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.
LMFAO had been party rocking long before “Party Rock Anthem” was released in 2011; the duo had already established their ethos two years earlier with debut full-length Party Rock, with RedFoo sporting his coiffed afro and Sky Blu grabbing his crotch on the cover. The mix of sleazy club beats and half-slurred refrains led to minor hits like “Shots” and “I’m in Miami Bitch” at the close of the 2000s.
But when “Party Rock Anthem” was unveiled in early 2011, complete with a music video featuring partying zombies doing the running-man-adjacent “shuffle” dance, U.S. top 40 radio had increasingly embraced a higher BPM, with uncerebral electro-rap hits from Ke$ha, Pitbull, Flo Rida and Far East Movement dominating airwaves. The time was right for these neon-clad court jesters to bring their party energy to the masses; the result was the apex of the goon-pop movement, and one of the biggest hits of the entire decade.
“Anthem,” which featured U.K. singer Lauren Bennett and producer GoonRock, finished at No. 2 on Billboard’s Top Hot 100 Songs of the Decade list, after spending six weeks atop the Hot 100 chart and being crowned the Song of the Summer in 2011. Eight years and change later, “Party Rock Anthem” somehow sounds like both a relic of a bygone era — one in which the top of the Hot 100 had a much more frenetic tempo, and one could un-ironically wear a tank top that read ‘Everyday I’m Shufflin’’ — and an enduring club staple.
“‘Party Rock Anthem’ has performed so well because, at its essence, it’s extremely well-written,” says Martin Kierszenbaum, whose Cherrytree Records co-released the song. “Woven into its melody, lyric and chord changes are a buoyant joy which will always resonate with human ears and transcend time.”
RedFoo and Sky Blu are actually uncle and nephew: Stefan Gordy and Skyler Gordy are the son and grandson of Motown Records legend Berry Gordy, and began trying to crack the club scene in the mid-2000’s before being scooped up by Kierszenbaum, Neil Jacobson and RedFoo’s pal Will.i.am of the Black Eyed Peas in a joint label deal. Before EDM acts like Skrillex, Swedish House Mafia and deadmau5 exploded into the mainstream themselves, LMFAO offered up-tempo choruses and wild live shows, with their tours often rife with animal-print merch, crass props and alcohol flowing from the stage.
Throughout it all, RedFoo and Sky Blu were unabashedly themselves, reveling in the contained chaos. “That was one of the things: to be No. 1 doing the music that we love!” RedFoo told Billboard in 2011, adding, “and we feel like everybody is a part of our dream — our wet dream.” “Party Rock Anthem” was the pristine distillation of their formula: bulky synths, goofy yet instantly quotable lyrics (“On the rise to the top, no Led in our Zeppelin,” “Now stop – hatin’ is bad!”), and a lovably simplistic hook that oscillates with designed dance breaks.
LMFAO would go on to score another No. 1 single with follow-up “Sexy and I Know It,” and performed at the Super Bowl halftime show as special guests of Madonna in 2012, but only a few months later the party was over, with the duo announcing an indefinite hiatus. Sorry For Party Rocking remains the pair’s final album, and RedFoo and Sky Blu’s respective solo endeavors have resulted in a few club hits that failed to break through on a larger commercial level. LMFAO will forever belong to a specific era in pop, although the group’s signature single will live on at weddings, Bar Mitzvahs and throwback dance playlists.
“At its core, ‘Party Rock Anthem’ is a great song with super catchy melody and harmonic structure,” asserts Kierszenbaum. “That’s why I think it would have worked in any era of music.”