The Chainsmokers Demonstrate How Not to Do Pop

Like Donald Trump, The Chainsmokers apparently acquired more power than they expected, and are now trying to pretend that everything is under control

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The Chainsmokers.
The Chainsmokers.Credit:

In 2012, two aliens landed on our planet, having been given the mission of their lives: to infiltrate the world’s most influential music industry and go as far as they could within it. Following a wearying training period, in which they conducted comprehensive studies of humankind, the history of music and pop culture, the moment of truth arrived. The aliens lit out for New York and chose a pseudonym: The Chainsmokers.

The duo, who avidly read every esoteric blog and music magazine they encountered, reached the logical conclusion that the person closest to God at that time was someone known to the natives as a DJ in the rising EDM genre. The two thereupon launched their journey toward world domination, aka YouTube views.

Five years went by. The Chainsmokers – Andrew Taggart and Alex Pall – proved themselves to be outstanding at blending in. They broke records, topped the charts, even won a Grammy. Last month they finally released their debut album – which really does sound like something an alien might think humans would like.

With its unbearable title, “Memories Do Not Open,” the album is a thousand light years away from the intensive electronic dance music that identified the duo when they first started out. Apparently their radar signaled that Skrillex was washed up, so they veered toward doleful electronic pop with forays into flaccid synth. Making a beeline for popular taste, the Chainsmokers have lost all their distinctive sting and now exemplify everything that pop must never be: weak, unmemorable, rhythmless and blatantly unsexy.

Bad check

A bit like like Donald Trump, the duo apparently acquired more power than they expected, and are now trying to pretend that everything is under control. Yet, their music creates a picture of particularly untalented guys who are holding a bad check. When the track “Something Just Like This” came on, with the voice of Chris Martin (the song is a collaboration with the rock band Coldplay), I breathed a sigh of relief. Okay, Martin too is a disappointing artist, but at least he has charisma and had the common decency to release a few good things before becoming an anemic version of himself.

The album’s major sin lies in its supreme effort to be something, to seize some sort of moment of time. The word “fuck” is relentlessly bandied about in all its inflections, the songs tell about love that only death will conquer, and everyone is always drunk, young and consumed by regret. Too bad the result is ultra-generic, a product that was engineered by a not very sophisticated app generator.

It’s not clear whether out of arrogance or stupidity, but The Chainsmokers decided not to include their megahit from last summer, “Closer,” on the album. Pity. It too was hardly the epitome of brilliance, but at least it had a core of energy, a sense of direction. It was an effective earworm that marked the duo as the future of the pop world. Now it feels as though they are barely its past. Congrats, Chainsmokers, you can head back to your planet without anyone noticing that you’ve disappeared.