When my editor told me I’d be reviewing the launch of the Chainsmokers' Memories Do Not Open Tour at the American Airlines Arena last night, a number of thoughts ran through my head. First and foremost, Why me?
Let's just say I'm not a fan. By their own admission, the Chainsmokers are the premier pledge masters of EDM, demanding to be taken seriously in a category — frat bros — that undermines any credibility they might otherwise have. Worse yet, they may very well be the first “boy band” of EDM: a carefully constructed, mother-approved label product designed to extract as much monetary value and goodwill from as many demographics as possible.
How would I write about this? Surely I would hate it, right?
Rambling think pieces about the cyclical nature of mediocre, prepackaged pop are so common they're practically a genre unto themselves, so that idea was tabled. For a few hours, I considered writing a gonzo piece, with me, the hapless author, pitted against the sadistic cretins I call my editors. Maybe I'd pen a screenplay in which I tag along with the Chainsmokers, an extended misadventure spent guzzling vodka and chiefing chiba until I ultimately confessed to Drew Pall and Alex Taggart that I didn’t really like their music and they really ought to reconsider how they approach their craft. But alas, New Times isn’t Vice, and I don’t think my creative leash is that long.
Ultimately, I opted to keep it simple and write about what I saw, as time-honored a formula for compelling live reviews as they come. I had already given more thought to the creative process of writing about the Chainsmokers than they appear to have ever given their own work. At this rate, I would be burnt out before the show even started.
After an awkward intro that saw singer and producer Taggart — undoubtedly the looks in the operation — walk onstage while a text conversation with Pall was displayed onscreen, the two jumped into “The One,” the opening track on their new record, Memories... Do Not Open. From there, the performance transitioned into a DJ set, with Taggart and Pall playing anonymous EDM tracks while smoke shot from the stage at an approximate rate of every two minutes.
Cries of “Miami!” and “Middle fingers in the air!” seemed to keep the audience engaged, at least for a little while. Around the time I first saw an audience member check someone else’s Snapchat story on their phone — this was a recurring theme — the duo launched into “Break Up Every Night” with the accompaniment of a full backing band. Once that was over, it was back to the DJ set.
This pattern — Billboard hit, ADHD-riddled DJ set, occasional live sketch involving mishaps with technology — held for the duration of the evening. But after the obligatory sing-along to “Closer” came and went, there was a noticeable dampening in enthusiasm. Whether it was because there was school the next day or attendees had gotten their necessary fix, a gradual crowd exodus began when the duo played the hit “Paris” and continued through the set’s initial closing song, “Don’t Let Me Down.” By the time the show was ostensibly over, there didn’t seem to be all that much of a demand for an encore; if there was one, it certainly wasn’t audible. Pall and Taggart returned for their final song, but a solid third of concergoers had already vacated their seats.
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I wasn’t surprised that I didn’t enjoy the show much; I accepted a long time ago that I was better suited to dark discotheques and smoking areas than to people-packed arenas. What did shock me, however, was how routine and regimented everything seemed, with an audience that might as well have been at the movies and not, you know, watching the biggest American pop act on the first date of its nation-conquering tour. It’s possible this is just the way things are now, with stadium acts eliciting Instagram captions and selfies instead of thrills and ecstasy; if that is indeed the case, there’s a significant cause for concern.
As so thoroughly covered by Taggart and Pall themselves in their Billboard feature story, everything about the Chainsmokers endeavor has been calculated to a tee, from the preexisting audiences they seek to attract to what features might garner them the most buzz. And that’s fine; as long as our current entertainment apparatus stays in place, there’ll always be a Chainsmokers for the Top 40 to rally around — and for people like me to turn their noses up at. But the live experience shouldn’t be an extension of those cynical business practices. If you’re going to be an entertainer, then entertain.