Dear Formerly Beloved DJs, Stop with the Pop [Opinion]


Last month Calvin Harris and Steve Aoki released new albums, and today Zedd released a brand new single. Back in 2013 all of these items would generate an enormous amount of excitement from me and most of the EDM community, and with good reason. Calvin Harris, Steve Aoki, and Zedd are excellent producers and have made genre defining tracks in dance music. However, in 2017 hearing about these releases generates a giant yawn and an equally big sigh. What on earth happened to these guys?! Their recent stuff all sounds like some generic song I might hear while shopping in the grocery store. And yes, these are “songs” now, not “tracks”.



For those of you who still download music, you’ll notice it has become incredibly hard to figure out what sub-genre tracks belong in. In 2017 the dance music landscape has shifted so far towards mainstream acceptance that the EDM heavyweights of 2012-2014 are not even making dance music at all anymore. This new Calvin Harris album can’t be categorized as progressive house. It can’t even be categorized as EDM. These artists are making electronic pop (E-POP?). Remember when you first started downloading EDM? A track was something like 12 megabytes and 6 minutes long, whereas today they’re 3 minutes long and 6 megabytes. Sure the “original mix” might drop eventually but you’ll never hear it.

Zedd, Steve Aoki and Calvin Harris aren’t alone, either. You could say this all started with the uber hits ‘Lean On‘ and ‘Where Are U Now‘. These tracks were minimally danceable but had a summery chill vibe that thrilled EDM and non-EDM fans alike. As a result they became some of the biggest tracks in the world. It spawned an army of clones like DJ Snake’s “Let Me Love You” collab with Justin Bieber. This caught the attention of every DJ in the game, especially big names who had already reached the pinnacle of the EDM niche.  At the same time, Skrillex helped pioneer a renewed fusion between EDM and hip-hop which is still embraced in the bass music scene. Now, Steve Aoki is releasing an album that is basically just hip-hop, dance music be damned.

This effect was magnified by the meteoric rise of The Chainsmokers combined with the growing popularity of chiller subgenres like Tropical House and Future Bass that slowed down dance music. As The Chainsmokers eschewed more and more EDM elements from their tracks, their popularity continued to grow. The focus shifted away from melodies, beats, and energy and towards vocal hooks, big name collaborators, and radio play. This is the formula you are seeing emulated by a depressing amount of headliners.

Calvin Harris had always enjoyed huge popularity with his tracks, and this fame was chased by artists like Tiesto, Afrojack, and Hardwell on their debut albums. However, Calvin Harris got huge by making dance music popular for the masses. Up until 2017, his music was still EDM in one sub-genre or another. His new album, Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1 could be called hip-hop, pop, funk, indie or some combination of those words, but it’s not dance music. In 2017 he’s making pop for an EDM audience to reluctantly listen to because they still think Calvin Harris is an EDM artist. If he still is, he doesn’t want to be.

Zedd similarly decided decided to ditch dance music, beginning with his disappointing track ‘Candy Man‘. However, it’s worth noting that Zedd has extensive background producing pop music for the likes of Lady Gaga and more. Since that track he has not released one dance music track, although his track ‘Stay’ did have some future bass elements which are popular within EDM today. Just look at the Reddit comments on the on his latest SONG “Get Low“:

Good thing I had low expectations.

This made me sad. It was only three, maybe four years ago where it seemed like every artist was absolutely pouring their hearts into every track they released. So many legendary tracks released in that era. In five years we’ll look back at this year and say, “wow, why the f*ck was everyone trying to sound like Major Lazer?”

Bought tickets to see him on his tour. This makes me want to sell them.

As an EDM blog, we would normally cover any new music from Zedd, Steve Aoki, Calvin Harris, Audien, Arty, Alesso, Dash Berlin, Armin van Buuren, Tiesto, Afrojack, David Guetta, and Hardwell. But should we still cover this music when it’s not even dance music? Some of these artists like Hardwell, Armin van Buuren, Afrojack, and Arty are experimenting and yet still maintain their pure dance music side so we grant them a bit of leeway even though they occasionally make us shrug. The rest of those artists up there are going all in on pop and they’re betting you’ll stick with them. Don’t. You want to know why festivals like EDC are beginning to feel a bit worn? It’s because half the headliners are playing slow music and/or pop songs that don’t flow together and don’t create the kind of musical journey that sucked us all into this scene in the first place.

Look at the examples set in 2017 by artists realizing that pure exciting dance music will create more excitement from real fans. That’s why W&W, Arty, Sander van Doorn, Headhunterz, and Afrojack have all made very public pronouncements about a return to purist dance music in one way or another. Arty’s Alpha9 and Sander van Doorn’s Purple Haze projects were proclaimed as some of the best performances at Ultra 2017.

So when the artists you love and respect for great dance music put out generic pop, don’t listen to it, don’t buy it, and skip their next show or festival set. Go see the artists that still love and respect the scene that created them like Eric Prydz. You won’t have to worry about hearing “Gasolina” or “Shape of You” 5 times in one day. The “sell outs” are continuing down this path because they think that’s what you want and they think the rest will just stick it out. It’s time to stop the pop in EDM and return to the real dance music that brought us all here in the first place. Hopefully 2017 is just the beginning of this trend and we’ll ironically see all of these artists come back to us as a bandwagon move.