As a composition, it’s a paradox, existing at once as a brazenly craven exercise in shameless hedonism and lowest-common-denominator songwriting, yet at the same time imbued with an enduring and pervasive ache. Even when the song’s thumping 4/4 drum pound kicks in, the wistful lilt of its opening new-wave guitar riff courses on, a film of sadness that clings to the tune’s insistent joy.
“Feeling” is a song about partying, but it is so committed to the excitement and pleasure offered by its subject matter that it detaches itself entirely from any sense of narrative or temporal continuity. “Tonight’s gonna be a good night,” the Peas promise, at the same time as they dance and pour shots and blow their paychecks, at the same time as they, exhausted, look forward to doing it again. None of this is about the experience of partying; it is about the promise of a pleasure sufficiently uncomplicated that they can forget anything else. The joy the band is pursuing has passed before it has properly arrived: a fireworks show where each soaring rocket has begun to drift into luminescent confetti even before it has exploded.
“Party every day” doesn’t sound like a threat, exactly, but it does sound like an obligation: in the grand Black Eyed Peas cycle of simultaneous anticipation, carousal, and come-down, the unasked question is of what exactly all this single-minded pursuit of happiness is keeping at bay.
America embraced electronic dance music while its economy was falling apart; the National Bureau of Economic Research dates the beginning of the Great Recession to December 2007, and the first Hot 100 number one of 2008 was Flo Rida’s “Low,” an insistent club clarion call that came dressed in the clothes of hip-hop but prefigured EDM in its construction and concern. The dance floor would get more attention with ensuing number ones that year, with disco-minded hits like Rihanna’s “Disturbia” and Lady Gaga’s debut “Just Dance” following.
The American housing market had collapsed, Wall Street was falling apart, and jobs were vanishing so fast that the unemployment rate was heading towards double digits. Amid the fear and uncertainty of the economic collapse, pop music gave the only answer it could: just dance. Against all evidence, it promised, tonight’s gonna be a good night. Then, before reality could set back in, do it again.
America invented modern dance music -- disco in the north-east, house in Chicago, techno in Detroit -- but as a mainstream concern, the nation had long seen repetitive rhythms and electronic accents as something distinctly foreign, a European eccentricity. The sudden rise of pop-EDM changed that, putting simple beats and simpler pleasures squarely in the middle of the national consciousness. As the downturn dragged on and the hedonism extended, pop’s embrace of the dancefloor turned darker. “We found love in a hopeless place,” Rihanna sang in a collaboration with Scottish DJ Calvin Harris, and, on another hit from the turn of the decade, she wanted to feel like the “Only Girl (In the World).” The apocalyptic sentiment extended on hit singles by Kesha (“Die Young”), Britney Spears (“Till the World Ends”), and Pitbull (“Give Me Everything,” in which hook singer Ne-Yo qualifies “For all we know, we might not get tomorrow”).
But then came LMFAO to inject some levity back into proceedings. Parties are wont to attract big, dumb, and drunk intruders, and the sounds that the duo of RedFoo and SkyBlu thrusted into the party were some of that moment’s biggest, dumbest, and, if possible, drunkest. Their best song was their 2008 debut, a dirty leer called “I’m in Miami Bitch,” and it established the template for their subsequent hits. Like the South Florida city, “Miami” is very lurid, a bit crass, and a lot of fun.
There are no hidden depths to LMFAO. If anything, there is less to mega-seller “Party Rock Anthem” than meets the eye: it is a collection of catchphrases, along with riffs that are the synth equivalent of a catchphrase. It is the center of a Venn diagram encompassing club banger, jock jam, and frat party, and baser than that suggests. RedFoo and SkyBlu presented as slithering spectacles of vulgar masculinity: preposterously dressed goofballs who succeeded entirely because of their clownishness.
But “Party Rock Anthem” was so blunt and obnoxious that it worked. The bass-heavy thud of the beat was perfect for dancefloors, and the stadium-sized riff was perfect for advertisements, film soundtracks, and marching bands. The rapping didn’t need to be any better than it was and the hooks were interjections built to be memes or hashtags: “Every day I’m shuffling”; “Shake that”; “Everybody just have a good time.” It was certified as a Diamond seller by the RIAA and the second biggest hit of 2011, topping the chart for six weeks and lasting on the tally for 68 weeks total, kept off the top of Billboard’s year-end Hot 100 only by Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep.”
It is a bad look in 2018 to celebrate crassness and idiocy as a public spectacle, which is why it’s unlikely LMFAO would be received the same way today. It was gauche even in 2011, but much the way the joyful simplicity of bro-country quickly hardened into a set of obnoxious tropes, the blithe ignorance of songs like “I Gotta Feeling” and “Party Rock Anthem,” as well as the stand-outs from fellow travelers like Taio Cruz (“Dynamite”) and David Guetta (“Where Them Girls At,” “Sexy Bitch”), began to accumulate an unwelcome toxicity. Only looking back does their ebullience endure, and it came at a time when ebullience was needed.
The pop charts today tend towards moodiness and muted affect, from the navel-gazing gloom of Drake or The Weeknd, to the minor-key drag of hits from artists like Camila Cabello, Alessia Cara, or Halsey. EDM has moved from novelty to genuine pop movement, packing festivals and making superstars of its top performers whose hits are less obvious and more diverse, but its sentiments have strayed into more emotive territory, and its prevailing sound has transformed into trop-house: an evocation of placeless vacation destinations and the restoration we hope to discover there.
But in the late ‘00s and early ‘10s, when America was just discovering the true potential of banging beats and glowing synths, pop dared to be silly and simplistic. The party has been over long enough for us to look back on the photos and think, yep, we enjoyed ourselves. Tonight was gonna be a good night.