“Feed yourself with my life’s work
How many likes is my life worth?”
So goes the jolting bridge chanted by Alex Pall’s partner Andrew Taggart from the EDM/Pop dynasty—The Chainsmokers. Not even three weeks into 2018 and The Chainsmokers gave their loyal listeners, and eager new adopters, a new gift on January 17, 2018, in the form of the new dance-rock track, “Sick Boy”. With its provocative title and stirring melody, it makes you wonder, what exactly is the story behind “Sick Boy”, and what does this darker dip into their catalog mean for the evolution of The Chainsmokers as the calendar flips forward?
“Sick Boy” is the audio drug for fans with Chainsmoker fever. This feisty dance rock anthem exploded on the duo’s Disruptor Records label. The platinum certified success of The Chainsmoker’s debut album Memories…Do Not Open generated a pair of very big shoes to fill—the two hit singles “Paris” and “Something Just Like This”, a collaboration with Coldplay. Almost exactly a year before the release of “Sick Boy”, the synth-Pop style of “Paris” smashed the airwaves of Top 40 radio with a sonic slap about forbidden love. Its follow-up “Something Just Like This” dominated as well, getting over 996 million YouTube views with its animated, lyric-driven music video about not having to be a mythical hero to find love.
Now, the rollout of “Sick Boy” offers another thematic track geared towards intriguing visions to be conjured by your imagination. You can rule out any literal lyrics about scary diseases or a chronic cold that kept them home from school. “Sick Boy” digs deeper than a trip to the doctor’s office, with the “sickness” in question being the identity crisis caused by our society’s emphasis on social media exposure. During an interview with Ryan Seacrest for iHeart Radio, Alex Pall added some insight into what the lyrics represent:
“[Narcissism] is just something that we all see every day and live with now that everyone has a social media platform… it’s not necessarily a bad thing—you kind of have to figure out… the way you’re presenting yourself to the world … it’s self-inflicted, but also a necessary evil in communicating in today’s world.”
This Alex Pall explanation of “Sick Boy” comes to life in the song lyrics:
“Make no mistake, I live in a prison
That I build myself, it is my religion”
Although the 24-hour fame lifestyle comes at a cost, with side effects such as little privacy and lots of public judgment, The Chainsmokers aren’t crying about it—they own their situation. They literally put it right out there for you:
“I’m from the east side of America
Where we choose pride over character
And we can pick sides, but this is us, this is us, this is
I live on the west side of America
Where they spin lies into fairy dust
And we can pick sides, but this is us, this is us, this is us”
Ryan Seacrest caught The Chainsmokers again during the 2018 Grammy Awards and got their take on the newer, introspective direction that tracks like “Sick Boy” are going in. Alex Pall shared his viewpoint:
“I think it was a risk for us to go, to kind of go in this direction. But it’s great to see that people support us, whatever we do.”
How did “Sick Boy” enter our eardrums in the first place? Alex Pall and Andrew Taggart shared songwriting duties with their keyboardist Tony Ann and serial songwriting machine Emily Warren, who has gotten down with the likes of Sean Paul, Alessia Cara, and Shawn Mendes. DJ, singer, songwriter, and producer Shaun Frank hopped on board to partake in some production duties as well. The soundbed does anything but put you to sleep with its all-nighter synthesizers, steady drum thumps, and emotive piano keys. How far has “Sick Boy” taken Drew Taggart and Alex Pall as they open up their next musical shift towards what goes on within them? It has cracked its way into the US Billboard Hot 100 chart and marched its way up the ladder to the top radio positions in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and all over the continent of Europe, from the UK and Italy to Germany and France.
Aside from radio and streaming, “Sick Boy” has come to life in a visual format, with the release of its music video, ushered in with spooky dim lighting and glowing flares of fire. An eerie effect superimposes creature textures to the band while they walk us through the haunted house of our collective addiction to Internet stardom. It is like watching Alex and Drew being examined by a glow in the dark X-ray machine of society’s critiques. The “Sick Boy” video was constructed by the directing duo Brewer. They are responsible for the sizzling visual effects and the sharp editing chops. With electric live projection, and fast fading flourishes of painted-over imagery, this “Sick Boy” production doesn’t overpower the lyrics. You get to read between the lines without any obvious storytelling overkill.
The highpoint of “Sick Boy” is that it is a refreshing take on celebrity culture, because it firmly distances itself from any of that “don’t you wish you were as cool as me” megalomania or the rich people problems of “I didn’t sign up to be this crazy paparazzi magnet.” The Chainsmokers acknowledge that their successful situation was by design. Also, what makes our own Instagram selfies and Twitter rants any different? We are all in this digital click bate circus together—equally as the animals and the audience.