Hey Henry: Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” and What Makes Good Pop Radio

by williedollars

In this new series, williedollars asks Henry a question on facebook chat. Then they talk about it. And they’re probably the only ones who understand what they’re saying. But they post the transcript on the blog anyway.

Wednesday, June 6

williedollars: Hey Henry, what song on the radio is really pissing you off right now?

Henry Gorman: I feel bad about saying this, but
I don’t like that Daft Punk song which is now a hit

williedollars: Oh shit. But I kind of feel you. I spent about seven hours in the car today driving to Houston and it came on around about seven times. I listened once. But still man, people saying RAM is an instant all-time classic and you just dissed it. Explanation? I might give mine if you go first.

Henry Gorman: I feel like Daft Punk has huge goodwill
they’ve done so much excellent stuff
just thinking back to like, Discovery
an amazing album
so we all really, really want them to break out
and now, it’s actually happening
and we’re all really excited about it
but I feel like “Get Lucky” just isn’t a song I want to hear on the radio again and again
It’s too elevator-music-y and ambient-sounding, honestly
for a pop hit
no energy

williedollars: Pharrell’s voice doesn’t do anything for anybody. he’s just there. And then what we’re left with is a EDM meets seventies funk beat (is that inherently good?) with a pretty lame chorus. And once you’ve got that, I see what you’re saving about elevator music, no doubt
That said…
While it’s not a prototypical radio hit…
it’s still undeniable that the song has a great vibe to it and is about as perfectly realized for what it is (electro seventies throwback) as any song will ever be
kind of feels like teenage dream to me for just being so… complete.
or some vampire weekend stuff
and if we’re going to ever get variety on pop radio, shouldn’t it at least be in the form of fully realized songs like these, even if they don’t fit our definition of “radio song”?

Henry Gorman: Well, my definition of “radio song” is less about content than about function
I want a certain… intensity from my pop radio

williedollars: okay, I can dig that
like we have ipods and cds if we want a different feel? like that’s not radio’s inherent function?

Henry Gorman: well, not pop radio’s

williedollars: Pop radio is assumed in these conversations, henry

Henry Gorman: true, true

williedollars: this is for the fucking website bro!
but anyway, go on

Henry Gorman: but like, even alt-radio shit has a certain mainstreamness now
RAM was a #1 album
and that followed Vampire Weekend
but yeah
like, I want bit strident emotion or celebration
even if it’s really dumb
I think that pop music is fundamentally sort of performative
my appreciation of it is often less about the music itself and more about music-as-performance
(I often find the alt stuff that makes it through to mainstream sort of distasteful
I mean, Imagine Dragons, really?)

williedollars: oh god, yeah..

Henry Gorman: (They’re like Coldplay, but Scandinavian)

williedollars: I feel you so hard
Lyrics don’t matter in pop radio. Agreed?

Henry Gorman: hmmm
I dunno
I think that they’re secondary, but can still play valuable functions

williedollars: Unless they’re just all-time maybe, like meme-spawning, like SHAWTY GOT DEM APPLE BOTTOM JEANS, BOOTS WITH DA FUUUURRRRRR

Henry Gorman: Yeah, like that!
or if they have something like the immense beautiful camp vapidity of “Love You Like A Love Song”

williedollars: oh shit… dinner just got here….. finish that thought and can I get back to you a little later?
Selena is good at camp, btw

Henry Gorman: mmmhmm

williedollars: like, a little toooo good

Henry Gorman: the best

Henry Gorman: shall we resume this, Will?
I actually think that lyrics can really make a song, in some cases
“Somebody That I Used To Know,” for example, subverted the douchey-complaining-about-your-ex breakup song (exhibit A: “Grenade” by Bruno Mars– most ridiculous single line “Bad Woman! Bad Woman! That’s just what you are!”)
by including a verse from the ex’s perspective
and it wound up being way cooler as a result

williedollars: oh shit, sorry man. we ate pizza and drank wine and wattched v for vendetta and i’m kind of out of it. Is there the possibility of doing this tomorrow> i’m sorry

Henry Gorman: mmm, no prob, bro
we can just finish it then

Friday, June 8

williedollars: I think the issue we have to deal with here is that pop music is not monolithic
it’s not all club bangers and ex-disney bubblegum on pop radio
we have our indie rocker mumford-type people too and our alternative gotye guys and rappers like kanye who can manage to be fairly deep while being commercially successful
basically, the guys who supposedly exist on some higher plane of music (just ask your hipster friends, they know) who write a commercial song as a gateway to the non-commerical stuff
sara bareilles is another similar category: single white female with a guitar

Henry Gorman: urgh, I despise single white people with guitars

williedollars: but the point of this is that lyrics seem to matter for these artists, but I wonder if that’s just our idea that they’re “better” than pop radio coloring our impressions of them, making us think they’re smarter than they actually are
and “Love Song” is GOAT
so maybe the question is, why does some more alternative stuff like gotye work and other stuff like ‘get lucky’ not work?

Henry Gorman: well, I feel like it’s because Gotye is… well, intense

williedollars: like how i feel about taylor swift?

Henry Gorman: yeah!

williedollars: so we’re going back to performatives here?

Henry Gorman: in both cases, there’s something plaintive and powerful and authentic
I feel like it’s say, Somebody that I Used to Know vs. We are Young

williedollars: so either the music has to be intense or the emotion has to be intense to make up for it?

Henry Gorman: STIUTK is clearly better-constructed of course
but it’s also way more directed and more meaningful

williedollars: STIUTK… sounds like an eskimo tribe

Henry Gorman: Gotye is their god!

williedollars: here’s the thing though: i always always always prefer we are young. i need to think about why here for a second..
now that i think about it, STIUTK is also an equally great song and my preference simply comes down to taste
what i think they have in common though
is that they both have a high-low dichotomy. Emotion and intensity come through in a completely unexpected chorus in both songs.
that’s the problem with get lucky: it’s too consistent
i can vibe to that but I can’t “pop music” to that

Henry Gorman: hmmmm
I actually like that
I feel like a good hit pop song has some kind of explosive burst
something like an orgasm, really

williedollars: it was the first slightly meaningful thing i’ve written
oh, and like the end of nelly’s verse in cruise, right?
because by the way that might be my favorite song on the radio now. but i digress

Henry Gorman: yeah!
“Get Lucky” is like nice foreplay

Henry Gorman: but, ironically, given its name, it never comes

williedollars: deeeeeep
and maybe it works as foreplay in the context of the album. We should remember that daft punk are supposedly more focused on the album than the hits

Henry Gorman: yeah
and that’s totally fine

williedollars: boring, yes, but fine

Henry Gorman: well, it’s not boring in context
just boring for radio
which pulls songs out of their album context all the time

williedollars: yeah, exactly.
not on my radio: NOMR.
not quite as catchy as NIMBY i guess

Henry Gorman: hmmm
like, Kanye is great because he throws together these whole albums that work really well together
which each have a bunch of songs which totally work well on their own

williedollars: facebook is creepy as fuck. There’s an ad for Fun. in the corner of my screen right now

Henry Gorman: ewww
but anyway
Fun is basically like Queen
or trying really hard to be like Queen

williedollars: dude, you’re right. Way more similarities there than i’ve ever thought to notice

Henry Gorman: and, like Queen, their songs build to explosions when they work well
(like say, the awesome guitar solo in “Killer Queen,” or that crazy autotune voice guitar-solo like thing in “Some Nights”)

williedollars: yeah, and like queen they might not be the most heart-felt, gut-wrenchingly deep songs ever, but they’re perfectly constructed anthems
which work on pop radio
give me ‘livin on a prayer’ any day back in ’87 and I’d always turn it up
if i were alive, that is

Henry Gorman: mmmhmm
maybe Fun is like the rebirth of ’80s Anthem rock

williedollars: maybe we shouldn’t only rag on daft punk here though. that’s unfair

Henry Gorman: No
you’re right, it really is

williedollars: another song that never hits any high notes for me is that Philip Phillips song

Henry Gorman: which one

williedollars: love you when you’re gone

Henry Gorman: (I despise Philip Philips)

williedollars: when you’re long gone gone
how many “L’s” on his name?
2, 3, or 4?
oh shit it’s 4
says google

Henry Gorman: It’s called “Gone, Gone, Gone,” I think
the song
but it sucks

williedollars: yeah, you’re right

Henry Gorman
really, Phillip Phillips is like Mumford and Sons if Mumford and Sons sucked

williedollars: exactly
so it’s like, there’s space for a banjo on pop radio as mumford have shown.

Henry Gorman: Yeah!
not just banjos
but really pretentious pseudo-intellectual lyrics
that don’t even rhyme
but I really like M&S even though they’re not as deep as they think they are

williedollars: but you need to add ebbs and flows, make songs sound epic. there need to be breakdowns and mumford do that well. Phillip comes a bit short because he’s hasn’t figured that out. And he doesn’t have pseudo-intellectual lyrics to fall back on either.
i’m pretty neutral on mumford in general though.
they still haven’t released anything as good as ‘little lion man’ which worked because the insane banjo in it was just frenetic enough for good pop music. their newer singles are just show-stoppy enough to be passable as anthems, but this is where the banjo hurts them for me. But anthems still have pop appeal.

Henry Gorman: hmmm
true, true
also in banjo-space are the Lumineers

williedollars: ahh, yes.
no way in hell they ever have another hit single, right?
they won’t have another great song because they’re too anonymous. Marcus Mumford’s got a distinctive voice, this guy doesn’t
still, Ho Hey worked because it was explosive in just the right places

Henry Gorman: hmmm
I think that even songs with serious, serious weaknesses can benefit from having the right sort of orgasmic pop
“Can’t Hold Us” is a great example, I think
it’s a huge hit despite Macklemore’s enormous weakness as a rapper
because its structure and hooks and builds are so strong

williedollars: Is ‘skittery’ a word? I don’t think so. But like, the beat just skitters along beneath that track and you want to move and that’s what a lot of pop is about.
the reason is falls short of its potential is because macklemore doesn’t give it time to breath. we never get a build up or a drop. This is a fairly common thing in much of rap music and as a result many of the so-called “best” rap songs ever aren’t successful on pop radio
they’re not following the formula.
but rappers are forced to go commercial for a single or two each album as well and there comes the money.
not suggesting that macklemore’s a good rapper btw
but he made (or hung out around Ryan Lewis making) a great radio hit in thriftshop, which allowed him to put his second single on the air, and while the production on ‘can’t hold us’ is incredibly pop friendly, he didn’t modify his rapping enough to allow it to be so effervescently pop friendly.
he actually almost killed thrift shop this way too imo
and having no flow doesn’t help his cause either

Henry Gorman: hmmm
I guess that this raises questions about the role of vocalists vs. producers and so forth
honestly, the record seems to suggest that production is way more important
we just need to think about Katy Perry’s last year
she can’t sing at all

williedollars: yes, she can’t sing

Henry Gorman: but hit after hit after hit!
and you and I both love a lot of those songs
“Teenage Dream” especially
is all-time great

williedollars: okay, but we should also remember TD is like 2009

Henry Gorman: wait, wait, no

williedollars: more recent KP songs have been hits but not quite as big simply because the hook wasn’t there
‘the one that got away’ in particular comes off as trying too hard.

Henry Gorman: true, true

williedollars: was it 2009? or was i off?

Henry Gorman: well, the album came out in 2010
but crazily, it was producing singles for two whole years

williedollars: wow. that is crazy
but it had like six number ones, right?
but i’m digressing
but it was like totally six

Henry Gorman: mmmhmm

williedollars: so, anyway, all this is really just a round-about way of saying that
(or at least some musical or emotional intensity to try to back it up)

Henry Gorman: yeah
I also think that we can say that “Get Lucky” is not a bad song
just not really meant to be listened to in a pop radio context
we can’t hate on Daft Punk for that
they’re swell guys who make good music

williedollars: and helmets too!

Henry Gorman: yeah!

williedollars: but when you only have one chance to impress someone in their car on the radio, you’ve got to reel them in.
And i don’t think ‘get lucky’s’ got that kind of pathos

Henry Gorman: hmmm
does Daft Punk have a single song that does?

williedollars: well, i guess not
And that’s why the only time they’ve ever been in a radio hit was when, again, kanye  samped “better, harder, faster, stronger”

Henry Gorman: yeah, exactly

williedollars: so basically, DAFT PUNK GET OUT OF MY RADIO

any final thoughts?

Henry Gorman: nah, I think that we got this cleared up
we took a single song that didn’t seem right for radio, and spun it into a whole conversation about what “being right for radio” means

williedollars: slightly ambitious for a first conversation
and at least 75% of what we just said was bullshit
but so it goes.
bye henry.

Henry Gorman: later, Will!