Two years ago, a DJ duo called the Chainsmokers came blasting out of the gate with “#SELFIE,” a soulless electro-house meme-song that soared to #16 on Billboard’s Hot 100 singles chart and inspired many discerning listeners to write them off as godawful sub-LMFAO shit merchants. “#SELFIE” was an avatar for everything despicable about modern electronic music.
Andrew Taggart and Alex Pall followed their breakthrough hit with a SirenxXX collaboration called “Kanye,” which seemed just as craven on first glance; if there’s a word in the English language as trending-topical as “#SELFIE,” it’s “Kanye.” But upon actually listening, “Kanye” was a marked improvement, trading out the vapid voiceovers of “#SELFIE” for a super-catchy hook and a message of self-affirmation: “I wanna be like Kanye/ I’ll be the king of me always.” Then came “Let You Go” with the band Great Good Fine OK, a perfectly competent pop-rock ballad disguised as a smoldering EDM track. That one didn’t even require a gimmicky title to get its point across.
You’d be forgiven for not noticing this artistic progression because “Kanye” and “Let You Go” made progressively lesser cultural impact, so much so that by the time the Chainsmokers got back to sucking with “Good Intentions,” I’m not sure anyone noticed. I didn’t even realize that song existed before today. More to the point, you’d be forgiven for not noticing the duo’s sneaky improvement because “#SELFIE” is the kind of song that allows, even demands tuning out a musician’s output for the foreseeable future. A song that bad is its own kind of quality control filter: This river is polluted today, and it will probably be polluted for a long time, so don’t even bother looking for refreshment here. The Chainsmokers might as well fuck off forever.
Then they released “Roses.”
“Roses” is so good. “Roses” was easily one of the 10 best pop songs of last year, and really it might have been one of last year’s 10 best songs period. In terms of pure sonic gratification, it’s the shit — this shimmering, burbling, sighing singsong fleeced out with delicate keyboard curlicues, a flirtatious banger that builds to your usual EDM breaking point and, where many interchangeable trash productions would hit you with a sledgehammer drop, instead flips the beat upside down into this otherworldly floating groove. Rozes, the singer who lends her voice and her name to the track, gets infinite mileage out of simple wordless melodies. If “We Found Love” is the anthem that kicked off mainstream pop’s electronic dance explosion, “Roses” — every bit the equal to “We Found Love,” come fight me — is the song that ushers that era out on a high note.
This did not compute. Here were these EDM bros who made their name on big, dumb, corny, offensive untz-untz music delivering a transcendent moment of pop perfection. It was like Long John Silver’s had suddenly served up five-star gourmet scallops delicious enough to make Tom Colicchio smile for once. It made me reevaluate everything, even “#SELFIE,” which in light of the Chainsmokers’ recent brilliance suddenly could almost pass for a winking parody of EDM excess — almost. Whether or not there’s some clever scene commentary going on, “#SELFIE” is still terrible. The Chainsmokers themselves, though? Not necessarily terrible.
“Roses” is just now peaking in the public consciousness. The song enjoyed slow-build success throughout 2015 thanks in part to repeated endorsements from Justin Bieber, the guy who basically willed “Call Me Maybe” into radio rotation. A few weeks back it arrived in the top 10, surpassing “#SELFIE” as the Chainsmokers’ highest-charting single. It’s the most current Chainsmokers track in a sense, but it’s hardly the most recent. In the months since “Roses” dropped, Taggart and Pall have steadily released new singles, none of which have lived up to “Roses.” “Waterbed“? Meh. “Split (Only U)“? Blech. “Until You Were Gone“? Decent, I guess. “New York City“? It’s certainly passable!
Not until the duo’s latest offering, the Daya-featuring “Don’t Let Me Down,” have they delivered another track that doesn’t let me down. That one features a more conventional build-drop construction but still manages to find an unusual route to the pleasure receptors, seamlessly shifting from a submerged guitar-pop ballad into a harsh landscape of booming bass and snarling Medusa-head synths. Like Rozes before her, Daya sells every lyric, lending the track a sassy charisma and believable pathos. It might not be a miraculous “Roses”-level world-beater, but it’s a winner, good enough to keep me checking for whatever the Chainsmokers churn out next. Given where they started two years ago, that sustained anticipation is its own kind of minor miracle.
The biggest chart story of the week is Rihanna and Drake’s “Work” shooting up to #1 on the Hot 100 singles chart. That makes 14 #1 hits for Rihanna, moving her past Michael Jackson for third on the all-time list; only Mariah Carey (18) and the Beatles (20) have more. “Work” also becomes Drake’s second #1 following his appearance on Rihanna’s 2010 chart-topper “What’s My Name?” Is appearing on Rihanna songs the only way he can reach #1? (Remember, all the hubbub about “Hotline Bling” was about Drake getting to #1 as a lead artist.) Intriguingly, Billboard also reports that by grabbing the baton from Justin Bieber’s “Sorry,” “Work” cements a record nine straight Hot 100 #1s by non-U.S. artists, a streak that dates back 33 weeks (also a record) to the end of Wiz Khalifa and Charlie Puth’s impressive/depressing run with “See You Again” last summer. (The other acts who’ve topped the Hot 100 during that interim include OMI, the Weeknd, Adele, and ZAYN.) And given that “Work” hit #1 before its pair of music videos came out Monday, I’d expect it to stay on top for at least another week.
The rest of the top 10 is more or less static from last week other than the inclusion of Joe Jonas’ new band DNCE at #10 with “Cake By The Ocean.” Billboard notes that this gives Jonas the unusual distinction of scoring top 10 hits solo and with two separate bands; before this, Jonas Brothers had two top-10 hits in 2008, and Jonas’ duet with Demi Lovato “This Is Me” hit #9 in 2009. He joins the likes of Jimmy Page, Paul McCartney, and Donny Osmond.
It’s a quiet week on the Billboard 200 albums chart, with Adele’s 25 and Bieber’s Purpose sliding back to #1 and #2 respectively in the absence of any blockbuster debuts. Although to be fair, there’s nothing quiet about Adele moving 151,000 units in her 13th week on the chart; most first-week #1s can’t even pull down those numbers! And Bieber’s 84,000 units aren’t too shabby either for an album 14 frames deep. After Rihanna’s ANTI (#3, 79,000 units) comes the week’s only top-10 debut, country duo Joey + Rory’s Hymns at #4 with 70,000 units (68,000 in pure sales).
There’s also the weird case of not one but two EDM covers of Tracy Chapman’s 1989 folk hit “Fast Car” climbing the charts right now. Billboard reports that London producer Jonas Blue’s tropical house cover (featuring Dakota) places on the Dance Club Songs and Hot Dance/Electronic Songs charts, while Swedish remixer TobTok’s airy pop remake is making chart moves internationally. Artists seem to love appropriating “Fast Car”; remember when Gabrielle and Nice N Smooth worked the song into hits of their own?
The Knocks – “Love Me Like That” (Feat. Carly Rae Jepsen)
NYC production duo the Knocks first approached the music of Carly Rae Jepsen via remix — in this case, a bootleg of E•MO•TION ballad “All That” — before actually collaborating with her on a song. That song is “Love Me Like That,” which doesn’t rank among the elite CRJ tracks but is at least better than the E•MO•TION outtakes that leaked a few weeks back.
Tove Lo – “Scars”
I’m all about Tove Lo, but this Allegiant soundtrack single is so much more of a soundtrack song than a Tove Lo song, know what I mean? I’ll just wait for the official Queen Of The Clouds followup.
Ellie Goulding – “Here’s To Us”
This soundtrack track, on the other hand, is a fairly impressive Ellie Goulding single — maybe because it’s from the Girls soundtrack, which is almost assuredly overseen by someone with decent taste. Goulding’s voice maintains its signature android-sleek quality here while still communicating actual emotion. It’s miles better than most of her new album.
Icona Pop – “Someone Who Can Dance”
At long last, here’s a new Icona Pop song I can imagine rising to the level of “I Love It.” The production could almost be Factory Floor, and the vocals are wild and raw.
Charlie Puth – “Suffer (Vince Staples & AndreaLo Remix)”
NEWS IN BRIEF
- Zayn Malik denies ripping off Lil Wayne’s album cover concept. [Billboard]
- Ariana Grande changed her new album title from Moonlight to Dangerous Woman. [EW]
- Britney Spears’ new album is reportedly 80% done and sounds like the Weeknd. [Digital Spy]
- Britney also met Hillary Clinton, but deleted her initial endorsement from Instagram. [Daily Mail]
- Speaking of Hillary, Katy Perry has been accused of being paid to endorse her. [Gawker]
- And speaking of Perry: Is she actually JonBenét Ramsey? [Kernel]
- Even Baauer acknowledges that “Harlem Shake” became “corny and annoying.” [Rolling Stone]
- After many years of dating, Paramore’s Hayley Williams married New Found Glory’s Chad Gilbert. [Twitter]
- Nick Jonas completed recording his new album. [Instagram]
- Christina Aguilera has recorded a singing lesson for MasterClass, a new startup that lets you watch an instructional video from a celebrity for $90. [YouTube]
- A St. Louis woman got seven years in prison for killing her brother because he criticized Nicki Minaj. [STL Today]
- Lana Del Rey won Female Artist Of The Year at the 2016 Elle Style Awards. [Just Jared]
- Here’s a pre-fame Halsley singing Blink-182 in a Philadelphia mall. [Twitter]
- Fifth Harmony announced their new album 7/27 drops 5/20. First single “Work From Home” is out tomorrow. [Twitter]
- Bill Gates responded to Beyoncé’s “Formation” name-drop. [Wired]
- Adam Levine’s back tat is complete. [Instagram]
HOLD ON, WE’RE GOING HOME
Halsey has publicly begged her fans to not be mean to her anymore… pic.twitter.com/eV6x6IOxhp
— Music's Rebellion (@MusicsRebellion) February 25, 2016