If you don’t know the name by now, where have you been for the last two years? In late 2013, New York DJs Andrew Taggart and Alex Pall, aka The Chainsmokers, produced a satirical song entitled #SELFIE as a way to poke fun at today’s self-absorbed youth and to parody Miami’s LIV Nightclub culture. The track took on a life of its own and went viral in early 2014 after Steve Aoki discovered it and re-released it under his label Dim Mak.
How did the world of Dance Music take this release? Although admittedly catchy by some, the community tried its best to condemn the song based on the fact that it acted as a further reason for the outside world to not take our culture seriously. Miles Raymer of the Chicago Reader said the track was “garbage, paint-by-numbers EDM with all the artistic flavor of an audio software preset that makes ‘Harlem Shake’ sound like Selected Ambient Works Volume II.” However, the more the internet tried to hate on them, the bigger they got. Despite all of the negativity, the song would actually gain mainstream success and reached #16 on the overall US Billboard overall charts (the song made it to #1 on the US Billboard Dance chart).
With that kind of success, The Chainsmokers were everywhere. They got an appearance on American Idol, which really pissed off many established producers and DJs. And they had every right to be mad. These two guys came into the scene with the cheesiest song of the decade and had gotten a colossal amount of major publicity for it. Their performance consisted of hitting a single button, a lot of fist pumping, talking over the mic for pretty much the duration of the track, and running into the crowd to take selfies. They showcased what was the epitome of everything that was wrong with EDM.
While most of the Dance scene was hoping that The Chainsmokers would be a one hit wonder that would go away, they came back and released their second single, “Kanye.” Although not nearly as successful as #SELFIE, “Kanye” still grabbed the world’s attention and was dubbed as a song that was meant to inspire people to follow their own path of life, much like Kanye West does. Perhaps the most important part about “Kanye’s” release was that it differed significantly in production style than #SELFIE. While their first single was almost unoriginal in production with the typical builds and drops and big room beat, “Kanye” was a slower tune that took trap music elements and crafted them into a ballad-anthem quite nicely. On top of that, they enlisted the vocal talents of sirenxx. It showed diversity and a side of The Chainsmokers that we had never seen before.
After that, the duo managed to remain relevant with the release of “Let You Go” featuring Great Good Fine Ok in March of 2015. The track came along with a rather racy and hilarious music video featuring the two producers in the middle of a threesome with a girl and then awkwardly sharing a cab ride together in the morning. Musically, this song went back to their more progressive pop sound and was remixed and played out in many DJs sets all around the country.
Just to recap, up until this point The Chainsmokers have released several songs, but are still most notably known as the “DJs” that made “that selfie song.” Like a Miley Cyrus trying to break away from her Hannah Montana identity, The Chainsmokers were still chained to the gimmick that made them famous. Their singles following #SELFIE had each done commercially worse than the last. It was time for them to make a statement that would either establish them as serious artist, or end their 15 minutes of fame. In October of 2015, they released their first EP Bouquet, featuring five originals. Of those tracks, their single “Roses” featuring vocalist Rozes caught the attention of the mainstream world and became their biggest hit to date. So unlike #SELFIE, “Roses” was a smooth indie pop track that was catchy, had meaningful lyrics, and rhythm.
This was perhaps the turning point in public opinion of Taggart and Pall. “Roses” was their most well received song to date, by mainstream fans and dance music fans alike, and peaked at #3 on the US Billboard Mainstream Top 40 Chart. The iTunes store’s biography of The Chainsmokers said: “It’s hard to believe the group behind the garish EDM hit ‘#SELFIE’ could grow into something more solid and significant, but that’s just what happens to the Chainsmokers on the Bouquet EP, a more indie-flavored effort with some touches that are as elegant as the cover art.” The Chainsmokers themselves said perfectly, “This song represents an inherent change in the right direction. Not the beginning but the end of that transition, almost like we have finally come full circle to a place musically we are finally completely happy with a song.”
On an appearance on the Late Late Show last December, right off the bat the two are set up completely different than their Idol performance. With a full live set up, including the vocalist Rozes herself, the performers are doing much more work with this TV appearance than their last. Taggart himself even sings out the pre chorus live with Rozes, before getting back to his post and producing the track live.
So what’s next for duo? Still riding on the coat tails of the success of “Roses,” the two musicians have continued to release more singles, including the powerful “Don’t Let Me Down” and their latest, “Inside Out,” and are scheduled to release their debut full length album later this year.
Even if you still hate #SELFIE, even if you hate the way they catapulted themselves into fame, even if you think they don’t deserve any of the attention they have captured, you can’t deny the fact that Taggart and Pall actually are quite musically talented. Their unique cross-genre productions and the selective collaboration with a multitude of talented rising vocalists have finally established their intended goal of being mainstream pop music producers. Perhaps their first single was a geniously planned marketing gimmick from the beginning that they successfully executed. In a world where everyone has a DJ friend, differentiating yourself as an artist from the rest is damn near impossible. The Chainsmokers are living proof that the phrase, “All press is good press,” is true and have finally started the beginning of what is destined to be a long and successful journey in music. Looks like the real joke is on their early haters. Hate them or love them: it doesn’t matter. The Chainsmokers are here to stay.