Has pop reached its peak Jack Antonoff?
In a video which went viral last week, Caleb Gamman, a video producer, guesses every song Jack Antonoff produced and co-wrote on the new Taylor Swift album, Midnights, in a few seconds. No – milliseconds. When he gets to “Midnight Rain”, Gamman hears Antonoff’s fingerprints on the track when it has just started.
Later, in a interview with Vice, Gamman said he could immediately recognize Antonoff’s sound from factors such as “vocal clarity”, “same drum samples”, “digital harmony”, and “breathing vocals”. “There are elements that I like,” he says. “But when they’re all together, there’s something that’s slightly dissonant and just a little off-putting.”
You might think Gamman is a unique music nerd. How could someone recognize an artist’s sound in milliseconds? Additionally, Swift and Antonoff are longtime collaborators, having worked together for the better part of a decade on several award-winning albums (1989, Reputation, Lover, Folklore, always). It doesn’t take a genius to assume that most Midnights would continue this winning combination.
But listen a little closer to your favorite pop songs and the Antonoff sound is indeed hard to escape. Hear the breathless, blue-tinged sentimentality of Swift’s ‘You’re On Your Own, Kid’ – don’t you think it could have appeared on Lorde’s Melodrama, which Antonoff co-produced? What about the quiet euphoria of “Maroon” – isn’t it reminiscent of Troye Sivan, with whom Antonoff worked on blue district? Or the muted drums on “Midnight Rain” – haven’t you heard them all over St Vincent’s Masseductionalso co-produced by Antonoff?
I am not saying that Antonoff is solely responsible for the breadth of these artists’ sounds, nor that these artists are the vessels of Antonoff’s creativity. Musicians like Swift, Lorde, St Vincent, Lana Del Rey, Troye Sivan, Kevin Abstract, Sia and Florence and the Machine are creative forces in their own right, with their own musical stamp, and enjoyed success for years before collaborate with Antonoff. But it’s hard to deny that over the past five years, Antonoff’s sound has become deeply entrenched in the pop landscape. Where it was once here and there, now it’s everywhere. It is unavoidable.
What’s even weirder is that Antonoff, now 38, seemed to appear out of nowhere. At one point, he was just a member of the group Fun (you might remember their 2012 song “We Are Young”, which had awful lyrics, such as “My friends are in the bathroom bath rising higher than the Empire State”). The next day he was working with Taylor Swift on 1989, winning Grammys and being snapped up by many of pop and rock’s biggest stars for some of their most critically acclaimed work to date. In the span of a decade, he went from being Lena Dunham’s boyfriend to being a world-renowned mega-producer.
Unlike Gamman, I’m a fan of the Antonoff sound. I didn’t listen to Swift before 1989and Melodrama is one of my favorite albums of the last decade. Lana Del Rey and Antonoff made Norman fucking Rockwell! – an iconic, experimental and delightful view of the drama. If such a thing is possible, Antonoff managed to make Lana look even more like Lana. He makes Lorde look even more like Lorde. And while Gamman identifies many of Antonoff’s technical characteristics, he doesn’t note the emotional ones: the bright colors Antonoff injects into the tracks, the swirling sentimentality, the tonal storytelling, the shimmering bursts and chord progressions. moving.
But even a fan like me can listen Midnights and realize that we may have reached a tipping point. Hearing Antonoff so often is a bit like eating the same chocolate bar every day. Delicious at first, then boring, then heartbreaking. There must be room for other sounds in contemporary pop music. If Rihanna, for example, turned around and released an album produced by Antonoff, I would get up, open my window and scream.
If you were to go on MTV in the late 1990s, you’d hear Swedish producer Max Martin’s slick, colorful, stereotypical pop hooks everywhere. The Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears, NSYNC…much of what looks like the 1990s and 2000s is actually just Martin: cookie-cutter, maximalist earworms. And while Antonoff may not yet be as prolific as the 51-year-old Martin, looking at today’s album charts, it’s clear that contemporary pop is also dominated by one man.
For what it’s worth, artists clearly love working with Antonoff — and not just because he can release a hit. Like all good producers, he seems to have the ability to recognize natural magic and bring it to the fore. “There is craftsmanship and there is magic”, Antonoff say it New Yorker This year. “I have craftsmanship up my ass, but all that really matters is finding those rare magical moments.” It’s a skill that artists appreciate. “Jack is special,” Del Rey told the New Yorker journalist. “His chords are so classic I could sing them anything.”
But pop music can’t stay the same forever. Styles build, they peak and they deepen, or evolve, and there will come a time when Antonoff’s sound – those breathy vocals, those sentimental synth lines, that understated yet dramatic tonal shimmer – will become painful to the ears. Maybe that time has come now. Even Martin – who produced more number ones than anyone else except Beatles producer George Martin (the former produced 23, the second 30) – loosened his grip on the charts when listeners wanted something less stereotypical, more experimental, less expected.
Until then, Antonoff’s reign remains heavily on us. And like the rest of the world, I too will stream Midnights until I’m fed up.
[See also: The Spiceworld generation]