When I was a teenager I, like many people, separated music into two categories: that which was ‘real,’ and that which was not. To be considered as belonging to the former, I thought, a song should have at least two guitars, lyrics that made at least a little bit of sense, and a complete absence of PG-13 guest rappers, floppy-haired whiners and tedious dance beats. So while I was listening to the Foo Fighters and Green Day, I avoided the songs listed in the UK Top 40 like I would avoid the people listed in the FBI’s Most Wanted list. The justifications for such a self-righteous, frankly snobby opinion were the songs that were so awful, so dreary and so entirely dislikeable that nobody could claim them to be of any worth whatsoever. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I present my final piece of evidence: #SELFIE by The Chainsmokers. I rest my case.
Of course, now that I’m a bit older and a bit less obnoxious I’ve come to like listening to pop music on the radio, which is where I first heard this week’s Number 1 single, Closer - also by The Chainsmokers (and Halsey). Now, this descendant of a thoroughly rotten ancestor isn’t as bad as I thought it would be. It is a typical pop song that features keyboard loops, a drum machine, catchy repetitive choruses, a guest singer of the opposite sex to break things up a bit, and themes of sex and alcohol. Its most-repeated line is “We ain’t ever getting older”, which is either aimed at nostalgic overworked parents who sit with screaming infants and wonder how it came to this, or the happy-go-lucky teenagers frequently depicted on the Disney Channel. My guess is the latter; after all, popular music and the charts are something young people in this country can actually have a say in. There is a summery, free-from-all-responsibilities-but-full-of-angst-anyway vibe going on here which is in keeping with many songs that have recently topped the charts.
Indeed, the song isn’t that different from One Dance or Cold Water. Its main appeal is its familiar reassuring feel, which comes from a lack of real substance. The whole idea of being a young attractive person who runs away from their current location with another young attractive person to find a quiet place is something most teenagers are either used to doing, or told they should be doing by songs like this. It’s a pretty relatable image; unlike that of the “stolen mattress from Boulder” or the “biting of tattoo on the girl’s shoulder” - my favourite use of the random-words-that-happen-to-rhyme technique in recent memory. However, making weird new images isn’t the same as producing new music and this song isn’t really new in any way. It’s generic, vapid and a bit devoid of anything interesting. That’s not to say it’s all bad: it’s easy to listen to, with its dance music-driven chorus, slow tempo and softly-spoken melodic voices making it a shoo-in for Spotify’s 4am Comedown playlist - that is, if it’s not already there. It essentially does nothing; but it’s not Tupac or Bob Dylan, it’s not meant to have an ulterior motive or a hidden meaning. It’s just a pop song, intended to be catchy and do well in the charts. And by those criteria, it’s a pretty good song.