Pop Producers Have Been Reading Their "Pitchfork"

Slate's Culture Blog
Nov. 4 2009 12:18 PM

Pop Producers Have Been Reading Their "Pitchfork"

Late last month, I wrote an essay about Miley Cyrus's "Party in the USA," a song produced and co-written by Lukasz Gottwald. Gottwald, who also goes by Dr. Luke, has had his Swedish fingerprints all over pop radio for several years, and around the same time the Cyrus piece ran, the video for another of his creations hit the Web: a single called " TiK ToK ," performed by the 22-year-old rapper-singer Ke$ha. The song sets up shop on the fault line between charmingly daft and deeply irritating. The rapped verses are sub-Fergie-grade, proudly stuffed with groaners and to-hell-with-the-expiration-date slang ("Errbody getting crunk/ Boys tryina touch my junk"). The plotline plays like a sequel to Lady Gaga's "Just Dance": girl wakes up drunk, stays drunk, finds a dance floor and (spoiler alert) gets even drunker. (There are several YouTube videos of girls who look to be seventh graders goofily acting out the words.)

Some listeners probably noticed a more-than-passing similarity between the song and " Pop the Glock ," a minor 2006 club hit by the French-American sorta-rapper Uffie, who records for the small Parisian dance label Ed Banger. "TiK ToK" rides a minimalist, 8-bit-video-game beat; "Pop the Glock" is built around a spare drum machine pattern. Ke$ha's faux-bad-girl rhymes are tweaked by AutoTune; Uffie's faux-bad-girl rhymes are run through a vocoder effect, which supplies the song with its only hint of melody.

This isn't the first time Gottwald seems to have hit the indie bins for inspiration—the breakdown on Kelly Clarkson's "Since U Been Gone" (cued up here ), which Gottwald co-produced, echoes the breakdown from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' "Maps" (cued up here ). Nor is Gottwald the only pop producer to have done so. Compare the razored synthesizer riff, four-on-the-floor pulse, and syncopated pops of Justin Timberlake's "SexyBack" (cued up here ) with the razored guitars, disco beat, and syncopated cowbell clatter of The Rapture's "House of Jealous Lovers" (cued up here )—an influence Timberlake and the producer Timbaland have freely admitted. (A few years earlier, Timberlake's former girlfriend Britney Spears worked with The Rapture's former production duo, The DFA, on this never-released demo).

The pop mainstream's interest in the sounds of the hipster mainstream shows no sign of flagging. Last week, bedroom mewler Owl City scored the No. 1 song in the country with " Fireflies ," a song that could not exist without The Postal Service's 2003 excursions into sighingly romantic, precisely enunciated synth-pop. I'm sure there are other examples of pop indie-jacking I'm forgetting (and vice versa, as recent experiments with AutoTune by Bon Iver and Vampire Weekend help to illustrate). Jot down any that occur to you in the comments section.   

Jonah Weiner is Slate's pop critic.