The Chainsmokers

The Top 10 Chainsmokers Songs Of 2018

10. Somebody (feat. Drew Love)

“Beach House” was singled out (by critics and by the group themselves) as the most obvious Memories… Do Not Open-style throwback of the Sick Boy era, but “Somebody” is the only Chainsmokers song of 2018 that truly captures the dreary sameness that plagued the worst parts of the group’s debut. Actually, it’s even a bit worse; at least something like “Bloodstream” was fully committed to depicting its narrator’s drunken self-loathing in a vividly specific (if self-obsessed) way. “Somebody”, on the other hand, is overloaded with meaningless “being a rock star is hard” platitudes that have been clichéd since 1973. Yes, yes, you wanted to be famous because you thought it would be awesome and now you are famous and it is awesome, but the problem is that it’s a little too awesome and now you feel kind of guilty about how insanely awesome your life — it’s such a common story! Who among us can’t relate to a down-to-earth emotion like the exhaustion triggered by overexposure to expensive alcohol and fancy cars? The only nugget of a decent lyrical idea here (“I don’t really like anybody/So don’t tell me I’m like anybody”) clearly comes straight from the pen of co-writer Emily Warren, and everyone involved seems to know it’s the best part of the song because Taggart repeats it during every verse and then, when it comes time to sing a bridge, gives up and repeats it two more times. Well done, everybody. Really stellar work, just… just amazing.

9. Siren (feat. Aazar)

When I previously wrote about this song, I was gripped by a mania that caused me to refer to as “the best short story I’ve read all year” — a statement which, like basically all criticism, says more about the writer than it does about the work itself — and while I can’t excuse that flagrant abuse of the english language, I can theorize that maybe my intense and/or delirious fixation on the song’s lyrics was inspired by a need to avoid thinking about this actual music. The most glaring problem here is that the sound of the drop — the thing that the entire lyric conceit of the song is based around, that Taggart dramatically builds up to during the chorus — in no way resembles a siren. What it does sound like is a chicken. An aggressively clucking chicken, sure, but not one you could, like, dance to, or anything. And even if you weren’t interested in dancing, is there any reason you’d want to subject yourself to this harsh, repetitive sound? This is nothing against trap music or dubstep or any other variant of EDM that involves aggressive, unpleasant noise that is impossible to dance to — catch me down at the number 4 spot for more on this — but even within this particular subgenre, there has to be a limit on what sort of nonsense we’re expected to endure.

8. You Owe Me

An enjoyably dark song that finds the Chainsmokers fully embracing their aspirations to be an alternative rock band with bitchin’ EDM drops, this is the sort of song that “Sick Boy” (the first single of 2018) seemed to promise for this album cycle. The problem is in the particulars. One problem: the limp and empty-headed “fuck the haters” verses don’t quite live up to the bitter condemnations of the chorus; the sarcastic use of the word “awesome” reeks of mid-2000’s internet humor, and references to “the papers” are weirdly anachronistic in a band that’s always embraced modern technology in their songwriting. Another problem: for all the improvement he’s shown since “Closer”, Taggart still doesn’t quite have the voice to sell this sort of venom, and it’s not necessarily his range that’s teh problem. His diction is all over the place here, to the point where many amateur music critics were confused about whether or not the second iteration of the chorus changed the word “dead” to “there,” altering the meaning and, some would argue, improving the song drastically.

7. Beach House

Speaking of Taggart’s voice — and being as I am also a person with a serviceable-at-best voice that nevertheless loves to sing, this is a topic I have a lot of thoughts on — his biggest problem has always been that he’s working in the wrong genre. Taggart voice isn’t the best fit for the type of shiny and polished radio-friendly pop that his band produces — which is why he sounds so much more at home among the jagged, unpolished chaos of “Save Yourself” — but if you heard someone like him singing in a confessional, literary indie-rock band, something like Okkervil River or even Neutral Milk Hotel, it wouldn’t be out of place at all. It would scan as authentic; it might actually make you like him more. I don’t expect Andrew Taggart to usurp John Darnielle’s place in the indie rock canon any time soon, but “Beach House” seems like a good example of what we can expect when Taggart inevitably grows tired with being “one of the #SELFIE guys” and releases a solo record: lots of electronic flourishes, but with a hook built around lightly strummed guitars and nakedly romantic lyrics. He’s still got room to grow as a writer — he’ll need to drop any references to red pills, for one — but “Beach House,” even though its a sonic rehash of “Youth” from Memories…Do Not Open, suggests what path that growth might follow. Also, you can tell from the way he sings on this and a bunch of other Sick Boy songs that he just learned how to belt and it’s really endearing.

6. Hope (feat. Winona Oak)

For a while, the Chainsmokers were the sort of producer act whose songs were defined entirely by their guest vocalist. Most of the time, this was a good thing: “Let You Go,” “Roses”, and even “Waterbed” are competently-made tracks undeniably elevated by the person singing over them. Yes, sometimes this strategy resulted in with the heavily-processed cheese of “Good Intentions” or the utter blandness of “New York City,” a song I have unsuccessfully tried to force myself to like on multiple occasions, but for the most part, you can see why folks like Diplo or David Guetta or Benny Blanco leave the singing the professionals. But there is another path, a path walked by a man who was born under the name Adam Richard Wiles but who deemed himself ‘Calvin Harris’ because he deemed it “a bit more racially ambiguous” (yikes) — the path of the producer who (sometimes) sings on their own songs. The Chainsmokers chose to walk this path and, for the most part, they’ve never looked back. While I personally have no problem with Taggart’s voice – the unpolished quality of his vocals is the thing that fueled my initial obsession with Memories…Do Not Open – and while only the least generous among us would deny that he has improved in the past two years, it’s hard to ignore that “Hope” would be a lot better without him.

The music itself, based around what is either a xylophone or possibly a marimba, is a unusually evocative (for the Chainsmokers themselves and for EDM-pop as a genre) and the vocals from Swedish singer-songwriter Winona Oak (who possesses a deep, smoky voice and an extremely powerful jaw) threaten to push this song over the line into the rarified realm of the genuinely good Chainsmokers songs, the type of song that I can play at a party without being made fun of. And the lyrics aren’t bad, either! Building a song around the idea of hope as a counterpoint to love, positioning hope as a negative, harmful thing – all that is very interesting. But Taggart just feels out of place. His vocals aren’t mixed with the same inventiveness as Oak’s, and the narrative of the song doesn’t really support a second perspective the way “Closer” does. I understand the impulse to have Drew’s voice on every song, from a branding perspective and an artistic perspective – and I support both! – but this shouldn’t have been a duet. Still sounds cool, though.

5. This Feeling (feat. Kelsea Ballerini)

Sure, this is basically “Closer” with the rough edges sanded away — no offhanded mentions of budding alcoholism or references to beloved pop-punk songs, just a lot of posturing about being true to yourself in the face of judgement from your friends (judgement which is probably either imagined or completely justified). And yes, it’s a little suspicious that the Chainsmokers built a dance-pop song around a country artist just months after their esteemed colleague Zedd scored a major hit by doing the same thing with “The Middle.” And yeah, the song is troublingly emblematic of the cynical strategy that the band embraced in the second half of 2018, after their new darker material failed to chart and they seemed to be embracing every style they thought might net them another “Paris”-level success. But if you put all that aside, it’s a solid little pop song, it’s another entry in the all-too-short list of decent karaoke duets, and most importantly, it passes the Weezer Test; named in honor of the famously inconsistent band’s post-2000’s singles, the Weezer Test requires you to ask yourself one question: “If this song were performed by a band that I had never heard of before, would I like it?” Songs that pass this test include: “This Is Such A Pity”, “Feels Like Summer”, and, of course, “This Feeling.”

4. Save Yourself (feat. NGHTMRE)

Forget about the fact that featured guest producer NGHTMRE is probably responsible for at least 80% of this song, and forget about the fact that, despite the subtle distinction between trap and bass music, this sounds like the kind of thing that even hack comedy writers stopped making fun of three years ago – well, not all of them – and please consider the fact that this song absolutely fucking goes. The three distinct drops in between the ominous-yet-vaguely-inspirational verses all match each other for intensity but are distinct enough that they don’t all blend together. This is powerful, aggressive music, the kind of thing that makes you want to do a high-intensity workout or tear a sink out of the wall or reorganize your entire apartment. You know: wild shit. I don’t know how you would dance to this, but I would love to find out and immediately start doing it at every concert I go to, unless the appropriate form of movement is moshing, in which case I will stand anxiously at the edge of the pit, nodding with admiration but slowly edging towards the wall of the venue.

3. Sick Boy

Folks, let us not mince words here: this is song is a bit silly. It’s hard to ignore the goofiness of the verses, with all that borderline-nonsensical talk about the east and west side of America. The central rhyme (“They say that I am the sick boy/easy to say when you don’t take the risk, boy”) is kind of hilarious both for its sloppy construction and for the implication that being one of the Chainsmokers is in any way a “risk”. Really, the whole idea of the guys who made “#SELFIE” doing a big, dramatic and dark song about depression and narcissism in the Internet age is inherently silly – and yet, the first time I heard this song, it blew me away. It had such an impact on me that I ended up devoting a year to writing about this band and trying to figure out exactly what it was about this song that had such a massive impact on me. And I have come to realize that the very silliness that turned so many people off is exactly why the song works for me.

It’s ridiculous to think that a band so widely regarded as shallow, superficial and obnoxious could say anything insightful about the human condition, but I remain steadfast in my belief that the bridge of this song (“feed yourself on my life’s work/how many likes is my life worth”) is a genuinely clever lyric that gets at something very real about the way that an algorithmically-defined need for content sucks the life out of those who attempt to feed it. Maybe it’s just me; maybe, in order to get anything out of “Sick Boy”, you have to be so terminally online that you will search the lyrics of any slightly unusual pop song for hidden meanings. Even if that’s true, it doesn’t matter. Even if I were the only person in the world who liked this song, it wouldn’t matter, for the three minutes I’m listening to this song, as far as my experience is concerned, I am the only person in the world. Maybe that sounds silly or even a little solipsistic, but hey, three minutes isn’t a long time; it’s definitely not enough time to worry about shit like that.

2. Side Effects (feat. Emily Warren)

Emily Warren’s noble-yet-quixotic quest to legitimize the Chainsmokers remains a source of much fascination to me, so much so that this November I travelled all the way to the other end of the G train (local humor! we love it!) to see her perform. It’s hard to tell what she’s getting out if, aside from a steady paycheck – Warren once said that she and the Chainsmokers have never written a song together that didn’t get released, a statement that either demonstrates the efficiency of their collaborative process or reveals just how hard up Taggart and Pall are for decent songs. And while it is also hard to ignore the feeling that Warren will someday give a devastating tell-all interview about her time with the band so disturbing that it will force me to douse this entire blog with gasoline, for the time being, their partnership seems marked by creativity and respect.

In a just world, “Side Effects” would have been the group’s most successful song since “Paris” – in the awful hell-scented fleshworld we inhabit, it petered out just below “Sick Boy”, which is odd, and not just because of the shamelessly click-baiting video featuring one of the stars of the inexplicably popular Riverdale. When considering how some songs would be received critically if they weren’t associated with the endlessly toxic Chainsmokers brand, “Side Effects” surpasses even “This Feeling” and “Hope” to enters the realm of the Truly Good Pop Song With No Qualifiers Necessary, a song so undeniably decent that even though it was produced by the Chainsmokers, I would be completely unashamed to play this song for friends and family alike. Not to be a downer, but if this song can’t break the Chainsmokers out of the commercial tailspin they’ve been in since 2017, I’m not sure what could.

1. Everybody Hates Me

Pop music, maybe more so than any other art form, is meant to be universal. This is by and large a good thing, and accounts for much of my fascination with the genre; what could be more interesting than a near-universal musical language? But sometimes, the overwhelming need to appeal and relate to as many people as possible can stifle creativity, or, even worse, make the whole medium feel totally artificial. I know that Drake, Ed Sheeran and Taylor Swift all experience the same heartbreaks and joys as the rest of humanity because they are all (allegedly) human as well, but really, we don’t have that much in common. The average day of a normal, non-famous person might have some superficial similarities to the average day of a pop star, but their existence is in many ways incomprehensible to someone like me.

All this is to say that, while I may roll my eyes at something like Bob Seger’s “Turn The Page” or audibly groan every time I remember that Post Malone has a song literally called “Rich And Sad”, I actually really like it when rich and famous musicians make songs about how rich and famous they are. One of my favorite examples in the past few years is Future’s verse from Maroon 5’s “Cold,” which cuts through the aggressively bland and unspecific lyrics of the rest of the song with the revelation that Future’s arguments with his beau got so heated that he actually had to stop hiring drivers for his expensive cars because he was so embarrassed by the things she was saying. That’s a perfect, almost novelistic detail about a lifestyle I will never experience, and I’ll remember it long after the sound of Adam Levine’s nasal droning has finally left my mind. This is why “Everybody Hates Me” is the best Chainsmokers song of 2018, and possibly the best song they have ever released: because it’s a song about becoming famous off a novelty song based around a dumb internet joke only to find yourself turning into a dumb internet joke. It’s a song about the perils of smart-phone addiction and internet brain poisoning written by someone who is painfully aware that their livelihood couldn’t exist without both of those things. It is, simply put, a song that only the Chainsmokers could have made. And that is beautiful.

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The Chainsmokers Made A Song Called “Beach House” and Everybody Freaked Out

For the past year, the Chainsmokers have gone largely unnoticed by the music press. Sure, there were a few stray blog posts when “Sick Boy” was released, and there are some EDM-centric niche-music sites that will always cover them, but for the most part, nobody has been paying too much attention.

All of that changed on Friday morning with the release of the group’s latest single, “Beach House,” a Memories…Do Not Open-era throwback piece of melancholy dance-pop containing one reference (two if you count the title) to widely-acclaimed indie rock group Beach House. People didn’t just notice; to put it frankly, they went nuts. All across the internet, music journalists were falling over themselves to claim that the name of Beach House had been “sullied” and express their horror and disgust that the Chainsmokers would do something as crass and outrageous as, uh, name-check a less popular band.

To understand why this happened, you have to understand that, for most people, the Chainsmokers’ existence can be boiled down to three things: the existence of the song “#SELFIE,” the inescapability of their 2016 single “Closer,” and the infamous Billboard Magazine cover story that made Andrew Taggart and Alex Pall look like assholes. People’s irritation at “#SELFIE” is completely understandable; it’s a truly obnoxious song and such a blight on the band’s existence that they seem to genuinely regret ever releasing it.

But those second two data points are a little more complicated. It’s true that Taggart and Pall come across really, really poorly in that Billboard article, but the truth is that no one would even remember that article it if they hadn’t been forced to hear “Closer” on every mall speaker and car stereo they encountered in the final days of Summer ’16. People become annoyed and eventually resentful when they’re repeatedly exposed to the same song, even if they didn’t have any strong feelings about it originally. When that Billboard article came out, everyone seized upon it as a justification for their frustration: see, it’s not just the song that I don’t like, it’s the people that made the song! They’re just as bad as I hoped they’d be!

If they weren’t already primed to dislike the Chainsmokers, nobody would have cared that they said something obnoxious in an interview. Be honest, when was the last time you actually cared about Billboard Magazine?

In the public imagination, The Chainsmokers basically exist as a blank slate with an aura of douchiness surrounding them. No one really knows who they are, but everyone knows it’s okay to hate them; it’s expected, even, a perquisite opinion that must be demonstrated before you’re allowed to participate in the discourse. This is, I must assume, the one and only reason why the editors of Complex and Rolling Stone have never responded to any of my pitches. Unblock me, you cowards.

Because of their essential blankness, the Chainsmokers hold a unique capability to inspire criticism that does more to expose the personal idiosyncrasies of those writing about them than about the group themselves, and when Taggart and Pall stooped so low as to name-drop universally beloved dream-pop group Beach House, the music press did not disappoint.

Katherine Cusumano of W Magazine suggests adding Beach House to the long list of things the Chainsmokers have “ruined”, a list which in her estimation should include Halsey, as if Halsey were not constantly producing hit singles and did not remain a prominent cultural presence a half-decade into her career. Contrast this with the Chainsmokers, who exist entirely as fodder for snarky music journalists and solipsistic bloggers, and one begins to wonder just how exactly Cusumano believes that Halsey was “ruined.” Perhaps she was especially offended by the spectacle of Halsey’s duet with Taggart at the VMAs, but really, if anyone can watch that video and come away thinking Halsey is the one that looks bad, I honestly don’t know what to say. Halsey is doing fine. She was in A Star Is Born. She finally broke up with G-Eazy. There’s only bright days ahead.

Julian Marszalek, writing the UK’s 20th most-visited music news website, provocatively dubs the Chainsmokers “dance music’s populist equivalent to Donald Trump”, explaining that both Trump and the Chainsmokers “are given to dubious pronouncements and an output based on the lowest common denominator”, as if the most notable thing about Donald Trump is that he acts like a celebrity and not his bald-faced fascism or destructive enabling of Republican policies. The Chainsmokers giving a nod to Beach House is, to Marszalek, “a bit like Trump endorsing CNN as a worthy and reputable news source.” Blimey! Watch out, Dennis Miller, there’s a new king of political zingers in town, and he’s coming straight from across the pond with an absolutely “daft” collection of “critical slings and arrows” to rain upon the Chainsmokers, those would-be dispensers of “arse-clenching platitudes and second-rate chat up lines that would get you laughed out of Love Island and forced through an autotuner just to give it that added dimension of utterly meaningless toss.” You tell ’em, bruv. Also: what is wrong with you?

Randall Colburn of the A.V. Club – hey, did you know that the A.V. Club is still publishing articles? Crazy, right? – refers to the Chainsmokers as “the Alpha Betas of EDM” who make music “to slam nerds into lockers to”. If it weren’t for the unrealistic John Hughes-style depiction of high school on display here, I would be absolutely certain Colburn is reliving the personal trauma of being bullied in high school by electronic music producers, because there is nothing in the Chainsmokers’ music that supports the image of aggressive tormentor he imagines them to be. The music of the Chainsmokers primarily addresses the topics of falling in love, having sex, and being sad, which could be said of nearly every popular music artist in the past century. They don’t even really make music about going out to clubs or any typical frat-guy activities: they made a song with Coldplay, for God’s sake, the least aggressive act to perform at the Super Bowl Half-Time Show since Up With People. And yet Colburn feels enough disgust at the idea of these imaginary Budweiser-swigging jocks that he, like Marszalek, draws a connection between the Chainsmokers and Donald Trump, suggesting that they might be regular visitors to the noxious and conspiratorial sub-reddit r/The_Donald. The Chainsmokers are not simply producers of disposable pop music:  they are trollish enemies of democracy, unscrupulous criminal thugs, and, potentially, political operatives working under the orders of Vladimir Putin.

The centerpiece of this breathless coverage is undoubtedly Jillian Mapes’ piece for Pitchfork, a histrionic piece of high snobbery and psychological projection with the winkingly melodramatic title of “Beach House Are the Chainsmokers’ Type of Thing and I Kind of Want to Die.” In it, Mapes refers to the Chainsmokers as “the AXE Body Spray of modern music,” an insult that only works if the reader is old enough to remember when AXE Body Spray was a cultural touchstone, and accuses the group of “listening to their friends’ Malibu McMansions and calling it music”, which reads like the rough draft for an actual joke.

Unlike Beach House, a band that has “redefined the concept of ‘vibey’ music by honing a specific sound and not striving for mass appeal,” the Chainsmokers are trust-funder frat-boys who work out at Equinox and say things like “bitches be crazy”. Worst of all, they don’t even get Beach House, man – and how could they? Beach House is “music for space travel” that possesses an “intangible blend of moody mystery and the warm glow of nostalgia.” Mapes seems to believe that the closest the Chainsmokers could get to this level of deep understanding is a soundalike Spotify playist of Beach House music they put on when a “quirky” girl comes over, a detail so specifically venomous that there’s no way that exact thing didn’t happen to her in real life.

I don’t want to harp too much on Mapes’ piece – for one, accusing Pitchfork of being elitist is about as played-out as clowning on the Chainsmokers for being a couple of dumb bros – but more importantly, Mapes at least acknowledges the real issue at play, for her and the rest of the writers who spent Friday morning working themselves into an angry froth while attempting to appear aloof: she hates the guys in the Chainsmokers and can’t stand the idea of them liking the same music that she does.

“If you grew up listening to underground music,” she writes, “seeing someone who embodies everything you hate like an indie band you love still has the power to annoy you.” This is a thoroughly relatable emotion, and not just for people who grew up listening to “underground music” (?) – I spent most of my adolescence listening to Billy Joel, Fall Out Boy, and plenty of other acts that aren’t even lame enough to be ironically interesting, and even I know all too well the pain of seeing a sworn enemy attach themselves to a piece of pop culture that I love.

It’s not hard to understand how this happens: if you invest a significant amount of your personal identity into the culture you consume (as is the case for the majority of people who choose to write about music for a living), seeing someone who disgusts you claiming that culture as their own feels like an intrusion upon your identity, like an infection from a foreign contaminant that must be isolated and expelled. It’s a fundamentally juvenile reaction and it makes the ridiculous mistake of attaching a moral dimension to the act of listening to certain bands, but I could never judge someone for falling victim to it, not when that same ugly creature lurks so close to the surface of my own personality – not when I’m sitting here right now, typing a 1,600 word defense of the newest single by the fucking Chainsmokers – but all the same, it’s a little embarrassing to see it coming from people who actually get paid to do this stuff.

Emily Warren: Live at Rough Trade

Emily Warren occupies a unique space within the music industry. She’s spent the last four years as an extremely prolific songwriter, collaborating on high-profile songs with some of the biggest names in pop music and even appearing as a featured performer on several occasions. Her writing is sharp and emotionally insightful, but her strong pop sensibilities always shine through with big, radio-friendly hooks.

At the same time, her debut album Quiet Your Mind, released last month, would be more at home on the alternative charts than almost anything else she’s done. The songs all have the high level of polish you would expect based on her previous work, but the actual content mostly hews closer to indie rock than to anything like “New Rules” or “High Five.” Another unorthodox aspect of her career is her association with the Chainsmokers, a close working relationship that far exceeds her investment in any of the other artist she’s worked with. Warren at times seems to be single-handedly driving the duo’s evolution from faceless EDM producers into a legitimate musical group, one well-written song at a time.

With all this in mind, I had one question going into her concert at Rough Trade in Williamsburg: what was the crowd going to be like? This is something I think before arriving at most concerts, and often the answer turns out almost comically predictable (two highly personal examples: Mountain Goats shows are packed wall to wall with sad young queers, many of whom are likely practicing Wiccans, while Magnetic Fields performances are so completely stacked with bespectacled English majors that I almost felt I was being made fun of), but this one was particularly mysterious, given that Warren’s big-name collaborations combined with her still-nascent solo career make her exact level of fame difficult to discern.

Rough Trade is an intimate venue — the performance space is actually in the rear of an independent record store, but the whole building has those wonderful high ceilings that you can only get on the far outskirts of Brooklyn — but the show sold out so quickly that two further blocks of tickets were opened up in the week leading up to the show. Even as the crowd filled in and I found myself crammed shoulder-to-shoulder with a mass of fans in front of the stage, understanding continued to elude me. Who were all these people? There were easily hundreds of them; surely they couldn’t all be running an obnoxiously self-referential Chainsmokers fan blog.

The short answer, which hit me as soon as Warren began her first number (“Something To Hold On To”) to wild cheers and everyone around me began to sing along, is simple: the audience was filled with people who have, one way or another, come to discover Emily Warren’s music and found something meaningful in it. People who had already fallen in love with the music of Quiet Your Mind and were here to see those songs performed live. In other words: fans.

The longer answer is a bit more complicated, but not in a bad way.

Before we get to that, let me back up: the opening act for the evening was Annika Zee, a Canadian-born multimedia-artist/musician who produces the exact kind of dreamy and atmospheric music that you could imagine being set against a projection of an experimental short film, or serving as the soundtrack for a confusing modern dance performance. Not in a bad way, to be clear: Zee’s music is endlessly intriguing, alternating between soothing soundscapes and controlled chaos. A song built around a simple drum loop and a spacey synth will be suddenly pierced by a confrontational vocal that sets your hair on edge. Again, not in a bad way. Zee also has the sort of casually commanding stage presence that you might expect from an artist who maintains full control of her work, from writing and production all the way down to visuals and cover art.

Warren was similarly at ease on stage, though she brought a more openly giddy energy to her performance. Warren was exceedingly grateful to the audience from almost the first moment, enthusiastically commenting on the size of the crowd and reacting with infectious joy when she realized how many people had already memorized the lyrics to her songs. Backed by a four-person bad, Warren sang every song on Quiet Your Mind, and while there were no notable deviations from the album arrangements, her vocals were given considerably more room to shine than they do on the album.

Warren has a unique voice, powerfully emotive with a sharp edge and crisp annunciation, closer to a jazz crooner than the sort of pop star she usually writes for. It isn’t that her vocals are buried or obscured on record, but even while her lovely falsetto is on full display throughout the album’s eleven tracks, some of her voice’s more interesting qualities remain obscured. My favorite of Warren’s vocal performances is actually “Until You Were Gone,” her first outing with the Chainsmokers, where she burns through the vocal line with an abandon that she’s rarely matched since, letting the edges of her voice fray in a manner that matches the driving force of the music. The quieter tones of Quiet Your Mind suggest that she’s not currently interested in that style of singing, which is fine, but it was still exciting to hear her sing live and be reminded of how bracingly powerful her voice really is.

In what was a real treat for those of us depraved enough to consider ourselves “Top 40 nerds”, Warren performed an acoustic medley of some of the songs she had written for other artists, including “New Rules,” “High Five”, “Capsize,” and, of course, “Don’t Let Me Down.” This was followed shortly thereafter by a full-band performance of her Chainsmokers-assisted summer single, “Side Effects,” which featured a surprise appearance by Andrew Taggart, who danced onto the stage holding two full tequila shots before performing the background vocals during the song’s breakdown. Taggart followed this cameo with a heartfelt speech commemorating Emily’s accomplishments (during which he referred to her as “the third Chainsmoker,” which suggests that I was at least on the right track when I wrote this piece back in April).

It was a show filled with good vibes and affable stage banter, suggesting that Warren was incredibly comfortable with the crowd, for reasons that became clear as the night went on. New York City is Waren’s hometown, so this performance (which she humorously referred to as the second stop in a two-show tour) was a sort of homecoming, and that was reflected in the audience. Aside from the family and VIPs cordoned off in the balcony around the performance space, there were quite a few of Warren’s friends packed into the front of the crowd, a fact to which I was ignorant until several of them joined her onstage for a recreation of the choreography in the “Poking Holes” video.

Undoubtedly, the proximity of so many loved ones contributed to Warren’s comfort on the stage, which transformed even minor errors — choking on the first line of a song, spilling her drink over her setlist, her microphone somehow coming unplugged — into utterly charming moments. It’s a rare pleasure to see an artist perform in their home town; Hanif Abdurraqib once theorized that the anticipation of leaving the concert and getting to fall into their own beds inspires performers to leave it all on the stage. Emily Warren may have been playing with a home field advantage, but the musical skill and engaging stage presence she demonstrated last night were certainly no fluke. Watching a performance like this, one can hardly disagree with Taggart’s prediction that she has plenty of similarly successful shows in her future.

Siren

Three Ways To Write About ‘Siren’ by The Chainsmokers & Aazar

1. If the whiplash-inducing shift from the apocalyptic trap-bass fever dream of “Save Yourself” to the country-inflected of “This Feeling” suggested that the Chainsmokers are courting multiple audiences simultaneously, the sudden pivot back to “Siren” confirms it. They’ve always kept one foot planted firmly on either side of the pop/EDM divide, but they used to be forced to split the difference within individual songs: large swaths of their debut album, Memories…Do Not Open, felt like attempts to graft a pop sensibility onto an EDM sound, or vice-versa. The resulting soupy mixture of dreary, world-weary lyrics and mid-tempo beats produced an album that even Drew Taggart has referred to as “unfinished”, and while the first half of 2018 saw the group pursuing a sharper, more interesting version of the same songwriting style, it clearly wasn’t working well enough for them (or possibly their management), because ever since “Side Effects”, they’ve been devoting entire songs to either one style or the other. It’s brilliant, in a way: even if they never again reach “Closer” heights of mainstream popularity, by playing to the EDM crowd in a way they really haven’t in years, the Chainsmokers can build an audience who will stick by them in the long-term, regardless of how well their pop singles perform on the top 40. So I could have written about “Siren” as a piece of marketing, but nobody except me (and possibly Adam Alpert) would find that interesting.

2. It would be silly and maybe even a little embarrassing for me to pretend that “Siren” doesn’t sound a whole lot like “Save Yourself.” The formula is practically identical: a collaboration between the Chainsmokers and an electronic music producer with almost no public presence outside the EDM scene, built around two long instrumental passages, stitched together by a couple of melodic passages and vocals from Taggart himself. The biggest difference between the two songs is their respective “drops”, that oft-fetishized moment of climactic release that features so prominently in modern dance music. Whereas the drops in “Save Yourself” varied in tempo and drew from a variety of aggressive textures, the drop in “Sirens” is built around a repetitive burst of synth that sounds more like a clucking chicken than any siren that I’ve ever heard. Which isn’t to say there’s nothing here to recommend: the drop is still plenty of fun, and the vocal sample at the beginning is a nice touch, as are the strings that feature prominently in the song’s second half. There’s just not enough to differentiate this song from “Save Yourself” to the untrained ear, but as I mentioned above, the untrained ear is not the target for this song: this song is an offering to the true bass-heads, the kind of people who will read the previous paragraph and work themselves into a frenzy over my perceived ignorance. So I could have written about “Siren” as a piece of music, but basically no one would want to read that, and those that would want to read it still wouldn’t have enjoyed it.

3.

Three weeks down,
but you’re on the mend —
You swear that you’re free from the passenger seat
As we drive through the night,
’til it starts again:
You blame it on me ’cause you’re three pills deep in

I tell myself I love the silence, but maybe I just wanna hear the sounds of the siren

I tell myself I love the silence
But maybe I just want to hear
the sounds of the sirens

If you’ve never heard “Siren” before — and, if you’re reading this, the odds are that you haven’t — take a second to read over these lyrics. Do you find them striking at all? If you encountered them outside of their actual context, how do you think you’d feel about them? If you read them as a poem, would you like it? What if you read them as a Raymond Carver story? Alright, maybe that’s too grandiose — what about a passage in a Bret Easton Ellis novel? Does that seem like a better fit? Because when I listen to “Siren,” that’s what I hear: a piece of flash fiction, that captures a single moment in a much longer and very sad story that we’ll never know the end of. There are several things that could be triggering this reaction in me — the deep-seated psychosis that would lead me to devote an entire year to thinking about the Chainsmokers, for one, or perhaps the mental deterioration that I’ve experienced as a result of putting that ridiculous plan into action. But I do believe this song is unique within the band’s catalog. Only a few other Chainsmokers songs have devoted this much detail to an actual narrative, most notably “Closer” and “Paris”, but unlike those songs, “Siren” never resolves into any grand statement or meaningful refrain. The lyrics leave us in a place of quiet discomfort and uncertainty, as the narrator sits in a car with their ailing companion, content to let the sounds of the city outside his window fill the space because the idea of starting another conversation is too painful. We don’t know exactly what the relationship is between these two or how damaged it is or if it’s even going to survive this car ride. We’re left with only the music to carry us forward, and the fact that we don’t get any new lyrics after the first minute only enhances the feeling that what we’re hearing is not exactly a song, but a piece of storytelling with musical accompaniment. We’re forced to discern our own meaning from the lyrics, an act for which there is not typically room within a song by the Chainsmokers. So I could have written about “Siren” as what it really is, to me, anyway: one of the best short stories I’ve encountered this year. And yes, that would have been ridiculous. But that’s why I did it.

The Roommate From ‘Closer’ Makes A Phone Call To Her Best Friend, or: The Continuing Adventures Of Jess And Nicole

Nicole, 26, is walking through Prospect Park in Brooklyn, NY, holding the leashes of four separate dogs, when her phone begins to ring. Upon hearing the ringtone (“Ignition [Remix]” by R. Kelly), she knows exactly who is calling, so she answers.

NICOLE: Hey, bitch.

JESS: Nicole? It’s Jess.

NICOLE: Uh, yeah, I know it’s you. That’s why I said, “hey, bitch.” Do you think I just answer the phone like that all the time?

JESS: What? No, I don’t think that. Listen–

NICOLE: Just so you know, I’ve got a bunch of dogs with me right now, so if I lose you, it’s… well, I guess it won’t be a reception thing, but if one of the dogs tries to run away, or something, I might have to hang up.

JESS: I get it. I just–

NICOLE: This whole thing is such bullshit. I thought when I signed up for this stupid dog-walking app I’d get paid to hang out with a bunch of cute dogs, but all I get are these huge, slobbering idiots who want to fight every other dog they see. Yeah, that’s right, Brutus, I’m talking about you. What? You got a problem with that?

JESS: That sucks. So–

NICOLE: Wait, why are you calling me right now? I didn’t miss our weekly Skype call, did I?

JESS: No, that’s on Saturday.

NICOLE: Oh, hey, do you think we could change it to Sunday this week? I’ve got a callback for an audition on Saturday.

JESS: Oh, really? Congrats.

NICOLE: Thanks! It’s for Midsummer Night’s Dream, again. Which, like, ugh. And it’s in Jersey, so that’s a shitty fucking commute, if I get it. But I had an audition last week that I’m still waiting to hear back from, it sounds like it’s gonna be really cool. It’s an all-female production of Zoo Story and–

JESS: Nicole!

NICOLE: What?

JESS: Can you shut up for, like, one second, so I can tell you why I’m calling?

NICOLE: Wow, spicy.

JESS: Sorry. It’s been a shitty two days.

NICOLE: Aw, Jess. Go on, tell me what happened.

JESS: It’s Becca.

NICOLE: Becca C?

JESS: Yeah, Becca C. Who else would it be?

NICOLE: Well, it could have been Becca K.

JESS: I don’t live with Becca K, though. I live with Becca C. Or, I used to.

NICOLE: Wait, used to?

JESS: So. Two days ago, I spent the night at Terry’s place.

NICOLE: Oh, how’s that going, by the way?

JESS: Ehh. I’ll tell you on Sunday.

NICOLE: Oh, can we do Sunday morning, though? I have a shift at the restaurant in the afternoon.

JESS: Nicole. Focus.

NICOLE: Right! Sorry.

JESS: I wake up Thursday morning and I head back over to our place, and it’s still early — like, eight A.M. And I pull into the apartment complex, and I see right away that Becca’s car isn’t there. And, like, that’s weird, right? Because Becca doesn’t ever get up before ten. Eleven, if she’s been out drinking. Which… she usually is.

NICOLE: Did she go out on Wednesday?

JESS: I left the apartment at eight P.M., and she was still wearing her sweatpants.

NICOLE: Yeah, but… sometimes she doesn’t get ready to go until like, after nine, right?

JESS: True. But only if she’s done her hair ahead of time. And you wanna know what the state of her hair was, when I left the apartment?

NICOLE: Bun?

JESS: Top bun.

NICOLE: Oof.

JESS: Yeah. She wasn’t going anywhere. And plus, she had been putting out this sort of, like, weird energy all day? I mean, she had been watching The Office since I got home from work, which is not unusual, but she didn’t seem very into it. It as like she had something on her mind.

NICOLE: Brutus! God damn it, if you don’t leave her alone, I will choke you! I will choke you out!

JESS: Just talking to myself here.

NICOLE: No! I’m sorry! I’m listening. Becca was acting weird.

JESS: It wasn’t just weird — I know what weird Becca is like. This was different. So, when I pull into the parking lot the next morning and don’t see her car, my first thought is, oh! She’s finally doing what she said she was gonna do six months ago, she’s going to meet with an academic advisor at the University and see about re-starting her Masters program.

NICOLE: Didn’t she complain about that program, like, all the time? Would you really want that?

JESS: It’d be better than her lying around the apartment all day, doing nothing, complaining about her parents.

NICOLE: Oh, God, never mind. I just remembered what it’s like to hear Becca talk about her parents. I almost forgot.

JESS: I never got that luxury. You’re so lucky.

NICOLE: Hashtag blessed!

JESS: (laughing) Shut up. So, when I got into the apartment, something felt really wrong, like, right away. Like something was different. I couldn’t figure out what it was, but it felt so weird that I decided to check on Becca really quick. I go to knock on her bedroom door, but then I see that it’s not even closed. I push it open the rest of the way, and you know what I see?

NICOLE: What?

JESS: Nothing.

NICOLE: Nothing?

JESS: Nothing! The room was totally empty! Becca cleared out all of her shit and left literally in the middle of the night.

NICOLE: Are you serious? She didn’t leave a note or anything?

JESS: Nothing. I tried texting her, calling her. No response.

NICOLE: That’s so fucking weird.

JESS: Yeah, but here’s the thing: she didn’t just take all of her shit. When I went back into the living room, I realized why it felt so weird in there. Because a bunch of my shit was missing.

NICOLE: She stole your shit?

JESS: She stole my shit! She took my big lamp, she took a bunch of my books, she took my ukelele–

NICOLE: The ukelele I got you for your birthday?

JESS: Yeah!

NICOLE: That bitch!

JESS: She cleared out about half my bottles of liquor. She took all of my How I Met Your Mother DVDs.

NICOLE: Even season nine?

JESS: Even season nine.

NICOLE: Oh my god, who is she?

JESS: Nicole. That’s not even the worst of it. You know what else she took?

NICOLE: What?

JESS: My mattress.

NICOLE: Your mattress? She stole your mattress?

JESS: She stole my mattress.

NICOLE: Like, she took it right out of your room?

JESS: No, no — the mattress she had in her room was actually mine. When we first moved in, she asked if we could switch because the mattress she had was too soft for her to sleep on, and I was like, sure, I don’t care, let’s trade.

NICOLE: Oh. Well… do you think maybe she forgot that you switched? And she just thought she was taking her own mattress?

JESS: No! Because the first mattress she had, the one that ended up in my room? That was my mattress, too.

NICOLE: Wait, so, Becca’s parents are like, super-rich, and not only did she not have her own mattress when you guys moved in together, but she took yours with her when she left?

JESS: Yes.

NICOLE: What a fucking psycho.

JESS: Hey, don’t say that. It’s offensive.

NICOLE: To who? Psychos?

JESS: Well… yeah. But you’re not supposed to say ‘psycho’ any more.

NICOLE: You’re right. But, like… what other word is there? How else would you even describe that behavior?

JESS: That’s not even the worst of it. The mattress that she stole? I was actually borrowing it from my aunt and uncle. They gave it to me for free, I just had to promise I’d have it back before their son finished college and needed it for his apartment, and I said, sure, because I thought by then Becca would have gotten her shit together to a high enough degree that she would at least be able to buy her own fucking mattress.

NICOLE: Do you know when your cousin is moving in to his apartment?

JESS: Yeah, next month.

NICOLE: Jesus! This is so completely fucked. Like, I knew Becca had problems, but she literally robbed you and disappeared. Who even does that? Who steals a fucking mattress?

JESS: And now I have to pay for a replacement mattress. I’m out at least six-hundred dollars, not even counting all the rest of the shit she stole.

NICOLE: Wait. Wait, hold on. Do we know for sure that Becca took all that stuff?

JESS: Nicole–

NICOLE: Oh! What if someone broke into your apartment last night? And they took all your stuff, and then–

JESS: Nicole, calm down, Becca’s not… dead, or kidnapped, or whatever.

NICOLE: How do you know?

JESS: Have you been on Instagram today?

NICOLE: I’m trying to do this thing where I don’t check it until I’ve done at least one productive thing, because you know I used to check it right when I woke up? And not just Insta, I would check Facebook and Twitter, too — and Snapchat, when that was still a thing — and first of all, it was making me super anxious, because the world is so fucked that you can’t read the news without having it fuck up your whole day, and second it was, like, a huge time suck, right at the beginning of the day, when I should be getting up and jogging or doing meal prep, or… whatever.

JESS: So, that’s a ‘no’?

NICOLE: Yeah! No.

JESS: Well, Becca posted an update to her story just one hour ago.

NICOLE: Oh, shit. Where was she?

JESS: According to the location tag she used, she’s somewhere in the middle of the Nebraska.

NICOLE: What the fuck.

JESS: There were two posts. The first one was just a picture of a corn field or some shit —

NICOLE: What filter did she use?

JESS: …

NICOLE: Sorry.

JESS: And there was a caption, and I quote: “Start spreadin’ the news.”

NICOLE: “Spreadin’?” Like, with an apostrophe and everything?

JESS: Do you know what that is?

NICOLE: It’s fucking gross is what it is.

JESS: No, Nicole, that’s the first line of that song. “New York, New York?”

NICOLE: Wait. Wait. No, that can’t… wait. Are you sure?

JESS: Do you know what the second update was?

NICOLE: A selfie?

JESS: Yeah, of course.

NICOLE: Of course.

JESS: Nicole. This bitch was parked by the side of the road, sitting on the hood of her ugly-ass broken-down Range Rover, flashing the peace sign, with the caption, “I’m leavin’ today.”

NICOLE: Jess, stop.

JESS: And you know what was strapped to her roof?

NICOLE: No.

JESS: My fucking mattress.

NICOLE: Becca is driving from Boulder to New York City with your mattress strapped to the roof of her car?

JESS: Yah.

NICOLE: Jess, I… I don’t even know what to say. This is the crazi–this is the most bizarre thing I have ever heard. How could–oh, fuck.

JESS: What?

NICOLE: It’s Brutus, he’s trying to fight another dog. HEY, IDIOT, CALM DOWN! What? No, sir, no, I wasn’t talking to you, I was talking to the dog. What? Well, no, he’s not MY dog, listen, I–

JESS: Nicole?

NICOLE: I’m sorry, Jess, I gotta go real quick.

JESS: Yeah, sure.

NICOLE: Talk to you Sunday?

JESS: Talk to you Sunday.

NICOLE: Cool. Jesus Christ, your fucking mattress — BRUTUS IF YOU DO NOT GET YOUR NOSE OUT OF THAT MAN’S CROTCH RIGHT NOW NOW YOU ARE GOING HOME IN A BODY BAG, I SWEAR TO GOD.

This Feeling

I’ll tell you a story before it tells itself

It would be easy for me to say that “This Feeling” sounds like the Chainsmokers trying to combine elements of their two biggest hits with co-writer Emily Warren’s long-running preoccupation with self-destructive romantic relationships; after all, it’s got the male/female duet format of “Closer,” the alt-rock stylings of “Something Just Like This”, and the lyrical themes of… well, “Closer” again, but also “Side Effects,” “All We Know,” “My Type”, etc. The first half of the song (before Taggart’s vocals kick in) could be from any number of contemporary electro-pop songs featuring a strong female vocal, particularly Zedd-produced tracks like “Starving” or “The Middle”, with the latter being especially relevant given that it, like “This Feeling”, re-purposes a country singer into the context of an upbeat dance song. Speaking of which, Kelsea Ballerini is a shrewd choice for a guest vocalist; she’s a proven success within the country-music demographic, a market that has gone entirely untapped by the Chainsmokers to this point. And they’re not the only ones who benefit: as a mainstream artist working within an authenticity-obsessed medium, Ballerini has to perform a delicate dance to remain acceptable to her audience, so appearing on a track where she can completely shed her country-music roots and aim straight for the pop charts is a savvy career move on her part. Every element of “This Feeling” can, if you’re so inclined, be broken down into a series of crass, cynical decision with direct commercial implications, turning the song itself into a mere conglomeration of parts, each one meticulously designed and implemented with the aim of appealing to the widest possible audience of people. The weird thing is that none of that matters and it never will.

I’ll lay out all my reasons, you’ll say that I need help

There’s a reason why this kind of song is popular, and I don’t just mean the type of song produced by Zedd or Clean Bandit or Calvin Harris —  I also mean songs specifically produced by the Chainsmokers themselves: “Something Just Like This” and “Closer” were massive hits for the group, enough to ensure retained cultural presence for two years straight. If the tides of time wash clean everything else the Chainsmokers have ever touched, “Closer” will still be immortalized on whatever form the Time Life collections take thirty years from now, and Coldplay’s co-ownership of “Something Just Like This” ensures that it will be remembered as a least curious footnote in that band’s long, strange career. Here’s a statement that seems self-evident but will be endlessly frustrating to a significant number of people: this popularity means something. No piece of media becomes this successful by accident, as much as that may often seem to be the case. Okay, yes, there are powerful, corporate-run forces in our capitalist society that use their influence to insidiously control the conversation surrounding music (well, there’s mainly just the one), but you know that old saying? About horses, and how you can present an appealing option to them, but you can’t make them do the thing you want them to do unless they actually want to do it? This is what that’s about. Yes. This exact situation.

We all got expectations and sometimes they gone wrong

So, if these songs are all popular for a reason, what is the reason? It’s an obvious answer, so obvious that feels ridiculous, borderline insulting to write it. But there’s really no way around it, so unless we want to waste our time, we might as well put it out there. People like these songs for the same reason they like any song: because it sounds good and it’s fun to listen to. Whatever musical elements make up the song hit the pleasure center of their brain in an appealing way, while the lyrics connect with them on some level. There are other ways to listen to music and analyze its influences, the exact structure of the work, how the artists position themselves culturally, etc., but most of the people who listen to music hear a song and decide whether they like it or not based on how it immediately affects them. To the extent that they consider it critically, all of their thoughts are based on their initial reactions. Critics are not excluded from this, either. It’s impossible to write about music without taking your own enjoyment of it into consideration, and even if you could, why would you want to? Even if every song was really nothing but a group of components dispassionately assembled in a specific order to incite a certain reaction, the reaction would still be the culmination of the entire process. If you could actually hear to a song without experiencing it, it would cease to be the potentially life-altering experience it is now and would become nothing more than an unentertaining chore, a clinical dissection of an object you can’t even see. If music could be accurately criticized, no one would ever listen to it.

But no one listens to me, so I put it in this song

Another weird thing is that everybody already knows this to be true. We are, as a culture, so aware of the disconnect between our experience of music and the objective reality of it that we invented a new term in order to categorize art that we enjoy but simultaneously believe to be unworthy of enjoyment. A “guilty pleasure” is a piece of art that moves your body, your heart, even your soul, but which you feel you must, for some reason, distance yourself from. For various cultural reasons, there are some works that we feel must be held out at arm’s length, separate from ourselves, even as we embrace the effect the work has on us.  But why? It doesn’t work like that the other way around. If you encounter a piece of art that you critically determine to be worthy of praise, yet you yourself remain unmoved by it, you don’t place in a category meant to delegitimize it as a work (or at least you’re not supposed to). In fact, sometimes people will repeatedly expose themselves to a piece of art that they know they’re supposed to like, over and over, just to see if maybe they can trigger a single pleasurable experience. This is a fool’s errand, a life-wasting exercise in masochism, and it has lead to more bad takes than any other cultural practice. We could wipe out every obnoxiously contrarian “But What If It’s Actually Bad”-style think-piece in a week’s time if we stopped fetishizing the outdated idea of an artistic cannon. We’re never going to do this, of course, but it’s worth remembering that we could if we wanted to.

They tell me think with my head,
Not that thing in my chest
They got their hands on my neck this time

Drew Taggart, ever the poet, claims that “This Feeling” is about “being yourself and not giving a fuck what people think about you.” In the song, this is a reference to a romantic relationship, presumably a bad one — there are a few hints in the second verse that things between this couple are not ideal, but for the most part, we don’t get many details about the relationship itself, because the relationship isn’t important. What’s important is that this relationship makes the narrator feel good, while everyone around them insists that they’re making a mistake. The narrator’s response to this is incredibly human and unsurprisingly combative. If you’re being made to feel guilty about something that you experience as unambiguously positive, you essentially have two choices: completely abandon any illusion of agency within your own life and admit that your every decision is controlled by outside forces, or resolve to not give a fuck. This can admittedly be a somewhat imprudent attitude to adopt when navigating the emotional minefield of a romantic relationship — it is entirely possible that a friend who has your best interests in mind can examine your situation from a different point of view and offer up valuable advice. Sometimes, people want you to think with your head because your heart is being stupid. But the same reasoning doesn’t apply to music. After all, has anyone ever been convinced, by any argument of any scope and intelligence, that their favorite band is “actually bad?” Can you imagine what you would think if someone even tried to do that? Even if it was your best friend, the person’s who opinion you value most in the world, you probably wouldn’t give a fuck. Now imagine if it was some bozo writing an online culture magazine.

But you’re the one that I want,
And if that’s really so wrong
Then they don’t know what this feeling is like

“This Feeling” does not present a universally applicable maxim for living a truly fulfilled life. But it doesn’t have to do that; it’s a pop song. All it has to do is keep you entertained for about three minutes. It can be more than that, obviously. A truly exceptional pop song can stay with you for much longer, becoming so intertwined with your own personal experiences and memories that the song becomes a fixture of your life, an beacon of intense emotional power shining throughout the years to mark one single point of pure, iridescent joy. It can also be a neat thing to play at parties, or in your car. Music criticism can be interesting and even enlightening, but no amount of words will ever substitute a single experience like that. I’m not saying that we should stop talking about music altogether; again, even if that were actually a good idea, we’re never going to do it. I’m also not advocating for an anti-intellectual, gut feeling-driven philosophy or attitude, at least not when it comes to important things, like social justice or climate change. All I’m trying to say is: let’s not forget what we’re talking about here. This is a pop song. The entire chorus is the word “yeah” repeated about fifty times. It’s good and it’s fun to listen to, and if you disagree, I don’t give a fuck and I never will.

And I say:
Yeah-eah
Yeah-eah-eah-eah

The Complete Videos: 2016

Don’t Let Me Down

The video for “Don’t Let Me Down (featuring Daya)” begins with Andrew Taggart and Alex Pall approaching a convertible parked on the side of a winding mountain road. In a series of quick shots, the two of them enter the car, start the engine, and begin to drive down the road, Pall in the driver’s seat, Taggart on the passenger side wearing a pair of enormous earphones, presumably so that he can block out the roar of the wind as it passes by and listen to his favorite song, which is quickly confirmed to be “Don’t Let Me Down” by the Chainsmokers (featuring Daya).

Here we are greeted by the first in a long sequence of questions: why was this very nice vintage convertible sitting seemingly-abandoned by the side of the road? As Pall and Taggart approach it, there is little sense that they are returning to a car they themselves have parked, but we are forced to assume that this car does, in fact, belong to them. But what were they doing outside the car? Since neither of them is carrying a camera, we can assume they weren’t taking pictures of the scenic view — maybe one (or both) of them need simply needed to urinate.

But even if these concerns can be swept aside, we must then grapple with this: why does Taggart think it is socially acceptable to listen to music on his headphones while on a long drive with his friend? The car must not have a working sound system, otherwise the two would simply listen to music together. But instead, Taggart has abandoned Pall to the painful isolation of a long car drive with no music and no one to talk to.

This monstrous betrayal will soon be the least of Taggart’s worries, however, as the video then cuts to a shot of a distressed-looking Daya, wandering through the marsh dressed in all black like an Instagram-ready sorceress of the lowlands. Moments later, she appears on the road, blocking the advance of Taggart and Pall. It’s a strange-enough sight on its own (enough that Taggart takes the drastic step of removing his headphones), but before they can react, four other young women materialize behind Daya and step out to flank her. Taggart and Pall, seemingly unfazed by this flagrant disregard for physics, get out of the car to investigate.

Receiving no answers from the silent phalanx of Snapchat witches, Taggart and Pall return to their car with no clear plan for dealing with this bizarre interruption of their trip, but they’ve barely sat down when something shocking happens: the car begins to move of its own volition, bouncing up and down like as if it were possessed by a set of enchanted hydraulics. And possessed it may be; while the car bucks and lurches, Daya and her coven perform a synchronized dance that looks for all the world like some manner of dark invocation.

The car moves backwards and forwards, seemingly at the whims of Daya and her dastardly cohort of enchantresses. We know not to what end Day has hexed this unbelievably primo automobile, only that she has full commands of its motions. All the while, Taggart and Pall stare on, their faces grim and unreadable. They seem neither shocked nor disturbed, almost as if this encounter was expected, maybe even… foretold?

The dance continues and the ancient machine’s movements grow wilder, threatening at times to fully toss Taggart and Pall from the car, until, impossibly, it happens: as her ritual reaches its climax, the car gives one final heave and Taggart and Pall are flung into the air. Suspended as if by a phantom thread, they float above the car, their expressions twisted into twin masks of shock and awe. Daya looks on as her companions slowly wind down their deadly jig. Her face betrays no feeling of satisfaction or relief, only a lingering sadness.

The video fades out, but only for a moment, before we are treated to a final image of Taggart and Pall, hours after their encounter with Daya, still suspended in the darkened firmament. The forest around them is alive with the sounds of the night, but they remain suspended in time, prisoners of the air, isolated from every other living creature. A cruel fate, yes, but perhaps not an undeserved one.

At the end, the message and meaning of all that’s come before is finally clear. Previous to the opening of the video, Taggart and Pall murdered Daya and transported her corpse in the trunk of their vintage convertible. After abandoning her body by a quiet mountain road, they attempt to return home — Taggat so overcome by guilt that he attempts, futilely, to block out the world with his music — only to encounter her forlorn spirit on the highway, watched over by a family of furious wraiths, ready to enact the only vengeance she can.

Technically, this makes “Don’t Let Me Down” the first (and so far only) murder ballad within the Chainsmokers cannon.

Closer

The “official” music video for “Closer” is notable for two reasons: the first is that even though this video is ostensibly a re-telling of the song’s very clear narrative, it focuses on the sexual activity between the central couple (portrayed by singers Andrew Taggart and Halsey) to such an extent that it becomes unbearably distracting. The two spend so much time writhing around with each other half-naked on top of a bed, either actually kissing or rubbing their faces up against one another, that it becomes impossible to think about anything other than the mechanics of filming these scenes. How long were they in this bed together? How well did they know each other before filming this video? Did they ever feel uncomfortable being so physically intimate and, if so, was there a point where it passed from awkwardness into utter tedium as their shooting day dragged on? Did either of them have bad breath? Things of this nature.

The second reason is that, despite containing the (allegedly) erotic sight of two nubile young performers canoodling, the “official” video has literally a fraction of the views as the lyric video. Directed by frequent collaborator Rory Kramer, this video (or “a Rory Kramer vision”, as the title cards identify it) has 2.1 billion views, while the Dano Cerny-directed second version, released three months later, has just over 276 million. Don’t let the absolutely staggering quantity of those views overwhelm you; while it may seem strange to refer to anything that has been viewed hundreds of millions of times as a ‘failure’, if your audience drops by 90% between installments, it’s hard to frame it as a win.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way: you should absolutely let the staggering quantity of those views overwhelm you. Putting aside the fact that even that 2.1 billion views only ranks it as the twentieth most-viewed video on YouTube, those are still magnificent numbers, and meaningful, too. Because “Closer” was one of the biggest songs of 2016, and while there were certainly plenty of people who threw the lyric video on in the background while their attentions were elsewhere, with over two billion views, it stands to reason that a sizable number of people actually watched the visuals. With that in mind, it’s worth considering how those visuals impact the way those viewers experienced the song.

To put it simply, the narrative of “Closer” the song and the narrative of Kramer’s video (sorry, “vision”) do not match up. The song is about two dysfunctional exes briefly reigniting a failed relationship out of a misplaced sense of nostalgia and overwhelming loneliness, while the lyric video, as much as it can be said to be “about” anything, is about two conventionally attractive young people in an apparently stable relationship reminiscing over some of the good times they’ve had, driving around in their Range Rover and frolicking in various scenic locales.

That’s not necessarily a problem in and of itself — Kramer’s job here was to create some pleasing visuals to play while the lyrics of the song flashed across the screen, and he certainly succeeded in that. What’s disconcerting is that the lyric video isn’t quite different enough from the song’s story to make the contrast as obvious as it should be. Like the song, the video depicts a couple looking back with fondness on the recent past, but skims over the song’s darker implications. If you weren’t paying attention — and again, plenty of this video’s viewers probably weren’t — this video might leave you with the impression that “Closer” is simply a song about nostalgia and being in love. Again, it’s not not about that, but this surface-level reading strips the song of all its drama and turns the chorus from an ironically anthemic statement of purpose into a genuinely romantic statement, completely inverting the songs meaning.

This is, in all likelihood, not something worth losing too much sleep over. There’s no reason to believe that the majority of the Chainsmokers fandom lacks the basic interpretive abilities necessary to understand the song’s intended meaning. But this isn’t really about those people; it’s about the public at large, who have for the most part already left the Chainsmokers in their cultural rearview. These are the people who heard this song on the radio so many times that it lost all meaning, and when they look back on it ten years from now, all they’ll remember is that initial rush of emotion they got when they first watched the video — a video which, on top of its other troubling aspects, promotes the blatantly false notion that the band’s name is spelled “Chainsmokres”.

I mean, come on.

All We Know

Like the more-successful version of the “Closer” video, “All We Know” is yet another “vision” from frequent Chainsmokers collaborator Rory Kramer, and while the video stands as one of the very few unqualified aesthetic successes in the group’s videography, it unfortunately contains a fundamental misalignment between subject and form that ultimately detracts from what might have been a solid entry in the cannon.

The song itself is about the most predictable follow-up to “Closer” that could have been released; lyrically, it displays a slightly more romantic reinterpretation of the themes of the previous song (to the point where it’s easy to imagine this as an epilogue to the story of “Closer”), while musically representing something of a retreat, suggesting a sort of soft alt-rock blend between the styles of “Closer” and “Don’t Let Me Down” while returning to the earlier (and “safer”) tactic of mixing Taggart’s vocals beneath those of a more-polished female singer, a la “Roses”. As a single, it didn’t pull the same numbers as “Closer,” but it was never going to; in hindsight, it seems insane that the Chainsmokers even tried to release another single in 2016.

As for the video, “All We Know” boasts a plot that manages to be both embarrassingly threadbare and crushingly sad; like, sad to the point that you don’t to watch it, or even really think about it. The bulk of the video revolves around footage captured via SnorriCam (also known as a “body-mount” or “the least obnoxious cinematic flourish in Requiem For A Dream”), documenting the story of a man who leaves his apartment after fighting with his girlfriend, meets the Chainsmokers in a liquor store, gets drunk outside a Wendy’s, throws some abandoned furniture into the street, then hitches a ride to the mountains where he watches the sunrise.

The moment that launches this dark night of the soul and sends our protagonist on a drunken sojourn through Los Angeles is handled in such a perfunctory manner that it doesn’t even appear on screen, but if you turn your volume all the way up during the twenty-two seconds of titles that roll over a black screen at the video’s beginning, you can hear the main character speaking to someone over the phone (his brother, I think?) who informs them that his (their?) dad has fallen ill and will probably die soon.

The fact that this incredibly depressing detail is not confirmed at any point during the body of the video (the brief exchange that the main character has with his girlfriend at the beginning is vague enough to suggest anything from a terminal illness to a breakup to a bad day at work) leaves open the possibility that it was a last-minute addition to the video, a cheap and transparent attempt to layer unearned meaning onto what would otherwise be nothing more than a particularly conceptual sizzle reel.

And here’s the thing: this video does look really cool; more than that, it’s an extremely accurately-filmed depiction of how it feels to be publicly drunk in a large urban area  — not so much in the exact details, but in the overall feeling of disorientation, the way you can quickly swing from feeling claustrophobically hemmed in by light and noise on all sides to feeling like the last person left alive on earth. Given the lyrical subject matter of “All We Know”, there was no reason that this video couldn’t have stood on its own without the dying-dad subplot, but we must remember that Rory Kramer is an artist, and the intentions of the artist are, ultimately, inscrutable.