The year of 2018 has continued to be owned by a matured and introspective incarnation of The Chainsmokers. Critics be warned—the “frat boys” have left the fraternity house. In fact, Drew Taggart and Alex Pall have graduated to become the architects of a grimmer blueprint, like the bright hot desert of the first Star Wars evolving into the dark cold snow of The Empire Strikes Back sequel. The moodier music of The Chainsmokers started off with “Sick Boy,” and has continued on with “You Owe Me,” and “Everybody Hates Me.” Each song has pulled back the glittery curtain of superstardom to reveal the complicated side effects that emerge from a successful overdose of mainstream recognition. With anticipation building for a follow-up album to The Chainsmokers’ massive debut album Memories…Do Not Open, now is the time to take a deeper look into this newly-released trio of tracks, and the rerouted direction that Alex Pall and Drew Taggart are delving into.
It all began on the first day of 2018 when The Chainsmokers sent out a sneak preview of their fresh new flavor with the introduction of their updated logo on social media. The design concept involved the interlocking of The Chainsmokers’ initials, TCS, bringing to mind the polished, glossy approach of high fashion acronym logos like Yves Saint Laurent. Nothing at all about their advanced branding looked like a nod to “delayed adolescence” or “career college party dudes.” Their logo’s elegant identity expression continued onward with the January 16, 2018, reveal of a Spotify billboard in New York City’s Time Square with the statement “How many likes is my life worth?” These lines were plucked directly out of The Chainsmokers’ song “Sick Boy” that was made readily available on January 17th, 2018. Not even three weeks into the new year and The Chainsmokers’ gothic-esque pop-rock takeover had already begun.
“Sick Boy” was surely not what mainstream fans of The Chainsmokers had expected after the user-friendly upbeat Platinum-selling singles “Paris” and “Something Just Like This.” It also came as a surprise to their EDM fans that discovered the duo during dance music festivals and DJ gigs. The Chainsmokers made it known right away that there was more to their aesthetic than keg party anthems. They dropped weighty lyrics like:
And don’t believe the narcissism
When everyone projects and expects you to listen to ’em
Make no mistake, I live in a prison
That I built myself, it is my religion.
Alex Pall and Andrew Taggart took the time to point the finger right back at social media, the same platforms that their critics have used to judge their meteoric rise. If they were considered “sick boys” for using Instagram to grow their fan base and expand their global reach, then that sick description applies to all of us.
Approximately one month later, The Chainsmokers had more on their menu and got right back at it with their second song serving of the year, complete with artwork that featured a heart presented on a dinner plate in between a fork and a knife. Their second single of the year is called “You Owe Me,” and it was composed by Alex Pall and Andrew Taggart, produced by The Chainsmokers and Shaun Frank, and constructed by Alex Pall, Andrew Taggart, Emily Warren, and Chelsea Jade. This new go around offered a mixture of alternative rock to their EDM stylings, with some subtle horns and a radio-friendly guitar cord. But when you pay closer attention to the lyrics, “You Owe Me” shuts off the neon lights of stardom to reveal the haunted glow of its dark side. Look no further than the gritty chorus:
You don’t know me
Don’t you think that I get lonely?
It gets dark inside my head
Check my pulse, and if I’m dead, you owe me
If you’re lonely
Don’t you think you’re on your own?
When it gets dark inside your head
Check my pulse, and if I’m there, you owe me.
For the third lap around the race track of The Chainsmokers’ change of speed for 2018, Alex and Drew released another in-your-face title that blends right in with “Sick Boy” and “You Owe Me.” On March 16th they came forth with “Everybody Hates Me,” the punchy, self-aware effort that confronts the self-conscious mental state that one acquires after having your life redefined by fame. They added more gasoline to the flames that they set ablaze back in January, putting the cyclone of all-eyes-on-me celebrity culture and the online news cycle that reboots every split second into perspective. Knowing that even with popularity at the highest level, hate is waiting for them right around the corner:
So I walk into the club like, everybody hates me
I walk into the club like, everybody hates me
I’m talkin’ to myself, shit, now they think I’m crazy
I walk into the club like, everybody hates me (everybody hates me)
Like everybody hates me.
What does “Sick Boy,” ” “You Owe Me,” and “Everybody Hates Me” have in common, aside from a gloomier tone, and their examinations of stardom and social media interactions? There is a good and bad, yin and yang, duality available in each track. There is the victory celebration for the top-tier music achievements that The Chainsmokers have accomplished with their hard work and creative output. But, hiding in the shadows of the spotlight that they find themselves in, there is a thicker skin that Alex Pall and Andrew Taggart have acquired during their tenure as popstars. In 2018, we see their aggressive desire to sustain their natural identities and recognize the men that they see in the mirror. As they say in verse two of “Everybody Hate Me”:
And I’m not trying to be like “poor me,” I made it
I’m just trying to stay normal now that they know what my name is
Yeah, I just wanna drink tequila with my friends
Yeah, they’re the reason that I still am who I am.
As 2018 moves forward into the future, it will be exciting to see the new boys-to-men growth spurts of The Chainsmokers.