Art courtesy of James Zwadlo
Feature by Miles Freeman
Anyone who has followed popular culture to even a minimal extent is likely to remember 2014’s “Let Me Take a Selfie.” The utterly vexatious stroke of genius combined Melbourne bounce and a mimicry of basic white girl culture earning itself a Vine movement and a spot in DJ setlists across the country. Simultaneously, the song further popularized the phenomenon of selfies outside of the teenage demographic. Although at the time this seemed like little more than another transient internet trend, it set into motion EDM duo The Chainsmokers, the vehicle responsible for singlehandedly ruining an entire genre of music.
In late 2015, the NYC based pair, Andrew Taggart and Alex Pall, returned to relevance with the release of “Roses” featuring ROZES, an upcoming alt-pop singer whose distinguishably mesmerizing vocals have made their mark on several EDM tracks. This lower tempo, feely record comprised of sappy synths, a watered down future bass inspired drop, and the wistful “say you’ll never let me go” suddenly brought the Chainsmokers back into the spotlight. Diluted enough to be mainstream but EDM enough to be edgy, “Roses” reached top 10 on Billboard, placing the blossoming duo amongst the likes of veteran dance music producers such as Calvin Harris and Zedd. In the following months, they continued to excrete pop radio hits such as “Inside Out” and Grammy-awarded “Don’t Let Me Down” piggybacking on the vocals of not-quite-famous singers such as Charlee and Daya who were featured on the aforementioned tracks respectively. Combining generic, sentimental lyrics with subtly trap-like, low BPM backtracking and corny pop drops, The Chainsmokers had discovered the secret formula.
Now a household name, The Chainsmokers brand became known not only for its music but for the duo’s self-proclaimed bro persona. In their Billboard magazine cover interview, after talking about their penis sizes, Pall goes on to describe their mentality as “work hard play hard...But you’ll never see us getting carried out of a club. We’re way too good at drinking.” A perfect embodiment of the frat bro label, the pair is able to relate to their primarily college-aged audience in a way that other EDM acts have been less successful in doing. After all, they’re only in it for the fun. “Even before success, pussy was number one,” says Pall. “Like, ‘Why am I trying to make all this money?’” In frat houses full of cheap beer, testosterone and entitlement across the country, they’re a true inspiration.
Still accelerating on an inexplicable pedal of success, 2016 became the year of The Chainsmokers. Just when you thought they couldn’t get any bigger, they released “Closer,” the incontestably biggest song of the year. A collaboration with -surprise- another mildly popular female vocalist, Halsey, this perfectly hand-crafted, uninspired radio “banger” broke records, staying in the top 5 of Billboard’s Hot 100 chart for six straight months; a feat surpassing “Uptown Funk,” 2015’s equally overplayed song of the year. If you’re one of the few people who has yet to bless their ears with this Mozart-esque masterpiece, it’s essentially 4 minutes of Chainsmokers very own heavily auto-tuned Taggart droning detachedly about his drinking problems and hooking up with an ex over a lackluster synth chord progression. The only thing saving the ennui inducing radio magnum opus is Halsey’s slightly less unbearable verse and the track’s catchy attempt at a drop that this time wasn’t just an element adapted from EDM; it was EDM.
While EDM used to be the inclusive term for dozens of subgenres of electronic music such as progressive house, trap and dubstep, it has in recent years become all mushed into a largely commercial $6 billion industry characterized by 3 minute songs that follow the pattern buildup, drop, buildup, drop. EDM festivals are the pinnacle of electronic dance music’s ecstatic culture drawing hundreds of thousands of ravers together for the most profitable music events known to man, and it comes as no surprise that in 2016, the Chainsmokers headlined Miami’s Ultra and Las Vegas’s EDC; the two biggest EDM festivals in the Western Hemisphere. Festival acts such as The Chainsmokers are beginning to sound more like pop music to appeal to a broader, more marketable audience, just as current pop music is sounding more and more like EDM. Think Hailee Steinfeld's “Starving” or Justin Bieber’s “Where Are You Now.” These radio hits involve a mellowed out “pop drop” after the chorus--an element directly taken from EDM. Even Maroon 5 went on to release a tropical house inspired song with “Don’t Wanna Know.”
While EDM has taken an unfortunate turn for the worse with its infusion into generic radio pop, The Chainsmokers continue to make great success for themselves. With a recent Grammy receival and the release of a song with Coldplay’s Chris Martin, I’m sure they will continue to blare from radios across the globe.