And how was your year?
Whatever your metric of choice, The Chainsmokers’ stunning 2016 achievements speak louder than any proffering of pop adjectives we could muster. They received three GRAMMY Awards® nominations, including a coveted nod in the Best New Artist category. Their tsunami-sized mega-hit “Closer” held down the #1 spot for three consecutive months – making it the biggest and longest-running #1 hit of 2016. The song’s irresistible, universal appeal - with one observant critic hailing it as “‘Don Henley’s ‘Boys Of summer’ in the age of snapchat” - capped a once-in-a-generation-kind of year for a music duo in pop, rock, dance, or any of the dozens of adrenalized entertainment platforms keeping tabs on their improbable rise.
Their three signature singles of 2016 have all been certified multi-platinum; “Roses” featuring Rozes (3X), “Don’t Let Me Down” featuring Daya (4X) and “Closer” featuring Halsey (4X). The duo has been topping the global streaming charts on a weekly basis for almost a year, with an incredible half a billion Spotify streams and YouTube views for “Closer,” alone. They clocked a just-as-amazing three month reign at the top of the Digital Sales, Streaming Songs, and Hot Dance/Electronic chart, the first artist to top the Hot Dance/Electronic chart for 10 or more consecutive weeks with 3 #1 songs (comprising the above-mentioned hits), landing all three on the Top Ten of the coveted Hot 100 singles chart in 2016. Nominated for multiple Billboard, Teen Choice, MTV Video, American Music and GRAMMY® Awards, they recently snared their first AMA win for Favorite Artist/Electronic Dance Music, crisscrossing the world as festival headliners, with none other than the New York Times declaring them ‘firmly ensconced at pop music’s center,’ and they haven’t even made their first full-length album yet.
Universally anointed as pop’s most intriguing and unpredictable new hit makers, Alex Pall and Drew Taggart may have declared themselves ‘just regular guys’ when they first impacted the dance music scene only a few years ago, but they’re damn sure about to own 2017. Theirs is a globally-dominating trajectory few American music duos have experienced in the past decade, and that’s with only two EPS under their belt, 2015’s ‘Bouquet,’ and the more recently released ‘Collage.’ Billboard Magazine aptly noted the Chainsmokers’ record-breaking success has neared ‘unheard of’ status – citing “Closer” as the ‘longest-leading Hot 100 #1 by a duo in more than 12 years.’
Genuinely able to still put it all in perspective, the group credits their fans for their unwavering support as they transitioned from in-demand DJ/remixers to chart-topping songwriters and performers. They’ve harnessed their knowledgeable fan base for invaluable input throughout their career, and remain approachable to fans online or off-grid. “We’ve always approached our music with the idea we’re making it for ourselves and our friends,” says Alex. “We’re amazed that fans all over the world have also been willing to embrace that concept.”
But it’s also the duo’s playful sense of proportion about the fickle shelf-life of every pop culture narrative that has sustained their creative edge, as well. Knowing when to go ‘Big,’ when to play it casual – (or flat-out irreverent) – sometimes in the same song (as Slate adroitly noted about “Closer’s’” hypnotic allure – how “it stands out for its tone of small-scale regret writ large”). The Chainsmokers may have lulled the stodgier tastemakers into thinking they’ve been smirking their way up the pop ladder, but the duo now rules as ‘one of the most consistent purveyors of mass-appeal melodic rock’ in popular music, today.
And though they’ve talked in earlier interviews about the importance of remaining ‘unapologetically yourself,’ Taggart and Pall have never been against accruing a little wisdom along the way. “Our success caught a lot of people off-guard,” says Drew. “Including us, sometimes. But from day one we’ve always wanted the music to be the focus.” Alex agrees: “It was never like we thought we knew everything when we started. We really were regular dudes, trying to be humble, always trying to make the music the best we could. Before you know it, it’s a little eye-opening, with people suddenly caring about what you have to say. So you make the transition, always reminding yourself the music is the cornerstone of what you are about. The process has changed a bit, with the demands on our schedules, but we also grew to understand that creativity isn’t about working in the same room you worked in yesterday. It’s about changing up the environment and finding inspiration in other things. We’ll work in the studio, on the road, just about anywhere. Even we can’t pin down what our workflow is.”
One mutual trait they were able to recognize early on in their working relationship was the strengths of the other. Introduced by their manager, Adam Alpert, in 2012, The Chainsmokers built on that immediate trust to carve out a rare niche as artists who publicly grew into the vision they had for themselves. “I was going to school in NYC, I fell in love with dance music when I visited my sister in the UK, and kind of started DJing by throwing parties around the city,” says Alex. “I was doing that by night and working in an art gallery by day. As soon as I met Drew, I thought we had a lot in common and a lot to offer each other and that’s how we connected.”
“I grew up in Maine where nothing really happens,” jokes Drew. “But I knew it was one of the most beautiful places to be from, and I’ve loved music for my entire life. It was kind of the core to my childhood because there wasn’t much going on. I would dive really deeply in love with whatever genre or band I was interested in at the time. When I went to school I got into dance music – I played drums my whole life but I didn’t like the fact that drums was all I did. I was able to get into other aspects of music – and got into dance music before it became as popular as it is now, so the timing created some opportunities for me to get involved with the industry, and I realized I wanted to commit myself to this full time.” The duo went from garnering millions of streams as remixers to charting their own musical path as artists in 2014. Their hit “Selfie” poked fun at the narcissism of the digital age, but Taggart and Pall knew they had much more to offer beyond that massive hit, refining their songwriting skills and releasing their 2015 EP ‘Bouquet’ to rapid acclaim.
The successive hits of “Roses” and “Don’t Let Me Down” revealed their depth for capturing the dynamics of a song, with a knack for infusing a strong female counterpart that attracted listeners well beyond EDM. It would be “Closer” that even broke that mold, launching Taggart’s first vocal turn in a duet with Halsey that wistfully details a hasty re-boot of a past relationship that quickly goes south again. Both epic and conversational in its ability to capture the tenor of the tryst and the times, the song struck a chord that went well beyond music. “I just tell people it’s not a love song,” says Drew. “It was fun writing, putting together a bunch of anecdotes about reuniting; having a moment and then realizing there was a reason why it didn’t work out.”
For two guys so aware of the fleeting nature of relationship bliss, Alex and Drew have an even deeper appreciation for the tremendous twists and turns of the year they just experienced. “It’s been incredibly fun and at the same time kind of unbelievable, but we continue to evolve, take on new projects, try to keep the surprises coming,” he says. “We never like the doing the same thing over.”
Drew says he’s most proud of the way they have maintained their most crucial friendships and relationships throughout the rollercoaster ride. “I think it’s really cool that the team we started with before all this happened is the team we have now. We all started at the bottom and we got here together, with everyone working together to make the Chainsmokers as successful as we’ve been. It’s kind of unusual in this business, and we never take that for granted.”