"It was this collage of different worlds mixed into a playful, cross-cultural, danceable new vibe.”
Billboard is celebrating the 2010s with essays on the 100 songs that we feel most define the decade that was -- the songs that both shaped and reflected the music and culture of the period -- with help telling their stories from some of the artists, behind-the-scenes collaborators and industry insiders involved.
“I remember it being a very intense studio experience,” says MØ, “because there was such a contained excitement in the air -- that kind of excitement when you know you have something special, and you're so eager to see if the potential is going to unfold the way you want it to, but you also don't want to jinx anything.”
The project eliciting this anticipation was a three-minute track built from earworm melodies, layers of percussion, finger snaps and a singular, croaking synth hook. Called “Lean On,” the song soon made good on that sense of excitement and then some, becoming one of the most streamed songs of all time and infusing mainstream pop music with an electronic jolt that would forever affect the direction of the genre.
“Lean On” was born of the Internet, with Diplo first sending the song to MØ in 2014, when it was a slower, more reggae-influenced project in line with the sound Diplo’s longstanding project Major Lazer had been creating for years. Then on tour in Europe, MØ wrote lyrics for the song, which she titled “Someone to Lean On.” She sent these words back to Diplo, who loved them.
After getting sent to France, where it was outfitted with a sinuous post-chorus courtesy of French producer DJ Snake, the next iteration of the song in MØ’s inbox was faster and, she says, “super-fresh.” The singer convened with Diplo and longstanding Major Lazer collaborator Jr Blender in Vegas to adjust the lyrics and melodies to fit the track’s new speed and vibe. In March of 2015, “Lean On” was released as the lead single from Major Lazer’s third album Peace Is the Mission. It was shortly thereafter that it started putting major numbers on the board.
“All these label and management people [were] looking at me with huge eyes saying, ‘We've never had a song react this fast!’” recalls MØ. “I'd never had a hit, so I had no idea what the f--k was going on.”
What was going on was a worldwide sensation. “Lean On” started aggregating record-setting streaming numbers, becoming Spotify’s most streamed song of all time just eight months after its release, with 526 million streams. (Four years later, “Lean On” remains the platform’s tenth most-streamed song of all time, with 1.289 billion plays.) Filmed in India and Stockholm, the song’s fun, colorful music video -- featuring Major Lazer, MØ and DJ Snake dancing in traditional Indian style and garb -- emphasized the song’s international appeal and hit a billion streams on YouTube shortly after its release. (The clip now has nearly 2.7 billion views.)
The song also leaned hard onto the charts, hitting No. 1 in over 20 countries from Argentina to Lebanon, peaking at No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100, where it spent 48 weeks, and hitting No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot Dance/Electronic Songs chart. It spent 23 weeks in this peak position and 61 total weeks on the chart, setting the record for the third-longest stint on the chart since it launched in 2013.
The mass proliferation of the song underscores its impact, with a glut of the pop music that came in its wake -- from artists like Justin Bieber, The Chainsmokers, The Weeknd and more -- bearing similar electronic accents and pushing the pop/electronic hybrid further into mainstream consciousness. The track also cemented Diplo and DJ Snake as the go-to pop producers of the moment, with the artists going on to work with everyone from Cardi B to the Jonas Brothers. Meanwhile, Major Lazer and MØ would once again spark fire with the Justin Bieber co-starring collab “Cold Water,” which debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 in August of 2016.
“This new type of EDM sort of became the new Top 40 sound,” says MØ. “It was this collage of different worlds mixed into a playful, cross-cultural, danceable new vibe.”