The Chainsmokers, an American EDM duo, have made it to the top of the charts once again with their newest hit, “Closer.” Given the song’s position at the top of the Billboard Hot 100, and Spotify's “Global Top 50,” it's clear “Closer” has unmistakable appeal to today’s tastemakers. Though commercially successful, this song is the latest example of an instrumental-driven song, whose lyrics are so contradictory, so nonsensical, that one is left wondering if the Chainsmokers have abandoned artistry in favor of formula.
“Closer” features Chainsmokers member Andrew Taggart trading verses with singer Halsey, each containing flashbacks to an earlier encounter between the two, interwoven with a chance encounter four-years later.
“Hey, I was doing just fine before I met you
I drink too much and that's an issue but I'm okay
Hey, you tell your friends it was nice to meet them
But I hope I never see them again”
The confusion begins early in the song.
While the first two lines are fitting of the EDM genre, the last two make little sense. The narrator appears to be pursuing a casual, one-night, or very brief, relationship, indicated by his hope to never see the woman’s friends again.
However, he could also be confirming his insincerity, maintaining, appearances by asking her to tell the friends he enjoyed meeting them, when this wasn’t the case. Ambiguity is common in lyrics, so this verse alone isn’t enough to sink this record.
The narrative of a fleeting encounter ends with the next verse.
“I know it breaks your heart
Moved to the city in a broke down car
And four years, no calls
Now you're looking pretty in a hotel bar
And I can't stop
No, I can't stop”
If, as the previous verse would have a listener, and in fact the female singer, believe the relationship was brief, what could be the cause of a broken heart? With “four years, no calls” we all but confirm it wasn’t a fleeting encounter.
Perhaps the first line was detailing a breakup? Why, then, would he “hope” he never sees her friends again? Wouldn’t he be avoiding her, and consequently, all her friends? And if he was breaking up with her, he would have presumably have met her friends before this concluding interaction.
Also, how would you move to the city in a broke down car? Did she cut a hole through the floor and Fred Flintstone her way to the unnamed city?
It’s not as if this song is attempting to tackle a difficult narrative, so the lack of cohesion arises from the lyrics being an afterthought. This isn’t a problem for clubs and bars, but if you expect your song to be played over and over again, listeners will eventually tease the lyrics out of the dominating beat.
“So baby pull me closer in the backseat of your Rover
That I know you can't afford
Bite that tattoo on your shoulder
Pull the sheets right off the corner
Of the mattress that you stole
From your roommate back in Boulder
We ain't ever getting older”
Since our narrators met again in the last verse, after a four-year hiatus, they jumped back right into the swing of things. After failing to resist their reignited romance and/or one-night stand (that still isn’t clear), they find themselves in the back seat of the girl’s unaffordable Land Rover.
I love how music can take u places like closer by the chainsmokers & Halsey is playing at this Starbucks so im gonna go to another Starbucks— joey (@JAlLBATE) September 14, 2016
The next lines are banal, with a few notable, confusing lyrics thrown in.
“Pull the sheets right off the corner
Of the mattress that you stole
From your roommate back in Boulder”
How do you steal a mattress from your roommate? Were you moving out of the apartment, and realized you were going to be living in a car, and ransacked his or her room on the way out? But then, what about your own mattress?
Or, perhaps she is prone to kleptomania, which would fit the young, wild and free vibe.
The weaknesses of “Closer” are seen best via comparison with another recent hit, “Cold Water” by Major Lazer (feat. Justin Bieber and MØ). “Cold Water” is a prime example of a beat-driven song with lyrics that follow a discernable narrative:
“Everybody gets high sometimes, you know
What else can we do when we're feeling low?
So take a deep breath and let it go
You shouldn't be drowning on your own
And if you feel you're sinking,
I will jump right over into cold, cold water for you
And although time may take us into different places
I will still be patient with you
And I hope you know”
These lyrics, though lacking in depth and vaguely symbolic, make sense and are not, as with “Closer,” continuously contradictory in the narrative they unravel.
The Chainsmokers are rapidly ascending to the peak of low-cost, profitable music. They don’t require backing or touring musicians, saving resources for lights and pyrotechnics. They have developed a successful formula, and no one can fault them for relying on proven strengths in producing hits.
I'm going to regret looking up the lyrics to The Chainsmokers/Halsey's "Closer" until my dying breath, aren't I?— Lesley Kinzel (@lesleykinzel) September 21, 2016
The credits for this record list the Chainsmokers, Halsey, Shaun Frank, Frederic Kennett and two members of the Fray as co-writers. In the end, the lyrical inconsistencies might be the result of having too many writers on a simplistic song, each contribution further muddying the narrative.
In this age of streaming, comically-bad lyrics are no obstacle to success. With few in their target demographic ever purchasing music, the Chainsmokers need only concern themselves with the replay worthiness of their productions and the allure of their live shows.
Regardless, for the sake of musical integrity (and considering the financial fruits of their meteoric rise) the Chainsmokers might consider taking a play from Drake’s book, focusing on production and leaving the lyrics to a reliable ghostwriter.