As part Billboard's celebration the 60th anniversary our Hot 100 chart this week, we're taking a deeper look at some the biggest artists and singles in the chart's history. Here, we revisit The Black Eyed Peas' "I Gotta Feeling" and LMFAO's "Party Rock Anthem," which finished at No. 7 and No. 6 in our all-time Hot 100 singles ranking, respectively.
There wasn’t a lot to celebrate when the Black Eyed Peas released their Hot 100-topping behemoth “I Gotta Feeling.” But some parties are so inescapable you end up attending them whether you like it or not, and you certainly didn’t need an invite to the Peas’ Hot 100-topping behemoth to listen to it and even love it -- particularly not in 2009.
That was the year the Black Eyed Peas occupied the top spot Billboard’s Hot 100 chart from April to October -- a total 26 weeks, a full half the year -- first with their electro-rap ode to onomatopoeia “Boom Boom Pow” for 12 weeks and then with “Feeling" for another 14. It was a song so ubiquitous that it was easy not to notice how much America needed it.
As a composition, it’s a paradox, existing at once as a brazenly craven exercise in shameless hedonism and lowest-common-denominator songwriting, yet at the same time imbued with an enduring and pervasive ache. Even when the song’s thumping 4/4 drum pound kicks in, the wistful lilt its opening new-wave guitar riff courses on, a film sadness that clings to the tune’s insistent joy.
“Feeling” is a song about partying, but it is so committed to the excitement and pleasure fered by its subject matter that it detaches itself entirely from any sense narrative or temporal continuity. “Tonight’s gonna be a good night,” the Peas promise, at the same time as they dance and pour shots and blow their paychecks, at the same time as they, exhausted, look forward to doing it again. None this is about the experience partying; it is about the promise a pleasure sufficiently uncomplicated that they can forget anything else. The joy the band is pursuing has passed before it has properly arrived: a fireworks show where each soaring rocket has begun to drift into luminescent confetti even before it has exploded.
“Party every day” doesn’t sound like a threat, exactly, but it does sound like an obligation: in the grand Black Eyed Peas cycle simultaneous anticipation, carousal, and come-down, the unasked question is what exactly all this single-minded pursuit happiness is keeping at bay.
America embraced electronic dance music while its economy was falling apart; the National Bureau Economic Research dates the beginning the Great Recession to December 2007, and the first Hot 100 number one 2008 was Flo Rida’s “Low,” an insistent club clarion call that came dressed in the clothes hip-hop but prefigured EDM in its construction and concern. The dance floor would get more attention with ensuing number ones that year, with disco-minded hits like Rihanna’s “Disturbia” and Lady Gaga’s debut “Just Dance” following.
The American housing market had collapsed, Wall Street was falling apart, and jobs were vanishing so fast that the unemployment rate was heading towards double digits. Amid the fear and uncertainty the economic collapse, pop music gave the only answer it could: just dance. Against all evidence, it promised, tonight’s gonna be a good night. Then, before reality could set back in, do it again.
America invented modern dance music -- disco in the north-east, house in Chicago, techno in Detroit -- but as a mainstream concern, the nation had long seen repetitive rhythms and electronic accents as something distinctly foreign, a European eccentricity. The sudden rise pop-EDM changed that, putting simple beats and simpler pleasures squarely in the middle the national consciousness. As the downturn dragged on and the hedonism extended, pop’s embrace the dancefloor turned darker. “We found love in a hopeless place,” Rihanna sang in a collaboration with Scottish DJ Calvin Harris, and, on another hit from the turn the decade, she wanted to feel like the “Only Girl (In the World).” The apocalyptic sentiment extended on hit singles by Kesha (“Die Young”), Britney Spears (“Till the World Ends”), and Pitbull (“Give Me Everything,” in which hook singer Ne-Yo qualifies “For all we know, we might not get tomorrow”).
But then came LMFAO to inject some levity back into proceedings. Parties are wont to attract big, dumb, and drunk intruders, and the sounds that the duo RedFoo and SkyBlu thrusted into the party were some that moment’s biggest, dumbest, and, if possible, drunkest. Their best song was their 2008 debut, a dirty leer called “I’m in Miami Bitch,” and it established the template for their subsequent hits. Like the South Florida city, “Miami” is very lurid, a bit crass, and a lot fun.
There are no hidden depths to LMFAO. If anything, there is less to mega-seller “Party Rock Anthem” than meets the eye: it is a collection catchphrases, along with riffs that are the synth equivalent a catchphrase. It is the center a Venn diagram encompassing club banger, jock jam, and frat party, and baser than that suggests. RedFoo and SkyBlu presented as slithering spectacles vulgar masculinity: preposterously dressed goballs who succeeded entirely because their clownishness.
But “Party Rock Anthem” was so blunt and obnoxious that it worked. The bass-heavy thud the beat was perfect for dancefloors, and the stadium-sized riff was perfect for advertisements, film soundtracks, and marching bands. The rapping didn’t need to be any better than it was and the hooks were interjections built to be memes or hashtags: “Every day I’m shuffling”; “Shake that”; “Everybody just have a good time.” It was certified as a Diamond seller by the RIAA and the second biggest hit 2011, topping the chart for six weeks and lasting on the tally for 68 weeks total, kept f the top Billboard’s year-end Hot 100 only by Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep.”
It is a bad look in 2018 to celebrate crassness and idiocy as a public spectacle, which is why it’s unlikely LMFAO would be received the same way today. It was gauche even in 2011, but much the way the joyful simplicity bro-country quickly hardened into a set obnoxious tropes, the blithe ignorance songs like “I Gotta Feeling” and “Party Rock Anthem,” as well as the stand-outs from fellow travelers like Taio Cruz (“Dynamite”) and David Guetta (“Where Them Girls At,” “Sexy Bitch”), began to accumulate an unwelcome toxicity. Only looking back does their ebullience endure, and it came at a time when ebullience was needed.
The pop charts today tend towards moodiness and muted affect, from the navel-gazing gloom Drake or The Weeknd, to the minor-key drag hits from artists like Camila Cabello, Alessia Cara, or Halsey. EDM has moved from novelty to genuine pop movement, packing festivals and making superstars its top performers whose hits are less obvious and more diverse, but its sentiments have strayed into more emotive territory, and its prevailing sound has transformed into trop-house: an evocation placeless vacation destinations and the restoration we hope to discover there.
But in the late ‘00s and early ‘10s, when America was just discovering the true potential banging beats and glowing synths, pop dared to be silly and simplistic. The party has been over long enough for us to look back on the photos and think, yep, we enjoyed ourselves. Tonight was gonna be a good night.