her powerful and acclaimed performance at the Oscars, Lady Gaga continued to make headlines all week despite not actually doing much (that we know about). Still, on the back of said performance, “Til It Happens to You,” despite a leak over a year ago and an official release all the way back in September, managed to break into the Hot 100 for the first time. It debuted at 95 on that chart, giving Gaga her 22nd Hot 100 hit (and her first since “G.U.Y.” peaked at 76 in 2014). She teased the imminent arrival of new music on Twitter but then played it coy when asked directly about the status of her new album. Following her successful post-ARTPOP rebranding, it seems thirst for new original Gaga music is nearing an all-time high. Gaga also continued to publicly support Kesha and speak out about sexual misconduct and abuse of power within the music industry in a candid and heartening way. (She even got a “survivor” tattoo to match some of the sexual assault survivors who joined her for the Oscars performance.) She also confirmed that she will return for the sixth season of American Horror Story, so if it wasn’t already clear from the Super Bowl, the Grammys, and the Oscars, it should be now: 2016 is going to be a big f***ing year for Gaga, maybe her biggest yet.
Pop Power Ranking: 55/100
Last Week: No. 1
— billboard (@billboard) March 8, 2016
I’m not sure many of us were hopeful we’d ever see a moment like this again. Though Clarkson remains the only truly iconic byproduct of the American Idol factory, her power, influence, and presence atop the charts, like the show’s, have waned over the years. But after her viral performance of “Piece by Piece” on the show that made her a household name, Clarkson is proving once again why we, the people, voted to make her famous in the first place. “Piece By Piece” just became her first Top 10 hit since 2012, and last year’s Piece By Piece also bounds up more than 100 spots on Billboard’s Album 200 and back into the Top 10 (at No. 8, to be exact), proving that a good performance is more powerful than carefully-calculated PR. Bonus: Props to Clarkson for speaking truth to power by revealing that she was essentially blackmailed by her own record label into working with Doctor Luke, the producer Kesha is accusing of sexual assault and abuse. Her candid statement paired with her striking rise up the music charts is a refreshing one-two punch of a reminder that Clarkson is, and has always been, a real and positive force.
Pop Power Ranking: 82/100
Last Week: No. 4
Make no mistake about it: this was Kendrick Lamar’s week. It has, in many ways, been his year. Less than a year after the release of his Grammy-winning To Pimp a Butterfly, Lamar quietly returned with untitled unmastered, a collection of, essentially, demos that are as vital and exciting as anything he’s put out since 2012. He released the album with little fanfare; like magic, the songs appeared on Spotify and instantly became the most important, exciting release of the year so far. All due respect to Kanye West, but it is refreshing to see an artist let their art — and not, say, a Twitter rant — speak on behalf of the creator and his intent.