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.
In August 2013, Stephen Colbert promoted a Colbert Report performance from legendary French electronic duo Daft Punk by jokingly declaring their hit “Get Lucky” with Pharrell and Nile Rodgers the “Song of the Summer of the Century.” He might’ve been right.
A smooth disco groove with a light modern edge, “Get Lucky” transfixed critics and Top 40 listeners alike with its dreamy, retro-meets-futurism magic and a perfectly ambiguous message: “We’ve come too far to give up who we are.” It was also a pop culture moment, thanks in part to its groundbreaking, mysterious global marketing campaign. Daft Punk’s Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter famously bailed on that much-hyped Colbert slot, as they were already in talks to perform the song at the MTV VMAs — because in the summer of 2013, everyone wanted a piece of Daft Punk.
The lead single off the duo’s eagerly-awaited Random Access Memories, their first studio album in eight years, “Get Lucky” came together fortuitously itself. Co-writer Rodgers, who also contributes a funky guitar riff, had been wanting to collaborate with Daft Punk for years before their schedules finally synced up. And it was a shared interest in Rodgers’ Chic that brought Daft Punk together with Pharrell, who recorded his vocals separately.
Pharrell had “gotten off a plane totally jet-lagged, and they made him take some crazy elixir,” remembers Def Jam executive vp of marketing and commerce Scott Greer, who oversaw marketing for Daft Punk at Columbia Records at the time. “He went into the studio and knocked it out, and then just went on his way.”
But months of careful planning, shrouded in secrecy, went into making the song a hit. It began with a simple Facebook post of the duo’s trademark robot helmets — an image that was later replicated, with no explanation, on billboards across the country. “At the time, that wasn’t being done — music wasn’t marketed like a brand item necessity,” Greer says. “But it created this conversation without saying anything.”
Similarly, after a 15-second teaser of the song aired during a March episode of Saturday Night Live, Entercom senior vp of programming and music initiatives Michael Martin remembers fans debating over the lyrics. “People were trying to [decipher], what are they saying?” he remembers. “As humans, we flirt, and that’s what Daft Punk was doing with us — flirting.” Next, the duo unveiled an extended trailer at Coachella, causing a spectacle without setting foot onstage.
When the full song was finally unleashed in April 2013, it was an instant hit, setting a new Spotify record for first-day streams. Two months later, “Get Lucky” reached its No. 2 peak on the Hot 100, becoming Daft Punk’s first top five single.
This was all well before artists started wiping social media pages to signal impending news, leaving Easter egg clues for fans to decipher and dropping surprise releases left and right. As Daft Punk was carrying their album in a locked titanium suitcase and making everyone who knew of its existence sign a non-disclosure agreement, the rest of the industry was just catching onto the idea that giving the world a mystery to solve could help sell songs. In fact, Greer can only compare the final “Get Lucky” reveal to sitting in Beyoncé’s Parkwood Entertainment headquarters eight months later, launching the star’s legendary self-titled surprise visual album: “What was special was seeing the reaction,” he says.
It helped that “Get Lucky” was embraced by multiple radio formats, a rare feat today that was even more difficult to achieve in 2013. “It became a pop record; an alternative record; a Hot AC record,” adds Martin. “Formats are sitting here fighting for it, saying, ‘It’s me, it’s me, it’s me.’ And the audience is saying, ‘It’s all of ours.’”
Along the way, “Get Lucky” helped spark a mini-renaissance for Pharrell, who scored two more hits that year with Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” and Despicable Me 2 track “Happy.” It also revived Rodgers’ career: He released a greatest hits compilation, was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, and in 2015, released Chic’s first single in more than 23 years, “I’ll Be There.” And it made Daft Punk more popular than they’d ever been, even before their hiatus.
To cap a remarkable run, Rodgers and Williams performed the song with Stevie Wonder and the robo duo at the Grammy Awards, where “Get Lucky” earned record of the year to match Random Access Memories’ album of the year win. Bangalter and de Homem-Christo attended with their helmets on, of course — collaborators gave the speeches.
Bangalter opened up about Random Access Memories in a rare 2013 interview with Billboard. “We’d searched a long time for the sound of the future. This time we stopped searching,” he said. “In this quest for the future, we might have overlooked some things from the past.”
Just like that, at the very height of the glowstick-twirling, ecstasy-fueled EDM boom that Daft Punk themselves helped kick off, the duo found their biggest dance hit by going back-to-basics with a retro groove that couldn’t be more different from the ecstatic Mount Everest drops and dubstep wub-wubs of the time. A hit song made by two robots, an of-the-moment singer-producer and a disco legend feels like the perfect result of that quest. But there’s a larger goal for crafting something that feels both retro and futuristic, and Daft Punk achieved it. The word for that, of course, is timeless.