If you’re reading this you probably heard the horrendous atrocity that was “#Selfie,” a viral success song from 2014 by EDM duo The Chainsmokers. These guys were completely unknown before this, but boy did this absolute waste of time give them fame. It was vapid, pandering, obnoxious, and everything else the name of the song might make you assume it would be. Some excuse this song as a joke, but it was far from funny. Ironically the song made me think that the career of Andrew Taggert and Alex Pall would be just that: A joke.
Boy was I wrong. They continued producing mediocre music, some of which charted on the US Dance charts. Mid-way through 2015 gave them another hit in their song “Roses” featuring an artist called ROZES. Original, right? Want to know what else was original? If you guessed the song, you’d be very wrong. It was really generic EDM that’s production sounded like it was from 2013, but most of all it was boring. ROZES’s voice was uninspiring at best and the beat lacked any punch at all. And this song peaked at number 6 on the Billboard Top 100, which still baffles me because of how forgettable the song was. I didn’t even remember it until I looked up The Chainsmokers’ discography, saw this song, listened to it, and went “Oh yeah that was a thing.” After that, they faded back into obscurity for a while.
By “a while,” I meant until the next summer. This year these guys had an even bigger hit in “Don’t Let Me Down.” I can say nothing but positive things about that song. I talked about it briefly in my ranking of the Billboard Top 20 for the week of August 13th, and everything I said still stands. The guest singer, Daya, carries the song with a believable and great performance over one of the best beats I’ve heard this year. When I saw that they had a new single out titled “Closer” featuring an artist I had never heard of before, I was certainly excited. Even when I found out it was heavily inspired by mega-emo song “I Miss You” by Blink-182 I was still excited (albeit less so.)
Even with my heightened expectations this song managed to surprise me(in a good way) for a variety of reasons. For one, it is by no means a dance song. It’s an emotional synth ballad that carries genuine feelings and not the emo-melodrama that it’s inspiration might have you think. This isn’t an objective positive to the song, but I like that fact so much. I like it because it shows versatility in the Chainsmoker’s to create different types of music. It’s still electronic music through and through, filled with intriguing synth and effective drum machines, but it’s not something you’ll being hearing in clubs any time soon.
Perhaps the biggest surprise to me was the vocals. With Daya’s powerhouse performance in “Don’t Let Me Down,” I expected Halsey to be another fantastic, loud, and emotionally dominant performer. And she is. Not as dramatic or bombastic as Daya, but she arguably portrays emotion in her vocals even better. She sounds in love. “With who?” you may ask. Why with the male vocalist on the song: Andrew Taggart! Yes, one of the Chainsmokers sang on this song, something that is shockingly uncommon. I can’t think of other popular music producers besides Avicii and maybe Calvin Harris that does this, but the Chainsmokers decided to for the first time in their discography. Taggart by no mean does an outstanding job, but he does a serviceable job by carrying emotion in his voice and not trying to do anything incredible.
The lyrics are some of the best I’ve heard in a long time from popular music. They tell an incredible and realistic story of two ex-lovers reigniting the flame of love. This is far from a new topic, but what puts these lyrics at the top of the pack is the detail of them. They show you not only the details of their relationship but also the two’s lives. We know they likely met or had significant memories in Tuscon that involve a Blink-182 song (a nice nod to the song’s inspiration), we know that the girl is rather poor and had to steal a mattress from her roommate, and most importantly we know how much Halsey and Taggart need each other. The song’s hook is almost entirely expositional gold but still manages to have a repeated sentiment in “We ain’t ever getting older” that not only baits casual listeners to have something to remember but also truly caps off the songs meaning. Heres a link to the song’s lyrics. Just read how honestly perfect they are. The fact that Halsey and Taggart pull them off is honestly impressive.
The arrangement of this song is probably the best part about this song, but it’s simultaneously the worst part about the song. This is due to the disconnect between the song’s drop and it’s verses/hook. The production on the verses and the hook is simply sublime as it creates an atmosphere. It uses subtle synth textures and lyrical interest (which we’ll get to) to add to the primary piano chords and synth lines which creates an emotional atmosphere that drags you into the vocals. The percussion isn’t exactly subtle, but it’s far from overwhelming which makes it so it works as simple transitional tools that adds to the song. The beat makes this song work so well. So why does the drop feel out of place? It’s simple: It loses the song’s emotional core and feels empty. All the interesting textures and subtle instrumentation is gone in lieu of a loud synth line and the occasional generic violin chords. It’s by no means an awful drop, but certainly detracts from the song especially since it had so much potential. The end of the song repeats the drop with added textures and shows you how good the drop could have been.
Scratch what I said before: The best part about this song is that it sounds nothing like “I Miss You.” That song is melodramatic, overproduced, and the farthest thing from genuine there is. “Closer” on the other hand has great production (save for the emptiness of the drop), perfection in lyrics, and great vocal performances that tie the song together. I’m amazed something this good could really be on the charts. I almost want to say it’s the best song from the charts all year. I’m not going to say it’s my favorite simply due to the personal connection I have with “Ride” by twenty one pilots, but this song hits so many great notes that it overcomes the slight flaws and turns into pop greatness. Keep it up Chainsmokers, inspire other EDM producers to make this level of quality music.
Also, seriously read the lyrics again. THIS is how you write a song.