photo by Eyeh8flesh/Flickr Creative Commons License.
Hear this: A deep, repeating synthpop bassline, interrupted by the occasional stuttering arpeggiation; a multi-processed and thoroughly filtered vocal track, occasionally chopped up so as to assimilate the human element into the electronic formula; and then, the chorus: a pulsing, relentless kick-drum interchange (130 bpm, give or take) with a now elevated and distorted bassline, the repetition of six words, and a lazy guitar riff.
If you can guess which pop song crafted in the last few years this description refers to, you’re probably Scott Storch and you composed it in 10 minutes for $50,000.
While the media fumbled over the factors contributing to the 2000s decline of music industry giants, A&R types fled from the sober-zones of computers, radios, and TV sets and rediscovered their core consumers: drunk people at the clubs and in the bars – party people with no patience or understanding for the traditional album format. The single was the name of the game, but the single had to be hot shit and there had to be a follow-up when listeners tired of the first go-around. Looking at albums like Britney Spear’s 1999 …Baby One More Time, which was about 80% filler and 20% pop gold, it’s hard to imagine that as a viable model in today’s market.
This creeping recovery of mainstream music wears its strategy on its sleeve, pumping out two models over the past six or so years: saccharine, almost moribund pop-rap like Eminem and Royce Da 5’9”’s “Lighters” and techno-rap party anthems like Pitbull, Ne-yo, and Afrojack’s “Give Me Everything”. In the middle of these two mood setters are songs like Katy Perry’s sentimental party anthems “I’m on the Edge” and “Firework,” which seem to have both been crafted with an end-of-the-night slot in mind, and Miley Cyrus’ “Party in the U.S.A.,” a song that’s about as self-referential and definitive of the pop era as Britney Spears’ “Toxic” in 2003, whose formula propelled pop back into the clubs after a dry spell in the early part of the decade.
In the song crafted by Dr. Luke (a 20 time Billboard #1 hit maker) Cyrus, who has been handled much better than her Disney-turned-pop star predecessor, hears one of Spears’ songs and immediately sheds any anxiety felt from her introduction into the lion’s den of Hollywood super stardom. That the song was powerful enough to eclipse all the other connections Cyrus might have made in hearing Britney Spears shows the inimitable force of the modern party anthem as well as the lack of importance these pop performers actually have in what’s blaring out of night clubs.
This era of party anthem music, where direct references to partying, weekends, and getting black out with your breasts out as subjects for song material has been a long time coming. Along with Journey’s return to pop-consciousness, which made every kid born after its initial relevance feel somehow at home in the 80s, R. Kelly played around in the club, 50 Cent poppified Biggie Smalls, and rap music realized certain non-believers were more inclined to listen up as long as nothing too thoughtful was present in the subject matter.
Millenials grew up dancing to, despising, or secretly admiring the innocuous grooves of Will Smith, Spice Girls, N’Sync, and of course Britney Spears, all while Generation X was raving and tripping balls to house, techno, and other skinny imports from the UK’s trance scene. Now that the first wave of Millenials has grown a bit (at least in stature), acquired the license to drink and to club with little abandon (and fewer jobs), the mixture of rave, pop, and hip-hop is a logical, almost mathematical conclusion drawn up by master hit producers like Max Martin, Scott Storch, will.i.am, Timbaland and offshoots like The-Dream, Pharrell, and Stargate. The party anthem within a party anthem is the meta-dreamworld of pop music’s socially accepted explosion in the 50s and 60s, taking the original purpose of the pop engine and shoving it in listeners’ faces without any hesitation.
The closest inspiration to today’s current iteration of at-the-party music comes straight out of early 90s mafia rap, where Wu-Tang, Biggie, and Tupac depicted the party with images of bubbly, sensimilia, and a touch of misogyny – but let’s not hold it against them too much; it’s what we call “descriptive” rap. Unbeknownst to BIG and RZA, though, rap’s depictions of the pain-to-pleasure seesaw of the lives that inspired the music would be rebranded several years later to a larger population that was once scared shitless by the rawness of rap music.
Sure, Puff Daddy and Jay-Z had their anthems like “Hypnotize” and “Big Pimpin,” which had clubs in mind during production, but the in-the-club narrative wouldn’t blow up in the world’s face until 50 Cent emerged as its pop liaison. 50 Cent, or the Carlos Mencia of Rap Music, discovered that though an inauthentic style makes enemies out of your more artistic peers, respect in the rap game pales in comparison to the cash rewards of a more market-catered product. That 50 was so unashamed of his position, calling out living legends like Ghostface Killah and Jay-Z, spoke to the hold that the pop engine had on his ego and opened him up to a world of hurt when less commercially ingratiating emcees volunteered their mic time to shit on his reputation. But the seed was planted, and in 2009, Asher Roth’s (whose, LOL, biggest inspiration is Jay-Z’s “Hard Knock Life”) “I Love College” was both the zenith and nadir of rap-centric party anthems.
The silliness of the party anthem leaves plenty of room for satire, which LMFAO nailed on “Party Rock Anthem” and Rad Omen played with in the video for “Rad Anthem.” With rap music surviving on mixtape circuits and the legacy, sequels, and re-release markets, techno and electronic music still have an overwhelming Euro audience and a big enough American following in the clubs. Pop’s place is in the club, advertising itself as if it’s afraid of a takeover by some encroaching genre, giving partiers a place to call home and a soundtrack that matches their experience. According to the charts, this is a party, this is a disco, and we most definitely are fooling around.
Article by: Jakob Schnaidt