When did you realize the Chainsmokers were music’s biggest breakout stars of 2016?
Was it when “Closer,” the production duo’s collaboration with budding alt-pop superstar Halsey, debuted as their third top-10 smash of the year following “Roses” and “Don’t Let Me Down”? When “Closer” became their first chart-topping hit? When the song stayed at #1 even after the Chainsmokers and Halsey’s VMAs performance landed like a turd in the toilet bowl? When an interview touching on said performance revealed Chainsmokers members Alex Pall and Andrew Taggart to be the kind of endlessly quotable douchebags who tend to monopolize the media’s attention? Or was it this week, when “Closer” logged its 11th week atop Billboard’s Hot 100, surpassing Drake’s “One Dance” to become the year’s longest-reigning #1?
Maybe you still weren’t aware until this moment, but it’s true: The Chainsmokers are ruling pop in 2016. With nothing but a string of increasingly popular singles — some of which are collected on tomorrow’s Collage “EP bundle” — they’ve become the the most powerful brand name in a pop radio landscape dominated by producers. In part that’s because their shamelessly crass “frat bro” persona strikes a chord, but mostly it’s because they seem to understand the music business better than anybody else.
I want to tell you these guys are to music what Donald Trump is to politics and that they’ve risen to power by similar means, but that’s not exactly right. Certainly their bold embrace of tastelessness and borderline-misogynistic interviews rankle a predominantly PC music press in a way that parallels Trump’s offensive shtick, and like Trump they’re boorish privileged white dudes who like to boast about their penis size and rhapsodize about “pussy.” In fairness to the Chainsmokers, though, as far as we know they’re just party boys who like to run their mouths and engage in juvenile pranks, versus Trump, who is facing countless allegations of financial corruption and sexual assault. And unlike Trump, the Chainsmokers can back up their big talk with demonstrable success in their field. Their polarizing personalities were merely the exclamation point on their mainstream takeover; nobody knew who they were until the media went scrambling to meet the men behind the hits.
And really, the hits are what did it. The Chainsmokers became pop royalty the same way anybody else does, by making songs people like. They developed into savvy songwriters; they evolved their style to take advantage of electronic pop’s move toward a softer, easy listening aesthetic, making a Das Racist-like leap from novelty to (relative) substance; they smartly linked up with rising stars like Halsey and Daya; they meticulously studied the numbers, telling Billboard, “We know every metric about our music. About our shows. We read every tweet. Every comment on Instagram and Facebook. We see everything.” (Hi, Chainsmokers!)
Quotes like that led Billboard to dub Pall and Taggart music’s first tech bros. If so, they’re pushing a product people actually want, one that dresses up pop fundamentals in the sounds of the moment. “Roses” won me over with its shimmering synths and casually gorgeous vocal melodies and futuristic spring-loaded bounce; it also charmed radio programmers enough to get their foot in the door, eventually topping out at #6 on the Hot 100. “Don’t Let Me Down,” while not as revelatory as “Roses,” was yet another Eastern-tinged Rihanna reject worthy of massive chart success in the tradition of Major Lazer’s “Lean On”; that one soared to #3 and felt like the least escapable song in pop this past summer.
Then came “Closer,” a supernova that seems far from burning out. It’s the most statistically dominant single of the year, one of only 21 songs to ever last 11 weeks at #1, and the most viable contender to surpass Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men’s record of 16 weeks at #1 since “Uptown Funk!” Hate it or love it, it has become one of the biggest hits in recorded music history.
How? Certainly “Closer” benefitted from the Chainsmokers’ upward momentum, standing on the shoulders of their prior hits; that kind of cumulative advantage is a basic fact of pop stardom. But the song is also an irresistible cocktail of on-trend sonics and timeless tropes. Every beat lands with physical impact — gently during the verses, viscerally on the chorus. The melodies are easy to latch onto and impossible to forget. The public’s appetite for guy-girl duets dates back to before rock ‘n’ roll, and our collective taste for wistful romantic stories predates the printing press.
“Closer” weaves together those strands of universal appeal with thoroughly modern production and shades the edges with a distinctly millennial nostalgic melancholy. It all feels scientifically engineered to ride the zeitgeist, to feel small and personal enough while sounding humongous on quality speakers. Drake and Taylor Swift, the two biggest stars in music today, are rumored to be collaborating, but the Chainsmokers and Halsey may have beaten them to the punch; it’s hard to imagine a more successful convergence of their styles than “Closer.”
The big question now is whether the Chainsmokers can keep up this run. Pall and Taggert will likely never release another single as successful as “Closer,” and their new Phoebe Ryan collaboration “All We Know” — a midtempo love ballad that hews a little too close to the “Closer” template — has been steadily declining since its #18 debut last month. Still, given that they’ve already proven their knack for navigating the industry several times over, I wouldn’t bet against the Chainsmokers. Maybe “Setting Fires,” the new song leading off tomorrow’s Collage EP, will take off. Maybe they’ll regroup for a few months and surge back in 2017 with a can’t-miss single. Maybe they’ll disappear into the background, writing and producing for other artists. Or maybe they’ll start dating celebrities and transition into the only field more attuned to their skill set than music: reality TV.
As noted above, with its 11th week atop the Billboard Hot 100, the Chainsmokers and Halsey’s “Closer” has surpassed Drake’s “One Dance” to become the longest-tenured #1 hit of 2016. Per Billboard, “Closer” is one of only 21 songs to ever last 11 weeks at #1, and its reign is the longest since Wiz Khalifa and Charlie Puth’s “See You Again” spent 12 weeks on top last year.
Spots 2-6 also remain stagnant from last week: the Weeknd’s “Starboy,” Twenty One Pilots’ “Heathens,” DJ Snake and Justin Bieber’s “Let Me Love You,” D.R.A.M. and Lil Yachty’s “Broccoli,” and Bruno Mars’ “24K Magic.” Up one spot to a new #7 peak is Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj’s “Side To Side,” followed by Major Lazer/Bieber/MØ’s “Cold Water” at #8. The biggest non-Chainsmokers news in the top 10 is the arrival of Zay Hilfigerrr and Zayion McCall’s dance hit “Juju On That Beat (TZ Anthem)” at #9. And gnash and Olivia O’Brien’s “i hate u, i love u” returns to its #10 peak.
Over on the Billboard 200 albums chart, Lady Gaga’s Joanne enters at #1 with 201,000 equivalent units (the fourth best debut of the year) and 170,000 album sales, suggesting the album is not as much of a flop as I thought. (Still hasn’t produced a hit single, though!) Billboard notes that it’s Gaga’s fourth #1 album following the Tony Bennett collaboration Cheek To Cheek (2014), Artpop (2013) and Born This Way (2011), passing Beyoncé and Taylor Swift for the most #1 albums by a woman this decade. (Among men, Drake and Justin Bieber each have six #1 albums, while One Direction and Kanye West both have four.)
Six more albums debuted in the top 10 this week. Michael Buble’s Nobody But Me is at #2 with 91,000 units/85,000 sales, Pentatonix’s A Pentatonix Christmas begins at #3 with 60,000/52,000, and Korn’s The Serenity Of Suffering starts at #4 with 57,000/55,000. Billboard notes that this is the first time since last December that all four of the top albums are debuts. After Drake’s Views at #5 comes Chris Tomlin’s Never Lose Sight at #6 with 34,000/32,000. Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s The Ghosts Of Christmas Eve enters at #9 with 27,000 units, almost all of them from sales. And Leonard Cohen’s You Want It Darker debuts at #10 with 25,000/24,000. (Last week’s #1, Kings Of Leon’s Walls, is all the way down at #20 this week.)
Little Big Town – “Better Man”
This single by adventurous and talented country group Little Big Town was secretly penned by Taylor Swift. It’s an OK song, but it makes me glad Swift was not content to stick with straitlaced country fare.
DNCE – “Blown” (Feat. Kent Jones)
So DNCE are the new Smash Mouth?
Little Mix – “You Gotta Not”
This was written by Meghan Trainor, and accordingly, it’s a lot more annoying than Little Mix’s prior single “Shout To My Ex.” It’s every bit as catchy, though — there’s a reason Trainor has not gone away.
gnash – “home” (Feat. Johnny Yukon)
Get this post-Macklemore dreck out of my ears right now!
Charlie Puth – “Dangerously”
Actually, if you want to queue that gnash song back up, that would be OK.
NEWS IN BRIEF
- Justin Timberlake talked a little bit about his next album: “I wouldn’t say [my new material] is the antithesis of 20/20, but it does sound more singular. If 20/20 sounded like it literally surrounds your entire head, this stuff feels more like it just punches you between the eyes.” [Variety]
- Here’s a quote from Beyoncé in Vanity Fair’s new Adele cover story: “It is so easy to talk to her and be around her. She’s funny as hell and her comebacks are legendary.” Her comebacks are legendary! [Vanity Fair]
- Drake will appear in David Blaine’s upcoming ABC special Beyond Magic. [Twitter]
- The Weeknd announced a 2017 world tour. [Twitter]
- The Weeknd also announced an upcoming collaboration with H&M. [Instagram]
- One more Weeknd thing: Along with Lady Gaga and Bruno Mars, he’ll perform at this year’s Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, where new VS Angel Jasmine Tookes will wear the Bright Night Fantasy Bra covered in $3 million of jewels. [Billboard]
- Jennifer Lopez will star in NBC’s next live musical Bye Bye Birdie Live!. [Vulture]
- Fetty Wap is being sued by rapper P-Nice, who claims he helped write “679.” [TMZ]
- Chris Brown dropped a new mixtape, Attack The Block. [Twitter]
- Katy Perry was Hillary Clinton for Halloween. [Instagram]
- Taylor Swift filmed a commercial … for something! [Instagram]
- Relatedly, Taylor Swift topped Forbes’ list of the highest paid women in music. [Reuters]
- Kelly Clarkson covered “Chandelier” in a Sia wig for Halloween. [Facebook]
- Diplo says new Major Lazer is coming in January. [Twitter]
- Diplo also explained why he agreed to work with Justin Bieber back in 2013: “If I make a record that makes people think that Justin Bieber is cool and makes them dance to it — which seems to be one of the most daunting tasks ever — then maybe people will rethink the way they think about music.” [The Fader]
- As for Bieber, he settled a lawsuit from a Miami paparazzo who claimed the pop star’s boydguard beat him up in a Subway. [TMZ]
- In a stroke of marketing genius, Lil Yachty has partnered with Nautica on a clothing collection for Urban Outfitters. [Billboard]
- Yachty also had an exhausting beef with Soulja Boy over India Love. [HipHopDX]
- Hilary Duff apologized for her and her boyfriend’s “Native American and pilgrim” Halloween costumes. [Twitter]
- Twenty One Pilots announced a vinyl-only triple live album, out later this month. [Twenty One Pilots]
- Bono is the first man to be named in Glamour Magazine’s annual Women Of The Year list, as Man Of The Year. [Glamour]
- A Pentatonix Christmas Special, featuring special guests Reba McEntire and Kelly Clarkson, airs on NBC 12/14. [Deadline]
- At an 11/16 event Aloe Blacc, Corinne Bailey Rae, JoJo, Esperanza Spalding, and Joe Walsh will pay tribute to Smokey Robinson, who’s receiving this year’s Library Of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song. [Billboard]
- Universal Music Publishing Group won the exclusive rights to administer Prince’s catalog. [Star Tribune]
- Vince Gill, Ben Haggard, Roy Clark, Brad Paisley, Carrie Underwood, Charlie Daniels, Dwight Yoakam, Charley Pride, Reba McEntire, Alabama, Ricky Skaggs, Alan Jackson, Clint Black, and Randy Travis performed an all-star medley to open the 50th annual CMAs Wednesday night. [Taste Of Country]
- Demi Lovato and Sylvester Stallone boxed at Unbreakable gym in LA. [TMZ]
- Mariah Carey will perform at the VH1 Divas Holiday concert taping in Brooklyn next month. WONDER WHAT SHE’LL SING. [Salon]