Calvin Harris takes the lead | Bleader

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Calvin Harris takes the lead

Posted By on 05.06.14 at 02:38 PM

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EDM has only been a serious contender on the American pop playing field for a short time, but there seem to be a few rules for the genre as it pertains to chart success. One is that unlike the majority of the dance music that EDM grew out of, a track generally requires a vocalist to break with a pop audience. EDM producers being more beat-focused musicians, this usually means bringing in a guest singer, like Aloe Blacc on Avicii's folksy "Wake Me Up!" or Rihanna on Calvin Harris's "We Found Love," which helped to throw open the doors to the Hot 100 for EDM and still remains the gold standard that crossover dance tracks aspire to.

There are a number of benefits for producers in this kind of arrangement. For as ambitious as they can be, a lot of them still started out as the kind of techno geeks that feel more comfortable working alone in Ableton or separated from their audience by DJ decks. And as the songs' public faces, the guest vocalists take the brunt of the often tedious work of promoting the song—the photo shoots, video shoots, and other tasks that sound glamorous but are usually surprisingly boring—while the beat maker concentrates on their high-paying DJ gigs in Vegas megaclubs and the like.

This setup does have its drawbacks though. Serious pop ambitions often come with healthy egos attached, and for every pop Machiavelli like Dr. Luke who's content to work behind the scenes sending songs for other artists up the charts there are probably dozens of frustrated would-be rock stars who resent it, even if the work pays handsomely.

Calvin Harris seems to be one of those, judging by his new single "Summer" which has been steadily climbing the Hot 100 over the past six weeks, currently sitting at a high point of number 26. Like his 2011 single "Feel So Close" he acts as both producer and lead vocalist. "Feel So Close" made it to number 12 on the Hot 100, which is two spots higher than where Moby's "South Side" peaked in 2000.

Harris might be the first producer of the modern EDM era to put himself out there so emphatically as a front man, but he's not especially skilled at the job. He's not an especially gifted singer, and the back-of-the-throat growl he affects on "Summer" feels less like a stylistic flourish than the byproduct of poor breath control. Although not being able to hit all the right notes isn't necessarily a dealbreaker these days (and it feels like there's more than a little pitch correction happening here), he doesn't project enough charisma to make up for his vocal deficits—remove the cool cars and women clad in expensive lingerie from the "Summer" video and you're just left with a bunch of shots of him skulking around the desert.

That probably doesn't matter though. Harris has banked a lot of goodwill with his audience over his past few years of hit making, and "Feel So Close" proves that they're more than willing to overlook how bad a front man he is.

He probably isn't the only EDM producer who's grown tired of sharing the spotlight either. Odds are one or more of the not-especially-compelling white-guy Ableton jockeys who've been making regular appearances on the pop charts are angling to go fully solo. Could an Avicii singer-songwriter album be far behind?

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