Tuesday, August 16th, 2016

The Chainsmokers ft. Halsey – Closer

Today’s EDM-pop theme has got us feeling some emotions…


Will Rivitz: You know what? I was fully prepared to waltz on in, snark blasting at full force as is usually the wont of a Chainsmokers review (anyone remember “#Selfie?”), and I imagine many of my colleagues are doing just this. I’ve now listened to this song about twenty-five times over the course of two days, and I’m absolutely fucking hooked. It’s this perfect mix of wanderlust, fear of growing old, having to deal with the awkwardness of a once-soured love brought harshly back in a hotel bar, and a slew of other things that are all hitting me square in the gut at once. I’m 21 as of a few weeks ago, and I’m not sure whether I’m a kid or a grown-up, and I’m struggling with the fact that I’m really not ready to embrace adulthood just yet, and this song for whatever reason just gets me in a way I simply haven’t found anywhere else. The fact that everything’s wrapped up in an utterly sublime composition of snaps, synth syncopation, and that swaggering, succulent vocoder-ish lead just makes everything better. Sure, pop music is mass-marketed to hit millions of people the same way and all that, but when you’re smack in the middle of those millions you realize its power.

A.J. Cohn: Like most things, The Chainsmokers’ tracks are generally better, “#Selfie” notwithstanding, when women’s voices are foregrounded.

Patrick St. Michel: Not to say I miss the lunkheaded stabs at going viral that “#Selfie” chucked on to the world, but at least its overall trash-ness felt fleeting in a post-“Gangnam” world. As annoying as it was, you at least know it would be gone come the summer, bound to be a goofy footnote like “The Fox.” Yet The Chainsmokers’ switch to a sickly sweetness anchored by female vocalists has produced music just as bad and, critically, just more of it. At their best, they sound like a Lorde song run through an Ultra filter, while even their newer party songs sound gratingly cute. “Closer” is the most eye-rolling yet, part “By The Time I Get To Phoenix” with more mattress theft and part automobile negging, all building to a rinky-dink drop. Just throw in a few good cultural references (everyone loves Blink-182 now, better mention them) and you’re set. Give me short-lasting stupidity over slow-burning faux earnestness any day.

Will Adams: The Chainsmokers’ continued effort to distance themselves from dumb meme fare like “#Selfie” and “Kanye” in favor of sincerity still smacks of cynicism, though the results are much easier on the ears than the alternative. “Closer” almost recaptures the wistful essence of “Roses” that I loved. But the simple couch scene from “Roses,” evocative enough on its own, is hyperextended to cram in as many nostalgic and #college signifiers, which weakens the effect.

Michelle Myers: I’m not betting on Andrew Taggart’s singing career, but he is a nice foil for Halsey, who tends towards melodrama. 2016 has been a hot year for emotional festival bangers, and “Closer,” with it’s propulsive, infectious chorus, is a worthy effort in this vein.

Hannah Jocelyn: The double meaning behind “we ain’t never getting older” is actually kind of awesome — in one line both supporting Peter Pan syndrome and acknowledging the consequences of never maturing or learning from mistakes. If the rest of the song didn’t feel like they started with that line and clumsily try to work backwards (firstly, when did Blink-182 replace Radiohead as the go-to name check?), it would be even better.

Lilly Gray: Halsey and the man-voice from the Chainsmokers are a fatal combination. All the blasé summary crap I can muster is, in fact, perfect for this clumping ping-pong dentist office top 40, perfectly uninspired to the point where it seems the lyrics were culled from one of those word clouds Facebook makes out of top search terms. 

Alfred Soto: The light electronic touches, like Panko crumbs on breaded chicken, add heft and crunch to tracks this gormless but not depth, and they do nothing for the ridiculous lyrics and 1-900-SINCERE vocals.

Katie Gill: Horrible slant rhymes they’re trying to play serious AND an obnoxious electronic drop; pop music doesn’t deserve this. Also, I’ve never gotten the cult of Halsey, and this song doesn’t really do anything to change my opinion of her. You could have told me that the female vocalist was a session vocalist and I would believe you entirely.

Lauren Gilbert: This is dreadful. The Chainsmokers weren’t exactly coming off as musical geniuses, but I just want to tell the girl in this song to run. This doesn’t even work as an anthem of youth that cares more about hooks than music (à la the much underrated “Here’s To Never Growing Up“).  I’m not sure what’s going on with her car — Is it broken down? Or is it too expensive? Is it both? Why? — and Halsey is playing the same MPDG character she does in interviews (the same girl Tove Lo satirizes in in “Cool Girl”). I’ll give it a [2] for a catchy hook, but I’m beginning to resent The Chainsmokers for being everything that’s wrong in pop music.

Thomas Inskeep: God, downtempo EDM-pop is depressing. Can we call this E(D)M-o?

Cassy Gress: It’s not a metaphor I’d apply to all duets, but bear with me: imagine Andrew Taggart and Halsey are figure skaters in a pairs competition. The music insistently loops the same pattern; they are enticed to spin throughout. Though the rotation of their spins is well-synchronized, Halsey’s spin is powerful and emphatic, while Andrew’s is tight and clunky. That repetitive musical pattern crops up again and again, so the majority of the long form presentation is comprised of their awkward spinning. When questioned by journalists later about the low-difficulty nature of their performance, they claim it was meant to be “sort of comical.” Andrew gives a shout-out to his crew.

Crystal Leww: There are not a lot of true duets in EDM. If there are male and female voices on an EDM track, they are usually trading vocal and chorus duties, or someone shows up for the bridge only. The Chainsmokers bros finally show up as vocalists on their own track to truly duet with Feelings Teen Halsey, and the result is an Extremely Sad Extremely Banger tune. I love the competing points of view; I am reminded of Aluna Francis’ (one-sided) take on “I Remember,” and how both of these dance songs feel so oddly specific in the memories that are given meaning. Chainsmokers bro and Halsey have different variations in their verses, but the chorus remains the same for both. I, too, sometimes wonder if the boys I adored think about the same moments as I do.

Katherine St Asaph: Let us stage this, the most passionless play: that of mediocre sex with your ex. The Chainsmokers can’t write a song without contempt for girls, so our characters are Sad Rich Doormat — “the spoiled girls of college who have family money but also live this dichotomy of the broke college life,” in their words — and Everybro. They’re both composites, but where Everybro is just like you, SRD is just like all of them. Our setting is, inexplicably, a hotel bar, i.e. the hookup grounds of those who have grown older; but the Chainsmokers evidently don’t know how hotels work because Everybro ditches the room one of them presumably rented to fuck on SRD’s backseat and/or shitty stolen mattress. It’s a bare-bones set, where place names stand in for realism and Blink-182 references stand in for emotional depth. The script is shoddy; taken literally Everybro directs SRD to bite her own shoulder, which suggests the Chainsmokers know neither grammar nor sex. The mood, strangely, is just right; Everybro and SRD ride the deceptively easy groove off into the bedsit. But the morning after, it leaves no impression.

Brad Shoup: The halting keyboard riff is the sound of machines breaking down mid-mediation. Its near-funk syncopation is all the more human for sounding like failure. Halsey mentions Blink-182 in the song and the Chainsmokers mention Taking Back Sunday on Genius; both bands at this point would imbue “we ain’t never getting older” with the irony I think the guys intended. But coming as it does at the end of a rhymerush, it barely registers as a punchline — not until Halsey starts leaning into it.

Megan Harrington: Have you ever experienced the incongruence of a dreamy Tumblr aesthetic post and the reality of your own shitty life? How are your sunsets? Just regular? You need more “Closer” in your life. It’s not the only song to fuse heartbreaking pastel sonics with cruddy memories, but it’s certainly the best of this calendar year, and it will make your dirty bedsheets appear romantically rumpled. Halsey is the song’s not-at-all-secret weapon, its open strength — she is the only performer capable of pulling “Closer” off. Though it’s no small feat to transform the drudge into the aesthetic drudge, “Closer” does one better, giving us a song about sexy naked ambition and the unsexy emotional fallout and putting it in Halsey’s hands. She’s one of the most complicated pop stars to emerge from the young Millennial set and she sells the song as an even split between frustrating lust and hope. The way she nails this precarious balance is the reason why your life feels instantly slightly more glamorous just for pressing play. 

Reader average: [5.52] (21 votes)

Vote: 0   1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10

45 Responses to “The Chainsmokers ft. Halsey – Closer”

  1. Paging Dave

  2. awesome set of blurbs

  3. They ARE cute though.

  4. Wow, controversy of the year. Weird, I just updated these two days ago! Here’s the list:


  5. Meanwhile, if you need more consensus to cleanse your palate, I put together a playlist that I call the Consensish Rankings, which are songs that scored over a 6 but have a controversy score under 1. These aren’t the highest-ranked songs, just the ones that people scored within the closest range of each other (mostly solid 6-7 songs).

    Good mix for the office. Statistically speaking, you are likely to listen to most songs on this mix and say “huh” in a mildly positive way without loving it per se. Track list is in order of consensus, not score, though overall score is part of the calculation (i.e. the most consensus was for the case/lang/veirs track, followed by KING).


  6. How often are the top scorers Consensish-qualifiable? Like, my first response to this was “wouldn’t 212 qualify for hte list?”

  7. fuck me I have lost all “taste” credibility and I embrace that loss with open arms

  8. Oh yeah, the score for “212” back in the day would have been 4 points higher than our current #1 in terms of consensus (which is a lot; the entire range of points for all consensus tracks this year so far is only 8 points). The playlist is only for 2016 but would be interesting to go back to other years and work it out.

  9. I think a little under half of the top tracks on the sidebar are consensish picks.

  10. nah you’re alright will

  11. no but

    if you’re in a hotel bar why are you not fucking in your hotel room

    and if you don’t have a hotel room why are you in a hotel bar

  12. the hotel bar is where you go to pick up celebz

  13. Hotels bars are great even when you’re not fucking.

  14. every hotel bar I’ve ever been to is overpriced due to its captive audience

  15. Depends on the hotel, I guess — there are a lot of “hotel bars” that are associated with non-chain hotels and are legit amazing. Though I definitely get more of an airport Mariott vibe from this song.

  16. Took me a while to figure out what’s actually happening here — it’s the four years later hook-up, a detail I missed the first few times. The details feel random and underwritten (Tuscon! Boulder!) but hey so’s life.

    At first I thought this was reminiscence about a relationship between 20-year-olds as seen from a 30-year-old, but then I realized (with the “four years”) that it’s more like reflection on 20 from c. 24, an age where I was pretty sure I was “over” post-adolescence blergh-life but NOPE. More like 28. Definitely by 32. Well. Hopefully by 40?

    The half-bakedness I’m getting from the song might just be the half-bakedness of the perspective, not (just) the songwriting — it’s not *that* close to the original relationship (the difference between 24 and 20 is a big one) but it’s not far away enough yet for totally clear-eyed perspective (the difference isn’t as big as it feels; yer teen brain isn’t finished until your mid-twenties, sorry :(). I’ll wait for the sequel at their 10-year reunion.

    (Then again, how much I dislike the characters in this song depends on how far off I am about their age at the beginning of their relationship. 20 is just right — I like the idea of 24-year-olds “meeting in a hotel bar” because they think it’s what adults (like us! Yeah!) do even though they get there and realize, uh, most people in this bar are (1) actually adults and (2) current guests at the hotel and hey the rooms are WAY more expensive than you figured, so…)

  17. The details make me hate these people. OK, it’s just a hookup and all, but “I hope I never see your friends again” went past “red flag” territory into “GIANT NEON WARNING SIGN”.

    You stole a mattress from your roommate? Do you know how much mattresses cost? … though tbh CU is the right place to put obnoxious hipster characters, I’ll give them points for that at least.

    I also am inherently distrust 24-year-olds(ish) that want to reclaim their lost youth. Being youthful was terrible; I’ll take being an Old Fogey any day. At least I stay in the overpriced hotels where I drink. (… relevant to this comment: I’m 25.)

    also the damn tinkly noises at the end of the chorus need to die in a fire

  18. This is the first Chainsmokers song where the featured artist was given the right amount of billing. Daya and Rozes deserved equal credit.

  19. maybe part of the reason I like this is because in my twisted 21-year-old brain this is what I fear/expect most about being 24

  20. So fwiw (1) I don’t mean to say in my comment that being 24 is not being an adult. It is! There’s no obvious age at which you are or aren’t an adult. I just mean I have this image of them at the bar with, like, families and people much older than them and feeling that youth (still). And I mean maybe the families are technically YOUNGER than them, but it’s just…different.

    And (2) yeah, both the friends line and “I drink too much and it’s and issue but it’s OK” are red flags. BUT if I’m being charitable, “I hope I never see your friends again” isn’t the same as “I hate your friends” — he may just really not want to run into her friends again because he’ll have to talk about or think about her. I’ve had that experience with exes — I don’t dislike their friends at all, but the thought of running into them is uncomfortable.

  21. 24 was such a weird period of time. I was mostly fighting with 30-somethings about Animal Collective’s “My Girls” and whether it did or did not signify something about adultness. (I said NO, they said YES, and I was right, but I was wrong, you know?)

  22. missed you, Dave

  23. i am so happy to write for a site with such a range of ages and backgrounds – i think that had a lot to do with the controversy on this

  24. Dave, that’s actually a really cool image re. hotel bar; I wish they’d gone that route with the music video.

    I absolutely do not think 24 year olds are adults. Or, if they are, I’m in trouble. I am somewhat dubious of people that want back the ~freedom~ of college, but on its own, the nostalgia I’d probably give a pass. The nostalgia + what the fuck is going on with that car (it just occurred to me that the broke-down car and rover might be two different cars) + annoying video + why are you in a hotel bar + why did you steal a mattress from your roommate all combined made me dislike these characters.

    (also oh my god, I finally know what the controversy rankings people have mentioned are!)

  25. The Seven Ages of Man is bullshit, but it is at least better bullshit than some “You aren’t a grownup” / “You are” switch.

  26. My sense is that they rolled to their final resting point in the (now) broke-down car they moved across the country in listening to Blink-182, hitting cities with Actual Real Names, like [Tuscon] and [Boulder]. The Range Rover’s new, monthly payments, and so he’s negging her by saying she can’t afford the vanity purchase. Which also makes her response sadder — “wow, when you fuck me in my own car and then criticize me for having purchased it irresponsibly, it reminds me of everything I loved about you; I must have been INSANE to leave you!”

    But really this is a conversation that the guy is having with himself, imagining his ex’s response. It’s an elaborate masturbation scenario (which also explains the weird scene-jumps and the fact that we have no real details of any of the locations, which are mentally out of focus, as opposed to, you know, the tattoo on her shoulder).

    This song is basically “Don’t You Want Me” as the fulfillment of the male character’s make-up/revenge fantasy (established in the first verses of both songs) rather than as a scene depicting two sides of the story. It’s a shame, too, if you *don’t* want to listen to a bitter man’s angry, underwritten, and oddly banal masturbation fantasy (porn has ruined his imagination, shame) because the only thing that needed to change to make this song great was a line or two in the second verse — something like:

    “Hey — I’m sorry that you’re still drinking, I don’t know what I was thinking for so long. But hey — we had a few good times together, let’s try to make it better then move on.”

    Still vague and underwritten with one OK detail and some annoying slant rhymes. (Because I *intended* it to be mediocre, it’s not just the limitations of my comment-thread-based songwriting talent. Yeah, that’s the ticket.)

    But what she actually says reminds me a lot more of what bitter men merely *imagine* their ex-girlfriends would say and do in this situation, as a way to simultaneously punish the ex and absolve their own complicity in the break-up. (The best fictional depiction and deconstruction of this mindset in media probably ever is from the “Decision Tree” episode of “The Good Wife.”)

    Strangely, though, the thing that’s bothering me the MOST in this song as of right now is the “stolen mattress.” You don’t “steal” mattresses from your roommates — especially mattresses that you then move across the country from Boulder (since I assume they’re in L.A. This song HAS to come from L.A., right?). Mattresses are left behind and you take them. God, he didn’t even get THAT detail right — see, he just never *listened*.

  27. Andrew Taggart was born in 1989, Alex Pall in 1985. Halsey turns 22 in September. These are not peers, save for their obvious shared love of signifiers in lieu of characterization.

  28. Yeah, I Wiki’d Taggart immediately to see how old he was out of curiosity. Figured he was closer to 30 than 24. (But c’mon, intentional fallacy!)

    I imagine that in the song they’re not too far apart in age — feels like a college relationship that ended like most high school relationships end, just not clicking beyond a specific time and place. (My college relationship didn’t end — I got engaged when I was 24. It was a rocky year or two to engagement but we got through it; it could have gone another way in different circumstances or with one or both of us doing something stupid.)

    My guess is a year age difference max, since it seems like they graduated pretty close to the same time (e.g., they were still together during at least one big move, presumably away from college into their first city together, where everything fell apart, which happened to a few of my college friends in relationships.

    If this song *weren’t* a masturbation fantasy, I’d say that what’s happening here is he’s in town at a crappy hotel on tour (or whatever), but he doesn’t want to go back to his room because (1) he’s probably sharing it with someone and/or (2) she actually still lives here and this is where their life was for a little while before it all fell apart, so bittersweet mem’ries and all that.

  29. (Ah, so if he’s in town and she comes to see him with her friends because they just want to go out, that means her friends are her NEW friends. He never wants to see them again, I’d guess, because they’re a reminder that, contrary to his masturbatory fantasy of her response, she has moved on and has friends and a life and, gulp, maybe a boyfriend, and she doesn’t usually spend time at airport Marriotts.)

  30. as loath as I am to send any traffic their way because it feels like putting a soggy wet kick-me sign on my back, the chainsmokers talked about what they meant on g*n**s and it’s pretty clear what they think of girls, both in general and the ones in this song:

    “The song relates closely to the spoiled girls of college who have family money but also live this dichotomy of the broke college life. For this visually Range Rovers and Boulder communicated that the best.

    Without getting too specific we wanted to write a song about something personal to us, but relatable to many. Classically there are lots of hot girls at Syracuse that he would run into and find himself attracted to but forget all the things he hated about them.”

  31. I try to avoid interviews with artists — maybe especially if I suspect nastiness underlying their motivations — because the song says what it says, whether or not it’s what went into it. And it works in the other direction: I don’t think Adam Levine to my knowledge has said anything approaching these comments, but the song “Animals” is on the same continuum, I think.

    To use a more benign example than these, though, Mike Posner was upset when someone called “I Took a Pill in Ibiza” dark and pathetic, but that’s what’s GOOD about the song, even though it’s not what he was going for, to the point that he wanted to “correct” someone for pointing it out. I’m lucky that what he wanted to say *didn’t* make it clearly (or solely) into the song, because it’s much better for what it is than what he seemed to intend.

  32. (h/t to SwoonStep for the Mike Posner stuff, such a good one and GREAT analysis of “I Took a Pill in Ibiza”): http://swoonstep.tumblr.com/post/144867511192/elisabeth-welcome-back-to-swoonstep-this-week)

  33. Dave, you have just made this song make sense. Yes, of course, it’s a masturbation fantasy; that makes perfect sense, and makes the wonky characterization sensible. A+ commentary, you’ve just made me hate this song less.

  34. “…Helping to reframe the message of creeps, losers, and weirdos since 2005”

  35. Last comment, probably (don’t worry, I go back to work soon) but this song is about 25% too slow. You can speed it up on YouTube with this Chrome plugin, which is indispensable for living your life even FASTER and also watching the stupid new Match Game show in half the time: https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/video-speed-controller/nffaoalbilbmmfgbnbgppjihopabppdk?hl=en

  36. the posner song is different because every pop star, doing press-tour interviews, says their songs are cheerful, empowering and whatnot, because the current hyperconfident-at-all-time state of pop leaves no room for other interpretations. (see also: “Good For You,” etc.)

  37. another reason it is different: it is possible to stumble upon sadness without intending to — arguably it’s the entire story of life! — but it is impossible to stumble upon respect without intending to.

  38. That sounds like a challenge! “Stumbling Upon Respect: Accidental Woke Baes Who Eventually Go Back to Sleep Again”

    But I guess the only thing I’d argue with respect (no pun intended) to this song is that while it’s at least a dubious proposition to write a respectful song from a place if disrespect, it’s definitely possible to write an interesting or revealing song about disrespect — or anger or messed up power dynamics or post-romance revenge or whatever other skeevy thing (half of “Don’t You Want Me” is like that, and probably comes from a “respectful” or at least knowing place; “Under My Thumb” is definitely like that and who knows where it came from). I’d argue this one doesn’t make the cut — it’s gesturing to a song more interesting than it is. (Most of my analysis in the comments here has really just been trying to figure out what the hell is happening, like piecing together the plot of *The Big Sleep* or something.)

  39. Now #1 in the US

  40. Aw, I accidentally deleted the mash-up snippet where I made the woman’s verse from “Don’t You Want Me” fit over the “Closer” beat. Try it yourself, you can totally sing it.

  41. presented without comment

    “All of which brings a certain character to mind: the bro who has it all, equal parts geeky artist and savvy capitalist, as lovable as he is insufferable, iterating on his product and making stupid money while he’s at it. Is it a coincidence that The Chainsmokers’ label’s name is Disruptor? That Pall’s “tip-to-tip” joke alludes to a gag from Silicon Valley? With these two, music has found its very own tech bros.”

  42. Why did no one tell me “Your Ex-Lover is Dead” is back and is a number-one single?

  43. http://jezebel.com/everything-you-dont-actually-need-to-know-about-drew-ta-1788026738

  44. do we still like this song?

  45. @jibril hell yeah — in fact, it’s a [10] now