October 19, 2016

CULTURALLY SHOOK | Contemporary Love in the Time of the Chainsmokers’ “CLOSER”

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Photo Courtesy of John Baldessari


I have inadvertently heard the song “Closer” so many times that sometimes I hear it even when it’s not being played. What I once took to be a constant in my life, an allegedly reassuring acoustic verification of my ongoing physicality—my heartbeat—has been aggressively replaced by the song’s superficial, Day-Glo, Capri Sun beat.

In a sense, I admire the song’s ambition, its desire to aspire higher—apparently, permeating the airwaves is not enough for “Closer.” It wants to extend itself into new psychological realms, infiltrate the cerebral networks of the adolescent masses, leak its toxic sugar into every crevice of our collective consciousness until one day suddenly we are not living our lives anymore—we are just living in the imagined idyllic lifeworld of the song, intangible figments residing in the corporeal actualization of the self-obsessed chart-topping hit. No longer will we be independent autonomous beings — we will exist only in relation to this aural “simulacrum of human feeling.”

Maybe this thread of self-reflection is what makes the song so popular—maybe the reason it has been re-re-replayed is that it arguably can be perceived as a reflection on universal human feelings that are difficult to directly acknowledge. Maybe converting these difficult truths into fruity electronic beats is how we tacitly learn to confront them.

“So baby pull me closer in the backseat of your Rover,” the song repeats, over and over again, seemingly into the recesses of time itself. I wonder: is the Rover a metaphor? Is it a symbol for the confined, often claustrophobia-inducing emotional space we have mentally reserved for our interpersonal relationships? Is the size of the Rover a reminder that we have subconsciously minimized the size of this emotional space in an effort to preemptively preclude any potential opportunity to form meaningful human connection, in fear that it could all go wrong? When Halsey tells her “baby” to “pull [her] closer,” is she implicitly telling him to let go of this fear, to relinquish his anxious grasp on the space that is separating them? Is Halsey subtly vocalizing her desire to be close, to belong — a quality that Abraham Maslow, prolific American psychologist, labels one of the most basic human needs?

As relatively sophisticated young adults supposedly capable of meditated introspection, we must be, to some degree, aware of this cognitive dissonancethis tension between our human need for connection and our inability to satisfy it: an inability resulting from an unholy concurrency comprised of a debilitating fear of rejection, crushing self-awareness, and omniscient trust issues. The older we grow, the more aware we become of this increasingly uncomfortable dynamic. The silky naïveté of youth gives way to the bristling, jaded cynicism of adulthood. If only we could join Peter Pan in Neverland and escape it all, return to the youth we inhabited as innocent crystals unaware of the tragicomedy that would soon become our lives. Is this why Halsey so adamantly declares, “we ain’t ever getting older?” Sorry to break it to you, but no matter how many times you say you aren’t getting older, you are. Such is the sad reality.

Maybe, the popularity of this song is a cry for help. Maybe, in listening to this song, we are worshipping at the altar of our own inability to love, attempting to distract ourselves from this truth by drenching ourselves in the glossy overtures of the pop music written about this very embattled emotional state of ours. On a psychoanalytical level, we are vehemently reasserting our fundamental need to be “close.” How devastatingly human of us.