The Chainsmokers, those guys are legends. The DJ duo of Drew Taggart and Alex Pall has taken the pop charts by storm over the last year, particularly with their smash hit “Closer” which reigned number one on the Billboard charts for a full 12 weeks, making it, for all intents and purposes, the song of 2016. They’re hot, young, totally chill, and on top of the world.
Perhaps we’re left to wonder how history will remember The Chainsmokers and Closer because we’re left to wonder how history will remember 2016 – the year when everyone we loved passed away and Donald Trump was elected president. I can only imagine the memories we’ll have of Closer flooding from Uber radios, dining hall serveries, and party rooms (somehow always playing but never at your own volition) will intertwine in the soup of our subconscious with our memories of the election (it was rocking out at number 1 on November 7th).
Over the course of 2016, and into this year, waves of well-meaning and confused people have tried to hit the books (and encourage others to do so) in order to understand the rise of Donald Trump. The mini trend of the "Trump Syllabus" developed in which a few publications put together mock syllabi for their readers to get versed on the body of history and theory that might allow people to contextualize the political turn of events.
I propose one addition: in order to perhaps even better understand the conditions that lead to Trump’s election, we might also want bolster our reading with an immediate historicization of the pop culture landscape of the year. By getting a sense of the ethos of the media that Americans consumed en masse over the course of 2016, we might get a sense of the sort of culture that prospectively put Trump in the White House. The first step might be understanding Closer, and if we want to understand Closer, we have to understand the place that the song wistfully remembers: Boulder, Colorado.
I could go on and try to have a hot take on what Boulder means in the culture – some natural paradise where people from across the country who love come to hike, hit the slopes, smoke legal pot, and unironically celebrate the grand life of being a certain type of person in a certain part of America without worrying too much about it – but it might just be better to let the words and pictures speak for themselves. Here’s some curated Boulder clips, captioned with excerpts from Chris Martins’ questionable profile of The Chainsmokers in Billboard from September. Think of it as the Chainsmokers syllabus, to find out where they’re coming from and what they’ve given us.
"An antique school bus painted Day-Glo orange cuts through the craggy landscape 10 miles west of Denver, blaring dubstep and the gleeful whoops of college-aged music lovers. They’re partying their way up the canyon that leads to the Red Rocks Amphitheatre to see The Chainsmokers, who currently have the No. 1 song in this country and a few others with 'Closer,' a swoony EDM-tinged anthem featuring alt-pop heroine Halsey. As the bus climbs, a crumpled can hits the dirt. Cheap beer? Nope. It’s a cocktail in a can, and the sun’s still way up in the September sky."
“'It’s always work hard, play hard,' says Pall after a pull of vodka. 'But you’ll never see us getting carried out of a club. We’re way too good at drinking.'"
"These good-time bros, whose website bio includes the words '17.34 combined inches' (Pall clarifies: 'Oh, that’s our penises combined... tip to tip'), are also astoundingly good at making hits."
"Taggart, stalking the futuristic structure, yells into the mic: 'If you think you’re more f—ed up than I am, make some noise!' The response is deafening."
"After playing one fraternity, they shot a bit as investigative journalists Hard and Deep, there to expose the 'E-bro-la' epidemic. But they swiftly pulled that video when a commenter called them 'insensitive pricks,' which highlights another vital strand of Chainsmokers DNA: market sensitivity."
"The Chainsmokers are omnivorous music nerds. They talk about other artists constantly, and not just because they’re name-dropping. They’re students of everything, from Kanye West’s general 'dopeness' to Blink-182’s honest lyrics to Twenty One Pilots’ theatrical shows."
“'We rage every night. My mom’s going to hate reading that,' says Drew Taggart, 26, 'but she already knows.'"
"All of which brings a certain character to mind: the bro who has it all, equal parts geeky artist and savvy capitalist, as lovable as he is insufferable, iterating on his product and making stupid money while he’s at it. Is it a coincidence that The Chainsmokers’ label’s name is Disruptor? That Pall’s 'tip-to-tip' joke alludes to a gag from Silicon Valley? With these two, music has found its very own tech bros."
"Inspired by Jeremy Piven’s Entourage character, Ari Gold, Taggart figured his in to EDM would be as an agent or manager, so he majored in music business at Syracuse University."
"Raised in Freeport, Maine, 'a beautiful place on the coast,' by a teacher mother and a father who sells prosthetics, [Taggart] dabbled in soccer, theater, drums and guitar, and even started the investment club at his high school ('Yeah, I’m one of those guys'). He cycled through every type of popular music but didn’t experience dance until he was 15 and doing a year abroad in Argentina."
"At the time of the interview, both had live-in girlfriends but copped to being 'girl crazy.' 'Even before success, pussy was number one,' says Pall. 'Like, Why am I trying to make all this money? I wanted to hook up with hotter girls. I had to date a model.'"
"It’s dark in Colorado. While we were talking, the sun went down and the lasers came up, projecting a rainbow of colors on the massive tilted stones that loom above the crowd. The kids from the bus and about 9,000 others are outside, chanting and stumbling. Backstage, friends, family and associates chatter giddily. Taggart has been feeding his pals THC-laden gummy bears from a local dispensary and is pouring shots of tequila for anyone within shouting distance. Things get quiet. A circle is formed.
'I had not planned a speech. I’m just going to wing it right now,' says Taggart. 'It’s crazy to see this group of beautiful faces celebrating this glorious moment, which is only one rung on this ladder that we will continue to climb until we die' — he pauses — 'of alcohol poisoning. Until then, I just want to say thank you for being part of our journey.'"