TIME Music

#Selfie Absorbed

Chainsmokers Portrait #Selfie Album Selfie TIME Magazine Andrew Taggart Alex Pall EDM Dance Club Music 2014
Mark Peckmezian for Time Chainsmokers Andrew Taggart (left) and Alex Pall popped into TIME’s New York City studio to click their own portrait with the help of Mark Peckmezian

The Chainsmokers' new song is smarter than it sounds

Selfies have been linked to mental illness, narcissism and addiction–none of which is news to the Chainsmokers, a New York City–based DJ duo who are rising to success with their infuriatingly infectious single “#SELFIE.” The song is pure audio click bait, from the hashtag in the title to its focus on the neologism du jour: Building on a stubborn earworm of a synth break, the two producers trade the euphoric vocals that often accompany electronic-dance-music singles for a satirical spoken-word track of a girl trying to take the perfect photo during a night out in a club. “Can you guys help me pick a filter?” she drawls. “I wanna look tan.”

Novelty dance songs are nothing new; hits from Aqua’s “Barbie Girl” to Psy’s “Gangnam Style” have stampeded radio, fueled by slick production and a catchy hook. But the Chainsmokers–that’s Alex Pall and Andrew Taggart–have nailed something trickier than the average hit. “#SELFIE” is arch social commentary dressed up as a floor filler. The girl (an uncredited vocal by their friend Alexis Killacam) hits just the right note of navel-gazing ennui as she obsesses over captions and the dubious affections of some dude named Jason. It’s hyperbolic; also, it rings spookily familiar to a generation growing weary of selfie-driven self-involvement.

The Chainsmokers’ ascent to stardom is being shepherded by legendary DJ Steve Aoki through his Dim Mak Records label. Aoki’s pal Paris Hilton tackled related subject matter in a surreal 2012 song, “Drunk Text,” which feels almost outmoded here in the Snapchat era. But “Drunk Text” didn’t take off, whereas “#SELFIE” reached No. 1 on the dance/electronic chart and is now a Top 20 radio hit. It belongs there, and not just because it’s timely. “#SELFIE” works because Pall and Taggart were clever enough to take the vanity pandemic that Instagram hath wrought and hold a mirror to it. Or, in this case, a front-facing camera.

This appears in the April 28, 2014 issue of TIME.
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