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The Chainsmokers and writing about youth

Felix Kalvesmaki, Commentary editor

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I’ve been sitting on electronic dance music duo The Chainsmokers’ “Memories…Do Not Open” since it came out on April 7. I’ve been listening, contemplating and trying to comprehend how I ended up in this incredibly painful situation. I remember pitching the idea to write a review on this album, because I’ve been fed up with their lazy composition and their lackluster, repetitive production, and I really wanted a chance to write about it. That day will henceforth be known as the worst day of my life. I should have taken “Do Not Open” to heart and left this demon be.

“Memories” is so amazingly bad, you guys.

This LP is Alex Pall and Drew Taggart’s first full-length effort, and it’s obvious they’re very used to writing singles. They’ve done well on that front. The hitmakers were behind the chart-topping “Roses,” “Closer” and “Don’t Let Me Down” from years past. However, when trying to apply that type of craftsmanship to 45 minutes of music, it gets tiring. For one thing, the songs are all structured in the same way. They start off soft, and by the chorus, there’s a huge drop with a few high notes and indistinct, fuzzy synth in the background. I can forgive a pop formula, because that’s how a lot of artists write music, but what really grinds my gears is that these songs are clones. “Paris,” “Something Just Like This” (the album’s lead singles) and “The One” (the album’s opening track) bear uncanny similarities in melody and chords. The three biggest songs on the album are carbon copies of each other.

The driving force behind the album appears to be nostalgia, hence the title. Therefore, the lyricism reflects adolescence: being young, going to parties, first loves and every other indie movie trope in the book. I’ve always held the sentiment that “Closer” and the like could’ve been singles from the “Paper Towns” soundtrack, but “Memories” could be the entire score. It’s filled to the brim with shallow interpretations of youth, with enthralling lines like “You know I’m sorry / I won’t make it to your party” and  “I gave up three times this week / I can’t be this soft.” The couplets remind me of the dramatic friend in the group chat that has a meltdown every time they break up with their boyfriend of two days. These lyrics might be forgivable if they were delivered with any emotion, but Taggart can seemingly only sing within one octave. He should’ve just kept hiring vocalists. “Something Just Like This,” while a little saccharine, even for a love song, made the low-bar lyrics a little more tolerable.

What really angers me about this record is that their music is most likely directed at two audiences: rave-goers and teenagers. And unless twentysomethings like crying in the club about their first boyfriends (which I’m sure some do, but that’s not the point), these lyrics have to be angled toward adolescents. It’s funny, really. The Chainsmokers really have to think very little of their target audience to think this kind of half-baked, embarrassing angst would mean anything to a young person. There’s no complexity or ingenuity in what Taggart has to say.

The Chainsmokers simply don’t give their younger audience enough credit. They don’t understand that there’s more to adolescents. With that in mind, I hope it’s easier to understand why “Memories” feels condescending.

There’s a way to write about adolescence and the angst that comes with it. Lorde did it well on “Pure Heroine.” Marina and the Diamonds did it well on “Teen Idle.” The Chainsmokers did not do it well on “Memories.”
Overall, “Memories” is limp, unimpressive and kind of pathetic. We’re looking at a solid C-, folks. I really can’t believe these two DJs expected an entire album of dance party background music would be anything else.

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