Known for their sudden and complete takeover of the Billboard charts, Alex Pall and Andrew Taggart, a.k.a. The Chainsmokers, didn’t always write mega-pop hits like “Closer.” Originally, they were a kind of novelty-pop EDM duo that made fun of women who took too many pictures of themselves on their 2014 song “#Selfie,” and wanted to “be the king of me always, like Kanye” on their aptly named song “Kanye.”
On ABC’s Nightline News, the duo told reporter Nick Watt that their name was “just a name,” in all defiant John Lennon fashion. “Why’d you pick the name Beatles, John?” Paul McCartney asked when prompted with the question in a 1964 Press Conference in Hong Kong, to which John Lennon replied: “It’s not my fault. It’s just a name by any other… but why does anybody pick any name, you know, ’cause it’s the one they like best.” When ABC asked the same question of The Chainsmokers, Alex Pall said that he enjoyed “smoking weed” and that “the domain [was] open… it’s just a name.”
While on a certain level it seemed very Beatles of them, I’m sure neither of the Chainsmokers knew of that Beatles interview. Taken from other interviews they’ve been a part of, it seems like they actually are the kind of people who would respond with something along the lines of “we named it The Chainsmokers because we were smoking a lot.” In their Billboard cover story, they said of themselves: “even before success, pussy was number one… We’re just frat bro dudes, you know what I mean? Loving ladies and stuff… Only Justin Bieber and Drake can hold a candle to what we’ve done… Now we’re influencing the industry, putting out songs everyone copies.” So needless to say, bro culture and arrogance aren’t really descriptions the EDM-duo seem afraid of.
After mega-hits such as “Closer” and “Don’t Let Me Down,” which both spent over twenty weeks in the Top 10 Billboard charts (“Closer” with 32 weeks and “Don’t Let Me Down” at 23), The Chainsmokers did what any artist does: build upon their successful single sales with a full-album release. This is where everything went wrong for the duo. When you release a single, like the one from their debut record, “Paris,” it could flop or it could be amazing. “Paris” ended up doing fairly well, though not as well as “Closer” or “Don’t Hold Me Down,” but it was very successful. Whether the single is successful or not, however, ultimately doesn’t affect the release of the next song. As long as you can stay relevant, then your music does as well.
The Chainsmokers make dance music for, as they said, “loving ladies and stuff,” and they would have been fine just releasing single after single, replacing the last hit after one faded from the charts and using the time from the hits that really stick to hone in on creating one the next time around that could do the same. To me, The Chainsmokers seem like a pop-hit factory run by “frat bro dudes” (as they called themselves in their ABC interview above), but the scary thing about “frat bro dudes,” and not well-oiled assembly lines, is that they’re either in the news for raging too hard and getting their fraternity expelled due to hazing, or they’re in court on rape charges.
By releasing a proper full-length album, The Chainsmokers opened themselves up to serious critical scrutiny other than just “it’s another catchy song.” While music blogs and publications do write about the singles that come and go, I’m sure you’ve noticed that there’s no “single reviews” section next to “album reviews” on most sites. The concept of the album review weighs so much heavier than the ebb and flow of singles put out because while a song can have a story, theme, meaning, depth, etc., it’s not reviewed in the critical world like an album release.
When an album is released, it gets ranked, graded, and discussed fully. The Chainsmokers’ oddly named debut Memories… Don’t Open, sat atop the Billboard charts for just one week and received scathing reviews from The New York Times, Spin, Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly, AllMusic, you name it. It was torn apart. “The debut album from the celebrity production duo is a somber departure from their EDM days—a lifeless, anodyne pop record that wallows in basic feelings of regret and narcissism,” wrote Philip Sherbourne of Pitchfork. Jordan Sargent of Spin explained that “The Chainsmokers have one song, and if you don’t want to hear 12 versions of it, please do not un-click the latch holding this box closed.”
By releasing an album, The Chainsmokers asked for a serious take on their music, and this move could end up becoming a grave mistake for their careers. Now they have three or four successful singles and a failed album—a tarnished streak. It’s all fun and games when you’re putting out little, cheesy pop-hits like “Closer,” or dance-tunes like “Don’t Let Me Down,” and their songs might be catchy enough to get to the top 10 every now and then, but now they’ve seen that they might actually have more to worry about success-wise than the ability to write a template pop song.