While most music critics have been busy furiously searching their thesauri for synonyms of “banal” with which to critically pan The Chainsmokers‘ recently released album Memories… Do Not Open (or comparing them to Nickelback), those of us who are unbiased, unprejudiced free-thinkers have noticed striking similarities between the hit-happy EDM duo and a legendary music icon: Bob Dylan.
You read that right. Bob Dylan. Mr. Tambourine Man himself. The Rolling Stone Blowin’ in the Wind. The man who a-changed the times and helped usher in the 1960s musical revolution with just a guitar, a harmonica, and a gift for lyrical poésie that has earned him universal acclaim and a freaking Nobel Prize. That Bob Dylan.
The artist today that most resembles all that Dylan did and has stood for throughout his half-a-century-long career, believe or not, is The Chainsmokers, the frat-bro-EDM-duo made up of Drew Taggert and Alex Pall that lives on the airwaves and will dominate your summer music listening for the forseeable future.
Now, let’s run through a few reasons why (and quickly — I want to listen to “Closer” one billion more times before I go to bed):
Music critics and their more racist, basement-headquartered cousins, the YouTube commenter, have had a field day deriding the voice of The Chainsmokers’ default vocalist Drew Taggert. Interestingly enough, the critics’ critiques have been more or less congruous with what our generally unenlightened YouTube brethren have been saying: USA Today homes in on Taggert’s “hilariously bad vocals, which almost sound intentionally weak,” while one YouTube commenter opines, “I literally popped a blood vessel in my right eye from cringing so much. This dude fucking sucks at singing. I’m honestly embarrassed for him.” More or less in accord.
But these condescending critics and internet Christgaus forget someone else who didn’t have a prototypically good voice — that’s right, Bob Dylan.
While ranking him seventh on its list of “100 Greatest Singers of All Time,” Rolling Stone had this to say about Dylan:
“Bob Dylan did what very, very few singers ever do. He changed popular singing… When Sam Cooke played Dylan for the young Bobby Womack, Womack said he didn’t understand it. Cooke explained that from now on, it’s not going to be about how pretty the voice is. It’s going to be about believing that the voice is telling the truth.
To understand Bob Dylan’s impact as a singer, you have to imagine a world without Tom Waits, Bruce Springsteen, Eddie Vedder, Kurt Cobain, Lucinda Williams or any other vocalist with a cracked voice, dirt-bowl yelp or bluesy street howl.”
That’s right. Taggert’s voice may sound like a cracked dirt-bowl filled with crumbled sidewalk, but the beauty of a singing voice doesn’t matter. Not since Dylan. And now Taggert is the heir to the mantle passed from Dylan to Springsteen to Cobain.
“Dylan did with singing what Brando did with acting. He busted through the artifice to get to the art. Both of them tore down the prissy rules laid down by the schoolmarms of their craft, broke through the fourth wall, got in the audience’s face and said, ‘I dare you to think I’m kidding.'”
Take that you prissy schoolmarms! I dare you to think that Taggert is kidding when he croons about dying in a pointlessly Parisian suicide. As he croons on “Bloodstream,” “I-I-I-I-I-I-I really fuckin’ meant it.”
Okay, Okay, so they both don’t have great voices. But with Dylan it was more about the message, what he was singing about. He’s the quintessential protest singer. Look at “Blowin’ in the Wind”:
“How many years can a mountain exist
Before it’s washed to the sea?
How many years can some people exist
Before they’re allowed to be free?
How many times can a man turn his head
And pretend that he just doesn’t see?
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind.”
And “The Times They Are A-changin'”:
“Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don’t criticize
What you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is
Please get out of the new one
If you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’.”
Surely The Chainsmokers, of all people, can’t hold a candle to the man who wrote such trenchant and powerful protest songs…
Hmmm… So I guess this article from Billboard — “Chainsmokers Denounce Trump at Ultra Music Festival” — means nothing to you! (If there’s anything more [21st century] American than denouncing Donald Trump at “the world’s premier electronic music festival” I’d like to see it.)
And while we’re talking about the messages of their respective music, I can’t help but see a connection between Dylan’s proscriptions on parental authority in “The Times They Are A-changin” and the Chainsmokers’ similar stance in “Paris”: after all, they were stayin’ in Paris to get away from your parents. Both artists serve as poet laureates of the youth culture for their respective generations:
Dylan, “My Back Pages”: “Ah, but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now”
Chainsmokers, “Closer”: “We ain’t ever getting older/ We ain’t ever getting older”
The resemblance is uncanny.
So are The Chainsmokers the Bob Dylan of this generation? They’ve certainly captured the zeitgeist through their profound lyrics about endless youth and voiturial coitus. And as a singer Drew Taggert carries on the Dylonian legacy of not singing so good.
It seems obvious to me, but for those who need convincing, give it some time. The Chainsmokers are young, they haven’t even had their Newport Folk Festival yet. And when they do, when The Chainsmokers go acoustic at Tomorrowland 2019 or something, Me and this genius will be the lone voices cheering because we know what’s going on.