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Will Straw, PhD

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Daft Punk Did More Than "Get Lucky" With This Hit

Posted: 06/11/2013 8:54 am

I'm just back from a one-week European swing that took me through the Amsterdam airport to Oslo, for a conference on popular music, then back through Paris to Montreal. As I moved from airport, to train station, to restaurant, to hotel (and, to be honest, to the occasional nightclub), I was followed everywhere by Daft Punk's "Get Lucky," the ubiquitous song of the moment. Shazam, the music recognition app, has already predicted that "Get Lucky" will be the song of the summer, and as I write this it sits at no. 2 on Billboard magazine's "Hot 200." (Random Access Memories, the album from which "Get Lucky" is taken, is no. 1.)

The inescapability of "Get Lucky" is part of the story. Whether you like it or not, its chorus will recycle through your head even when it is not actually being played anywhere in your vicinity. Hearing it in Europe, I was reminded of how, for 20 years or more, I'd always hear Double's "Captain of my Heart," with its tackier but equally insidious hook, within two hours of landing on that continent.

The "bigness" of "Get Lucky" has also become part of the story. It's hard to turn a musical corner on the Internet without finding Daft Punk praised for the mastery with which they've made the track go viral or trashed for their claims that they have set out to save popular music. Random Access Memories arrived surrounded by headlines about a return to warm, "human" songs in electronic dance music, and this re-humanization is being used to explain the album's massive success. The easy critiques of these claims simply point out how much of the music on the album is machine-produced, but this doesn't take us very far. (The soulful garage house of the mid-1980s was almost entirely machine-based, but is revered for producing moments of almost religious togetherness among those who danced to it.)

More even-handed reactions, like that by Spin's Phil Sherburne, point out that electronic dance music has been going warm and human for a couple of decades at least. These reinsertions of human warmth into electronic dance music are often packaged or understood as returns to 1970s disco, and disco revivals have been a constant of dance music culture since Dee-Lite gestured towards the 1970s in their 1990 breakthrough album "World Clique." One of the things keeping "Get Lucky" viral is the clip which syncs the track with dancing from the seventies television program Soul Train.

I've been doing research on the ways in which Montreal night-life changed in the 1960s, when discothèques slowly edged out the cabarets and dance halls which had been so central to the city's reputation as a late-night capital. The discothèque, where you could hear records imported from France or the United States, was quickly embraced by young people who felt that records offered a stronger connection with music and performers than the live orchestra. Records, it was argued, carried the original, "true" version of a song, sung by the singer who had made it famous and whose personality stamped it as human. Cabaret orchestras and bar bands, on the other hand, were seen as false, lifeless, simply going through the motions. "Live" music, at this point, was music played without emotional commitments, while records were the carriers of genuine human expressivity.

Ten years later, at the height of disco music's popularity, live musicians would condemn it as music made by machines or Svengali-like producers and decry its lack of warm, human qualities. Disco revivals ever since have set the music against musical backdrops which appear even more cold and contrived. In the current moment, as electronic dance music conquers Las Vegas and is both massively popular and invisible to most media, Daft Punk's rootsy embrace of disco in its most cherished and above-ground forms seems very savvy.

Loading Slideshow...
  • Thomas Bangalter, Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo

    In this April 17, 2013 photo, Thomas Bangalter, left, and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo, from the music group, Daft Punk, pose for a portrait in Los Angeles. The electronic duo's new studio album, "Random Access Memories" releases in the US on May 21, 2013. (Photo by Matt Sayles/Invision/AP)

  • AUSTRALIA-FRANCE-ENTERTAINMENT-MUSIC-OFFBEAT

    This picture taken on May 17, 2013 shows fans attending the launch of French group Daft Punk's new album in Australia's tiny town of Wee Waa. Wee Waa, better known for cotton-picking than culture, was relishing the limelight as thousands of electo-pop fans descended for French group Daft Punk's album launch. The cotton town's population will more than double for the event, being billed as an 'official album playback', with 4,000 tickets sold and police expecting crowds of up to 6,000. AFP PHOTO / Shanna Whan (Photo credit should read SHANNA WHAN/AFP/Getty Images)

  • AUSTRALIA-MUSIC-FRANCE-DAFT PUNK

    Fans while wearing Daft Punk helmets arrive at the venue prior to the French group Daft Punk's album launch in Australia's tiny town of Wee Waa on May 17, 2013. Wee Waa better known for cotton-picking than culture was relishing the limelight as thousands of electo-pop fans descended for French group Daft Punk's album launch. The cotton town's population will more than double for the event -- being billed as an 'official album playback' -- with 4,000 tickets sold and police expecting crowds of up to 6,000. AFP PHOTO / Shanna Whan (Photo credit should read SHANNA WHAN/AFP/Getty Images)

  • AUSTRALIA-MUSIC-FRANCE-DAFT PUNK

    Fans arrive at the venue to witness the French group Daft Punk's album launch in Australia's tiny town of Wee Waa on May 17, 2013. Wee Waa better known for cotton-picking than culture, was relishing the limelight as thousands of electo-pop fans descended for French group Daft Punk's album launch. The cotton town's population will more than double for the event -- being billed as an 'official album playback' -- with 4,000 tickets sold and police expecting crowds of up to 6,000. AFP PHOTO / Shanna Whan (Photo credit should read SHANNA WHAN/AFP/Getty Images)

  • AUSTRALIA-MUSIC-FRANCE-DAFT PUNK

    Fans while wearing Daft Punk helmets wait for their order at a cafeteria prior to the French group Daft Punk's album launch in Australia's tiny town of Wee Waa on May 17, 2013. Wee Waa better known for cotton-picking than culture was relishing the limelight as thousands of electo-pop fans descended for French group Daft Punk's album launch. The cotton town's population will more than double for the event -- being billed as an 'official album playback' -- with 4,000 tickets sold and police expecting crowds of up to 6,000. AFP PHOTO / Shanna Whan (Photo credit should read SHANNA WHAN/AFP/Getty Images)

  • AUSTRALIA-FRANCE-ENTERTAINMENT-MUSIC-OFFBEAT

    This picture taken on May 17, 2013 shows fans attending the launch of French group Daft Punk's new album in Australia's tiny town of Wee Waa. Wee Waa, better known for cotton-picking than culture, was relishing the limelight as thousands of electo-pop fans descended for French group Daft Punk's album launch. The cotton town's population will more than double for the event, being billed as an 'official album playback', with 4,000 tickets sold and police expecting crowds of up to 6,000. AFP PHOTO / Shanna Whan (Photo credit should read SHANNA WHAN/AFP/Getty Images)

  • AUSTRALIA-FRANCE-ENTERTAINMENT-MUSIC-OFFBEAT

    This picture taken on May 17, 2013 shows fans attending the launch of French group Daft Punk's new album in Australia's tiny town of Wee Waa. Wee Waa, better known for cotton-picking than culture, was relishing the limelight as thousands of electo-pop fans descended for French group Daft Punk's album launch. The cotton town's population will more than double for the event, being billed as an 'official album playback', with 4,000 tickets sold and police expecting crowds of up to 6,000. AFP PHOTO / Shanna Whan (Photo credit should read SHANNA WHAN/AFP/Getty Images)

  • AUSTRALIA-FRANCE-ENTERTAINMENT-MUSIC-OFFBEAT

    This picture taken on May 17, 2013 shows fans attending the launch of French group Daft Punk's new album in Australia's tiny town of Wee Waa. Wee Waa, better known for cotton-picking than culture, was relishing the limelight as thousands of electo-pop fans descended for French group Daft Punk's album launch. The cotton town's population will more than double for the event, being billed as an 'official album playback', with 4,000 tickets sold and police expecting crowds of up to 6,000. AFP PHOTO / Shanna Whan (Photo credit should read SHANNA WHAN/AFP/Getty Images)

  • AUSTRALIA-MUSIC-FRANCE-DAFT PUNK

    Fans with Daft Punk helmets pose for pictures on the eve of French group Daft Punk's album launch in Australia's tiny town of Wee Waa on May 17, 2013. Wee Waa better known for cotton-picking than culture, was relishing the limelight as thousands of electo-pop fans descended for French group Daft Punk's album launch. The cotton town's population will more than double for the event -- being billed as an 'official album playback' -- with 4,000 tickets sold and police expecting crowds of up to 6,000. AFP PHOTO / Shanna Whan (Photo credit should read SHANNA WHAN/AFP/Getty Images)

  • AUSTRALIA-MUSIC-FRANCE-DAFT PUNK

    Fans arrive at the vanue to witness the French group Daft Punk's album launch in Australia's tiny town of Wee Waa on May 17, 2013. Wee Waa better known for cotton-picking than culture, was relishing the limelight as thousands of electo-pop fans descended for French group Daft Punk's album launch. The cotton town's population will more than double for the event -- being billed as an 'official album playback' -- with 4,000 tickets sold and police expecting crowds of up to 6,000. AFP PHOTO / Shanna Whan (Photo credit should read SHANNA WHAN/AFP/Getty Images)

  • This CD cover image released by Columbia Records shows "Random Access Memories," the latest release by Daft Punk. (AP Photo/Columbia Records)

  • Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo, Thomas Bangalter

    FILE - In this Dec. 11, 2010 file photo, musician Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo, left, and musician Thomas Bangalter of the duo Daft Punk arrive at the premiere of the feature film "Tron: Legacy" in Los Angeles. Daft Punk's "Get Lucky_Radio Edit" was the most viral track on Spotify, based on the number of people who shared it divided by the number who listened to it, from Monday, April 2, to Sunday, April 28, via Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter and Spotify. It was also the most streamed tracks on Spotify. (AP Photo/Dan Steinberg)

  • AUSTRALIA-MUSIC-FRANCE-DAFT PUNK

    Staff of a cafe busy in a customer order while wearing Daft Punk helmets prior to the French group Daft Punk's album launch in Australia's tiny town of Wee Waa on May 17, 2013. Wee Waa better known for cotton-picking than culture, was relishing the limelight as thousands of electo-pop fans descended for French group Daft Punk's album launch. The cotton town's population will more than double for the event -- being billed as an 'official album playback' -- with 4,000 tickets sold and police expecting crowds of up to 6,000. AFP PHOTO / Shanna Whan (Photo credit should read SHANNA WHAN/AFP/Getty Images)

  • AUSTRALIA-FRANCE-ENTERTAINMENT-MUSIC-OFFBEAT

    This picture taken on May 17, 2013 shows a fan wearing a helmet during the launch of French group Daft Punk's new album in Australia's tiny town of Wee Waa. Wee Waa, better known for cotton-picking than culture, was relishing the limelight as thousands of electo-pop fans descended for French group Daft Punk's album launch. The cotton town's population will more than double for the event, being billed as an 'official album playback', with 4,000 tickets sold and police expecting crowds of up to 6,000. AFP PHOTO / Shanna Whan (Photo credit should read SHANNA WHAN/AFP/Getty Images)

  • AUSTRALIA-FRANCE-ENTERTAINMENT-MUSIC-OFFBEAT

    This picture taken on May 17, 2013 shows fans attending the launch of French group Daft Punk's new album in Australia's tiny town of Wee Waa. Wee Waa, better known for cotton-picking than culture, was relishing the limelight as thousands of electo-pop fans descended for French group Daft Punk's album launch. The cotton town's population will more than double for the event, being billed as an 'official album playback', with 4,000 tickets sold and police expecting crowds of up to 6,000. AFP PHOTO / Shanna Whan (Photo credit should read SHANNA WHAN/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Daft Punk Play Brisbane

    BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - DECEMBER 20: Daft Punk performs on stage at the City Botanic Gardens on December 20, 2007 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

  • Nominee for Album of the Year, Nominee f

    Nominee for Album of the Year, Nominee for Best Rap Solo Performance and Nominee for Best Rap Album Kanye West performs with Daft Punk at the 50th Grammy Awards in Los Angeles on February 10, 2008. AFP PHOTO/Robyn BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Daft Punk Play Brisbane

    BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - DECEMBER 20: Daft Punk performs on stage at the City Botanic Gardens on December 20, 2007 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

  • Daft Punk Play Brisbane

    BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - DECEMBER 20: Daft Punk performs on stage at the City Botanic Gardens on December 20, 2007 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

  • Daft Punk Play Brisbane

    BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - DECEMBER 20: Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter of Daft Punk perform on stage at the City Botanic Gardens on December 20, 2007 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

  • Daft Punk Play Brisbane

    BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - DECEMBER 20: Daft Punk performs on stage at the City Botanic Gardens on December 20, 2007 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

  • Daft Punk Play Brisbane

    BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - DECEMBER 20: Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter of Daft Punk perform on stage at the City Botanic Gardens on December 20, 2007 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

  • Daft Punk Play Brisbane

    BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - DECEMBER 20: Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter of Daft Punk perform on stage at the City Botanic Gardens on December 20, 2007 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

  • Daft Punk Play Brisbane

    BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - DECEMBER 20: Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter of Daft Punk perform on stage at the City Botanic Gardens on December 20, 2007 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

  • Daft Punk Play Brisbane

    BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - DECEMBER 20: Daft Punk performs on stage at the City Botanic Gardens on December 20, 2007 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

  • Vegoose 2007 Day 1

    LAS VEGAS - OCTOBER 27: The audience watches Daft Punk during the Vegoose music festival at Sam Boyd Stadium's Star Nursery Field October 27, 2007 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Karl Walter/Getty Images)

 

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