The Chainsmokers: How Did We Get Here

Drew Taggart and Alex Pall. These two make up the musical juggernaut and It group of the moment, The Chainsmokers. They’ve done what no group has been able to do in recent years. Take an ear for semi-catchy and biting melodies and stab it repeatedly until it produced their latest EP, Memories…Do Not Open. The title a fitting warning considering actually listening to one of these tracks strangles any good memories you had of The Chainsmokers.

The album, as many have noticed, consists of 12 bastardized versions of one of their hit songs. Despite this abortion of an EP, fans still love them and their shows still sell out. Is this a case of musical Stockholm Syndrome? After “Closer” and “Roses,” have people been conditioned to just accept whatever The Chainsmokers put out in hopes that “it’ll get better?” Are The Chainsmokers holding their fans musically hostage?


When they first formed, The Chainsmokers weren’t fully the Chainsmokers. They consisted of Pall and DJ Rhett Bixler. Only in 2012, when Pall was introduced to Taggart because Bixler was exiting, did The Chainsmokers become the unapologetic frat EDM duo everyone “OMG! Luvs!”

At first, Pall and Taggart released no original music, only remixes of indie tracks. Remixes like the one they did of “Dreaming” by Smallpools.

And “Trying to be Cool” by Phoenix.

And “Sleep Alone” by Two Door Cinema Club.


Amazing as the remixes were, they were just that. Remixes. You can only make those for so long until you want to birth your own sound. Which they did. The malformed child that slithered out of their brain lead to their first breakthrough, “#Selfie,” a 2013/2014 track dripping in satire that charted internationally. It ironically became the anthem for frats and sororities across the globe.

Of course, they would still release stellar remixes like my personal favorite, their remix of Neon Tree’s “Sleeping With a Friend”.

And “Sway” by Anna of the North.

Selling out

In May of 2014, The Chainsmokers performed “Selfie” on American Idol. It was a stereotypical push play EDM performance that was ramped up to insane levels of dorky and cringey. Soon after, they were called sellouts by just about everybody. The Chainsmokers responded in a series of tweets.

Ppl should chill and not tear down artists who on some level have found that type of financial success. There is most certainly a fine line but ppl need to relax. Quality music is quality music if money changes you then move on to someone else but don’t criticize someone for wanted a better life and maybe getting it. Or doing what they feel is best for themselves and career or fam and being a smart businessman in a capitalistic society that thrives on social Darwinism.

Is that guy not entitled to do what’s best for him. ESP if he sold you a car that drives well and got you where it needs to go. Not saying there aren’t exceptions to the rule but the dance music peanut gallery needs to slow their role and be proud of the artists that are achieving more for their genre and industry.

It’s so easy to look and the negative that no one eve bothers to think of the positive anymore… It’s easier just to throw stones and this rant isn’t about us. We are comfortable and know what we are about lots of good music, fireball and yoga pants BUT there is always this black swan vibe that descends upon dance music producers that finds success.

Take a page from bob and don’t worry be happy and sit back and enjoy the show

This was met with responses from some of EDM’s biggest producers.

Later they confessed to Forbes that their American Idol performance was a horrible idea. No, s**t. They hated it so much that they scrubbed the video from YouTube.

Riding the wave

Near the end of 2015, The Chainsmokers would release “Roses”. This would be the first in a series of singles that would propel them so far into the national consciousness that not even a lobotomy could make people forget. Each subsequent single would push their star a little higher. While “Don’t Let Me Down” was released in February 2016 to a good amount of fanfare, what really cemented their status was their next release, “Closer,” featuring Hasley. This is the song that changed everything and made them so ubiquitous even your mom would hum it while washing your kandy-stained underwear.

And everything started sucking

204 million views later, The Chainsmokers decided to not only follow a blueprint for the melody that made them famous, but that Drew, who fell in love with his own voice, would now sing everything a la Calvin Harris. It’s like they thought they discovered the EDM equivalent of the Golden Ratio. An equation that would produce hits as long as they plugged in the right notes and lyrics. But that’s not how music works.

A lackluster series of followups including “Paris” and “Something Just Like This”, which featured the most milquetoast band in the world, Coldplay, were obvious rehashes of previous hits. This all culminated into the release of their “highly anticipated” first album, Memories…Do Not Open. It sucked. Every track was like the other with slight variations. Ballads reminiscent of early 2000’s emo and the same boring themes that had been covered in their past however many singles. Their sound became so formulaic that you can write a Chainsmokers song in 5 minutes.

Despite the terrible reviews from almost every publication (that last link being the lowest user rating on Metacritic so far this year), Memories…Do Not Open still hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 200 Chart. Obviously, that was enough validation for The Chainsmokers who finally bought into their own hype.

The NY Times even asked, “How do you solve a problem like The Chainsmokers?” Dance music’s most vocal critic had an answer.

So what?

In three years, The Chainsmokers had moved from $10 “basement” shows to headlining arenas for $80 or more. It’s pretty clear they’re insistent on moving more towards mainstream pop music. And their brand is strong enough to sell out shows and get people to listen to their misguided album. I mean, if people like their music, their shows, them, who cares, right?

The Chainsmokers, probably. Fans are fickle and easily bored. Give them the same thing over and over and sooner or later they’ll latch on to the next big thing. It’s happened to everyone from Weezer (post-Pinkerton) to Rihanna to Calvin Harris who’ve all tried to chase that musical dragon.

Don’t get me wrong. This wasn’t meant to be a nerdy, pseudo-intellectual, hipster takedown of The Chainsmokers. Apart from the groany tracks from the past year, I like The Chainsmokers. Mostly because I’m super basic. But if this is the direction they’re headed, I’m jumping off the bandwagon.

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