By Paul Gaszak, English Faculty
Daft Punk ruled the Grammy’s on Sunday night, winning five awards including Best Record for “Get Lucky” and Best Album for Random Access Memories. They also had a fun performance of “Get Lucky” with Pharrell, Nile Rodgers, and Stevie Wonder.
I like Daft Punk. I defended “Get Lucky” all year as the best mainstream song of 2013, even as the super catchy “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke flooded airwaves. I own their albums, and their song “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” was just outside my Top 25 on my list of Top Songs of All-Time. I dig their whole robot schtick, which somehow works for them and seems cool rather than forced.
Yet, Daft Punk’s success at the Grammy’s makes me once again question how we Americans view music.
To make that point, we need a brief recap of Daft Punk’s history:
- Back in 1997, during my high school days, Daft Punk’s “Around the World” was everywhere. Very good (not great) song. Cool video.
- Then Daft Punk vanished for a while.
- During my college years in 2001, they reappeared with hits like “One More Time” and “Harder, Better, Faster, Strong.”
- Then *POOF* gone.
- Their third album, 2005’s Human After All, is largely forgettable. It wasn’t until Kanye West’s Graduation album that Daft Punk seemed mainstream again because of Kanye’s song “Stronger” which sampled “Harder, Better, Faster Stronger.”
- There was some Grammy success in 2009 for a live album, then in 2010 they did the soundtrack for the film Tron: Legacy.
- In 2013, they released Random Access Memories with the hit “Get Lucky.”
- So, from 1997-2013, Daft Punk had three albums (not counting Tron or the Live album) with maybe 3-4 very good songs and 1 great song in “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger.”
In total, their career track record didn’t add up to what some artists do in ONE great album. Yet, during all that time, people treated Daft Punk as if they had some kind of indie-artist coolness to them, which is nonsense because they had international hit songs – there was no “insider” quality to them. Yet, that aura remained, and this was especially true with the way people lost their minds about Daft Punk doing the soundtrack for Tron, as if it was actually the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and Jesus who formed a super group for the soundtrack.
Then Random Access Memories comes out, which has two real standout songs – “Get Lucky” and “Lose Yourself to Dance” – both of which feature Pharrell on vocals. And, maybe it’s Pharrell who’s the artist on fire, between “Get Lucky,” “Blurred Lines,” and the deliriously fun “Happy,” Pharrell had as many hits in 2013 as Daft Punk did in the past 10 years. Pharrell’s songs aside, Daft Punk’s album feels like an inferior Jamiroquai album.
(This is when everyone under 30 Googles Jamiroquai and says, “Oh, the band that did that song in Napoleon Dynamite?)
Some of the same groovy, funk-disco deliciousness that makes “Get Lucky” so damn good is what has made Jamiroquai so successful worldwide, yet in America, they were mostly written off as one-hit wonders after their 1996 song “Virtual Insanity.” Maybe Jamiroquai’s lead singer Jay Kay picked the wrong type of headgear. Jamiroqaui remains active and very popular – just not mainstream in America.
Another example is how America lost its mind over the folk-rock stylings of Mumford & Sons, yet barely noticed the harder-edged, lyrically superior folk-punk-rock of another artist from across the pond, Frank Turner, whose 2013 album Tape Deck Heart was the best new album I heard last year, yet only hit 52 on the Billboard Top 200. His single “Recovery” – my favorite song of 2013 – got solid airplay, but didn’t grab hold of the mainstream the same way Mumford hits like “Little Lion Man” did.
I like Daft Punk, Mumford & Sons, Jamiroquai, Frank Turner. I’m not questioning the artists. I’m questioning us, the American music audience. Daft Punk deserves the accolades for “Get Lucky,” but there is frustratingly little logic in our pop culture scene.
Daft Punk seemed to have earned a decade-long pass from Americans, as if we were just waiting for them to finally release an amazing song like “Get Lucky” just so we could all say, “SEE! I told YOU Daft Punk kicks ass!” Other artists are given no such pass and are cast aside as one-hit wonders even if they continue to produce good music for YEARS after bursting onto the scene.
Many great songs flew under the radar in 2013 – Turner’s “Recovery” being one example – and yet we prop up and reward ultra-obnoxious songs like “Royals” by Lorde. (She should be working on her resume and CV right now. Her 15 minutes is almost up.)
As someone who plays the piano, classical pianist Lang Lang blew my friggin’ mind with his musical introduction to Metallica at the Grammy’s. I am not bad at the piano, and yet I could NEVER play like that. The audience hardly made a peep. Then, a simple strum of the guitar intro for Metallica’s “One” and the audience went nuts.
Perhaps it’s just that the collective whims of the American music scene are tugged in so many directions by countless variables that the end result is what appears to be a confounding lack of logic. Or maybe it is just illogical.